Category Archives: Family History

Don’t Let Parish Register Indexes and Online Searches Lead You Down the Family History Garden Path

It’s so easy to rely on online parish register searches or transcripts and indexes for family history. But by putting absolute faith in them you could be missing out on so much more. Hopefully this post illustrate why you should also invest time in looking at the register itself, or digitised images, and not simply place all your faith in the easier options.

Family History Society transcripts and indexes include the health warning to check against the original register, and it is sound advice. Even if they are accurate, information in the original register may by omitted due to space constraints or because they do not neatly fit in the templates. The same caveats also apply to search results from online providers of family history records.

I finally decided to write about the issue after recently going through baptisms in the Wakefield All Saints register for the 1750s and 1760s and comparing against online search results.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Here are some of the problems associated with not looking at the original registers, and benefits which may be gained from putting in the effort.

  • Registers can be damaged making entries illegible. It may be just for the odd entry, but it could involve weeks, months or even years. There may be periods where the register does not survive, or was never kept. Whole pages may have been omitted during the digitisation process. This may be the reason why the entry you are seeking does not come up in a search or appear in an index, or why if it does there may be transcription errors. Without checking the actual register, or images, you may never know. And by not knowing you may end up with incorrect family history information or be missing out on work rounds like failing to check Bishop’s Transcripts (BT) copies.
  • If you are relying on searches and indexes to find an entry, do not confine your to check the digitised or original parish register image for the entry concerned. Look at the surrounding ones too to get a feel for the register. These checks should include ensuring the parish or church matches against the one identified on the finding aid. This can be a particular issue if a parish church has associated chapelries. Birstall Parish for example had a Chapel of Ease, White Chapel, which had baptism and, eventually, burial rights. This subtle difference is not necessarily picked up if the register itself is not checked.
  • Mistakes in transcribing and indexing. Recently I’ve seen the surname “Wright” mistakenly indexed as “Might“. Doing an online search for the surname, including any of the usual variants just won’t find it.
  • Similarly Christian names can be totally wrong – James instead of Sam[ue]l is one that springs to mind in one of my family baptism searches. Without checking the register I would be led down the garden path for any future references to the child.
  • On this theme, parish register amendments are not necessarily picked up in any searches. Two examples here. An 1816 baptism at Whitkirk. Ancestry has this indexed in searches as “William Illegitimate Pennington” son of Grace. This is wrong. The child was not illegitimate and the entry should be William Hill. There is a note at the bottom of the page of the baptism register stating it is erroneous and Grace was lawfully married to Francis Hill. Ancestry have not picked this up. And there is a similar theme for Wakefield All Saints when William son of William Jennings was baptised on 8 November 1764. The register has an annotation indicating three competent witnesses testified the child was actually called Thomas. Granted a search for Thomas Jennings on Ancestry.co.uk will fetch “William Jennings” in the results, but you need to drill down to find out the full details.
  • The Wakefield All Saints register which promoted this search had several entries in the early 1760s for the birth of illegitimate children with the register noting the name of the father. Some indicate the child was “basely begot not declaring the father.” Others indicate the father in general terms like “a French Man” or “a French prisoner” (and those entries lead to a whole new set of questions). But others will name the putative father, including some with occupations (plenty soldiers) and some even giving his abode. The father is not shown in online searches, you need to view the entry. And if your ancestor was the father you possibly would not know without going through the register.
  • Burials throw up the issue whereby some online searches give no surname for married women and children. Try Ancestry’s collection of West Yorkshire Church of England Burial Registers 1813-1985. In the early decades of this collection this surname omission is rife. Imagine the problem if your ancestor was an Ann, Mary or Elizabeth!
  • Problems with dates. There are numerous examples of this. The wrong number for the day, month, or even the wrong year given. A particular issue is around the pre and post 1752 calendar change from Julian to Gregorian. Many parishes continued with the old style calendar way beyond 1752 in their registers, with the New Year still starting on 25 March. Without checking the parish register you may end up attributing a birth to the wrong year.
  • Going through the registers yourself improves your transcription skills. You start to get your eye in for reading older documents, which only benefits your wider family history research.
  • And finally by going through the register you start to get a feel for the community of your ancestors, the status of various parishioners, occupations in the locality, indications of disease outbreaks, maybe even weather updates and wider events. The Wakefield register is a perfect example of the snippets you can pick up. Between 1760 and 1764, using baptisms alone, there’s an abandoned child, the three children born to different women by a French man/French prisoner. On 13 August 1763 there is the baptism of Richard Brown, a black man from Carolina. And on 4 October 1764 “John Vernon a Black from Antiga [sic] ab[ou]t 22 y[ea]rs old.

Published indexes and online family history database providers are fabulous finding aids and have opened up family history to a much wider audience. But they should be treated as that – finding aids. Using different sources may help overcome the issue. For example a Family History Society booklet may give different information to an Ancestry, FamilySearch or FindMyPast search, some of which may use the BT rather than the parish register. And that is another issue. What is the source used by the online provider or Family History Society? Is it the parish register or is it a BT? It might seem a minor detail, but this too can impact on search results.

So if at all possible check the original register, or digitised images, for yourself. It may surprise you – and could save you a lot of time in the long run.

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How to Pick a Baby’s Name – Enid Blyton Inspiration

This post is prompted by my daughter’s birthday and a Twitter thread about name inspirations.

Way before the resurgence in popularity of Amelia as a name in England, we chose it for our daughter. She was named after my all-time favourite childhood book character – Enid Blyton’s Naughty Amelia Jane.

As a child I spent lengthy periods in hospital. One of my earliest memories is one of the nurses in the now long-since closed Batley Hospital reading me a chapter from an Amelia Jane book before bedtime. Incidentally it is in the grounds of this hospital that my grandad died whilst building an air raid shelter.

batley hospital

It also brings to mind my two cousins and I (separated by only three months in birth and five minute’s walking distance as children) swapping Enid Blyton books in school holidays.

In the early 1990’s my love for Amelia as a name was reinforced by my reading of William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. Whilst pregnant my initial favourite name for a girl was Alice. But in the final weeks I returned to a name which evoked happy childhood memories, combined with more recent literary reading.

