Category Archives: Family History Tips

A Short Life Remembered: Resurrecting the GRO Dead

This is another in my “Short Lives Remembered” series. In these posts I focus on often-forgotten children in family trees. Those who died all too young. The ones who never had chance to marry, have children and descendants to cherish their memory. The ones who, but for family history researchers, would be forever forgotten. This story is a direct result of the new search facilities available with the General Register Office (GRO) indexes. 

I wrote about the new searchable indexes of births and deaths and the extra flexibility they provided here. As it is a new compilation it differs from other indexes because, where possible, the GRO have provided the mother’s maiden name right back to July 1837, as opposed to the September quarter of 1911. For deaths, an age is included if it is on, or is legible on, the original entry. Again this is back to their 1837 inception, as opposed to the March quarter of 1866 on other indexes.

Armed with these new search options, I am in the process of going through my family tree. For some there are obvious child-bearing gap years to focus on. The 1911 census is even more explicit in that it gives the number of children born in a marriage to a couple and provides the number surviving/dead. So the search offers a new tool to identify some of the hitherto unknown dead children if other methods have failed. More speculatively I’m going through my direct line ancestors to see if there are any other missed babies. Tedious with the two-year search parameter and having to specify the gender when searching. But rewarding nevertheless.

This is the story of my first search. 

I decided to investigate my 2x great grandparents Joseph and Kezia Hill (née Clough). Joseph and Kezia married on 22 April 1869 at Tong Parish Church. Coal miner Joseph was only just 20 and Kezia 18. They both lived on Whitehall Road, Drighlington. Childhood sweethearts I assumed. In February 1871 son Albert was born, followed by John Herbert (Jack) in December 1872. Another boy, Harry, was born in around early 1874. Finally daughter Martha arrived  towards the end of September 1876. Kezia died the following year. So I had a very narrow search window for this family.  

I didn’t expect much, given they’d had four children in their seven years of marriage. However the very first search produced a possible. I used 1870 +/- 2 years, males, with the surname Hill and mother’s maiden name Clough, and no phonetically similar/similar sounding variation options. It produced three hits. These are in the screenshot below. 

Albert is there, as is a boy named Herbert. This is John Herbert. As I explained in my previous post, this is one of the quirks of the new search. Joseph and Kezia originally registered their son under the name Herbert, but changed their minds, went back and amended his name to John Herbert. The new indexes fail to pick up certified name changes. 

There is a third boy on this list though: Frank William, whose birth was registered in the September 1869 quarter. It looked promising. The Registration District corresponded – Bradford, Yorkshire. The names were family ones – Joseph’s grandfather was called Francis; his uncle and eldest brother were named William. But it wasn’t proof positive.

In the 1871 census Joseph and Kezia with infant son Albert. No Frank. Was he living elsewhere at the time of the census, or had he died, another census “in-betweener“. 

A search on the death indexes for Frank Hill with a +/- 1 year parameter resulted in 14 hits. The bottom entry looked spot on. It shows the death registration of Frank William Hill in Bradford, Yorkshire in the December quarter of 1869 – age 0.  The convention is to record the age as 0 for infants under 12 months. However, be aware that despite the rhetoric, this isn’t a hard and fast rule with these new indexes –  there are errors. I have instances were a child of two months at death is recorded as two years.  

I decided to play it safe though and went for the birth certificate initially. I ordered it on 9 November via the trial PDF system. By 11 November it arrived, five days ahead of schedule. However I couldn’t open it. The only one of my orders I had an issue with, and it would be this one. Despite this glitch, I am feeling very positive about the new PDF system. No it’s not perfect, but it is another (cheaper) ordering option, where you don’t need a fancy all bells and whistles certified copy. It’s a straightforward process, especially for those birth and death events searchable on the new indexes. And the indexes themselves have helped me progress my family history in a way not possible with the alternative ones.

Anyway, back to Frank’s certificate. I was on tenterhooks. So near but yet so far. Then Steve Jackson stepped in, who runs the Atcherley One-Name Study. He sorted it in no time, and bingo. Frank William was indeed Joseph and Kezia’s first child. 

This put a whole new spin on my family tree. For a start my great grandad was now relegated to third child. But, more importantly, Frank was born in Drighlington on 18 September 1869. This was coming up to five months after his parents married. He may therefore have been the very reason for their marriage. But sadly his life proved far shorter than those five months of his parents married life to date.   

PDF Copy Birth Certificate of Frank William Hill

Joseph registered his son’s birth, making his mark. He alternated between signing and making his mark on various birth and death registrations, so it is difficult to make literacy assumptions on the basis of a one-off registration. However the sad task of registering the baby’s death fell to Sabina Hill. I suspect she is Joseph’s sister as she’s the only Sabina Hill in the family tree at this point. However I do have a slight niggle with this theory: she was only 14 years old in 1869. She too made her mark.

Frank never thrived. He must have been a constant cause of concern for his young parents. He is described on the death certificate as having anaemia since birth. He lived only three weeks, giving up his struggle in Drighlington on 9 October 1869. 

