Category Archives: Ancestry

Why Waste Time and Money Researching Your Family History?

It’s been an all-consuming interest for the past goodness knows how many years. I’ve spent countless hours on research. And don’t mention the small fortune shelled out on subscription sites, books, certificates, data storage, courses, archives visits, family-related antiques, postcards and ancestral tourism. I’ve amassed files full of records and reports. I’ve endured the frustration of dealing with the fog-plaiting myriad of online records. My living room floor frequently takes on the role of a temporary filing cabinet. I’ve risked eye-strain and headache trying to read scratchy, barely legible writing and faded documents, both original and on microfilm and microfiche. I spend hour upon hour caught up in suffering, harsh lives, misery and death. Some days I’ve nothing to show for it other than the eliminatation of yet another source.

Is it really worth it? Should I have been living in the present and making memories rather than digging up the past? What really is the point of knowing my 6x great grandfather’s name let alone how many children he had and what happened to them all? And when I’m gone will all my research follow me into the ground or go up in smoke?

But then there’s that Eureka moment when I’ve found out something. The intellectual challenge of cracking what appears to be an insoluble family history puzzle, as well as the broader learning about aspects of history never taught at school: ones that are really interesting because I can relate them to my flesh and blood. There’s the thrill of actually reading that document or handling some centuries old piece of paper and feeling that connectedness with history. There’s the sense of belonging through finding my family, ones that are long-forgotten. It’s like bringing them back to life in a way. There’s the sense of community too, with those pursuing the same obsession. There’s the brick wall that nags at me night and day. I’m never finished. Loose ends abound. There’s always more to discover. So day after day, week after week I’m drawn back.

Let this serve as a warning to anyone starting out on family history. Are you really prepared for the expensive, frustrating, 24×7 obsession you’re about to unleash into your life?

And if the answer is yes, you won’t regret it!

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The Changing Landscape of Family History

I’m feeling a little lost. This is the time of year when my thoughts would be turning towards planning my ‘Who Do You Think You Are? Live’ adventure. But, as was announced last year, this is a show that won’t go on. Yes, the writing may have been on the wall with the massed ranks of so-called chuggers, aka charity muggers, in evidence last year. Stand space was expensive making it difficult for genuine family history organisations to have a presence. Even The National Archives gave it a miss. Is this a sign the popular interest in family history research has plateaued and is perhaps on the decline?

And, dare I say it, maybe the TV show ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ has struggled occasionally with who it thinks it is in recent series. Yes, there are some gems of episodes. But it doesn’t seem to hold the same thrall of its early days. The BBC have also seemed happy to tinker with scheduling, to the detriment of viewing continuity, possibly an indication of where it now stands in their pecking order. No longer a flagship viewing offering? But is that in part because the format needs a shake-up?

Also has the series encouraged the belief family history is quick and easy? The big Internet and associated ‘it’s all a mouse-click away.com’ con, which in turn fostered the ‘fast-food family historian’ in us all to some extent. That attitude led to some of the more informative talks at last year’s ‘Live’ show, such as ones about genealogical proof, being a step too far for some of the audience. It’s too much like hard work, all this checking, corroborating and building a body of evidence.

I personally feel the absence of a national show has left a huge void in the British family history calendar of events. But maybe that’s because I’m a tad family history research obsessed. I’m going to miss its social aspect, the chance to see what’s out there beyond my own family history interests, the informative talks to improve my skill set, not to mention the opportunity to grab a book bargain or subscription discount. I’m seeking out alternatives, from the ‘Secret Lives’ conference to local and regional events and talks. One source to find out what’s on is GENEVA, an online calendar of GENealogical EVents and Activities.

On the same era-ending theme, earlier this month the final edition of ‘Your Family History’ magazine plopped on my doormat. Or should I say I dashed to the newsagent to buy my final copy, as my subscription expired the previous month and no reminder to renew was sent? For 15 years, initially under the title of ‘Your Family Tree’, it has provided information, advice and tips for the family history community from beginner to the more advanced. But time has been called on the publication. Reasons cited for its demise included rising costs and competition from the Internet. This competition presumably extends to digital media, blogs, podcasts and the like. But again I’m left wondering if the appetite for family history research has levelled out.

The family history landscape is changing. In reality it has always been a constant evolution. But the Internet is the real game-changer in recent years, considerably speeding up the process.

I started my family history journey probably just after the launch of ‘Your Family Tree’ (as it was called then). Back then it was old fashioned painstaking research methods. None of this ‘everything only a mouse click away’ belief, too often implicitly peddled by T.V. programmes and family history subscription sites now. Online subscription-based genealogy database services were in their infancy. IGI and FreeBMD were my high-tech, online ports of call. Microfiche and microfilm readers, Family History Societies and visits to local libraries and archives provided my gateway.

I well remember the days of going to my local library and scrolling through the census. Ditto for parish registers. I’d even plan holidays to visit archives in family associated locations in order to fit in a few hours research. This for basic record sets like the census or parish registers, things we take so much for granted today. Hard to imagine, but it wasn’t online and neither did it come automatically with a helpful searchable index. If you were lucky the local Family History Society might have compiled an index booklet. Or maybe an antiquarian publication had reproduced them. But, as the Family History Society exhorted, you still needed to check the original document.

But in the main you were ‘indexless’, and it was the long job of scrolling through filmed copies of the census, or going through the parish register microfiche by microfiche noting down all occurrences of family surnames. And maybe repeating the process, as research turned up a new surname to track in the same parish….several times over. But that way, you did get to familiarise yourself with the records, the community in which your ancestors lived and the writing!

It’s hard to imagine that this was how we did family history only a few years ago. Today, subscription genealogy services are in constant competition to get the next big dataset online. This is today’s gateway to family history. Yes, it is brilliant there is so much out there to tempt people into the wonderful world of family history. It’s making family history more accessible. And it can save masses of time in travelling up and down the country on archives visits. But in the race to get it all online, clear source referencing along with precise coverage dates, seems to have been dismissed. For instance the unwary may assume Ancestry’s West Yorkshire Parish Register collection includes all parishes. It doesn’t. But finding out what is there, and the years covered, is not an easy task. And transcribing errors may in turn lead to false negative results.

