I have been looking into the English family tree for a client that lives on the other side of the world recently.
It was easy, using the census and BMDs to quickly trace the family line back from Surrey and the South London area in the 1960s to Shoreham in Kent around the middle of the 18th Century. There then followed a nice trail, in the parish church registers, of one generation after the next being baptised following obvious marriages of the parents. Suddenly, however, I lost the connection as one set of parents seemed not to have conveniently married in St Peter and St Paul, Shoreham.
As it happened I had noticed that the Hearth Tax Online website http://www.hearthtax.org.uk/ had published a 1664 Kent Hearth Tax list and with one click I was able to see the return of names for the various parishes of the county.
Scrolling to Shoreham I found one incidence of the client’s family surname and so we can suppose that if we could trace his line back that this is where it would point to.
While this Hearth Tax payer in Shoreham may have been an ancestor, I can not advise my client that this is definitely so. What I have told him is that his family may well have been living in this village at the time that Charles II’s government hit on the idea of taxing his citizens at 2 shilling a hearth in the late 17th century. It helps us see where the tree is possibly pointing as we do more research in the primary records.
The hearth tax was a type of property tax on the dwellings of the land payable according to the number of fireplaces the occupiers had. The 1662 Act introducing the tax stated that ‘every dwelling and other House and Edifice …shall be chargeable ….for every firehearth and stove….the sum of twoe shillings by the yeare’. The money was to be paid in two equal instalments at Michaelmas (the 29th September) and Lady Day (25th March) by the occupier or, if the house was empty, by the owner according to a list compiled on a county basis and certified by the justices at their quarterly meetings. These quarterly meetings conducted within each county were known as the Quarter Sessions. The lists of householders were an essential part of the administration so that the returns of the tax could be vetted and for two periods 1662-6 and 1669-74, one copy of the relevant list was returned to the Exchequer and another was held locally by the clerk of the peace who administered the Quarter Sessions.
I was doing some work on an obscure branch of my family tree this week when I came across a family tree online that included the individual that had married into my family.
Great, I thought, I can quickly get a handle on this person and get some clues as to where he had come from and so on. But casting an eye over the family tree I was disappointed to see that many of the details, such as the dates of birth and death were not backed up with any sources quoted.
For anyone, starting out in researching their family history, an early lesson to learn is that you should never import a family tree that someone else has complied, unless you have checked the details yourself. If the author of the tree does not give you the sources, from where they have obtained the information, then you are not going to be able to check them for yourself and so the best you can do is use the information only as a guide for further research.
Being in an optimistic mood I, nonetheless, jotted down on my scrap pad the names and dates so that I could go and look for them myself. But then it hit me that this family tree had been put together by someone in a haphazard and slapdash way. A birth was attributed to Essex in Massachusetts, when the subject had been born in the English County of Essex. A marriage to a lady rejoicing in the first name of Thomasine reputedly had taken place in 1800. This was impossible as the subject was not born until 1837.
The problem can occur on websites that give suggestions that may or may not be your ancestor and that happen to have the same or a similar name. It seems that some people accept the suggestions as leads to be further investigated and so the family tree may be seen only as a work in progress. They don’t mean it to be used by anyone else, even though it left as Public in the settings.
This is all well and good except that it causes a mighty pitfall for the person new to family history who, having started their own tree on the site, then imports the details as fact and ends up tracing up a line that is not their forebears at all!
In the case of the tree I was looking at it was blatantly obvious that mistakes were made, but in some others it could not be so clear. If you are new to family history research beware of believing all that is written on the internet!
If you are serious about discovering your family history, then spend the winter nights looking for your ancestors in the records.
First you need to know where to look and what tips you need to tease them out.
My Family History Researcher Academy offers a simple to understand course on English/Welsh family history.
I have been sending out weekly tutorials to many satisfied members for some time and this month I had the following from a student who had just completed their 52nd lesson.
“Hi Nick. Thank you very much for this series. I have learnt such a lot and it has increased my knowledge considerably. A. Vallis.
Join the now better informed researchers, such as the family historian above.
