Archives for Family history research

#BookReview The Indelible Stain by @wendy_percival #genealogy #mystery

When the key character of a novel goes on holiday or visits a picturesque place, you know something is going to happen. Genealogist Esme Quentin in The Indelible Stain by Wendy Percival goes to Devon to help a friend archive the records of a local charity for underprivileged children. Second in the Esme Quentin genealogical mysteries, this is an enjoyable story of convict history set in a beautiful Devon location. But beneath that beauty lurk fraud, lies and revenge. Hatred and bitterness reach from the past to the current day. Up early on her first morning, Esme takes a walk on the wild beach and finds a body. The woman, just alive, seems to have fallen from the cliffs. Her last words, spoken to Esme, are key to the mystery which follows. “I lied,” she says. Beside her body is an old sepia photograph. The police don’t take seriously Esme’s concerns that the woman’s last words combined with the mystery photograph indicate foul play, so Esme decides to identify the family in the photograph. Meanwhile, Neave Shaw is worrying about her mother who has disappeared after sending a confused, possibly drunken, email. Worried and not understanding her grandmother’s dismissive attitude
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Categories: Book Love and Family history research.

Book review: The America Ground

The America Ground by Nathan Dylan Goodwin is based on a fascinating piece of local history, indeed Goodwin’s own family history, and made into a historical thriller. On April 28, 1827, a woman is murdered in her bed. Eliza Lovekin is the second to be killed, Amelia Odden is to be next. This is the story of Eliza, her daughter Harriet and a piece of ground in Hastings, East Sussex, which for a short period of time was claimed as a piece of the United States of America. Forensic genealogist Morton Farrier is on the trail of his own adoption story, the identity of his birth father. But a visit to his adoptive father seeking answers sets him instead on the trail of a new mystery. The portrait of a woman from the 1800s: ‘Eliza Lovekin, Hastings, 1825’. Morton’s client is the proprietor of an antiques business who wants a potted family history of Eliza to add value to the painting before it goes up for sale at auction. Initially resenting time away from researching his own family, Morton is soon captivated by Eliza’s story. In the 1827 story strand, we follow Harriet Lovekin, teenage daughter of Eliza, as she
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Categories: Book Love and Family history research.

Family history: did your ancestor work in a pub?

British pubs, or public houses, can be traced all the way back to Roman taverns. After the departure of the Romans, there came the Anglo-Saxon alehouses based in domestic dwelling. The ‘alewife’ would put a green bush up on a pole to let people know her brew was ready for drinking. These alehouses rapidly developed into popular meeting places for the community so in 965 King Edgar decreed there should be no more than one alehouse per village. In 1393, Richard II made it legal for pubs to have to display a sign outdoors to make them easily identifiable to passers-by. Then in the 19th century came the development of tied houses [when a pub is linked to a particular brewer]. The pub is different from the inn, in that the latter was located along a highway or in the country [above] and provided stabling and fodder for horses, accommodation for travellers, and [if on a mail route] fresh horses for the mail coaches. Inns tended to be larger and grander than pubs. Many pub names date from times when customers were often illiterate and could only recognise pictorial signs. Pub names have a variety of origins, from objects used
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Categories: Family history research.

Family history: understanding your ancestors’ baby name choices

Naming a baby can give you clues to all sorts things about your ancestors. Time of birth [Christmas or Easter perhaps], religion, hobbies, the place of birth, for maternal or paternal grandparents, and for the royal family. Modern day babies may be named for the star of a hit television show, or the father’s favourite footballer. This style of naming choice is not new. Finn, meaning fair, or white, originates from Fionn mac Cumhaill [below], the mythical hunter-warrior of Irish mythology. Names can be traced in families through the generations, not only first names but sometimes a mother’s maiden name too. Many second names amongst 19th century gentry were the mother’s maiden name, it was a way of keeping a surname alive if the male line died out. At least ten American presidents have their mother’s maiden name as a middle name. Sometimes this led to the use double-barrelled surnames; in the 18th and 19th centuries, the mothers of illegitimate children would give them their father’s full name and their own surname. So if one of your relatives from that time has a surname for a middle name, it is likely he was illegitimate. Names go in and out of
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Categories: Family history research.

