Another Family History Website Bites the Dust

A sad day for those with coal mining ancestors and interests. Whilst doing some research into my many ancestors working in this industry, I attempted to access one of my favourite occupational websites, “The Coal Mining History Resource Centre” (CMHRC). 

However it appears to have vanished. 

Ian Winstanley compiled the information for the website. But I believe Raleys Solicitors, an old-established Barnsley law firm specialising in miners’ compensation claims, ran it. They went into administration in March 2016. Whereas client work appears to have transferred to Ison Harrison Solicitors, the website seems to have been a casualty. have Ian Winstanley’s “Coal Mining Accidents and Death Index 1700-1950“, which was on the site. But CMHRC was far more than this wonderful database. Described as the UK’s largest and most comprehensive website concerning the history of coal-mining, its resources included maps, the 1842 Royal Commission reports, poems, a glossary of mining terms and a photo gallery. Unlike Ancestry, it was a free website. And to be honest I much preferred its search facility.  

I would hope the loss of CMHRC is temporary and it can soon be restored in all its former glory. But in the meantime there is a bit of a work round.  

In my post about an obsolete County Mayo website, I described how the Internet Archive Wayback Machine could be useful in accessing defunct websites. You can partly access CMHRC via this mechanism, but be warned you do lose much of the original site functionality.  

Screenshot of CMHRC via the Wayback Machine

If searching via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, the URL to use for CMHRC is:

There are also the following useful sites: 

Feel free to add more to the list. 

Some suggestions that I’ve since received (thanks Judy & Fergus): 

“Ley Lines” of the Somme: an amazing Somme 100 experience

Do you believe in fate? Of hidden forces drawing people together? I do after my latest Great War pilgrimage.

I recently went over to Belgium and France and timed the visit to coincide with two of my Hill family death anniversaries. Jesse Hill, who died on 19 September 1915 and is buried at Ypres Reservoir; and Percy Hill who died, according to soldiers’ effects records, at 2/1 South Midland Casualty Clearing Station on 30 September 1916. Percy is buried at Warloy-Baillon Community Cemetery Extension, just to the west of Albert.

Last year when visiting Jesse, on the centenary of his death, I narrowly missed meeting a relative for the first time. Two poppy crosses and the visitors book showed we’d paid our respects at Jesse’s grave within hours of each other. That was coincidence enough, but nothing in comparison to what happened this year.

Two Poppy Crosses by Jane Roberts

Chris (my husband) and I spent a few days in Ypres before driving to Avesnes Le Sec, near Cambrai, to stay with an “old” school friend for the weekend (sorry about the “old” Anne, but it applies to me too). We finished the final leg of our visit on the Somme, initially at the wonderful “No 56” b&b then at the “Royal Picardie” hotel in Albert for the last two nights. The only reason we transferred to Albert was because the b&b only had availability for three nights.

The early evening of 28 September we finished another long day of walking by stopping off at the beautiful Authuile Military Cemetery, in the village of Authuille (note the spelling difference). 

I love this tranquil cemetery with its feeling of peace and calm, and its eye-pleasingly curving layout of headstones sloping down to the river Ancre. An odd thing to say, but it’s probably my favourite cemetery. It is also the final resting place of Pte Willie Barber of the 1/4th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) one of the parishioners at Batley St Mary’s who I spent so much time researching.

Authuile Military Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

As we wandered down to the bottom slopes of the cemetery I noticed another visitor. This was unusual, as it was getting on and the cemetery isn’t one people normally beat a path to the door of. By the time we got to the top she had gone.

I sort of wondered if she was here to see Willie, one of those flights of fancy about impossible coincidences. I’m always a bit over-focussed on the St Mary’s men I researched. But there was nothing in the visitors book to indicate why she’d been there. That was the end of that, or so I thought. A chance to find out lost.

The following day we checked into our Albert hotel. Whilst in town sitting outside a café drinking coffee we saw the lady again. But again never spoke.

And then on 30 September, the anniversary of Percy’s death, we went down to our first breakfast in the hotel and she was there with her mum.  This time we did speak. She was over for the centenary of her great grandfather’s death, that very day. The same day as Percy Hill. 30 September.

We talked a bit more, and amazingly discovered both Percy and her ancestor, Jonathan Pearson, were in the same battalion, 1/4th KOYLI. Both died of wounds and both received their injuries during the same period of duty in the trenches near Ulster Tower in mid-September. She had followed Jonathan’s footsteps for those few final frontline days and was on her way across to Boulogne to his grave on his death anniversary, before returning home to the south of England that evening.

She had photos of Jonathan. I had some of Percy, including group photos with some of his pals. And amazingly on one of these photos was a man who looked remarkably like Jonathan. Same colouring, same features including distinctive nose and cut of hair.