In a way it’s become too big, too unwieldy and the race to ‘chuck stuff online’ has meant it’s been too organisationally chaotic. For many there’s that initial flurry of interest, but it all tails off. And make no wonder people give up. It can be like plaiting fog. Especially when you don’t fully understand what’s there in the first place. I’ve heard people admit to it. They start off enthused but then they soon find it all too overwhelming and lose track (and interest) in what they’re doing.

In a way, the Internet may have curiously decreased knowledge too. There doesn’t seem to be the same willingness to trawl through a parish register, the Quarter Sessions or a Borough Court register to check for yourself. It’s too much like hard work. Yet there are times when this is necessary. For many it now needs to be the quick click, instant gratification of an online search and move on without evaluating whether it’s right or wrong. And hey presto I’ve got a tree going back to 1066!

A corollary is because so few are prepared to put in this painstaking work, the amount of time it takes is not appreciated. For so many there’s no interest in finding out about the variety of records, what they can and can’t do, what pitfalls there are, and what alternative sources exist to plug gaps. Which is why the demise of knowledge-bringing magazines such as ‘Your Family History’ is such a loss.

I’m forever seeking out information and knowledge to develop my family history skills: be it reading, both online and traditional books and magazines, as well as attending talks, webinars, podcasts and formal learning courses. I’m currently signed up to a series of Guild of One Name Studies monthly webinar. There are so many sources of learning out there if you look. And by doing them and improving your knowledge, you’ll be amazed how much you learn which in turn will lead to more accurate family trees, and hopefully breakthroughs. But that’s the point: you have to know the limitations of online sources and actively seek out knowledge beyond the confines of your computer. And by seeking out this wider knowledge you become more acutely aware of the computer pros and cons.

And yet there still seems to be only a passing realisation that not everything is on the internet. There is so much more in archives waiting to be explored. Much of it will never make it onto these online providers such as Ancestry, FindMyPast or The Genealogist because it is not commercially viable. Who for instance would be interested in churchwarden accounts, Vestry minutes, charity records, manorial documents and the like for some obscure location? But often these documents may help prove a link.

Bottom line, these companies are only interested in what makes money. After the 1921 census, what will they use to generate income and fresh interest? Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why price structures are amended; why Ancestry is putting its more recently acquired UK military datasets not on Ancestry.co.uk but on sister-company Fold3, in order to get another subscription stream; and why there is such a push on DNA testing as an alternative cash-cow. I’m not against DNA testing per se. It has a place. It is another tool. But there is perception peddled that it’s a quick root to a fully formed family tree, with no research required.

By the same token cash-strapped Councils, looking to make savings, are cutting back archives opening hours, or even closing them, because so much is online. Read the same for local libraries. It’s an easy excuse for them to use in order to reduce costs. And so it’s all online becomes a self-perpetuating myth.

Which is why I think David Olusoga’s recent BBC2 series ‘A House Through Time’ was such a refreshing change. Not only was it interesting, engaging and informative, it was a new way to introduce people to family history. It didn’t propagate the ‘it’s all online’ impression. And it wasn’t afraid to admit some people were difficult to trace and the trail went cold. Hopefully it has reached out to, and inspired, a new set of family historians, those seekers and keepers of documented, accurate ancestral truth, memories and knowledge.

The Accidental Blogger – My 2017 Review

My 2017 blogging year didn’t go quite as planned. Two posts a month was what I promised. And with 33 for the year I ever so slightly overachieved. So unplanned in a positive way. This number was down significantly on my 2016 total of 60+ posts, but deliberately so. I continue to enjoy researching and writing. I also find the process helps me to focus on, and review, my personal family history research. But keeping volume up, alongside quality and interest, is a tricky balance. Hopefully I achieved that balance in 2017.

I accidentally stumbled into this blogging lark. My blog started in April 2015. In those first nine months it had a tad over 2,900 views. In 2016 it grew to 12,163. So how does 2017 compare?

The Headlines: Despite the reduced output my blog did not suffer. It had 20,649 views. I feel slightly giddy and ever so grateful that folk actually looked at my random stories and thoughts about family and local history. In 2015 I averaged roughly about 322 views per month. In 2016 this grew to over 1,000 per month. Roll forward to 2017, and it achieved over 1,700 per month.

My Best Day: 28 July 2017 had an amazing 662 views. For hard-core bloggers that’s not many, but I feel hugely privileged so many people took the time out to engage. Sunday is now my most popular day, with 22% of views. And, once more, the golden hour is 8pm.

How Did They Find You? Facebook was the primary referrer with over 5,000 clicks leading to my site. Search Engines accounted for almost 4,000.

Where Did They Come From? The global reach of WordPress continues to astonish, with views from around 80 countries. Unsurprisingly, as I’m based in England, over 13,000 were from the UK. Almost 4,000 reached me from the USA. But I had views as far afield as Rwanda, Fiji, Venezuela, Albania and Lebanon (one from each of those countries). So if you’re reading this a huge thank you!

I also loved reading the comments I’ve received indirectly via Facebook and Twitter, or directly on my blog site. Some of these have resulted in new direct family history connections with distant cousins. Others have been from descendants of those named in my research. Again, thank you for getting in touch.

