Category Archives: Ancestry

Family History Alert: Launch of New GRO (General Register Office) Extended PDF Pilot for Certificates

Good news for those family historians wanting to potentially cut down on cost and delivery time for those all-important English and Welsh birth and death certificates. Almost 12 months since the launch of the last PDF trial, which I wrote about here, the GRO have launched a new extended PDF pilot, similar to 2016’s Phase 1 trial. GRO TrialThe results from that proved inconclusive in assessing impact on other GRO and Local Registration services. The GRO have therefore announced that, as from 12 October 2017, they will be running a PDF pilot which will run for a minimum of  three months – so not the mad dash three week/45,000 limit of last year’s Phase 1 trial. This longer run will better enable the GRO to make a considered evaluation of the pilot.

The more relaxed timeframe will also have benefits for us family historians  – giving us more time to evaluate our tree for gaps, and make repeat orders depending on what the certificates reveal once they arrive. The GRO say the PDFs should be received within five working days of ordering, providing the order is placed before 4pm.

Like last year the cost of a PDF certificate is £6. And, akin to the 2016 Phase 1 trial, it is limited to 1837-1916 birth certificates and 1837-1957 death certificates. This equates to those already digitised certificates under the GRO’s old DoVE (Digitisation of Vital Events) project. The DoVE project was never completed, hence the pilot limitations. So bad luck if you’ve been hanging on for a marriage certificate, or a post-1916 birth or post-1957 death certificate.

The GRO are unable to answer at this stage whether the service will become permanent or whether there will be an extension to more products (eg marriages).

That said, it is still a welcome announcement for those who want a birth or death certificate for family history purposes. Note the PDFs cannot be used for official purposes – e.g. passport applications.

The link to the GRO site is here. More details about the pilot can be found here.

I will be spending the weekend assessing any civil registration gaps in my tree.

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Lost in France (Or Belgium)? Not Me, Thanks to a Friendly LinesMan. 

I’m back from my latest visit to the Somme and Ypres area. In 11 days I notched up in excess of 100 miles walking the battlefields. And, thanks to a fantastic piece of kit which I used for the first time this visit, I reckon on this trip few of those miles were as a result of getting lost and retracing steps. 

Let me introduce my new guide: it’s called a LinesMan. WW1 Trench Maps put together in one handy package by Great War Digital.

This miracle-worker actually belongs to my husband. It was his Christmas present. But due to surgery a few weeks ago, he wasn’t up to miles of walking. I was. Hence I laid claim to it – and I’m now loath to let it go.  

On Sunken Lane with my LinesMan2Go – Photo by Chris Roberts

I love walking the battlefields. In my opinion it’s the only way to get an appreciation of the distances and lie of the land facing those involved in the Great War. Normally I’m armed with walking guidebooks: Paul Reed’s ‘Walking the Somme’ and his old edition of ‘Walking the Salient‘; plus ‘A Visitor’s Guide: The First Day of the Somme: Gommecourt to Maricourt‘, and Battle Lines Ypres: Nieuwpoort to Ploegsteert‘ by Jon Cooksey and Jerry Murland. Brilliant though they are, occasionally the instructions are too ambiguous for me, which leads me up the battlefield equivalent of the garden path – the mis-communication trench.

For example, instructions such as “Continue through the woods…Approximately halfway along you will notice a track running off to your left at right angles. This was the junctionof Bunhill Row with the Strand” could be problematical if the route is unfamiliar. How can I be expected to know what is halfway on a path I’ve never trodden? Cue my LinesMan maps. I have the LinesMan2Go version, which is a Samsung Galaxy tablet preloaded with over original 800 geo-referenced digital images of British 1:10,000 scale trench maps of the Western Front in Belgium and France. The GPS shows exactly where I am via a red onscreen tracker circle, and the map pinpoints where the Bunhill Row/Strand junction is.  I can see exactly where I am in relation to the junction, a real navigation aid. 

An illustration of this is the photo below on the Butte de Warlencourt walk from Paul Reed’s 2nd edition of ‘Walking the Somme‘. Proof I made it.

LinesMan in Action on Butte de Warlencourt walk – Photo by Jane Roberts

On other occasions its beauty is in its ability to confirm you have taken the correct overgrown track and are heading in the right direction – a welcome reassurance when you’ve been walking for ages in what seems like the middle of nowhere!

The option to track my route via the LinesMan, in conjunction with the guide book, gives an even greater understanding of the terrain. The maps cover different dates, so one area has several maps enabling you to see any changes over time as well as linking to modern times. The LinesMan is therefore a perfect partner to the books. No need now to take multiple bulky trench maps on my visits, and even worse find I’ve left the relevant one at home.

More than that though, the LinesMan is invaluable from a family history point of view. It has enabled me to track the final days of my ancestor Jesse Hill. He served with the 6th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) and was killed in action on 19 September 1915, near Ypres. The Unit War Diary includes a map of ‘H‘ Sector dated 27 July 1915, and it is in trenches in this Sector the battalion were based at the time of Jesse’s death. 

‘H’ Sector trenches, 26 July 1915 – 6th KOYLI Unit War Diary

Comparing this Unit War Diary map with the Bellewaarde Ridge & Hooge walk in Cooksey & Murland, then tracking my route via my LinesMan maps enabled me to confirm earlier research, and pinpoint with confidence the area in which he died. 

Snapshot from Linesman Map 10-28 Part 5-160416 Hooge Showing Railway Wood Area

Walking the actual trench locations wasn’t possible – a field full of turnips put paid to that  (at least that’s what they looked to be given my pathetic agricultural skills, *ancestors spinning in their graves*). But it was enough for me just to know I’d definitely nailed it. It also confirmed the fact that my previous visits, without aid of the LinesMan2Go, had put me in roughly the right area.  It’s good to have that final piece of confirmation though.

‘H’ Sector area, 20 September 2017 – Photo by Jane Roberts

But it also has other uses. Map references, for example those CWGC ones indicating where bodies were found prior to being brought into concentration cemeteries, take on a new relevance with my LinesMan. I also liked the facility to map routes out as I walked them, so I could review my footsteps at the end of my walk. And flicking through the range of maps for a particular location across different dates show the changes (or not) which took place during the course of the war.

I do need to get more practice using my LinesMan (yes, I’ve claimed it) in order to familiarise myself with all its features and get the best out of it. Initial issues for me, which more practice should resolve include improving my speed in manipulating the various maps; I also found it extremely touch sensitive, so found myself inadvertently flicking maps – but again more use should remedy this. More problematical issues, which are beyond my control, relate to weather: too sunny and screen glare becomes an issue; too wet, and at times rain proved torrential, is even worse – I didn’t dare use my precious tablet.

As I mentioned I (sorry, Chris) have the LinesMan2Go version: a tablet with all the maps pre-loaded. That’s because I was a tad worried at my ability to transfer the maps to iPhone, iPad or Android device. For me the primary reason for the kit was to enhance my battlefield visits. But I would like to view the maps on my computer, beyond what is available via the National Library of Scotland maps. So for that reason perhaps I should have been braver and trusted my technological skills.