Family history: Was your ancestor a doctor?

The medical profession has changed out of all recognition since the 18th century and if you are searching for a relative who was once a doctor or medical professional, there are a number of useful sources to check which may lead you in an intriguing direction. In the 18th century, only physicians were called MD, doctor, with the status of being a gentleman. They charged for their advice and remedies but did not dispense medicines. They were university educated in contrast to surgeons and apothecaries who were trained via apprenticeships. Surgeons did not give medicines to patients, instead they specialised in pulling teeth, lancing boils, blood-letting, and amputations. Apothecaries dispensed and sold medicines from a shop, charging for their medicines not their advice. There was ample opportunity for quacks. The turning point came with the passing of the Medical Act in 1858. This meant that in able to practise medicine, all qualified medical professions had to be listed in the new Medical Register, and also licensed by one of 19 licensing bodies. If you are tracing a relative in the 19th century who you suspect worked in the medical professions in the UK, the two places to check are the
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Categories: Family history research.

Family history: using photographic archives

Photographs are not just a record of people but of places, lifestyles, streets, countryside and the changing times. If you really want to understand the life of your relative, searching the photographic archives now available online and at your local record office can make their world seem real for you. The clothes they wore, their holidays and work days, their parties and local community.  A simple way to start is to use Google and search using ‘images’. Other great starting places are Flickr, Pinterest or Instagram. I’m currently researching London during the WW2 Blitz, and a quick search produced literally hundreds of photos. One photo may lead to a new avenue of research. A studio portrait of a family member may lead you to a particular photographer. A uniform can help you to confirm a regiment or employer. History Pin is clever in that it allows you to collect images and pin them to Street View so you build up a wider picture of the area of interest. I found Collage, the London Picture Archive, particularly useful in my focus on the capital. It has more than a quarter of a million photos of London streets and includes the London
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Categories: Family history research.

Family history: Was your ancestor a boatman?

During the UK’s Industrial Revolution, raw materials and finished goods were transported around the country by canal. By the mid-19th century though, the new railways were taking away the business of the barges. Working on a canal boat was a tough life. Slow boats could take up to seven days to go from Birmingham to London and boatmen were expected to work up to 20 hours a day. Under threat from the railways, ‘family’ boats became numerous with a wife and children travelling with her husband. Boating became a closed occupation and outsiders, gongoozlers, discouraged. Boat people developed their own dress, language and took great pride in the decoration of their boats. Acts of Parliament were passed in 1877 and 1884 making canal boats subject to inspection to check living conditions, and some of these inspection reports survive in local archives. Considering the itinerant nature of the boatman, there are a number of excellent resources for family history researchers:- The Boat Families website is a resource kept by local enthusiasts, cataloguing life on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal & associated waterways, especially in South-West Lancashire. Names are listed by canal family, with more than 32,000 individuals named. A search for ‘boatmen’ at
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Categories: Family history research.

Family history: Did your ancestor train as an apprentice?

If you know your ancestor’s trade, there is a good chance he or she may have trained through an apprenticeship scheme. In 1563, the Statute of Artificers and Apprentices forbade anyone from practising a craft without first serving as an apprentice. And from 1710, a duty was levied. These records form a central register of apprentices by the Inland Revenue and held at The National Archives. As well as trade apprenticeships, there were also apprenticeships which were arranged specifically by parish overseers of the poor and were intended to prevent the child being a burden on the parish. As pauper apprenticeships were liable for duty the records are kept separately, often found in local record offices and parish chests. If your research is based on London, start with London Lives where pauper apprenticeship records range from 1690-1800. It has a useful guide ‘Researching Apprenticeships’. Some of the apprentice records held at The National Archives have been digitised and are now available at Find My Past, including the London Apprenticeship Abstracts [1440-1850] which list all those apprenticed to livery companies in London. It also includes regional records from Manchester and Lincolnshire. The Board of Stamps apprenticeship books record payments on the
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Categories: Family history research.

