Tag Archives: Ancestry

Living DNA: I’m Not Who I Thought I Was

My Living DNA results have proved a bit of a curate’s egg. Good in parts, but leaving me with major question marks in others. 

I’m 100 per cent from Great Britain and Ireland, which correlates with my research so far. I’m also predominantly of Yorkshire ancestry; more precisely South Yorshire which, as defined by Living DNA, roughly comprises the South and West Yorkshire counties. Park that piece of information. 

Given what I know, my next largest component is unsurprisingly Ireland at 9.2 per cent. My research so far shows this is all County Mayo, so my 4th ethnicity component of 6.2 per cent southwest Scotland and Northern Ireland is not a shocker either, with its proximity to Mayo. But that’s where it ends.

My family history research does not match my LivingDNA results in some fairly significant areas. My ancestral origins research doesn’t go back the estimated 10 generations the LivingDNA results capture. But my research shows North East England ancestry,  from the Durham and Northumberland areas: one set of 4x great grandparents were born in those counties (Ann Jackson in Northumberland and Robert Burnett in Durham). The evidence is backed up in several record sources, most crucially a documented, bitter, removal order dispute.

Yet my LivingDNA standard result, the one which links to the test’s best-guess reference population ancestry sources, does not show any ancestry in their designated Northumbria area. This roughly equates to the Northumberland/Tyne and Wear/Durham/Scottish Borders/Fife areas. Neither does Northumbria feature in my complete result, the one where the test attempts to allocate the unassigned 7.7 per cent of my genetic make-up to regions where it look most similar. 

Perhaps Ann and Robert’s parents (my 5x great grandparents, John Jackson/Elizabeth Hayes and Stephen Burnett & his one-handed gypsy mistress Charlotte) all migrated and settled in that area from elsewhere – possibly Scotland. Despite me not yet having any ancestors from north of the border, my standard result has identified percentages from three of the Scottish areas (albeit one of those is the aforementioned Scotland/Northern Ireland region). 

The other conundrum is the absence of any North Yorkshire trace in the standard test, basically the North and East Ridings. The explanation may simply lie in proximity to county boundaries and 1974 boundary changes. I have relatively recent (if you call 18th century recent) ancestry around the Sherburn-in-Elmet, Saxton-in-Elmet, Brayton and Hemingbrough areas. These all fall within what is now North Yorkshire. However, prior to 1974 the first three were in the West Riding. Hemingbrough was in the East Riding, but it is only five miles, as the crow flies, to Brayton. So they could conceivably fall within the LivingDNA South Yorkshire zone. My complete results do pick up a trace 1.2 per cent North Yorkshire ancestry. 

Other surprises? Well the shock for this white rose Yorkshire lass is she has genetic components from the dark side of the Pennines, possibly (whisper it) the red rose county. Though, in the absence so far of any North West roots, I’m claiming that any such ancestors must be from the Cheshire/Merseyside/Staffordshire and not Lancashire parts. We’ll see what further family history research down the line turns up. 

I also have Welsh DNA – 5 per cent in total from North and South Wales. And then there’s the 3.8 per cent Devon and 3 per cent Cornwall. So THAT’s why I’m addicted to Poldark!  And I’ve a remarkable absence of southern-ness.

How does my LivingDNA ethnicity result compare with my Ancestry and Family Tree DNA ones?  Family Tree DNA places me as 97 per cent European, of which 71 per cent is British Isles.My Ancestry test is 100 per cent European. Of this 52 per cent is Great Britain and 44 per cent Ireland. In terms of their Genetic Communities, I fall within two of the nine regions assigned to the UK and Ireland as follows:

  • the Irish North Connacht category (very likely) which ties in neatly with my County Mayo ancestry; and
  • English in Yorkshire and Pennines (very likely) which again fits with my research.


The confusion here is the Genetic Communities of my parents are slightly at odds with me, as shown below.

And mum, given her dad is from County Mayo, may be disappointed with her “likely” Irish North Connacht outcome.At a simplistic level, it’s easy to ask should not all the results be the same? After all, there’s only one genetic me (hurray!) But delving deeper, the difference is not unexpected. The companies have different reference groups, time measures and, possibly, a different emphasis on the ethnicity element of their tests as opposed to the DNA matching side. LivingDNA is much more of a deep dive into 21 British/Irish genetic groupings (80 worldwide ones), rather than the broad-brush overview given by Family Tree DNA and, to a lesser extent, Ancestry’s nine UK/Ireland regions.

Finally, for those DNA experts, my LivingDNA Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has me in Haplogroup U4, Subclade: U4b1b1. U4 is found in low frequencies across much of Europe and Asia, more commonly in populations near the Ural Mountains and Volga River in Siberia. According to LivingDNA U4 is “an old group, which helps to explain the relatively low frequencies in populations today. It is now thought that haplogroup U4 was involved in migrations into Europe from the Middle East that occurred before the end of the last ice age”. 

So, to sum up, my test leaves me with much more work to do to build my tree to try to prove these new elements to my ethnic make-up. But it also gives me some new migration theories to work with.

Sources:

“Who Do You Think You Are? Live” 2017 – A Very Different Show Experience

2017 proved a very different “WDYTYA? Live” show experience for me on a number of counts. The major shift this year, instead of cramming everything into one day including the travelling, I did the full three days and stayed within walking distance of the NEC. It made for a far more relaxed, sensibly paced visit, with plenty time to chat, plan, rehydrate, refuel and rest. No running round like an episode of “Challenge Anneka” #ShowingMyAge.

It meant I could visit all the exhibitors I planned to see and more besides. I’m not saying I didn’t forget things – on the journey home I realised I’d not made use of a £5 voucher I’d picked up with one of my purchases. But there were very few “kick myself” moments on that homeward journey.

