Last Thursday night, on BBC TV, saw what many people on my facebook page are saying was the best programme in the 12th UK series of Who Do You Think You Are so far. The subject was Frank Gardner, the BBC’s Security Correspondent who made the news himself in June 2004 when he was shot six times and seriously wounded by al-Qaeda sympathisers in Saudi Arabia.
It was his maternal family tree, that was the subject of the one hour show. It would seem to have delighted those viewers that have commented on social media because, while it did pick out certain key ancestors to look at in more detail, the episode went on to trace Frank’s line as far back as the research would take them. This happened to be to William the Conqueror himself and so it more than validated the family story, that Frank had heard as a child from his mother, that they were descended from the Normans.
You certainly couldn’t have wanted to find a better ancestor than the Norman King, if you were trying to prove that your family came over with the Normans! Without any shadow of a doubt William, Duke of Normandy, is one Norman that no one can dispute arrived in England at that time.
The satisfaction of being able to trace one generation back to another and then back to another, and so on for 31 generations, is something that very few of us can have the gratification of being able to do. Yet I was asked by a contact this weekend if I had noticed that it was often a pretty zig-zag line that was taken. The lineage, they had spotted from the pedigree shown on the screen, would meander back though the mother of an ancestor and then her mother. The next generation back was again via the female line and then, perhaps, the male branch for a couple of generations before going up the female line again.
“How could the Herald at the College of Arms have told Frank that he was directly descended from William the Conqueror?”
“Because he is!” I replied, nonplussed. “A direct line does not mean everyone has to have the same surname and be descended from the male. Women are just as important as ancestors to us all.”
I believe that this is a mistake that many may make in their family tree research. Unintentionally concentrating on charging back up one line following the father, the grandfather to trace the surname back. This can even happen if our quest started with a woman.
It takes two to create an offspring and the child, we know now, receives half their DNA from each parent. So take time to investigate some of your female lines and see where they take you. You too may be as lucky as Frank Gardner in your discoveries.
TheGenealogist website’s researchers have also turned up an interesting fact about the journalist’s dad.
A friend of mine had this brick wall in their family tree.
They asked for my help and it was one that a moments consideration enabled me to break down for them.
We were looking at a family in the parish records of a small town in the south west of England. My friend had been examining records back as far as 1638 and had found an entry for a John Horn marrying an Joan Narbor in the parish church. The date was the 31st January 1638 and my friend said that this could not be her ancestor for the reason that John was still married to his first wife at this time.
I took a look and saw the baptism of a child, Edward son of John Horn, on the 26th August 1638 in the same church’s register as the marriage to Joan was recorded, followed sadly three days later by the burial of Ann, the first wife of John and mother of Edward on the 29th August 1638.
The answer was one that can trip up many family history researchers, when they are looking that far back, and is to do with mistaking the dates as recorded at the time in the Julian calendar and assuming it is recorded as we do today in the Gregorian calendar.
The simple solution is that January 1638 was in the last quarter of 1638 and came after August 1638 according to the Julian calendar.
The Gregorian reform started in 1582, in Pope Gregory XIII’s time, as in the image above but took some time to be adopted by Europe. It was 1752 that England and Wales adopted the Gregorian calendar a little later than some other countries, including Scotland. At that time 11 days were omitted – the day after 2nd September 1752 became the 14th September from the English calendar.
The first day of the year, or Supputation of the Year became the 1st of January, but only from 1752 in England and Wales.
Prior to this in England & Wales, the year began on Lady Day, or the 25th March. This would mean that in our example the 24th of March 1638 would be the last day of 1638 and the next day was the 25th of March 1639, and a new year.
The Calendar Act 1750 changed this situation, so that the day after 31 December 1751 was 1 January 1752. As a consequence, 1751 was a very short year – it ran only from 25 March to 31 December!
The year had previously been broken up into quarters, still in use for some legal practices, Lady Day (25th March), Midsummers Day (24th June), Michaelmas Day (29th September) and Christmas day 925th December).