For more details about the Great War Digital’s LinesMan products, including how to purchase them, click here

Finally, my review of this product is totally independent. I used the LinesMan2Go for the first time this visit, and was so impressed by it I wanted to share my experience.

A Grave Plot: Rest In Peace?

One of my guilty pleasures is to wander round the local cemetery reading the inscriptions on headstones. I love a good old inscription. I can while away hours strolling along the pathways and across undulating ground, pausing to read the words or simply admire the beauty and variety of these monuments.  The joy that discovering a family headstone can bring is a thrill that many family historians will relate to. But I’m not fussy. Even if the family is unrelated to me, if the inscription captures my attention, I will research the story behind it. For example, see my post about a young couple from Batley who died as a result of a wartime seaside cliff fall.

I naively always assumed some kind of permenancy with a headstone. That centuries later it would still stand, somewhat weather-worn but erect, a relict of a past era, a witness to a life long gone. But this ideal is far from true. Close to home I’ve witnessed it.

Early 20th Century Postcard of Batley Parish Church Showing Headstones – from Maggie Blanck’s Website at http://www.maggieblanck.com/Land/PhotosBatley.html

The claustrophobic jumble of headstones at All Saints Parish Church in Batley have long since gone. Similarly Mirfield St Mary’s Churchyard lost many of its old headstones, including that of my 5x great grandparents. I only know of it’s existence from a 19th century handwritten transcript of Memorial Inscriptions (MIs), via the Yorkshire Archaeological and Historical Society (YAHS) whose archives are now located in the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds. A local car business on Staincliffe Hall Road, Batley, on the site of a former Methodist Chapel, had the graveyard headstones in its driveway. I clearly remember seeing them as a child, when the Chapel was converted to a baby clinic. More recently they have vanished. I’m not quite sure when, but I would love to know what became of them. One small crumb of comfort is it appears MIs do exist for them, again via the YAHS. Even councils are not immune to headstone destruction. In 2011 Kirklees was criticised for a money-saving scheme whereby headstones, with inscriptions clearly visible, were recycled to build a wall in Netherton.

Weathered Headstones at Tynemouth Priory – Photo by Jane Roberts

Even if they remain in situ, exposure to the elements may take their toll over time, wearing inscriptions to illegibility. They may be laid flat by councils if they are deemed unstable and potentially dangerous. Batley Cemetery, for example, is undergoing a memorial safety programme. I spent 15 unsuccessful minutes on hold with Kirkless Bereavement Services trying to find out what this entailed. From my visit to the cemetery often this means the headstones are frequently placed face-down, so those carefully thought-through lasting tributes are hidden forevermore. And with burial plots decreasing in availability, particularly in urban areas, many local authorities are looking at alternative strategies for public cemeteries. Then there is deliberate vandalism.

Batley Cemetery Headstones – Photo by Jane Roberts

One thing I did not realise until arranging dad’s funeral is the terms under which burial plots are owned. I mistakenly believed if you bought a burial plot it belonged to the family for ever. Not so. You are merely leasing the plot. In the case of Kirklees Council the lease term is 50 years. Some local authorities have leases of as little as 25 years. The maximum is 100 years. In short you are purchasing the exclusive right to say who will be buried in that grave for a set period. The family can choose to renew the lease for a fee. For this reason it is important to keep address and contact details up-to-date with the relevant council bereavement services.

If the lease is not renewed, the headstone can be removed and collected by the owner – or destroyed by the local authority. Existing burials in the plot are not removed or disturbed, but remaining space in the plot may be resold.  So, with space for burial plots running low, the permenancy of headstones faces an extra threat.  Southwark Council, for example, face opposition to their cemetery plans with claims by Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries  that they are a ‘Grave Reuse and Reclamation Burial Strategy‘.

All this means the work of Family History Society volunteers, cemetery friends groups, those conducting one-place studies, projects such as BillionGraves and individuals in recording MIs will become ever more valuable. For example the Mirfield St Mary’s ones I mentioned earlier in this piece are included on the Kirkheaton Info Archive Database.

So do not assume that headstone will be there for ever. Photograph it now and make a note of that inscription just in case. And check out various archives, one-place studies websites, cemetery groups and Family History Societies for MI transcripts.

 

Access to Archives – What Price and at What Cost?

Would you pay £31.50 per hour to access your local archives? This is the charge Northamptonshire Archives and Heritage Services announced would apply from 21 August 2017. This eye-watering price is just to visit the archives and conduct your own research, (although subsequent information is this charge may apparently include dedicated staff time, whatever that means). It is more than the hourly cost most researchers charge to undertake research on your behalf!

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Archive Storage: Image – Pixabay

There is still free access to their Archives Service. But, according to the notice issued, this is limited to Tuesday to Thursday, 9am-1pm; and the first Saturday each month between April to October, 9am-4pm (note their website now reduces the Saturday hours further to 9am-1pm). In total, over the year, free access therefore amounts to less than 13 hours per week. In contrast, the chargeable access applies Monday and Friday 10am-1pm and 2pm-4pm; and Tuesday to Thursday 2pm-4pm: a total of 16 hours per week.

Yes, money is tight in local Councils. Over the past few years we have seen many cut back the opening hours of Archives and County Record Offices. We have also witnessed a similar reduction in the opening hours of many libraries alongside the closure of others. Museums have suffered similar fates. Culture, history and learning beyond school years are well down the list of Council priorities.

Archives do have a variety of charges already from photocopying, scanning and printout fees to charges for taking personal digital photographs and hiring a circuit breaker to use electrical equipment. These can differ wildly.

For example Berkshire Record Office charges £1 per self-service image taken, with an annual cap of £100 per academic year providing you are a student undertaking an individual project leading towards a recognised qualification. So if you do not fall under that category it could prove very costly. Others have set fees for a specific time-period or number of visits – for example Devon Archives and Local Studies have daily, weekly, monthly and annual photographic licences ranging from £5 to £80.

But £31.50 per hour to simply access archives? This is a step too far. If it is implemented, will other County Record Offices and Archives follow suit? Will there be differential charges for personal research and research conducted by professionals, akin to the charges for commercial use of images? Will it be the beginning of the end of Archives Services as we know them?

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Is this the Death Knell for Free Archives Services?  Image – Pixabay

It is so wrong on so many levels.

