Its May the 9th and here in the Channel Island of Jersey it is the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of this island from the Nazi occupation.
As a child, in 1960s Jersey, I grew up understanding the importance of the day to many of the people around me who had lived through the German Occupation.
As I have grown older, so many of these people have sadly passed away. I felt, this morning, that it was important for me to go to what is now named Liberation Square, but was then known simply as the Weighbridge and to stand witness for all those that I have known who lived through the five years under the swastika.
At the re-enactment of the first raising of the British flag on the Pomme d’Or hotel, I found the commemoration very moving especially as covering the scaffolding on the next door building site is a blown up image of the actual raising of the Union Flag on the hotel that had served as German Naval Headquarters.
This afternoon has seen a visit from H.R.H The Countess of Wessex and a sitting of the States of Jersey (the legislature for the Bailiwick) in her presence. It was held in the open air in People’s Park the setting for the first anniversary of the Liberation. But the most moving part was a bit of theatre where some of the island’s youth told the story of the occupation, relating stories about real people who lived through this era.
It is this social history that is so important to family history and so it is appropriate that I conclude this weeks post by mentioning the unique pictorial records of over 30,000 people who lived in the island during the war.
Family history researchers searching for family who lived in Jersey during the WW2 German occupation can now download their registration card, which includes a photograph of their ancestor, in this fantastic recently made available online resource from Jersey Heritage.
The collection, which has been recognised by UNESCO for its importance and has now been digitised and added to the Jersey Heritage website by Jersey Archive, gives access to 90,000 images that can be searched for free at the link below:
It is free to search, although there is a fee of £5 to download a card. Researchers with Jersey family may wish to take out an annual subscription for £30 to make the most of other resources, including thousands of historic photographs, many with named individuals.
Family history researchers seeking family who lived in Jersey during the WW2 German occupation can now download their registration card, including a photograph of their ancestor in this fantastic new online resource from Jersey Heritage.
This is a unique pictorial record contains over 30,000 people who lived on Jersey during the Nazi occupation.
The collection has been recognised by UNESCO for its importance and has now been digitised and added to the Jersey Heritage website by Jersey Archive. To take a look at this very exciting collection, which includes 90,000 images that can be searched for free take a look here:
It is free to search, although there is a fee of £5 to download a card. Researchers with Jersey family may wish to take out an annual subscription for £30 to make the most of other resources, including thousands of historic photographs, many with named individuals.
Jeremy Swetenhan, Commercial Director at Jersey Heritage said, “This is the culmination of several years’ tremendous work by the staff at Jersey Archive to digitise records and catalogue our collections online. The result is a fully searchable and very valuable resource that will enable people to discover more about their, and the Island’s heritage at the click of a mouse.”
Summer holiday time can be a great opportunity to look at the places where your ancestors lived.
Quite often I have used time visiting an area to walk down the streets where my ancestors footsteps went before me and just imagining how it would have been in their day.
I will have often have prepared for such a trip beforehand. In most cases using the census collections and copies of trade directories to”get a feel” for the location in their era.
It is important to try and understand the social history of the town or area where our forebears lived, but what about our own history? Shouldn’t we try and document our times for those who follow?
As we grow older we constantly find that things have moved on, streets have changed, businesses have closed up, buildings demolished.
This week I was reminded of this fact by a visit from several cousins of mine to Jersey. A first cousin, his daughter plus fiancé, flew in from Canada, while a first cousin once removed, plus husband, came from the Midlands by plane. (If you find cousin relationships difficult to understand then check out my free report here.)
My elder cousin from Canada had memories of certain shops, that he had gone to with our grandparents and would have liked to have taken a trip to. The problem was that they had long since gone or changed in the intervening years.
We managed, however, to do many of the sites that had family associations for us; but I was still struck at how change in my own lifetime had crept up on my local environment. From the reclamation of land for a cinema, swimming-pool complex, 5 star hotel and housing apartments, which now replaces the beach where my science teacher had taken the class to learn some hands-on Marine Biology, to the house by the airport where my younger cousin (now based in England) had once lived as a child.