As to family links, to put in perspective it’s family associations a decade or so ago I was inordinately happy to learn my 4x great aunt was an Amelia. That’s really the closest ties family history-wise.

I did baulk at a middle name of Jane. My daughter was unique and I’ve never been keen enough on my name, which has no real family history, to saddle my daughter with it. In fact I’ve no idea as to why I ended up with it as a name. Funnily enough some do think it is her middle name!

Amelia’s name origins continued to have relevance as she grew up, with me reading to her bedtime stories and tales of the naughtiest toy in the toy cupboard. I loved reading them to her, reliving my childhood in the process – though I do think she preferred The Faraway Tree (Silky was NOT a naming option.)

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And so I think about my ancestors and naming patterns. So many names are recycled across the generations. But that recycling is disappearing. Family sizes have diminished so there is less opportunity for generational-straddling family names. And in the last century or so name choices have widened. We have literary, musical and cinematography associated names. Travel horizons and migration have broadened, also correspondingly increasing choice. And have middle names also increased in usage? Also we are no longer bound by the same religious constraints with saints names.

In fact our naming choices are far less prescribed than in other countries. Responding to a FOI request in 2008, the General Register Office (GRO) stated:

Registrations of births in England and Wales are made under the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 and the Registration of Births and Deaths Regulations 1987. The legislation does not set out any guidance on what parents may name their child.

Our advice to registrars is that a name should consist of a sequence of letters and that it should not be offensive. The reason for limiting the registration of names to a sequence of letters is that a name which includes a string of numbers or symbols etc. has no intrinsic sense of being a name, however the suffix ‘II’ or ‘III’ would be allowed.

The only restriction on the length of a name is that it must be able to fit in the space provided on the registration page. There are no leaflets or booklets available giving guidance on this matter.

Where the registrar has any concerns over a name they will discuss this with the parents and point out the problems the child may face as they grow up and try to get them to reconsider their choice.

For those name and stats geeks (like me) the most popular first names for baby boys and girls in 2017 using birth registration data can be found here. You’ll have to wait until September 2019 for the 2018 stats. The historical data for the top 100 names for baby boys and girls for 1904 to 1994 at 10-yearly intervals is here. Another ‘names through time’ using civil registration information which is great fun is here.

My family history also displays the vagaries of names. And this is something to consider when searching for ancestors in the GRO Indexes.

Dad was never known by his registered first name. My grandma registered it unbeknownst to my grandad who detested it. Hence my dad was always known by his middle name – the source of much official confusion. And payback for my grandma was her next son was born on the saint’s day my dad was registered under.

Another example is of a collateral ancestor known by a totally different name than the one registered. Anecdotally the parent registering apparently used the similar-sounding name of an old girlfriend.

And my 2x grandmother and great grandfather were both initially registered under different names, their parents changing their minds and exercising their option to amend, something I wrote about a while ago.

So for family history purpose do ask why your parents chose your name. Note to self: I need to ask mum why she and dad chose my name. I recall dad saying his choice was Michel(l)e. I reckon they were just popular names at the time.

And if my daughter ever asks, she owes her name primarily to Enid Blyton, and William Makepeace Thackeray was the deciding factor. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) didn’t quite match up.

Sources:

Transcription Tuesday 2019 – Your Chance to Give Something Back to Family History

A date for your diary: 5 February 2019 is Transcription Tuesday.

This annual event, launched by Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine in 2017, promises to be the biggest yet and it’s your chance to be part of it.

As Sarah Williams, the magazine’s editor, says:

The internet has transformed family history but the documents that are going online need to be transcribed or indexed to make them searchable, and for many projects the only way that is going to happen is with the help of volunteers……We hope to see hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers from across the world join together and give something back to family history.

Three projects, covering three distinct record sets, form this year’s event:

  • Transcribing a book covering railway worker accidents between 1901-1907 in just 24 hours. This Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants volume, the forerunner of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), records accidents and legal cases involving its members. It is a strand of the Railway Work, Life and Death project, and is being carried out in conjunction with the University of Portsmouth, the Modern Records Centre based at the University of Warwick and the National Railway Museum (NRM). The tome will make a potential 2,150 railway worker records widely available.

Sample page from the railway accidents book that volunteers will transcribe on Transcription Tuesday 2019 CREDIT: Modern Records Centre

  • Warwickshire witness statements from the county’s quarter sessions. This is a part of Warwickshire County Record Office’s Warwickshire Bytes project encouraging volunteer participation in indexing records held by the archive; and
  • A range of parish registers in association with FamilySearch.

There are so many reasons to take part in Transcription Tuesday. It is your moment to be part of something big; it is an opportunity to give something back to the wider family history community; it is a chance to make more accessible to families the lives of thousands of ancestors; it could help you improve one of the core skills of a family historians – reading and transcribing original documents; and you never know, if you have a railway ancestor, Warwickshire roots or the parish records relate to your ancestral homelands you may be lucky enough to find yourself uncovering part of your family history!

To find out more about the day, the projects and how to get involved visit: http://www.whodoyouthinkyouaremagazine.com/transcriptiontuesday

And please spread the word to help make this year’s Transcription Tuesday the biggest so far.

The Confessions of a Blogger: Review of 2018

I’ll start with an admission: My 2018 blogging year was not as prolific as usual. In fact it was nowhere near the efforts of previous years. But I’m far from downhearted. In fact I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope you have too.

Here are the details.

The Statistics. My blog saw a noticeable decline in output, with 25 posts during the year, down from 33 in 2017 and in excess of 60 in 2016. This was entirely due to other commitments such as completing my genealogy studies and publishing a book. Neither was it unexpected – I did forecast this in my 2017 blogging review post. And it is pretty much in line with what I promised: two posts a month.

However onto the positives. Despite the downturn in posts, my blog has grown from strength to strength numerically. Views increased from 20,649 in 2017 to well in excess of 21,000 in 2018. Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read my random family and local history outpourings.

