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 https://www.irishgenealogy.ie

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. 

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: https://www.irishgenealogy.ie/en/

Sources:  

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. 

Sources:

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 images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org 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 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/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 images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org 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 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/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 images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org ‘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 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/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 images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org 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 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/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:

 

Footnotes:

Sources: 

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). 

Sources:

  • 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!  

Brothers-in-Arms 

Sometimes we overlook more recent family history, concentrating on the more distant past. Currently events of 100 years ago are dominating the news, with national commemoration events for Battles such as Jutland and The Somme, to more individual and personal remembrances for the centenary of the death of a family member.

But here I will focus on a more recent conflict, World War II. We are moving towards a time when this too will disappear from living memory. Sadly those in my family with direct knowledge of this tale are long gone.

This post concerns the fate of Albert Edward Hill, or Ned as he was known: My grandad’s cousin.

Finding out the circumstances surrounding death in conflict can be challenging: Which battle; location; precise cause of death; time; even date; and perhaps there is no known burial place. World War II in many ways presents a bigger challenge than its predecessor, with the public availability of records.

However in Ned’s case it’s all fairly straightforward. He is buried locally at St Paul’s churchyard, Hanging Heaton. His death is well documented. It was not caused by some battle injury. It was the result of a totally avoidably, foolishly tragic accident following a night out.

Ned was born on 2 February 1901, one of the seven children of Albert Hill and Sarah Ann Summerscales. These included Harry who died shortly after birth in 1890; Percy, Annie, Lilian, Doris and Arthur.

Ned never married. The 1939 Register, the population list compiled at on 29 September, as a result of the outbreak of war, shows him living at Wood Lane, Hanging Heaton. He is in the household of his brother-in-law Harry Robertshaw along with Harry’s two young sons. Harry’s wife, Ned’s sister Annie died that summer, her burial taking place at St Paul’s Hanging Heaton on 6 July 1939.

In the 1939 Register Ned is recorded as working as a willeyer in a woollen mill. This was someone who operated what was termed a willeying machine. Fibres were fed into this machine, which separated and combed them ready for carding. Newspaper reports at the time of his death, however, indicate prior to his army service he worked as a builder’s labourer, employed by Hanging Heaton-based building contactors George Kilburn and sons. 

I do suspect some confusion in the report though, and this occupation possibly applied to his brother Arthur. In the 1939 Register he was a public works contractor’s labourer. 

Whatever the true facts are war changed all this, and some two-and-a-half years before his death Ned joined the Army, as a Gunner.

Albert E Hill Batley News July 28 1945 8 (2)

Gunner Hill

His death came entirely out of the blue. Summer 1945, and war in Europe over, Ned returned home to Batley on leave. He finally managed to meet up with his younger brother Arthur, a driver with the RASC, similarly on leave. This was the first time they had seen each other since Ned’s military service. Arthur had been in the Army for four years at this point, serving in Germany, Belgium, France and Holland.

Things must have seemed hopeful. They had survived so far. All being well they would be home soon permanently. The past tragedy of the family would not repeat itself….

Little could they have envisaged that this meeting would be their last, and in three weeks Ned would be dead.

Leave over and Ned returned back to his Unit, the 397 Battery, 122 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment, stationed at Walberswick, near Southwold in Suffolk. This was part of the network of coastal defences, established in response to the threat of German invasion from May 1940 after their rapid victory in Western Europe. That German threat was now gone.

On 20 July 1945 he and another soldier from the same unit, Gunner Leonard Lomax, had evening leave. They left camp at 6pm that Friday for a night out in Southwold. The ferryman took them over the River Blyth and said he would return for them at 10-30-11.00pm.

An interesting aside is the ferry service from Walberswick had featured in Parliament only weeks earlier on 8 June 1945. There had been a seam steam-driven chain ferry which was discontinued in World War II, and it seems a rowing boat service replaced it. The ferry was privately owned and there had been problems in maintaining a regular service. Suffolk County Council was negotiating to acquire the ferry rights to ensure an adequate service.

Walberswick Ferry circa early 1940s Postcard, F Jenkins, Southwold

Ned and Leonard visited three public houses in Southwold and consumed about six pints of mixed beer. They left town at 10.15pm for the return ferry but there was no sign of the man with the boat. As they were debating whether to return to Southwold to catch the liberty truck to camp, a boat containing two soldiers came from the Walberswick side of the river.

