Investigating my ancestor’s wedding certificate a little more

In the last posting about questions with my ancestor’s wedding certificate I discovered that the parish was not written on the document as I had expected it to be. Instead of St.Mary’s Portsea there was a series of pen strokes that seemed to begin with a P but could not be made out.

If you have read the comments, to that post, then you will see a suggestion from James Mac that it may have been a daughter church of St. Mary’s. He suggested I should try to tie down the incumbent, by using the resources of Crockford’s Clerical Directory. Well this is exactly what I did. In fact I used the 1865 edition that is available to search on Google Books for free.

From the copy of the certificate, that I had obtained from the General Register Office by post, I made out the name of the person marrying my 2x great-grandparents to be W H Rednap. I also noted that the marriage was by “Certificate”.

Ancestor's wedding certificate

Now some folk have pointed out to me that “by certificate” usually means that the marriage was conducted by a Registrar. This is common in nonconformist church weddings and at registry offices. I turned to Mark Herber’s Ancestral Trails and found the line: “From 1837 marriages could also take place before civil registrars, or in chapels licensed under the Civil Registrations Acts. The law permitted the superintendent registrar to issue a certificate (similar to an Anglican licence) authorising marriages (without banns) in licensed places of worship”.

But even though the groom had been baptised in the Presbyterian church in Dartmouth, his wedding certificate indicates that it was carried out according to the Rites of the Established Church by one W H Redknap. Crockford’s confirms that William Henry Redknap was the Perpetual Curate of Milton, Portsea, in the diocese of Winchester from 1859, the year my ancestor’s married and formally the Curate of Portsea.

So then I looked into the history of Milton’s Church and found it was consecrated in 1841 and dedicated to St James, having been carved from the ancient parish of Portsea.

I do not know when in 1859 the Revd. Redknap took up his incumbency at nearby Milton, but my great-great-grandparents married in February 1859, in the early part of the year. So now I am leaning back towards the marriage having taken place in the main church of Portsea, by its curate before he moved to Milton. The Ancient Parish Church is St.Marys; but then this begs the question as to why it was “by certificate”?

I need now to consult the parish records of Portsea to lay this question to rest. Perhaps a trip to the Hampshire Archives is called for!

 

 

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Ancestor’s Marriage Certificate Throws Up Questions.

Copy wedding certificate arrives in postI have been looking more closely at an ancestor’s marriage certificate and have notice some interesting anomalies. When I had first come across the marriage of  my 2x great-grandparents, Henry Thorn and Ellen Malser, on the familysearch.org website I had noted that the marriage was recorded in the register of St.Mary’s Portsea, a parish in Portsmouth, on the south coast of England. The wedding took place on the 5th of February 1859 while Henry was employed in the Naval Dockyard as a ropemaker.

I had assumed that the church, in which they married, was St.Marys and so this is what I recorded in my family tree at the time, but now I am not so sure. As you know, good practice for family historians teaches us to always seek out the original document. Looking at the online indexes I found the information that I would need to order their marriage certificate from the General Register Office.

When I had it in my possession I noticed that it did not say the Parish Church in St Marys Portsea. Instead it reads: Marriage solemnized at “the church” in the Parish of… followed by an indecipherable set of scratches!

The first resembles a “P” and then follows some strong up and down strokes which do not give us the whole picture of the letters. I tried to match them with legible letters in the rest of the certificate but I can not make them spell St.Marys! It is possible, I think, that the word may have been Portsea, but even of that I can not be sure.

Using the map search tool on familysearch.org (http://maps.familysearch.org/) I researched other churches in Portsea. A tip here is to use the town name and not the church, or parish – if I had entered “St Marys Portsea” it would not have worked. The result returned was a number of C of E churches in the area, all carved out of the ancient parish of Portsea.

From the marriage certificate I could see that both the bride and the groom gave their address as Raglan Street, Portsea. Returning to the familysearch.org map tool I was able to see that this road fell into two parishes, the further along its length you traveled. St Marys Portsea was the Parish Church for those living in the west and St Jude’s Southsea in the east.