His certificate also states, besides anaemia, he suffered convulsions for a few hours before his death. Convulsions was not an uncommon death certificate death cause for young children and infants in this era. Babies and infants who develop a fever as a result of an infection may fit because of their high body temperature. With the medical limitations of the period, in these circumstances the outward manifestation rather than the underlying cause was recorded.

So ended Frank’s short, but significant, life. Significant insofar as it was probably the initial impetus behind Joseph and Kezia’s marriage. And, as a result, generations later their family lives on. Including me.

I’ve not found a baptism for Frank. There won’t necessarily be one. And to date I’ve not found a parish register burial entry for him. But it’s early days, given its only a week ago since I learned of his existence thanks to the new GRO indexes. However the discovery of his brief life has added a new dimension to Joseph and Kezia’s life together. And sadly it’s another tragic one. Maybe next year I will write about them.

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

Sources:

GRO Picture Credit: 

Extract from GRO birth register entry for Frank William Hill: Image © Crown Copyright and posted in compliance with General Register Office copyright guidance.

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WDYTYA? Live 2017 Preparations: Tickets on Sale 

It’s not even Christmas 2016, but one of my presents will be here early. After my 2016 visit to WDYTYA? Live in Birmingham, where I felt one day was far too short a visit for me, I determined that in 2017 I would spend longer at the exhibition. Tickets are now on sale with an “early bird” discount.

WDYTYA? Live 2016 – photo by Jane Roberts

So now it’s time for me to plan my visit. I’m going for a two-day option. So next to check out hotels. And based on my previous experiences I will pre-book my workshops. I’m getting old so need a seat!

General Register Office (GRO) Index – New & Free

Another free resource for family historians. The GRO (England & Wales) have made available online a searchable index of births and deaths, via their website. All you need to do is have a registered GRO online certificate ordering account.

 This new index covers registered births from 1837-1915 and deaths from 1837-1957. 

The plan was to limit the index to births over 100 years old and deaths over 50. However the GRO state that completing digitisation “would require significant investment and there are no current plans to resume this work but we continue to monitor the scope for future opportunities to complete the digitisation of all birth, death and marriage records.” So, I suspect in this climate of government austerity, the completion of the death digitisation, the year-by-year roll out, and the digitisation of marriages won’t happen anytime soon. However they will update the index if there are errors and omissions, and they do have an error report form for these to be submitted to them.

The GRO have a FAQ section on the website. This includes a guide about searching the indexes. So I won’t cover that aspect in this post. There is also a useful guide here.

So what does this GRO online index add to the indexes already out their via FreeBMD and subscription sites like FindMyPast

Well for a start this is a brand new index and not a copy of an existing third party one from the microfiche indexes. Anyone doing family history will be familiar with the scenario – a search on two websites will not necessarily yield exactly the same results. So this provides an extra check with which to by-pass errors and find that illusive record.

Crucially, as the GRO point out, this new index contains “additional data fields to those which are already available and this will assist family historians to identify the correct record.” Other indexes, because they are taken from the microfiche indexes, only include age at death from the March quarter of 1866 onwards; and for births the mother’s maiden name only features from the September quarter of 1911. This index is different. Because it is a new compilation, where possible the GRO have provided the mother’s maiden name right back to 1837; similarly an age for deaths is also included if it is on, or is legible on, the original entry. The convention for recording the age as 0 for infants under 12 months is continued though. 

As a result of this extra information I think I have narrowed the 1860s death of my 3x great grandfather to two possible certificates: Not the several of previous searches. At £9.25 a certificate this could make all the difference to me taking a gamble and ordering. Similarly the availability of the mother’s maiden name on the earlier birth entries enables pinpointing the correct entry far more straightforward. It also is a useful tool to discover hitherto unknown children of a marriage during the 1837-1911 period.

Also whereas other indexes record middle names as initials for many years, the new GRO index gives them in full. In my post about names in World War 1 I didn’t include middle names as these were not identifiable in the FreeBMD indexes for that period. The use of initials on FreeBMD is explained here

However it is now possible to do a middle name search to a limited extent on the new GRO index irrespective of period, as the screenshot below illustrates. I did a search for a middle name of “Joffre” for 1914 +/- 2 years. With other indexes this isn’t possible, they just show the middle name by initial for these years, in this example “J”. 

Although it’s not a solution to calculating a total number as you can’t search without a surname, this facility might aid the correct pinpointing of an entry. 

GRO index screenshot showing 1914 +/- 2 year search for boys with surname “Smith” and middle name “Joffre”


Limitations so far for me are the:

  • two year search parameters, which can drag out the search process if you’re working on a longer window of uncertainty (for example an inter-census death), especially when you have to do a male and female search;
  • having to use the mandatory gender field when conducting a search is a tad frustrating. I keep forgetting to switch;
  • the 250 results limitation may be problematical for larger one-name-studies; and
  • not having a county-wide search functionality. It’s either everything, a volume number, which does not equate exactly to all the districts within a county (thanks to gwinowan for the tip) or a specific registration district.

