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.
Following on from my piece, earlier in the week, when I posted the Press Release issued by TheGenealogist, I’ve now had time to play a bit with the tithe apportionment records and accompanying maps to see what I could find.
In the parish of Ealing, in Middlesex, I came across the land owned by Sir Felix Booth, a wealthy Gin distiller in Old Brentwood High Street. His family had, you may realize from the name, been the founders of Booths Gin back in 1740. Its a brand that is still being marketed to this day. Sir Felix was pretty wealthy; indeed he had enough money to have financed John Ross’ expedition to find the Northwest Passage through the Arctic Ocean.
Booth’s distillery was in this part of London, next to the Thames. From the tithe apportionment document, accessed on TheGenealogist website, we can see that Sir Felix owned and occupied quite a bit of the land in Brentwood, including plot 230 that accounted for his distillery. There was also a house which may have been occupied by one of the family, a John Booth. If we turn to the census collection, also on TheGenealogist, John Booth is listed as being 35 and of Independent means in the 1841 census of Old Brentwood High Street.
To my amusement I found that the Booth’s distillery, was cheek by jowl with a brewery and a large number of pubs and hotels meaning that there were many places to get a tipple in this neighbourhood. A feature of this particular map was that the surveyor had chosen to write some of the names of the pubs on the plan so that we can see that within a few yards were The Barge Aground, The Bull, The Running Horse, The Half Moon and Seven Stars, The Royal Hotel, The Drum, The Red Lion and also The King George!
A bit further west, on the High Street, was the Lock Up House and I have to wonder at how many ended up there after a pub crawl down this particular 1840 London street?
To view the Tithe maps for Middlesex, Surrey, Buckinghamshire and Leicestershire go to TheGenealogist.co.uk
Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links used in this post.
You may have been watching the BBC’s dramatization of Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” on television. The lead character in the book and television series, is Thomas Cromwell a man born into a working class family who rises to be the right hand man of Cardinal Wolsey, at one time King Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor. Cromwell managed to survive the fall from grace of Wolsey and went on to become the King’s Chief Minister until his own downfall.
The connection between this man and we family historians, with ancestors in England and Wales, is that Thomas Cromwell is responsible for the fact that we are able to trace many of our ancestors back in the documents created by the parish churches across the land.
The Parish registers for baptisms, marriages and burials, were first introduced into the Church of England in 1538 by Cromwell as Henry VIII’s Vicar General and Vice regent, a position that gave him power to supervise the church.
Cromwell required that every parish church was to acquire a sure coffer (that is, a parish chest) within which their records could be securely stored. While the parish chest was not a new idea, they could have been found in churches up and down the land all the way back to medieval times, what was new, in Tudor times, was the notion that Cromwell dictated that accurate records were to be kept and the responsibility to do so was placed on the parish officials to keep these records safe.
The parish chest were often no more than a hollowed out tree trunk that was secured with three locks. The keys were to be kept by the Bishop, the Priest and by a religious layman.
By the mid-1500’s the parishioners in every parish of the land were instructed by law to provide a strong chest with a hole in the upper part thereof, and having three keys, for holding the alms for the poor. Another chest may have been used to keep safe the church’s plate and this or the first chest would also double up as a place where the parish registers and other parish documents could be kept safe. In some places only one chest would have sufficed for both purposes, while in other parishes two or more may have been used.
So the debt we owe to Thomas Cromwell is that he introduced parish registers, some of which have survived pests, fire and flood back through the generations and provide us today with names of ancestors stretching back generations.
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.
I’ve heard from the team at TheGenealogist about their new medal release that gives full details of heroic soldiers and their deeds in the First World War and The Second Boer War to aid you in your search for more information on your ancestor’s war exploits.
Analysis of these newly released Distinguished Conduct Medal records uncovers stories of heroism and exceptional bravery from ordinary soldiers. The medal was instituted in 1854, but the desperate fighting and struggle of the First World War saw the medal awarded to a larger amount of soldiers for the first time.
TheGenealogist.co.uk has released complete new records of Non Commissioned Officer’s and Other Ranks who were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in The First World War and The Second Boer War.
Uniquely these new records show full details of the Recipients Medal Card combined with a link to The London Gazette which in numerous cases contains full details of the heroic deed that won them the medal. The Gazette is the one of the official journals of the British Government and can be classed as one of the oldest surviving English newspapers.