The trouble is that neither of these fall happily into the pattern of strokes, that are all that can be seen in this particular wedding certificate. Can I assume that as St Marys was the mother church of Portsea that convention dictated it was the Parish of Portsea?

Wedding in the Parish of...There are more questions about this particular certificate which I will deal with in my next post.

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Solving Family Tree Brick Walls

Many of us, researching our family trees, come up against the inevitable brick wall of forebears that don’t appear in the documents in the places where we expect to find them. Sometimes this can be because they have been recorded, but the spelling of the name differs each time an official makes an attempt to write it down.

 

Brick Wall buster tip 1. Can’t find anyone of that name? Try searching for variants as in the past spelling was not an exact science.

 

This week I was revisiting my ancestors who married in Gloucester and then went on to have a daughter baptised in Devon that eventually married a Thorn and so perpetuated the Thorn/Thorne line that leads down the tree to me.

One of the problems that I have with this branch is that they were not literate and had no idea of how to spell their surname. The evidence is in the parish register for Dartmouth, where I first pick up the female line. Both parties, to the marriage between the Thorns and the Sissells made their mark and did not sign. The register gives me the name of the father of the bride as James Sissell as he makes his mark as a witness.

Elizabeth Gardiner Thorn, as she becomes on her marriage, is eventually buried in Dartmouth and I can trace her in the census records and on her death certificate as having been my 2x great-grandmother, from the names of her family in these records. This is how I know that I am investigating the correct person.

Researching the christening of Elizabeth backwards, in the IGI on familysearch.org, I find that she was given the name of Elizabeth Gardiner Sissill and I also find the marriage of a James Sysal to a Sarah Gardiner in 1780 in St Nicholas’ church Gloucester.

St Nicholas', Gloucester Parish Records are at County Record Office

So now I have three versions of the spelling of their surname, Sissell, Sissill and Sysal, but it is only the beginning!

I found that Elizabeth had a brother, Thomas, though at his christening the vicar entered his surname as Sizzall in the parish registers.

Turning my attention to the deaths of Elizabeth’s parents – as any good family historian always will try to kill off their ancestors – I have only just had some luck after my visit to the Devon Family History Society’s Tree House in Exeter and to the County Record Office to look at the microfiche copies of parish records.

I had no idea if James and Sarah had remained in Dartmouth of whether they had moved on, or even back to Gloucester.

With the aid of the various printed booklets of transcripts, from the DFHS, I was able to identify a Sarah Sisell (the fifth version of the surname) buried on March the 17th 1831 in the St Saviour’s burials transcripts and a James Saissell (sixth version of the spelling) buried on the 5th January 1835 in St. Saviour’s Dartmouth. Then I could look at the relevant microfiche copy of the register, in the County Record Office, to confirm the transcript was correct.

Spelling was so much more fluid in our ancestor’s day. Indeed the words “Burials” “Marriages” and “Baptisms”, at the top of the pages in the very same register, changed form throughout the different years!

I can only assume that all the variants of the surname, as recorded above and said with a West Country accent, could have sounded much alike to the hapless vicar whose registers display the fact that spelling was not fixed, as it has become today.

For more tips to get your family tree back before 1837 in England & Wales I would recommend that you buy my CD How To Get Back Before 1837 in England & Wales.

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Family Tree Questions Answered from a Visit to Ancestor’s Home Town

The Mouth of the DartI am still fresh from a visit to my ancestor’s home town and although I have been there before, I have still come back with some more answers to add to the story of my forebears.

It is all very well to sit at one’s computer and look at the census documents online or to pour over maps of the area, but there is often more to be gained by taking a look at the physical location where our ancestors lived, worked and played.

Many of my readers will know that my paternal line is from Dartmouth in Devon and I have a 2x great-grandfather that spent 40 years of his working life on the river Dart as the steersman and then Captain of the railway ferry that crosses from Kingswear to Dartmouth.  Today it is the Dartmouth Steam Railway and River Boat Company that runs the heritage railway from Paignton to Kingswear, but in my great-great-grandfather’s time it was the South Devon Railway Company from 1866 until it amalgamated with the Great Western Railway in 1876.