This was to be a great story as the Georgian farmhouse had been demolished, as new regulations deemed it to be too close to the airport runway. In actual fact there had been a dreadful air crash when my cousins lived in it, but she and her mother were thankfully away from the house at the time. In the fog a light aircraft had flown into said building with the loss of the pilot’s life.
Yesterday we took a trip to the site of the demolished house and walked around the footprint of the building. It was an eerie feeling as we picked our way over the old foundations.
I noticed the former garden still had flowers and plant bushes in it that indicted its past life as a formal front garden. These hardy specimens fighting through the weeds and wild foliage that aimed to sometime soon take control.
The happy ending to this piece is that the house was demolished stone-by-stone and it has sprung up again in restored Georgian glory as the cladding to a replica house a few miles down the road! The project is ongoing and the people behind it have a website here: http://savethelistedbuilding.com/
Yesterday we were privileged to be allowed to visit the house’s new site and my cousin, who had once lived within its granite structure, was delighted with the restoration and the positive ambience of its new location.
Think of those who will come after us, what stories can we leave them about our times?
I’ve got some advice for you to break down a brick wall.
Have you been stuck trying to find an ancestor?
Thought you might have been!
Maybe what I relate below will help you too.
The thing was that some while back, I was getting quite frustrated by being unable to trace a person in the records.
I was completely stuck finding this person’s birth, marriage or death and I had tried looking online and off without any luck.
Maybe you are in this position too?
What broke the problem for me?
Well it was avisit to a Family History websitewhile surfing forkeywordsto do with the ancestor and then a little bit of time spentbrowsing the transcripts featured on the platform.
There were some other factors, such as trying different spelling variations of first and second names, as advised by my family history teacher at the time and a visit to an archive.
What it boils down to is using a bit of lateral thinking in our family tree research and most importantly finding out about alternative records to the ones that we might have already used.
The family branch that has presented me with the most frustrating problems has been that from Devon. I was fine going back through the census years, 1911, 1901 and so on back to 1841 but then it became more of a problem.
Perhaps this story resonates with some of you to?
I had figured out that my 3x great-grandfather was called John Thorn. This was provided in the information he had given to the census enumerators over the years, along with the fact that he had been born in about 1795. His wife, Elizabeth, had been born about 1798.
As I belong to The Society of Genealogists I took a trip to their headquarters in Goswell Road, London knowing that they have the largest collection of Parish Records in the country on microfiche. They’ve also got some transcripts of parish registers in their library, which I thought may be worth looking at.
If you are in the area I highly recommend you visit the Society of Genealogists.
Unfortunately for me, at the time of my research, the Dartmouth parish records were not on microfilm at the SoG. But I was over the moon to find a great selection of Devon Family History Society booklets for marriages taking place in the churches of the town, including St. Saviour’s, Dartmouth. Browsing one book for any likely ancestors I spotted that on 13 April 1817 one person called John Thorn got married to an Elizabeth Sissell.
I opened up the internet and began searching using my new lead. My mission was to hunt down any evidence that this was the marriage of my ancestors.
Doing a search-engine query for Dartmouth + family history steered me towards the Dartmouth-history.org.uk website belonging to The Dartmouth Archives. I discovered that this voluntary organisation had a really broad family history section and included a number of transcribed baptisms, burials, marriages and census records.
I could read the very same information, as I had seen at the SoG in London, on this niche site. The data began in 1586 and ran to 1850 and there was the marriage of John Thorn to Elizabeth and this time I noticed that the witness were given as John Adams and Sunass (sic) Sissell.
At the time I made an assumption that this last person was more than likely some member of the bride’s family. Could it perhaps be the father of the bride?
But that name “Sunass” just didn’t seem likely to me. Now I know that it was the best guess by the transcriber as it couldn’t be read properly in the original record.