My blog has now well and truly developed its character with core themes of my family history, interspersed with local history tales from Yorkshire, alongside news from – and my musings on – the genealogy world’s latest developments.

Most Popular Times? Monday proved my most popular blogging day, with 21% of views. And my golden hour shifted to the slightly earlier time of 6 pm. I suspect this shift is as much a result my blog posting times as anything more profound.

How Did They Find You? Search Engines took over as the key engagement route accounting for around 7,000 views.

Where Did They Come From? The global reach of WordPress never fails to amaze me. Going on for 100 countries are represented in my list of views. The UK accounted for well over 10,000 of these which was almost double the number of my next most popular country, the United States. Australia came third with over 1,000. But all corners of the globe feature with readers extending to Cambodia, Tonga, Peru and Tunisia. A huge thank you to you all! You’re what makes it worthwhile researching and writing these posts.

And it’s fantastic to receive so many comments either indirectly via Facebook and Twitter, or directly on my blog site. They’ve added new information, context and connections. Thank you for getting in touch.

Top Five Posts of 2018: Other than general home pages, archives and my ‘about’ page, these were:

General Register Office (GRO) Index – New & Free. This was actually posted in 2016 but, as in 2017, it continued to perform well in 2018 . 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 trial, an alternative and cheaper source than buying a birth or death certificate. Note the PDF option, a copy of the register entry rather than a certificate, still continues. However the cost will rise to £7 on 16 February 2019. The cost of a certificate increases from £9.25 to £11.

Living DNA: I’m Not Who I Thought I Was. This was another 2017 post which continued to prove popular. It is testimony to the importance with which genetic genealogy is now seen. lt dealt with my shocking DNA results. I’m 100% from Great Britain and Ireland. No drama there. But it indicated that I’m not entirely the Yorkshire lass I thought – the ethnicity pointed to some genetic material from the dark side of the Pennines. I reckon this could be linked to a potential 5x great grandmother from Colne. I really do need to push on with my Abraham Marshall New Year’s Resolution.

Cold Case: The Huddersfield Tub Murder. Yet another 2017 offering, and in last year’s “one that got away” category as being one of my favourite posts which failed to reach the Top 5 that year. Well it proved immensely popular in 2018. It dealt with the unsolved murder in Huddersfield of a Dewsbury woman of ‘ill-repute’ whose tragic life and abusive relationships ultimately resulted in her death.

“Historical Vandalism” as more Archive Services Come Under Threat. Published in December 2018 its appearance in the Top 5 for the year shows the importance with which any threat to these vital services are seen. It covered some recent swingeing funding cuts to archives and corresponding proposed (and actual) major reductions to these services across the country. Some of the consultations, Surrey (4 January 2019) and Kent (29 January 2019), close imminently. So I would urge you to have your say.

Tripe Tales – Food Nostalgia. My childhood memories of food led me to focus on this particular northern ‘delicacy’, which was very popular when I was growing up. It covered some early 20th century local tripe stories including theft, death and prodigious eating feats, as well as recipes to try. I was also inundated via social media with suggestions of where I could still buy it. I’ve yet to confront once more this culinary challenge.

So yet again this was a mixed bag of popular posts, ranging from topical family history issues, to DNA and general history and local history tales – which sums up my blog perfectly.

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

Fur Coats Can Prevent Flu – The 1918/19 Pandemic looked at how to use various information sources to build up a picture of the impact of the Spanish Flu “plague” on local communities. In my example I focused on Batley.

How the Western Front Association WW1 Pension Ledgers May Have Solved another Family History Mystery. I used this newly available online record source to prove a family tale and discover more about my great uncle.

Irish DNA Breakthrough and Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue covered how DNA led to the demolition of one of my family history brick walls and helped me find out more about two of my Irish grandpa’s sisters who emigrated to the United States.

A Family Historian on Holiday: A Whitby Cemetery and WW1 Shipwreck was about the sinking of the Hospital Ship Rohilla off the Whitby coast in 1914. With links to the Titanic, heroic rescue attempts and a disputed will it illustrates how a family and local historian is never off duty, even on holiday!

Finally there was Published: The Greatest Sacrifice – Fallen Heroes of The Northern Union. This marked my greatest achievement of 2018 and the culmination of around two years’ work, the publication of my book co-authored with husband Chris. It has been described as the definitive book about those Rugby League players who fell in the Great War.

What Does 2019 Promise? Well, as in 2018, I aim to do two posts a month. These will be on the same type of themes as usual – family and local history tales, plus topical genealogy offerings when anything big hits the headlines. I will also be including some Aveyard One-Name Study stories.

I anticipate my major challenge this coming year, as ever, will be time. I also have the added concern of keeping things fresh and relevant. I now have two other writing roles to add to my blog. At the end of 2018 I took on the role of editor as the Huddersfield and District Family History Society quarterly Journal, the first edition of which came out in January. And I now write a regular family history column in Yorkshire nostalgia magazine “Down Your Way.” So clearly I want to ensure my blog posts are separate and distinct from my other writing commitments. However, my head is buzzing with ideas so I don’t think that will be too much of a creative dilemma.

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

Wishing you a happy, peaceful 2019 filled with family history fun!

The New Year’s Resolutions of a Family Historian

I’m not sure I can top the success of my 2018 New Year’s Resolutions. It was an incredible year on the family history front, and I’ve achieved more than I could ever imagine and more besides. But that’s no reason to abandon what is a good discipline. In fact it’s all the more reason to have them.

Targets help focus the mind and give you something to aim for.

The key is to make them relevant, realistic and challenging, but not over-ambitious. Neither should you have too many that you lose track of them, or spread yourself too thin. And you do need to monitor them at regular intervals, building in milestones, to make sure you are on track.

Here are my five for 2019.

Personal Research: The family origins of Abraham Marshall. As he was my Achilles heel of 2018 Resolutions, I’m carrying him over to 2019. This has become a tad more urgent with the 16 February 2019 price rise for General Register Office (GRO) birth, marriage and death certificates (England and Wales). The cost of a certificate will increase from £9.25 to £11 and a PDF copy of the register entry will rise from £6 to £7. So I will need to do this work in January to beat the price hike.