I decided that this time I’d arrive by train and then cross the river on the modern equivalent of my 2 x great-grandfather’s ferry. Not exactly walking in his footsteps but traveling in his wake, perhaps? With me I had the print outs of the various census data, a map and also some of the birth, death and marriage certificates. My aim was not only to see the roads, where they lived, but also to find the houses they occupied and to visit the churches where they married, baptised their children and were buried. I have come back with many photographs to flesh out the family history story and have touched the ancient font in which some would have been christened.

Consulting with my copy of the 1901 census, I set off for the road where he had lived. There were many houses on that street and I did not know which was the one that he had occupied in that year.

Many people make the mistake of reading the first column of the census as being the house number, when it is actually the schedule number. It is in the next column that the name or number of the house is written but in some cases, including for my Dartmouth family, the enumerator did not give numbers to the various houses in the street. I have a census page in which only the name of the street is written and then duplicated for each separate household without any means of telling which building they occupied.

For 2 x great-grandfather Henry Thorne the census gave me the name of a road which climbs up the hill from the town, but no number. His last will gave me the name of a road, that runs parallel to the one named in the census but again with no number! His Death Certificate gave the name of a house, but no street and so I was flummoxed as to where exactly he had lived until, on my recent visit, I walked the length of the road.

As luck would have it, in a development of Victorian terraced houses, with bay windows looking out over the road named in the will – but in a walk way continuing up from the road named in the census – I found a likely house. Letters painted in the window light above its front door matched the name on the death certificate. It is almost certainly his house and so I took my photograph and went in search of where his parents’ (my 3x great-grandparents) lived down in the town.

Dartmouth Family Tree Researcher finds Ancestor's houseIt is not always possible to visit the home town of one’s ancestors, as I have been fortunate enough to do and so the next best thing is to use the technology that Google Maps provides us with in its very useful Street View facility. With this service you can walk the roads in virtual cyberspace looking from left to right and up and down by using the navigation control on the left top of the window.

 

Has anyone got similar stories? Leave a comment below.

 

 

Take your family history further by considering a subscription to these websites:

 

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online



Disclosure: The Links in the above are Compensated Affiliate links. If you click on them then I may be rewarded by Findmypast.co.uk or The Genealogist.co.uk should you sign up for their subscriptions.

 

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NonConformist in my English Family Tree

Like me you may have gone back up the branches of your English Family Tree to find that some of your ancestors became nonconformists, that is they didn’t worship in the Established Church of England or have their children baptised within it and when it came to being buried they chose to have a ceremony conducted in a different Christian tradition.

This week I have been using the resources of TheGenealogist.co.uk’s BMD Registers to look at images taken from RG4 at the National Archives. These are registers (authenticated by the Non-Parochial Registers Commissioners) of births, baptisms, deaths, burials and marriages. They cover the period from 1567 to 1858. To find out more about them have a look on TNA’s website, but suffice to say that I have been able to use them effectively to fill in gaps when my forebears didn’t appear in the C of E parish registers.

One way of being alerted to possible non-conformity in a line is where you can only find your ancestor’s marriage in the Parish church. From 1754, and the introduction of Lord Hadwicke’s Marriage Act, most of the people of England & Wales were required to marry in the Church of England. For this reason you may discover that your ancestor’s wedding is in the parish church’s registers, but theirs and their children’s baptisms and burials are not. If this is the case then you should make a search of the non-conformist’s records for the area.

A difficulty can often arise when the chapel in question did not have its own register. This could occur when the chapel was served by an itinerant minister, responsible for a circuit of chapels in the area. In this case you would need to try and find out the name of the minister and the other chapels in his care.

Most of the surviving Congregationalist registers up to 1837, and some for the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Unitarians were surrendered to the government in 1840 or 1857. These are now held at The National Archives in mircofilm series RG 4, 5, & 8, and it was the first of those that I had been looking at on TheGenealogist.co.uk site.

