Category Archives: Archives

Windrush Landing Cards: How Could This Record Destruction Happen?

The destruction by the Home Office of the landing cards which recorded Windrush Generation immigrants’ arrival dates in the UK is rightly causing a public outcry. For those unaware of the scandal, the term ‘Windrush’ applies to those arriving from the Caribbean between 1948 -1971 to fill Britain’s post-War labour shortages. It originates from the ship ‘MV Empire Windrush’, which set sail from a Jamaica in 1948. Carrying workers and their families it arrived at Tilbury Docks in July that year, the first such vessel to dock.

The Immigration Act of 1971 gave those who had already moved here indefinite leave to remain. In the Windrush cases, these landing cards provided people with proof of their date of arrival. For some this is the main/only evidence source. The destruction of these cards in 2010, combined with subsequent immigration changes, has had devastating consequences for some people who have lived and worked in the UK for decades. They are suffering needless anxiety and stress trying to prove they are not in the UK illegally. As a result, some have been denied access to jobs, public services including health, and have faced deportation.

Beyond this central human aspect, how does this impact on family history? Well, many family historians are horrified that documents so important for future researchers have been destroyed. There are calls to preserve all records which deal with people. Some say they should all be stored at The National Archives, possibly in a digitised form. Other suggestions include outsourcing, possibly to a commercial provider.

Human angle aside, to many the destruction of a potentially rich genealogical source beggars belief. Or does it? If only it was that straightforward.

The bottom line is government departments cannot keep everything. They never have. They never will. One has only to work in the environment to know just how much paperwork was generated in the past; and now we have moved onto the born-digital filing age it is arguable even more digital documents and emails are being stored electronically than paper was under the old regimes – but minus the previous rigorous systems.

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

Government is just the same as any other organisation, right down to a family level. Think within your own family over the generations. Documents and photographs have always been destroyed. Records we know must have existed have gone. How many missing parish chest or poor law records am I rueing the loss of? What happened to all those original family birth, marriage and death certificates that I have had to re-buy copies of? What about family photos? If not deteriorated and destroyed accidentally, they’ve probably been binned by those with no knowledge, appreciation or understanding the records may have for future generations. Decisions made at speed with space-saving at the forefront. You can’t keep everything.  A home as much as a government office or off-site storage facility only has a finite amount of space. At some point a decision needs to be made about retention.

One positive about government records, there is a framework in place by which decisions around file destruction or retention and second review are made (although even here in recent years it is being made quicker and easier to destroy, with the implication that retaining a file for second review is a last resort). In the case of the landing cards, the system appears to have catastrophically failed. But for me the main losers aren’t us genealogists, as much as I regret that: it’s the human consequences for the living.

But sadly I can see how it has happened. Here’s my take.

Over the past 20+ years there has been the drive towards a paperless office. Office and storage space costs. And when there’s an office move, it inevitably results in less storage space, not more. Long gone are the rows of filing cabinets of the 1980s (and earlier) civil service office. It’s bin, bin, bin because we are paperless generation, cutting costs. Offsite storage facilities are under similar capacity pressure. Which is one reason why there is pressure to get rid of documents like the landing cards. And any document which isn’t neatly fileable, such as card indexes, handbooks or file slips, and the danger of destruction is higher when it comes to downsizing. There are not the same procedures in place as involved with an old pink file.

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

Another consequence of the moves towards digital filing systems is the appreciation of old paper files, card indexes etc., and the way these were managed for decades in the civil service, has been lost. This includes underestimating the value of old file slips detailing the status and whereabouts of files, including those now no longer retained in the office. One peculiar pleasure I get from visits to The National Archives is the filing methodology. Take the War Office WW1 files: it is the same system I learned as a new civil servant at the Ministry of Defence in the late 1980s. Happy days! But for a generation not familiar with, and lacking understanding of, the old civil service ways comes the increased risk of accidental destruction.

During the same 20+ period, the civil service has undergone a series of redundancy programmes. This, alongside natural wastage, has meant staff experienced with the files and their history have gone, and that sense of continuity has gone with them. Combined with destruction of office filing slips, it means in some cases knowledge of what old files still exist, where they are and what they contain is lost. Another risk: it means decisions are being made by those who lack the same in-depth understanding of what the records actually are, why they were created, how they interlink and what value they have. The ramifications of destruction are lost – and may not be realised until it is too late. Similarly what remains, possibly in archive storage, and any work-round strategies are similarly not known about or understood.