Family history: Films bring history to life

Film archives are a great boon for family history researchers, as they shine a lens onto life as it was lived in a dusty daily glory. There are many gems, from the Mitchell & Kenyon archive at the British Film Institute with hundreds of short films made in Edwardian England, to the Imperial War Museum’s film archive of war-related footage [below]. The best place to start is with the ‘Britain on Film’ project [above] at the BFI National Archive which is easy to search by region, date and subject. From here you can expand to regional film archives of which there are many including the Yorkshire Film Archive, the East Anglian Film Archive and the North West Film Archive. For images of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, try the Irish Film Institute which includes documentaries, news reels and Irish culture; the National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive with 1900 clips about Scotland; films at Northern Ireland Screen include rural life, true stories, and footage lost and found; and National Screen & Sound Archive of Wales has many films about mining. To add colour to your understanding of your ancestor’s life, watch newsreels dating from 1910 to the 1970s at British Pathé
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Categories: Family history research.

Book review: Shadow Baby

A slow-build read which, by halfway, had me glued to the page. It is in part a story about unplanned pregnancy – choices, motherhood and how a girl grows to be a mother herself – and part social history. The history is the skeleton on which the flesh of the story hangs and inter-connects. Two young women fall pregnant, Leah in 1887 and Hazel in 1956. Both abandon their babies. Shadow Baby by Margaret Forster is the story of Leah and her daughter Evie, Hazel and her daughter Shona. The circumstances are different – Evie is brought up first in a children’s home and then by reluctant relatives; Shona is adopted by a family desperate for a child with a mother whose care is suffocating – but the stories so similar. Both daughters are obsessed with their birth mothers. From generation to generation, mistakes are uncannily mirrored. Attitudes from the 19th century reappear in the 20th. Shadow Baby is a thoughtful and measured exploration of how the nature of being a mother differs from woman to woman, expectations, fears, well-meaning but hurtful family and social pressure. And how, when the daughter grows into a woman who in turn becomes pregnant,
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Categories: Book Love and Family history research.

Family history: Finding your nonconformist ancestor

If your ancestor was a nonconformist and belonged to a church, there are numerous records for you to search. Nonconformity is the term for all non-Anglican protestant denominations such as Baptists, Methodists, Quakers and Presbyterians. In English church history, a nonconformist was a protestant Christian who did not conform to the governance and usages of the Church of England. Broad use of the term was precipitated after the Restoration of the British monarchy in 1660 when the Act of Uniformity 1662 re-established the opponents of reform within the Church of England. This term specifically came to include the Reformed Christians such as the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Calvinists, plus the Baptists, Methodists and Puritans. The Methodist Revival began as a movement within the Church of England in the 18th century, led by John Wesley [below]. It originated as a weekly club at the University of Oxford where the club’s members lived a ‘holy life’. Ridiculed as ‘Methodist’ by fellow students because of the way they used ‘rule’ and ‘method’ to go about their religious affairs, Wesley adopted the name. By law and social custom, nonconformists were restricted from many parts of public life including access to public office, civil service careers and degrees at university. A good
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Categories: Family history research.

Family history: how adoption became a legal process

Only in 1926 did adoption of children in the UK become a legal process, it was part of a process to remove illegitimate children from their ‘unfit’ mothers and place them with a respectable married couple. Until the 1926 Adoption of Children Act, adoptions were often arranged privately or via the mother-and-baby home where the birth took place. In the 19th century there were hundreds of mother-and-baby homes where an unmarried pregnant woman would be housed and her pregnancy and birth overseen. She would remain with her baby during the early weeks while an adoption was arranged. Many women attended these homes secretly to avoid the stigma of bearing an illegitimate child. As an alternative to adoption, some single mothers left their child in the care of baby farmers who would care for the child for a fee, supposedly enabling the mother to return to work. However some baby farmers were found guilty of abuse and neglect. Prior to the 1926 Adoption of Children Act, ten bills had been introduced to Parliament by 1922 in an effort to regulate adoption. Finally the act became law on January 1, 1927. It provided assurance for the adoptive parents that the birth parents
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Categories: Adoption and Family history research.