Top Five Posts of 2017: Other than general home page/archives and my ‘about‘ page, these were:

  • Access to Archives – What Price and at What Cost? This was my reaction to the news that Northamptonshire Archives proposed introducing charges to visit, alongside a reduced number of free access hours. The fact this post received over 1,500 views is testimony to the concern felt throughout the academic and family history communities about this development. The proposal was thankfully shelved. But it shows the ongoing issues we face with access to archives at a time when Councils are facing difficult choices about their priorities in a climate of tight funding.
  • Buried Alive: A Yorkshire Cemetery Sensation had almost 1,000 views, with its multiple stories of people ‘rising from the dead’. It included a particularly macabre tale from Leeds, with a gravedigger seemingly ignoring knocking from a coffin. It goes to show that the Victorian fear and obsession with premature internment still holds a fascination today.
  • General Register Office (GRO) Index – New & Free was actually posted in 2016. But in 2017 it had a resurgence, with its close to 800 views more than doubling its 2016 tally. This post was about a new free source for searching the GRO birth and death indexes (note not marriages) for certain years, one which gives additional search options. It also covered the initial £6 PDF certificate trials. There is currently an extended pilot running for these £6 PDFs, which I blogged about here.
  • Living DNA: I’m Not Who I Thought I Was dealt with my latest shocking DNA results. I’m 100% from Great Britain and Ireland. No drama there. But imagine the horror this Yorkshire lass felt to discover she has genetic material from the dark side of the Pennines. I did try to kid myself that it couldn’t possibly be Lancashire blood. But a discovery last month via traditional family history research seems to confirm the accuracy of LivingDNA’s results. It points to a 5x great grandmother from Colne. How could my mum inflict this on me?
  • A Dirty Tale from a Yorkshire Town had just shy of 600 views. The 1852 inquiry into sanitation in Batley proved to be a fascinating peek into the lives of our ancestors, their struggles to obtain drinking water, the issues of sanitation in an increasingly urbanised area, the problems with disposing of the dead and the knock on health effects, with frequent epidemics. All illustrated with examples from the town. Despite the grim and dry(?) subject, the post clearly whet the appetite for this type of local context to family history.

So a real mix of posts ranging from topical family history issues, to DNA and general history and local history tales. This snapshot really sums up what my blog is about. A bit of my family history, interspersed with general genealogical topical updates, and a smattering of local history posts about the lives and times of my ancestors and the communities in which they lived.

The Ones that Got Away: These are a few of my favourite posts which didn’t make the top five:

  • Death by Dentition looked at teething as a cause of infant death in the 19th century. This research was promoted by the discovery of my 3x great grandmother’s youngest daughter’s death in 1870.
  • Batman – My Family History Super Hero uncovered the extraordinary persistence of my aged Irish great grandad in trying, and lying, to enlist to serve in the Great War not once, not twice but three times. I discovered his final attempt in 1918 was to join the newly formed RAF. So he, not his grandson (my dad) was the first to serve in that branch of the military.
  • In my commitment to the role of libraries in the community, I shared my thoughts on their importance in A Library is Not a Luxury but One of the Necessities of Life.
  • I also wrote about a couple of murders with local connections. One remains unsolved. Cold Case: The Huddersfield Tub Murder involved a woman of ‘ill-repute‘ whose tragic life and abusive relationships ultimately resulted in her death. The other, Mother-in-Law Murderer, was a tale of poisoning which resulted in the hanging of a Batley woman in 1794.
  • Finally, if you want to discover a claim to Brontë fame, check out Finding Your Brontë links.

What Does 2018 Promise? Well, as in 2017, I aim to do two posts a month. I’ve lots of ideas for these, including some in-depth research pieces. In this centenary year of the Armistice, some will definitely have a Great War theme. Others will have a more general family or local history context. And, of course, there will be the occasional topical offering when something big hits the genealogy news. Hopefully these topics remain relevant and interesting, but any other suggestions would be welcome.

The big question, as ever for me, is time. 2018 promises to be a busy year personally and professionally. This may impact on my blogging output, as I do need to focus on my family history client research work, the final year of my assessed genealogy course and my book. I’ll have to see how it pans out.

But whatever my blogging year holds, thank you for reading, engaging and supporting.

Wishing you a happy, peaceful 2018 filled with family history fun!

2018 Family History New Year’s Resolutions (Otherwise Known as Rewarding Challenges)

Well it’s that time of year again. In my penultimate post of last year I assessed how my 2017 New Year’s Resolutions went. In my final post of the year I set out some general family history related suggestions for 2018 for those seeking ideas. So now to look forward and set my own goals for the New Year.

I’m sticking to just five ‘challenges‘ once more. They are a balance of personal, professional and wider family history objectives. And they do, in part, link to some of the suggestions I posted yesterday.

Work on my Aveyard One-Name Study (ONS): Yes, that hardy perennial which had very stunted growth in 2017. I will spend more time on it in 2018, says I through gritted teeth. It’s not that I don’t like doing the work, it’s just I never get time. And because it’s a relaxed, gentle-paced kind of hobby, it’s the one which is easier to knock on the head when other areas of life and work pick up speed. So in an effort to kick-start it, I may in part combine it in part with Resolution Number Two.

Complete my Pharos Tutors Family History Skills and Strategies (Advanced) Course: I’m now into Year Two of the eight module course. This year I have my final three modules and assignments. I also must undertake a pre-19th century Project. I’m currently finalising my research proposal, and I’m hoping to frame it in such a way to fulfil some personal family history research, or link it to my ONS. Either way the course will provide me with an excuse to do some of my own research for a change, whilst at the same time being part of my Continuing Professional Development.

Finish my Book Research: This was a ‘bolt from the blue‘ piece of work which hit me in 2017. Alongside my husband I have wandered into a publishing contract. The book is due out later in 2018 and my research is well underway. I aim to complete the bulk of the remaining research by early March. I’ve already set aside January to focus on it, in between my Pharos Medieval Genealogy module. After that, it’s just dotting ‘i’s’ and crossing ‘t’s’ for me. Luckily for me the writing part is down to the other half.

Personal Research: Some ancestors are sent to test us. One of my trials is my 4x great grandfather Abraham Marshall. He’s an hiding-in-plain view type of chap. One of those ancestors I put aside as I couldn’t find an obvious family for him. In theory he should be straightforward. I just need to put in some effort, something I’ve never found time to do. It may involve an element of family reconstitution and lateral thinking. So 2018 is the year in which I will put in that effort and marshal my Marshalls, so to speak. We’ll see how it goes.

