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’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.
Summer holiday time can be a great opportunity to look at the places where your ancestors lived.
Quite often I have used time visiting an area to walk down the streets where my ancestors footsteps went before me and just imagining how it would have been in their day.
I will have often have prepared for such a trip beforehand. In most cases using the census collections and copies of trade directories to”get a feel” for the location in their era.
It is important to try and understand the social history of the town or area where our forebears lived, but what about our own history? Shouldn’t we try and document our times for those who follow?
As we grow older we constantly find that things have moved on, streets have changed, businesses have closed up, buildings demolished.
This week I was reminded of this fact by a visit from several cousins of mine to Jersey. A first cousin, his daughter plus fiancé, flew in from Canada, while a first cousin once removed, plus husband, came from the Midlands by plane. (If you find cousin relationships difficult to understand then check out my free report here.)
My elder cousin from Canada had memories of certain shops, that he had gone to with our grandparents and would have liked to have taken a trip to. The problem was that they had long since gone or changed in the intervening years.
We managed, however, to do many of the sites that had family associations for us; but I was still struck at how change in my own lifetime had crept up on my local environment. From the reclamation of land for a cinema, swimming-pool complex, 5 star hotel and housing apartments, which now replaces the beach where my science teacher had taken the class to learn some hands-on Marine Biology, to the house by the airport where my younger cousin (now based in England) had once lived as a child.
This was to be a great story as the Georgian farmhouse had been demolished, as new regulations deemed it to be too close to the airport runway. In actual fact there had been a dreadful air crash when my cousins lived in it, but she and her mother were thankfully away from the house at the time. In the fog a light aircraft had flown into said building with the loss of the pilot’s life.
Yesterday we took a trip to the site of the demolished house and walked around the footprint of the building. It was an eerie feeling as we picked our way over the old foundations.
I noticed the former garden still had flowers and plant bushes in it that indicted its past life as a formal front garden. These hardy specimens fighting through the weeds and wild foliage that aimed to sometime soon take control.
The happy ending to this piece is that the house was demolished stone-by-stone and it has sprung up again in restored Georgian glory as the cladding to a replica house a few miles down the road! The project is ongoing and the people behind it have a website here: http://savethelistedbuilding.com/
Yesterday we were privileged to be allowed to visit the house’s new site and my cousin, who had once lived within its granite structure, was delighted with the restoration and the positive ambience of its new location.
Think of those who will come after us, what stories can we leave them about our times?
I’ve got some advice for you to break down a brick wall.
Have you been stuck trying to find an ancestor?
Thought you might have been!
Maybe what I relate below will help you too.
The thing was that some while back, I was getting quite frustrated by being unable to trace a person in the records.
I was completely stuck finding this person’s birth, marriage or death and I had tried looking online and off without any luck.
Maybe you are in this position too?
What broke the problem for me?
Well it was avisit to a Family History websitewhile surfing forkeywordsto do with the ancestor and then a little bit of time spentbrowsing the transcripts featured on the platform.
There were some other factors, such as trying different spelling variations of first and second names, as advised by my family history teacher at the time and a visit to an archive.
What it boils down to is using a bit of lateral thinking in our family tree research and most importantly finding out about alternative records to the ones that we might have already used.
The family branch that has presented me with the most frustrating problems has been that from Devon. I was fine going back through the census years, 1911, 1901 and so on back to 1841 but then it became more of a problem.
Perhaps this story resonates with some of you to?
I had figured out that my 3x great-grandfather was called John Thorn. This was provided in the information he had given to the census enumerators over the years, along with the fact that he had been born in about 1795. His wife, Elizabeth, had been born about 1798.
As I belong to The Society of Genealogists I took a trip to their headquarters in Goswell Road, London knowing that they have the largest collection of Parish Records in the country on microfiche. They’ve also got some transcripts of parish registers in their library, which I thought may be worth looking at.
If you are in the area I highly recommend you visit the Society of Genealogists.
Unfortunately for me, at the time of my research, the Dartmouth parish records were not on microfilm at the SoG. But I was over the moon to find a great selection of Devon Family History Society booklets for marriages taking place in the churches of the town, including St. Saviour’s, Dartmouth. Browsing one book for any likely ancestors I spotted that on 13 April 1817 one person called John Thorn got married to an Elizabeth Sissell.
I opened up the internet and began searching using my new lead. My mission was to hunt down any evidence that this was the marriage of my ancestors.
Doing a search-engine query for Dartmouth + family history steered me towards the Dartmouth-history.org.uk website belonging to The Dartmouth Archives. I discovered that this voluntary organisation had a really broad family history section and included a number of transcribed baptisms, burials, marriages and census records.