As ever a wide range of exhibitors and experts were present, representing a breadth of family history aspects. From the big dataset providers, genealogy and software suppliers to Family History Societies and the archives sector. From companies providing family history courses to professional organisations and publishers. Niche interests were represented too such as theatrical ancestors, the ShipIndex for researching vessels associated with ancestors and the Canal and River Trust: The Waterways Archive, described as “a treasure chest for anyone with waterways’ ancestors”. There’s the international aspect too. Not just England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales but Belgium, Luxembourg, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, the Caribbean and Canada.

A Little Bit of Yorkshire in Birmingham

An aside, not sure if this was just my perception, but did there seem to be far more non-family history related stands this year? I really wouldn’t like this to get out of hand in future and detract from what is the country’s largest family history show.

Digging for Victory

The military sector was there in force, fittingly including ancestral tourism such as Mons Memorial Tourism, in this period of centenary commemorations. In addition were the excellent displays by Dig for Victory and The Battlefields Partnership. At the latter I achieved a long-held ambition to hold a Short Magazine Lee-Enfield (SMLE) from the Great War. My arm and shoulder ached afterwards – it was quite heavy and I was fairly slow on the uptake as to what to do.

Fun with Guns – Not Killing Off My Ancestors (as was suggested)

The MoD stand proved of particular interest to me. TNT Archive Services, which holds those as yet unreleased MoD service records (essentially 1920 onwards depending on rank) had a database where you could ask them to search for a record of interest. I had a few to check, and confirmed they held them all, including records for those who did National Service. I definitely intend applying for two of them but I’m holding off for now. During the show Chris Baker, military historian, researcher and author, tweeted: “MOD saying today that an exciting announcement concerning post-1921 army service records is soon to be made”. So is this a transfer to The National Archives, or a digitisation project enabling speedier access? I’m waiting to see.

Queue at the MoD Service Records Database Stand

As ever you could always seek expert help in interpreting finds, breaking down brick walls, finding pointers for further research and identifying and dating family treasures and photos. Besides the Military Checkpoint manned by a range of military museum specialists, the popular Ask the Expert area returned for wider queries as did show stalwart Eric Knowles with his Heirloom Detectives section.

Expert Advice at the Military Checkpoint

There were however some notable absentees amongst the major players, who I really expected to have a presence at this prestigious annual national event. These included The National Archives, The Imperial War Museum, Forces War Records and Fold3. Yes, money is tight, the public and charity sector have taken massive Government funding cuts, and having a presence at these events does not come cheap. And yes, others may be off-shoots of bigger companies. But I really was disappointed not to see them at the show, and I think many others will share that sense of disappointment.

It wasn’t as if all Government departments were absent. The MoD turned up, as did the General Register Office. I’m still thinking about ordering a couple of certificates in Phase 3 of their trial, those certificates not held in a digital format (births 1935-2006, deaths 1958-2006 and marriages 1837-2010). They were apparently overwhelmed by Phase 1, the £6 PDFs of those certificates digitised under the now suspended DoVE (Digitisation of Vital Events) project. Take up of Phase 2, the £45 three-hour turn round option, aimed mainly at probate companies, was far lower than anticipated. Once Phase 3 is finished they will all be evaluated and a decision taken of which (if any) to roll forward.

A Busy Exhibition Hall – My Favourite Stand Title of the Show

DNA was promoted heavily in the 2017 show. Some unbelievable offers featured, with a constant stream of customers buying multiple kits. For example Ancestry sold at £49 (with no P&P addition); Living DNA £99; and Family Tree DNA Family Finder was £40, Y-DNA 25 £70, Y-DNA 37 £80, MtDNA Plus £50 and MtDNA Full Sequence £100. I desperately tried to engage my family, but in the end the only “persuadee” was my husband. So no direct DNA breakthrough with that one. Although with the number of kits flying off the shelves this will hopefully result in an expansion of the U.K. DNA pool, more matches and more of these matches with trees attached (please). So maybe I’ll get lucky that way.

In fact fantastic offers abounded throughout the hall. In addition to DNA, I succumbed to a number. These included a show discount on Family Historian 6 and accompanying guide book; a subscription to Family Tree Magazine with three issues for £4.99, a goody bundle, £10 cash back, a £5 voucher to spend at the show (which I forgot about) and a discounted quarterly subscription rate which kicks in later this summer; I picked up a discount from Ancestry which I will use when my annual subscription comes up for renewal; I signed up to a Pharos Tutors course, “In sickness and in death” with a 10% discount, cheery soul that I am; and as for books…..a 30% discount at the History Press stand lured me into my first show purchase. As for Pen and Sword I was one of the hoards flocking round flashing cash, which saw their books flying off their stand with their offer of three for £25 or five for £45. I’m not sure I saw the logic of that price strategy and I think the sign was amended later to six for £45. I was so pleased I bought my Pen and Sword titles on the first two days, because a number of books did sell out.

Afternoon of Day 3 and Stocks Running Low at Pen and Sword

In and amongst this shopping frenzy I also found time to renew my Shropshire FHS subscription, as I do at some stage intend researching my husband’s family history. Family History Societies are a wonderful, and in this digital age possibly overlooked, source of information.

My Book Purchases

As for talks, again the three day visit meant I could do a selection without brain overload. One thing I found a tad frustrating was how the schedule came through in dribs and drabs leading up to the show. Based on previous experience of talks selling out before the show date I pre-booked mine, only to find nearer the date others were announced which I would have opted for. Too late as they clashed with ones I’d already coughed up cash for.

Kirsty Gray talks to a full house – illustrating the value of pre-booking talks

I attended 10 talks over the three days. These combined a mixture of specialties, general research techniques, and my specific Irish and World War 1 interests. I felt I got the balance right and I’ll be checking the Society of Genealogists website for the slide uploads. One or two were particularly challenging and perhaps less suited to those with a casual interest or beginners, which was reflected in the numbers leaving during these talks. I’m not sure if there is any way in advance of indicating the level of the talk as it must be off putting for the speaker, as well as distracting for the audience, to see a steady trickle of leavers.