We couldn’t believe it. 100 years to the exact day of their deaths we were in a hotel in Albert staring at a picture of what appears to be both men together. It was is if some unseen force had been pulling us together for the past couple of days, starting at Authuile Military Cemetery where fellow 1/4th KOYLI soldier Willie Barber is buried, finally uniting us on the centenary of their death. An incredible, earth-stopping realisation. And if the b&b had been available for the final two days of my visit I wouldn’t have even been in the Albert hotel. A week later and I still can’t believe it.

We parted promising to pass on Jonathan and Percy’s regards at their respective final resting places, around some 90 miles apart.

And so onto Warloy-Baillon. We stopped at Ulster Tower en route and found the poppy cross Jonathan’s family had laid in the area of the KOYLI trenches of mid September 1916. We saw the Pope’s Nose, the German salient with a decaying relic of a observation post/gun emplacement, which was the focus of their trench raids in that period.

We were at Percy Hill’s grave for 1.15pm, the minute is death is recorded. And there, at around 2pm, we met with David Short and his wife Pauline, the relative I so narrowly missed meeting just over a year ago at Jesse Hill’s grave. And in a final piece of symmetry David is from the north east of England, not Yorkshire, the same area from which Jonathan hailed.

My New Toy: Irish Birth, Marriage and Death Images

In my “Fabulous News For Those With Irish Ancestry” post I could scarcely contain my excitement at the release of Irish General Register Office (GRO) birth, marriages and death register images. The site is

I’ve had a few days playing with my new family history toy and getting a feel for the system. These searches have focused on my primary interest area, County Mayo, and in particular the Swinford Registration District. I’ve tried a combination of search methods, including wildcards for those multiple spellings. For example I didn’t realise how many ways you could spell the seemingly simple surnames: But Loft* identifies Loftus, Loftice and Loftis; Cass* included Cassidy, Cassedy and Cassiday.

I found it interesting to note how many of my family were baptised before their registered birth date! I knew my grandpa had two birthdays, but it seems he was not unique amongst his siblings. Staggeringly this applied to seven of out of the eight children of Michael and Mary Callaghan, whose birth register images are accessible. But it also features in my Loftus line.

Glan Church, Kilkelly, County Mayo

It points to the religious importance of quick baptism to ensure eternal salvation at a time of high infant mortality; combined with the lesser imperative to officially register, with rural transport factors and employment pressures coming into play. By law, a birth had to be registered within 42 days. Fudging the birth date was a way to avoid a late registration penalty. Interestingly my grandpa carried on the “tradition” of an incorrect birth certificate date with my mum.

As with any new release on this scale there are some glitches:

  • The site did go down a few times and at others it was painfully slow. Hopefully these accessibility issues will improve as the traffic volume decreases;
  • I do get a tad frustrated at constantly proving “I am not a robot” several times within the same session. There’s a limit to how many street signs, grass vistas, milkshakes and shop fronts I must identify before curbing the urge to scream;
  • Not all images are online yet. Births are there from 1864 to 1915. However marriages are only available from 1882 to 1940. Deaths run from 1891 to 1965. The GRO are updating further records of Marriages dating back to 1845 and Deaths dating back to 1864, but no indication of how long this will take;
  • For one of my birth searches, the link was to the wrong image. I couldn’t see any way to browse adjoining pages easily. I tried in vain to overcome the issue using the advanced search options, narrowing down dates and Registration Districts. A frustrating half an hour later and I still couldn’t access it. So I know Andrew Callaghan’s 1891 birth registration is there somewhere, but the crucial image still eludes me. I have reported the issue via the feedback form, but as yet haven’t received a response;
  • The Advanced Search facility has issues, alluded to above. Linked to this, I do wish search guidance was clearer; and
  • I’ve heard anecdotal stories of false negative results, where someone who should be there isn’t identified in searches. So far this hasn’t affected me.

But the positives far outweigh these niggles:

  • FREE register images are instantly available with the click of a few keys;
  • The register pages supply the birth, marriage and death certificate details thus saving researchers €4 a certificate;
  • The information provided may lead to wider family. I quickly noticed that a good number of births were not registered by the parents. Far higher than I anticipated. Many entries were by people described as “present at birth”. For example a couple of my Callaghan births were registered in this manner by a Patrick Callaghan. Tantalisingly in these instances no relationship details were supplied. Possibly the baby’s grandfather or potentially an uncle, so extended family clues. However some entries do give the precise relationship details. I’ve seen sisters and grandmothers identified. So you may strike lucky;
  • You can include the mother’s maiden name in the advanced search option for births. And these fetch results earlier than the 1911 norm for England and Wales GRO searches. However I would not go so far as to say I to trust equating negative results to no results; and
  • There are entries for Northern Ireland Registration Districts. I’m not sure if these are limited to pre-1922 and how complete these are. So even if your ancestry is from the North, the records are worth checking.

In summary, despite its flaws this is a brilliant resource. It is a wonderful companion set to the free NLI Catholic parish register release of 2015. And a massive thank you to the Irish authorities for making Irish Soldiers Wills 1914-1918, the Irish 1901 and 1911 census, and other datasets, also available free of charge via the National Archives of Ireland’s genealogy page.