From the information I knew that they had signed with a mark, thus they were illiterate and so the first name and the second had not been written down by the ancestors themselves.
When you are doing your own research you should bear in mind that our ancestors may not have had the ability to read or write and the minister may have interpreted the name as he had heard it said to him. In my ancestor’s case the surname “Sissell” could possibly have been “Cecil” or something entirely different. Consider saying the name with the regional accent and seeing what you come up with.
As for Sunass – at this point I was clueless!
The Dartmouth Archives website had not got any early enough christening records for John and Elizabeth and so I went over to the Latter Day Saints (LDS) website or FamilySearch.org and here I did a search for Elizabeth’s christening.
I was rewarded by a lead to a baptism in one of the other churches in Dartmouth, St Petrox, on the 16 September 1878. This child was the daughter of James and Sarah Sissill and she was christened Elizabeth Gardener Sissill.
You may notice that the spelling had changed to Sissill with an “i” and not an “e” again pointing to the vicar writing it down the way that he heard it.
I now jumped to a conclusion that the witness to Elizabeth’s marriage could have been her father “James” and this has been interpreted as “Sunnas” because a flowing “J” for James had looked like an “S” to the transcriber and the other letters had been misread as a “u” for an “a” and the double “n” as an “m”. All easily done.
So what I am emphasising here and I continue to do so in modules from my Family History Researcher Course, is to be wary of names and the way they were spelt. If you keep this in mind then some of the logjams we find in our research can be got past.
This breakthrough I had was down to finding that Dartmouth has an active family history website and then using their indexes in conjunction with other internet resources, such as the LDS site.
The first learning point is that you should always find out what other research may have been done, for the area your ancestors came from.
If you find a family history society, or local interest group with a website, can any of their publications or website pages help you with your quest?
Secondly, always keep in mind that names were misspelled in many records. In my own family research I have had to think of other spellings for the Sissells, and indeed names that may have sounded like Sissell in order that I may trace this line back further and break down the brick wall.
I have made some fantastic strides in my family tree research and it is mostly down to learning as much as I can from other’s experiences and finding out as much as I can about what records and resources are available.
Last year I put together some modules for a course of 52 guides, aiming at passing on my experience. Perhaps they can help you become a more knowledgeable researcher?
I had some professional genealogists and data providers also contribute to the project to make it well rounded.
As you have come to this page I am sure that you must have an interest in family history and I am betting that you to have some brick walls to knock down as well. So take a look at the report below that is based on some of the material from the Family History Researcher course…
These knowledgeable interviewees include practising professional genealogists, with years and years of experience to offer.
Yet others are from the very highest levels of the online data provider companies, like Ancestry and TheGenealogist.
Listen to the download and learn some plain tips that will simplify the often confusing business of researching English/Welsh ancestors. I am going to give you access to these eight professionals so that you can use their advice to break down several brick walls that you may have.
3. The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA) Member. What would the advice be from a professional genealogist practitioner?
Well as many serious professional genealogists belong to this association, I headed over to the AGRA stand and asked a member for his research tips. Points he brought up included the information on documents being only as good as that given by the informant and what to do about conflicting data. There is more to hear in the full interview that you can download here .
4. Families in British India Society (FIBIS) Expert. In family history we often have to think a bit outside the box. Well have you considered that your missing ancestor had moved abroad? With 3 million Brits having gone out to India then if we have a missing forbear it could certainly pay us to take a look at the records from this part of the British Empire. Its not just soldiers, the list of people who went out to work there is long as we hear from this FIBIS expert.
5. Celia Heritage – Professional Genealogist, Author and Family History Teacher introduces us to an often under used set of resources in her piece: Death Records. She explains how to use these records to flesh out the bones of our ancestors lives.
Celia is an excellent and knowledgeable speaker and you can just hear the passion that she has for her subject as she dispenses some gems of advice in the free downloadable audio presentation. Its not just death certificates that Celia brings to our attention in this part of the recording!