My Pre-Booked Talks

It’s difficult to pick out a favourite talk. All were insightful in different ways. And I’m full of admiration for the speakers as its not an easy task to talk in front of such a big audience and pitch it at the right level. I’ve already put into practice a tip I learned from Jackie Depelle’s “Bridging the Gap – Tracing Forward from 1911” talk, and added to some German family research I undertook a few years ago by looking at the German baptisms on Ancestry. But in terms of general enjoyment, I loved Neil McGurk’s “The British Soldier of 1917” looking at the uniform, equipment and its evolution. A great presentation packed with interesting and often amusing information!

Jackie Depelle and Neil McGurk’s Talks

DNA featured as prominently in the talks as it did amongst the exhibitors. This year I only attended one talk loosely related to this topic, and that came from a more general interest rather than a tips and explanation angle. “Identifying the Missing of World War 1″ by Maurice Gleeson examined the practical application of DNA technology married with solid genealogical research to put names to the remains of those service personnel periodically unearthed from the soil of the Western Front.

The Fromelles project, which aimed to put names to the 250 men in the mass graves discovered in 2009 near Pheasant Wood illustrated how vital DNA proved in all cases of the 150 men so far identified. Work continues to try to put names to the remainder if at all possible. Hats off too to the genealogists involved in tracing “informative” Y and MtDNA line ancestors. I’d love to be involved in this kind of worthwhile work, a wonderful way to give something back and enable these service personnel the dignity of a named final resting place and their descendants a sense of closure.

Identifying the Missing of World War 1 – Maurice Gleeson

A video of this talk, given at another event, is online. I would definitely recommend viewing it.

Another shift for me this year was doing a stint on a stand. Only for 90 minutes, but it gave a whole new perspective on the show. I helped on the Pharos Tutors stand, to give the student view of the courses and structure. I really enjoyed chatting to people and it gave an indication of how much effort and how tiring, but rewarding, it can be to have a stand at the show. It was also interesting to observe the ebb and flow of visitors and general show footfall.

Taking my turn on the Pharos Teaching & Tutoring stand

And the final big difference at a personal level this year was the social aspect. Over the past year or so through courses and social media, including #AncestryHour at 7pm-8pm on Tuesday’s, I’ve “met” so many folk with a passion for genealogy. “WDYTYA? Live” was a fantastic opportunity to catch up with some I had met previously, and meet even more for the first time. That for me was the real highlight of this year’s show.

Meeting up with Carolyn, another Pharos Student

Last word on the 2017 show is a massive thank you to all those involved in organising the event, and to the speakers and exhibitors. Another fabulous event and I’ve returned with fresh ideas and renewed vigour for my research.

Packing Away at the End of “WDYTYA? Live” 2017

Other reviews of the event can be found here:

Ordinary Lives: Family History is Best Left in the Graves of Our Ancestors?

Last night a family member asked if I’d unearthed any more embarrassing incidents in our family history. The individual appeared to be particularly concerned about the stigma from having a one-handed gypsy ancestor who gave birth to an illegitimate son whilst on the road in the company of a gaggle of 18th century chimney sweep apprentices. They straw-clutchingly tried to point out that giving birth on the roadside was perfectly normal for the period. There was no ambulance service, or so their argument went.  

And so lies one of the dichotomies of family history. My relative seemingly didn’t want any hint of scandal in our background. They wanted an ordinary, uneventful lineage. They took anything otherwise as casting some kind of lingering reputational stain passed down through the generations. A case of these things are best left in the past. Dirty linen, no matter how old, should never see the light of day. The dead should be portrayed as paragons of virtue. Their human weaknesses buried alongside them in their graves. In short the skeletons of ancestors should be left in their graves. 

They want a family tree populated with ancestors who lived ordinary, unremarkable, hard-working lives, with no speck of scandal. 

Batley Cemetery – Photo by Jane Roberts

Yet for others these more unusual events add colour to the every-dayness of “born, baptised, married, died, buried” records. They stand in the camp of ordinary lives are boring. Not worthy of re-discovery. Unremarkable genealogy is uninteresting. I’m not sure how true this is but, for example, the ordinariness of Michael Parkinson’s ancestry is cited as the reason why his story was ditched by “Who Do You Think You Are?” 

For me family history is about every-day lives. Some are ordinary, some are less so. But that’s part of the rich tapestry of life. It’s a mixture of all sorts. And you can’t gloss over the less palatable tales. No more so than you should discount the mundane. All facets are equally valid.  

Brothers-in-Arms 

Sometimes we overlook more recent family history, concentrating on the more distant past. Currently events of 100 years ago are dominating the news, with national commemoration events for Battles such as Jutland and The Somme, to more individual and personal remembrances for the centenary of the death of a family member.

But here I will focus on a more recent conflict, World War II. We are moving towards a time when this too will disappear from living memory. Sadly those in my family with direct knowledge of this tale are long gone.

This post concerns the fate of Albert Edward Hill, or Ned as he was known: My grandad’s cousin.

Finding out the circumstances surrounding death in conflict can be challenging: Which battle; location; precise cause of death; time; even date; and perhaps there is no known burial place. World War II in many ways presents a bigger challenge than its predecessor, with the public availability of records.

However in Ned’s case it’s all fairly straightforward. He is buried locally at St Paul’s churchyard, Hanging Heaton. His death is well documented. It was not caused by some battle injury. It was the result of a totally avoidably, foolishly tragic accident following a night out.

Ned was born on 2 February 1901, one of the seven children of Albert Hill and Sarah Ann Summerscales. These included Harry who died shortly after birth in 1890; Percy, Annie, Lilian, Doris and Arthur.

Ned never married. The 1939 Register, the population list compiled at on 29 September, as a result of the outbreak of war, shows him living at Wood Lane, Hanging Heaton. He is in the household of his brother-in-law Harry Robertshaw along with Harry’s two young sons. Harry’s wife, Ned’s sister Annie died that summer, her burial taking place at St Paul’s Hanging Heaton on 6 July 1939.