  • The free opening hours are so limited. Not everyone who uses the archives lives local to them, so factor in the cost of overnight stays or alternatively having to pay the hourly fee in order to have a full day’s research. The free access hours are also likely to be oversubscribed;
  • It may put off philanthropic people donating valuable historical documents to archives. And will others withdraw their loaned documents and collections?
  • The costs for chargeable sessions, and lengthy waits for free slots, may ultimately drive down the numbers using archives. This in turn may lead the Council to justify further reduction in services on the basis of decreasing footfall. It could be a death knell for archive services as we know them;
  • In the medium to long term it will discourage interest in academic, family and local history research and the use of primary sources in conducting this research. There will be increased reliance on secondary published material or online family history subscription sites. These providers in turn may feel able to push their prices up accordingly. But only a fraction of available documents are online. The result will be a reduction in the quality and quantity of research;
  • Only those with the ability to pay these costs will continue with research in archives. Research will become increasingly elitist and the province of the few;
  • Personal family history research is a popular hobby which provides intellectual stimulation. At a time when increasing attention is focused on mental health and wellbeing and the correlation made between being mentally and physically inactive and Alzheimer’s, the policy of charging for access to archives and reducing opening times may be counter-productive in the long term;
  • The policy seems contrary to the standards of UK Archive Service Accreditation. According to The National Archives, this accreditation “defines good practice and agreed standards for archive services across the UK, thereby encouraging and supporting the development of the archive service” Access is one of the key markers under the ‘Stakeholders and their Experiences‘ heading. Amongst other things, to achieve this core accreditation element, the Archive has to demonstrate “good access to its collections for its whole community and can evidence high quality user experiences. It has a planned, customer-focused approach to improving access and engagement “. It also states that “the archive service demonstrates a good understanding of the needs and interests of the community it is established to serve. It has plans in place which detail the actions that are being taken to meet stakeholders’ access requirements and to continuously improve service provision“. It would be interesting to know the take of The National Archives on this Northamptonshire development. Incidentally Northamptonshire Archives is not amongst the list of those receiving accreditation.

Northamptonshire Archives made their announcement about the new charges to access archives on 24 July 2017. The outcry on social media has been sizeable and vocal. I particularly feel for the archives staff who will have borne the brunt of this public anger. The protests have been on such a scale that this afternoon, 26 July, they have said a further statement about the changes to opening hours will be made tomorrow. I hope that given the widespread condemnation of the move, the Council will do the decent thing, ditch the chargeable slots and revert to free public access.

27 July 2017 Update:

Northamptonshire County Council are unrepetentant about their decision to reduce free access hours to their Archives, and introduce exorbitant charges for research outside these limited free hours. They have issued the following in defence of the changes:

STATEMENT ON ARCHIVES AND HERITAGE SERVICE OPENING HOURS

The County Council is responsible for making sure that limited and reducing local government resources are used as effectively as possible. In the current financial climate, it has no option but to look at how best to remodel service delivery with reduced budgets.

The Archives Service changes to opening hours that will be implemented from 21 August show a commitment to maintaining free public access to archives. The service will continue to be free for on-site visitors from 9am to 1pm Tuesday to Thursday and one Saturday morning each month.

Customers have said that they most need and want online access to resources; numbers visiting the service in person have fallen dramatically in the past two years. This has been taken into account in this revision to opening hours and the intention is that outside the core opening hours, the service’s limited staff resources will be redirected to the work of digitisation and developing on-line access to archives.

In order to mitigate the impact on research of the changes, the service has in fact extended the times during which people can choose to visit. These additional hours are chargeable but are offered in order to support researchers and not otherwise.

This is a bold step in difficult times and we seek your support as we work to ensure that researchers can enjoy and learn from our rich collections now and into the future.

Their decision misses the point totally. They are narrowing access to archives for the majority. Who can afford these charges? How is this encouraging use of archives? Note the worrying digitisation and online access argument, which fails to recognise and understand the realities that not everything is/will be online. It also fundamentally ignores the value of archivists. Also equally worrying is the footfall defence – is this going to be trotted out, not too many years down the line, when the inevitable consequences of these changes kick in?

I would urge everyone reading this to sign the petition to Northampton County Council about these charges at https://www.change.org/p/northamptonshire-county-council-northamptonshire-county-council-don-t-charge-for-visiting-archives

4 August 2017 Update:

This is the latest statement by Northamptonshire Archives and Heritage Service, released today on their Facebook page.

Northamptonshire County Council has reviewed its decision to change opening hours at its archives and heritage service after listening to the views of its regular users and supporters. 

The archives service will now be open for free access on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 9am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm and the first Saturday in each month, 9am to 1pm.

In light of financial pressures and reducing visitor numbers, there will be a review of the service ahead of the next financial year as part of the budget setting process and this will include a full consultation around any proposed changes.   

In 2016, the service was visited by a total of 3,500 researchers, a drop of 50 per cent compared with 2006.  

County council cabinet member for public protection, strategic infrastructure and economic growth Cllr André Gonzalez de Savage said: “Having listened to the views of our service users here in Northamptonshire and across the UK, a decision has been made to reconsider the proposed changes to opening hours. 

“However, given our significant financial challenges, changes to customer behaviour and a growth in online enquiries, we need to consider how best to use our limited resources and will be reviewing the service in the coming months as part of the annual budget process.

“As part of this there will be a full public consultation in which service users will be able to provide their feedback ahead of any changes being implemented.”

They further clarified:

Today’s press release details the hours for free access to the search room, index room and to original documents as follows: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 9am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm and the first Saturday in each month, 9am to 1pm.

We would like to clarify that the option to pay for research room time outside of these hours will not be offered. Researchers can continue to book 1-2-1 time with our Research Assistant during the times we are otherwise closed, as has always been the case. It is this service that is charged at £31.50 per hour. The only change to our current arrangements is that the search room will be closed between 1pm and 2pm, though the public tea area and toilets will remain open.

Whilst it is welcome news that free access now applies to three full days and a half day every first Saturday of the month, it clearly is not the end of the matter. The Council will be reviewing the service and now have committed to a full public consultation in advance of any changes. So, although safe in the immediate months, the threat of reduced hours and very limited free access still stands. I suspect this is far from being the end of the matter. And it begs the question why did the Council attempt to by-pass any consultation process this summer? 

Links to Other Blogs/Posts about Northamptonshire Charges

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Will Some Kind Hand in a Foreign Land Place a Flower on my Son’s Grave

Thiepval Anglo-French Cemetery – Photo by Jane Roberts

I’m back from my latest visit to the Western Front. Yet again I’m left with a sense of awe at the immaculate cemeteries and memorials to the missing. For this, all tribute to the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), who organise the maintenance of the final resting places of our war dead and memorials to those with no known grave, ‘in perpetuity’. They, and by extension those working on their behalf around the world, do a wonderful job: one which we often take for granted.

Thiepval Memorial and Anglo-French Cemetery – Photos by Jane Roberts

Established by Royal Charter on 21 May 1917 as the Imperial War Graves Commission, it updated its name in the 1960s replacing ‘Imperial‘ with ‘Commonwealth‘. With almost 1.7 million Commonwealth war dead commemorated across 23,000 locations in 154 countries on land often granted in perpetual use, its task is to:

  • make fit provision in perpetuity for the graves and memorials; and
  • maintain the records of the dead.

One of its fundamental principles is that the headstones and memorials should be permenant. However, over the years, a number of individual graves and sites have been declared unmaintainable and consequently abandoned. This could be due to their physical setting, or a change in the political situation of the country in which they were located. In these cases the CWGC discharge their responsibility by providing an alternative commemoration elsewhere. 