I could read the very same information, as I had seen at the SoG in London, on this niche site. The data began in 1586 and ran to 1850 and there was the marriage of John Thorn to Elizabeth and this time I noticed that the witness were given as John Adams and Sunass (sic) Sissell.
At the time I made an assumption that this last person was more than likely some member of the bride’s family. Could it perhaps be the father of the bride?
But that name “Sunass” just didn’t seem likely to me. Now I know that it was the best guess by the transcriber as it couldn’t be read properly in the original record.
From the information I knew that they had signed with a mark, thus they were illiterate and so the first name and the second had not been written down by the ancestors themselves.
When you are doing your own research you should bear in mind that our ancestors may not have had the ability to read or write and the minister may have interpreted the name as he had heard it said to him. In my ancestor’s case the surname “Sissell” could possibly have been “Cecil” or something entirely different. Consider saying the name with the regional accent and seeing what you come up with.
As for Sunass – at this point I was clueless!
The Dartmouth Archives website had not got any early enough christening records for John and Elizabeth and so I went over to the Latter Day Saints (LDS) website or FamilySearch.org and here I did a search for Elizabeth’s christening.
I was rewarded by a lead to a baptism in one of the other churches in Dartmouth, St Petrox, on the 16 September 1878. This child was the daughter of James and Sarah Sissill and she was christened Elizabeth Gardener Sissill.
You may notice that the spelling had changed to Sissill with an “i” and not an “e” again pointing to the vicar writing it down the way that he heard it.
I now jumped to a conclusion that the witness to Elizabeth’s marriage could have been her father “James” and this has been interpreted as “Sunnas” because a flowing “J” for James had looked like an “S” to the transcriber and the other letters had been misread as a “u” for an “a” and the double “n” as an “m”. All easily done.
So what I am emphasising here and I continue to do so in modules from my Family History Researcher Course, is to be wary of names and the way they were spelt. If you keep this in mind then some of the logjams we find in our research can be got past.
This breakthrough I had was down to finding that Dartmouth has an active family history website and then using their indexes in conjunction with other internet resources, such as the LDS site.
The first learning point is that you should always find out what other research may have been done, for the area your ancestors came from.
If you find a family history society, or local interest group with a website, can any of their publications or website pages help you with your quest?
Secondly, always keep in mind that names were misspelled in many records. In my own family research I have had to think of other spellings for the Sissells, and indeed names that may have sounded like Sissell in order that I may trace this line back further and break down the brick wall.
I have made some fantastic strides in my family tree research and it is mostly down to learning as much as I can from other’s experiences and finding out as much as I can about what records and resources are available.
Last year I put together some modules for a course of 52 guides, aiming at passing on my experience. Perhaps they can help you become a more knowledgeable researcher?
I had some professional genealogists and data providers also contribute to the project to make it well rounded.
As you have come to this page I am sure that you must have an interest in family history and I am betting that you to have some brick walls to knock down as well. So take a look at the report below that is based on some of the material from the Family History Researcher course…
I’ve been looking back at an ancestor’s will this week. These family history records are fascinating. Seems that one of my two times great grandfathers left a little money and his house to his wife. In his life he had changed occupations from being a Hatter in Tavistock to being a grocer in Plymouth and it makes me wonder about the economic and social forces at work which made him chose this path.
Another ancestor, on my mother’s family side, seems to have cut his eldest son out of the will, everything being inherited by the children who were next in line! What was the story there, I wonder?
These wills, however, are from the start of the records created by the Probate Registry, which took control of proving wills and administrations in 1858. Before this, four different types of ecclesiastical (church) courts dealt with these cases.
Ancestry.co.uk has recently published online over a million probate records, featuring the last will and testament of some of histories most famous names including William Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Sir Francis Drake.
Ancestry bill this as being “the most comprehensive UK collection of its kind available to view online”. Certainly I have found that other providers give access to these records on their own sites, for example The National ArchivesÂ on Documents OnlineÂ and TheGenealogist.co.uk has a substantialÂ collection of Wills and Will indexes available online, including the index of the Court of York and full Wills for the Court of Canterbury.
The England and Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) Wills 1384-1858 covers nearly five centuries worth of history and details how much people owned and who they left it to.
Up until January 1858, the church and other courts proved wills in England and Wales. The PCC was the most important of these courts and was responsible for the probate of wills where the value of assets was greater than five pounds, equivalent to Â£526 today.
Searchable by name, probate date, residence and estimated death year, each record contains information about the final assets of the deceased. Additional notes on their occupation, property and overall standard of living may also be included.
Many famous names can be discovered in the records including world famous playwright William Shakespeare. Dated 25th March 1616, Shakespeareâ€™s will details how he left a sum of one hundred and fifty pounds to both his daughters (over Â£380,000 today) as well as his wife the pleasure of his â€˜second best bedâ€™.
