Category Archives: Mirfield

A Grave Plot: Rest In Peace?

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

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

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

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

Weathered Headstones at Tynemouth Priory – Photo by Jane Roberts

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

Batley Cemetery Headstones – Photo by Jane Roberts

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

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

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

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

 

Advertisements

My Bizarre Christmas-Associated Family Name: AKA There’s more to Family History than DNA

In “Shrapnel and Shelletta[1] I wrote about war-associated baby names. This is a more seasonal post about a particular Christmas-associated family name.

When naming a baby at Christmas-time, which names conjure up this magical time of year? Which can be considered as festive and beautiful as this special period? Holly, Ivy, Joy, Noel/le, Merry, Nick or Rudolph might spring to mind. Perhaps Caspar, Gabriel, Emmanuel, Balthasar and Gloria? Or maybe the Holy Family names of Jesus, Mary and Joseph?

In contrast, which name would make you recoil with shock and horror? Which name would you think “No way! How inappropriate! What on earth are they thinking of?”

Probably near the top of the list would be the one associated with my family tree.  For on 24 December 1826 at Kirkheaton’s St John the Baptist Parish Church (oh, the irony of date and church name)[2] the baptism of Herod Jennings took place.

Saint-Sulpice-de-Favières_vitrail1_837 Herod

Magi before Herod the Great, Wikimedia Creative Commons License, G Freihalter

Herod was born on 3 November 1826, one of five children of coal miner George Jennings and his wife Sarah Ellis. They married in October 1818 at St Mary’s, Mirfield and by the time of Herod’s baptism had settled in Hopton, a hamlet in that township, midway between Mirfield and Kirkheaton.

Herod’s siblings included the equally wonderfully named Israel (baptised 20 June 1824) and Lot (born 8 March 1830), so some fabulous biblical associations there too. The other family names of James (baptised 24 September 1820) and Ann (baptised 20 October 1822, buried 7 July 1823) seem disappointingly ordinary in comparison.

Sarah died in 1832, age 36 leaving George to bring up his four surviving children. James married Sarah Pickles on 25 December 1839, another example of Christmastime events in this branch of the Jennings family![3]So, by the time of the 1841 census, it was just George and his two sons, Israel and Herod, along with a female servant Jemima Gibson living in the Upper Moor, Hopton household. Youngest child Lot was along the road at Jack Royd, with the Peace family. This may have been a permanent arrangement given the family situation.

By the time of this census young Herod already worked down the mine, a job which ultimately would possibly contribute to his death.

On 7 October 1850 he married Ann Hallas at St Mary’s, Mirfield. Both Herod and Ann lived at Woods Row, Hopton. Ann was slightly older than Herod, being born in 1824. By the time of their wedding, she was already the unmarried mother of two. Her son, Henry, was born in 1843; and my 2x great grandmother Elizabeth’s birth occurred in November 1850, 11 months prior to Ann’s marriage to Herod.

This then is my family connection to Herod: His marriage to my 3x great grandmother. And it is one of the mysteries I still hope the DNA testing of mum and me will solve. Was Herod the father of Elizabeth? She was certainly brought up to think so, with all the censuses prior to her marriage recording her surname as Jennings, whereas her brother Henry went under his correct Hallas surname. And when registering the birth of her son Jonathan, there is a slip when Elizabeth starts entering her maiden name as “Jen”. This is subsequently scored through and correctly written as “Hallas”.

It appears Henry too was minded to look upon Herod as his father-figure. At his baptism at St Peter’s, Hartshead in June 1857 he appears in the register as Henry Jennings, not Hallas. When he married Hannah Hainsworth at Leeds All Saints on 24 December 1866, his marriage certificate records his father’s name as “Herod Hallas”. And in 1870 he named his eldest son Herod. Although by no means a common name, a glance at the GRO indexes shows it did appear occasionally, along with its alternative forms of Herodius and the feminine Herodia. The fact Henry gave his son this unusual name seems to indicate a measure of affection for the man who brought him up. Finally, at the time of the 1871 census Herod, son William and nephew Charles were boarding in the Leeds home of Henry.

So, whether or not there is a DNA link, he is still a major figure in my family tree. And for me this brings home the fact that there is more to family, and family history research, than DNA links alone!

Herod and Ann had nine other children: Ellen (born April 1851), Louisa (born January 1853), Harriet (born November 1854), Mary (born May 1858), William (born 1860), Eliza (born April 1862), Rose (born 1864), Violet (born 1866) and James (born 1871).

The family moved frequently, presumably due to Herod’s work as a coal miner. They are recorded at various locations in the area, many within walking distance of where I live. These included Mirfield, Battyeford, Hopton, Hartshead, Roberttown, White Lee and Batley.