In the 1939 Register Ned is recorded as working as a willeyer in a woollen mill. This was someone who operated what was termed a willeying machine. Fibres were fed into this machine, which separated and combed them ready for carding. Newspaper reports at the time of his death, however, indicate prior to his army service he worked as a builder’s labourer, employed by Hanging Heaton-based building contactors George Kilburn and sons. 

I do suspect some confusion in the report though, and this occupation possibly applied to his brother Arthur. In the 1939 Register he was a public works contractor’s labourer. 

Whatever the true facts are war changed all this, and some two-and-a-half years before his death Ned joined the Army, as a Gunner.

Albert E Hill Batley News July 28 1945 8 (2)

Gunner Hill

His death came entirely out of the blue. Summer 1945, and war in Europe over, Ned returned home to Batley on leave. He finally managed to meet up with his younger brother Arthur, a driver with the RASC, similarly on leave. This was the first time they had seen each other since Ned’s military service. Arthur had been in the Army for four years at this point, serving in Germany, Belgium, France and Holland.

Things must have seemed hopeful. They had survived so far. All being well they would be home soon permanently. The past tragedy of the family would not repeat itself….

Little could they have envisaged that this meeting would be their last, and in three weeks Ned would be dead.

Leave over and Ned returned back to his Unit, the 397 Battery, 122 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment, stationed at Walberswick, near Southwold in Suffolk. This was part of the network of coastal defences, established in response to the threat of German invasion from May 1940 after their rapid victory in Western Europe. That German threat was now gone.

On 20 July 1945 he and another soldier from the same unit, Gunner Leonard Lomax, had evening leave. They left camp at 6pm that Friday for a night out in Southwold. The ferryman took them over the River Blyth and said he would return for them at 10-30-11.00pm.

An interesting aside is the ferry service from Walberswick had featured in Parliament only weeks earlier on 8 June 1945. There had been a seam steam-driven chain ferry which was discontinued in World War II, and it seems a rowing boat service replaced it. The ferry was privately owned and there had been problems in maintaining a regular service. Suffolk County Council was negotiating to acquire the ferry rights to ensure an adequate service.

Walberswick Ferry circa early 1940s Postcard, F Jenkins, Southwold

Ned and Leonard visited three public houses in Southwold and consumed about six pints of mixed beer. They left town at 10.15pm for the return ferry but there was no sign of the man with the boat. As they were debating whether to return to Southwold to catch the liberty truck to camp, a boat containing two soldiers came from the Walberswick side of the river.

These two soldiers, Lance Bombardier Edward Davis and Bombardier George Rennie were from another Battery. They heard shouts from the Southwold side of the river and thought some men from their Company were stranded as it appeared the ferry service had stopped. Despite having consumed three pints, or maybe because of it, seeing a boat moored in the water they decided to cross to collect their companions, but when they arrived found they were strangers. Nevertheless they offered Ned and Leonard a lift back. 

They clambered in the small boat, which turned out to be a yacht’s dingy and using the home-made paddles which were aboard the boat, Edward and George set about rowing back. About halfway across Leonard became aware of his feet feeling wet, water sloshing over the top of his shoes.

George and Edward were now having difficulty controlling the craft and stood up to paddle. They were about eight yards from the Walberswick side when the boat got into trouble with the tide and started to drift back towards Southwold and then seawards. The boat was filling up with water, either the result of a leak or overloading.  At this point Ned grabbed a paddle from Edward and the boat turned over throwing all four men into the river.

Leonard and George managed to get hold of a step ladder running down the harbour wall and climb ashore. They could not see the other two men, so made their way to Southwold to inform the police.

Meanwhile Edward, realising that Ned could not swim, tried to keep him up despite not being a strong swimmer himself. He managed to get them both to the concrete wall where Ned grabbed some weeds. Unfortunately they broke away. Edward continued to hold onto Ned but eventually became too exhausted and he had to let him go. Edward then managed to get hold of the ladder and escape.

In summing up the Coroner censured the boat’s occupants. The accident, he said, was the result of four “landlubbers” knowing nothing whatever about boating. The two soldiers should never have taken Leonard and Ned aboard because they overloaded the boat. There must have been some movement with the result that the boat capsized.

He went onto say that he hoped the tragedy would be a warning to others not to take boats without leave, and not to go on a swift running river like this one unless they were experienced persons who know how many a boat would take. “It is difficult to blame anyone because it is pure ignorance” he added.

A verdict of “Death through drowning through the upsetting of a boat” was recorded.

The Commanding Officer of the Battery wrote to Ned’s sister Doris extending his and the Battery’s sympathies as follows:

On behalf of the ranks of this battery wish to express to you our horror at this tragedy. Gunner Hill was a grand soldier and a man well-known and loved by the men of this unit”.

Ned’s body was brought back to Batley and he was buried in the church yard at St Paul’s, Hanging Heaton, just weeks before VJ Day and the war effectively ending.

Arthur survived the war. But Ned’s fate echoed that of another brother in another conflict, Percy. He died almost 29 years earlier in The Great War, during the Battle of the Somme.

Memories too of the newspaper “Roll of Honour In Memoriam” notices which the Hill family, including the then teenager Ned, placed in the papers all those decades before, mourning the loss of Percy.

Batley News – 5 October 1918
Hill – In sad but loving memory of our dear son and brother, 1736 Sergt Percy Hill, 1st-4th KOYLI (Batley Territorials) who died from wounds at Warloy Baillon, West of Albert, France, September 30th, 1916, aged 24 years.

When last we met, and fondly parted
Our hopes were high, our faith was strong,
We trusted that the separation
Though hard to bear would not be long 

We often sit and think of him when we are
all alone
This memory is the only thing we can call
our own;
Like ivy on the withered oak, when other
things decay
Our love for him will ever live, and never
fade away 

Ever remembered by his sorrowing mother, father, sisters and brothers, 92, Back Bromley Street, Hanging Heaton 

A family which had now lost a brother in both World Wars.Albert and Percy Hill Headstones

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

675px-All_Saints_Church,_Newcastle_2014 (2)

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

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

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

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

jigsaw-305576_1280 (2)

Jigsaw Image from Pixabay

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Cancer, Colic, Chest Complaints & Constipation: Causes of Death

Following my Birthplace Pedigree post, I’m turning my attention to a more macabre topic: a Cause of Death Pedigree.