It is worth comparing with the “pay” attitude for similar information in England and Wales. A prime example being the £9.25 extortionate charges for similar civil registration information, with seemingly very little progress made since the 2015 Deregulation Act which was supposed to pave the way to providing this information in an uncertified, lower cost form. Or the £10 charge for a World War 1 soldier’s will in this centenary commemoration period.

5 October 2016 update:

I have now received a response from Irish Genealogy to my query on errors. They will be adding a mechanism for error reporting, but no indication of timescale.

In terms of coverage they confirmed the General Register Office are currently working on updating further records of Marriages dating back to 1845 and Deaths dating back to 1864. These will be included in future updates to the records available on the website.

Fabulous News For Those With Irish Ancestry

A really short blog post, but I can scarcely contain my excitement. I wanted to share my joy as soon as possible. And what fabulous news it is for those with Irish ancestry. 

The Irish Genealogy website has released the Irish General Register Office (GRO) images of births of over 100 years ago, marriages of over 75 years ago and deaths of over 50 years ago.

These aren’t just indexes, they are the actual GRO images. So mother and father details for births; cause of death information; location information; names of fathers for marriages; occupations; dates. In other words exactly what you’d get on a certificate.

And what’s even better – they’re absolutely free. So no more €4 postal applications for photocopies of Irish certificates me. And no more wasted money on speculative applications either.  

I am ecstatic. This was beyond my wildest dreams when I first heard a whisper about the launch a few days ago. 

A quick look and they’re not complete yet, but already I’m filling in some gaps. And, as they’ve been uploaded ahead of the scheduled 8 September 2016 launch date, I’ve not ruled a further tranche. 

So guess which website I’ll be on over the next few days, ploughing through my outstanding list of civil records:


Which Type of Family Historian Are You?

After several years immersed in family history research, along the way I’ve also observed my fellow researchers, and I include myself here. As a result I’ve identified several breeds within this species. Some are clearly pedigrees displaying one single personality trait. Others are more of the Heinz 57 variety, displaying a cross section of characteristics to varying degrees, depending on their inherited DNA.

Which Type of Family Historian Are You?

The categories I’ve identified are by no means exhaustive. I have listed them below, along with their core characteristics.

The Gatherer: This grouping is more concerned about how far back they can go and how many individuals their tree can hold, rather than in-depth individual stories of ancestors. It’s a contest, a badge of honour. Who can get back the furthest. Who can collect the most. What their tree lacks for in substance, they more than make up for with the thousands of names and dates populating the multiple branches. So many names it makes it difficult to distinguish the wood from the trees.  

The Gatherer

The Treehopper: These individuals hop from one public tree to another culling data. The Treehopper doesn’t evaluate this data to see if it is indeed their family. And they are oblivious to errors such as children born before parents and centuries old Methusalahs. Their philosophy is “it’s on the internet so it must be true“. 

There is much cross-fertilisation amongst the Treehopper populace, so the errors become self-perpetuating. 

The Plunderer: These folk are similar to the Treehopper breed in that they cherry pick data from others. But they are far more discerning. And they are not averse to passing the research off as their own. 

The Fortune Seeker: This bounty-hunting bunch are only interested in proving their connection to rich and famous. The richer and more famous the better. Their ace would be to have a link to royalty. A dinner-table topic to dine out on forever, whilst polishing their collective tiaras. 

The Fortune Seeker

The Carnivore: This sub-species is only interested in their meaty, gory ancestors. They wallow in the deepest, darkest entrails of their family history. Ordinary lives are not worth spending time researching. These individuals thrive on the blood-lust of murderers, criminals, victims, bigamists, incest intrigues, gruesome deaths, disasters and tragedies. The grislier the better, in order to feed their passion. 

The Nurturer: Always putting others before themselves, these kindly souls spend so much time helping others in their family history quest, that their own research is sadly neglected. They make occasional efforts to tend and grow their own tree, only to succumb once more to the cries of help from others. 

Whilst they do love assisting the more juvenile researchers in their midst, their plaintive moans of despair at their lack of personal tree-time can occasionally be heard echoing in archive corridors.

The Wanderer: These are the free spirits of the family history world. Or perhaps that should read the most easily distracted? They set off on one path, but part way through their research something more interesting attracts their attention and they change direction. They then spend hours wandering down this new road, before realising they’ve been diverted. Not to worry though. They’ll get to their destination eventually, but with lots of exciting adventures along the way. 

The Wanderer

The Aestivator: This is the spring/summer version of hibernation. During the, hopefully, good weather of these seasons aestivators concentrate on other hobbies and activities. The weather is too nice to be stuck indoors, at home or in archives, researching. The only trees they tend during this period are the ones in their gardens. The only nod towards family history research may be the occasional ancestral cemetery or location visit. Essentially they have entered a phase of genealogical torpor.

They emerge from their aestivation with renewed energy and enthusiasm, ready to conduct their desk-based research during the cold, dark, wet months of late autumn/winter. 

