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.
Press Release from Findmypast that those of us with RFC/RAF servicemen in the family may be interested in.
Findmypast.co.uk, in partnership with The National Archives has released close to 450,000 service records of men of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force including 342,000 Airmen’s records never seen online before. Tales of derring-do brought to life so vividly by W.E. Johns in his Biggles series are well-known, but today’s release tells, for the first time, the stories of the unsung heroes from across the world and from the lower ranks that made up the RAF on its inception.
The majority of records in this collection date from 1912 with the formation of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and include men who continued to serve in the RAF up until 1939. The earliest records date from 1899 with the Royal Engineers Balloon Service in the Boer War. With these fascinating records now available online, Findmypast offers the most comprehensive collection of British military service records in the early twentieth century.
Drawn from across the world…
The records reveal for the first time how World War One brought together men from across the world to serve alongside each other. Over 58 nationalities served in the RAF during World War One, with men signing up from as far afield as India, Brazil, Japan, Russia, Poland, Mexico, Romania and Germany. Included in the records is the first Indian to fly into combat, Hardutt Singh Malik, who became the only Indian aviator to survive the war, despite coming under significant attack and ending up with bullet wounds to his legs that required several months’ treatment in hospital. After the war, Malik joined the Indian Civil Service, serving as the Indian ambassador to France, and following his retirement became India’s finest golf player, even with two German bullets still embedded in his leg.
… and from across society
Despite the RAF’s reputation as the perfect playground for the upper classes, today’s records reveal how those from the working-class flew wing tip to wing tip with the officers, and became highly celebrated for their superior flying ability. One well-regarded flying ace, Arthur Ernest Newland, had humble origins as one of at least nine children from Enfield, north London, but the records show how he went on to twice receive the Distinguished Flying Medal for his prowess in the air, ending the war having destroyed 19 enemy aircraft, 17 of those single-handedly. One of ten children from a poor family in Limerick, John Cowell also became a celebrated airman during the war. Beginning on 5 May 1917, and extending through 28 July, Cowell scored fifteen victories as a gunner, and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal on 11 June 1918, as well as the Military Medal with Bar. Returning as a pilot in 20 Squadron he scored his final victory a year and a day after his fifteenth but sadly was shot down and killed the next day by balloon buster Friedrich Ritter von Röth of Jasta 16.
The air’s a stage
With the records containing information about an individual’s peacetime occupation, as well as their military prowess, it’s perhaps no surprise that the RAF appealed to the more dramatic members of society with records showing 104 actors, nine comedians and even one music hall artiste made up the RAF ranks.
“It’s a real treat to have such an extensive set of records about the everyday airmen of World War One” said Paul Nixon, military expert at Findmypast.co.uk. “These people, drawn from all walks of life, and from all over the world, played an incredibly important part in shaping our history, particularly in the development of aerial warfare. To have many of these hitherto unseen records easily accessible online for the first time mean that now many people can discover the Biggles in their own family.”
William Spencer, author and principal military records specialist at The National Archives continued: “These records reveal the many nationalities of airmen that joined forces to fight in the First World War. Now these records are online, people can discover the history of their ancestors, with everything from their physical appearance right through to their conduct and the brave acts they carried out which helped to win the war.”
The records, comprising National Archives series AIR 76 (Officers’ service records) and AIR 79 (Airmen’s records) contain information about an individual’s peacetime and military career, as well as his physical description, religious denomination and family status. Next of kin are often mentioned and this too has been fully indexed and is easily searchable. These records form part of Findmypast’s 100in100 promise to deliver 100 record sets in 100 days. To learn more about the records, visit www.Findmypast.co.uk.
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:
At the largest Family history show in the world, Who Do You Think You Are? Live in London, I decided to ask the expert on the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives for his tips on researching your family tree. I was looking for some material to include in a module of my courses on English/Welsh family history in which several experts advice will be collated for students.
As I’m feeling generous I’m going to share this piece with you for free here in this blog post today.
For those people who are starting to do family history, then one of the most important things is to take notice of anything that you are told by your relatives. Because, although the information may not be 100 percent true, there is always something that somebody will know that can help give you an idea as to where to go on and find other records.
It’s important that you afford the information in official documents with a certain level of importance. Although that information recorded is only as good as that given by the informant at the time. So beware that any information on a birth certificate, or a census record, can be wrong from day one because the person supplying it didn’t want the officials to know the real truth.