These two soldiers, Lance Bombardier Edward Davis and Bombardier George Rennie were from another Battery. They heard shouts from the Southwold side of the river and thought some men from their Company were stranded as it appeared the ferry service had stopped. Despite having consumed three pints, or maybe because of it, seeing a boat moored in the water they decided to cross to collect their companions, but when they arrived found they were strangers. Nevertheless they offered Ned and Leonard a lift back. 

They clambered in the small boat, which turned out to be a yacht’s dingy and using the home-made paddles which were aboard the boat, Edward and George set about rowing back. About halfway across Leonard became aware of his feet feeling wet, water sloshing over the top of his shoes.

George and Edward were now having difficulty controlling the craft and stood up to paddle. They were about eight yards from the Walberswick side when the boat got into trouble with the tide and started to drift back towards Southwold and then seawards. The boat was filling up with water, either the result of a leak or overloading.  At this point Ned grabbed a paddle from Edward and the boat turned over throwing all four men into the river.

Leonard and George managed to get hold of a step ladder running down the harbour wall and climb ashore. They could not see the other two men, so made their way to Southwold to inform the police.

Meanwhile Edward, realising that Ned could not swim, tried to keep him up despite not being a strong swimmer himself. He managed to get them both to the concrete wall where Ned grabbed some weeds. Unfortunately they broke away. Edward continued to hold onto Ned but eventually became too exhausted and he had to let him go. Edward then managed to get hold of the ladder and escape.

In summing up the Coroner censured the boat’s occupants. The accident, he said, was the result of four “landlubbers” knowing nothing whatever about boating. The two soldiers should never have taken Leonard and Ned aboard because they overloaded the boat. There must have been some movement with the result that the boat capsized.

He went onto say that he hoped the tragedy would be a warning to others not to take boats without leave, and not to go on a swift running river like this one unless they were experienced persons who know how many a boat would take. “It is difficult to blame anyone because it is pure ignorance” he added.

A verdict of “Death through drowning through the upsetting of a boat” was recorded.

The Commanding Officer of the Battery wrote to Ned’s sister Doris extending his and the Battery’s sympathies as follows:

On behalf of the ranks of this battery wish to express to you our horror at this tragedy. Gunner Hill was a grand soldier and a man well-known and loved by the men of this unit”.

Ned’s body was brought back to Batley and he was buried in the church yard at St Paul’s, Hanging Heaton, just weeks before VJ Day and the war effectively ending.

Arthur survived the war. But Ned’s fate echoed that of another brother in another conflict, Percy. He died almost 29 years earlier in The Great War, during the Battle of the Somme.

Memories too of the newspaper “Roll of Honour In Memoriam” notices which the Hill family, including the then teenager Ned, placed in the papers all those decades before, mourning the loss of Percy.

Batley News – 5 October 1918
Hill – In sad but loving memory of our dear son and brother, 1736 Sergt Percy Hill, 1st-4th KOYLI (Batley Territorials) who died from wounds at Warloy Baillon, West of Albert, France, September 30th, 1916, aged 24 years.

When last we met, and fondly parted
Our hopes were high, our faith was strong,
We trusted that the separation
Though hard to bear would not be long 

We often sit and think of him when we are
all alone
This memory is the only thing we can call
our own;
Like ivy on the withered oak, when other
things decay
Our love for him will ever live, and never
fade away 

Ever remembered by his sorrowing mother, father, sisters and brothers, 92, Back Bromley Street, Hanging Heaton 

A family which had now lost a brother in both World Wars.Albert and Percy Hill Headstones

Sources:

Death of a Barnbow Canary: WW1 Munitions Work

The past few weeks have focused on those who served and lost their lives during the Battle of the Somme. But what about those closer to home whose efforts may have gone largely unnoticed? 

In this blog post I’m turning my attention to another centenary. 21 July 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Barnbow munitions worker Ann (Annie) Leonard.