To throw even more confusion into this situation, Scotland had already changed the first day of the year to 1 January in 1600 and so 1599 was a short year there ( remember that in 1600, Scotland was a completely separate kingdom). What has to be recognised is that when King James VI of Scotland also became King James I of England in 1603, the possibilities of date confusion must have been very large indeed.
So that brakes down that brick wall for my friend, as John Horn would have needed a wife to help bring up his children and so it is no surprise that he remarries quickly.
This tip is taken from one of my lessons in the Family History Researcher Course.
If you are serious about discovering your family history then why not spend the winter nights looking for them? But first you need to know where to look and what tips you need to tease them out.
I am making available again, on a special offer of a FREE month’s trial, my extremely well received course on English/Welsh Family History.
With Monday being the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War there are many new records online.
With all the websites highlighting their records for the war that was meant to be “the war to end all wars” we have quite a choice.
So I was looking for something distinct to look at this week.
Luckily I’ve heard from the team at TheGenealogist about some new records that approach WWI from a slightly different angle.
TheGenealogist has just released for the first time two million military records that have uncovered the determined Allied servicemen who escaped from First World War POW Camps.
These new records include both officers and other ranks, listing those men who endured the hardships and often brutal regimes as a prisoner of war. It’s an area of the Great War that is very rarely looked at.
The hardship and disease that became rife in the camps made many men look to escape. The Allied Officers, although held in slightly better conditions, also had an unwritten code that it was every officer’s duty to try to escape and many tried and failed.
The new release gives details of the Allied Officers behind the escape attempt at Holzminden Camp, near Hannover in 1918, where a tunnel was dug for 8 months using cutlery as digging tools. 29 men escaped, 19 were eventually caught but 10 got away and returned to England. Their daring escape inspired the prisoners in the famous ‘Great Escape’ of The Second World War.
Holzminden Camp held a number of high profile Allied servicemen. Conditions were harsh as it was used for the most troublesome prisoners, who made regular escape attempts. Prisoners listed on TheGenealogist’s records include Michael Claude Hamilton-Bowes-Lyon (The Queen’s Uncle), William Leefe Robinson (who shot the first German airship down over London and who was kept in solitary confinement for repeated escape attempts) and James Whale (future Hollywood Director of ‘Frankenstein’).
Mark Bayley, Head of Online Content at TheGenealogist, commented:
“Our new unique records are a great resource to track down those First World War ancestors. With our extensive range of military records it’s now possible to find out if your ancestor was a casualty or taken prisoner of war of if they were one of the lucky ones who made it through unscathed. With this being the centenary year of the outbreak of The First World War, it is the perfect time to explore your family tree and discover the war service of your ancestors.”
Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links are used above.
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…
Ahead of Remembrance Day, Ancestry.co.uk, has today launched online the UK, WWII Civilian Deaths, 1939-1945 collection, listing the thousands ofBritish citizens killed on the â€˜Home Frontâ€™ during the Second World War.
The records, originally compiled by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, list almost 60,000 members of the British Commonwealth and Empire who were killed as a result of enemy action whilst going about their everyday lives or while at their posts as members of the Civil Defence Services.
The majority of the names listed were civilians killed in the aerial bombings by the German Luftwaffe (air force) as it attempted to bring Britain to its knees. These attacks on British cities, which took place from September 1940 to May 1941 are known collectively as The Blitz and led to around 40,000 deaths.
Nearly half of those killed in The Blitz (17,500) were Londoners, but several other cities were also badly hit, with Liverpool next worst off in terms of civilian deaths (2,677) followed by Birmingham, Bristol, Hull, Plymouth, Coventry, Portsmouth, Belfast and Glasgow.
Among the 59,418 names listed in the records is James Isbister, considered the first civilian casualty of WWII on home soil. He was killed in March 1940, when German bombers attacking Scapa Flow Naval Base, Orkney, jettisoned their remaining bombs over civilian territory as they fled back to Germany.