This can confuse people doing their family tree research. The best way of proceeding is to make sure that you look at every type of document available to you. So look at a civil registration certificate. Look at a parish register. Look at a census; try and get a will and look at anything else that will give you the full details relevant to that particular individual.
Doing your family history research that way you’re able to build up a fuller picture.
As you progress you will find that it becomes more complex and you’ll find that you may hit brick walls. You may find that you have conflicting information on an ancestor and that in some instances it’s going to be necessary for you to actually go along and work different lines of the family, investigate different individuals.
What you have got to do is make sure that you eliminate those people that aren’t part of your family. Its ever so easy to go down a wrong line because you haven’t been clear enough in making sure the family or the individual that you have is the right person. And sometimes that’s beyond the experience and the expertise of the average family historian and that’s where you need to talk to the professionals.
That’s where members of ARGA, The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives can help because they are accredited researchers. They have proven their ability to do this type of family research and while they might not be able to find all the answers, they are better placed than many of us to do so.
The reason why even a professional may draw a blank is that if an ancestor didn’t want to be found in officialdom, then they wont be! Irrespective of how good you are and how through you are, this may sadly be the case. Having said that, however, you stand a better chance with using a professional because they perhaps know a little bit more of the overall number documents that they can use to do just that.
Seems Adam Rees, the editor, and his team wanted to take their readers out of their comfort zone a little, by trying to help us take our family tree as far back as we can.
From page 20 they have a feature on Earliest Roots showing us how to extend our family tree to 1066 and beyond! For those of you who want to learn more about how to explore this fascinating facet of our pass time then I can highly recommend you take a look.
As YFT magazine says, it can be daunting searching for your family among early records, but as you’ll discover there are so many lines you can pursue, that you’ll soon find yourself engrossed in the detailed information they give on your medieval ancestors and beyond.
Also in this issue they continue their look at our families who were involved in WWI, showing us how to learn about their day-to-day actions, and discovering the bitter fighting that raged away from the Western Front, from Africa to Arabia, Greece to Gallipoli.
Then in their How-to-section they also reveal the best tips for using FamilySearch; why hiring a professional might be just what your research needs; how your ancestors used their leisure time; and where to find forebears in Dundee.
April 2014 Issue 141 is quite an edition to help find the ancestors in your family tree.
I had a quick chat with Adam at Who Do You Think You Are? Live and he told me what we can expect in the next few months from his magazine.
Check out the interview here and spot the moment at the beginning where I couldn’t quite remember what the magazine is called even though I read it each month!
It’s “Your Family Tree Magazine”, I do know that. Really I do…
Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links used in this post.
At Olympia I caught up with Dr Ian Galbraith from the National Wills project and asked him to give us a few tips about what people should do if they are searching for will records.
“Well the big problem with wills is you can not always tell where the will might have been proved.” he said.
“If you know your ancestors came from a certain place you’ve gotta fix on where their birth records might be, marriage records maybe where they died. With a will although in most cases you probably have an idea where it is. Wills did get proved all over the place, maybe very far fromÂ where you think.
“So when you’re trying to find a will you might go for the obvious places and find there’s nothing there. That doesn’t mean to say that there isn’t a will that’s been proved somewhere else. So it means that if you want to unlock the value of information which is in wills.
“I mean wills are one of the best single sources for the family historian.
“To find it you really need to have access to an index which covers the whole country not just individual counties and that’s what we’ve been trying to do and we’ve got coverage of virtually every county in England.
“Its not complete yet for every county but its the single biggest set of indexes for English probate records.
“That’s complimented also by an increasing collection of digitized images of wills. For example for Oxfordshire, Cheshire, York and a lot of abstracts of wills. Now abstracts make it a lot easier sometimes to find out what’s in a will because somebody else has done the hard work of reading it and transcribing it. They may not put all the text in there but there’s an awful lot of legalese and what they left to the church for candles and so on, masses to be said. But the salient stuff…what they left and to whom they left things that’s in the wills and they are enormously rich things.
“They give you a huge access to the families and the friends of the people who died because they will name them as beneficiaries; so a typical will will contain an average of ten names of other people besides the testator and probably at least half of these people will have different surnames
from the testator.
“So once you get into a will you can suddenly find you’ve got an awful lot more information than you started with. Other leads to follow up. It comes back to the issue of finding them in the first place.”
“Great!” I said, feeling that we had got an enormous amount of useful information from the interview. “And so your website is part of the origins.net?”