Attend a mixture of Conferences, Lectures, Family and Local History Fairs and Talks: The demise of ‘Who Do You Think You Are? Live’ leaves a major gap in the genealogy calendar. But there is so much more out there. It is an opportunity to connect with other events, including those organised by that backbone of grassroots genealogy, the Family History Society. I’m going to commit to attending a minimum of six events over the course of 2018. I’ve already signed up for a major genealogy event, the Secret Lives conference. Organised by the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA), The Guild of One Name Studies, the Halsted Trust and the Society of Genealogists, it runs over three days in late summer. But I will also mix it up with smaller scale local events and talks. Family history can so often be a solitary interest, where you find yourself either tucked away in a local archive or at home behind the computer screen. Often, in pursuing our family history goals, we overlook the value of connecting with others who share our passion. And in doing so we overlook the value of our local Family History Societies. So I’m making 2018 my year of championing the work of local history groups and Family History Societies. Starting with the Huddersfield and District Family History Society January sale: Parish Register index booklets for £1, CDs at £5 and census CDs £5 too, plus p&p. That’s my kind of sale!

So just five New Year’s Resolutions for 2018. But I’m pretty relaxed about them as, from the experiences of this year, life can throw the unexpected at you. What you want to achieve evolves and changes as the year progresses. Some new opportunity may mean a shift in priorities. And family history is meant to be fun, not some rigid tick-box exercise.

Whatever your family history aims and hopes are for 2018, I wish you have a rewarding and interesting New Year. But above all I’m wishing you peace, health and happiness, because that’s what really counts.

Word Tree by Jane Roberts using http://www.wordclouds.com

My Top 12 Family History Suggestions for the New Year

As the year closes, here are 12 Family History suggestions for you to consider in 2018. 12 as in one per month. Or maybe because I simply couldn’t whittle them down to 10. You can judge!img_4905

  1. Review your research. Often research is ‘completed‘ and then shelved for years or possibly for ever, even if there are gaps. It does pay though to periodically revisit your research. What might have seemed a dead-end 12 months ago, may no longer be the case. A new record set, an additional piece of information gleaned through researching another family member, or even your own improved research techniques – all these can mean a brick wall is ready to come crashing down.
  2. Join a Family History Society. These organisations are the bedrock of family history up and down the country. They offer a wealth of help, advice and local knowledge. They also provide opportunities to meet with others sharing the same passion for, what can be, a solitary pursuit.
  3. Visit an archive. Contrary to what may appear to be the case, not everything is online. Far from it. And even what is there is not perfect. The indexing may leave something to be desired. Or the source citation may be so unclear as to mislead. One of the simple pleasures of family history research for me is physically connecting with original source material. To hold a document from a bygone era, possibly centuries old, and realise you’re touching something created by people long since gone. All the more special if, within that document you discover your ancestor’s name.
  4. On the same lines, check out your local library. They may have lots of free resources to help you with your family history research. From local newspapers on microfilm, to electoral registers, donated research, council minutes, medical officer of health annual reports, school yearbooks and magazines. The may have censuses, and microfilm or microfiche copies of parish registers. Many have free computer access to Ancestry or FindMyPast. So get down to your local library. You may be pleasantly surprised what’s there.
  5. Talk to relatives. They are living connections with the past, often too easily ignored whilst you pursue your paper trail. My dad died this year. Even though I did quiz him about the past, it’s only now he’s gone that I realise there’s so much more I wished I’d asked him. A few years ago I gave dad a book to fill in about his life. He never did it. So talk to your relatives whilst you have the chance.
  6. Do a family history course or webinar. Anything really to improve your skills. It doesn’t need to cost much. There are lots of free tutorials. Check out The National Archives events – they do some really good free online webinars. FindMyPast also do them. Your local Family History Society may run courses too. But ultimately your research techniques, and results, will benefit from it.
  7. If you do a DNA test, and if you are able to, please Please PLEASE include a tree. Even if it’s only a skeleton tree with a few direct line ancestors. There are so many treeless DNA testers, and it’s so frustrating trying to work out what the connection is between you and them. Yes there are ways and techniques to try to work round this. But it’s so long-winded and speculative. It’s far easier if at the outset there are some family names to work with. So if you received a DNA test this Christmas, besides the initial excitement of spitting or swabbing, do take a bit of time to upload a tree. By doing so you may get more potential DNA matches contacting you too.
  8. Check out #AncestryHour on Twitter. Tuesday’s at 7pm-8pm (GMT). Lots of fast-paced, fun, friendly family history chat, tips and plenty of opportunity to ask questions. More details are here. Starts again on 9 January 2018.
  9. If you do have a public tree on Ancestry, review it to make sure it’s accurate. And if you’re new to family history and looking at these public trees don’t take them as gospel. Do your own research and checking. So many of these things are blindly copied perpetuating the myth that 95 year old 3x great auntie Ann gave birth to twins!
  10. A bit long term, and on a less cheery note: what will happen to all your painstakingly researched family history once you’re gone? Will it end up in the bin? Start thinking now about how it will be preserved. Is there someone in the family to pass the baton on to? If not, is there another option?
  11. Photographs. A dying art in this digital age. I can’t remember the last time I put a family photo in an album, never mind label the names. They’re all on my phone, FaceBook, or when I get round to it, on my computer. So perhaps devote some time to putting a few key family photos (with names) in an album for future generations. Perhaps I’m showing my age and technophobe side here?
  12. Make 2018 the year when you better organise your family history research. Note sources in full. Note negative searches. Note dates searches were conducted. Write up research, and file it, at the time you do the work – not six months later when you’ve not a clue what paper is where, let alone what your scribbled note says and anyway it’s now all too overwhelming to sort out.montage

Whatever you do with your family history quest in 2018, enjoy it! I’ll publish my own New Year’s Resolutions tomorrow.

My 2017 Family History Review – Life Got in the Way

It was a year which didn’t quite go as planned. It was a year full of heartache, but punctuated with moments of real joy and achievement. All of this impacted on my New Year’s Resolutions for 2017.

I had set myself five goals, but personal issues meant a major switch of focus. Mid-year both my husband and father had significant health problems resulting in lengthy hospitalisation for both. Then followed an even lengthier period of recuperation for my husband. Dad however lost his long battle with cancer. Genealogy took a back seat.

Going Forward but Looking Back: Snowflake and me – Photo by Chris Roberts

Given what happened I’m really satisfied with how I fared with my New Year’s Resolutions. My assessment of these are below.