Family history: Using UK newspapers

Marriage, birth and death, sporting events and school performances are some of the everyday events in which almost everyone participates and which may be reported in a local newspaper. So if you are searching for information about a relative, UK newspapers are the place to start. If your relative held a prominent position of job, then national newspapers may yield results, as may a professional newspaper or magazine. If you search is focussed on drawing a picture of the times in which you relative lived, illustrated newspapers and magazines will be most helpful. From the fashions people wore, the books they read, their hobbies and pastimes, magazines are a useful source. Tailor your newspaper research according to the type of information you seek. There are two major newspaper collections available online: the British Newspaper Archive is available by direct subscription and is also included with the membership of Find My Past. Alternatively, try Newspapers.com which is available as part of some Ancestry subscriptions. This is mainly concentrated on American newspapers dating from the 1700s to 2000s but also includes some titles from the UK, Australia and Canada. Useful if you are searching for relatives who emigrated overseas. Access to some
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Categories: Family history research.

Family history: Commonwealth War Graves Commission

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, set up under Royal Charter in 1917 as the Imperial War Graves Commission. It commemorates 1.7 million people who died in two world wars, administers cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations in 154 countries. If you are tracing a relative who died in the First or Second World War, or seeking further information about medals, awards or casualty details, this is an excellent website to explore. As part of the 2017 centenary, the website is to be improved with even more information. It is never too late to change the records, if your family history research reveals an error or omission. In once case, a serviceman who died 99 years ago recently received a CWGC headstone at a churchyard in Hampshire. Driver Thomas Dawson [above] died on September 10, 1918 but because the CWGC was never informed of his death, Thomas never received a Commission headstone. His case was brought to the attention of the CWGC by his family and Thomas’s grand-daughter Kay Davidge was present at the installation of the headstone. The CWCG’s Instagram page is a useful source of wartime photographs which may add background detail
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Categories: Family history research.

Family history: Look locally

Once you can place a relative in a geographical location, it is then possible to fill in background information about them via your local council records. Some of these may be online, others may be found in local archives or the family history centre, and can include council minutes, education records and quarter sessions. Quarter sessions in the UK were courts of limited criminal and civil jurisdiction, and appeal, usually held quarterly in counties and boroughs [above]. Discontinued in 1972 to be replaced by the Crown Courts, these are a fruitful place to search if one of your relatives appeared in court. Some records are available online, others may be accessed via your local archives. They are a rich source of information including the names of those present such as justices, bailiffs, High Constable, jury members and defendants. Some records are available online at Ancestry, for example Yorkshire quarter session records for the years 1637-1914. Council minutes are usually accessible in archive reading rooms, making interesting reading perhaps for information about a specific relative who worked for the council, or for social information about a particular time. If your relative was involved in local politics or Government service, this could
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Categories: Family history research and On Researching.

Book review: Blood-Tied

A mysterious beginning with an invalid, threatened by a stranger. Just who is this woman and what is her connection to Esme Quentin? Blood–Tied by Wendy Percival is the first of the Esme Quentin series of genealogical mysteries. Esme’s older sister Elizabeth is attacked and in hospital in a coma. Why was she in a town forty miles from home? Did she fall, or was she pushed? And who are the two people in photographs hidden in Elizabeth’s treasured locket? At the start of this story, Esme knows who her family is but once she starts to dig into Elizabeth’s odd accident/attack she uncovers a complicated family history which had me confused at times. This genealogical mystery involves a long-ago family argument, a derelict canal and a feisty elderly lady in a residential home. Esme is a bit like a dog with a bone, she won’t give up despite getting the jitters in the dark of the night. Two things would have made my reading experience easier. Esme’s history – scar, widow, background as investigative journalist – was thinly drawn so it felt as if I was reading part two of a two-book series. The family twists and turns were
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Categories: Family history research.