And finally one anomaly. In my post about tricky names I indicated how my 3x great grandparents changed their minds about the name they registered my 2x great grandmother under. She was originally registered as Emma Clough but, as was permissible, they subsequently amended her name to Kesia (she was known as Kezia(h), so even more spelling variants). This is shown on the original birth certificate and GRO copy. When searching on the microfiche indexes she is found under Kesia Clough. In the new GRO ones she’s down as Emma. The same applies to my great grandfather – originally registered as Herbert Hill, but amended to John Herbert. Found under John Herbert in other indexes, but Herbert in the new GRO one.

Top entry from FreeBMD showing my 2x great grandmother’s correct (amended) name; bottom entry from the new GRO indexes showing the name she was originally registered under

So be aware, the new GRO index will show the name the baby was originally registered under. This may cause confusion, especially for one-namers.

Overall though, despite its clumsiness and limitations in some ways, I’m really happy with the additional options it provides. So a thumbs up from me.

Update 1: Just read on the “Who Do You Think You Are?” Magazine FB page that, following on from these indexes, the GRO will trial the purchase of uncertified PDFs of birth certificates from 1837-1934 and death certificates from 1837-1957 at a cost of £6 each. This from 9 November 2016 lasting for three weeks, or until 45,000 PDFs have been purchased.

Update 2: GRO have launched the £6 PDF trial starting from 9 November. This from their website:

From 9 November, we are trialling emailing PDF copies of registration records. Records will not be immediately viewable, but emailed as a PDF.

The pilot is in 3 phases, starting with our digitised records:

  • Births: 1837 – 1934 and 2007 on
  • Deaths: 1837 – 1957 and 2007 on
  • Marriages: 2011 on
  • Civil Partnerships: 2005 on

Phase 1 closes on 30 Nov, or when 45,000 PDFs have been ordered, whichever is sooner. Details of phase 2 (3 hour PDF service) and phase 3 (records not digitised) will be announced here shortly.

Full details are in here in the GRO’s “Most Customers Want to Know” page.

I’ve ordered a couple of PDF certificates under the new system, which is all very straightforward to use. In fact it’s more user-friendly for those indexed entries, as you can place your order direct from the search result and all the relevant information (including name, District, Quarter, Volume & Page) is automatically entered. Delivery for these Phase 1 PDF’s is to a slightly longer timeframe. My expected email delivery is 16 November. I’m just hoping the 45,000 limit isn’t reached before they arrive, as if I’ve correctly identified a birth for an hitherto unknown baby of my 2x great grandparents, I also want to get the death certificate. 

Update 3: Phase 1 ended on 30 November. I ended up ordering 19 PDFs  in total. Six have arrived, although I do have an issue with one. It arrived in an unopenable Winmail.dat format on 11 November. The GRO finally re-sent it as a PDF on 2 December. I ordered the final 13 towards the end of the trial and delivery, due to the volume of orders, is not anticipated until early December.  

Update 4: Pilot phase 2, for a within three hour delivery service for PDF copies of all birth, death, marriage and civil partnership records has ended now. However the £45 price tag was beyond my purse strings. 

Phase 3 is now up and running, with a close date of 4pm on 12 April 2017, or 40,000 PDFs, whichever is the soonest. It covers PDF copies of those civil registration entries that are not held by GRO in a digital format, in other words those not included in the earlier Phase 1 £6 trial. The exact dates are:

  • Births: 1935-2006
  • Deaths: 1958-2006
  • Marriages: 1837-2010

These PDFs will cost £8. I may be tempted here, though it is only a £1.25 saving on the postal service – so not a massive saving.

Another Family History Website Bites the Dust

A sad day for those with coal mining ancestors and interests. Whilst doing some research into my many ancestors working in this industry, I attempted to access one of my favourite occupational websites, “The Coal Mining History Resource Centre” (CMHRC). 

However it appears to have vanished. 

Ian Winstanley compiled the information for the website. But I believe Raleys Solicitors, an old-established Barnsley law firm specialising in miners’ compensation claims, ran it. They went into administration in March 2016. Whereas client work appears to have transferred to Ison Harrison Solicitors, the website seems to have been a casualty.  

Ancestry.co.uk have Ian Winstanley’s “Coal Mining Accidents and Death Index 1700-1950“, which was on the site. But CMHRC was far more than this wonderful database. Described as the UK’s largest and most comprehensive website concerning the history of coal-mining, its resources included maps, the 1842 Royal Commission reports, poems, a glossary of mining terms and a photo gallery. Unlike Ancestry, it was a free website. And to be honest I much preferred its search facility.  

I would hope the loss of CMHRC is temporary and it can soon be restored in all its former glory. But in the meantime there is a bit of a work round.  

In my post about an obsolete County Mayo website, I described how the Internet Archive Wayback Machine could be useful in accessing defunct websites. You can partly access CMHRC via this mechanism, but be warned you do lose much of the original site functionality.  

Screenshot of CMHRC via the Wayback Machine

If searching via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, the URL to use for CMHRC is:  http://www.cmhrc.co.uk

There are also the following useful sites: 

Feel free to add more to the list. 