Aveyard One-Name Study: Data collection is still ongoing in fits and starts. I did say I would be doing it at a relaxed pace, fitting it in and around. As things turned out it was more relaxed than anticipated. It was one of the non-essential pieces of work and, as a result, was one thing which ground to a halt when real life kicked in. I’m still working through the censuses.

Healey War Memorial Project: Names were quickly collected but again, because this was non-essential in the grander scheme of things as the year progressed, it has taken a back seat. And then my husband hi-jacked me for a different Great War project which has taken priority. More of that in my 2018 Resolutions.

Blog Posts: Through it all I’ve kept on blogging, averaging at just over two posts a month. So target met. I’ll do my annual blogging review shortly.

Palaeography Practice: Again another Resolution I’m happy with. The fact I signed up to a palaeography course with Pharos helped. I now enjoy transcribing. It’s my take on code-cracking. I need to keep practicing though. My archives visits certainly help.

Personal research into my brush maker ancestor, an asylum inmate, an army officer and two wills: I intended setting aside July to do this. For obvious reasons it never happened. However, I did manage to do a fair amount of the work later in the year by fitting it into an assessed genealogy assignment. I have a couple of loose ends to tie up, one of which involves a visit to the Borthwick Institute. But for all intents and purposes the work is done, and more besides. Although, as with much in family history, one brick wall broken leads to several more to crack.

Given the circumstances of the year, three out of five isn’t bad.

In other news, I am a civil servant no more. This has given me more time to devote to family history. I passed Year One of my Pharos Family History Skills and Strategies (Advanced) course. I have taken on a volunteering role as a committee member of Batley History Group. But the big news was in September I did something totally unplanned. I went to the Society of Genealogists to attend an interview and written test to become an Associate of the professional Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA). I was thrilled to pass and see my profile on their website, especially given this was the period between dad’s death and his funeral. My pleasure was tinged with sadness: this was the first thing of major importance I couldn’t share with him.

So now I’m a professional genealogist,  taking on client work and loving it. I take as much pleasure in researching for others as I do in undertaking my own family history journey of discovery.

In my next post I’ll set out my 2018 Resolutions.

The Camera Doesn’t Lie – But the Caption Might. A Lesson in Family History Evidence

This post is dedicated to my dad who died in August 2017, after an almost three year battle with cancer. It is prompted by a photograph which appeared recently on a local Facebook page.

This is the photo which inspired me to write this post. It is a St Mary’s Batley school Rugby League team photo. Apparently under 15s.

St Mary’s 1948-49 Rugby League Cup Winning Team – Photo reproduced with permission of Mark Oliver Lockwood

The top right boy is identified as ‘Kev Hill’. My dad. My heart wanted it to be so, but my head said otherwise. It looked more like dad’s marginally older brother, Gerard. Plus dad would have only been about 12 at the time.

I knew dad was a good rugby player, a winger. He was quick, really quick. I know when dad served in the RAF, he played Rugby Union on the wing for them: back in the 1950s Rugby League wasn’t an accepted military sport. Rugby League though was his true game. It was in the family. His uncle, Thomas Brannan, played for Batley. His cousin, Brian Briggs, played for Huddersfield, St Helens and Wakefield. He also represented Yorkshire, England and Great Britain.

One of my earliest memories is dad taking me to Mount Pleasant on a Sunday afternoon to watch Batley play. We’d usually be accompanied by his brother Gerard, and my cousin Claire. It is from those early days watching the game with dad, either live or on TV, that I developed my love of Rugby League.

One of the conversations I had in dad’s last months was how he believed his playing days wouldn’t have been halted temporarily if his own dad hadn’t died when he was three. Dad suffered a bad led injury and, for a time, his naturally protective mum stopped him playing in the lead up to a cup final whilst at school. His mum eventually relented, but it was too late. It meant he missed the cup-winning final. A big deal for him, which almost 70 years later he talked about. It meant he wasn’t on the team photo which was on display in Batley Nash. Maybe it was the team photo in the year or so after the one above.

Anyway, back to this 1948/49 photo. Seeing it knocked me for six. It was the type of photo I’d share and discuss with dad. He’d go through those photographed, identifying them from his school days. But this was the first time ever he’d been labelled on a picture. And I couldn’t ask him about it.

Dad’s younger sister and brother are alive though. And they confirmed my belief. The photo is incorrectly labelled. It’s not dad. It is his older brother Gerard, who died a few years ago. I’d noticed uncle Gerard’s shorts contravened kit rules. My uncle also pointed out that Gerard wasn’t wearing rugby boots, something I hadn’t noticed. It turns out uncle Gerard was late for the team photo. So the family knew the history behind it.

Maybe if this photo had surfaced years later when those who knew dad and his brother were long gone, descendants would’ve accepted the name labelling as correct. Who is to say that the family history photos we have today haven’t been similarly mistakenly named? As with any other family history source it pays to evaluate that source and ask questions. In this case:

  • When was the labelling done – was it years later?
  • If names do appear, who did it? The person, another family member who knew them or someone totally unrelated?
  • Is it a family group photo, for example a wedding shot, which features many family members? This might make it easier to put names to individuals. Or is it a class photo, with no other family members on?
  • Does the period look right, in terms of clothes, style and type of photograph, studio name and location etc?
  • If there are dates indicated on the shot, do they fit in with what is known?
  • Does it match the family member’s appearance in other photos (if they exist)?
  • Do other sources corroborate it?

So the moral of this story, in life as much as in family history, is question and challenge. Back up with other evidence to build up a body of proof. Don’t go on just one single piece of ‘evidence‘ and don’t go with your heart – use your head.

Dad – Father’s Day 2014, with the Family History Book I wrote for his present

Cold Case: The Huddersfield Tub Murder

The young woman knelt head first in a sunken water tub, her black skirt ripped from top to bottom and strewn on the ground next to her. Coins and her hat lay nearby, along with a discarded Woodbine cigarette tab end.

This was the horrific discovery which met the eyes of 17-year-old teamer Henry Redfearn, when he turned up for work at 6am on Monday 15 February. He ran for the police.