And herein lies another problem: staff reductions. Gone are the legions of clerical staff whose job included maintaining files. When decisions are made about staff numbers, the amount of time needed to undertake routine, but essential, tasks such as file maintenance is underestimated or ignored totally. This is because the final decisions are taken by senior management who possibly have never undertaken these ‘menial’ duties, so do not know what’s involved to do it properly. Neither have they had to scrat around identifying and recalling files and pulling out key documents from them – that’s the responsibility of more junior staff. Senior management making the staffing decisions therefore give these file-related maintenance duties a low priority. So fewer clerical staff pushes the job upwards to hard-pressed junior and middle managers. As a result it becomes a task to do when you have time – which is hardly ever.

And the born-digital files are suffering as much as old paper files. They still have to be maintained and reviewed. With the added complication that filing on them is even more an individual responsibility. It means (and senior management are particularly guilty here) that digital documents don’t get filed; or they are filed multiple times; or there is a general file dump when a mailbox is in danger of collapse – on a generic file, so not where the documents ought to be. Think of that for the future. But I digress.

So if space is such a premium, why doesn’t government digitise all the old paper files and indexes? Easy answer. Money. It’s a mammoth task. Unpicking, preparing, arranging and scanning row upon row of paper files, not to mention the card indexes and other specialised filing systems. There is insufficient staff to do it. No day-to-day work would get done. All time would be spent on the digitisation process. Temps cost money too, as does outsourcing the job. And in a time when the government imperative is to cut departmental running costs, this is a non-starter.

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

The other solution put forward is getting a commercial provider to do it. Or perhaps they could even have the documents, as happened with the Western Front Association who became custodians of the Great War soldier’s pension record cards and archives thus saving them from destruction by the Ministry of Defence. But this depends upon a reputable organisation wanting the documents and coming forward. And it relies on government departments informing these organisations about records of interest. It also depends on the sensitivity, and time period, of the documents. Think overzealous Data Protection issues/fears, 100 year rules and the like.

Bottom line. The cost of being caught out for destroying the landing cards is not as great as the long-term cost of retaining them. The Home Office have been caught out here. But then think of all the other destroyed files we know nothing about. Most of which we will hear nothing about. Someone has to make a judgement. And we have to accept sometimes it will be a wrong call – as is clearly the case with the Windrush debacle. But despite the imperfections, is it the best we can hope for?

And as I said at the outset, the government can’t and don’t keep everything. This is nothing new. There are oh so many examples (and I’m not going to mention the Irish censuses), some deliberate and others accidental. The Great War Soldier’s Pension Cards had a happy outcome.

However, back in 2014 when they faced calls for an inquiry into historical cases of paedophilia, it emerged in excess 100 Home Office files relevant to allegations of a child abuse network were either missing or had been destroyed.

The 1931 England and Wales census was destroyed in an accidental fire in 1942. The General Register Office civil servant who visited the debris determined that:

….it would be useless to attempt any sort of salvage operation; we are leaving the Office of Works to clear and dispose of the debris in any way they think desirable.

Hence the importance of the 1939 Register (especially with no 1941 Wartime census). Incidentally in 1950 there was a subsequent check to see if any 1931 census records had been saved from the conflagration and stored elsewhere.

First World War Representative Medical Records of Servicemen held at The National Archives under MH 106 are only a representative selection of Great War medical records. The rest of the collection is missing, believed destroyed before the Second World War. This is but one example of where only a sample selection of records have been kept.

And as for the problems of digital filing systems, don’t get me started. If you think there are problems now, this is like walk in the park compared to what we’re facing in 20 years time.

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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.

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

Sources:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Borough Court Records: Crime, Punishment & Bastardy in Batley – Part 2, “Kissing Cousins?”

This is the second part of my Batley Borough Court records series. Part 1 can be found here.