Some suggestions that I’ve since received (thanks Judy & Fergus): 

My New Toy: Irish Birth, Marriage and Death Images

In my “Fabulous News For Those With Irish Ancestry” post I could scarcely contain my excitement at the release of Irish General Register Office (GRO) birth, marriages and death register images. The site is https://www.irishgenealogy.ie

I’ve had a few days playing with my new family history toy and getting a feel for the system. These searches have focused on my primary interest area, County Mayo, and in particular the Swinford Registration District. I’ve tried a combination of search methods, including wildcards for those multiple spellings. For example I didn’t realise how many ways you could spell the seemingly simple surnames: But Loft* identifies Loftus, Loftice and Loftis; Cass* included Cassidy, Cassedy and Cassiday.

I found it interesting to note how many of my family were baptised before their registered birth date! I knew my grandpa had two birthdays, but it seems he was not unique amongst his siblings. Staggeringly this applied to seven of out of the eight children of Michael and Mary Callaghan, whose birth register images are accessible. But it also features in my Loftus line.

Glan Church, Kilkelly, County Mayo

It points to the religious importance of quick baptism to ensure eternal salvation at a time of high infant mortality; combined with the lesser imperative to officially register, with rural transport factors and employment pressures coming into play. By law, a birth had to be registered within 42 days. Fudging the birth date was a way to avoid a late registration penalty. Interestingly my grandpa carried on the “tradition” of an incorrect birth certificate date with my mum.

As with any new release on this scale there are some glitches:

  • The site did go down a few times and at others it was painfully slow. Hopefully these accessibility issues will improve as the traffic volume decreases;
  • I do get a tad frustrated at constantly proving “I am not a robot” several times within the same session. There’s a limit to how many street signs, grass vistas, milkshakes and shop fronts I must identify before curbing the urge to scream;
  • Not all images are online yet. Births are there from 1864 to 1915. However marriages are only available from 1882 to 1940. Deaths run from 1891 to 1965. The GRO are updating further records of Marriages dating back to 1845 and Deaths dating back to 1864, but no indication of how long this will take;
  • For one of my birth searches, the link was to the wrong image. I couldn’t see any way to browse adjoining pages easily. I tried in vain to overcome the issue using the advanced search options, narrowing down dates and Registration Districts. A frustrating half an hour later and I still couldn’t access it. So I know Andrew Callaghan’s 1891 birth registration is there somewhere, but the crucial image still eludes me. I have reported the issue via the feedback form, but as yet haven’t received a response;
  • The Advanced Search facility has issues, alluded to above. Linked to this, I do wish search guidance was clearer; and
  • I’ve heard anecdotal stories of false negative results, where someone who should be there isn’t identified in searches. So far this hasn’t affected me.

But the positives far outweigh these niggles:

  • FREE register images are instantly available with the click of a few keys;
  • The register pages supply the birth, marriage and death certificate details thus saving researchers €4 a certificate;
  • The information provided may lead to wider family. I quickly noticed that a good number of births were not registered by the parents. Far higher than I anticipated. Many entries were by people described as “present at birth”. For example a couple of my Callaghan births were registered in this manner by a Patrick Callaghan. Tantalisingly in these instances no relationship details were supplied. Possibly the baby’s grandfather or potentially an uncle, so extended family clues. However some entries do give the precise relationship details. I’ve seen sisters and grandmothers identified. So you may strike lucky;
  • You can include the mother’s maiden name in the advanced search option for births. And these fetch results earlier than the 1911 norm for England and Wales GRO searches. However I would not go so far as to say I to trust equating negative results to no results; and
  • There are entries for Northern Ireland Registration Districts. I’m not sure if these are limited to pre-1922 and how complete these are. So even if your ancestry is from the North, the records are worth checking.

In summary, despite its flaws this is a brilliant resource. It is a wonderful companion set to the free NLI Catholic parish register release of 2015. And a massive thank you to the Irish authorities for making Irish Soldiers Wills 1914-1918, the Irish 1901 and 1911 census, and other datasets, also available free of charge via the National Archives of Ireland’s genealogy page.

It is worth comparing with the “pay” attitude for similar information in England and Wales. A prime example being the £9.25 extortionate charges for similar civil registration information, with seemingly very little progress made since the 2015 Deregulation Act which was supposed to pave the way to providing this information in an uncertified, lower cost form. Or the £10 charge for a World War 1 soldier’s will in this centenary commemoration period.

5 October 2016 update:

I have now received a response from Irish Genealogy to my query on errors. They will be adding a mechanism for error reporting, but no indication of timescale.

In terms of coverage they confirmed the General Register Office are currently working on updating further records of Marriages dating back to 1845 and Deaths dating back to 1864. These will be included in future updates to the records available on the website.

Which Type of Family Historian Are You?

After several years immersed in family history research, along the way I’ve also observed my fellow researchers, and I include myself here. As a result I’ve identified several breeds within this species. Some are clearly pedigrees displaying one single personality trait. Others are more of the Heinz 57 variety, displaying a cross section of characteristics to varying degrees, depending on their inherited DNA.

Which Type of Family Historian Are You?

The categories I’ve identified are by no means exhaustive. I have listed them below, along with their core characteristics.

The Gatherer: This grouping is more concerned about how far back they can go and how many individuals their tree can hold, rather than in-depth individual stories of ancestors. It’s a contest, a badge of honour. Who can get back the furthest. Who can collect the most. What their tree lacks for in substance, they more than make up for with the thousands of names and dates populating the multiple branches. So many names it makes it difficult to distinguish the wood from the trees.  