Hundreds of British civilians lost their lives before this point, most commonly in sea disasters when civilian ships hit military mines during the early months of the war. As the war progressed deaths at sea became all the more common, with thousands lost, as Germany used submarines to sink merchant ships in an attempt to restrict supplies to Britain.
More than 2,300 Civil Defence Service members also gave their lives whilst on duty, including air raid wardens, home guard, and members of the Womenâ€™s Voluntary Services.
One of the most notable names in the collection is actor and star of Gone With The Wind,Leslie Howard. He was killed in 1943 when the civilian airliner he was travelling in to Bristol was shot down. Historians have since suggested that the Luftwaffe may have attacked the non-military plane because German Intelligence believed Prime Minister Winston Churchill to be on board.
Before the war it was feared a sustained campaign of aerial bombings would lead to more than 600,000 deaths and as a result the 1937 Air Raid Precautions Act forced local councils to make provisions for defence. These varied from a widespread imposed blackout of all lighting from public and commercial buildings to the construction of bomb shelters and provision of gas masks.
The government also implemented widespread evacuation of major cities, with OperationPied Piper responsible for the relocation of more than 3.5 million people – mainly urban children moved to safer homes in rural areas.
Several other famous names of the day can also be found within the digital records, including:
Albert Dolphinâ€“ Dolphin was working as an emergency hospital porter at what is today New Cross Hospital London when a bomb hit the kitchens of the building. A true Home Front hero, Albert rushed to the aid of a nurse trapped in wreckage and protected her as a damaged wall gave way. He was killed saving her life and was posthumously awarded the George Cross for his bravery.
James Baldwin-Webb MP â€“ Baldwin-Webb, MP for The Wrekin in Shropshire and one of the most famous civilians of the day, was lost at sea. In September 1940, whilst travelling to Canada to fundraise for the Ambulance Corps, his liner SS City of Benares was torpedoed by a German submarine. He stayed aboard the ship to assist women and children onto lifeboats before going down with the ship.
Arthur Bacon â€“ Bacon was a popular footballer, playing as a striker at Reading, Chesterfield and Coventry City â€“ scoring 71 goals between 1923 and 1935. After his footballing career he served as a Special Constable in Derby where he was killed in 1942 (aged 37) during an air raid.
Miriam Silverman, UK Content Manager, from Ancestry.co.ukcomments: â€œAs we approach Remembrance Sunday, itâ€™s important to not only remember those heroes who served and died in conflict but the thousands of ordinary people who lost their lives in Britain and the Commonwealth whilst battling to keep the country running at a very difficult time.
â€œThis collection gives people the chance to find out about any Home Front heroes that might be in their family tree, and adds to the millions of military records available on Ancestry.co.uk from the past 100 years and more.â€
Ancestry.co.uk is providing free access to 3.6 million military recordsÂ between 8th and 12th November, including WWI Service Records 1914 â€“ 1920, WWII Army Roll of Honour 1939 â€“ 1945, Navy Medal and Roll Awards 1793 â€“ 1972 and Victoria Cross Medals 1857 â€“ 2007. To search for the war heroes in your family tree, visitwww.ancestry.co.uk/start_military Â
Disclosure: Links are compensated affiliate links.
I’m very lucky to get all sorts of information sent to me, regarding family history, and this week I have interesting news about a new Apprentice and Masters database.
TheGenealogist has just released over one million Apprentice and master records for us to search online. This makes over two million searchable records when the apprentices from the census are included. What is more, these can both be searched together by using the keyword â€œapprenticeâ€ in TheGenealogistâ€™s Master Search.
The site helps you find detailed records relating to the occupation of your ancestor. This is the first time you can find apprentices from a whole range of records between 1710 and 1911.
TheGenealogist’s is the largest searchable collection of apprentice records available online, allowing you to view how your ancestors developed their skills and also if they became a master in their profession.
These detailed records in IR1 cover the years from 1710 to 1811 giving name, addresses and trades of the masters, the names of the apprentices, along with the sum the master received and the term of the apprenticeship. Until 1752, it was also common to see the names of the apprenticesâ€™ parents on the record (often including their occupations).