Continuing Professional Development: I’m not planning any major assessed courses this year, but I do think it important to refresh and build upon skill sets. I therefore intend to undertake at least one formal course during 2019 and supplement this with some one-off talks, workshops and lectures.

I also WILL read my subscribed to family history magazines. In 2018 I never seemed to have time. But they are a great source of information and as good a way as any to keep up with the latest genealogy news.

Aveyard One-Name Study Data Collection: This is an ongoing piece of work. I’m not committing to completing all the Aveyard census work. I now know that’s setting myself up for a fall. Instead I am setting aside two hours per week to continue extracting my Aveyards from the census. A case of chipping away at it and being realistic with what can be achieved given my other commitments.

Aveyard One-Name Study Tales: begin posting regular blog updates and stories about the Aveyards, six this year as a minimum. I’m still not sure of the best way to work this – whether to set up a stand alone Aveyard blog or integrate it with the one I already have. The former would be the cleaner option, but for now I’m going down the integrated route in order to ensure my blog is a “living” one with regular additions. I may revisit that decision later on.

Sewing: Yes, this is totally off the wall. But I do need to ensure I’m not Family History fatigued. I could quite easily end up spending all my time on it – either doing my day job researching for others, whilst devoting all my spare time to personal projects and doing voluntary work (editing the Huddersfield & District FHS Journal and helping with Batley History Group). It is something I became increasingly aware of in 2018. You can get too much of a good thing to the extent it can become a chore not a joy.

So I’m going to make time for relaxation. Sewing is my real chill down therapy. And I’ve just the project: a cross stitch family tree!!!!! It will go nicely with an earlier picture I stitched…..

Wishing you all a very happy, healthy 2019. And if you do break anything I hope they’re genealogy brick walls!

The Golden Boot or a Christmas Turkey? My Genealogy Resolutions for 2018

2018 was a World Cup Year. Did I get the golden boot, or were my aims well wide of the mark? Time to see if I achieved my 2018 New Year’s Resolutions.

I had five genealogy goals for the year. So here goes.

Work on my Aveyard One-Name Study (ONS): Despite still working on data collection, I reckon on balance this was a success. I did a deep dive into my West Ardsley Aveyard family as part of Resolution Number Two. As a result, I have forged ahead with collecting parish register data, looked at various Borthwick Institute wills and marriage licences, and managed to disentangle the pre-1800 Aveyard branches. The latter is no mean feat, and I will be posting more about this in 2019.

Complete my Pharos Tutors Family History Skills and Strategies (Advanced) Course: Yippee!!!!! I’m thrilled to say not only did I complete the two-year course and construct my project around my pre-1800 Aveyard family, I passed with a Distinction. It has been a tough, but rewarding, two years. I’ve learned so much and met some fantastic people along the way. I’m now enjoying putting all I’ve learned into practice. And amazingly I fitted it all around researching and writing a definitive, major Rugby League history book! Resolution Number 3.

Finish my Book Research: Not only did I complete my research into those Rugby League players who perished in the Great War, but The Greatest Sacrifice: Fallen Heroes of the Northern Union was published in September. It involved far more work than I ever envisaged. But this labour of love has been an overwhelming positive and my biggest work-related achievement EVER. Those eve of war players have finally been recognised by the sport’s national body (the sport never had a Roll of Honour). And for the Armistice Day Centenary Test against New Zealand the current England team read out their names.

In recognition of our work, in November Chris (my husband and co-author) and I were invited as special guests of the Rugby League to the Annual Dinner of the All Parliamentary Party Rugby League Group at the House of Lords. We’ve given several book talks too.

But above all the personal recognition, the names of those players are now out in the public domain.

Personal Research: No hiding place. I only started researching the origins of 4x great grandfather Abraham Marshall on 23 December. My potential Lancashire links are therefore still shrouded in mystery. And it all goes to show that I spend more time on researching other people’s families than I do my own.

Attend a mixture of Conferences, Lectures, Family and Local History Fairs and Talks: I committed to six family-history events and I said I’d champion the work of Family History Societies. I reckon by all measures I’ve overachieved. Not only did I attend the Secret Lives conference, I also went to many other events and talks. These included the Family History Show at York as well as talks at Leeds Central Library, West Yorkshire Archives and various family and local history groups. But I went one step further. Towards the end of the year I took on the role as editor of the Huddersfield and District Family History Society quarterly Journal. My first one is due to be distributed in January 2019. I can therefore safely say this is another resolution achieved.

In conclusion, it has been a fantastic year with some major achievements. I really do not think I will ever have a better one. I’m thrilled I achieved 4 out of 5 my resolutions, especially given the challenging nature of some. Ironically, the more difficult the resolution the better I performed. So although I missed one goal it was certainly not a turkey year, I reckon it’s definitely a silver boot standard!

I will set out my 2019 goals before the New Year.

‘Historical Vandalism’ as more Archive Services Come Under Threat

In recent weeks there has been unwelcome news for archives users countrywide with the announcement of a spate of council budget proposals and public consultations about services in the face of swingeing funding cuts.

These are some of the recent ones:

  • Surrey County Council’s total budget for Cultural Services 2019-20 may be more than halved from £8.7 million to £4 million. The Heritage Service’s consultation, which closes on 4 January 2019 (am I cynical about the timing of this?) can be found here. The response from The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA), which perfectly sums up the concerns, is here.
  • It’s a similar tale of woe in Worcestershire. In what is described as an act of ‘historical vandalism’ the council cabinet this month approved a 2019-20 draft budget which more than halves the funding for Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service from £700,000 to £295,000. The Worcester News has more details, as does Who Do You Think You Are? magazine.
  • Kent Libraries, Registration and Archives Service are running a consultation on their draft strategy for 2019-2022. This closes on 29 January 2019.
  • In summer 2017 there was a huge public outcry about the reduced free hours and proposed charges at Northampton Archives. That change was shelved, but radical cuts to services across the board are still on the cards for the financially struggling Northamptonshire Council.
  • East Sussex County Council’s August 2018 announcement that it’s overall services and functions would be cut back to the statutory minimum provision. This was further clarified in the Core Offer document of 13 November 2018 to be considered by the Council Cabinet. For Archives and Records it stated:

We will:
• manage the records which we are required to keep by law. We will meet our basic statutory duties as a Place of Deposit for public records at The Keep including a basic level of public access to those records.
The proposed change from our current offer is that:
• We will not be able to provide the same level of support to customers of The Keep when requesting archive material, both in person and online and we will not provide an educational outreach offer.