The Gatherer

The Treehopper: These individuals hop from one public tree to another culling data. The Treehopper doesn’t evaluate this data to see if it is indeed their family. And they are oblivious to errors such as children born before parents and centuries old Methusalahs. Their philosophy is “it’s on the internet so it must be true“. 

There is much cross-fertilisation amongst the Treehopper populace, so the errors become self-perpetuating. 

The Plunderer: These folk are similar to the Treehopper breed in that they cherry pick data from others. But they are far more discerning. And they are not averse to passing the research off as their own. 

The Fortune Seeker: This bounty-hunting bunch are only interested in proving their connection to rich and famous. The richer and more famous the better. Their ace would be to have a link to royalty. A dinner-table topic to dine out on forever, whilst polishing their collective tiaras. 

The Fortune Seeker

The Carnivore: This sub-species is only interested in their meaty, gory ancestors. They wallow in the deepest, darkest entrails of their family history. Ordinary lives are not worth spending time researching. These individuals thrive on the blood-lust of murderers, criminals, victims, bigamists, incest intrigues, gruesome deaths, disasters and tragedies. The grislier the better, in order to feed their passion. 

The Nurturer: Always putting others before themselves, these kindly souls spend so much time helping others in their family history quest, that their own research is sadly neglected. They make occasional efforts to tend and grow their own tree, only to succumb once more to the cries of help from others. 

Whilst they do love assisting the more juvenile researchers in their midst, their plaintive moans of despair at their lack of personal tree-time can occasionally be heard echoing in archive corridors.

The Wanderer: These are the free spirits of the family history world. Or perhaps that should read the most easily distracted? They set off on one path, but part way through their research something more interesting attracts their attention and they change direction. They then spend hours wandering down this new road, before realising they’ve been diverted. Not to worry though. They’ll get to their destination eventually, but with lots of exciting adventures along the way. 

The Wanderer

The Aestivator: This is the spring/summer version of hibernation. During the, hopefully, good weather of these seasons aestivators concentrate on other hobbies and activities. The weather is too nice to be stuck indoors, at home or in archives, researching. The only trees they tend during this period are the ones in their gardens. The only nod towards family history research may be the occasional ancestral cemetery or location visit. Essentially they have entered a phase of genealogical torpor.

They emerge from their aestivation with renewed energy and enthusiasm, ready to conduct their desk-based research during the cold, dark, wet months of late autumn/winter. 

The Night Predator: These researchers burn the midnight oil. The daylight hours are eaten up by family and work demands. Once the children are safely tucked up in bed, partners craftily diverted and work consigned till tomorrow, the Night Predators’ family history papers come out and their computers are fired up. Time looses all track. One more minute becomes one more hour. Bed is but a distant port of call. The clock chimes an inconvenient 1am. Dawn brings its own dawning realisation, “I sleep to research more effectively.” Sleep, therefore, is an unwelcome, but essential, research interruption. And so eventually the Night Predator drags them-self wearily to bed, mind whirring on finds and strategies, counting ancestors not sheep.  

The Night Predator

The Protector: This group are the guardians of their family’s history. They unearth all aspects: good, bad and indifferent. They critically analyse and evaluate their research, recording it for posterity. They delve into all aspects, and historically and locally contextualise the lives of direct line and collateral ancestors. They collect, preserve, share, treasure and protect their finds to ensure no lives are forgotten. They engender a sense of family continuity.  

However be warned, their sheer single-minded obsession and enthusiasm may occasionally be too much for living family members. They have been known to bury their heads in their hands or flee for cover at the prospect of more quizzing or yet another tale from the Protector.

The Scavenger: These phenomena pull disparate facts swiftly together in a haphazard manner with no regard for considered research or truth. If someone has the same name, well that first match they encounter must be “The One“. No matter they may be from a totally unrelated parish, sometimes hundreds of miles away, there are multiple alternatives, or there are other irregularities. 

Time, history, geography, facts and other options are minor inconveniences, swiftly ignored or dismissed. The Scavenger relies on gut instinct at best. At worst they ram the wrong shaped piece in their family history puzzle and move on.

The Specimen Collector: This category has a sole focus on direct line ancestors only, so four grandparents, eight great grandparents, 16 2x great grandparents and so on. They can really put these ancestors under their genealogical microscope or magnifying glass to probe and delve into their lives in minute detail, without the overwhelming distraction of collateral ancestors. The downside is this researcher may miss breaking down a brick wall which may come from looking at these collateral lines.

The Specimen Collector

The Hunter: These individuals love the thrill of the ancestral chase. Nothing is more satisfying than a visit to the archives or a day spent surfing family history websites. 

Their homes are filled with hastily jotted notes on the back of discarded envelopes and scattered pieces of paper. They have multiple notebooks on the go at any one time, because they misplace the one they’re working on so swiftly grab another. Finds will be properly recorded another day …..maybe. For the time being it’s all retained in the head. Occasionally an overwhelming urge to put things in order overcomes these people. But it’s a temporary blip and instinctive habits are quickly resumed. For them it’s a case of nature over nurture. 