Ann Leonard

Annie Leonard

Annie was born in Morley in late 1891[1].  She was the eldest daughter of Leeds-born William and Emma Leonard (neé Dowd).  The couple married in 1890 and, including Annie, they had 10 children.  One child died in infancy but Annie’s other siblings included Edward (1894), Alice (1896), Walter (1897), Agnes (1900), Doris (1902), Ethel (1904), Elsie (1906) and Nellie (1908).  All but Annie and Edward were baptised at St Mary’s RC Church, Batley. 

In the 1891 census William and Emma lived at Springfield Lane, Morley. William was a coal miner.  In 1901 the couple had five children and were still living at Morley, but their address had changed to New Park Street.  William was now a coal miner deputy. This was the official employed in a supervisory capacity at the pit with responsibility for setting props and general safety matters.

By 1906 the family had moved to Batley and the 1911 census gives their address as North Bank Road, Cross Bank. This remained the family address when Annie died.  At the time of this census William still worked as a coal miner deputy below ground.  19-year-old Annie, in common with many other local women, had employment in a woollen mill working as a cloth weaver.

War changed all this. Within weeks of its outbreak Annie’s eldest brother Edward, a former Batley Grammar School pupil with a talent for art, enlisted with the Leeds Rifles. He went to France in April 1915.

Around the time Edward went overseas the “shell scandal” debate raged at home, with the shortage of high explosives being cited as the reason for failure in battles and loss of soldiers’ lives. The war was lasting longer than anticipated; the number of men in military service was adversely affecting industrial and manufacturing output, including munitions manufacture; and the quantity of shells required was outstripping that of any other previous conflict. For example in the first 35 minutes of the March 1915 attack at Neuve Chappelle  more shells were consumed than in the entire 2nd Boer War.  There was a countrywide cry for “shells, and still more shells”.

The Government response was the 1915 Munitions of War Act with far-reaching Government powers in production. National Shell and National Projectile Factories were established, and National Filling Factories set up to fill these shell casings with explosives and attach fuses.

For_King_and_Country_Art.IWMART6513 (2)

IWM Public Domain image by Edward F Skinner. See Wikimedia Commons footnote.

Interestingly, shortly after his arrival in France, Edward wrote a letter home to one of his sisters, possibly Annie. It is particularly noteworthy for his description of German shelling.

Taking things all round, we have had a very quiet week as far as shells, etc, go. We had about the busiest day yesterday when the enemy started sending us shells and trench mortars over…..You can hear them whistle over, but cannot tell to a few hundred yards where they are going to burst.  They “don’t half” make a row when they burst. 

But the trench mortars are the worst. You can see them coming in the daytime.  They look like bottles coming at about the speed a man throws a cricket ball.  When they drop they are about 10 seconds before they burst; but when they do they shake everything for a good distance away.  Personally, I think they are the most terrible things they send”.

Leeds had taken an initiative early in the war in setting up a shell production factory at the Leeds Forge Company, Armley. In August 1915 they took it a step further and oversaw the construction of the First National Shell Filling Factory at Barnbow, between Crossgates and Garforth.

Covering 313 acres at first, but eventually extending to 400, by December 1915 filling operations commenced with the employment initially of around 50 women. Operations were expanded with the Ministry of Munitons’ decision to install an Amatol filling factory at Barnbow in spring of 1916. Amatol was highly explosive, formed by mixing tri-nitro-tolene (TNT) and ammonium nitrate.

Barnbow was now responsible for filling and assembling QF artillery ammunition (13pdr, 18pdr and 4.5 inch), shrapnel and high explosive (HE). Output soon reached 6,000 shells a day.

Once the war ended and secrecy restrictions no longer applied, newspapers published the following statistics for Barnbow shell production:

  • 12,000 tons of TNT were mixed with 26,350 tons of ammonium nitrate producing 38,350 tons of amatol;
  • In the cartridge factory more than 61,000 tons of propellant (NCT and cordite) were made up into breech-loading cartridges, the highest record for one week being 938 tons. This material had to be carefully weighed on scales into ounces and drachms, giving an indication of labour intensivity and precision[2].
  • Over 36 million breach loading cartridges were charged;
  • Nearly 25 million shells were filled;
  • Over 19 million shells were completed with fuses and packed into boxes;
  • 566,000 tons of finished ammunition was dispatched overseas;
  • If laid end to end the 18-pounder shells alone measured a distance of 3,200 miles, equivalent to the distance from London to New York

By October 1916 the workforce totalled around 16,000, although numbers subsequently declined to around 9,000. 93 per cent of employees were women and girls, with a woman/man ratio of roughly 16:1. About one third of the employees came from Leeds. Others were from Castleford, Normanton, Pontefract, Wakefield, Harrogate, Knaresborough, York, Selby, Tadcaster, Wetherby and surrounding areas.