Victorian Headstones – Photo by Jane Roberts

This is based on evidence provided in death certificates, so is time limited to after the introduction of General Registration in July 1837. Burial entries in parish registers have provided a cause of death for some of my ancestors prior to this date. However, given the small numbers this applies to and the fact these are normally reserved for “unusual” deaths, for the purposes of this exercise I decided against including them.

As it is based on the General Registration period it goes beyond the popular five generation format for my English lines. For my Irish ones I’ve had much less success. The other tweak is I’ve started with my grandparents as, thankfully, my parents are still alive. Something I didn’t think would be possible this time last year when my dad was living under the shadow of a terminal cancer diagnosis and given a matter of weeks to low months to live. That turned out to be a misdiagnosis, only discovered 12 months later…..but that’s a whole new story.

I’ve also gone beyond a simple cause of death. I’ve included ancillary conditions listed on the death certificate. I’ve also included an age and year of death to see if the length of my ancestor’s lives improved in line with medical and public health advances. Where I have no proof of birth date I have accepted the age of death given on the certificate, although for some I do have doubts. If I know the age is definitely wrong on the death certificate, through other documentary evidence such as a birth certificate or baptism entry, I have amended it to reflect my ancestor’s correct age at death.

I’ve created separate charts reflecting the lines of all my grandparents. Those charts containing Irish ancestry are significantly shorter than the ones for my English branches.

The first, for my paternal grandmother, is one such example. This is very limited in terms of cause of death information. As yet I’ve to trace death certificates for three of my four Irish 2x great grandparents.

Cause of Death Pedigree grandma Hill 2

Chart 1: Paternal Grandmother Cause of Death Pedigree

The next charts (2a and 2b) reflect the causes of death in my paternal grandfather’s line. His is a mix of English and Irish ancestry. Because of the size I’ve split this one in half. The cross-over point is my 3x great grandparents, who feature in both parts. Hopefully this makes things easier to read than a 17th century document!

Cause of Death Pedigree grandad Hill 3a

Chart 2a: Paternal Grandfather Cause of Death Pedigree

Cause of Death Pedigree grandad Hill 3b

Chart 2b: Paternal Grandfather Cause of Death Pedigree

The next set of charts are for my maternal grandmother, a purely English line. Again, given the size, I’ve split this into two parts. My 3x great grandparents are the cross-over point featuring at the end of  3a and the start of 3b:

Cause of Death Pedigree nana Callaghan 1a

Chart 3a: Maternal Grandmother Cause of Death Pedigree

Cause of Death Pedigree nana Callaghan 1b

Chart 3b: Maternal Grandmother Cause of Death Pedigree

The final pedigree chart is another Irish one, my maternal grandfather’s ancestors.

Cause of Death Pedigree grandpa Callaghan 1

Chart 4: Maternal Grandfather Cause of Death Pedigree

One feature I was pleased, and surprised, to see is the relative longevity of both my maternal and paternal lines. I’m hoping that holds true, given my impending surgery. The average age of death for mum’s line is 71 and dad’s 66, far higher than I anticipated before doing this analysis. It illustrates yet again childhood was the most dangerous period. By their very nature direct line ancestors survived till adulthood – and mine seemingly fared well in the longevity stakes.

The range of death causes, particularly on dad’s side, also struck me. Looking at his line the most common death cause appears to be general old age. And sticking with this branch, in terms of diseases traditionally associated with Victorian England, phthisis (TB) struck a couple of ancestors, and that was it despite living in increasingly urban areas of Yorkshire.

Of note is the ovariotomy resulting in the death of my 3x great grandmother in 1881, a procedure with a lamentable success rate in this era. In fact, controversially during this period, an ovariotomy could be performed to remove normal ovaries, not just for treating diseases such as cysts and tumours.  This practice started in 1872 and it became the fashionable treatment for menstrual madness, pre-menstrual syndrome, neurasthenia and “all cases of insanity“. The practice of removing normal ovaries was supported by distinguished gynaecologists and psychiatrists, becoming one of the great medical scandals of the 19th century.

Turning to mum’s side, other than general old age, chest problems feature prominently. Some are occupational, but others are definitely not. These range from bronchitis and pneumonia to long term conditions such as asthma. There are also a number of possible stroke-related deaths. The diabetes-related death of my great grandfather has health repercussions in the family today. And once again there are very few of those historic infectious diseases particularly associated with the 19th century. There is a single case of typhus.

A few other quick points, not rocket science but amply illustrated in this “cause of death” sample:

  • the imperfection of diagnosis in the 19th century. Not a shock, given my 21st family example. But it’s interesting to see concrete demonstrations back then. One of my ancestors has a death certificate which actually states “1 day ill, cause not known“.  Another certificate stated “cramps“;
  • linked to these diagnostic limitations, perhaps some of these cases of old age, general debility and natural decay, as well as prostate gland enlargement, masked other illnesses such as cancer. Cancer started appearing in death causes for my family in the early 20th century, particularly on my paternal line;
  • illnesses manageable or treatable today, such as bronchitis, asthma and diabetes, were fatal back then. Some other conditions are curable. One of my ancestors died of an obstruction in the bowels from costivenes (a word for constipation). Again an imperfect diagnosis, possibly cancer, but potentially eminently treatable in the 21st century; and
  • despite the passage of time and medical advances, my oldest ancestor in this sample died in 1852 age 96. So luck plays a part.

I’ve found this exercise particularly worthwhile and informative on a number of levels. Apart from the causes of death and ages, it has highlighted there are three English death certificates on my maternal line I need to track down. So a genealogical help, encouraging a critical review of information and information gaps. Also, looking to the future, there are definite identifiable illness susceptibilities which feature in the descendants of these ancestors today. So potentially a medical help.