I have written a short book, How to Search for Your English & Welsh Family History, that is available as a Kindle download from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, in which I delve further into the subject of nonconformist, in chapter 10.

If you don’t have a Kindle then you can get a free application to read it on your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, or Android device. Simply click on the order button in the image below to buy yourself a copy now.

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TheGenealogist.co.uk has added new features to TreeView

I recently got this Press Release from TheGenealogist.co.uk. It seems they have made their TreeView even better..

TreeView Gets Radical New Features:

The highly respected TreeView, a favorite of reviewers has launched unique new features and “views”.

TreeView is free to all. You can access it at TheGenealogist.co.uk and TreeView.co.uk

Five Brand New Views

CustomTree

 

For the first time ever online, TreeView has made it possible to draw your own custom family tree. The custom family tree option lets you pick between pedigree, hourglass or full tree view, you can pick the number of generations you want and then the fun begins. Drag and drop anyone you wish around the tree, remove people from the tree by simply clicking the X on them. If you make a mistake, no problem, just click “undo”. You can also upload a picture to include as a background to your tree. This quickly and easily gives you a fully custom layout of your family tree. When you’re happy with the result, you can save your design for later or print it out.

 

(You can select a person within custom tree and easily move them around the chart)

Relationship Tree

 

Using the Relationship Tree you can select any two members from your tree and generate a chart to show the relationship links between those two ancestors. The chart will appear on screen and from here you can choose to a print a copy.

 

Ancestor Chart

The ancestor chart shows you the direct line ancestors of a selected individual, with the option to display as many generations as you wish.

Descendant Chart

 

Alternatively, the descendant chart shows you the direct descendants of an individual.

Hourglass Tree

 

An alternative design for your tree is an Hourglass Tree. This chart is a combination of ancestor and descendant charts, including both direct ancestors and descendants of a person for as many generations as you wish.

Brand New Features

Printing Trees – You can now print any tree. When clicking on the Print icon you will be asked to select one of the following print options;

All in One: This option emails you a PDF of the entire tree on one page, enabling you to send the PDF to your local printer, so you can have your family tree printed on one large sheet of paper.

Or

Several Pages: This option will divide your tree over several A4 sheets of paper allowing you to print from a standard printer at home. The A4 sheets are discreetly numbered and come with a guide, making it easier for you to piece them together once they have printed.

 

 

Tree Backgrounds

Now all trees come with the option to customise your background, from a variety of different colours, patterns or even use one of your own images.

Backup/RestoreRoutinely save your tree and restore from previous backups or imported GEDCOM files. So now you can tweak your tree without the worry of making a mistake.

Relationship CalculatorYou can calculate the relationship between any two ancestors in your tree. Type the name of the two individuals into the calculator and the relationship between them will be shown in the results box.

If you are looking at your Full Tree or Pedigree view, click any individual and their relationship to the default person will be displayed in the dialog box.

 

Friends New Features

 

The ability to invite friends and family to view your tree is now free to everyone.

 

Friends OptionsIn addition to the access level you can now set a Role for your friends.

 

Select either ‘Guest’ or ‘Proposer’. A ‘Guest’ can view a limited or an extended view of your family tree. A ‘Proposer’ makes proposals for changes or additions to your tree without changing the data. This provides a safe way for your friends and family to help you fill in the blanks to your tree.

 

Hope you find this useful for recording your family history.

Have a very Happy Christmas,

Nick.

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Small Errors In My Great-Great Grandfather’s Will

I am a bit of a pedant and so I got slightly annoyed recently with a number of small inaccuracies that I found in a copy of a 1908 will and have wondered if the solicitor for my great-great-grandfather knew him at all and whether my ancestor actually read the will that he signed three months before his death!

Captain Henry Thomas Thorne on the GWR Dolphin, Dartmouth, Devon.
Captain Henry Thomas Thorne on the GWR Dolphin, Dartmouth.