Family history: Did your ancestor belong to a trade union?

We all remember learning at school about the Tolpuddle Martyrs [below] and their importance at the beginning of the trade union movement in the UK. They are still remembered today. The history of working life can be exciting and the excitement of researching your family tree is not about filling in spaces on a sheet of paper, it is about discovering real people and understanding their lives. If one of your relatives belonged to a trade union you could find out more about their working life, and also the time in which they lived. Searching however can be time-consuming, but rewarding. Here are some UK-based links to get your started:- The Modern Records Centre – held at the University of Warwick is the UK’s biggest repository of trade union records. Records vary from union to union, and year to year, but includes membership records, records of sickness and unemployment benefits, local branch meetings, social events and even some apprenticeship certificates. Trade Union Ancestors – it is estimated that more than 5000 trade unions have existed at some time or another, this website includes an A-Z guide of unions, union histories and biographies of union figures. Working Class Movement Library –
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Categories: Family history research.

Family history: DNA test for ancestral connections

Just think how it would revolutionize family history research if a DNA test could tell us which regions of the UK we are descended from. Now a partnership of 100 DNA experts, Living DNA has compiled a database of results from the 2015 People of the British Isles project which created a genetic map of the UK. The Living DNA test compares a person’s genetic markers with those from 21 distinct areas of the UK, including Cornwall, Norfolk and North Wales. The results are then displayed on an online platform, where there is the option to identify connections with a further 59 worldwide regions. The results are shown on a map with a guide to how far back each component of genetic material comes from; this gives genealogists the chance to verify the DNA findings with traditional paper-based research. This post is inspired by an article in the November 2016 issue of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine. More details here. Future novels in the ‘Identity Detective’ series will involve the use of DNA to find a missing relative. My heritage is in Yorkshire, my surname shared with a small Yorkshire village. So would my DNA point me to
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Categories: Family history research.

Book review: Pale as the Dead

This is an unusual mix of genealogy mystery and history, centred on the glamorous Pre-Raphaelite artists and Lizzie Siddal, the girl in the famous ‘Ophelia’ painting. Ancestry detective Natasha Blake meets a mysterious, beautiful young woman, Bethany, who is re-enacting the Lizzie Siddal scene for a photographer. Bethany confides in Natasha her fear that her family is cursed following the deaths of her sister and mother. After asking Natasha to research her family tree, Bethany goes missing. Has she run from a failing love affair, committed suicide, or has she been murdered? The trail is cold. Natasha must turn detective in two senses: she searches the birth, marriage and death records, census returns and wills, to find Natasha’s ancestors; at the same time, she is being followed by someone driving a red Celica. Adam, the photographer, is also Bethany’s boyfriend but Natasha feels there is more to his story than he is telling. The narrative wandered rather from the central story, complicated unnecessarily by Natasha’s own history and love life which added little. Perhaps this could have been avoided by telling part of the story from Lizzie Siddal’s point of view. There were so many peripheral characters, both in the
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Categories: Book Love and Family history research.

Book review: Blood Atonement

A fascinating mixture of modern crime novel and family history research, Blood Atonement takes Nigel Barnes from London to the USA as he races against time to find answers for Detective Chief Inspector Grant Foster. Foster’s first case after returning to work following injuries sustained in The Blood Detective [first in this genealogical crime series] is a dead actress and her missing daughter. Links to the actress’s past, mystery about her family and unanswered questions, lead Foster to call in the help of genealogist Nigel Barnes. Both men are strong characters who walk off the page, both loners of a kind, both lonely in love. This is a fast-moving mystery revolving around what happened to Horton and Sarah Rowley, who we know from flashbacks were teenage sweethearts planning to run away, but who only appear in records in the UK from 1891. Before that, they cease to exist. Where did they come from, and why were they running? Simply because their parents disapproved of the marriage, or something more sinister? And what has this to do with the dead actress found lying face down on her lawn in London? As he searches for the missing 14-year old, Foster finds chilling
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Categories: Book Love and Family history research.