Mary Jennings was my 2x great grandmother’s sister, the daughter of Ann Hallas and Herod Jennings. She was born on 16 May 1858, probably in Hartshead, and baptised on 18 May 1859 at St Mary’s, Mirfield.

By the time of the 1881 census her father, Herod, was dead. She lived at Clark Green[1], Batley with her widowed mother Ann who headed the household, and brothers William and James.

Relation Frank Thornton, a 23 year-old coal miner from Hartshead, was also present that census night.  Ann’s sister Louisa Hallas and her husband George Thornton had a son, Franklin, born on the 31 January 1858. Baptised at St Mary’s, Mirfield, on the same day as Mary, his name was often shortened in records to Frank. I assumed this was the man in the Jennings household.

There was a final member of the household that 3 April night: A one-year-old girl named Sarah Ann. She is described on the form as daughter. However Ann at this stage was 56 and a widow for over three years.  Without a birth certificate I worked on the theory Sarah Ann was Ann’s granddaughter. Her birth was registered in Q2 1880, but it’s a case of another too costly certificate to satisfy idle curiosity. Subsequent censuses proved the theory though.

On 24 April 1890 Mary Jennings married 32 year-old mill hand William Blackwell at Batley Parish church. In the censuses of 1891 (Batley) and 1901 (Sherburn in Elmet), Sarah Ann is living in William and Mary’s home, described as “daughter”.

Batley Parish Church – photo by Jane Roberts

But I still did not know who Sarah Ann’s father was…..until I looked at the Batley Borough Court records. On 2 July 1880, shortly after Sarah Ann’s birth, Mary Jennings was named as the claimant and Frank Thornton the defendant in a bastardy case. The hearing was adjourned until 5 July when, in Frank’s absence, an order was made for him to pay 3s per week until the child reached 13 years of age. As well as court costs, he also had to pay £1 10s for the birth expenses.

There now followed a regular procession of non-payment cases. Newspaper reports and prison records flesh out the sorry story. The Batley Borough Court records made tracing these additional sources so much easier. The newspapers involved are not online, so no Optical Character Recognition (OCR) search help here. The prison records only provide the prisoner’s name, so that first court case name lead was crucial for searching these.

The first of the non-payment cases in response to the 5 July 1880 award occurred on 13 May 1881, just over a month after the census. Mary, according to a note in the register margins, was destitute. The upshot was a two month prison sentence for Frank. He served his sentence at Wakefield. The “Nominal Register” prison record provides a description. Frank had received no education and worked as a collier. He stood at s shade over 5’10” with brown hair. The entry also shows he had four previous convictions, with the reference given to his last prison register entry, enabling backtracking.

Another method of looking at convictions is via the “Index to [Nominal] Registers”.  These may span a number of years. It means you can track the references to all previous prison register entries in that time span in one go. They too provide a basic description and birthplace of the prisoner. The Index has not been catalogued in the Ancestry search, but I found it a useful complementary check because some of the “Nominal Registers” have missing volumes which the Index can help fill.

Anyway back to Mary and Frank. Clearly the prison sentence shock failed because he was in court again on 22 May 1882. By then he owed £10 6s in bastardy arrears and, in addition to costs, the court ordered him to pay £1 immediately and thereafter 8s a week to pay off the outstanding balance. It seems this was complied with. There is no record of a custodial imposition.

There was an interval of nearly four years before a very intense period of court activity adjudicating on the disputed domestic matters of Mary and Frank. On 8 January 1886 Frank owed 13 weeks-worth of payments. At 3s a week, this amounted to £1 19s according to the Court register. Another month’s jail sentence followed.

On 8 February 1886, within a couple of days of ending this January one-month prison sentence Frank appeared at the Borough Court once more. He needed to show cause why he should not be sent to prison in default of complying with the bastardy order. His arrears were recorded at £2 2s[2].  Frank said he had no means of paying.  A further 14 day committal followed for him, unless he could find a bondsman that day.  No bondsman was forthcoming, so it was back to Wakefield prison for Frank.