My “Holey” Birthplace Pedigree: The (Bad) Luck of Irish Ancestry

Everywhere seems awash with birthplace pedigree charts based on the one created by J. Paul Hawthorne. His template can be found  here: http://bit.ly/1RjfZEZ

So, as a bit of Easter fun, I thought I’d have a go at my own. I’ve modified his template and created two charts. One for my dad’s origins:

Birth Pedigree Dad

Paternal Birthplace Pedigree

The other is for my mum’s side of the family:

Birth Pedigree Mum

Maternal Birthplace Pedigree

What strikes me is how geographically constrained my family is: a mix of Yorkshire and County Mayo on both maternal and paternal sides. Only in the 18th century does my English family extend beyond the Yorkshire boundaries – and then only into County Durham and Northumberland on my paternal side. This is beyond the scope of the generations on the charts. This is why I’ve made an adaptation, to include the birthplace and year. Otherwise my chart is way too boring – and I haven’t broken the geographical mould. Guess it’s an illustration of how wonderful Yorkshire is!

The  other notable feature illustrated in the chart is the challenging nature of discovering my County Mayo ancestry. Whereas I can extend my English roots back to the 18th and, in some cases, 17th century there is no such luck with my Irish side. From the 1850’s onwards things are difficult with my County Mayo ancestors, but no real brick walls. Prior to this date it’s a real struggle. In fact I only know the names of two of my 20 Irish 3x great grandparents, and can only assume they all hailed from Mayo. And I’ve had to make that birthplace assumption for six of my 2x Irish great grandparents, based on the fact it’s their location in the earliest records I can find for them.

So I’m very envious of those who can fill in all their pedigree chart ancestral locations, many covering a wonderful array of almost holiday-like destinations. Sadly my birthplace pedigree chart will never match that, even in the unlikely event of tracing my Mayo roots.

 

 

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.

My St Patrick’s Day Mystery: The Missing Callaghan (Callahan) Sisters of County Mayo – Location Massachusetts

I have a more than a drop of Irish blood in my veins. As such, the run-up to St Patrick’s Day seems appropriate to write about one of my County Mayo brick walls. But this one isn’t so much tracking back as going forward.

My grandpa John Callaghan, born in 1895, came from Carrowbeg, (sometimes spelled Carabeg/Carrabeg in records), near Kilkelly. One of nine children born to Michael Callaghan and Mary Murphy, he was the last son to leave his birthplace and move to England. All the Callaghan boys settled in either Lancashire or Yorkshire, before the autumn of 1920. The latter county had family associations for a number of years prior to their eventual move, with either Michael or some of his sons coming over seasonally to help at harvest time. I will return to the boys and their parents another time.

But it is my grandpa’s three sisters I have “lost”. The girls all crossed the Atlantic.

Bridget, the eldest, went first. The family intended selling a cow to fund her passage. There’s a tale here as the brother tasked with taking the cow to market pocketed the money! And it appears in the end another family member paid the fare.

Bridget set sail from the Irish port of Queenstown (now known as Cobh) on board the White Star Line ship S.S. “Teutonic” on 23 September 1909, arriving in New York on 29 September. But her ultimate destination was 22 Winchester Street, Boston, Massachusetts to stay with her aunt Lizzie Callaghan. A diminutive 5’2”, she was described as fair complexioned with brown eyes and hair. So possibly taking after her mother’s side of the family in colouring. She described her occupation as a servant. And she displayed creativity with her age. Born in 1886 she claimed to be 19.

Ellis Island duo 1

Ellis Island  – Photos by Jane Roberts (July 2012)

Mary was next to make the journey. But this was several years later after the death of her parents. All her brothers had left Ireland too at this stage. Her prospects in the U.S.A were far better than remaining in rural Mayo. And she had family to go to, though possibly not her sister Bridget. But more of that later.

Initially Mary travelled to England to make her journey. Did she meet up with her brothers one last time before departure? Certainly the port she sailed from, Liverpool, was within easy reach of her Lancashire-based brothers.

She left the port of Liverpool on board the S.S. “Carmania” on 9 November 1920. The ship had returned to trans-Atlantic service in December 1918, after seeing action in the Great War. Mary left her sister Catherine, sometimes referred to as Kate, behind in Ireland.

Ellis Island duo 2

Ellis Island – Photos by Jane Roberts (July 2012)

Arriving in New York on 20 November 1920, the 27 year old domestic was also bound for Boston. This time to her aunt Bridget Hayes at 39 Border Street. The passenger list describes her as 5’3” with a fresh complexion, fair hair and blue eyes.

Interestingly Mary’s surname is recorded as “Callahan” on the lists, reflecting its pronunciation. It so annoyed my grandpa when the letter “g” was enunciated.

Finally it was the turn of Catherine. The youngest of the Callaghan siblings, she was the last to leave their Irish homeland. Her closest relative in Ireland was her aunt Mary Caulfield. She too lived in Carrowbeg. In 1911 the widowed Mary lived in a house built for her by her brother Michael, close by the Callaghan farm. Whether Catherine now lived with her aunt is unclear, as the Callaghan farm was still retained by the family.

Her sister, Mary, paid her passage from Liverpool to Boston, on board the S.S. “Ausonia”. By now Mary’s address was 2 South Cedar Place, Boston, MA. Catherine’s passenger list entry indicates her intention was not to remain in Boston. This was purely a visit, and she planned eventually to return home to Ireland. The timing, sailing on 9 December 1922 and docking on 20 December, suggests her stay was arranged to coincide with the festive season. Whatever the intention was, Catherine ended up settling in America permanently. She was of similar stature to her sisters, standing at 5’3”, with fresh comlexion, brown hair and blue eyes. I gather she too subsequently adopted the “Callahan” surname variant.

I would love to know what became of the three sisters. This was one of the mysteries I hoped genetic genealogy might solve. This is a wish shared by my mother, and one of the factors which swayed her into doing a test.