The records contain full details of the soldier awarded the medal –their name, rank, regiment, date of medal citation and details of their heroism in battle, all easily found using ‘SmartSearch’ on TheGenealogist.
Men from all walks of life found the strength and resilience to summon up acts of courage to go above and beyond the call of duty.
The first Battle of Ypres reached a crisis point for the British at the end of October 1914. The 1st Division were being driven back and the 1st Coldstream Guards had been wiped out in the fighting. At a critical moment, Sergeant J. Kirkcaldy of the 26th (Heavy) Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery (as seen in the illustration), brought up fresh horses under a terrific shellfire to replace those already killed. His gallant conduct saved a transport wagon. Details of his DCM Medal award can be found on TheGenealogist:
On October 20th 1914 at Chateau de Flandre, Sergeant Forwood of the 3rd East Kents (The Buffs) found himself in a desperate situation. Initially buried alive when a German shell hit his machine gun position killing or wounding his comrades, despite receiving numerous wounds himself, he managed to escape and report the situation to his headquarters to ensure their position was covered. His DCM award appeared in the London Gazette in early 1915 and an artist’s impression of the trauma he suffered is illustrated here.
His full details and link to the London Gazette are all found in the new DCM records on TheGenealogist.
Mark Bayley, Head of Online Content at TheGenealogist concludes: “We are continually making more historic military records available and our new DCM Collection with its link to the London Gazette brings all the information together for the family historian. Our collection of military records goes from strength to strength with more to come.”
To find out the extreme bravery of our soldiers and their courage in the line of duty see the dedicated page on TheGenealogist.co.uk/DCM. There you will find photographs, stories, statistics and a free search facility.
Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links are used in this post.
Last night’s ITV programme on Secrets from the Asylum was fascinating from a family history point of view.
It showed vividly how emotional a finding that one or other of your ancestors spent some time, or indeed died, behind the doors of an asylum can be.
One of the things that I always advise people, thinking about researching their family tree, is to be aware that they may find skeletons in the cupboard. Also that once the skeleton is out this can cause other members of your family to get upset with you for opening the door into the past. Its particularly difficult if you dispel a carefully constructed family story that has been woven to protect the family from a perceived disgrace.
Another maxim, that I tell people new to family history, is not to judge their family for making up these stories and to try to understand your ancestor in the era in which they lived and in the social context of their times.
Both these “rules” had to be applied when I found a cause of death for a client whose family tree I was researching. Just like Christopher Biggins, one of the celebrities on the show, he to discovered that his ancestor died from “general paralysis of the insane”.
The client’s ancestor was said to have fallen from his horse as a relatively young man. My client had become suspicious of this story, perhaps subconsciously having picked up that the received wisdom was not told convincingly enough. His theory, however, was that his ancestor had perhaps run away from his wife and family. The truth was more of a shock when the certificate was delivered to him by me.
In the programme last night actress Sue Johnston was also featured as she revisited the hospital where she had worked in the 1960’s. Her experience was of wheeling patients down to have Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT), which was invented in the 1930s to treat schizophrenia but was used on a variety of illnesses by the 1960s. Her memories of the patients getting the treatment were quite distressing for her.
I have found people who had this treatment and went on to live normal lives but for researchers who discover this in their family tree, this can sometimes be upsetting.
So, as long as you are aware that not everything that you may find out about ancestors will be “rosy” then family history research is a compelling pastime that gets better with the more records and resources that you can get to use.
If you are just starting out and want to build your knowledge of English/Welsh family history so that you are able to track down elusive ancestors then take a look at my course at Family History Researcher Academy.
For another couple of weeks I am offering my Summer Sale of a month’s trial for free in conjunction with S&N Geneology Supplies! Click the image below.
I am going to be at The Midlands Family History Fair tomorrow Saturday 9th August 2014 between 10:00 – 4:00.
I’ll be introducing people to my Family History Researcher Course and selling some of my Genealogy help audios at very special prices.
If you are going to the fair, then come over and say hello.
Its on at the Worcester Rugby Club, Sixways Stadium, Worcester, WR3 8ZE
Admission: £3.00, Children FREE
There is free parking at the Rugby Club, or a shuttle bus from Foregate Street Railway Station.