The yard in Brook Street, Huddersfield, where the body lay contained stables. It belonged to Messrs. John Beever and Sons, rug manufacturers. The tub was located between their premises and that of Henry’s employers Messrs. J.H. Wood and Son, wholesale fish merchants.  Containing 21 inches of water, the tub was used as a drinking station for teamers’ horses.  The woman had a large scalp wound and her arms were severely bruised, as if violently restrained. Her body was taken to the town’s Back Ramsden Street mortuary.

Carrie Jubb

Carrie Jubb, Illustrated Police News – 25 February 1915

The woman was subsequently identified as 32-year-old Carrie Jubb, a Dewsbury woman of no fixed abode. Her eldest sister, Margaret Ann Birch, of Boothroyd Lane, Dewsbury made the formal identification at the inquest on 17 February. Carrie had at one time lived at Middle Road, Dewsbury, with her husband Herbert, a teamer. But they had separated several years ago, and Margaret had last seen her sister on 10 July 1914.  In recent times Carrie lived in Huddersfield, and her last known abode was a furnished room in Swallow Street.

She was also euphemistically described as a woman of “ill-repute”, well-known to police. Huddersfield Borough Police Constable James Hinchcliffe had last seen her at 9.10pm on Sunday night, alone in Byram Street. He watched her walk down St Peter’s Street, about 150 yards away from the enclosed Brook Street yard.  He carried on walking.

She suffered terrible injuries. In addition to the many bruises on her arms, her left arm was broken in a defence injury. She had facial injuries. Her front tooth was knocked out but still remained in her mouth. From the abrasions on her cheek, it appeared as if she had been dragged over a rough surface. Her right eye was bruised. Her right temple had a ragged, curved wound down to the bone, caused by a blow from a blunt instrument. Her skull showed evidence of several blows. There was no evidence of drowning – she was dead before entering the water. Dr Irving, who conducted the post-mortem, concluded she had died as a result of shock from the blows to her mouth, one to her right eye, one on the right ear, one behind the temple. These were caused by a combination of fist and blunt injury trauma. The inquest jury returned a verdict of:

“Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown”.

Carrie was born on 23 May 1882, the daughter of Dewsbury couple Tom and Ann Goodall (née Doyle). She was baptised on 30 July 1884 at St John the Evangelist, Dewsbury Moor. Tom, a cloth fuller, and Ann had married in the same church on 10 November 1866. Their eldest child, Timothy Goodall Doyle, was born in 1865 – prior to their marriage. Tom and Ann’s other children included William Newton (born in 1869), Margaret Ann (born in 1871), Tom (born in 1873), Henry (born 1877), Elizabeth (born 1880) and Ethel (born in 1884). The 1871-1891 censuses show the family residing at Thornton Street, Dewsbury.

However, the late 1890s proved a period of turmoil for Carrie and her siblings. Their mother died in 1897. Then, on 23 March 1898, 51-year-old Tom unexpectedly passed away. His death was subject to an inquest before Wakefield Coroner Thomas Taylor, held at the Brunswick Hotel, Dewsbury the following day. Tom’s widowed daughter Elizabeth gave evidence, stating her father came home from work at his normal time. He was talkative and cheerful, going out at around 7pm to the Reading Room. He came home about an hour later, complained of a pain in his chest, but ate his supper and retired to bed at his usual time of 9.30pm. Elizabeth woke up at around midnight after hearing a gurgling noise. Upon checking she discovered her father was dead. Carrie was woken up by a neighbour and informed of the news. A verdict of “Died suddenly from natural causes” was reached.

The 1901 census shows the teenage Carrie[1] lodging at the School Street home of Emma Carlton Selby. She married mill-hand Herbert Jubb on 6 October 1906 at St Saviour’s Church, Ravensthorpe. But it was no happy ending for Carrie. The marriage soon hit difficulties.

On 22 December 1908 she appeared in Dewsbury Borough Court in what the Batley News described as a ‘Sordid Tale from Dewsbury.’ I wonder if the same heading featured in its Dewsbury newspaper counterpart, or was this a Batley dig at the neighbouring town? John Balmford, (who we later learn used a number of names, most usually Bamford which for consistency is the version I will use) a Dewsbury labourer, was charged with assaulting her and knowingly living on the earnings of Jubb, “a woman of immoral life”.

The case described how she had lived with Bamford for 14 months in furnished rooms at Middle Road, in the Daw Green area of town. He was no stranger to the law, having 20 convictions against him. Carrie too was well known to the local police, and only two months previously she received a fine for an offence against public morals. The police warned Bamford as recently as October about the consequences of his liaison with Carrie. During this 14 month period Bamford worked for only eight weeks. Carrie led, in her own words, “a dog’s life”. Every night he sent her out on the streets of Dewsbury.  She earned around 17s 6d a week which Bamford forced her to hand over to him. On the 19 December she refused to go out. He responded by hitting and kicking her about the head and face.

Bamford denied it all. He said he kept her like a lady, and she did not want him to leave her because she was afraid her husband might “kick her to death”. During the hearing an Irish woman called Ellen O’Donnell stood up in the gallery, shouting that Carrie “was swearing the defendant’s life away.

She was hauled to the witness box where it transpired that Bamford was her son-in-law. Ellen clearly did not hold his relationship with Carrie against him, speaking up in his defence. She felt Bamford had no-one to look after him, and he was knocked about from place to place. One of the more startling pieces of information to emerge was the revelation from the prosecution that Ellen’s daughter had 14 convictions for prostitution.

Bamford was convicted and given consecutive jail sentences of one month for the assault and three months for living on the earnings of prostitution. As he was led away from court to HMP Wakefield he insolently wished the magistrates a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

So, what of John Bamford? I have traced his criminal record up to this point via the HMP Wakefield Nominal Registers of Prisoners and the West Riding Calendars of Prisoners. It is not straightforward as John William Bamford, to give him his full name, was very much a man trying to cover his tracks. The table below shows the convictions and cases I’ve found to date which definitely involved him. There are some others I’ve not included as the evidence of his involvement is inconclusive.img_4573

Names used include Jack and John Smith, as well as variations of Bamford. He was born in around 1877, but the birth places range from Hull, to Oldham and Glossop. The first conviction states Denton, Manchester; the location of courts includes Sheffield, where his appearances start, to Dewsbury, Halifax, Bradford, Leeds and Wakefield. His occupation is usually a labourer. And he is around 5’ 5½” with brown hair.