Try it for yourself with this special offer of one month FREE!
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.
Following on from my blog post last Sunday, I have just heard from TheGenealogist to tell me about another set of First World War records.
Press Release For immediate release:
Newly released for the first time are First World War Medal Records that crossed the great social class divide.
Over 117,000 ‘Military Medals’ were awarded in the First World War for ‘acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire’. These records are now available to view online complete with an image of the actual Medal Card and a link to the official government publication of the time. It’s a unique, comprehensive set of records available only on TheGenealogist.co.uk
The Military Medal was awarded to ‘Non Commissioned Officers and Ordinary Ranks’ and covers exceptional courage as a soldier in battle. It also was awarded for those that risked their lives trying to save others, often in extreme danger. The Medal Records on TheGenealogist show people from a wide range of backgrounds and social classes, including a number of young women from very privileged families who chose to drive ambulances and rescue the wounded in the mud of battle.
The role of ‘stretcher bearer’ was one of the most dangerous jobs of the time and surprisingly, the records show many women bridged social constraints of the time to risk life and limb to help rescue and bring in soldiers wounded in battle.
Details now available on TheGenealogist range from the most highly decorated Military Medal recipient, stretcher bearer Private Ernest Corey of the 55th Australian Infantry, to Lady Dorothie May Evelyn Feilding-Moore, the daughter of the Earl of Denbigh (the first female recipient of the Medal), to Mairi Lambert Gooden-Chisholm who rescued a German pilot from no-man’s land. Both men and women, crossing the social divide and class customs of pre-1914 to demonstrate outstanding bravery.
The new Military Medal records provide:
Full details of the person winning the medal – their rank, regiment, date of medal citation and the details of their heroism in battle
Sophisticated search techniques to find the medal recipient with just one mouse click. A further addition to the comprehensive medal and First World War records now available on TheGenealogist.co.uk
Mark Bayley, Head of Online Content comments: “With our military record releases in 2014, we are aiming to cover all aspects of The First World War. Every new record set unearths surprises and the Military Medal collection is no different as we discover the female front line heroes listed alongside those who fought to protect our freedom. These unique records consistently provide fascinating tales behind them.”
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:
Many of us are keen to get on and fill out our family trees with generation after generation of ancestors. We can be in such a rush, to see how far back we can get with a direct line, that we so often ignore the siblings and others in the extended family.
We probably all know that there is a better way to understand our forebears lives. We really should try to include as many others in the family tree as our direct line ancestor usually didn’t live in isolation. They may have had any number of brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles, all of whom can help us ascertain who is the correct individual when we hit that problem of two John Smiths born in the same year in the same parish!
One way that we may come up against other family members is when they appear as informants to the registrar on the death of one of our ancestors.
Sometimes we may see names that we don’t recognise in the column, perhaps they are the married daughter whose surname now gives us a clue as to whom she married. Or we find our direct line ancestor’s address, as I did when he reported the death of his father to the registrar and the address he gave was different from the address listed in the census six years earlier. I could now see where he had moved to between the decennial census.
I know that we seem to be more naturally drawn to the births and marriages of people, but don’t ignore the deaths. When we are dealing with the period after 1837, in England and Wales and the GRO civil registration, it is so easy to make a decision not to order a death certificate based on the cost. But this can mean you’ll miss something. A death certificate can give us clues and more about our departed ancestor that we will not pick up elsewhere.
When I started out on this hobby I was told by a professional genealogist that I really must â€œkill off my ancestors!â€ I was unconvinced, but in the years since I have seen how correct this advice has been.
This week I bought a new family history book, written by Celia Heritage, to go in my library.
I have to say that I am thoroughly enjoying reading it for the great information that it provides. Tracing Your Ancestors through Death RecordsÂ has showed me how to find, read and interpreted death records and also how to garner as much information as possible from them. In many cases, she argues, they can be used as a starting point for developing your family history research into other equally rewarding areas.
After reading chapter 1, I was then able to get a snap shot into my past family’s life from the deaths of my 3x great-grandparents and all from taking another look at their death certificates.