In addition to railway lines for transporting raw materials and finished products, the North Eastern Railway Company operated 38 “Barnbow Specials” a day. These trains transported the workers to and from the site. There were also 15 ordinary trains.  The workers had free work travel permits.

The Barnbow girls employed on shell-filling earned an average of around £3 a week. However, when the bonus scheme operated some girls could earn as much as £10-£12. Compare this to the wage of a domestic servant who earned as little as two shillings and six pence a week.

But the hours were long and the working conditions arduous, in part due to the nature of the explosive material the girls were working with. Nothing causing static and sparks was allowed: so rubber-soled shoes, smocks, caps only and no matches, cigarettes, combs or hairpins. Initially set up with two shifts a day, soon a three eight-hour round-the clock shift system came into operation. The girls normally worked six days a week with one in three Saturdays off. No holidays. No strikes.

But above all the work was dangerous. Not for nothing was the pay high (but not the equivalent of a man!) There was the very real risk of explosion, three occurring at the Barnbow factory during the war. But more insidiously, the women worked with toxic material, and were at high risk of poisoning.  The symptoms included nausea, vomiting, chest and abdominal pain, headaches, blurred vision, nose and throat problems. However the most obvious manifestation was the yellowing of the skin caused by toxic jaundice, earning the girls the nickname of “canaries”.  Newspapers regularly advertised a skin product called Ven-Yusa aimed at preserving the complexion, and the “munitionettes” were a specific target-market for this product.

image

Ven-Yusa advert – The Yorkshire Evening Post, 11 July 1916

 

Milk was also thought to counteract the yellowness. So besides its three canteens, Barnbow had its own farm with crops and animals. Its 120 cattle produced 300 gallons of milk a day. The workers were allowed to drink as much milk and barley water as they wanted.

Despite the hard toil and dangers there was no shortage of women willing to apply for this work. Recruitment of such a large workforce over such a short space of time meant the opening of a new office at Wellesley Barracks, Leeds specifically for the task. One of the early employees Mrs Edith Haigh in an interview with theYorkshire Evening Postin 1939 described her interview as follows: 

“When I applied for work a woman interviewer asked me if my nerves were good, and told me to breathe deeply so that she could see how my lungs were. “Are you afraid of shells?” she asked. “I don’t suppose I shall be,” I said. “You are willing to undertake it?” “Yes, I’ll take it, whatever it is.”

It was this working environment Annie entered. As well as patriotic duty, perhaps her brother’s service and letter about shells had some influence.

With preparations for the Battle of the Somme, increased shell production was imperative. Annie was employed as a filler and stemmer at the factory. Explosive powder was poured, or “stemmed,” into the shell casings. A mallet and wooden drift was then used to compact the powder.  Elsie McIntyre filled shells at Barnbow. She described the work as follows:

“We had to stem… when it first opened in the early part of the war, we had to stem the powder into shells with broom handles and mallets.  You see, you’d have your shell and the broom handle, your tin of powder. And you’d put a bit in, stem it down, put a bit more in, stem it down. It took you all your time to get it all in. It was very hard work”.

Annie had not been working there long, but on 25 June 1916 she returned home complaining of sickness. Her face took on the typical yellow hue associated with munitions work. The family called in Doctor Fox. They also consulted a specialist. All to no avail. Annie’s condition worsened and she died on the morning of 21 July 1916.

Within hours of Annie’s death, her grieving family received more tragic news, with a wire informing them  Edward had not been seen since heavy fighting on the 2 July. He was officially reported as missing.