And who knows how many more archives service changes are under discussion in councils up and down the country? It looks, for example, as if West Yorkshire Archives are conducting a review of opening hours. Their website includes opening hours for the five offices (Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield.) All but Bradford have days on which they are temporarily closed – and these temporary closures have been in force for some time. The Wakefield West Yorkshire History Centre, states with regard to Saturday opening hours:

We are reviewing our opening hours and as a result we are not currently able to offer Saturday appointments. We are aiming to resume normal service as soon as we can.

If anyone does have any other examples of reduced archives services and closures please let me know so I can update this list.

The future facing archives and heritage services, ironically some of which are in new flagship buildings, is an insidious creep of reduced opening hours and closures, alongside staff cuts with a resulting irreplaceable loss of expertise.

The_Hive_-_Worcester_(27316994562)

The Hive, home of Worcestershire County archives, which opened in 2012 – Photo by Esther Westerveld from Haarlemmermeer, Nederland – The Hive – Worcester, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74295190

I’m not going to get into the politics behind these cuts. And I’m sure we can all point to examples of huge wastes of public money which could have been far better spent. But the wholesale demolition of swathes of archive, library and museum services, largely (but not wholly) driven by almost a decade of destructive reduction in central government funding to local authorities, is undoubtedly a retrograde cultural and educational step.

I recognise heritage is an easy target when compared with other essential council services. And these too are under severe pressure and struggling to cope with funding pressures with an immediate hard impact on people, particularly the vulnerable. Impossible choices and trade-offs are being made.

However community-wide history, heritage, knowledge and learning has a far more nuanced impact than front-line services. It is these “softer” services which mark of a progressive, developed and civilised society. And once we get rid of the professional cadre of staff with their unique skills, and reduce access to our history and heritage, it will be very difficult to ever recapture it.

Reducing access to archives, and libraries, results in the lack of incentive for those who wish to deposit records and documents. It so acts as a broader community barrier to accessing knowledge and learning, reducing the chance for many to view, discover and interpret original documents and perhaps reveal new insights into past generations. Ultimately this leads to an overall depletion of heritage and a diminution of education and skills locally. And the brunt of these consequences particularly impact on the opportunities of all but the very rich.

And no. Not all is online. Neither will it ever be.

Updates

  • Suffolk County Council have held a consultation (now ended) to close Lowestoft Record Office, based in the library, and relocate the collections to Ipswich. With thanks to Bob Collis, Chair of Save Our Record Office (SORO), for this information. More details are available in comments section for this blog post.
  • In January 2019 it was revealed Norfolk County Council have proposals seeing Norfolk Record Office reducing its opening days from five to four a week, and those four days will see shorter opening times.
  • An enquiry in early January 2019 to West Yorkshire Archives (Kirklees) to access a specific collection held off site met with a response that due to staffing shortages this was not accessible until 4 February 2019 unless urgent. This collection is not available online.
  • There is an update to the Worcester Archives situation. Full details are in The Worcester News article of 26 January 2019, and in their blog of 1 February 2019. To summarise, the funding reduction looks like being only £250,000 out of the £700,000 budget – not the £405,000 initially mooted. This after a reduction in 2010 when the budget was £1.2 million. The final budget will be confirmed in February. The Friends of Worcestershire Archives have launched a petition against the cuts.

How the Western Front Association WW1 Pension Ledgers May Have Solved another Family History Mystery

Last weekend I finally gave in and subscribed to Fold3 taking advantage of their cyber week special and buying annual premium membership at a 40% discount of $47.95. The deciding factor was the need to view their exclusive record set:- the Western Front Association (WFA) collection of Pension Record Cards and Ledgers.

Dependents of each serving British soldier, sailor, airman and nurse who was killed in the Great War were entitled to a pension. So were those service personnel wounded or otherwise incapacitated. For those who died the next of kin and pension amounts are detailed in the cards and ledgers. For those who survived they provide details of injury (wounds, illness), plus regimental details (unit, regimental number) and home address. The latter are particularly important for researchers, as those who survived are often more difficult to find information about, especially with common names.

My interest was driven by the need to find out more about my great uncle Michael Callaghan, brother of my grandpa John. The son of Michael Callaghan and his wife Mary (née Murphy) of Carabeg in County Mayo, his birth date was registered in the Swinford District as 17 January 1890.

It’s a date I take with the usual large pinch of salt. His baptism at Glan Chapel, according to transcripts, took place on 1 January 1890, pre-dating his birth and indicative that he was born in late 1889 – Irish catholic baptisms taking place shortly after birth. This is a common theme with my Callaghan ancestors – their official birth dates often postdate their baptisms. It was easier, and more important, to be received into the church. By the time they got round to official registration, dates were fudged to avoid late registration fines.

Mum said she thought Michael served with the Irish Guards during World War One and had received a severe facial injury. She cannot recall ever seeing him, and believed he lived in Leeds. She said she’d been told he was tall, with very dark hair like his mother and, in his youth, had been very good-looking.

That’s as much as I had to go on.

A few years ago, the possible I’d come up with, based on the assumption his injury resulted in his military discharge, was a Private Michael Callaghan of the Irish Guards, service number 11415. According to the Silver War Badge Rolls he enlisted on 31 July 1916 and was discharged on 29 July 1918, age 29, no longer physically fit for war service as a result of wounds. His Badge Number was B71936. Checking with Michael’s Medal Index Card it also showed he had served as a Private in the Labour Corps, Service Number 702152. But this entirely speculative search proved nothing, so I parked the information in my research file.