6. Dr Ian Galbraith – The National Wills Index explains about one of the best single major sources for family historians when I asked him to talk about Wills and Administrations for this audio.
Ian explains why wills can be an important resource with an average of 10 names per will and with half of them being different from that of the testator. Many people are surprised by the fact that all sorts of people left wills, but you won’t be when you have heard the full interview.
7. Brad Argent – Content Director for Ancestry advises family historians to drill down for the information in the online databases in his contribution to the recording. Brad suggests we use the card catalogue to seek out data sets and then use the advance search facility of “exact”, “soundex” and “wildcards” when we are on this large data provider’s site. His advice is compelling.
8. Mark Bayley – Head of Online Content at TheGenealogist, a site that gives really fantastic value and a very wide range of data, introduces us to a great name-rich resource recently published by TheGenealogist, in association with The National Archives.
What is this important resource for England and Wales?
It is, of course, the Tithe collection.
I have been using this set recently to great effect with my own rural ancestors and so I have included a module in my Family History Researcher Guides about the tithes.
The beauty of this data is that it includes both sides of society, with landowners and tenants being recorded and giving names and addresses. As a pre-census data set it is hugely valuable to us! Listen to Mark explain about these exciting records in the free recording you can download now by clicking the link below.
Now you may be asking why I am doing this for free?
Its because I want to introduce you to a set of guides that I have put together. A series of pdf modules that takes the information I gleaned at Who Do You Think You Are? Live and incorporated it, along with much more content into a year’s worth of weekly written guides.
There are extra contributions from various other professional experts who have penned some of the reports, as well as those modules written from my own extensive experience.
I am guessing that, if you have read this far, you are interested in English/Welsh family history and that you have hit at least one of the inevitable brick walls. The solution is to understand more ways to find your ancestors.
So if you would like to dramatically increase your knowledge then I think you will enjoy being a member of my Family History Researcher Guides. This is a 52 weekly series of guides written in an easily accessible form and you can take a two week trial for just £1 by going here:
I’ve been to the Midlands this week and while I was there I took the opportunity to do some research in the Dudley Archives & local history centre.
No matter what gets put online, and believe me I am a keen user of online content, when I get the chance I still love to go to an actual archive and do some research in the reading room of one or other of these local authority depositories.
I spent my time in the one run by Dudley Metropolitan Council looking back at parish records in Halesowen and was fascinated, as always, by the extras that are to be found written in the margin of the parish records, or as notes in the front or back.
One note that I saw this week referred to a number of burials on the page and it mentioned that all of the above died of smallpox putting some context onto the conditions at the time. In other records down at the Devon record office I have seen a whole brood of children being baptised together after the family had returned to England after many years in the fishing fields of Newfoundland and a helpful side note by the vicar explaining this.
Another great benefit of a visit to a record office is that they often have books on their shelves that can be helpful finding aids. I was able to make use this week of a set of indexes to the parish records, published many years ago, but with them I could narrow down the dates that I wanted to look at on the microfilm reader.
In my Family History Researcher Academy course on English/Welsh ancestors I have a module specifically about the treasures that can be found in a County/City Record Office. The course can be done at your own pace and comes in 52 weekly downloads that build into a great resource for busting those brick walls in family history.
In England and Wales the Record Office is where the records of the local government administrative area are kept. In many cases they also house the ecclesiastical diocese records and, from a family historian’s point of view, they are the keepers of the old Parish Registers collected from the churches of the area, which was my reason for visiting Dudley Archives this week.
A Record Office:
– collects and preserves historical records of all kinds relating to its county,
– makes these records available for research of all kinds by all interested individuals and groups, and
– encourages and promotes awareness of the value and importance of its documentary heritage.
Usually a Record Office will also preserve a great deal of other archival material such as the records from independent local organizations, churches and schools.