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.
One of my clients has family from Staffordshire and he was bemoaning the lack of records he could find online.
Well now the UK family history website findmypast.co.uk has published online for the first time over 2.8 million parish records in partnership with Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service as the final instalment of Findmypast’s 100in100 promise to release 100 record sets in 100 days.
Spanning 1538 to 1900, the parish records launched today mark the start of an exciting project to create the Staffordshire Collection on Findmypast – a rich source, which on completion will comprise around 6 million fully searchable transcripts and scanned images of handwritten parish records.
The Collection covers all Staffordshire Anglican parish registers up to 1900 deposited with the Archive Service and includes over 3,400 registers recording the baptisms, marriages and burials carried out in the ancient county. This will include the City of Stoke on Trent and parishes now within the City of Wolverhampton, as well as the Boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall.
The lives of many notable Potteries folk are recorded in the Collection. Captain of industry and prominent abolitionist, Josiah Wedgwood, the man who established the Wedgwood company in 1754, industrialised the manufacture of pottery for the first time and created the famous “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” anti-slavery medallion, appears in a baptism register. Born on 12 July 1730, Josiah was baptised the same day at St John’s church in Burslem. His grand-daughter Emma Wedgwood, the future wife of Charles Darwin, also appears in the Collection.
These church records also provide some unexpected insights into significant events in Staffordshire’s colourful history. In a late 18th century register of baptisms from the parish of Alrewas, curate John Edmonds took it upon himself to record a narrative of local happenings, and this too can now be read online for the first time. Edmonds recounts details of a flood that swept two bridges away, an earthquake that rocked the parish in 1795, a series of local riots over food shortages and even a lightning strike that killed 3 cows and 2 horses. He also recorded events of national significance, such as King George III being fired upon with an air gun on his way to parliament.
The Potteries proud manufacturing history is well represented in the Collection. Other important potters in the records include William Moorcroft, Potter to the Queen by Royal Warrant, and founder of the Moorcroft pottery that supplied stores such as Liberty & Co and Tiffany New York. There’s also Thomas William Twyford, inventor of the single piece ceramic flush toilet and co-founder of Twyford Bathrooms, and John Aynsley, the founder of Aynsley China, one of the last remaining producers of bone china in Stoke on Trent.
Manufacturers are not the only famous Staffordians to be found in the records. Admiral of the Fleet and 1st Earl of St Vincent John Jervis, best remembered for his defeat of the Spanish fleet at the 1797 Battle of Cape Saint Vincent and his patronage of Horatio Nelson, was born at Meaford Hall in 1735.
Marriage registers from 1835 contain Burton upon Trent brewer and politician Michael Thomas Bass Jr, whose clever leadership saw Bass become the best known brand in Britain and the largest brewery in the world. Other famous figures include Francis Barber, a freed Jamaican slave, who became the manservant and beneficiary of Dr Johnson; William Thomas Astbury, the pioneering X-ray scientist; and legendary classical composer Havergal Brian.
The Staffordshire Collection adds to Findmypast’s already extensive cache of parish records, the largest available online. These records allow family historians to research as far back as the 1500s, and with more Staffordshire records still to be added to Findmypast, family historians from all over the world can now explore their more distant roots more easily than ever before, and uncover their Staffordshire, Black Country and Potteries ancestors.
The records were launched at an event at the Staffordshire Record Office by Findmypast, Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service and Staffordshire County Council Cabinet member for Children, Communities and Localism, Mike Lawrence.
Debra Chatfield, family historian at findmypast.co.uk, said: “From today, anyone, wherever they are in the world, will be able to go online and discover whether they have Staffordshire roots. These really are fascinating parish records, full of colourful insights, and you might even be able to get your family tree as far back as 1538, when Henry VIII was on the throne!“
Mike Lawrence, Cabinet member for Community at Staffordshire County Council said: “We are very proud of our heritage here in Staffordshire and this is the start of an exciting partnership with Findmypast to bring 6 million names online for people to search through. The project will give family historians from across the world an opportunity to delve into our rich past and learn more about our great county.
“We also want to encourage more people from the county to explore their own family history, and access to the Staffordshire Parish Registers on Findmypast will be free in Archive Service offices and libraries across Staffordshire.”
Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links used in this post
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…