The Night Predator: These researchers burn the midnight oil. The daylight hours are eaten up by family and work demands. Once the children are safely tucked up in bed, partners craftily diverted and work consigned till tomorrow, the Night Predators’ family history papers come out and their computers are fired up. Time looses all track. One more minute becomes one more hour. Bed is but a distant port of call. The clock chimes an inconvenient 1am. Dawn brings its own dawning realisation, “I sleep to research more effectively.” Sleep, therefore, is an unwelcome, but essential, research interruption. And so eventually the Night Predator drags them-self wearily to bed, mind whirring on finds and strategies, counting ancestors not sheep.  

The Night Predator

The Protector: This group are the guardians of their family’s history. They unearth all aspects: good, bad and indifferent. They critically analyse and evaluate their research, recording it for posterity. They delve into all aspects, and historically and locally contextualise the lives of direct line and collateral ancestors. They collect, preserve, share, treasure and protect their finds to ensure no lives are forgotten. They engender a sense of family continuity.  

However be warned, their sheer single-minded obsession and enthusiasm may occasionally be too much for living family members. They have been known to bury their heads in their hands or flee for cover at the prospect of more quizzing or yet another tale from the Protector.

The Scavenger: These phenomena pull disparate facts swiftly together in a haphazard manner with no regard for considered research or truth. If someone has the same name, well that first match they encounter must be “The One“. No matter they may be from a totally unrelated parish, sometimes hundreds of miles away, there are multiple alternatives, or there are other irregularities. 

Time, history, geography, facts and other options are minor inconveniences, swiftly ignored or dismissed. The Scavenger relies on gut instinct at best. At worst they ram the wrong shaped piece in their family history puzzle and move on.

The Specimen Collector: This category has a sole focus on direct line ancestors only, so four grandparents, eight great grandparents, 16 2x great grandparents and so on. They can really put these ancestors under their genealogical microscope or magnifying glass to probe and delve into their lives in minute detail, without the overwhelming distraction of collateral ancestors. The downside is this researcher may miss breaking down a brick wall which may come from looking at these collateral lines.

The Specimen Collector

The Hunter: These individuals love the thrill of the ancestral chase. Nothing is more satisfying than a visit to the archives or a day spent surfing family history websites. 

Their homes are filled with hastily jotted notes on the back of discarded envelopes and scattered pieces of paper. They have multiple notebooks on the go at any one time, because they misplace the one they’re working on so swiftly grab another. Finds will be properly recorded another day …..maybe. For the time being it’s all retained in the head. Occasionally an overwhelming urge to put things in order overcomes these people. But it’s a temporary blip and instinctive habits are quickly resumed. For them it’s a case of nature over nurture. 

The Hunter

The Grazer: A solid type, who munches steadily and evenly paced through their family history feast. Day by day, piece by piece. Neither obsessively or frenetically. It is a lifetime’s work, no need to rush. It’s there to be savoured, mulled over and enjoyed.

Which one(s) am I? Well that’s for me to know and you to wonder. But all theses different elements and people combine to create the wonderful discipline, interest, hobby, livelihood and obsession that is family history.  

PS – This post is prompted by a bit of end of school holiday giddiness. Any other suggestions are most welcome. 


A Short Life Remembered: King Cholera’s Deadly Reign

This is another in my “Short Lives Remembered” series. It focuses on often-forgotten children in family trees who died all too young. The ones who never had chance to marry, have children and descendants to cherish their memory. The ones who, but for family history researchers, would be forever forgotten.

This post is about Sarah Clough. Sadly the most remarkable thing I know about her life is her death.

Sarah was the fourth child of my 3x great grandparents William and Mary Clough (née Burnett). She was born on 22 February 1833 in Adwalton Yorkshire and baptised in the parish church of St Peter’s, Birstall on 2 June 1833.

Historically, Adwalton is probably best known for its part in the English Civil War: The scene of the Battle of Adwalton Moor, when the Royalist forces of the Earl of Newcastle defeated the Parliamentarian forces of Sir Thomas Fairfax bringing Yorkshire under Royalist control.

Alongside it’s neighbour Drighlington, to where the Clough family moved, this was an otherwise historically unremarkable village, following the normal industrial revolution growth and development patterns of other West Riding villages in the 19th century.

By the time of Sarah’s birth, textile manufacture was supplanting farming and mining as principal occupations in Adwalton and Drighlington. William, her father, worked as a clothier, following the traditional occupations of the area. This was before fate stepped in and his working life took a totally different path. But that’s for another time.

Sarah only features in one census, that of 1841. She is shown living in Drighlington with her parents and three older siblings. The next record I have is her death certificate. Which brings me to a period in time when Drighlington hit the news for entirely unwelcome reasons.

Sarah died there on 10 August 1849, age 16. No occupation given, so I do not know if she followed her elder sister into a worsted spinning job in one of the area’s relatively new mills. She’s described merely as the daughter of William Clough. He registered her death the following day.

The certificate reveals she suffered one of those truly awful, and all too common, deaths of our ancestors. It indicates she died after suffering for 11 hours from “malignant cholera”.