The cost of supporting the work of the CWGC is shared by member governments, in proportion to the number of their graves. In 2015/16 the member governments contributed £60.9 million (up from £50.9 million the year before). Their respective percentage proportions are:

  • United Kingdom – 78.43%
  • Canada – 10.9%
  • Australia – 6.05%
  • New Zealand – 2.14%
  • South Africa – 2.09%
  • India – 1.2%

Money also comes from agency funds used for the care of military graves from other periods and memorials, and grant income. Taking this into account, the total CWGC income for 2015/16 was £60.9 million, up from £59.9 million in 2014/15. In addition, in 2015/16, the Chancellor awarded a one-off award of £2 million to renovate and tend approximately 6,000 non world war graves predominantly in the UK. 

An interesting, and possibly overlooked, fact are the numbers of World War 1 and 2 Commonwealth dead whose burials are located in the UK – over 300,000 in around 13,000 locations. We mostly associate the Commision’s work with those cemeteries and memorials overseas.

Serre Road No 3, Delville Wood, Norfolk and Mill Road Cemeteries – Photos by Jane Roberts

Our group discussed what exactly ‘in perpetuity’ means, and it raised some interesting points. Hopefully “in perpetuity” means what most people, including me, generally understand by the words – that is forever. However there are some question marks about this in terms of English legal definition, i.e. 100 years. We may also need to consider the definitions applicable to the countries in which our dead are honoured.  The potential implication is it may be a question of political will, both by our government and those governments in whose countries the memorials and cemeteries stand. 

Yes, political instability and conflict across the world has an understandable impact – look to Iraq. However now we are coming up to the end of the centenary commemorations maybe, heaven forbid, there may be a push to save money or reclaim land. There have been suggestions that this was indeed discussed under previous administrations. For example the attached link contains correspondence from the early days of the Thatcher government.

Surely it would be too politically sensitive to cut funding and abandon cemeteries as a consequence? Yes, we are coming to the end of the First World War centenary commemorations, but then there are still surviving veterans from World War 2; and beyond we will be looking towards the anniversary commemorations for that conflict. But will it always be the case? What about the small, isolated battlefield cemeteries? 

One final thought: How many of us visit these cemeteries and memorials, look at the headstones and inscriptions then move on. What evidence is there of our visits? Theoretically the visitors register should record footfall. But how many of us sign the books? And if we do is it just one person from the visiting group? Do the government, in times of  so-called ‘austerity’ see the CWGC as a potential easy target for cuts sometime in the future?  Will they use these registers as a proxy for value for money? For this reason I’m now taking a pen with me and signing the visitor registers – and as a result I’m noticing how few others do.

Ongoing Work of The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium – Photo by Jane Roberts

Footnote:  The title of this post is the inscription on the grave of Pte George Thomas Palmer of the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment who died on 28 April 1917 and is buried at Foncquevillers Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais.

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Living DNA: I’m Not Who I Thought I Was

My Living DNA results have proved a bit of a curate’s egg. Good in parts, but leaving me with major question marks in others. 

I’m 100 per cent from Great Britain and Ireland, which correlates with my research so far. I’m also predominantly of Yorkshire ancestry; more precisely South Yorshire which, as defined by Living DNA, roughly comprises the South and West Yorkshire counties. Park that piece of information. 

Given what I know, my next largest component is unsurprisingly Ireland at 9.2 per cent. My research so far shows this is all County Mayo, so my 4th ethnicity component of 6.2 per cent southwest Scotland and Northern Ireland is not a shocker either, with its proximity to Mayo. But that’s where it ends.

My family history research does not match my LivingDNA results in some fairly significant areas. My ancestral origins research doesn’t go back the estimated 10 generations the LivingDNA results capture. But my research shows North East England ancestry,  from the Durham and Northumberland areas: one set of 4x great grandparents were born in those counties (Ann Jackson in Northumberland and Robert Burnett in Durham). The evidence is backed up in several record sources, most crucially a documented, bitter, removal order dispute.

Yet my LivingDNA standard result, the one which links to the test’s best-guess reference population ancestry sources, does not show any ancestry in their designated Northumbria area. This roughly equates to the Northumberland/Tyne and Wear/Durham/Scottish Borders/Fife areas. Neither does Northumbria feature in my complete result, the one where the test attempts to allocate the unassigned 7.7 per cent of my genetic make-up to regions where it look most similar. 

Perhaps Ann and Robert’s parents (my 5x great grandparents, John Jackson/Elizabeth Hayes and Stephen Burnett & his one-handed gypsy mistress Charlotte) all migrated and settled in that area from elsewhere – possibly Scotland. Despite me not yet having any ancestors from north of the border, my standard result has identified percentages from three of the Scottish areas (albeit one of those is the aforementioned Scotland/Northern Ireland region). 

The other conundrum is the absence of any North Yorkshire trace in the standard test, basically the North and East Ridings. The explanation may simply lie in proximity to county boundaries and 1974 boundary changes. I have relatively recent (if you call 18th century recent) ancestry around the Sherburn-in-Elmet, Saxton-in-Elmet, Brayton and Hemingbrough areas. These all fall within what is now North Yorkshire. However, prior to 1974 the first three were in the West Riding. Hemingbrough was in the East Riding, but it is only five miles, as the crow flies, to Brayton. So they could conceivably fall within the LivingDNA South Yorkshire zone. My complete results do pick up a trace 1.2 per cent North Yorkshire ancestry. 

Other surprises? Well the shock for this white rose Yorkshire lass is she has genetic components from the dark side of the Pennines, possibly (whisper it) the red rose county. Though, in the absence so far of any North West roots, I’m claiming that any such ancestors must be from the Cheshire/Merseyside/Staffordshire and not Lancashire parts. We’ll see what further family history research down the line turns up. 

I also have Welsh DNA – 5 per cent in total from North and South Wales. And then there’s the 3.8 per cent Devon and 3 per cent Cornwall. So THAT’s why I’m addicted to Poldark!  And I’ve a remarkable absence of southern-ness.

How does my LivingDNA ethnicity result compare with my Ancestry and Family Tree DNA ones?  Family Tree DNA places me as 97 per cent European, of which 71 per cent is British Isles.My Ancestry test is 100 per cent European. Of this 52 per cent is Great Britain and 44 per cent Ireland. In terms of their Genetic Communities, I fall within two of the nine regions assigned to the UK and Ireland as follows:

  • the Irish North Connacht category (very likely) which ties in neatly with my County Mayo ancestry; and
  • English in Yorkshire and Pennines (very likely) which again fits with my research.


The confusion here is the Genetic Communities of my parents are slightly at odds with me, as shown below.

And mum, given her dad is from County Mayo, may be disappointed with her “likely” Irish North Connacht outcome.At a simplistic level, it’s easy to ask should not all the results be the same? After all, there’s only one genetic me (hurray!) But delving deeper, the difference is not unexpected. The companies have different reference groups, time measures and, possibly, a different emphasis on the ethnicity element of their tests as opposed to the DNA matching side. LivingDNA is much more of a deep dive into 21 British/Irish genetic groupings (80 worldwide ones), rather than the broad-brush overview given by Family Tree DNA and, to a lesser extent, Ancestry’s nine UK/Ireland regions.