The husband died in 1866 in Charles Street, Dartmouth and his son reported the death having been “present at the death” meaning that he was in the house. The son (my 2x great-grandfather) gave his address as “Church Path, Dartmouth”.
When the wife and mother died in 1868, she died in the son’s house, in Church Path, but the informant, “present at the death”, was a lady whose address was in the street that the older couple had formally lived. I was able to go back to the census and see that they had been neighbours. Perhaps they were very close, who can tell?
So I am assuming that the son took his mother into his own house, from this. But that a friend, from around the corner, was looking after my 3x great-grandmother when she passed away and it was she who informed the registrar of the death. Now this paints a bit more of a picture, don’t you think?
Â Disclosure: Links to the book in this post are compensated affiliate links that may mean I get rewarded by the publisher should you buy the book.
I have just been to Southwell Workhouse in Nottinghamshire to look over an actual workhouse that is now run by the National Trust as a museum.
By doing this and seeing the layout of the accommodation, with its day rooms and exercise yards, my understanding of how these institutions worked has become clear.
In past times, before Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, the care of the poor members of the community fell to the monks in the various religious houses throughout England and Wales. With the reorganisation that the dissolution brought, those poor ancestors of ours who had the misfortune to fall on hard times, would then have become the responsibility of their parish.
Under this parish system, the old poor law had coped well enough until around the year 1800 when, under increasing demands being made on the system the authorities were forced to review the process for supporting the poor.
The situation was that unemployment had risen to new heights, as a result of the burgeoning industrialisation of the country. Britain now required less men to make the goods that had previously been manufactured by workers in the cottage industries.
On top of this the disaster of a succession of bad harvests that meant those who subsisted in rural areas found it difficult to feed themselves, added to the demand placed on the poor law system as it had been constituted.
As if this was not enough for the Government, the ending of the Napoleonic Wars had meant that a great number of soldiers now had come back from France and they had no work waiting for them at home.
The Deserving Poor.
In my family tree I was, at first, surprised that none of my ancestors seemed to have ended up in the workhouse. As I found more and more forebears I had become complacent that all my lot seemed to make it in the world without having to â€œGo On the Parishâ€ and then I found one.
It was a sad shock for me as the lady in question had been the wife of a Master Mariner, the mother of several children who had all married and were making their way well in the world. But there she was in one of the census spending the end of her life in the workhouse!
Her husband was nowhere to be found in the census and so I speculated that he must have died abroad, not being able to find his death record. She, poor woman, had nowhere to go but into the workhouse.
But the workhouse was also a place where medical care could be given to those with little means in a time before the availability of free hospitals or medical insurance. So perhaps this explains why she was there? The deserving poor were segregated from the idle poor having different quarters and exercise yards.
The Idle Poor.
The number of workhouses had grown after the enactment of the Workhouse Test Act of 1723. The thinking behind this was that this new Act would help to prevent irresponsible claims being made on a parish’s poor rate. Something that concerned those who had to find the money to run the system as the funding of it was paid for by the wealthier members of the parish.
By the 1830s, in England and Wales, most parishes had at least one workhouse to send its poor to.
So what would any of our ancestors, unlucky enough to have found themselves in this position have faced? Those poor unfortunates who had no option but to seek â€œindoor reliefâ€ would have to endure unpalatable conditions inside the institution. It was designed to be thus so as to put people off from entering the workhouse unless they had run out of alternatives for survival outside.
Families were split up. Men and women segregated with children over seven separated from their mothers and forced to live in the children’s section.
On admission they would have to undress, surrender their own clothes until they were discharged, have a thorough wash and then dress in the workhouse uniform which was usually made of rough and shapeless material. This was all aimed at discouraging people from entering the system by stripping away part of their identity.
The belief, at the time, was that the undeserving poor were idle and so they were made to do tedious jobs. Inmates who were not aged or infirm would have to work for their keep. The jobs given to them were deliberately chosen to be monotonous and boring. At Southwell they would grind corn, pick oakum or, for the females, do laundry work.