Cause of Death Extract from Sarah Clough’s Death Certificate

So once more I venture into the depressing medical world family history researchers frequently inhabit. This time learning about cholera.

Malignant cholera was one of the names given to Asiatic cholera. This was distinct from English cholera. Adverts in 1849 stated that English cholera, which all persons more or less suffered from in summer months, was characterised by “violent looseness of the bowels, attended with sickness, and in extreme cases violent cramps”.  In other words dysentery and food poisoning, more commonly known as gastroenteritis today. If left untreated it could result in Asiatic cholera, or so some quack newspaper adverts claimed.

English Cholera Description, “Leeds Intelligencer” 25 August 1849

In fact Asiatic cholera was a different entity. Originating in India, it first reached the shores of Great Britain in the autumn of 1831, after its relentless march across Europe. It’s first victim was in Sunderland. The epidemic dissipated the following Autumn, but not before claiming the souls of some 32,000 people, roughly a 50 per cent death rate of those afflicted. In these pre-civil registration days this is only a rough estimate, with ranges fluctuating between 20,000 to 50,000+[1]

L0008118 A dead victim of cholera at Sunderland in 1832. Coloured lit

L0008118 A dead victim of cholera at Sunderland in 1832. Coloured lit Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images A dead victim of cholera at Sunderland in 1832 by IWG. Coloured Lithograph Circa 1832 Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Like English cholera, Asiatic cholera also struck without warning, but it’s symptoms were more extreme. Although not the top killer in the country during the period, its high mortality rate and the speed with which it killed caused panic. Those afflicted were gripped by dramatic diarrhoea, terrible abdominal cramps and vomiting. In the most severe cases the loss of body fluids was so appalling that the victims rapidly became dehydrated, cold, withered and gaunt. Often their faces became unrecognisably shrunken and they could develop a blue-grey tinge to their skin. The swiftness with which victims succumbed is illustrated by the fact that Sarah was dead within 11 hours of the onset of her symptoms.

V0010485 A young Viennese woman, aged 23, depicted before and after

V0010485 A young Viennese woman, aged 23, depicted before and after Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images A young Viennesen woman, aged 23, depicted before and after contracting cholera. Coloured stipple engraving. Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Victims died as a result of dehydration, sometimes hastened by medical ministrations which could be based on purging the body of impurities. Laxatives, such as mercury, and emetics like opium were amongst the armoury of potentially prescribed medications. Hardly the most suitable concoctions to give to patients already exhausted from sickness and diarrhoea. Other remedies touted at this time were passing steam over the patient or pouring boiling water on the patient’s stomach, brandy, bloodletting and “hot air baths”, all of which made dehydration worse. Even arsenic was prescribed.

Official advice, as well as druggists adverts, featured in the press of the day. All equally ineffective.

Official Cholera Remedy – ” Leeds Intelligencer” 23 June 1849

Fundamental to the grip the frightening disease had on the country was the lack of understanding of its causes and transmission. The prevalent theory was that the disease was caused and spread by smelly, contaminated air, otherwise known as miasma. Getting rid of foul smells, including improved sanitation, would combat the deadly menace. Attempts were made to fumigate buildings in affected communities by burning sulphur or tar. Drinking brandy or eating copious quantities of garlic were also widely believed to be a preventative measures.

L0003001 A court for King Cholera

L0003001 A court for King Cholera Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images ‘A court for King Cholera’ is hardly an exaggeration of many dwelling places of the poor in London. 19th century Punch Published: 1852 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Medical thinking had not progressed beyond this when the next deadly wave of the disease spread through Britain throughout 1848-49. The poor still lived in cramped and unhygienic conditions, sewerage was still largely inadequate and water supplies were still vulnerable to contamination: All these factors exacerbated by urbanisation. The miasma theory still held sway, promoted by the likes of social reformer Edwin Chadwick. There was no expert agreement about whether or not it was contagious, with debates on the subject aired in the press.

“The Leeds Times” 14 October 1848

However prudent advice in “The Leeds Mercury” of 29 September 1849 suggested precautions such as burning beds and clothing of the deceased and, in what looks like an early attempt funeral humour, “early (though not premature) interment“. In 1849 Dr John Snow publicly stated the disease was transmitted through water. His voice was dismissed.

In terms of fatalities this second outbreak of the disease proved to be the most serious of 19th century epidemics to hit Britain. Estimates vary between 53,000 and 62,000 lives lost[2], including that of Sarah Clough.

L0039174 Map of England showing prevalence of cholera, 1849

L0039174 Map of England showing prevalence of cholera, 1849 Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Map of England shaded to show the prevalence of cholera in the several districts during the epidemic of 1849. The relative degree of mortality is expressed in the darkness of the shading. The dates indicate the time at which the epidemic broke out. Printed Reproduction 1852 Report on the mortality of cholera in England, 1848-49. Great Britain. General Register Office. Published: 1852. Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Drighlington was particularly hard hit. Looking at the Drighlington St Paul’s burial register Sarah was just one of many of the village’s inhabitants to die in the summer of 1849.