Outside of work Herod had a keen interest in quoits, arranging and taking part in park challenge games especially around local Feast times. This game was particularly popular with miners and mining communities in Victorian times, with the metal rings being made of waste metal from mine forges. Challenge matches were also a way to raise funds, for example for sick and injured miners.

Herod died age 52, at Cross Bank, Batley as a result of asthma and bronchitis, which presumably owed something to his mining occupation. Working in cramped, filthy, air-polluted, damp, sometimes wet conditions from an early age, this was a hazardous and unhealthy occupation. The conditions and physical exertion led to chronic muscular-skeletal problems and back pain as well as rheumatism and joint inflammation. Most colliers had lung associated problems, with many becoming asthmatic whilst still relatively young. So Herod’s cause of death, from a lung-related illness, is unsurprising.

Ironically Herod’s date of death occurred on 5 January 1878, a day we associate with the Christmas period, falling before 12th night. And in the Western Christian tradition the 6 January is the Epiphany, marking the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. This brings us once more to the King Herod connection, at Herod Jennings’ death as well as his baptism.

This is what Matthew’s gospel says about those events at the first Christmas:

Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them to Bethlehem. ‘Go find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’  Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way. 

After they had left, the Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod……Herod was furious when he realised he had been outwitted by the wise men, and in Bethlehem and its surrounding district he had all the male children killed who were two years old or under, reckoning by the date he had been careful to ask the wise men”.[4]

Herod was buried in Batley Cemetery on 7 January 1878.

I have a great deal of affection for Herod, whether or not there is a direct family blood-tie. The fact he took on one, possibly two children when he married Ann; and they in turn acknowledged him as a father, which speaks volumes for him. I can relate to the location links. And I can totally sympathise with his asthma suffering.

This is my final family history blog post of 2015, and an apt one given the time of year. Thanks ever so much for reading them. As someone new to blogging your support, encouragement and feedback has meant so much over the past eight months.

Merry Christmas everyone – wishing you all peace, health and happiness for 2016!

Sources:

[1] Shrapnel and Shelletta: Baby Names and their Links to War, Remembrance and Commemoration | PastToPresentGenealogy https://pasttopresentgenealogy.wordpress.com/2015/11/04/shrapnel-and-shelletta-baby-names-and-their-links-to-war-remembrance-and-commemoration/
[2] Herod the Great was responsible for trying to elicit the three wise men to reveal the  whereabouts of Jesus and, when this failed, subsequently ordering the killing of all infant boys under the age two and under, the so-called “Massacre of the Innocents”. His son, Herod Antipas, had John the Baptist killed.
[3] It was not uncommon for working-class people to have wedding ceremonies on Christmas Day. It was, after all, a holiday so they had time off work.
[4] The Jerusalem Bible, Popular Edition 1974 – Matthew 2: 7-17

Parish Registers: Brick Wall Breakers and Mystery Creators

I can immerse myself for hours in Parish Registers, tracking my ancestors and their communities. They can often lead to research breakthroughs. Conversely they can result in further knotty puzzles. Other than the normal but frustrating non-appearance in a register, or the ones containing multiple difficult to untangle options, here is a brief selection from my family tree.

Brick wall

Brick Wall Breakers
1) The baptism on 7 March 1779 at All Saints, Batley for Benjamin Rynder. This is the brother of my 5x great grandmother, Sarah, and his entry is in a Dade style register. So not only does it provide his birth date, his parent’s names and residence and father’s occupation, it also provides his grandparent’s names. It makes tracing the family back a whole lot easier. It also helps with linking to similarly Dade-style recorded siblings and cousins. Sarah’s baptism in 1777 does not contain this level of detail. Maternal Line

2)  All Hallows Kirkburton Burial Register gave a cause of death for my 4x great grandfather George’s sister, Esther Hallas. The entry on 13 July 1817 states a cause of death: “Killed by Lightning”. This entry led to further research breakthroughs feeding into Esther’s story, my first blog post.[1] Maternal Line

3) Robert Hudson, the brother of my 4x great grandfather David. His St Michael’s East Ardsley burial entry of 1 November 1831 gives a cause of death “Hung himself in the Coal Pit Cabin”. In following this up I unearthed a rather unsavoury tale which I will return to in the autumn. Maternal Line

4) The burial of George Hallas, my 4x great grandfather, solved the mystery of his father. I had, until this point, a number of possible options. George died aged 69. Nevertheless his burial entry on 12 May 1864 in the Mirfield St Mary’s burial register provided his father’s name, Amos. This information enabled me to go back two further generations. Maternal Line

5) This could easily have fallen into the “Mystery Creator” category. According to his birth certificate John Callaghan, my grandfather, was born on 16 June 1895. However, the transcript of the County Mayo Kilmovee baptism[2] register states his baptism took place on 30 May 1895 in Glan Chapel. One possible explanation is the family could not get to Castlebar to register the birth within the prescribed time-limits, so were creative with his date of birth to avoid a fine. He used to claim he had two birthdays – so this corroborates the tale. Maternal Line

Mystery Creators
6) My great grandmother’s first daughter was born in 1893 out of wedlock. The Parish Register of St Mary of the Angels, Batley has a bizarre entry which indicates otherwise. According to this daughter’s baptismal entry my great grandmother was married to Charles Regan. I have traced no record of this “phantom” marriage, or of Charles Regan. My great grandmother’s eventual Registry Office 1897 marriage certificate indicates she was a spinster. So was Charles her daughter’s real father? Paternal Line (I have anonymised this as it is comparatively recent).