I know the family gradually lost touch. One of the sisters, possibly Bridget but this is unconfirmed, ended up marrying a French-Canadian and settled in Canada. This might explain why when Mary went to Boston she stayed with an aunt. I also understand this Canadian-settling sister adopted a boy who corresponded with one of my mum’s brothers. Sadly this brother died in 1955 in tragic circumstances and contact was lost.

I do have a postcard my grandpa addressed to a “Mrs Lovell, 20 Magguire St, West Villa, Maserchusatt [sic]” (below). No date, or message and the postcard was never sent. It contains a picture of a church associated with the family in County Mayo. Is Mrs Lovell the married name of one of his sisters?

Grandpa’s Mystery Postcard

And I did have a brief ray of optimism with a very close Ancestry DNA match to my mum and my tests. No tree, but someone who appears descendant of one of the sisters. But unfortunately no response after the initial match confirmation. I’ve not given up hope though.

Maybe one day I will solve the mystery. Fingers crossed it is sooner rather than later.

Sources:

  • 1911 Census – The National Archives of Ireland
  • UK Outward Passenger Lists, New York Passenger Lists & Massachusetts Passenger and Crew Lists – Ancestry.co.uk

A Short Life Remembered: Margaret Hill

Immersing myself in the lives of my ancestors inevitably means dealing with their deaths. Lots of them. Because I invest so much time in my research, that connection with my ancestors goes way beyond the simple bloodline link. Learning about their lives and struggles, I develop an emotional attachment. Discovering their deaths, which were occasionally under traumatic circumstances, can stop me in my tracks. And whilst not quite moving me to tears it can bring a lump to my throat. I’m not sure if this is a common feeling amongst other family history researchers.

The deaths of children can be particularly difficult. They never had a chance to make a mark, achieve their potential, fulfil their parent’s hopes and dreams, marry and have families of their own. But for family history research, many would be forgotten for ever. One of my first blog posts, A Census In-Betweener, was one such example. It remembered the all too fleeting existence of Thomas Gavan, my great grandmother Bridget Gavan’s eldest child. Towards the end of the year another post focused on the tragic accident in which Oliver Rhodes died. He was the son of my great grandparents Jonathan Rhodes and Edith Aveyard.

Victorian Headstone for a Child – Photo Jane Roberts

This year I intend to write a series of blog posts commemorating more of the briefer lives of those in my family tree. This is the first. It marks the short life of Bridget Gavan’s youngest child, Margaret Hill. But for the 1911 census I would never have known about her existence. It was news too to other family members, something I find difficult to comprehend. After all it wasn’t that long ago.

In this post, as well as describing what little is known of her short life, I will try to give a flavour of the times in which she lived.

In 1897 Bridget Gavan married coal miner John Herbert (Jack) Hill. Jack was a widower, Bridget an unmarried mother of two girls, though it is possible Jack was the father of the younger of the two, Agnes.

Jack and Bridget went on to have seven further children. Margaret, their final child, was born on 29 August 1910 in the family’s home at 16 New Street, Hanging Heaton. The family now totalled nine children ranging from newly-born Margaret to eldest Annie, who celebrated her 17th birthday the day before Margaret’s arrival.

The 1911 census shows the complete family unit. It is notable for Jack and Bridget’s judicious tinkering with names and dates. Interestingly they claimed to have been married for 17 years, which conveniently corresponded with the age of Bridget’s eldest daughter Annie who is listed as “Annie Hill”, not Gavan. Daughter Agnes, also born outside of wedlock, is similarly listed as Hill and not Gavan. All nine children are claimed as “children born alive to present marriage”. There is also the usual flexibility around adult ages to minimise the gap between Jack and Bridget’s ages (she was born in 1869).

In terms of events during Margaret’s short life, 22 June 1911 marked the coronation of the new King, George V, and his wife Queen Mary. A cause for celebration with parades, parties, decorations and a bonfire to mark the occasion. And in December that year the Liberal Government introduced a National Insurance Act. It meant for that workers would have cover against sickness and unemployment. So there was perhaps some optimism as the things seemed to be on the up for families like Jack and Bridget’s.  But this may have been tempered as a result of industrial action the following year, and its affects on family income.

Miners were notoriously militant with frequent strikes. The records of the Yorkshire Miners Association (YMA) show in the latter part of the 19th century and early into the 20th Soothill Wood, the pit where Jack worked, was one of the more non-militant and politically moderate pits. Nevertheless, although being characterised in district ballot votes as non-militant it was conversely, even then, regarded as particularly “strike prone”.

Just a glimpse through newspapers show for instance strikes were threatened in 1892 over amongst other things distribution of corves. A short strike took place in 1894 over reduction of wages. Outside this period, a lengthy strike took place in 1906 affecting not just Soothill, but wider throughout Yorkshire. And in 1912 there was a national strike, lasting five weeks, the objective being a national minimum wage.

The national strike began in February, Britain in the grip of yet another severe winter with temperatures plummeting and thousands dying of hypothermia. Heavy snow fall had affected Yorkshire at the end of January. A strike was the last thing Britain needed at this particular time. As a result of the action more than a million people were out of work.

Although the outcome was not as profitable as the miners wanted, hewers in the Batley area, such as Jack, were guaranteed a minimum daily wage of 6s 8d, subject to clauses around for example age and attendance, although some employers did try to flout this.

Then another 1912 Soothill strike in early July resulted in 72 men being summoned to appear in court that month  – just a small fraction of the hundreds involved.

A newspaper report in 1918 stated the wages of a Soothill Wood Colliery averaged of £2 13s a week. But this needs to be seen in context of the economy at the time. Since the beginning of the war to 1916 there was an estimated 45 per cent reduction in the purchasing power of foodstuffs. Soothill Wood is more accurately described as a low to average pit in terms of wage level during the period 1894-1918.

