Archives for family history

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.

Book review: The Orange Lilies

This is a novella, a short book which I wanted to be longer. Set at Christmas 2014 it revisits Christmas 100 years earlier, the first year of the Great War, and follows the story of one man in the trenches with the Royal Sussex Regiment. Third in the series by Nathan Dylan Goodwin about his forensic genealogist Morton Farrier, it is a little different from its predecessors in that it focusses on Morton’s own story rather than that of a client. Morton knows he is adopted but has recently discovered a complicated family secret. So in an effort to build bridges and learn more about his ancestors, he and girlfriend Juliette travel to Cornwall to visit his Aunty Margaret and Uncle Jim. Over the festive break, Morton and Margaret trace official documents telling the story of Morton’s great-grandfather Charles Farrier, who fought with the Second Battalion, the Royal Sussex Regiment. However as records are uncovered, more questions appear. At the same time we are told Charles’s story in 1914, with its own mysteries, contradictions and secrets. Unknown to Morton, old and modern mysteries are inter-linked. I love the formula of the Morton Farrier books, the combination of present and past,
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Categories: Book Love.

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.

Book review: The Doll Funeral

The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer is a dark, despairing and at times confusing tale of identity and the creeping links of family and genetics across the generations. It is about the difficult adoptive families, about ‘not fitting in’, and how blood families sometimes don’t work either. Ultimately, family is where you can find it and make it. Ruby’s mother Barbara is a cleaning lady who nicks small things she thinks won’t be missed. Father Mick knocks Ruby around, forcing her to miss school until the bruises fade. Then on her thirteenth birthday, they tell her she is adopted. Ruby’s response is to run into the garden and sing for joy. Of course nothing is as simple as it appears. Ruby, determined to find her birth parents, runs away and makes her way to the creepy home of a strange schoolfriend Tom. I found the thread of Tom, Crispin and Elizabeth rather unrealistic and at times gruesome. It does however act as an alternative take on dysfunctional families, wild children and parental neglect. The budding relationship of Tom and Ruby, two outsiders, is touching. Ruby’s tale is alternated with that of her mother Anna who falls pregnant as a teenager,
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Categories: Book Love.

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.

Book review: Bloodline

This is a combination of genealogical mystery, murder investigation and historical examination of the Nazis. Bloodline by Fiona Mountain, the second Natasha Blake mystery, covers a lot of ground from its seemingly innocuous starting point when Natasha hands in her report to a client. But nothing is mentioned lightly in this book, everything has a meaning. Natasha is not sure why Charles Seagrove requested this particular family tree, but knows he is unrelated to any of the people featured. The real reason for Seagrove’s interest in genealogy is at the heart of this storyline. There are many dead ends and I admit to losing track of who was who at one point but Mountain ties all the loose endings together so there is clarity at the end. At first, Natasha is simply conducting another genealogical research but everything changes when she receives an anonymous note, ‘Cinderella is in the bluebell woods at Poacher’s Dell’. Once her client is murdered with his own shotgun, Natasha feels threatened as well as puzzled. There are many storylines to be connected including Charles Seagrove’s grand-daughter Rosa and her father Richard, Second World War land girls, and two soldiers – one German, one English –
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Categories: Book Love.

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.

Book review: The Lost Ancestor

When forensic genealogist Morton Farrier is asked by a dying client to find out what happened to his great aunt, who disappeared in 1911, Morton doesn’t expect to find his own life threatened. The Lost Ancestor by Nathan Dylan Goodwin is a moreish combination of mystery, history about the pre-Great War period, and family history research. If you like Downton Abbey, you will identify with the 1911 sections about Morton’s great aunt Mary Mercer. In an effort to escape her rough, unemployed father and unpleasant mother, Mary takes a job as third housemaid at Blackfriars, a great house at Winchelsea in East Sussex. Little does she realize the love and heartache she finds there will shape her life. A dreamer who imagines she is the lady of the house, Mary has a rude awakening on her first day at work. She had no idea what the job of a chambermaid entailed. But the presence of her cousin Edward makes life easier to bear. When her parents fall ill, Mary gives them all her wages and so loses her chances of escaping to a better life. Goodwin knows the Winchelsea and Rye area so well that I immediately felt I was
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Categories: Book Love.

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: Deadly Descent

It all begins when West Kansas historian Lottie Albright receives a submission for her oral history project. Written by Zelda St John, aunt of political hopeful Brian Hadley, the piece examines torrid racist attitudes in the family’s history. This is the sort of book you settle into and read with relish. Deadly Descent by Charlotte Hinger is a mystery thriller which moves with steady detailed steps as the tension twists and twists like a screw being slowly turned. A first murder is followed rapidly by a second, Lottie is sworn in as a deputy and balances her twin jobs of detecting and collating historical records. The two jobs fit neatly together until anonymous letters start to arrive. Lottie is ably supported by her quiet long-suffering husband Keith, and her clinical psychologist twin sister Josie. Remember the twin thing, it is important later. Sam Abbott, sheriff of the woefully-underfunded Carlton County police, welcomes the resources of the Kansas Bureau of Investigations and so distracts Lottie with research into an old dead case: the old Swenson murders. This feels like a massive diversion, but go with the flow of this book and you will be rewarded. Hinger plots intricately and draws a
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Categories: Book Love.

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.