Some of the cases are amusing. For example, the 6 July 1895 Sheffield cigar stealing case, also involved the stealing of a box of chocolates and several pounds of Pontefract Cakes from Mrs Caroline Martin’s Harvest Lane shop. Bamford undertook this criminal masterclass in conjunction with William Clover. PC Brown and PC Cochrane discovered the break-in and followed the trail of Pontefract Cakes from Apple Street to Clover’s address in Stancer Street where the policemen discovered the pair had burned most of the liquorice sweets!

On other occasions, some sympathy is expressed for the fledgling criminal, namely the Sheffield boot stealing offence of 17 December 1896. The Sheffield Independent lay some blame literally at the doorstep of the owner of Capper’s Boot Shop on Infirmary Road, for hanging the said boots temptingly in the shop doorway. Bamford did not escape with the boots, yet received 42 days hard labour. The paper described him as the victim.

Other incidents were downright nasty. These included the robbery with violence case at Wakefield on 12 March 1902. Here Bamford, along with three other men, threw James Mitchell of Hardy Croft to the ground and stole his watch and chain, selling it for 4s 6d.

One particularly brutish charge ended up at the West Riding Quarter Sessions in July 1906. Using the false name of John Smith, Bamford was charged with unlawfully and maliciously wounding John Kelly at Halifax on 1 May. By this stage, under his alias, Bamford lived at Pump Street in the town and habitually carried a knife. He worked now as a mechanic’s labourer. Following a drinking session argument, which also involved Bamford’s wife, Kelly received a stab wound to the neck. At the Quarter Sessions Kelly admitted he was to blame and the stabbing was a pure accident. Bamford was discharged. He must have returned to Dewsbury shortly after this, and taken up with Carrie Jubb.

Dewsbury was the town in which he married Margaret O’Donnell on 25 May 1901, at the Parish Church of All Saints. The marriage entry gives his father’s name as George Bamford (deceased). I’ve yet to conclusively trace the Bamford family in the 1881 and 1891 censuses. It appears by the mid-1890s he was not with his family – press coverage at the start of his crime spree only mention he was in lodgings. So perhaps in a way Ellen O’Donnell was correct when she said he’d no-one to look after him. In 1901 Bamford was in prison. Where Margaret was whilst her husband was with Carrie is not clear. And, so far, there is no trace of the pair in the 1911 census.

After the December 1908 case, it appears Carrie temporarily returned to her husband Herbert. But it seems she merely swapped one pimp for another. Dewsbury Borough Justices heard another case involving Carrie on 10 September 1910. The headlines in the 17 September 1910 summed it up:

“Dewsbury Loafer’s Disgusting Offence: Living on Wife’s Immoral Earnings”

Swap the defendant, it was almost an exact reprise of the case two years earlier. She was still living at Middle Road, Daw Green. Herbert scarcely had regular employment – the one main exception to his idleness being whilst Carrie was in the Workhouse Infirmary. As soon as she was better, he gave that job up.

On 3 July 1910 police cautioned Carrie and her husband, who was aiding her in prostitution. It turned out this was just one of several cautions to the couple. The police now had them firmly under observation, and presented a catalogue of evidence in the September court case. Carrie plied her trade around the Crackenedge Lane, Great Northern Hotel and covered market area of town – her husband keeping look-out. Other locations in the vicinity mentioned at court included Corporation Street, Wood Street and the Market Place.

Dewsbury

Dewsbury OS Map, Published 1908 – Showing where Carrie and Herbert lived (1) and the area in which they operated in July 1910

Although optional, Carrie chose to give evidence against her husband, weeping bitterly throughout. She claimed that Herbert was “no good to me,” did not give her sufficient money for food and asked her to go on the streets. She felt obliged to comply in order to provide for them. Herbert in contrast denied this, stating he had tried to persuade Carrie to lead a different life. The Justices believed otherwise, and jailed Herbert for three months.

Carrie did not mend her ways and she too found herself locked up in Armley jail in 1911. Fast-forward to Huddersfield that fateful Valentine’s Day of February 1915.

Two men were detained in connection with her murder: a man with whom she had recently been living with; and a previous “friend” who was subsequently released. More of him in due course.

On 12 March 1915 William Nicholson, a 22-year-old rope-maker with whom Carrie lived in the weeks prior to her death, was brought before the Huddersfield Borough Police Court charged with wilful murder, and stealing a woman’s purse containing a small amount of money. No evidence was presented on the latter charge.

The prosecution admitted no eye-witnesses to the murder existed, and all the evidence against Nicholson was circumstantial. The motive given for it was jealousy: the man with whom Carrie lived up until November 1914 had returned to Huddersfield. That man was none other than a John William Bamford. The newspaper reports refer to him as Bamforth and Bamford, often within the same article, again pointing to the confusion around his name. He was also now using the name “Carroll”, so more confusion thrown into the mix. Was this the John Bamford of her Dewsbury days? If not, it seems a huge coincidence.

On the evening of her death Carrie and Nicholson left the Ship Inn on Ramsden Street at 8.10pm, moving on to the Ring o’ Bells on Northgate. William Thomas Tarbox, the license holder, said Carrie asked him whether he knew that “her Jack” had come back. Tarbox knew that “Jack” and Carrie had previously lived together, and he had since enlisted.  Carrie and Nicholson told Tarbox that they had spent the previous Friday evening with “Jack”, and Carrie said “Jack was all right with us”.

The two left the Ring o’ Bells at around 9pm and separated, with Carrie saying she was going to get something to [pay] for their lodgings, which Nicholson claimed he was unhappy about. Carrie was now alone. Nicholson stated he returned to try to find her, but was unsuccessful. At around 9.30pm another witness, Sophie Archer, saw her standing against the doorway of the Ring o’ Bells with a tall dark man wearing a Macintosh and soft hat – but it was neither Nicholson or Bamford (who she knew as Carroll). He was, in fact, brought into court for Mrs Archer to see and eliminate. Eunice Bailey, another witness, whose Fountain Street house overlooked the Brook Street stable yard, said she heard a young girl scream at about 9.30pm.