There may be papers donated by prominent people from the community, leading families, estates, companies, lawyers and more. If you are in the area where your ancestors lived then go on an pay them a visit. The staff are usually very knowledgeable about their records and the district and so they can be a huge help to the family historian.
I’ve been going to the Who Do You Think You Are? Live show for a few years now and except for one, where the weather conspired to keep me away with thick fog marooning me in Jersey for days, I have seen the show go from strength to strength.
I love the mix of experts to consult, the varying subjects of the talks in the different theatres, the the range of family history exhibitors and the whole buzz of the show.
Tickets have gone on sale at their website and they have announced a number of exciting exhibitors new to the show, giving the visitor even more ways to explore their family history. Perhaps I could just draw your attention to the one at the bottom of this list, as the name may seem familiar?
New Exhibitors at the 2014 show Olympia, 20-22nd February:
Unlock the Past – this company combines hobbies and holidays by offering history and genealogy cruises, as well as genealogy e-books.
BRD Associates – preserve your story through theirÂ professional video life story recording, story books and old image restoration.
Borders Ancestry – if you have ancestors living throughout the Scottish Borders and Northumberland, then consider thisÂ professional research service.
QI Wellness Centre – a company who specialise inÂ the healing of your family’s inherited patterns.
Calico Pie – try their family historian deluxe genealogy software for size
Open University – is it time for you to take a course toÂ study family or local history?
Imperial War Museum – contribute to the museum’s ambitious WWI centenary project by uploading the life story of your ancestor’s role in WWI
RAF Museum – last at the show in 2011,Â get the very best advice in tracing your RAF ancestors
Fast Track Engraving – watch their demonstration of engraving and purchase your own memorial medallion to commemorate family members in WWI
Dr Williams Library – find out more about library research
Brythonium – create a tangible family history using their family legacy cards
The Book Alchemist – why not consider a virtual boot camp on how to turnÂ your family history into a written legacy?
The Nosey Genealogist – take a family history course using downloadable tutorials and audio CDs’
Of course you don’t have to wait until the show to take advantage of my Family History Researcher Academy course on English and Welsh Family history as there is a banner ad on the right hand side of this very blog!
As for WDYTYA?LIVE, New exhibitors will continually be added in the run up to the show so don’t forget to keep checking to see who is going to be there at: http://www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.com
Something that I have always believed in is that family history, as opposed to straight forward genealogy, needs the lives of our ancestors to be put into the social context of the times that they lived in. One of the really powerful ways to do this, I find, is to look at images from the past.
For that reason I am really bowled over with the new addition to TheGenealogist’s website that gives us a taste of what life was like in the times of our ancestors, through the medium of old photographs.
TheGenealogist has become the first family history website to launch a dedicated new Image Archive, which includes hundreds of unique 3D photos and thousands of standard images dating from 1850 to 1940!
What is brilliant is that the new Image Archive is a free to use service that allows researchers the opportunity to relive the past through the eyes of their ancestors at: www.TheGenealogist.co.uk/imagearchive
If you are a Diamond subscriber to TheGenealogist then you will have further access to the Image Archive to download the images in a high resolution format for the greatest possible clarity.
The Image Archive is fully searchable using the title of the photo itself, or you can just add a keyword to narrow down your search as I did to look at St Aubin, a village in Jersey, which is a place that is particularly well known to me. I can recognise buildings that are still there today, such as part of the current Spar shop that was, circa 1900 when the photograph was taken, Beresford’s General Supply Stores.
I then flipped to London and a view of Fleet Street, which I know from a stint working in a travel company based in what was an old newspaper office there.
Then on to Birmingham and to view streets that I can recognise have changed little from the first floor up (Corporation Street, for example) and those that by the time I lived in that city, in the late 1970s and 80s, had been demolished to make way for new schemes. So, by using this website, I could see what the Bull Ring looked like in the past. Then there was Five Ways, that I only know as a huge three lane roundabout, but was an atmospheric setting in the old images on TheGenealogist.