Finally, for those DNA experts, my LivingDNA Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has me in Haplogroup U4, Subclade: U4b1b1. U4 is found in low frequencies across much of Europe and Asia, more commonly in populations near the Ural Mountains and Volga River in Siberia. According to LivingDNA U4 is “an old group, which helps to explain the relatively low frequencies in populations today. It is now thought that haplogroup U4 was involved in migrations into Europe from the Middle East that occurred before the end of the last ice age”. 

So, to sum up, my test leaves me with much more work to do to build my tree to try to prove these new elements to my ethnic make-up. But it also gives me some new migration theories to work with.

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The Demise of “Who Do You Think You Are? Live”

Well I didn’t see that one coming. I’d even completed the online feedback survey, so no hint of trouble. On the contrary it seemed feedback was being sought to keep the show fresh and relevant. But then the bombshell: 2017’s “Who Do You Think You Are? Live” was the final one.

The news broke this afternoon with the announcement from the Society of Genealogists that Immediate Media had called it a day.

Packing Away After The Final “Who Do You Think You Are? Live” – Photo by Jane Roberts

In my review of the show I did make reference to some notable absentees this year, and the increase in non-genealogy related stands. I also heard that the cost of stands was not cheap, which may explain some of the absentees and the fact other archives and Family History Societies pooled resources to ensure a presence.

There had been talk about lower footfall, and a number of last minute ticket offers maybe indicated pre-sales were lower than anticipated. But there was no sudden curtailment of days, as happened with the 2014 move to Glasgow. The show seemed busy to me. And although there were questions raised about the move from London, the shift to a nationally central location, Birmingham, made it far more accessible and cost-effective for many other folk. Although on the downside maybe this affected the ability to attract celebrities featured in the TV series. The workshops appeared full – in fact most of the ones I pre-booked were sell-outs, so no lack of interest there. 

However the bottom line was, in spite of its popularity, the show did not make money, as outlined in the online announcement in “Who Do You Think You Are?” Magazine. In it Marie Davies, director of WDYTYA? LIVE said “We have done our best over the years to bring it into profit. Unfortunately, the show has continued to make a loss for Immediate Media and we have had to bring it to a close.”

I will miss the event for many reasons.

It was great to have such a wide variety of family history related information, societies and commercial providers under one roof, both in terms of geographical spread and genealogical interests represented. This cannot be replicated at local or regional events. To get this breadth of family history topics covered would mean visiting several local and regional shows, and probably those shows would not attract some of the bigger, or niche, players. So I saw it as an extremely cost-effective and time-saving benefit.

The show also provided an ideal opportunity to find out more first-hand about the various organisations, rather than relying on Internet searches. I personally prefer to talk face-to-face to someone.

Having so many experts on hand, and informative talks, was a unique opportunity. Again this was made possible because of the national scale. Yes, to pre-book workshops cost £2 in advance or £3 on the day. But they were extremely popular. And where else could you get such a packed programme?

The amount of show bargains and discounts, from books and magazines to courses, subscriptions and DNA testing, all under one roof was unrivalled. This alone made the show tremendous value for money, in what is can be an expensive pursuit.

I also found a three-day show provided more of an opportunity to attend rather than a one-day event. There was a chance of making at least one day. This year I was fortunate to attend all three days. It gave a chance to step back from outside distractions, immerse myself in the atmosphere and focus on my family history interests.

It served all levels too. From those in the early stages of their family history quest, to the more experienced. It disseminated knowledge, kindled enthusiasm and made you realise there is far more to the wonderful world of genealogy than censuses, online parish registers and GRO indexes. 

But above all the event was a social occasion, with a real sense of community. Family history can be a very lonely pursuit. “Who Do You Think You Are? Live” counteracted that. It was fabulous to chat with so many people who share the same passion. It was wonderful to put faces to “virtual world” names and Twitter handles. And as the saying goes, it’s good to talk, whatever stage of the genealogical journey you’re on.

Maybe this will give a boost to local and regional family history societies and events. I now aim to go to the Yorkshire Family History Fair on 24 June. So maybe this should be viewed as an opportunity. But I do hope this does not mark the demise of a national event.

Batman – My Family History SuperHero 

Just when I thought I’d reached the limits of what I realistically could hope to find out about my great grandad in the Great War, family history threw another curveball.

Last year I wrote about the 16 December 1914 German naval bombardment of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool prompting my 46-year-old ex-Army great grandfather, Patrick Cassidy, to enlist on my grandma’s sixth birthday. He was discharged from the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry the following month as unlikely to become an efficient soldier. 

Undeterred by this knock-back, by the summer of 1915 he returned to his original regiment, the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment. In the Electoral Register of 1918 he is shown as an absent voter due to military service. No Medal Index Card exists for him, so it appeared he must have seen the war out on home shores. I did keep an open mind about which regiment, but if I’m being honest, my assumption was the Duke of Wellingtons.

Wrong. 

This month, idly looking at Find My Past’s military records, I saw the familiar name of Patrick Cassidy. But not in the Army records. Instead it was the AIR 79 Series, British Royal Air Force (RAF) Airmen’s Service Records. It is definitely him. His Hume Street address in Batley, his birthplace (County Mayo), his marriage and children’s details are all correct (except eldest daughter Ellen is written as Helen). So no doubt whatsoever.

He attested on 12 July 1918, and his service number 267675 fits in with June/July intake of civilians. Clearly Patrick had not lasted the duration of the war with the Duke of Wellingtons. A tribute to his persistence, he was now trying his hand with the fledgling RAF arm of the military.

The RAF was born out of the difficulties arising from the competing supply needs, including men, of the Army-operated Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and its naval counterpart, the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). As a consequence design, technology, tactics and training were not being managed cost-effectively.  From 1916, ideas of unification surfaced, with an Air Board being created to attempt to resolve the issues of purchasing and supply. 

But the problems continued and increased. Alongside the competition for aeroplanes and aircrew, concerns arose around supplying air support to the Army on the Western Front, dealing with the U-Boat menace at sea and improving the inadequate air defences at home. The latter was initially highlighted by Zeppelin raids. However by late May of 1917 huge German Gotha bomber aircraft began a bombing campaign, particularly targetting London, causing hundreds of deaths. 

As an interesting aside to these raids, the accompanying fresh wave of anti-German sentiment engendered by them, with the name of the Gotha aircraft now on lips countrywide, finally prompted the Royal Family name change.  George V by royal proclamation on 17 July 1917, announced the dropping of the  German Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, to be replaced by the English Windsor.

In the wake of all this General Jan Smuts, a member of the War Cabinet, was tasked to look at air defence and broader air organisation. The South African Boer war opponent of the British, military leader and politician, who after the World War became South Africa’s second Prime Minister, recommended the creation of a united Air Force. On 29 November 1917 an Act of Parliament establishing an Air Force and an Air Council received the Royal Assent. The Royal Air Force came into existence on 1 April 1918. 