A look at the a parish register shows 17 burials in August 1849. Of these 15 were Drighlington inhabitants, two from Adwalton. Sarah’s burial took place on 11 August 1849. Compare this with three June burials; four in July; one in September; four in October. Looking at the month of August in the years sandwiching 1849, August 1848 had four burials; whilst August 1850 shows only one. So a dramatic spike that cholera-affected month of August 1849.

The terror of the inhabitants felt is unimaginable: An illness with an incorrectly vague cause and no known cure sweeping their hometown; neighbours, friends and families being suddenly struck down; a succession of funerals held in the local church; many more suffering the distressing and debilitating effects of the illness. 

Newspapers, filled daily with cholera returns and countrywide reports, ratcheted up anxiety levels. They even remarked on the disproportionate numbers affected in Drighlington. For example, this from the “Bradford Observer” of 16 August 1849:

In our last number, we recorded a death from Asiatic cholera in Drighlington. Since then, five other cases have occurred, all of which proved fatal. Taking into consideration the size of the village and the population, this fearful malady is spreading more rapidly than in towns, where the population is so dense. The number of deaths from Asiatic cholera since the commencement a fortnight ago being seven, besides several others from English cholera”.

The “Leeds Intelligencer” of 18 August 1849 put the number of deaths at 11 and described clean-up measures to tackle the outbreak.

“Leeds Intelligencer” 18 August 1849

Put into context the 1851 population of Drighlington township was 2,740. So 11 cholera-related deaths in such a short space of time, not to mention those infected and recovering, and it’s easy to see how ravages of the illness would affect a significant proportion of the village one way or another.

Two further waves of cholera swept Britain but with decreasing death tolls – the 1853-54 outbreak claimed 20,000 souls[3]. Following this outbreak John Snow was able to prove his theory about the bacterial nature of the disease, when he isolated the source of the 1854 Soho outbreak to a contaminated Broad Street water pump.

Although full acceptance was slow, it was an important step in paving the way to laying to rest the bad air/miasma theory. This, ironically combined with the Public Health Acts and Sanitary Act resulting from the work of Chadwick, meant the disease was increasingly more effectively prevented and the 1865-66 epidemic accounted for a mere 10,000 – 14,000 deaths, depending on statistical sources.[4].

It wasn’t until 1883 that a German doctor, Robert Koch, isolated the cholera bacillus. And over 30 years more years elapsed before a vaccination became generally available in 1914.

So the short life of Sarah Clough is significant for the disease which cut it short. Just one of many thousands of people mowed down in Britain alone in what were the worldwide 19th century cholera pandemics. As a result of my research into Sarah’s death, the disease for me is now more than a name.

Others who feature in this series of “Short Lives Remembered” posts are:




Ordinary Lives: Family History is Best Left in the Graves of Our Ancestors?

Last night a family member asked if I’d unearthed any more embarrassing incidents in our family history. The individual appeared to be particularly concerned about the stigma from having a one-handed gypsy ancestor who gave birth to an illegitimate son whilst on the road in the company of a gaggle of 18th century chimney sweep apprentices. They straw-clutchingly tried to point out that giving birth on the roadside was perfectly normal for the period. There was no ambulance service, or so their argument went.  

And so lies one of the dichotomies of family history. My relative seemingly didn’t want any hint of scandal in our background. They wanted an ordinary, uneventful lineage. They took anything otherwise as casting some kind of lingering reputational stain passed down through the generations. A case of these things are best left in the past. Dirty linen, no matter how old, should never see the light of day. The dead should be portrayed as paragons of virtue. Their human weaknesses buried alongside them in their graves. In short the skeletons of ancestors should be left in their graves. 

They want a family tree populated with ancestors who lived ordinary, unremarkable, hard-working lives, with no speck of scandal. 

Batley Cemetery – Photo by Jane Roberts

Yet for others these more unusual events add colour to the every-dayness of “born, baptised, married, died, buried” records. They stand in the camp of ordinary lives are boring. Not worthy of re-discovery. Unremarkable genealogy is uninteresting. I’m not sure how true this is but, for example, the ordinariness of Michael Parkinson’s ancestry is cited as the reason why his story was ditched by “Who Do You Think You Are?” 

For me family history is about every-day lives. Some are ordinary, some are less so. But that’s part of the rich tapestry of life. It’s a mixture of all sorts. And you can’t gloss over the less palatable tales. No more so than you should discount the mundane. All facets are equally valid.  

Hidden Names: Indecisive and Tricky to Downright Confusing Ancestors

I remember well my husband and I spending hours pouring over a book of baby names throughout my pregnancy trying to decide on boy/girl options for the impending arrival of our little bundle of joy. OK, not so much him as me.

We were sure of our choices for a boy – William Patrick. Less so for a girl. Alice was the early favourite, although we were not entirely convinced. That was until our daughter arrived and within minutes we did a sudden about-turn to Amelia Grace. This was way before Amelia featured in the annual top 10 lists of baby names produced, so we were not swayed (or should that be put off?) by popular opinion. Then it was down to the Registry Office to make her official, like generations of parents before.  