Annie’s inquest was heard behind closed doors on 27 July. Her death was recorded as “Misadventure. Acute yellow atrophy of the liver contracted at her work at the factory at Barnbow near Garforth”.

image

Annie Leonard’s Death Certificate

At this very difficult time for the Leonard family, with their daughter’s death and their deep anxiety about Edward’s fate, they still took the trouble to publicly thank people for their support, writing to the “Batley News“. Their letter was published on 29 July 1916 as follows:

Mr and Mrs Leonard and family desire to take this opportunity to offer their deepest thanks, and express our most heartfelt gratitude to neighbours, friends and relations for their kindness and consideration, and most of all for the help and sympathy extended to us in this our hour of double trouble. We also send our thanks and sincere gratitude to the compatriots of our late daughter Annie working in the Barnbow Munition Factory, for the way in which they have shown their love for one who was only amongst them for such a brief time.

We earnestly desire our neighbours, who have shown such a love as is seldom found even in one’s own family, to accept these brief words of appreciation, in as much as it is impossible to express our deep feelings at such unassuming love, help and friendship shown by all. We therefore ask all to again accept our thanks.

Besides being such a wonderful tribute to friends and neighbours, it highlights the support and camaraderie of Annie’s fellow Barnbow workers.

In late September 1916 the Leonard family received a further War Office communication. This updated the previous earlier information that Edward was missing.  It was a bitter blow. He was now officially reported killed.  Directly and indirectly the Battle of the Somme had claimed the lives of two of William and Emma’s children. Their eldest son fighting; their eldest daughter producing the shells required in the conflict.

The government was aware of the dangers of poisoning resulting from munitions work before Annie’s death, yet tried to play it down. They were keen to ensure an adequate labour supply to work in the munitions factories. In May 1916 the work was categorised a dangerous trade, but initially little happened in the way of regulations.

Investigations into the poisoning risks continued and in August 1916 “The Lancet” published the work of two female doctors, Drs Agnes Livingstone-Learmouth and Barbara Martin Cunningham. They were medical officers in munitions factories who studied the phenomena for a number of months. They produced a raft of  recommendations including 21-40 age limits for TNT workers, provision of washing facilities, mandatory regular medical examinations, and moving workers elsewhere after 12 weeks.  Following this, regulations were established with full-time doctors appointed to all large factories and part-time ones to the smaller operatives.

The topic of TNT poisoning also grabbed Parliamentary attention. In October 1916 Mr Anderson asked whether the Home Secretary was aware that of the 472 cases of industrial poisoning reported during the nine months to September 1916, 120 occurred from toxic jaundice, and that of the 62 deaths 33 were attributable to this cause. He asked how many of these were due to TNT poisoning. Mr Brace, Under-Secretary at the Home Office said of these 95 of poisoning cases were a result of TNT, and the number of deaths was 28. He went on to say “Every step is being taken by my department, in concert with the Ministry of Munitions, to investigate and deal with this disease.”

In November 1916 Mr Brace was again obliged to state that 41 workers in the UK had died in the six months to 31 October 1916 from either TNT poisoning or inhaling poisonous fumes.

But criticism of the measures taken to safeguard health continued. Echoing the cause of death verdict reached in Annie Leonard’s inquest, on 11 November 1916 Gertrude Ford in wrote in “The Daily Herald”:

Since we last “observed” the world of women there has been another death from TNT poisoning; followed by another assurance from the Home Office that only some sort of “mistake” or “misadventure” was responsible. A properly administered Act, of course, leaves no loophole for “mistakes” that spell death to the workers affected by its operation. The accompanying assurance that everything will now be done to safeguard the health of the munitions-makers is an implied admission of the. If now, why not earlier?

Yet even in December 1916 the Government was asserting the danger from TNT poisoning “seems to be much exaggerated in the popular mind”.  However, the tighter regulations did begin to take effect and the death rates reduced. Nevertheless it is estimated that some 400 munitions workers died as a result of poisoning, a direct result from their work.

Annie is commemorated on the local Carlinghow memorial, at St John’s Church. She is one of 1,400 women whose names are inscribed on the oak screens of the National Women’s Memorial  at York Minister.  Her brother Edward, who has no known grave, is commemorated at Thiepval. There is a family burial plot at Batley cemetery, where both are remembered on the now broken headstone.

On 21 July I intend visiting the grave to pay my respects.

Batley Cemetery Leonard

Annie and Edward Leonard’s Headstone in Batley Cemetery by Jane Roberts

Sources:

[1] Birth registered in Q4 1891 Dewsbury 9b 580
[2] One-eighth of an ounce