The Hunter

The Grazer: A solid type, who munches steadily and evenly paced through their family history feast. Day by day, piece by piece. Neither obsessively or frenetically. It is a lifetime’s work, no need to rush. It’s there to be savoured, mulled over and enjoyed.

Which one(s) am I? Well that’s for me to know and you to wonder. But all theses different elements and people combine to create the wonderful discipline, interest, hobby, livelihood and obsession that is family history.  

PS – This post is prompted by a bit of end of school holiday giddiness. Any other suggestions are most welcome. 

Sources:

Hidden Names: Indecisive and Tricky to Downright Confusing Ancestors

I remember well my husband and I spending hours pouring over a book of baby names throughout my pregnancy trying to decide on boy/girl options for the impending arrival of our little bundle of joy. OK, not so much him as me.

We were sure of our choices for a boy – William Patrick. Less so for a girl. Alice was the early favourite, although we were not entirely convinced. That was until our daughter arrived and within minutes we did a sudden about-turn to Amelia Grace. This was way before Amelia featured in the annual top 10 lists of baby names produced, so we were not swayed (or should that be put off?) by popular opinion. Then it was down to the Registry Office to make her official, like generations of parents before.

My well-thumbed book of Babies Names

But it’s not always that straightforward. What happens if you change your mind after the official form filling? If you decide after all it wasn’t the right choice? Perhaps the parent doing the registering put down the wrong name, or an “unagreed” one.

In my recent family history I’ve a couple of examples, with unofficial solutions. My grandma registered my dad’s birth. He has a Christian and middle name. Seemingly the Christian name was my grandma’s choice – her dad’s name, Patrick. My grandad wasn’t best pleased when he found out after the deed was done. As a compromise my dad has always gone by his middle name. Something that causes endless confusion when dealing with officialdom, the only time when he’s ever referred to as Patrick. But at least we know about it so it’s not an issue – though it might be for future family historians, seeking him under his every-day name!

And there was a bit of pay-back for my grandma’s trickery. Her next son was born on St Patrick’s day – but she’d already used the name!

I also have a maternal aunt. Looking for her in the GRO indexes is problematical. My grandpa registered her under the wrong name, apparently the name of a former girlfriend. Imagine explaining that one away. Unsurprisingly she’s never used that name, although it is remarkably similar to the one she goes by .

Mind you my grandpa has a tendency to mess up birth registration. To be honest I’m surprised my nana let him do it again after the example of my aunt. But she did. The result is my mum’s birth is registered on the wrong day – something she didn’t discover till getting a copy of her certificate when leaving school, much to her embarrassment. Now, like the queen, she has two birthdays. She chooses, from year to year, which is the most convenient date to celebrate.

I suppose it’s sometimes all too easy to forget when researching your family tree that these are not one-dimensional, generational paper-trail figures. They were real people, with emotions and feelings and lives just as rich, rounded and complex as ours today. So although I shouldn’t have been, it was somewhat of a shock to find even earlier examples when I delved into my family tree and bought those all-important birth certificates. But these were examples where the families concerned actually did something about it through official channels.

Permissible but unusual, you could change to the name registered for a child providing it was done within 12 months. There is a column on the birth certificate indicating “name entered after registration” catering for this eventuality. Normal procedure was that the Minister performing the baptism provided a certificate confirming the child’s baptismal name; if unbaptised, the mother or father signed a certificate. This had to be taken to the registrar or superintendant registrar and a fee paid. So not a light undertaking given the financial and time implications, not to say knowledge in the first place that this was an option.

I’ve discovered two examples in my direct line ancestry. The first is for my 2x great grandmother Kezia(h) Clough. Born in Drighlington on 21 October 1850 she was the 6th, and youngest, daughter of William and Mary Clough (née Burnett). On 12 November 1850 Mary registered the baby’s birth, signing with her mark. Her daughter’s registered name was Emma. However, there is an entry in the name-change column. In this case it indicates the alteration to Kesia (another variation). No date as to when the amendment took place. The baptismal register at St Peter’s, Birstall, shows the child was baptised with the name Kezia on 29 December 1850. So the decision was made relatively quickly.

I’ve no idea why the change of heart. Mary did have a sister named Keziah who died in 1837. But that was over 13 years before the birth of Emma/Kezia, and Mary had two other daughters born after her sister’s death. So ample opportunity to name a daughter after her sister, without an after-registration moment of enlightenment. The reason will forever be a mystery.

Kezia Clough’s Birth Certificate

You might have observed that I’ve alluded to the fact there are variant spellings of Kezia on official documents. Sometimes the alternative Keziah is used. Something else to consider in that elusive ancestor hunt.

The other example is my great grandad Jack Hill. Coincidentally he is the son of Kezia and her husband Joseph Hill. Jack was their third son. Born on on 10 December 1872, Joseph registered him on 13 December, under the name Herbert. The amendment column shows a post-registration change of name to John Herbert. Again nothing to indicate when the change was made. Some months after birth, on 25 May 1873, he was baptised John Herbert at Birstall St Peter’s. So another bit of naming confusion thrown into the ancestral search mix – the diminutive: Jack being a diminutive of John.