RAF Badge and Motto – photo by Jane Roberts

Recruitment for this new branch of the Armed Forces now began in earnest, desperately required to fuel its rapid manpower expansion. Posters, adverts, newspaper articles and local recruitment rallies appeared appealing to 18-50 year olds, offering attractive pay rates and the promise of no compulsory transfer to the Army or Navy. 

© IWM (Art.IWM PST 5277) – free to reuse for non-commercial purposes under the IWM Non Commercial Licence

From June 1918 onwards the recruitment tempo increased, as eligibility criteria was correspondingly decreased. The drive also played on the fact that lower grade men would be serving in comparative safety. For example, this from “The Midland Daily Telegraph” of 6 June 1918:

Opportunity is now offered during the months of June for enlistment in the Royal Air Force of men who are suitable as employment as clerks (in pay offices and stores as shorthand typists), as cooks, as hospital orderlies, as store men and as bat men. The men recruited must be over 35 years of age if in Grade II, or of any age from 18 if in Grade III.

Specially strong men are required as labourers for airship landing parties and for thr Mediterranean Balloon Section. Grade I men over 40, Grade II men over 30 and Grade III men of any age are required. General labourers are also required in Grade II over 30, or Grade III any age“.

And, more locally, the pronouncement of the Chairman of an Ormskirk Tribunal was reported in “The Yorkshire Evening Post” of 10 June. Grade III men were now required for the Air Force because:

…instructions had been received from the Ministry of National Service that owing to the urgent necessity of maintaining all aerial craft, men of all ages and grades were required for the Royal Air Force. Certain branches of this work are being done and must be done by Grade 3 men. Higher grade men were needed for the fighting line.

In the national interest, tribunals must consider the absolute necessity of Grade 3 men for the Air Force“.

These pleas obviously appealed to my great grandfather, whose records show his occupation as one of those much in-demand labourers. His RAF attestation papers describe him standing at 5’3 1/2”, with grey eyes, a sallow complexion and dark grey hair. The grey hair is unsurprising. He was no spring chicken. His stated age is 49 and he gives his date of birth as 24 May 1869. This, yet again, is a false declaration. But not as wildly out as his 1914 attempts to get in the Army. He was in fact born in March 1868. He had shaved a year off in order to meet the age criteria for enlistment. His papers also show his Grade III category, able to serve at home.

His rank was Private 2nd Class, so a service role. He was assigned by the RAF Reserve Depot (Blandford) to No.1 (Observer) School of Aerial Gunnery at Hythe, in Kent, as a batman: in other words a personal servant to a commissioned officer. Is this the man my grandma remembers coming to the house seeking my grandad, as recounted in my earlier post

His service record goes on to show his character as “very good” and his degree of proficiency “satisfactory“. However, on 6 November 1918, days before the Armistice, he was recategorised as Grade E. In other words permenantly unfit for service. He was finally discharged on 22 January 1919. 

His record also shows that he apparently received a modest pension for his service, but the writing is extremely faint. And on 1 May 1919 he was awarded a Silver War Badge, 7162. 

Silver War Badge (not my great grandad’s) – Photo by Jane Roberts

The Silver War Badge (SWB) was instituted in September 1916. British and Empire service personnel honourably discharged due to old age, wounds or sickness received or contracted at home or overseas, received this medal. To qualify, the recipient had to have served for at least seven days between 4 August 1914 and 31 December 1919. Therefore those discharged before the badge’s institution date received the honour retrospectively. 

The badge was worn on the right lapel of civilian clothes, an indication of the recipient’s loyal war service. This visible display aimed to put a stop to men discharged as no longer fit, but without any obvious physical injuries, being publicly humiliated, harassed and accused of cowardice and refusal to serve. 

The rolls for the SWB generally record the man’s date of enlistment and discharge, and whether he was discharged as the result of being wounded or through age or “sickness”. RAF men’s badge numbers bore the prefix “RAF“, with over 10,000 issued.

These SWB rolls are at The National Archives and also available on commercial websites. Often, where service records no longer exist, these are the only indication that a man who did not go overseas served in the First World War. The bad news for me is my great grandad’s is not there. According to The National Archives, the only true RAF record relating to the SWB is in AIR 2/197/C33296. So, unless your RAF ancestor was a RFC recipient (WO 329/3244) or RNAS (ADM 171/173-87), you’re likely to draw a blank. This is something not made clear in the description on the commercial sites.

Similarly, although RAF personnel did receive campaign medals, there are no medal rolls in The National Archives for men who joined after the formation of the RAF on 1 April 1918, unless they transferred from the RFC or RNAS. For direct RAF entrants you are reliant on service records for medal entitlement including, in the most part, for their SWBs. 

I’m immensely proud of my great grandad on a number of levels:

  • His steadfast determination to do his duty despite his age;
  • His refusal to let age hold him back;
  • His never-give-up attitude, in the face of repeated rejection; and 
  • His willingness to embrace modernisation and progress, taking a leap into the future by joining the newly created RAF.

I’ve also delighted in being able to tell my dad he wasn’t the first member of his family to join the RAF. The story has also reminded me of my own happy work-days in RAF contracts and, later, aero-engine supply management. Also the frightening march of time: I think most of the aircraft I dealt with are now obsolete, including Phantom, Buccaneer, Nimrod, Hunter, Harrier, Sea Harrier, Victor and  Jaguar. I think the Hercules, Tucano and Hawk are the only ones left. But I’m a bit out of touch with aircraft now, so don’t take my word for that.

From a family history angle, the moral of this story is don’t rule out the improbable in researching family history. Ancestors were real people and, as such, often made the unlikeliest of choices. 

Sources:

“Who Do You Think You Are? Live” 2017 – A Very Different Show Experience

2017 proved a very different “WDYTYA? Live” show experience for me on a number of counts. The major shift this year, instead of cramming everything into one day including the travelling, I did the full three days and stayed within walking distance of the NEC. It made for a far more relaxed, sensibly paced visit, with plenty time to chat, plan, rehydrate, refuel and rest. No running round like an episode of “Challenge Anneka” #ShowingMyAge.

It meant I could visit all the exhibitors I planned to see and more besides. I’m not saying I didn’t forget things – on the journey home I realised I’d not made use of a £5 voucher I’d picked up with one of my purchases. But there were very few “kick myself” moments on that homeward journey.

As ever a wide range of exhibitors and experts were present, representing a breadth of family history aspects. From the big dataset providers, genealogy and software suppliers to Family History Societies and the archives sector. From companies providing family history courses to professional organisations and publishers. Niche interests were represented too such as theatrical ancestors, the ShipIndex for researching vessels associated with ancestors and the Canal and River Trust: The Waterways Archive, described as “a treasure chest for anyone with waterways’ ancestors”. There’s the international aspect too. Not just England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales but Belgium, Luxembourg, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, the Caribbean and Canada.

A Little Bit of Yorkshire in Birmingham

An aside, not sure if this was just my perception, but did there seem to be far more non-family history related stands this year? I really wouldn’t like this to get out of hand in future and detract from what is the country’s largest family history show.