Silver War Badge – Photo by Jane Roberts

The Pension Record Cards and Ledgers on Fold3 offered a new avenue to explore. Still being uploaded, when I checked on 6 December 2018 there were four records relating to the Silver War Badge Pte Michael Callaghan. They confirmed his injury as a gunshot wound to his face, and the degree of disablement which was attributed to his war service ranged between 40 to 60 per cent. He was awarded a life pension. Interestingly two different birth years were given – 1889 and 1890. The records indicated he was unmarried. Mum seems to think he did marry and had two sons, but she isn’t entirely sure and has no names.

They also gave three addresses – none though in Leeds. The earliest record had an address of Carpenters Arms, West Woodside, Lincoln but also indicated a permanent address of 18 Bound[a]ry Street, Bury. By 1924 the address was recorded as 55 Union Street, Hemsworth, Wakefield. These latter two addresses were of particular interest. My Michael Callaghan had brothers with links to both Bury and Wakefield.

Checking the 1911 census, a 47-year-old widow named Catherine Walsh lived at 18 Boundary Street, Bury. Also in the household were her four surviving Bury-born children Martin, Mary, Annie and John, whose ages ranged from 17-24. There were also two nephews listed – 30-year-old Barney Roan and 25-year-old Thomas Callagn, both miners. They, along with Catherine, were born in County Mayo (recorded as Maho in the census).

This 1911 census entry is a perfect illustration of not relying on indexes: both Ancestry and The Genealogist record Thomas’ surname as Roan in their index, whilst FindMyPast’s version is Collagen.

Thomas piqued my interest – Michael’s brother Thomas settled in Bury. The surname wasn’t too far out – I’ve seen many a mangled version of Callaghan. His date of birth was 19 November 1884 giving an age of 26 at the time of the census – so not too far out either.

Catherine’s address was also 18 Boundary Street in the 1901 census, when her husband John Walsh was alive. Checking the GRO birth indexes for the registration of Martin, Mary, Annie and John revealed Catherine’s maiden name as Bones or Boans.

I next turned to the Lancashire OnLine Parish Clerk. The marriage of John Walsh (Latin form Joannem used in the parish register), son of Joannis Walsh, and Catherine (Catharinam is the Latin register version) Bones, daughter of Andreae, took place at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Bury on 29 November 1884.

This was perplexing – so far my Callaghan line doesn’t link to either Bones or Walsh. So was Thomas, described as Catherine’s nephew in the 1911 census, really my grandpa John’s eldest brother?

I decided to look for the baptisms of John and Catherine’s children, again using the Lancashire OnLine Parish Clerk. And it is here Catholic registers come into their own. Anna (Latin form of the name) Walsh, daughter of Joannis Walsh and Catherinae, formerly Bones, was born on 26 August 1888 and baptised at St Joseph’s on 16 September 1888. And the priest helpfully annotated the entry, stating Anna married Thos. Callaghan at St Joseph’s on 15 June 1912.

Unfortunately, this marriage has not been transcribed on the Parish Clerk site. However, the baptism of two of the children of Thomas and Annie are there, including Mary (or Maria as recorded) born on 14 April 1914. The priest’s note that she married Gulielmo J. Dunne on 24 May 1947 was enough. My mum attended this wedding – Mary was her cousin. Bingo! The same family.

One final corroboration was the 1939 Register entry for Thomas and Annie Callaghan. The birth dates of 19 November 1884 and 26 August 1888 matched. Mary’s married name of Dunne has also been added – the Register was a living document used subsequently by the NHS as it’s Central Register.

So now I have a link for Pte Michael Callaghan back to my Callaghan family in Bury via the 18 Boundary Street address on the pension entries. And it appears I have now evidence of my great uncle’s Great War military service and injury, corroborating what mum heard as a child. I’ve still a fair way to go – I would like to learn more about his war service. I also want to know if he did marry and have a family. I also want to find out when he died. But I have now made a start as a result of the Pension Cards and Ledgers.

More information about the cards can be found on the WFA website in a series of articles including ‘The Western Front Association’s Pension Record Card and Ledger Archive,’ ‘Great War Pension Record Cards and Ledgers: deeper understanding‘ and ‘Pension Record Cards and Ledgers: some examples of dependents’ cards.’

20 DECEMBER 2018 UPDATE

If you are a member of the Western Front Association you can now access these records using your membership login and without having to subscribe to Ancestry/Fold3. Here’s the relevant information. As of this month about 37% of the total archive has been digitised, so it’s worth checking back as more are rolled out in 2019.

Sources:

  • Birth Registration for Michael Callaghan, 17 January 1890, Swinford via https://www.irishgenealogy.ie/en/irish-records-what-is-available/civil-records
  • Michael Callaghan Silver War Badge Number B71936, via Ancestry.co.uk, Originals held by The National Archives, War Office and Air Ministry: Service Medal and Award Rolls, First World War, Ref WO329 Piece Number 3087,
  • Medal Index Card for Pte Michael Callaghan, 11415, Irish Guards via Ancestry.co.uk
  • Pte Michael Callaghan, 11415, Irish Guards Pension Cards and Ledgers via Fold3, originals held by the WFA
  • 18 Boundary Street, Bury Household in the 1911 Census via FindMyPast, The Genealogist and Ancestry.co.uk, The National Archives, Ref RG14/23489
  • Catherine Walsh, Bury, 1901 Census via FindMyPast, The National Archives, Ref RG13/3638/38/35
  • Lancashire OnLine Parish Clerk website https://www.lan-opc.org.uk/
  • Thomas and Annie Callaghan, 1939 Register via FindMyPast, The National Archives, Ref RG101/4319E/017/8
  • Western Front Association, webpages indicated via hyperlinks in main body

Churching, Mortuaries and Baptism Fees: A Woodkirk Terrier

A series of five terriers dating between July 1770 and 1825 for the Parish of Woodkirk in West Ardsley provided a fascinating peek into the the the fees charged for various parish services. Terriers were a form of inventory drawn up for Bishop’s visitations. They provide detail about the funding of the benefice ranging from church-owned lands, fabric and furnishings (in Woodkirk’s case invariably described as handsome) to tithes, fees and customary payments. I was particularly interested in the latter two as I wanted to know what my Woodkirk parish ancestors paid to get married, baptised and buried.