But that did not mark the end. Released from prison on Saturday 20 February, he was immediately apprehended on the same charge. He found himself bounced back into court again on Monday 22 February. Even the newspaper reports now referred to him in sympathetic tones as “the poor man“. Arrears were listed as £1 19s[3] so presumably he had managed to pay a small amount. Frank now promised to pay all the money. He faced a further one month jail sentence, but this was suspended for 28 days to allow him to fulfil his promise to make his payments. It seems he managed it, as there is no imprisonment record.

So who was Frank Thornton? Did the relation comment in the 1881 census refer to him being the nephew of Ann and cousin of Mary, as I initially thought? Was it a reference to Sarah Ann’s paternity? Or was it both? I’ve used censuses, GRO indexes, prison records and newspaper reports to try to pinpoint him.

Including the names Frank, Franklin and Francis in any searches there are a number of “possibles”. However in terms of Hartshead/Mirfield-born alternatives, the birthplace given in prison registers, other than cousin Frank, there appears to be just one. But there is a slight discrepancy with the year of birth (1860) of this alternative, and his occupation does not fit. So it can be discounted. Bringing me back to Mary’s cousin.

Ignoring the birthplace given in the prison records and extending beyond Hartshead/Mirfield does produce other options, but again the stumbling block is job description. There are no feasible coal-miners, although jobs could change. But even allowing for a career switch, why would I want to ignore the birthplace anyway? This is consistent in the prison records.

Extending the search to his other custodial sentences and newspaper coverage of them, including one in 1879 for assaulting a police officer, I still cannot definitively point to Frank being the son of George and Louisa Thornton. However, the evidence so far leads me to think that Sarah Ann’s father was indeed Mary’s cousin. But there is no absolute proof, certainly no reference in the newspapers.

It appears Frank married in Q2 of 1882 (another certificate on my long wish list). Maybe this was the reason behind the May 1882 non-payment. By the time of the 1886 sequence of court cases he had a young family, which again may have strained finances and resulted in him trying to avoid obligations for this first child. By the time of the 1891 census the Thornton family were living near Barnsley and by 1901 they had settled in the north east of England.

So once more the Batley Borough Court records have provided leads and a potential solution to a family paternity mystery, but with quite a different outcome from the previous case. If indeed the father of Mary’s child was her cousin, as it seems, one can only wonder at the strains this whole situation placed on wider family.

There is a third case, with yet another twist, here.

Sources:

  • Batley Borough Court Records – West Yorkshire Archives
  • Batley News” and “Batley Reporter” newspapers, various dates in February 1886
  • Parish Registers – Parish Churches of St Mary’s, Mirfield and All Saints, Batley – available online at http://home.ancestry.co.uk/
  • Censuses – 1861-1911
  • GRO Indexes
  • West Riding Prison Records, “Wakefield Index to [Nominal] Registers” and “Nominal Registers” – available online at http://home.ancestry.co.uk/

[1] The modern spelling is Clerk Green
[2] £2 6s reported in the newspapers
[3] £2 3s in the newspaper reports

Elation and Frustration: The Reality of Family History Research

Another day, another archives visit. Off I went to the aptly named “Discovery Museum” in Newcastle which houses the Tyne and Wear Archives. Filled with anticipation and enthusiasm, I was on the trail of my one-handed gypsy 5x great grandmother Charlotte Burnett.

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Newcastle’s Discovery Museum – by Jane Roberts

As in my previous post about her, I knew she was in Newcastle in 1829. I knew the Newcastle All Saints Overseers of the Poor advertised seeking her whereabouts in February 1830. And I knew from the West Riding Quarter Sessions of April 1830 their advert bore fruit, as in indicated in Removal Orders and Child-Stealing Chimney Sweeps.

I also wanted to find any information about another linked family, that of my 4x great grandmother Ann Jackson. She married Charlotte’s son, Robert. She and her parents and siblings were from Newcastle All Saints Parish.

I decided against looking for anything about Robert Burnett and his father Stephen. It would have to wait as I needed to concentrate on one Parish.

I’d done my forward planning and had my list of records to search. So maybe this would be the next big breakthrough. But I only had three hours and my list was very long in terms of Newcastle All Saints Parish records and registers.

All Saints Church, Newcastle – by Jane Roberts

It didn’t prove long enough. My visit proved to be a mix of frustration and elation. One of those days. 