Once more no clues as to why the change. Perhaps it was an afterthought nod towards Kezia’s brother John, who died in 1871. Or, the theory I’m leaning towards, is Herbert’s name was too close to the name of his older brother Albert (Bert & Bert), something hinted at in that May baptismal entry where “John Albert” is scored out and replaced by “John Herbert“.

Jack Hill’s St Peter’s Birstall Baptismal Entry

So lots of creative Christian name considerations when on the trail of ancestors:

  • Diminutives, some obvious such as Elizabeth/Lizzie/Betty and Joseph/Joe. Some less so such as John/Jack, Pauline/Polly, Sarah/Sally (yes I have those);
  • Spelling variations;
  • Christian names dropped, and possibly forgotten over time, in favour of middle names; and
  • Names being used for no obvious reason at all, other than to frustrate family history researchers. For example Cissie used instead of the registered name of Sabina (yes, that’s one of mine too).

Sources:

  • GRO birth certificates
  • Baptismal register, St Peter’s Birstall

GRO Picture Credit: 
Extract from GRO birth register entry for Kesia (Emma) Clough: Image © Crown Copyright and posted in compliance with General Register Office copyright guidance.

Family History Research Tips 

Those who follow me on social media may know I had my 15 minutes of fame this week courtesy of the local paper, “The Huddersfield Daily Examiner”. They approached me to see if they could use my story about Annie Leonard, a Barnbow munitions worker of the Great War who died as a result of work-related poisoning in July 1916. Their article is here.

The paper also wanted to do a general genealogy feature. I really didn’t know what to expect from this, or what angle they’d run with. So the interview, which lasted well over one hour, was fairly wide ranging. The resulting article included my tips for genealogists. I must admit to being caught on the hop here. It was towards the end of the interview and, not being used to this, I was feeling pretty exhausted. These were the tips I came up with off the top of my head: 

  • Work backwards using birth, marriage and death certificates.
  • The National Archives is a good starting point and includes research guides. In hindsight I’d expand on this one, saying check out some general family history “how to” books to familiarise yourself with the basics. 
  • Parish registers are invaluable for records before July 1837 civil registration.
  • If you have an unusual name it will probably be easier to research than a common one – however, whatever the surname, be aware of surname spelling variations.
  • Migration from our country or part of the country to another is a complication. Persistence is key. Think outside the box. Look at wider family and other sources including newspapers, local history and transport links. 

However, having time to consider, I’d add the following for anyone just starting out on their exciting journey of family history discovery:

  • Join a Family History Society (FHS). I’m in a few based around the locations of my ancestors. The advice and tips from this army of experts can be invaluable both for those starting out as well as those more advanced in their journey. FHS members have a wealth of local knowledge. And the regular meetings, research facilities and drop-in sessions, besides being informative, provide a social aspect to what can often be a solitary pursuit. Get involved. 
  • Be methodical and organised right from the start. Note searches, including negative ones. Record source references. Include dates and search parameters. Record your findings as soon as possible. Yes it might sound a boring chore. But it can save time in the long run. You reduce the risk of doing unnecessary repeat searches; or you can see where it might be worth doing follow-up searches, for example where providers have expanded or added new data sets. 
  • If you plan subscribing to genealogy sites, research which are the best ones for you. There is lots of genealogy subscription comparison advice on the Internet. Consider a short-term subscription to test the waters and see if a year long one is going to be worth your while. See if your local library offers free access to Ancestry or FindMyPast. GenealogyInTime Magazine has a list of the top 100 sites.  
  • Talk to older relatives and record what they can remember. This is one of my huge regrets. 
  • Don’t rely transcriptions. Shock, horror – they may contain errors! Whenever possible check sources out yourself.  

There are so many more tips. But I’ve limited myself to 10. Feel free to add any others!  

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.

1200px-Coventry_History_Centre

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:

 

What a Difference a Year Can Make – Calendar Confusion

I spent last week recording data on my Family Historian software, ticking off another of my genealogy New Year Resolutions. It included a raft of 18th century parish register entries. Entering the information I was reminded of one of my early family history basic errors which I need to re-visit in my family tree file.  I recorded a swathe of entries under the wrong year.

In my first enthusiastic rush into ancestral research I totally failed to appreciate the calendar change of 1752, the amended start to the year and the implications of this. In fact in those early days I probably didn’t even know a calendar change occurred.

I couldn’t understand why some dates didn’t fit, with babies being baptised at the beginning of March 1747 to couples who married in April 1747. I thought I’d unearthed a family scandal, but there was no hint of illegitimacy in the normally brutally censorious registers.

I assumed the calendar back then was the same one in operation today, with 1 January marking the start of the year. How mistaken I was.

I subsequently discovered from around the 12th century in England the year started on 25 March, Lady Day. So, for example, the day after 24 March 1747 was 25 March 1748.

Not until 1752 did the year start on 1 January, as a result of the 1750 Calendar Act and the 1751 amended Act. Also known as Chesterfield’s Act, it brought the start of the new year into line with England’s European neighbours and ones even closer to home: Scotland adopted 1 January as the official start of the year from 1600.img_0595

It meant that in England 1751 was a short year to take account of the change. It started on 25 March and ended on 31 December.