Digging for Victory

The military sector was there in force, fittingly including ancestral tourism such as Mons Memorial Tourism, in this period of centenary commemorations. In addition were the excellent displays by Dig for Victory and The Battlefields Partnership. At the latter I achieved a long-held ambition to hold a Short Magazine Lee-Enfield (SMLE) from the Great War. My arm and shoulder ached afterwards – it was quite heavy and I was fairly slow on the uptake as to what to do.

Fun with Guns – Not Killing Off My Ancestors (as was suggested)

The MoD stand proved of particular interest to me. TNT Archive Services, which holds those as yet unreleased MoD service records (essentially 1920 onwards depending on rank) had a database where you could ask them to search for a record of interest. I had a few to check, and confirmed they held them all, including records for those who did National Service. I definitely intend applying for two of them but I’m holding off for now. During the show Chris Baker, military historian, researcher and author, tweeted: “MOD saying today that an exciting announcement concerning post-1921 army service records is soon to be made”. So is this a transfer to The National Archives, or a digitisation project enabling speedier access? I’m waiting to see.

Queue at the MoD Service Records Database Stand

As ever you could always seek expert help in interpreting finds, breaking down brick walls, finding pointers for further research and identifying and dating family treasures and photos. Besides the Military Checkpoint manned by a range of military museum specialists, the popular Ask the Expert area returned for wider queries as did show stalwart Eric Knowles with his Heirloom Detectives section.

Expert Advice at the Military Checkpoint

There were however some notable absentees amongst the major players, who I really expected to have a presence at this prestigious annual national event. These included The National Archives, The Imperial War Museum, Forces War Records and Fold3. Yes, money is tight, the public and charity sector have taken massive Government funding cuts, and having a presence at these events does not come cheap. And yes, others may be off-shoots of bigger companies. But I really was disappointed not to see them at the show, and I think many others will share that sense of disappointment.

It wasn’t as if all Government departments were absent. The MoD turned up, as did the General Register Office. I’m still thinking about ordering a couple of certificates in Phase 3 of their trial, those certificates not held in a digital format (births 1935-2006, deaths 1958-2006 and marriages 1837-2010). They were apparently overwhelmed by Phase 1, the £6 PDFs of those certificates digitised under the now suspended DoVE (Digitisation of Vital Events) project. Take up of Phase 2, the £45 three-hour turn round option, aimed mainly at probate companies, was far lower than anticipated. Once Phase 3 is finished they will all be evaluated and a decision taken of which (if any) to roll forward.

A Busy Exhibition Hall – My Favourite Stand Title of the Show

DNA was promoted heavily in the 2017 show. Some unbelievable offers featured, with a constant stream of customers buying multiple kits. For example Ancestry sold at £49 (with no P&P addition); Living DNA £99; and Family Tree DNA Family Finder was £40, Y-DNA 25 £70, Y-DNA 37 £80, MtDNA Plus £50 and MtDNA Full Sequence £100. I desperately tried to engage my family, but in the end the only “persuadee” was my husband. So no direct DNA breakthrough with that one. Although with the number of kits flying off the shelves this will hopefully result in an expansion of the U.K. DNA pool, more matches and more of these matches with trees attached (please). So maybe I’ll get lucky that way.

In fact fantastic offers abounded throughout the hall. In addition to DNA, I succumbed to a number. These included a show discount on Family Historian 6 and accompanying guide book; a subscription to Family Tree Magazine with three issues for £4.99, a goody bundle, £10 cash back, a £5 voucher to spend at the show (which I forgot about) and a discounted quarterly subscription rate which kicks in later this summer; I picked up a discount from Ancestry which I will use when my annual subscription comes up for renewal; I signed up to a Pharos Tutors course, “In sickness and in death” with a 10% discount, cheery soul that I am; and as for books…..a 30% discount at the History Press stand lured me into my first show purchase. As for Pen and Sword I was one of the hoards flocking round flashing cash, which saw their books flying off their stand with their offer of three for £25 or five for £45. I’m not sure I saw the logic of that price strategy and I think the sign was amended later to six for £45. I was so pleased I bought my Pen and Sword titles on the first two days, because a number of books did sell out.

Afternoon of Day 3 and Stocks Running Low at Pen and Sword

In and amongst this shopping frenzy I also found time to renew my Shropshire FHS subscription, as I do at some stage intend researching my husband’s family history. Family History Societies are a wonderful, and in this digital age possibly overlooked, source of information.

My Book Purchases

As for talks, again the three day visit meant I could do a selection without brain overload. One thing I found a tad frustrating was how the schedule came through in dribs and drabs leading up to the show. Based on previous experience of talks selling out before the show date I pre-booked mine, only to find nearer the date others were announced which I would have opted for. Too late as they clashed with ones I’d already coughed up cash for.

Kirsty Gray talks to a full house – illustrating the value of pre-booking talks

I attended 10 talks over the three days. These combined a mixture of specialties, general research techniques, and my specific Irish and World War 1 interests. I felt I got the balance right and I’ll be checking the Society of Genealogists website for the slide uploads. One or two were particularly challenging and perhaps less suited to those with a casual interest or beginners, which was reflected in the numbers leaving during these talks. I’m not sure if there is any way in advance of indicating the level of the talk as it must be off putting for the speaker, as well as distracting for the audience, to see a steady trickle of leavers.

My Pre-Booked Talks

It’s difficult to pick out a favourite talk. All were insightful in different ways. And I’m full of admiration for the speakers as its not an easy task to talk in front of such a big audience and pitch it at the right level. I’ve already put into practice a tip I learned from Jackie Depelle’s “Bridging the Gap – Tracing Forward from 1911” talk, and added to some German family research I undertook a few years ago by looking at the German baptisms on Ancestry. But in terms of general enjoyment, I loved Neil McGurk’s “The British Soldier of 1917” looking at the uniform, equipment and its evolution. A great presentation packed with interesting and often amusing information!

Jackie Depelle and Neil McGurk’s Talks

DNA featured as prominently in the talks as it did amongst the exhibitors. This year I only attended one talk loosely related to this topic, and that came from a more general interest rather than a tips and explanation angle. “Identifying the Missing of World War 1″ by Maurice Gleeson examined the practical application of DNA technology married with solid genealogical research to put names to the remains of those service personnel periodically unearthed from the soil of the Western Front.

The Fromelles project, which aimed to put names to the 250 men in the mass graves discovered in 2009 near Pheasant Wood illustrated how vital DNA proved in all cases of the 150 men so far identified. Work continues to try to put names to the remainder if at all possible. Hats off too to the genealogists involved in tracing “informative” Y and MtDNA line ancestors. I’d love to be involved in this kind of worthwhile work, a wonderful way to give something back and enable these service personnel the dignity of a named final resting place and their descendants a sense of closure.

Identifying the Missing of World War 1 – Maurice Gleeson

A video of this talk, given at another event, is online. I would definitely recommend viewing it.