In terms of positives:

  • I took photographs on this visit, including of the previously discovered 27 May 1788 Bastardy Bond information for Ann Jackson’s illegitimate child. My photographic day pass cost £10 and I’m glad I went for the option;
  • I discovered more references in the early 1790s Vestry Minutes to Anne’s sister, Amelia. She was one of the Parish poor children undertaking work making pins in return for a small sum of money. More evidence of poor relief for the family and another occupation to explore;
  • The Apprenticeship Register had an entry on 9 February 1795 for 14 year-old Amelia Jackson. Her parents were dead. She was bound to George Thompson, a Sunderland gingerbread baker, until she was 21. So out of Parish and a new area to search. And confirmation that John and Elizabeth Jackson (my 5x great grandparents) were dead by early 1795 so a narrowing of search years; and
  • A meeting of the Vestry on 30 December 1829 noted the Removal Order from the Township of Drighlington for widow Jane Burnett (31), Ann (7), Stephen (5), Maria (4) and Jackson (1). Sadly no further details.

The negatives:

  • I didn’t have time to look at the microfilm All Saints Parish Registers so I’m still relying on my FreeReg searches;
  • Neither did I get chance to look at any overseers accounts, a big omission but I went for the quick searches first. In a way that was good. I’ve ticked off a batch of records and I have narrowed date parameters further;
  • Although I have a cut-off date for searches I still don’t know when Ann and Amelia’s parents died. Or what happened to sibling Jane; and
  • Charlotte Burnett is continuing to prove elusive.

The reality is research is not as portrayed in Who Do You Think You Are? It’s painstaking, time-consuming work. You may get lucky and find some quick-win gems, especially in the early stages of research. But it is more usually a long-game, sifting through un-indexed records with searches often gleaning little more than a negative result. Eventually puzzle pieces are slotted into place. However brick-walls remain. It’s certainly not one hour and here’s your entire family tree with lots of interesting accompanying family background information. You’re never done – there is always more to discover.

And it’s addictive. I’m already planning my next Tyne & Wear Archives visit, including looking at those Parish Registers, overseers accounts and possibly revisiting the various poor house records in the light of new information. But it may have to wait until 2017.

Sources:

  • Tyne and Wear Archives – Paupers’ Records: Newcastle All Saints Apprenticeship Register, Bastardy Bonds, Examination Books, Overseers Accounts, Select Vestry Meetings, Vestry Meetings and Removal Orders: https://twarchives.org.uk/

Borough Court Records: Crime, Punishment & Bastardy in Batley – Part 1

In my murderous assaults post I mentioned I would be undertaking a series of archives visits focusing on the Batley Borough Court registers to try to establish a fuller picture of court cases involving my ancestors.

The records are held at the Wakefield branch of West Yorkshire Archives. The office closed on 13 May 2016 in preparation for the move to a new building in early 2017. More details are here. So it was something of a race against time to complete this work. But I am pleased to report I did get there in the end. 

The registers are not available online – no, contrary to what some would hope, not everything is! So it is a case of visiting the archives and going through each register page by page. For me it’s a joyful experience, especially with a set of information-rich records for my family history like these proved to be.

West Yorkshire Archives, Wakefield Office – Photo by Jane Roberts

The Batley Borough Court records run from 1872-1974, 116 volumes in total. However with the 100 year legal restriction access limit, I only (!) had to go through 58 of them.

And it has been wonderfully, and unexpectedly, enlightening.

The registers contain columns giving information such as:

  • the date of the case;
  • name of informant/complainant;
  • name of the defendant and age if under 16;
  • nature of offence;
  • adjudication; and
  • the names of the Justices.

There are also other pertinent notes, for example if the fine was paid and, if not, when the custodial sentence was imposed.

Whilst the registers give only the bare bones, they do lead on to other sources, from bmd and employment records to prison registers and newspapers. And because you have a date for the case it is a short-cut for newspaper searching, especially for those “not online” papers, or where online newspaper optical character recognition (OCR) is problematical.

It also pays to check the other cases heard that day as they may be linked to the “partners in crime” of ancestors. 