1752 also had a reduced number of days, as this Act moved England from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar used by many European countries. It meant September 1752 was reduced to 19 days, with 2nd September being followed by 14th September. These lost 11 days were a result of a correction to an anomaly in the Julian calendar.

Chesterfield’s Calendar Act Extract

The Christian world throughout the Middle Ages used the Julian calendar. Based on a 365 day year with an extra day every fourth year it was devised to to ensure seasonal stability in an agrarian society.

But here’s the simplified scientific bit. The 365 ¼ days of the Julian calendar cycle did not accurately reflect the time taken by the earth to rotate the sun. It was too slow. Only fractionally. Less than 11 minutes annually. But it made the calendar too long. Another way of looking at it is there were too many Leap Years. However the cumulative effect of this discrepancy meant by the 16th century the year was 10 days ahead of where it should have been relative to the earth’s cycle. Significantly, apart from any agricultural seasonal impacts and the affect on navigation, for the Catholic Church there were implications for Easter.

Corrective action was needed. Enter Pope Gregory XIII who in 1582 enacted a papal bull introducing the new calendar, named the Gregorian calendar. This omitted 10 days to bring things back into line with the earth’s solar cycle. It also included a mechanism around Leap Years to account for the actual length of a year in future. From now on Leap Years only occurred in the last year of the century if their first two digits could be divided by four (ie/ only in 1600 and 2000).

Religious politics now came into play. Catholic states generally fell into line using the new calendar. Protestant countries such as Britain and Ireland and its colonies (such as the USA) resisted – they did not wish to follow any Papal edict. But gradually, given its obvious agricultural, commercial, legal and international relationship benefits (for instance by the 18th century what was 20 June in France would be 9 June in England), uptake increased.

By the time England came round to accepting that the benefits of the Gregorian calendar outweighed any religious reluctance, it was 11 days out of sync. Hence the missing 11 September days in 1752.

img_0596

But even with the 1751 Act things aren’t straightforward as far as the New Year is concerned. I’ll use some West Yorkshire parishes associated with my family history to illustrate this.

Leeds Parish Church complied with the Act and entries on 1 January displayed the New Style year of 1752. This also applied to Kirkburton All Hallows and Mirfield St Mary’s.

However it wasn’t universal. Some parishes were behind the pace.

One such example is St Peter’s Birstall. The combined baptism, marriage and burial register acknowledged the September change. An entry at the beginning of September 1752 stated:

September hath 19 days this year

Then, after a baptism entry on 2 September:

According to an Act of Parliament passed in 24th year of his Majesty’s Reign in the year of our Lord 1751 the Old Style ceases here and the new takes place and consequently the next Day which in the old account would have been the 3rd is now to be called the 14th so that all the intermediate Days from the 2nd to the 14th are omitted or rather annihilated this year and the month contains no more than 19th Days as the Title at the Head expresses”.

Birstall St Peter’s Parish Register Explanation for September 1752 Calendar Changes

No similar note mentioning the New Style calendar affected the start date of the year. This part of the Act wasn’t implemented on 1 January 1752 in Birstall. The New Year in this parish register did not start until Lady Day in March. In other words no difference.

1 January 1753 came and there was a tiny entry, a mere nod at the change. Almost imperceptibly tucked away in miniscule script. Certainly no fanfare announcement along the lines of the September change.

Birstall St Peter’s Parish Register Low-Key Entry for January 1753

Contrast that with the shouty heading marking the first post-Lady Day christening of 1753. By 1754 though they were fully towing the line.

Birstall St Peter’s Parish Register Fanfare Entry Post-Lady Day 1753

The neighbouring Parish of Batley similarly adopted the New Style from 1 January 1753 rather than 1752. The register does briefly explain the September 1752 issue, but without the pointed remarks about “annihilation” of days.

So some parishes implemented the Act with the year starting on 1 January from 1752. And from my unscientific example others didn’t adopt the change until 1 January 1753, seemingly grudgingly. Others, however, even went beyond this.

Wakefield All Saints’ register retained the Old Style up up to and including 1755, with the change only made from 1756. There may be examples of other variations if I delve deeper. And there may even be instances of it pre-January 1752, as acknowledgement of the difference did occur in documents prior to the official change.

To sum up even knowing the year change was supposed to take place on 1 January 1752, it still pays to check the register if at all possible to ensure the switch did indeed take place on the prescribed date. And accurately record the year to indicate whether the date is Old Style (O.S.) pre-calendar change or New Style (N.S.) post-change. I use a “double dating” format for those 1 January to 24 March days prior to the calendar change. So, for example, I record 23 March 1747 O.S. as  23 March 1747/48. This indicates the event took place in 1747 according to the O.S. calendar, but 1748 in the N.S.

After all that year could make a big difference to your family tree and subsequent research.

Sadly (?) I don’t think I’ll progress my family history to pre-12th century to concern myself with any calendar in use then.

Footnote:
I’m not going as far as adding in the “annihilated” 11 days to my Family Historian package à la George Washington’s Birthday though! Born on 11 February 1731 according to the then-used Julian calendar, with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar the corrected date celebrated is 22 February 1732. But that this may have happened is worth noting too.