 

I have got hot under the collar because I had sent off for my forebear’s will. The story is that recently, while looking around the Ancestry.co.uk site, I discovered, within the National Probate Calendar for England & Wales, a listing for my 2x great-grandfather Henry Thomas Thorne. I was aware that he had died in 1908 in Dartmouth, Devon, but until then I had no idea that he had left a will. He was the son of a boatman and one time cordwainer from Dartmouth. Henry had moved, in his youth, to Portsmouth to work in the Royal Naval dockyard as a ropemaker.

It was here that he met and married his wife Ellen Malser, the daughter of a Master Mariner if the records are to be believed. Henry and Ellen soon moved back to Dartmouth where Henry obtained a job, in 1864, as the steersman of the railway ferry that crossed the Dart from Kingswear to Dartmouth. He was to eventually became the Captain of the steamer, called the Dolphin, that replaced it.

Henry Thomas Thorne spent 40 years working on that vessel and even had the privilege of sailing King Edward VII & Queen Alexandra across the Dart, when they came to lay the foundation stone for the Royal Naval College. From that time on the townsfolk nicknamed Henry “The Admiral”, according to sources that I have read.

With the details, from the National Probate Calendar, I was able to download a form (PA1S) from the Government’s Justice website and send off my cheque to the Postal Searches and Copies Department, which is in Leeds.

http://hmctscourtfinder.justice.gov.uk/HMCTS/GetForm.do?court_forms_id=739

When the will arrived, on my door mat, I was somewhat confused to find that it contained some interesting errors.

Henry Thomas Thorne was listed as a retired “Ropemaker”, an occupation that he had pursued in his youth in Portsmouth. But surely, with 44 years as the steersman and then Captain of the railway steamer across the Dart, it would have been more appropriate for the solicitor to have identified him as a retired mariner? No matter, I thought, and read on.

Next Henry appoints his wife Helen, along with the solicitor to be executors.

Helen, I wonder, who was this wife called Helen? It was, of course Ellen.

The will goes on to mention his “free-hold house situate at Victoria Road, Dartmouth, which had me looking on a map as all his census records show him living on South Ford Road and his death certificate mentions Fernleigh. From the map I can see that a Ferndale is an extension of South Ford Street and it overlooks Victoria Road. Using Google Street View I could see that Ferndale was not navigable by the Street View car and is a sort of walk rising up the hill. So perhaps I can assume that his house at Fernleigh was indeed in the area of Ferndale, but was it on Victoria Road?

He bequeaths money, in trust, to his daughter Florence Melzer Thorne. She was named after her mother’s family, Malser and not Melzer. In fact she was actually named Ellen Florence Malser Thorne, but I digress!

So it is a lesson to us all to take what is written down in any record that we find, even a will, as not necessarily being completely accurate. Check several sources before you can be sure of any fact.

In this case I wondered if the solicitor was new to the area. However a check of the census, in 1901, shows me that he would have been 33 in 1908 and had been born in the town. As such he would have, no doubt, been ferried across the river by my 2x great-grandfather on any occasions that he had need of catching the GWR train as Dartmouth had no railway lines itself. He must have been familiar with the character called The Admiral, who had been in the same job on the water from before the solicitor’s birth!

 

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Family Bibles as a Genealogical Resource

Some of us are fortunate to have a family bible to refer to as a genealogical resource as we build our family trees. My cousin has our great-great grandparents bible for the Thorne family of Dartmouth, in his possession. Knowing my interest in the subject he sent me a photocopy of the back page where the dates and times of the birth of all their children have been entered by hand.

Thorne family from Dartmouth, Devon.

Other families have bibles that also go on to list baptisms, marriages and deaths as well as the births. Anyone with one of these is indeed very lucky as it would be an invaluable asset to a family historian pointing their research in the right direction. As with all secondary sources, however, it is good practice to go to the official records and check that the dates listed for the events in the bible match the dates reported to the authorities. Errors may have crept in to the family bible list by mistake.

Another tip is to take a look at the date of publication of the bible to see if it is before or around the time of the first entry. If it is later then there is the possibility for someones memory to have played tricks on them in the remembering of past events. A contemporaneously listed family is likely to be more accurate than one that has been recalled later on.