The cases brought before the court cover the run-of-the-mill drunk and riotous or obscene language cases; incidents of stealing; animal cruelty; failure to send children to school; wilful damage; employees taking employers to court on non-payment of wages (from these I’ve learned the name of the stone mason who employed my 2x great grandfather William Gavan); to attempted suicide and more serious assault, indecent assault, rape and murder cases, some of which are referred onto a higher court. There are a fair few children brought before the Justices and punishments ranged from birch-strikes to reformatory and industrial school sentences. Smallpox vaccination exemptions, applications for children to perform in theatrical productions and beer selling licence transfers and applications also feature.

There are also more domestic-centred cases including married couple disputes, separation orders, orders relating to married women’s property, child neglect accusations, and unmarried mothers claiming maintenance payments for their illegitimate children – crucially providing the name of the father. These maintenance orders were lodged with the petty sessions, or other jurisdiction, local to the mother up to one year after the child’s birth. In these cases the burden of proof was very much weighted in favour of the mother, for obvious money-saving reasons.

Three women connected with my family history appear in this latter set of cases. All three cases have contrasting elements and outcomes, and will feature in three separate posts. This is the first.

Sarah Gavan was born in Kidderminster in June 1857, the third daughter of my 2x great grandparents William and Bridget Gavan (Knavesay). She was baptised in the town’s Catholic chapel on 5 July 1857. Within three years the family relocated to Batley.

On 19 September 1875 Sarah gave birth to her first child, a son named John Thomas. He was baptised at St Mary of the Angels RC church on 3 October 1875. The baptismal register entry starts to records a father’s name, “Thoma“, but this is scored out and there is no surname for him. Sarah was unmarried. But clearly the child’s father was common knowledge.

I am curious to see a birth certificate for John Thomas, to see if his father officially acknowledged him here. From 1875 the reputed father had to be present at the registration to formally consent to his name being included on the certificate. As the Act stated “The name, surname and occupation of an illegitimate child must not be entered except at the joint request of the father and mother; in which case both the father and mother must sign the entry as informants“.

Looking at the GRO indexes, I can’t see a relevant birth registration for a John Thomas Gavan (or variant). Interestingly the Dewsbury Registration District does have a birth registered for a John Thomas Connell in Q4 1875 Vol 9b Page 625. This is a possible, given subsequent research including bmds and the 1881 census onwards. I would love to look at this to see if it did relate to Sarah’s son, and if so why he is not registered under Gavan: Was “Thomas” from the baptismal register present to jointly register is son’s birth as it appears. Oh for the long awaited certificate price-reduction!

As indicated, my search of the Batley Borough Court records adds an additional layer of paternal proof and a new dimension to events. On 10 November 1875 Thomas Connell appeared before the court on a bastardy charge and was ordered to pay Sarah Gavan 3s a week from their child’s birth until the age of 14.

Payments were occasionally difficult for Irish-born pit-worker Thomas, and his parental responsibility not always diligently complied with. Perhaps his court appearances and fines played a part.

It appears that he, and a number of other coal miners, were taken to court in 1876 by their Batley colliery employer James Critchley for absenting themselves from service without appropriate notice. In Thomas’ case this was from 17-24 January, and his employer sought compensation of 17s 6d. The case was heard at Batley Borough Court on 26 January 1876 and Thomas, who failed to appear, was found guilty and ordered to pay. The incident was reported fully in the local papers.

Weeks later, on 28 February 1876, there is another court register entry with Sarah in the role of complainant against Thomas. The entry merely says bastardy, so presumably this is for arrears. The obvious conclusion is the colliery episode and subsequent fine played a part in his financial difficulties and failure to pay.

The next entry for a case between Sarah and Thomas was on 24 June 1878. This was adjourned for four weeks, until 22 July 1878. The July entry also contains an adjournment note.

After that nothing – because within the month the two were wed. Less than three years after John Thomas’ birth the couple married on 17 August 1878 at St Mary’s. They went on to have at least eight more children before Sarah’s death in 1907.