So although the Hill family were not in the poorest category, life would still be a struggle full of difficult spending choices to make. Balancing how much to spend on rent against food and other essentials such as coal (although this would be cheaper than the norm given Jack’s job), lamp oil, gas, wood, candles, matches, soda and soap (a particular high usage item for a mining family), blacking and transport costs. And if you went for cheaper rents, these houses would be smaller, damper and darker resulting in higher expenditure on fuel and lighting, not to mention being more detrimental healthwise.

The family would weigh the affordability of burial insurance against the risks of not having it. As we saw in the story of Thomas Gavan, Bridget was minded to take out insurance, but was this still the case with a much larger family?

Then there was clothing and boots. Could they afford to put aside weekly in a clothing or boot club, or were they faced with the hit of paying it all upfront as and when needed? The school log book for St Mary’s, the school the Hill family went to, has accounts of children not being sent to school for lack of boots during this period.

And then there would be budgeting for emergencies such as medicine and doctor’s bills.

As for food, for the working class it was bland and monotonous, the emphasis being on staving off hunger rather than nutrition. Men, the breadwinners, had the most. They needed to be fit and strong to go out to work, especially for a manual job such as Jack’s. The principal article of diet in this period was bread which was cheap and convenient. It was followed some way behind by potatoes, meat and fish. Meat was principally bought for the men, with the main expenditure being on Sunday dinner when the entire household would be at home. Cold cuts from Sunday would be eaten on Monday, eked out longer if possible. When potatoes did not feature, the replacement would be suet pudding with golden syrup. There would be the occasional egg, and tiny amounts of tea, dripping, butter, jam, sugar and greens.

Milk, although crucial for children in particular, was costly. There were also issues of storage to consider in these years before refrigeration. A pint of milk a day for an infant or child would equate to around 1s 2d a week when the food for a whole family may have to be supplied out of 9s a week after all other household expenses were taken into account. As a result women nursed their babies as long as possible, often until they were about one year old. After that often the only milk children got was tinned evaporated milk, this despite it not being recommended for infants. This tinned product was used in tea, and sometimes also used as a spread on bread. Where boiled milk was given to babies and infants it was often thickened with bread and biscuits in an attempt to bulk it out. In 1916 the local Coroner censured such a practice in the inquest of the baby son of a fellow Batley St Mary’s parishioner. But the reason why infants did not get milk was the same reason they lacked good housing and clothing – it came down to cost and family finances. In short the diet where there were several children in a family, such as the Hills, would be chosen for its cheapness and for its filling, stodgy qualities.

All of these considerations may have played a part to some extent in Margaret’s death.

On a national scale one event dominated 1912. British confidence was shaken in the spring when news reached home of the unthinkable, the sinking of the “Titanic” on 15 April, with the loss of more than 1,500 lives. Headlines screamed out from billboards and newspapers – day upon day of grim news. Deaths included those of bandleader and Dewsbury resident Wallace Hartley, with tales of how the band played on adding to the whole pathos surrounding the event.

There were perhaps some particular highlights to the Hill’s year though. On 10 July 1912 following much preparation and accompanied by great excitement King George V and Queen Mary visited Batley. A three minute ceremony in the market square was attended by around 4,000 school children hoping to catch a glimpse of their monarch. However, it ended in disappointed children and much indignation on the part of parents and teachers when many failed to see the Royal couple, such were the crowds and the swiftness of the event. Margaret was too young, but some of her siblings may have taken part and returned home dispondant.

It is also doubtful whether the event took Jack’s mind off the Soothill Wood Colliery strike which culminated in those July court cases.

On a more personal family level one event dominated the year – the marriage of Bridget’s daughter Annie to Lawrence Carney on 30 November 1912.

So things ticked over until 4 August 1914, when a life-changing announcement was made which would affect many families nationwide: Britain declared war on Germany. There now followed a period of intense hardship and sorrow for many families including the Hills, now living at 2 Yard, 2 Victoria Street in the town’s Carlinghow area. But that was still to come.

With the war in its infancy and family members, such as Lawrence, now serving in the military, tragedy closer to home struck the family. On 9 October Margaret, died age four, as a result of tuberculous (TB) meningitis. She was one of only nine people in Batley Borough to die of this illness in that year.

TB meningitis typically affected children under ten years of age. It was especially associated with improper feeding, malnutrition, poor hygiene or childhood illnesses such as measles and whooping cough. Caused by tuberculosis bacteria invading the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, it usually began with vague, non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, listlessness, loss of appetite and headache. The afflicted child became peevish and irritable. Vomiting and constipation followed along with a dislike of lights and sound. As the headache intensified the child would scream with a peculiar cry and display classic neck stiffness. As the disease progressed seizures occurred, the child lapsed into a coma and eventually died. Horrifically Margaret suffered these symptoms and decline over a period of three weeks.

1914 Mourning Dress Advert

Apart from the tragedy, such an event was crippling financially to already hard pressed families. A child’s funeral alone could cost upwards of £2, including a death certificate, funeral costs, flowers, gravediggers, hearse attendants, a woman to lay the body out, and a black tie for the father. Most families took out burial insurance. This cost on average each week 1d per child, 2d for a mother and 3d for a father, though some overcautious women paid more. So for the Hill family, with their flock of children, this would amount to a weekly sum of just over 1s. But even with insurance a burial plot may not have been affordable.

Batley Cemetery – Photo Jane Roberts

This proved the case for the Hill family.

Margaret was buried on 12 October in a common grave in Batley cemetery, echoing the fate of her eldest half-brother Thomas Gavan.

Sources:

  • Batley News
  • Batley Reporter & Guardian
  • Batley Cemetery Burial Records
  • Batley Medical Officer of Health Reports
  • GRO certificates – Birth and Death certificates for  Margaret Hill
  • The History of the Yorkshire Miners 1881-1918” – Carolyn Baylies
  • The History of Batley 1800-1974” – Malcolm Haigh
  • Round About A Pound A Week” – Maud Pember Reeves
  • St Mary of the Angels School Log Book
  • FindMyPast – 1911 Census