The picture to the left is of an old rope from the docks that the inmates would pick apart so that the fibres could be sold back to the docks to be used in the caulking boats and ships.
So what about the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 and how this shook up the system?
I have been having a nose around the British Newspaper Archive Collection again this week on its stand alone website as well as its home within the findmypast site.
I was looking for information on a great-great-uncle who died young (30) after a fall from a cliff. While I didn’t come up with a family notice of his death I found an article in the Isle of Wight Observer for May 19th, 1866 under the notices for the Royal Victoria Yacht Club that I found interesting.
After detailing that the Commodore’s splendid yacht had arrived at the station on Tuesday and then listing the twelve yachts on station, having got the important notices out of the way they then add a line or two about the man I was researching.
“It is with great regret that we hear that W.W.F.Hay esq., fell overboard from his cutter yacht the Surge, at Alderney, and lost his life. His remains will be interned tomorrow (Saturday). On receipt of the melancholy intelligence, the flag at the club was hoisted half-mast high.”
Well, their information was not quite correct, as reported elsewhere. William Wemyss Frewen Hay died when he went ashore at Alderney to have dinner with the officers at the garrison there and lost his footing while returning to the breakwater and where his yacht was anchored.
This, however, got me looking for information on the clipper yacht called the Surge and the first article I turned up made me think that she was not such a good racing boat at all. She retired from a race around the Solent having no chance of gaining the lead in August 1865.
Further articles, however, have her mentioned in a good light.. “Some dozen clippers have already been entered including the celebrated Surge (W.W.F.Hay Esq), the Water Lilly, yawl, (Commodore Lord A Paget, MP.) etc” which does not sound like she was an also ran.
I wonder what the yacht looked like and how many crew she required to sail her?
There are also other questions I have about Willaim, who at the time of his death in the May, according to another article, was due to be married in July of that same year. I would like to find out who his bride to be was, but so far no mention of the lady has appeared in my trawl of the newspapers.
As more titles are added all the time this situation may indeed change. I keep coming back to this resource as it is so useful to family historians.
Disclosure: The above are compensated affiliate links.
To wrap up the series, thereâ€™s a miscellany of other potential avenues that are worth exploring.
First of all, there are photographs. If you have family photos you will almost certainly have cursed the elderly relatives who put them in an album and then never got round to labelling who, what and where they were. Butâ€¦ there are some useful tricks to use.
First of all, scan the photograph at the highest resolution you can. If you can be sure the photo was taken and developed in Jersey, you may be able to identify the firm who developed it. A gentleman by the name of Richard Hemery has put years of work into this, and for some of the better known photographers his efforts will allow you to pin the photographâ€™s date down quite well.
This particular photo is a neat example. Richardâ€™s work tells us there were only two firms who put reference numbers on the front of prints, both operating in the 1930s. But thereâ€™s more: a high-res scan picks up the name Le Riche over the shop awning behind and left of the lady, and also makes the colonnade on the right clearer. That pins the location down to Halkett Place by the Central Market, and the date has to be after 1932, when Le Richeâ€™s (a long-established island grocer) opened their shop there.
In addition, thereâ€™s what the newspapers may have said. The first newspaper on Jersey was published in the late 18th Century, and there have been a number of different publications since, right down to the Jersey Evening Post (usually referred to just as the JEP) of today. The JEP has always been a very parochial paper in the better sense of the word: it reports everything and anything that goes on. If your relative was a prominent member of a local church or a schoolmaster or a farmer, itâ€™s quite possible that theyâ€™d get a respectable tribute from the JEP when they passed away.
The central Library in Halkett Place has a very comprehensive collection of microfilmed newspapers â€“ theyâ€™re up on the first floor. You need to book a reader â€“ it is worth doing this in advance, particularly if you want the one that will print to paper. E-mail email@example.com and they will sort things out.
While we are talking about libraries, there are collections of reference books at the Coutanche Library (the NoseyGenealogist will be releasing a film guide to what they have shortly) and smaller collections at both the Archive and the Central Library to supplement your knowledge of Jerseyâ€™s history and culture.