Another shift for me this year was doing a stint on a stand. Only for 90 minutes, but it gave a whole new perspective on the show. I helped on the Pharos Tutors stand, to give the student view of the courses and structure. I really enjoyed chatting to people and it gave an indication of how much effort and how tiring, but rewarding, it can be to have a stand at the show. It was also interesting to observe the ebb and flow of visitors and general show footfall.

Taking my turn on the Pharos Teaching & Tutoring stand

And the final big difference at a personal level this year was the social aspect. Over the past year or so through courses and social media, including #AncestryHour at 7pm-8pm on Tuesday’s, I’ve “met” so many folk with a passion for genealogy. “WDYTYA? Live” was a fantastic opportunity to catch up with some I had met previously, and meet even more for the first time. That for me was the real highlight of this year’s show.

Meeting up with Carolyn, another Pharos Student

Last word on the 2017 show is a massive thank you to all those involved in organising the event, and to the speakers and exhibitors. Another fabulous event and I’ve returned with fresh ideas and renewed vigour for my research.

Packing Away at the End of “WDYTYA? Live” 2017

Other reviews of the event can be found here:

A Short Life Remembered: Death by Dentition

This is another in my “Short Lives Remembered” series. It is another child discovered as a direct result of the General Register Office (GRO) birth and death index search facilities introduced in 2016. I’ve not found any baptism details for this child. She was born and died in between censuses. Her burial gives no family details. So tracing her relied on civil registration and mother’s maiden name in the new search options. 

What I find most shocking about this child is the cause of death, which is put down to an ordinary, if painful and occasionally distressing, right of passage for babies and toddlers today. 

Ann Jennings was born on 12 February 1869 at Carlinghow Lane, Batley. The daughter of coal miner Herod Jennings and his wife Ann Hallas, she had 10 older siblings. All were still living by the time of Ann’s birth. This was no mean feat in an era of high infant mortality, when the most seemingly trivial illness or incident could extinguish life. Poverty, locality, environment, housing, sanitation, medical care, public health and class all played a part. The 34th Annual Report of the Registrar General (1871) illustrates the perilous nature of early years survival. Looking at the under 5 age-group, between 1838-1871 out of every 1,000 girls, 62.7 died. The corresponding figure for boys was 72.6. In the five years 1866-1870 the figures were 63.4 and 73. And looking only at 1870, 64.4 per 1,000 girls under 5 and 75.0 of boys died. 

Ann Jennings was one of the girls in 1870. She died on 15 January 1870 at Spring Mill Yard. Cause of death was dentition. In other words teething. This seemed incredible, that something so innocuous resulted in death.  

Yes, it can be an unpleasant time. I remember my daughter’s intermittent episodes of irritability, sleeplessness, drooling, flushed cheeks and raised temperatures. Calpol and Bonjela became medicine cupboard staples during this period. Teething rings, some special cooling ones, were added to her array of toys. But that’s as far as it went. I never realised it could be a cause of death. So I investigated further – and became more astounded at how common it was.

A bit of background first. As with many childhood development milestones there are no hard and fast dates for the emergence of that first set of baby teeth. It normally starts at around the six to nine months stage, with each of the 20 teeth taking about eight days to emerge. The whole process lasts for around two years.

Back to the Annual Report of the Registrar General. This time I looked at the 33rd report covering the 1870 statistics, the year of Ann’s death. In the West Riding of Yorkshire 232 female deaths and 287 male deaths were attributed to teething. In total 4,183 deaths registered in England had teething as the cause.

In 1783 Frenchman Jean Baptiste Timothée Baumes wrote “A Treatise on First Dentition and The Frequently Serious Disorders Which Depend on It”. In it he claimed teething “….may often be be found the cause of death of a great number of infants”. The view was still prevalent almost a century later. According to the 35th Annual Report of the Registrar General, looking at 1872 statistics: “Teething is one of the first marked steps in development after birth, and by inducing convulsions and other irritative reflex diseases, it is chargeable with a certain number of deaths”.

The conclusion reached by medical professionals of the time was because the teething coincided process with the ages of high mortality, it was actually responsible for infant illness and death. According to accepted medical wisdom teething led to a number of afflictions and displayed a variety of symptoms including convulsions, diarrhoea, bronchitis, croup, vomiting, neck abscesses, insanity and meningitis. The teething phase was perceived as fraught with risk, a process to be dreaded.

Added to misdiagnosis, teething treatments could in themselves prove fatal. Even today there are stories of homeopathic teething tablets causing death. Back in the 19th century treatments ranged from dangerous to downright barbaric, with some treatments a combination of the two.   

What could you do to make the passage of teeth through gum easier? Well, the obvious answer was to lance the gum, making a deep incision to facilitate the emergence of the offending tooth. This in a pre-anaesthetic, pre-sterilisation era carried it’s own risks. Leeches applied to the gums provided another solution.

Gum Lancing for Teething – “Cassell’s Household Guide”

And what could you do to relieve the pain, reduce excitement, regulate the bowels and induce sleep in the restless teething babe? Newspapers were full of the answers, with adverts for soothing remedies which parents, fearful of the dangers of dentition, were induced to purchase. In this unregulated, uncontrolled period of medicine druggists and pharmacists made their own propriety and patented concoctions with no details of ingredients. But these included opium, cocaine, mercury, morphine and alcohol, with rubbing whisky in gums of teething children even touted in more recent times. All of these could lead to addiction and death. The risk was not unknown. Cassell’s Household Guide of 1884 for instance acknowledged the danger of giving narcotics to children – but reassured parents that it was acceptable if such remedies were recognised as teething powders. So by trying to do the right thing and following advice, parents were in fact endangering their babies.

“Dewsbury Reporter” advert, 9 November 1872

In fact in 1869 a 9-month old girl from Gravesend, Catherine Sarah Cobham, was poisoned as a result of a chemist dispensing strychnine instead of powdered sugar as a teething remedy. Incredible too that sugar was touted for teething – presumably leading to tooth decay later if the baby survived! 

So who knows if Ann really did die as a result of teething. Was it actually a case of misdiagnosis, or even a teething remedy gone wrong. We will never know. So she is just another statistic, amongst thousands of others, whose death was attributed to dentition. Her funeral took place on 17 January 1870 at Batley Parish Church. 

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

Sources:

  • GRO Birth and Death entries for Ann Jennings
  • 33rd Annual Report of the Registrar General (1870) 
  • 34th Annual Report of the Registrar General (1871) 
  • 35th Annual Report of the Registrar General (1872) 
  • A Treatise on First Dentition and The Frequently Serious Disorders Which Depend on It” by Jean Baptiste Timothée Baumes (1783) – Google Books 
  • Cassell’s Household Guide to Every Department of Practical Life: Being a Complete Encyclopaedia of Domestic and Social Economy Vol 1” (1884) – Internet Archive 
  • Dewsbury Reporter” – 9 November 1872 
  • Treatments for Children: Teething – https://www.rpharms.com/museum-pdfs/g-teethingtreatments.pdf
  • Parish Register – Batley (All Saints) Parish Church