7) The mystifying John Loftus. Another one from Ireland, this time from the County Mayo Kilbeagh Parish baptisms. The entry clearly indicates the baptism on 3 October 1869 of a son, John (Joannes), to John Loftus and Ann Barrett. John and Ann are my 2x great grandparents. I have been unable to trace a birth certificate for their son John. What I have discovered is the birth certificate for a daughter, Ellen, born on 30 September 1869. So have I a missing child of John Loftus and Ann Barrett, or is entry a red herring? Paternal Line

8) Sushanna Hill, my 4x great grandfather’s sister has a perplexing baptism entry in the wonderful Dade-style Sherburn in Elmet Parish Register. Usually Dade Registers are an absolute genealogical god-send. This one has led to a brick wall. Sushanna is the first-born child of Francis and Sarah Hill, so the Dade entry provides a wealth of family history information. The entry for Sushanna reads:

“1st Daughter of Francis of Sherburn, taylor. Son of Francis of Sherburn, wheel carpenter by Esther his wife, daughter of John Simpson of Brayton, yeoman. Mother – Sarah, daughter of Philip Gibson of Little Fenton, farmer, by Sushanna his wife daughter of [blank]. Born Monday 29th August 1785 and baptised the same day”.

I cannot find concrete evidence to support Francis’ parentage as recorded in the entry. As a result I have been unable to trace this line any further back. I have a suspicion that it is a false lead. I think I do know Francis’ parentage. This is one of the nuts I am hoping genealogical DNA tests will ultimately crack. Paternal Line

9) William Hill’s baptism at St Mary’s, Whitkirk on 14 July 1816 is another strange one. William is the brother of my 3x great grandfather. Joseph. According to the Parish Register he is the illegitimate son of Grace Pennington. No mention of “Hill” in the entry whatsoever. In fact Grace Pennington married Francis Hill by licence in that Parish in September 1811. There is however a footnote at the bottom of the page as follows:

“It was discovered when this child was brought to church September 1st having been privately baptized July 14th that this was an erroneous entry, Grace Pennington being lawfully married, and that the entry should have been William son of Francis & Grace Hill, Halton, Butcher. Signed this second of September 1816”

Signatories were the vicar and “Francis Hill, the father of the said child”. I would love to know the story behind this error and its subsequent discovery.[3] Paternal Line

10) My 4x great grandmother Zilla(h)[4] Rhodes, baptised at All Saints, Batley on 29 September 1780. The Dade Register does not help as she is described as a bastard. Neither are there any details provided of her mother Sarah’s parentage. From further entries in the register it appears Sarah went onto have another illegitimate daughter, Mary, in 1784. There are also possibly a further two illegitimate daughters in the 1790s. In turn Zillah had three, possibly four, illegitimate children. So far I have been unable to trace any further details, including through using Poor Law or Bastardy records, because of the paucity of surviving material. But to have so many illegitimate children does seem a tad unusual. Maternal line

Confused

Image from Pixabay.com

There are many other examples, but this is my starter for ten. 

Sources:

  • All Hallows, Kirkburton – Burials
  • All Saints, Batley – Baptisms
  • All Saints, Sherburn in Elmet – Baptisms
  • National Library of Ireland Catholic Parish Registers – Kilbeagh Parish baptisms, Microfilm 04224 / 17 http://registers.nli.ie/
  • Pixabay.com: https://pixabay.com/
  • St Mary of the Angels, Batley – Baptisms
  • St Mary’s, Mirfield – Burials
  • St Mary’s, Whitkirk – Baptisms
  • St Michael’s, East Ardsley – Burials
  • Transcript of the Kilmovee Baptisms from the former East Mayo.org website

[1] See my first blog post, “Death by Lightning”
[2] This is too late a date for the National Library of Ireland Parish Registers website. Some time ago there was a fantastic East Mayo website which had transcripts of the parish registers. Sadly this has long since gone. But it can be found using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine
[3] William and Francis feature in my blog post entitled “Attempted Murder in Halton? The Perverse Joy of Old Newspapers”
[4] Syllah in the baptism entry

Copyright

© Jane Roberts and PastToPresentGenealogy, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jane Roberts and PastToPresentGenealogy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.