St Mary of the Angels RC Church, Batley – photo by Jane Roberts

The Borough Court register was a crucial part of evidence in ascertaining the paternity of Sarah’s baby . None of these bastardy cases against Thomas made it to the local papers, as far as I discovered.  Contrast this with the next family court case. To be continued

Sources:

  • Batley Borough Court Registers (P/11) – West Yorkshire Archives
  • Batley Cemetery Register (unconsecrated)
  • Batley Reporter” and “Dewsbury Reporter” newspapers of 29 January 1876
  • Census – 1861-1911
  • GRO indexes
  • Parish Registers – St Ambrose, Kidderminster & St Mary of the Angels, Batley
  • My ancestor was a bastard” by Ruth Paley

 

 

 

Visit Tips for Archives

My family history research is currently on hold whilst I recuperate following surgery. Whilst I rue my enforced house confinement and the temporary halt to my archives visits, I’ve set out some tips for future visits.

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Coventry History Centre – Wikimedia Commons Photo by Herry Lawford (see Sources)

  1. Check opening times. Archives are not 9-5 open every day of the week places. If possible pre-book your visit to ensure there is space and the facilities you require are available – there may be limited reading room places, map tables and microfilm/fiche readers. And do let the archives know if you can’t make your slot so your space can be freed up;
  2. Come prepared – plenty of sharpened pencils (pens not allowed), paper and a magnifier. Also your reader ticket, or appropriate signature/address identification to obtain one. Check if laptops etc are allowed; my preparation also includes checking online catalogues, which may not be the full range of holdings, and any visitor guides for particular archives advice;
  3. Don’t forget to bring your family tree/research notes. I have separate “Ancestral File” books for my maternal and paternal lines. I also have a (private) online tree available via the Ancestry app on my phone;
  4. Have a research plan. My plan includes preparing a list of documents I want to work through. I tend to focus on sources only available at the archives. An increasing number of collections are online, so for me looking at something readily available on Ancestry as a first step, for instance, may not necessarily be the best use of my time. I wouldn’t rule it out though as an online search may have produced ambiguous results;
  5. If possible order documents in advance because: a) they are not all necessarily held onsite; and b) if you have some documents ready for your arrival it saves valuable research time;
  6. Monitor the documents you have lined up throughout your visit to ensure you have a steady flow. Archives may not, for instance, bring down documents over the lunch period; or within a certain time before closing. There’s nothing worse than sitting twiddling your thumbs waiting with the only thing occupying your mind is counting wasted time! Although you could use the downtime to have a refreshment break (which may not necessarily be onsite), review your notes or revisit your research plan;
  7. If you want to take photographs consider which type of permit best suites your needs (eg day, year etc). But be aware not all documents are suitable for photographic reproduction – they may need to specialist equipment so need ordering. There may even be copyright restrictions;
  8. Wear comfortable clothes, ones that you don’t mind getting dirty – be warned, old documents are dusty. 

    The “Archives Hands” Phenomenon

    Include a jumper/cardigan as some archives can be cold; 
  9. Check your notes and write them up as soon after your visit as possible. It’s easier to decipher “hieroglyphic” handwriting (well that’s what mine occasionally resembles) whilst it is fresh in your mind. If you’re not taking photographs read them through during your visit to make sure you’ve included key information; and
  10. Don’t be afraid to ask. Not everything is included in online catalogues. The staff have a wealth of knowledge, experience, know their collections, the geographical area and are used to dealing with all levels of expertise. Don’t go away from what might be a one-off visit thinking if only…..
Archive kit

My Archives Visit Kit – Photograph by Jane Roberts

Sources:

 

Removal Orders and Child Stealing Chimney Sweeps: Seeking a One-Handed Gypsy – Part 3

I’m preparing for another Tyne and Wear Archives visit so I’m reviewing my Burnett and Jackson ancestor research. Some of this research is in Part 1 and Part 2 of “Removal Orders and Child Stealing Chimney Sweeps

In these posts I wrote about how a newspaper article detailing the outcome of a Quarter Sessions case demolished some brick walls in my family history. In April 1830 Drighlington township unsuccessfully attempted to remove John Burnett’s widow, Jane, and her children to Newcastle All Saints parish. John was the brother of my 3x great grandmother.

The newspaper report provided family details which enabled me to progress back to child-stealing-accused chimney sweep Stephen Burnett and Charlotte, the woman he for some time lived in concubinage with – my 5x great grandparents.