Pride and Prejudice author Jane Austen also appears in collection. Upon her death on 18th July 1817, she possessed assets totalling around Â£800 (Â£60,000 today). The majority of this was given to her sister Cassandra aside from Â£50 to her brother Henry and a further Â£50 to a Madame Bigoen â€“ who had previously acted as a nurse to her family.
The records also reveal that the privateer and explorer Sir Francis Drake was somewhat of a real life Robin Hood. Having plundered many Spanish naval vessels and earned a fortune during his adventures in the Americas, Drake left forty pounds to the ‘poore people’Â of the town and Parish of Plymouth in 1596 – the equivalent of Â£150,000 today.
The original records are held at The National Archives and some of the earliest records in the collection cover males as young as 14 and girls as young as 12. This changed in 1837, when it was decided by the court that both genders must be over the age of 21 to have a will proved.
On top of monetary matters, these records tell us more about the private lives of some very public figures and will help historians discover more about the dynamics of their personal and familial relationships.
The majority of records in the collection also pre-date civil registration, the government system established in 1837 to keep accurate accounts of citizensâ€™ lives in documents such as censuses. As such, the collection is a valuable resource for anybody looking to trace an ancestor living before the mid-19th century.
Ancestry.co.uk Content Manager Miriam SilvermanÂ comments: â€œThese probate records provide fascinating insight into the final fortunes of some of our nations most famous names, right down to who should get their bed.â€
â€œThey are an incredibly valuable family history resource, covering a period in history from which few official documents remain.â€
Disclosure: Some links are compensated affiliate links.
I want to take a moment this week to sing the praises of the knowledgeable people who work in county record offices and archives up and down the country.
I had a knotty problem to deal with this week with a family that I am researching. My task was to look for the maiden name of a second wife who married into the family in 1814 at St Thomas’, Dudley in Worcestershire and who was also marrying for the second time.
Because she was a widow her surname, in the marriage register for the second marriage, is assumed to be that of her first husband and so I have been asked to see if I can find out her maiden name. On her second marriage a fair number of her sons were given a distinctive second name and it had occurred to us that this may have been the woman’s maiden name.
I had a few hours in the City of Worcester set aside for this task and so I headed off to find the county record office.
What I discovered was that Worcestershire has housed its archives in the same modern building as its library at The Hive, which is aÂ joint university and public library. The Hive is the result of the vision of the University of Worcester and Worcestershire County Council.
On the first floor I found the reception for the archive and was immediately impressed by the helpfulness I was afforded. A member of staff showed me around the facility and when I explained what I was there to do was able to point me to the shelf containing collections of Worcestershire marriages transcripts.
I spent a productive hour or so noting down all the marriages of men with the woman’s first married surname, Fletcher, to a woman with the Christian name of Sarah.
Unfortunately there was no Sarah with the maiden name that I was looking for.
After a period of time the member of the archive staff returned to see how I was getting along. I explained that I had not found the answer and she then showed me another volume on the shelves that listed Worcestershire marriages by the bride’s surname. The suggestion here was that I may possibly be looking for the surname of the woman’s mother and not hers.
I then spent some time copying down all the women who had married in the relevant period and then compared the surnames of the men married with my first list. There was one surname that matched the other checklist I had of Sarahs who married a Fletcher; but sadly I can find no children called Sarah to the couple identified.
It looks like it is set for a long haul to look at all the marriages of a Sarah and someone called Fletcher and see if I can find the premature death of the husband called Fletcher. Once I identify the marriage that ended in Sarah being widowed before 1814 I will then have me a candidate for a possible maiden name. With this some more research will be required to make sure that we have found the right one.
As for the second name that this Sarah gave to her male children in the second marriage, perhaps it was from the father’s side and so this opens up the need for yet more research to be done!
Though I didn’t make a breakthrough this time, all the same the archive staff were most helpful in acting as a sounding board for my ideas to tackle this project and for their knowledge of the resources available in their collections that may help me.
I’ve been helping an old friend starting out in researching their family history in this week and he had noted that some of his family all had the same middle name.
The question, that he had, was would it be likely that it was a family surname from one of the female lines and being passed down to honour that family connection.
From what research I have done, by reading around, it would seem thatÂ it was quite common for children to be baptised with a second name taken from a family surname that was, perhaps, the mother’s or grandmother’s maiden surname.
Mark Herber, in Ancestral Trials, The History Press; New Ed edition (1 Jun 2005) makes this point when introducing genealogical research in chapter 1 of this comprehensive book. But hold on a minute, before you jump to the conclusion that the name you have found must be attributable to another branch of your family.
In the picture, that I have included here, from a Thorne family bibleÂ just one of that generation were given names that honoured their forebears surnames and that was Ellen Florence Malzer Thorne, the Malzer name being her mother’s maiden name.