Nicholson unexpectedly arrived at his lodging house alone at around 10.45pm that night, in an agitated state. He and Carrie had earlier indicated they were moving onto another lodging house in town. He explained his change of heart, saying

“I am cold with being out looking for little Carrie, and I came here thinking she might be here. I have been all over looking for little Carrie.”

He claimed he found the purse, which belonged to a Mrs Ramsden, on the ground near the Post Office whilst seeking her.

One of the final witnesses to take the stand appeared in khaki. It was John William Bamford, a Private with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. He confirmed he lived with Carrie until November 1914 when he was locked up for desertion. He returned to Huddersfield on 3 February, following his release from hospital. He was back in Huddersfield from his Halifax Barracks on Friday 12 February and spent between then and 15 February drinking. On 14 February he left the Saracen’s Head at about 8.40pm and went to a friend’s house, where he slept on a sofa. In evidence which appeared to contradict that given by the Ring o’ Bells licensee, he claimed to have only seen Nicholson for the first time on the morning of 15 February, when the rope-maker accosted him asking “Are you Jack?”. He responded in the affirmative, and Nicholson said “I am the man who lives with Carrie”. He claimed not to know of Carrie’s death until after that conversation, when he was in the Ship Inn. Bamford was ruled out of enquiries because he could account for his movements. He also did not match the description of the tall, dark man.

Brook Street

Huddersfield OS Map – Published 1908, showing rough locations of key areas on 14 February. 1 = Saracen’s Head, 2= Ship Inn, 3 = Ring o’ Bells, 4 = Sighting of Carrie by PC Hinchcliffe, 5 = Location of Carrie’s Body

After considering all the evidence the magistrates decided it was insufficient to commit Nicholson to trial at the Assizes. He was discharged.

So, what became of John William Bamford? Well it appears likely he died on or around the 28 September 1916 during the Battle of the Somme, when he went missing.

Soldiers Died in the Great War records the death of a Pte John Bamford of the 1st/5th Battalion Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) who lived in Dewsbury and enlisted in Huddersfield. No place of birth is recorded. The Medal Index Card indicates he initially served with the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) – which links with the Regiment of the John Bamford who appeared as a witness at Huddersfield Police Court. His service number with them, according to the Medal Index Card details, was 12653.

The 1915/15 Star Roll indicates he was with the 2nd Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s and that he went out to France on 5 December 1914. So, did he return to be admitted to hospital shortly afterwards? Nothing shows on the Forces War Records Military Hospitals Admissions and Discharge Registers, although admittedly that is only a small proportion of such records. No service papers for him survive.

In his time with the West Yorkshire Regiment he held three more service numbers recorded on his Medal Index Card – 22769, 5539 and 203144. It is this latter one under which his death is recorded. There is a John Bamford on the Dewsbury War Memorial – but his service number does not tie in with any of those provided on the Medal Index Card. John Bamford has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records no family details on their database. However, the Soldiers Effects Register entry show his widow and sole legatee was called Margaret. And in this register, in addition to his service number 203144, there is the service number 6514 – which ties into the Dewsbury War Memorial one.

So right to the end John Bamford remained a man of mystery.

There was one final curious twist to the tale. In November 1917 the press countrywide contained one small snippet of news, tucked away in various newspaper columns: a murder confession to police in Derbyshire. A soldier, named Richardson, had owned up to the killing of Carrie Jubb. Huddersfield Police were in touch with their Derby counterparts and, if the confession proved genuine, the aim was to bring the man before the local magistrates within days. Nothing resulted from it, and the murder of Carrie Jubb remains unsolved.

Sources:

  • Baptism Register, All Saints, Dewsbury – West Yorkshire Archives Ref WDP9/13, via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • Baptism Register, St John the Evangelist, Dewsbury Moor – West Yorkshire Archives Ref WDP174/1/2/3, via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • Batley News – 24 December 1908, 17 September 1910 and 20 February 1915;
  • Batley Reporter – 24 December 1908 and 16 September 1910;
  • Bradford Daily Telegraph – 2 May and 3 July 1906;
  • British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920 – via Ancestry;
  • Censuses (England) – 1871-1891;
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission Database;
  • GRO Indexes;
  • Huddersfield Daily Examiner – 15 February 1915, 17 February 1915, 12 March 1915 and 6 November 1917;
  • HMP Wakefield Nominal Registers of Prisoners – West Yorkshire Archives via Ancestry
  • Illustrated Police News – 25 February 1915;
  • Leeds Mercury – 6 March 1902, 10 May 1906;
  • Marriage Register, All Saints, Dewsbury – West Yorkshire Archives Ref WDP9/42 via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • Marriage Register, St John the Evangelist, Dewsbury Moor – West Yorkshire Archives Ref WDP147/1/3/1, via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • Marriage Register, St Saviour’s, Ravensthorpe – West Yorkshire Archives Ref WDP166/9 via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • National Library of Scotland Maps
  • Sheffield Daily Telegraph – 8 July 1895 and 13 March 1902;
  • Sheffield Independent – 18 December 1896;
  • Soldiers Died in the Great War – via FindMyPast;
  • UK, Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects, 1901-1929 – via Ancestry;
  • West Riding Calendars of Prisoners Tried at The Midsummer Quarter Sessions of the Peace at the Court House, Bradford on Monday 2 July 1906 – West Yorkshire Archives via Ancestry;
  • Yorkshire, England, Wakefield Charities Coroners Notebooks, 1852-1909 (Thomas Taylor) – West Yorkshire Archives Ref C493/K/2/1/208 via Ancestry;
  • WWI Service Medal and Award Rolls; Class: WO 329; Piece Number: 2658 – via Ancestry.

[1] Listed as Caroline, with the age of 17 slightly lower than actuality.

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. [Note this time period has now been extended to a minimum of nine months. See the update at the end of this post].

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.

Update: In mid-January 2018 the GRO updated their website information on this latest trial. The length of the pilot has been extended to run for a minimum of 9 months, from the original 12 October 2017 start date.

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.