Since writing these posts I’ve accumulated three more snippets of information, all from different sources. One of these has particular relevance for my proposed visit to Newcastle.

New Information
The first record is the administration granted to John Burnett’s widow, Jane, after he died intestate. This provides some additional pieces of background information. It states John died on 16 June 1829. Previously I only had his Drighlington burial date of 19 June 1829. The administration gives the names, abode and occupations of the two bondsmen: As yet no obvious family link, but you never know when this might be useful. I also have additional confirmation that he lived in Drighlington and that he was a collier (coalman on the administration).  Finally there is a written statement outlining the whole of his goods and chattels amounted to under £5.

The second piece of documentation is via the West Yorkshire Archive Service record set on Ancestry. The “Removal and Settlement” records show the Drighlington Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor made a failed attempt in late 1829 to remove Jane Burnett and her children Nancy, Stephen, Maria and Jackson, to Halifax.  This is useful because it is further supporting evidence for the 27 June 1798 St John the Baptist, Halifax, baptism I traced for John. So all part of the migration pattern of the family – from Newcastle and the North East, to Cumbria and then down to Drighlington in Yorkshire via Halifax.

The third piece of information is a newspaper notice in early 1830. Thwarted by Halifax, the Drighlington poor law officials had All Saints parish in Newcastle firmly in their sights as a place to offload the potentially financially burdensome young family. On 9 December 1829 a Removal Order was issued, but Newcastle challenged it. This Order was respited pending an appeal. The January 1830 West Riding Quarter Sessions, held in Wakefield, show this appeal by the All Saints churchwardens and overseers would be heard at Easter 1830 Quarter Sessions at Pontefract. It was the report of this appeal which features in Part 1.

675px-All_Saints_Church,_Newcastle_2014 (2)

All Saints Church Newcastle – by Hewarthjb (see Sources for full details)

The overseers at All Saints now set about gathering evidence. And part of this was an appeal for the whereabouts of Charlotte Burnett. This advert appeared in the “The General Hue and Cry” column of the “Newcastle Courant” on 13 February 1830. It read:

One Pound Reward
If Charlotte Burnett be living, she will hear Something to her Advantage, by applying to Mr Salmon ___ Overseer for All Saints’ Parish, in this Town. She is upwards of 70 Years of Age[1] was born with one Hand only, and was last seen in this Neighbourhood in 1827, at which Time she was travelling with her Daughter and Children as Gipsies. It is presumed that she is known by the Name of Burnett. Any Person giving such Information as will enable Mr Salmon to find out her Place of Residence, shall receive the above Reward.
Newcastle, Feb 4 1830.”

The reward indicates the importance to the parish in locating what would be a prime witness for them.[2] From the notice I have an idea of the mobile lifestyle of Charlotte. There is confirmation of another branch of the family. There is also an indication of the hardship she faced, living with a disability for all of her life in such unforgiving times. So some more pieces in the family history jigsaw puzzle.

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Jigsaw Image from Pixabay

The overseer succeeded in his search because Charlotte was traced and did appear at the appeal. The assumption that she used the name “Burnett” was correct, as was proved at the Easter Quarter Sessions. But I still do not know for sure whether she married Stephen Burnett. Neither do I know any maiden name.

The newspaper piece gives me some information to work with when I next visit to Tyne and Wear Archives – more parish record searches, including overseers accounts and vestry minutes for 1829-1831.

Sources:

  • All Saints Church, Newcastle picture from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike License by Heworthjb – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33465964Ancestry – West Yorkshire Archive Service; Calderdale, West Yorkshire, England; West Yorkshire, England, Removal and Settlement, 1627-1912 Ref OR 98
  • Ancestry – West Riding Quarter Sessions, Wakefield – January 1830
  • FindMyPast newspapers. “Newcastle Courant” – 13 February 1830
  • Measuring Worth: https://www.measuringworth.com/
  • Pixabay – Jigsaw Image
  • Prerogative Court of York – Administration for John Burnett – Jun 1829 – vol. 179, f – Borthwick Institute

[1] She was actually in her early 80s
[2] The Measuring Worth Calculator shows the 1830/2014 real price is of £1 is £79.97; labour value is £766.60 and income value is £1,429.00