Family history: the paternity question

People have been having affairs – and illegitimate children – since the world began. For me, this means hundreds of story ideas for the ‘Rose Haldane: Identity Detective’ series. For family history researchers, paternity fraud presents a big dilemma: whether to believe what the records say. Adultery is notoriously difficult to trace through the records, with many women giving birth to babies whose father is not her husband. How do you spot a problem? Look out for:- Family rumours. Is it spiteful gossip, or is the rumour confirmed from different sources? Where was the father nine months before the birth? Did the birth take place a suspiciously short time after the wedding? Why is the paternity questioned? Physical likeness, does a child look like its father? Not a reliable measure, as often children are genetic throwbacks and resemble neither of their parents. Is it known that the mother had affairs? Check the divorce records for evidence of adultery. Are the parents living apart, so suggesting a marriage separation. Check the Census. A marriage breakdown is often evident in a person’s will, an estrangement may be mentioned. Or there may be a bequest to someone not in the immediate family. Was the
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Categories: Family history research.

Family history: was your relative a nurse?

If you are searching for a nurse who worked between 1898 and 1968, your search has just been made a lot easier. Over 1.6 million historic nursing records for the UK and Ireland are now online at Ancestry. There are three new collections:- UK & Ireland, Nursing Registers, 1898-1968 from the Royal College of Nursing: the largest of the three archives. It includes scans of the original documents and details about individual people including home address, education and previous employment history. Among the nurses listed is Dame Sarah Swift, founder of the RCN. UK & Ireland, Queen’s Nursing Institute Roll of Nurses, 1891-1931: these records were supplied by the Wellcome Institute, and further records will be released this autumn. Many of these nurses were trained as midwives and health visitors, treating patients in their own homes before the beginning of the NHS. Scotland, Nursing Applications, 1921-1945: these records date from the beginning of state registration of nurses in 1921. Most fascinating is the additional information provided about individuals, which may fill in essential gaps in family history research. If you don’t have an Ancestry subscription, you can view the RCN records at the RCN Library. For help on how to
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Categories: Book Love and Family history research.

Family history: The 1939 Register

The obvious place to start when researching previous generations of your family is the Census. Unfortunately, the UK’s 1931 Census was destroyed by fire during World War Two, and no Census was taken in 1941. But in 1938 the British Government announced a National Register would be taken to assess war needs and to issue identity cards. The records of 41 million citizens were taken. These records are now available at Find My Past. If the person you are searching for is not there, try military records at the National Archives. TNA has a number of research guides to help find members of the Armed Forces. This post was inspired by Laura Berry’s article ‘Missing from the Census’ in the April 2016 issue of the UK’s Who Do You Think You Are? magazine. Click here for more information.   I used the 1939 Register when I was writing Sweet Joy, the third adventure in the ‘Rose Haldane: Identity Detective’ series. For more about Ignoring Gravity, first in the series, watch the book trailer here. ‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: How
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Categories: Book Love, Family history research and On Researching.

Family history: Find Missing Births

Anyone researching their family history has to start with the two main life events: birth and death. Birth seems the obvious place to start, but finding certificates is not always straightforward. Adoption may be one reason, as Rose Haldane discovers in Ignoring Gravity, but there are lots of other reasons why births go missing. If you have hit a brick wall searching for UK records, try these tips by genealogist Laura Berry:- Informal change of name: it is perfectly legal for a person to change name without officially informing the authorities. Add to that the confusion caused by people by interchanging their first and middle names, perhaps because they dislike it. Some names were simply mis-spelled, either by the record-taker or the person reporting the birth. If in doubt, search for the mother’s maiden surname. A different quarter: until 1984, the GRO birth indexes for England and Wales were organised quarterly [after this it switched to annual]. Perhaps the birth you are looking for has been recorded in the next quarter. Parents at this time had 42 days in which to record a birth. Common names: if you are searching for a common surname and common first name, try looking for
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Categories: Book Love, Family history research, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Researching.

Book review: The Marriage Certificate

There’s a new genre appearing in mystery, thriller and general fiction sections: #genealogylit. Involving a combination of old-fashioned mystery, family history, detective fiction and combined historical and modern-day settings, #genealogylit has grown from the love of family history research and television programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are? and Long Lost Family. The Marriage Certificate by Stephen Molyneux is another example of #genealogylit, combining family secrets with turn of the century British history: the Boer War, the Great War, the merchant navy, the changing role of women and attitudes to illegitimacy. Unlike other #genealogylit however, it is not a crime novel, there is no murder. It is the story of two couples – the bride and groom, Louisa and John, best man Frank and bridesmaid Rose – at a wedding on January 15, 1900; their lives, loves, dangers and tragedies. Running alongside is a modern-day strand. In 2011, amateur genealogist Peter Sefton finds the marriage certificate of Louisa and John’s wedding in an antiques shop and his curiosity is piqued. As he researches the names on the certificate, we also see their lives unfolding in a rapidly-changing world as the 19th century turns into the 20th. The men leave home
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Categories: Book Love and Family history research.

Book review: The Blood Detective

I raced through this book, a hybrid mixture of crime and genealogy mystery. Author Dan Waddell is also a journalist and genealogist, having written The Genealogy Handbook [below] to accompany the Who Do You Think You Are? television series. So, he knows his stuff and it shows. Usually a crime novel features a lead detective and team, here we have two lead characters: Detective Chief Inspector Grant Foster, and genealogist Nigel Barnes. Waddell’s plotting is ingenious. The past really does come back to haunt the present. There is a serial killer in West London who leaves a clue carved into the skin of his victims. This clue prompts DCI Foster to call on the specialist help of researcher Barnes. The murder hunt takes parallel paths: Foster chases living suspects, Barnes searches the archives for the true 1879 story of a serial killer, his victims and their descendants. What is the link? The final chapters are a thrilling race against time. I really enjoyed this. The linking of historical and present-day crime was clever, and the characterization was convincing and not of the stereotypical detective form. An enjoyable mixture of fast-moving crime novel with genealogical research and historical gems about this particular
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Categories: Book Love and Family history research.