While a good many families would have had one it is by no means certain that a family bible will have survived down the years. Many would have been destroyed because antiquarian booksellers can only sell them as bibles and not as a genealogical record and so a tome that has been written in has less chance of being purchased. Many of the family bibles are also in a poor state when they are found and because they are unsellable they are therefore destroyed by the finder or the auction house.

A check of the search engines throws up several websites that are offering family bibles for sale as does ebay. Realistically, however, it is not very likely that you will find that long lost family bible of yours if it has left your family’s keeping.

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New Resource For Jersey Family History

I have had my attention drawn to a new resource for Jersey family historians by James McLaren from the CIFHS. He has pointed out that there is now a copy of the Victoria College entry register 1852-1929 on the web, courtesy of Old Victorian, Tony Bellows.

Although the format is a little awkward – the text is sideways on – the 4 files can be downloaded as .pdfs and by rotating them, someone doing research for ancestors that attended this island  school, will find them usable.

Well worth a look if you head over to:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/58994780/Victoria-College-Register-1852-1929-Pages-1-100Victoria College Jersey by Tony Bellows

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Wills & Administrations in English Family History

Wills can be of great use to any family historian for a number of reasons. They can furnish you with names of relatives, give you a description of the property that your ancestor owned at the time of their death and even reveal their favourite charity. Or though in my case I suspected that the charity that my aunt chose to leave the residue of her estate to was really her solicitor’s favoured charity and his suggestion!

Wills are one of the few documents written by your ancestor. For this reason they may give you an insight into their attitudes, social standing and their lifestyle. Perhaps, if you are lucky they can also explain family feuds and even expose scandals.

If, however, you discover that one of your ancestors seems to have been cut out of the will, you should always consider that this may not necessarily mean that they were disinherited. You should be open to considering that other arrangements had already been made for them in the lifetime of the deceased.

Quite a few family history researchers assume it is not worth checking if their ancestors left a will because they think their ancestor’s background precluded them from doing so. It is, however, wrong to believe that only a minority of people from the top of society left wills. Yes, it may be true that most people who left wills had some property of some kind or another. But wills can be found for people from amongst the very widest range of backgrounds.

Whilst it is perhaps true that only a small percentage of the population left a last will and testament, you should remember that for every person who did so means that there will be at least one other person mentioned in the document and this at least doubles your chance of finding a connection to your family tree, even if they are a distant relative.

It is possible, but not all that common, to find a will belonging to your family that pre-dates the parish registers, or even better where parish registers and the other primary sources have been destroyed or gone missing over the years.

You should know that before 1858 wills were generally proved in the church courts. In order to find a will in this time period will need you to have some understanding of the church hierarchy and how this bears relationship to the place or area that you are researching within.

So, what is a will?

It is a formal document stating exactly what a person desires should happen to their possessions after they have passed on. The person making a will is referred to as the Testator and they make a Last Will and Testament. This is actually a joint deed, the Will and the Testament.

Last Will and Testaments became the legal means of passing on one’s property in England in the year
1540. This was because it was only from that date that ‘Freehold’ land could be gifted or “devised” through a will. Before this date a “testament” was legally only concerned with what the law knows as “personality”. this is a term referring to personal property, that is a person’s moveable goods and chattels.

Why wasn’t it possible to pass on land? The answer lies with the fact that interests in “real property”, or the land and buildings your ancestors owned, would descend automatically to the deceased immediate heir. The church law, however, stated that at least one-third of a man’s property should pass directly to his widow as her dower and then one-third to all his children.

In theory these rules could not be broken, however property owners found ways that they could get around them. As an example, whilst “Copyhold land” – land held from the Lord of the manor – could not be left in a will before 1815, it could still be given up or “surrendered” to be used in a will. This effectively meant that it could be left to whomever a person wanted! Other methods of circumnavigating the rule was to transfer one’s property to trustees who would hold it during the owner’s lifetime as per that person’s instructions.

If you are lucky and find your ancestor has left a will you will see just how useful it is to the family historian.

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