St Mary’s Church, Woodkirk – by Jane Roberts

Surplice fees payable to the incumbent for various services and ceremonies performed were as follows:

  • A Marriage by Publication: Two shillings;
  • A Marriage by Licence: Ten shillings;
  • A Certificate of Publication of Banns: Six pence if the man lives in the Parish, but if the woman lives in the Parish two shillings and six pence;
  • A Churching: Eight pence;
  • A Funeral: Eight pence;
  • A Certificate from the Register: One shilling; and
  • A Mortuary: Ten shillings when a person is worth 40 pounds, when a person is worth 30 pounds six shillings and Eight pence, when a person dies worth 10 pounds three shillings and four pence

These fees were constant throughout. The only change was an increase from six pence to one shilling in the 22 June 1825 terrier for certificate of publication of banns if the man lived in the parish.

Fees payable to the Parish Clerk were:

  • Easter: Each house two pence, each plough four pence;
  • A Marriage by Publication: one shilling;
  • A Marriage by Licence: Five shillings;
  • A Churching: Four pence;
  • A Publication by Banns: One shilling;
  • A Funeral: Eight pence;
  • Searching the Register: Four pence; and
  • The Churchwardens for the time being annually pay one pound to the Parish Clerk.

Mortuaries were a hang-over from feudal times. The Lord of the Manor had the right to chose the best beast of a deceased tenant. This payment was known as a heriot. The vicar was able to choose the second best beast (or comparable possession) to compensate for any personal tithes the deceased failed to pay when alive. This payment was called a mortuary. Payment of mortuaries were very unpopular and in 1529 a Statute restricted their use with the value fixed, based on the wealth of the deceased, as set out in the Woodkirk terriers. Parishes which did not have this custom could not introduce the fee. It all had the effect of reducing opposition to them because the poor were exempt and, with the passage of time, the set value of them meant their real terms worth declined.

No fee for baptism is mentioned in the Woodkirk terrier. However other parishes did seem to have them. But such fees were a controversial issue. Although slightly later than the Woodkirk terrier, an 1841 extract from The British Magazine and Monthly Register of Religious and Ecclesiastical Information Vol 19 discussing baptisms in London illustrates the concerns:

…..Of it’s illegality there can be no doubt. No fee, it is well understood, is payable for the administration of a sacrament, and the flimsy pretext that it is due for registering the baptism, is at once destroyed by the words of an act of parliament, which do not leave the clergyman who administers the sacrament of baptism an option in the matter, as he is bound to register the names of all whom he baptises.

I would therefore most respectfully call the attention of the incumbents of London parishes, and of those in the immediate neighbourhood, to the fact they are, by demanding a fee for baptism, guilty of an illegal act, and an act highly injurious to the spiritual welfare of their parishioners…….

Your correspondent, “A Curate,” states the fee to be 1s. 6d. In many city parishes it is 2s. 6d., and I have even heard, still more.

And it is clear the controversial charges applied beyond London. As the Leeds Times of 5 October 1844 reported:

THE BAPTISMAL FEE – The Bishop of Ripon, in his charge to the clergy of his dioceses a few days since, declared that demanding of a fee on baptism was illegal. His lordship added, “The practice, perhaps, originated in the performance of the office for Churching of the woman at the period of the admission of the child into the Church of Christ; and the fee lawfully due for the former. And at first clearly miscalled the baptismal fee, has afterwards been demanded where the parent did not present herself to return thanks for her safe delivery.”

Ripon Diocese, formed in 1836, from Yorkshire part of Archdeaconry of Richmond (formerly Diocese of Chester) and part of Diocese of York, covered Woodkirk. Churching, which did appear in the earlier Woodkirk terriers, was a purification ritual for a women after childbirth, giving thanks for her recovery, cleansing her from the stain of childbirth and marking her re-entry to the church. Although a distinct ceremony it is easy to see how it could be conflated with a baptism fee.

Baptisms did at one point incur a state charge though, and the period covered by the Woodkirk terriers coincided with it. This was the highly unpopular Stamp Duty Act of 1783 which remained in force until 1794. Paupers were exempt, but for all others a duty of 3d was levied on each baptism, marriage and burial recorded in the parish register. I have not undertaken a comparative check on the Woodkirk register, but countrywide the number of pauper entries in registers increased and, in the case of baptisms, some parents waited until the tax ended before having children baptised. There was also an earlier Marriage Duty Act of 1695, repealed in 1706, which similarly imposed a sliding scale tax on on births (using parish register baptisms as a proxy), marriages and burials.

But as for church imposed fees, the controversy of baptisms continued to rumble in the 19th century until the Baptismal Fees Abolition Act of 1872. This Act made it unlawful to demand any

Fee or Reward for the Celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism, or the Registry thereof.

It stated:

That from and after the passing of this Act, it shall not be lawful for the minister, clerk in orders, parish clerk, vestry clerk, warden, or any other person to demand any fee or reward for the celebration of the sacrament of baptism, or for the registry thereof: Provided always, that this Act shall not apply to the present holder of any office who may at the present time be entitled by any Act of Parliament to demand such fees.

Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue: Don’t Trust Your Ancestors’ Records

In my last post I wrote about my major DNA breakthrough which saw both mum and I doing the genetic genealogy happy dance. That breakthrough resulted in us finding the married name of one of my grandpa’s three sisters, enabling me to trace a brief life story. The sisters all left their home in Carrowbeg near Kilkelly in County Mayo and emigrated to the Boston area of the USA between 1909 and 1922. However one ended up in Canada.

The DNA breakthrough related to the last sister to emigrate, my grandpa’s youngest sibling, Catherine. That left Bridget and Mary Callaghan still to trace.