So if you want to take a look for your ancestors then the new records are available to their Diamond subscribers in the Master Search and under the â€˜Occupation Recordsâ€™ section.
What is great is that you can search for both Apprentices and Masters.
TheGenealogist allows you to view the full transcript of an apprenticeship record to see more details of your ancestors apprenticeship – including when they started their training, the â€˜Masterâ€™ who trained them and how long their apprenticeship was scheduled to be.
The Apprenticeship records provide an insight into a method of training that stood the test of time and are today, once again a popular method of training. Many apprentices did their training, worked their way up and then took on apprentices themselves. The Apprenticeship records allow you to trace this with just a few mouse clicks.
Then there is the handy keyword option. This also allows you to narrow down your search if you have an idea of the profession, or the area your ancestor worked in saving you even more time.
The new records are taken from the â€˜IR1 Board of Stamps: Apprenticeship Booksâ€™ from The National Archives. As well as the new collection of records, apprentices can also be discovered in the transcribed â€˜profession fieldâ€™ of census records on TheGenealogist from 1841 to 1911.
The apprentice training route has for many people set them on their way in their working life or as a way of developing others. From James Hargreaves (inventor of the spinning jenny) to Thomas Yeoman (first President of The Society of Civil Engineers), to Sir Michael Caine who started as an apprentice plumber) to Beatle George Harrison who was an apprentice electrician, they have all experienced the apprenticeship programme.
This traditional way of training young people is now regaining popularity as the benefits our ancestors recognised are re-introduced as a way of giving people a start in a career.
Hooray! This month’s Your Family Tree Magazine ( May 2013 Issue 129) has a feature on uncovering your Channel Island kin and it is very good.
Naturally, as a local – I am a Jersey-born resident of this most southerly point in the British Isles – I was immediately attracted to this article. I flicked through to page 34, as soon as I opened my copy.
You may have noticed that I say above “I am Jersey-born” and not that “I am a Jerseyman”. This is because, when you live here, you become aware of certain linguistic conventions that we islanders abide by.
To be regarded as a proper Jerseyman I would need to have not only been born here, but to have come from a line of Jerseymen and women that have roots here stretching back several generations. It is also best that those roots can be traced to nearby Normandy and that your name has a French origin to it. My roots and name just do not qualify!
I am the son of incomers, my father is English, and my Norman blood is courtesy of an ancestor called de la Haye who emigrated to Scotland from Normandy, around the 12th century, established the Clan Hay and has filtered down to me here.
I can, however, and do claim to be a local.
Within this blog I have several pages written by guest contributor James McLaren of the Channel Islands Family History Society that will complement the YFT magazine’s feature. Take a look at Jersey Family History for tips on researching in Jersey.
For the record, here in Jersey is how we refer to what goes on within our island. Locals may wince if you refer to “researchingÂ your family history onJersey”. We are, after all, a separate legislative jurisdiction.
We do owe allegiance to the English Crown – the successor to the Dukedom of Normandy and are British. We do not owe allegiance to England, nor are we part of the United Kingdom. We are a Crown Peculiar.Â So to avoid annoying Channel Islanders, do not insinuate that we are loyal to England, and then you will find that we are a friendly and welcoming bunch.
When I was a schoolboy, here in Jersey, I learntÂ a splendid repost to someone from the Mainland asking: “So how long have the islands belonged to England?”
The answer always was: “I think you will find that we conquered you in 1066.”
The logic behind this is that the Channel Islands are the last remaining part of the Duchy of Normandy that remains loyal to our Duke, H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. That as Normans we conquered the English with Duke William. Simple!
Â Find out about Your Family Tree Magazine by clicking the image below:
Disclosure: The Links in the above are Compensated Affiliate links. If you click on them then I may be rewarded by Your Family Tree Magazine should you sign up for their subscription.
Well, I was out and about today so I missed this announcement earlier from findmypast.co.uk.
Today they published online for the first time the parish records held by the City of Westminster Archives Centre.