My well-thumbed book of Babies Names

But it’s not always that straightforward. What happens if you change your mind after the official form filling? If you decide after all it wasn’t the right choice? Perhaps the parent doing the registering put down the wrong name, or an “unagreed” one. 

In my recent family history I’ve a couple of examples, with unofficial solutions. My grandma registered my dad’s birth. He has a Christian and middle name. Seemingly the Christian name was my grandma’s choice – her dad’s name, Patrick. My grandad wasn’t best pleased when he found out after the deed was done. As a compromise my dad has always gone by his middle name. Something that causes endless confusion when dealing with officialdom, the only time when he’s ever referred to as Patrick. But at least we know about it so it’s not an issue – though it might be for future family historians, seeking him under his every-day name! 

And there was a bit of pay-back for my grandma’s trickery. Her next son was born on St Patrick’s day – but she’d already used the name!

I also have a maternal aunt. Looking for her in the GRO indexes is problematical. My grandpa registered her under the wrong name, apparently the name of a former girlfriend. Imagine explaining that one away. Unsurprisingly she’s never used that name, although it is remarkably similar to the one she goes by . 

Mind you my grandpa has a tendency to mess up birth registration. To be honest I’m surprised my nana let him do it again after the example of my aunt. But she did. The result is my mum’s birth is registered on the wrong day – something she didn’t discover till getting a copy of her certificate when leaving school, much to her embarrassment. Now, like the queen, she has two birthdays. She chooses, from year to year, which is the most convenient date to celebrate.  

I suppose it’s sometimes all too easy to forget when researching your family tree that these are not one-dimensional, generational paper-trail figures. They were real people, with emotions and feelings and lives just as rich, rounded and complex as ours today. So although I shouldn’t have been, it was somewhat of a shock to find even earlier examples when I delved into my family tree and bought those all-important birth certificates. But these were examples where the families concerned actually did something about it through official channels. 

Permissible but unusual, you could change to the name registered for a child providing it was done within 12 months. There is a column on the birth certificate indicating “name entered after registration” catering for this eventuality. Normal procedure was that the Minister performing the baptism provided a certificate confirming the child’s baptismal name; if unbaptised, the mother or father signed a certificate. This had to be taken to the registrar or superintendant registrar and a fee paid. So not a light undertaking given the financial and time implications, not to say knowledge in the first place that this was an option. 

I’ve discovered two examples in my direct line ancestry. The first is for my 2x great grandmother Kezia(h) Clough. Born in Drighlington on 21 October 1850 she was the 6th, and youngest, daughter of William and Mary Clough (née Burnett). On 12 November 1850 Mary registered the baby’s birth, signing with her mark. Her daughter’s registered name was Emma. However, there is an entry in the name-change column. In this case it indicates the alteration to Kezia. No date as to when the amendment took place. The baptismal register at St Peter’s, Birstall, shows the child was baptised with the name Kezia on 29 December 1850. So the decision was made relatively quickly. 

I’ve no idea why the change of heart. Mary did have a sister named Keziah who died in 1837. But that was over 13 years before the birth of Emma/Kezia, and Mary had two other daughters born after her sister’s death. So ample opportunity to name a daughter after her sister, without an after-registration moment of enlightenment. The reason will forever be a mystery.  

Kezia Clough’s Birth Certificate

You might have observed that I’ve alluded to the fact there are variant spellings of Kezia on official documents. Sometimes the alternative Keziah is used. Something else to consider in that elusive ancestor hunt. 

The other example is my great grandad Jack Hill. Coincidentally he is the son of Kezia and her husband Joseph Hill. Jack was their second son. Born on on 10 December 1872, Joseph registered him on 13 December, under the name Herbert. The amendment column shows a post-registration change of name to John Herbert. Again nothing to indicate when the change was made. Some months after birth, on 25 May 1873, he was baptised John Herbert at Birstall St Peter’s. So another bit of naming confusion thrown into the ancestral search mix – the diminutive: Jack being a diminutive of John. 

Once more no clues as to why the change. Perhaps it was an afterthought nod towards Kezia’s brother John, who died in 1871. Or, the theory I’m leaning towards, is Herbert’s name was too close to the name of his older brother Albert (Bert & Bert), something hinted at in that May baptismal entry where “John Albert” is scored out and replaced by “John Herbert“.  

Jack Hill’s St Peter’s Birstall Baptismal Entry

So lots of creative Christian name considerations when on the trail of ancestors: 

  • Diminutives, some obvious such as Elizabeth/Lizzie/Betty and Joseph/Joe. Some less so such as John/Jack, Pauline/Polly, Sarah/Sally (yes I have those); 
  • Spelling variations; 
  • Christian names dropped, and possibly forgotten over time, in favour of middle names; and 
  • Names being used for no obvious reason at all, other than to frustrate family history researchers. For example Cissie used instead of the registered name of Sabina (yes, that’s one of mine too). 