I worked on the theory that Bridget, the eldest, was the one most likely to have ended up in Canada, on the basis that when Catherine went to Boston it was to join her sister Mary. I also used my grandpa’s mysterious postcard addressed to “Mrs Lovell, 20 Magguire St, West Villa, Maserchusatt [sic].” img_0577

Given my grandpa’s curious spelling of Maguire and Massachusetts, and the lessons of genealogy about the variations in the spelling of names, it seemed a distinct possibility that I may not necessarily be looking for Mary Lovell. And so it proved. Ancestry’s data-set of Massachusetts State and Federal Naturalization Records were the key to unlocking this mystery. Specifically the 1940 petition of housewife Mary Lavelle of 20 Maguire Court, Newtonville, Massachusetts. My grandpa’s mangling of the postcard name and address is now oh so obvious. And it is a wonderful example of not taking spellings, ANY spellings, as gospel.

Her petition matched exactly the details provide on her arrival in the USA. These included her date of arrival, 20 November 1920, and the ship, S.S. Carmania.  She spells her maiden Callaghan surname as it is pronounced, Callahan. This matches her spelling of it on arrival in Boston twenty years earlier. Her birthplace, the tiny village of Carrowbeg, or Carabeg as she records it, matches. So a couple more spelling anomalies to throw into the mix.

Her date of birth was given as 30 March 1893. Mary’s baptism record transcripts do not have her date of birth, but she was baptised at Glan Chapel on 10 April 1893.  Her officially registered date of birth in Ireland is 15 April 1893 – another case of a baptism pre-dating the officially recorded date of birth. And to add to the confusion, when Mary died the US Social Security Death Indexes have yet another date of birth for her – 7 April 1893.

The witnesses on the petition were Mary Murphy, who also lived on Maguire Street. That name gives me pause for thought – Mary’s mother’s maiden name was Mary Murphy. Is it a possible relative? However it is a very, very common name so maybe not. But the other witness was definitely a relation – none other than sister Catherine Rudolph. Well and truly tying the Callaghan sisters together.

There is also a short description of 47-year-old Mary. She is white, with a medium complexion, mixed grey hair and standing at 5ft 1½in and weighing in at 150lbs.

Mary’s naturalization petition was granted on 10 December 1940.

One other nugget of information was the details of her marriage on 29 November 1922 in Boston to Patrick Lavelle. He hailed from Letterfrack, County Galway and had arrived in the USA in 1910. He was 49 years old according to the information provided by Mary, although some of his own records show he was born on 15 February 1886, but more of that later. He became a naturalized American in 1935. According to Mary’s petition the couple had no children. So, out of the three sisters who emigrated, only one actually had a birth child. It is amazing we actually got that DNA match which unlocked this puzzle.

Mary did, however, have step-children. Patrick had been married before. When he arrived in Boston in August 1910 he left behind in Hamilton, Scotland a Scottish-born wife Sarah (née Gallagher) and three Glasgow-born children: Mary born in 1907, Nellie in 1908 and Julia Agnes in 1910. Julia and her mother joined Patrick in Boston in 1911, but it appears the two older girls grew up in Galway, Ireland. How difficult a decision must that have been? They were but toddlers. Did they ever see their parents again?

With Patrick now working a a coal teamster, two more children were born in Boston – a son, John, in 1913 and a daughter, Margaret Josephine, in 1915. Then, on 18 February 1920 tragedy struck. The Boston Evening Globe of 18 February 1920 carried the following death notice:

Lavelle – In Neponset, Feb[ruary] 18, Sarah L. Gallagher, beloved wife of Patrick Lavelle. Funeral from residence, 15 Eaton St., Friday, Feb[ruary] 20 at 8:15. Requiem services at St Anne’s Church at 9a.m.

The following month Patrick applied to become a naturalized American – and was rejected because the “petitioner lacks education“. It is this set of records which gives his 1886 date of birth. It has the wrong year for the date of birth of youngest child, Margaret, (1916 rather than 1915). There is also an earlier 1913 description of the 27 year old Patrick, at the time he declared his intention to become an American citizen. He was 150lbs, 5ft 5in with dark hair and brown eyes.

The 1930 census shows Patrick and new wife Mary living in Newtonville Avenue, Newton, MA with John and Margaret. Patrick is now working as a caretaker in a coal yard. Patrick’s age is given as 42 and Mary 36.

In 1932 and still at Newtonville Avenue, watchman Patrick once more declared his intention to become an American citizen. In this declaration he gives his date of birth as 12 January 1887. I’m getting so used to these multiple birth dates now. But more bizarrely (and somewhat impossibly) his eyes have changed colour to blue!  I really cannot make that one out. I’m not sure if that’s quite the meaning of the Crystal Gayle song “Don’t it Make my Brown Eyes Blue.” And yes, it is the same man. He still stands at 5ft 5in and has black hair, but he has put on a some timber – with his weight now up to 185lbs.

Eyes

Image courtesy of Pixabay

His petition was submitted in 1935 and this time Patrick was successful. By now the family are at 20 Maguire Court, and this is their address at the time of the 1940 census. And incidentally now Patrick is 50, so a year of birth circa 1890.

Patrick Lavelle circa 1932

Patrick Lavelle

Patrick died on 3 February 1958. Mary died on the 20 February 1981. They are buried at the Calvary Cemetery and Mausoleum, Waltham, MA. And Patrick’s year of birth etched on the headstone is……1885.

Apart from the absolute joy of tracking down my grandpa’s second sister, and learning more about US genealogy records, this particular exercise has reinforced the need to cross reference and source as many records as possible for your ancestors: because the truth of one record might not match the reality given in another. And spellings – even what we consider modern 20th century ones – do vary.

Sources

  • 1920 to 1940 US Censuses
  • 1959 Newton City Directory
  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Birth Records 1840-1915, Original data: Massachusetts Vital Records, 1840–1911. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.
  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1798-1950
  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1820-1963
  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Death Index, 1901-1980 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013. Original data: Department of Public Health, Registry of Vital Records and Statistics. Massachusetts Vital Records Index to Deaths [1916–1970].
  • Ancestry.com US Social Security Death Indexes 1935-2014
  • Boston Evening Globe
  • GRO Records, Ireland: Births registered at Swinford for the District of Kilkelly
  • Find a Grave via Ancestry