The Westminster Collection comprises fully searchable transcripts and scanned images of the parish registers dating back over 400-years.
The 3 million records cover the period 1538-1945 and come from over 50 Westminster churches including St Anne, Soho, St Clement Danes, St George Hanover Square, St James Westminster, St Margaret Westminster, St Martin-in-the-Fields, St Mary-le-Strand and St Paul Covent Garden.
Some of the fascinating documents now available online detail the wedding of Theodore Roosevelt, the former US President, in 1886; the marriage of Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel; and the marriage of poet Percy Shelley.
Debra Chatfield, a family historian at findmypast.co.uk, said: â€œThe Westminster Collection is one of the largest regional parish record collections we have ever published online and contains some truly wonderful gems.
â€œFamily historians or people looking into their past, wherever they are in the world, can now search this historical goldmine and uncover the fascinating stories of their London ancestors. There is plenty of intrigue in the records to pique the interest of social historians too.â€
Adrian Autton, Archives Manager at Westminster Archives commented: â€œThe launch of the Westminster Collection is of huge significance and makes Westminster records fully accessible to a global audience. This resource will be of immense value to anyone whose ancestors lived in Westminster and to anyone wishing to study the rich heritage of this truly great city.â€
The new Westminster Collection at findmypast.co.uk joins a growing resource of official parish records from local archives, including Cheshire Archives & Local Studies, Manchester City Council and Plymouth and West Devon Records Office, with many more in the pipeline, due to go live in the coming months. In addition, over 40 million parish records from family history societies can be found at findmypast.co.uk in partnership with the Federation of Family History Societies.
The Westminster Collection is available on all of findmypastâ€™s international sites as part of a World Subscription.
At the Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE show at Olympia Ancestry’s Russell James tells me about the addition of Outgoing Passenger Lists to their Incoming lists and the some times salacious Divorce records!
Following on from the last article here I got a comment posted byÂ James McLaren of the Channel Island Family History Society regarding using Rate books both in his specialist area of Jersey family history research and also for London by using the Land Tax assessments and the Electoral Registers on Ancestry.co.uk.
As my interest was piqued I have done a bit more research on the subject and share some of my findings here.
A rate book is a document that was used to record the payment of property taxes that was applied to both residential and business properties in the U.K. until its replacement with the council tax during the 1990s.
As a resident of Jersey I am well aware that, in our island, Rates are still levied by our civil Parish administration along with a recent addition of an island wide rate collected at the same time. Some part of that rate pays for the upkeep of roads, lighting, bins emptied while a small part of it is still used to upkeep the ancient Parish Church in each of the twelve parishes of Jersey.
I was, therefore, interested to find that rates in England and Wales were originally a levy for the parish church that, by the time of Henry VIII’s Reformation, were also being used for non ecclesiastical purposes such as repairs to bridges and local goals. Many rates collections were to support the Poor Law to maintain the workhouses and provide money for the elderly or incapacitated parishioners.
The theory of rates was that a property would be assessed at what its annual rental value was and each year I am intrigued to see what my house in St.Helier has been deemed to be worth in rent – if I didn’t need to live in it, that is!
Returning to my look at rates collected in bygone England and Wales, some householders will no doubt have objected to the level of assessment of their property. Appeals were then heard by the Justices of the Peace.
The collection, of these land taxes, would have been the responsibility of the parish constable, until the establishment of professional police forces when a full or part-time rate collector would have done the job. It was up to the constable to record the payments, and any arrears, in rate books which were then perused by the parish officials.
My investigation revealed that the earliest rate books stretch back as far as the 16th century, but you would be very lucky to find one from then. Most seem to begin in 1744, which was the year when ratepayers were given the right in law to inspect the rate records. Needless to say not all will have survived the passing of time and so gaps will occur.
So where does one look for rate books? The answer is in the County or City Record Offices and also at local history studies libraries.
The websites that I use the most at the moment are Find My Past and The Genealogist.co.uk. To Take your family history further I recommend that you too consider a subscription to these websites. Take a look now and see what great data sets they have to offer:
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.