All the photos are rated so you can see which photos are of the highest quality. There is also a selection of main search categories and sub-categories to help you find photos of interest, quickly and easily. They are also rated for quality so you can see how good the picture is before you download it.
Hundreds of the images are available in stunning 3D to really bring the past to life!
With scenes of the hustle and bustle of Market Day to the drama of war, there is a selection to view as both 3D moving images or as 3D Red blue images or in a standard format if you prefer. Digitally enhanced by creative experts at TheGenealogist, add a greater depth to that photo from the past!
Don’t rely on the Internet only, I was once advised, go and look in the County Record Office for the actual records, you may find something else interesting there that you won’t be able to see online.
Since that day I have become a fan of our various archives and I believe that we need to support them by visiting when possible.
Usually a Record Office will also preserve a great deal of other archival material such as the records from independent local organizations, churches and schools. There may be papers donated by prominent people from the community, leading families, estates, companies, lawyers and more.
Some County Record Offices are also the Diocesan Record Office for the area and hold the ecclesiastical historic records as well. In some of the larger cities the local government may run its own City Record Office on the same principles as a County Record Office.
Archives may have been acquired by the record office either through donation from the original owner, or the documents may be deposited for safe keeping on long-term loan.
All of which may, or may not, be useful to you in finding out the story of your ancestors. But if you don’t go and look you will never know!
From the family historian’s point of view, the record office is a goldmine of original research documents which are valued as primary sources in the tracing of our ancestors.
The staff can offer direct access to documents or microfilmed copies in their public search rooms and provide a secure and supervised comfortable environment for research on these treasured documents.
So don’t just rely on the Internet, good as it is, but get out there and plan a visit to a record office or other archive this spring!
I am putting together an email course that teaches beginners about English and Welsh Family history. The tutorials are downloaded from a link that I send members weekly and one of the lessons will be on the subject of archives and repositories that I have written about above.
If you are starting out in tracing your English and Welsh ancestors and are finding that your forebears are hiding from you, behind those brick walls that we all encounter, then why not join me to learn how to get around those problems in Family Tree research?
A problem that you may have encountered is one where your ancestors do not appear in the online data bases that you are searching through. I have had this problem with several forebears and when this happens I usually decide to look for the missing person in various alternative offline records.
If you too are experiencing the pain, of not finding an ancestor, then have you thought of looking at the original records at a county record office, or at some other repository? True, you may have a long and uphill task, as you methodically work your way back through the images, year by year, but this is how I came across one of my “lost” ancestors recently.
For one reason or another the transcript, which the search engine facility on the subscription site used to throw up likely records for me to consider, had recorded my ancestor’s name incorrectly. Only by browsing a microfiche, in the archive, did I find the person that I had been previously searching for without any luck.
In another and quite unrelated search, I found a transcript of burials to be a godsend to me. It had been created by the Devon Family History Society and I had found that they offered both printed booklets, and downloadable pdf versions, of parish burials for the area that I was interested in.
As I was too impatient to wait for the physical booklet to arrive in the post I opted for the download of the pdf from their website. Now this gave me an advantage. In addition to being instantly able to see my purchase, I was also able to use the really useful search facility that is built into a pdf document reader. By selecting from the tool bar: “Edit” and then on the drop-down menu: “Find”, I could look for a specific word.
I chose to search for my ancestor’s surname and when I couldn’t find him listed, because his family name had been spelled in a strange way by the clerk or vicarÂ (see the previous post on that subject on this blog), I then tried his first name.
After searching and rejecting many men called “James”, who had been listed in the booklet, I finally hit upon one in this list that seemed to fit the bill. His age matched my ancestor and the surname was indeed a novel interpretation ofÂ the last name that I was looking for. Thus, in my family history quest to fill out my family tree I have encountered both a time when a transcript has helped me find an ancestor and a time when a transcript has hindered!