The generation before (Henry Thomas Thorne’s siblings)Â were given a variety of conventional second names until the family broke with the C of E and became members of the Flavel Memorial (Presbyterian/Independent/Congregational) church.
At this stage several of Henry’s brothers and sisters were baptised with the middle name of Lemon. I am yet to understand who they were being named after so if any of my readers can put me on the right path then post a comment below or on my facebook page: www.facebook.com/NoseGenealogist
Certainly the parents of these children, John Brandon Thorn and Elizabeth Gardiner Thorn, were usefully named after their mothers and so made the search for them in the parish records all the easier.
So the conclusion is that an unusual middle name may point you to the maiden name of your ancestor or, regretfully, it may not!
Another point, that I have noticed, is that people may adopt a middle name and later generations begin passing it on as they assume it to be an ancestral name. Perhaps it was someone that they admired greatly, or perhaps it was indeed a family name.
For someone I was researching this week I discovered that they were not given a middle name in the church register when they were baptised and yet they begin to use this middle name and so do the generations that followed. Perhaps it was someone that they admired greatly, but it was certainly not noted in the parish register at the time of their baptism!
My research this week has been greatly helped by the fact that more parish records have made it online. My friend’s family were from the Birmingham area of Northfields. Now very much a suburb of Birmingham but in the years I was researching between 1769 and 1820 part of the county of Worcestershire.
I’ve been looking at some of my rural ancestors from Devon this weekend.
I found that they mostly had long lives, provided they survived through their childhood.
For example, one agricultural labourer (ubiquitous Ag.Lab in the census) reached his 91st birthday. Others died well into their late 80s.
By tracing the baptisms, of my direct ancestors in the parish records, I noticed that in the year 1830, before the census officials introduced the term Ag.Lab into general use, that my ancestor John Jarvis of South Huish, was recorded in the register for his son’s baptism as: Husbandman.
A husbandman is, according to the Oxford dictionary online: a person who cultivates the land; a farmer.
Origin: Middle English (originally in northern English use denoting the holder of a husbandland, i.e. manorial tenancy): from husband in the obsolete sense ‘farmer’ + man. Oxford English Dictionary Online.
So then I wondered how much, if any, land he may have had as a tenant and how could I find this out. The answer was the tithe maps, of course.
A quick online search and I discovered that Devon has a project to put the tithe apportionment documents and eventually the maps on the web.
Virtually every parish, from the beginning to the middle of the 1800s would have had tithe maps drawn up for their area. Accompanied by the apportionment records, which is the key to the tithe map. It tells the researcher who owned what pieces of land, what it was used for and the amount of payment due. The schedule is divided into columns:
1.Â Â Â Landowners
2.Â Â Â Occupiers â€“ if the landowner, this is shown as â€˜himselfâ€™, otherwise the tenantâ€™s name is given
3.Â Â Â The plot number referring to the tithe map
4.Â Â Â Name or description of the land, premises or field
5.Â Â Â State of cultivation e.g. arable, meadow, pasture, wood, garden, plantation
6.Â Â Â The size â€“ in acres, roods and perches
7.Â Â Â The money due to the Vicar
8.Â Â Â The money due to Impropriators
9.Â Â Â Any further remarks.
So what is a tithe?
The word literally means one-tenth. For centuries past the people were required to pay annual tithes, to their local parish church, to support it and its clergy.Â To begin with tithes were paid “in kind” which meant parishioners handing over one-tenth of their produce (corn, hay, vegetables, eggs, wool, animals, fish, flour etc.) As you would expect this made tithes unpopular.
In the 16th century the monasteries were dissolved and a great deal of former church property, including the rights to tithe, now passed into the hands of private individuals (‘Lay Impropriators’).
Those tithes that were now due to be paid to the Church of England still caused problems. There were no end of disputes over the values of land, processes and produce. On top of this was a reluctance by members of the other religious denominations to be forced to pay their tithes to the established state church.
To bring an end to these disputes, the Tithe Commutation Act was passed in 1836. Tithes were to be based on land values and converted to an annual money tax known as â€˜corn rentsâ€™ or â€˜tithe rent chargesâ€™. To get rid of the problem of variations from locality to locality the Tithe Commutation Act now fixed the payment based on the average price of wheat, barley and oats.
What did I find about John Jarvis?
Well there is certainly a man of this name listed in the ownership column along with that of the Earl of Devon who appears many times along side the names of others. John Jarvis was not, however, the occupier of the Orchards and arable land. This was a neighbour whose occupation on the census page is denoted as a Farmer.
So assuming that, in this tiny Devon hamlet, I have found the correct John Jarvis, then it would seem that he worked as a farm labourer, while renting out his own land to the farmer.
One of the lessons in my English and Welsh Family History course covers rural ancestors. Read more about this beginners to intermediate course 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?
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