“Yes.” he replied. “Yes, Origins.net has been around now for oh, the best part of fifteen years but, erm, we started to concentrate on probate records about five years ago. We already had a reasonable collection but we realized that this is something that we really wanted to look at seriously, because it was one of the big problem areas.
“Births marriages and deaths, parish registers; yeah, there are lots of sites you can go and get really good collections of these. Census records, yeah. Now these are the primary places you’re going to look. You’re going to look at census, you’re going to look at Births, Marriages and Deaths. But where do you go next?
“And one of the major places, perhaps the most important single place to go next is wills; if you can find them.Â And bear in mind also even if your ancestor didn’t leave a will there’s a pretty high chance they’ll be mentioned in the will left by somebody else.
“So so don’t worry, oh my ancestors didn’t leave wills. Not true! All kinds of people left wills. They can be very poor and very rich. It is not just the rich who left wills. Some wills you wonder why. This guy’s got nothing but he’d still make a will and leave it to his relations or to his friends mentioned by name.
“So it really is well worth looking into wills.”
“Great; thank you very much. That is very useful.” I said. “Thank you.”
One of the modules in my popular course in English/Welsh Family History looks at will records. Want to unravel the tangled roots and branches of your family tree?
Become a more knowledgeable researcher with this course.
I caught up with Anthony Adolph, the professional genealogist and author on the Genes Reunited stand.
I asked him if he would give us a few tips for family historians.
Anthony has written the lesson on Aristocratic ancestors for my Family History Researcher course (click the banner ad to the right if you want to join) and his book Tracing Your Aristocratic AncestorsÂ is available from Pen & Sword online.
This week I have been rather distracted from the enjoyable pass time of looking at my own family history by the needs of my business. Even then, I had to explain to someone in a bank just exactly what it is we do when we set out to research our family tree, in between sorting out some details of my banking with the branch.
I have also spent some time, talking with various contacts about how I take my family history course offer forward in 2014, and receiving advice from some of them looking afresh at my plans.
It is always good to keep moving ahead and so it was with some interest that I heard from the team at TheGenealogist about how they have introduced new technical changes to their business.
Subscribers can now use both TheGenealogist.co.uk and TheGenealogist.com to access their family history research!
With the ever increasing popularity of family history and as a number of their subscribers grow at a healthy pace, TheGenealogist have invested in a number of new core product features to ensure users of their family history website continue to enjoy the maximum reliability they expect.
TheGenealogist – an international brand
Firstly, with increases in sales all over the world, it was felt by the company that it was important to make it as easy as possible to access TheGenealogist and not just through a .co.uk address. The international .com web address will now equally represent TheGenealogist too. Secondly, as the unique search tools and major record set additions over the past few years have really pushed TheGenealogist forward internationally, the background technology has been further developed to continue the reliability of service that is associated with a subscription to TheGenealogist.
Major investment in IT Infrastructure
TheGenealogist say that thier website can now be accessed from both TheGenealogist.co.uk and TheGenealogist.com, held at multiple, geographically separate data centres on super-efficient servers that easily cover the needs of our subscriber base.
They have also ensured that subscribers will continue to get fast and reliable searching facilities from the background IT infrastructure. Something that users, such as myself, are pleased to find is a priority as who likes to hang around waiting for your search to be returned for more than a small amount of time?
Over Christmas, it seems, the new service was given its first major test and coped well with the large increase in workload that resulted in people using the holiday period to log in and do some research.
“The large increase in workload was easily handled by our new multiple data centers and new hardware” said TheGenealogist.
It is easy for a family history website to rest on its laurels and overload systems with large amounts of data and functionality and not anticipate reliability issues. However, TheGenealogist has in place a rigid IT framework ensuring it is well covered for many years to come. A high quality, efficient service will be maintained long into the future.
Mark Bayley, Head of Online Content at TheGenealogist comments: â€œWe constantly strive to improve our service for all our customers. Our increase in user base, services and now free content such as the image archive, has given us the opportunity to redesign our service to be much more resilient to increases in magnitude of users. We have further extended our ability to offer large amounts of records for people to view in a secure and ultra-reliable framework. â€œ
So while they forge ahead I too shall be making some changes to my FamilyHistoryResearcher.com course and to the information available at NoseyGenealogist,com, but maybe not on the investment scale as TheGenealogist has!
Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate Links are used in this post.