  • GRO birth certificates 
  • Baptismal register, St Peter’s Birstall 


Aveyard One-Name-Study: Update

As it’s a while since I announced the start of my Aveyard One-Name-Study it’s about time I gave a progress update. 

In late spring I undertook an online “Introduction to One-Name Studies” course with Pharos Tutors. I wanted to start my study off on the right track. This course was designed with input from the Guild of One-Name Studies so it seemed ideal. And so it proved to be. The five weeks confirmed I’d chosen a theoretically manageable surname. It also gave me lots of ideas for running my study, from data collection, analysis and software tools, to publication and preservation.  

I didn’t jump straight in to my study at the end of the course. I’m not rushing to get it all done in one go. It’s a long-term commitment. I wanted to assimilate all I’d learned. I also had holidays booked!  

But I’m pleased to say I’m finally cracking on with data collection. I did consider doing a big data-scraping exercise, but in the end I’ve decided to go down the slow, methodical, manual route for some core datasets.  

I’ve finished my FreeBMD and Commonwealth War Graves Commission collections. These were straightforward Excel downloads, then tidying up the data. Now I’m in the census phase of data collecting. And the relaxed pace is proving the right one for me here. I’m getting a real “feel” for my Aveyard families by going through the census with a critical eye. And transcribing the data myself from the censuses is hopefully overcoming some of those errors which occur when relying solely on Ancestry or FindMyPast transcriptions. 

I’ve opted to use Excel for my data input in the first instance. The time spent on the manual data collection process has helped here too, by giving my chance to properly consider layout and key field names. But as a result of the course and subsequent research I’m also going to invest in Custodian. I do like a paper option and love my family history index cards. However I’m rapidly running out of house-room and I don’t want my daughter to leave home so I can have her bedroom……..Real family comes first. 

I’m aiming to break the back of data-collection and entry by next spring-time. But as I said I’m in no rush. This is a hobby. It’s fun. I don’t want it to be like work or become some awful “oh no, not that today” chore. I won’t lose sleep over missing a self-imposed deadline. I’m fitting this one around me and my family. So there may be periods of intense activity. But there may be longer ones when I don’t get anything done. If so that’s OK.

But already I’m getting hooked on this new, broader family history angle. And hopefully I may gain more Aveyard ancestors and an insight into their origins and wider inter-connections along the way.  

Family History Research Tips 

Those who follow me on social media may know I had my 15 minutes of fame this week courtesy of the local paper, “The Huddersfield Daily Examiner”. They approached me to see if they could use my story about Annie Leonard, a Barnbow munitions worker of the Great War who died as a result of work-related poisoning in July 1916. Their article is here.

The paper also wanted to do a general genealogy feature. I really didn’t know what to expect from this, or what angle they’d run with. So the interview, which lasted well over one hour, was fairly wide ranging. The resulting article included my tips for genealogists. I must admit to being caught on the hop here. It was towards the end of the interview and, not being used to this, I was feeling pretty exhausted. These were the tips I came up with off the top of my head: 

  • Work backwards using birth, marriage and death certificates.
  • The National Archives is a good starting point and includes research guides. In hindsight I’d expand on this one, saying check out some general family history “how to” books to familiarise yourself with the basics. 
  • Parish registers are invaluable for records before July 1837 civil registration.
  • If you have an unusual name it will probably be easier to research than a common one – however, whatever the surname, be aware of surname spelling variations.
  • Migration from our country or part of the country to another is a complication. Persistence is key. Think outside the box. Look at wider family and other sources including newspapers, local history and transport links. 

However, having time to consider, I’d add the following for anyone just starting out on their exciting journey of family history discovery:

  • Join a Family History Society (FHS). I’m in a few based around the locations of my ancestors. The advice and tips from this army of experts can be invaluable both for those starting out as well as those more advanced in their journey. FHS members have a wealth of local knowledge. And the regular meetings, research facilities and drop-in sessions, besides being informative, provide a social aspect to what can often be a solitary pursuit. Get involved. 
  • Be methodical and organised right from the start. Note searches, including negative ones. Record source references. Include dates and search parameters. Record your findings as soon as possible. Yes it might sound a boring chore. But it can save time in the long run. You reduce the risk of doing unnecessary repeat searches; or you can see where it might be worth doing follow-up searches, for example where providers have expanded or added new data sets. 
  • If you plan subscribing to genealogy sites, research which are the best ones for you. There is lots of genealogy subscription comparison advice on the Internet. Consider a short-term subscription to test the waters and see if a year long one is going to be worth your while. See if your local library offers free access to Ancestry or FindMyPast. GenealogyInTime Magazine has a list of the top 100 sites.  
  • Talk to older relatives and record what they can remember. This is one of my huge regrets. 
  • Don’t rely transcriptions. Shock, horror – they may contain errors! Whenever possible check sources out yourself.  

There are so many more tips. But I’ve limited myself to 10. Feel free to add any others!