Tag Archives: Archives

The Accidental Blogger – My 2017 Review

My 2017 blogging year didn’t go quite as planned. Two posts a month was what I promised. And with 33 for the year I ever so slightly overachieved. So unplanned in a positive way. This number was down significantly on my 2016 total of 60+ posts, but deliberately so. I continue to enjoy researching and writing. I also find the process helps me to focus on, and review, my personal family history research. But keeping volume up, alongside quality and interest, is a tricky balance. Hopefully I achieved that balance in 2017.

I accidentally stumbled into this blogging lark. My blog started in April 2015. In those first nine months it had a tad over 2,900 views. In 2016 it grew to 12,163. So how does 2017 compare?

The Headlines: Despite the reduced output my blog did not suffer. It had 20,649 views. I feel slightly giddy and ever so grateful that folk actually looked at my random stories and thoughts about family and local history. In 2015 I averaged roughly about 322 views per month. In 2016 this grew to over 1,000 per month. Roll forward to 2017, and it achieved over 1,700 per month.

My Best Day: 28 July 2017 had an amazing 662 views. For hard-core bloggers that’s not many, but I feel hugely privileged so many people took the time out to engage. Sunday is now my most popular day, with 22% of views. And, once more, the golden hour is 8pm.

How Did They Find You? Facebook was the primary referrer with over 5,000 clicks leading to my site. Search Engines accounted for almost 4,000.

Where Did They Come From? The global reach of WordPress continues to astonish, with views from around 80 countries. Unsurprisingly, as I’m based in England, over 13,000 were from the UK. Almost 4,000 reached me from the USA. But I had views as far afield as Rwanda, Fiji, Venezuela, Albania and Lebanon (one from each of those countries). So if you’re reading this a huge thank you!

I also loved reading the comments I’ve received indirectly via Facebook and Twitter, or directly on my blog site. Some of these have resulted in new direct family history connections with distant cousins. Others have been from descendants of those named in my research. Again, thank you for getting in touch.

Top Five Posts of 2017: Other than general home page/archives and my ‘about‘ page, these were:

  • Access to Archives – What Price and at What Cost? This was my reaction to the news that Northamptonshire Archives proposed introducing charges to visit, alongside a reduced number of free access hours. The fact this post received over 1,500 views is testimony to the concern felt throughout the academic and family history communities about this development. The proposal was thankfully shelved. But it shows the ongoing issues we face with access to archives at a time when Councils are facing difficult choices about their priorities in a climate of tight funding.
  • Buried Alive: A Yorkshire Cemetery Sensation had almost 1,000 views, with its multiple stories of people ‘rising from the dead’. It included a particularly macabre tale from Leeds, with a gravedigger seemingly ignoring knocking from a coffin. It goes to show that the Victorian fear and obsession with premature internment still holds a fascination today.
  • General Register Office (GRO) Index – New & Free was actually posted in 2016. But in 2017 it had a resurgence, with its close to 800 views more than doubling its 2016 tally. This post was about a new free source for searching the GRO birth and death indexes (note not marriages) for certain years, one which gives additional search options. It also covered the initial £6 PDF certificate trials. There is currently an extended pilot running for these £6 PDFs, which I blogged about here.
  • Living DNA: I’m Not Who I Thought I Was dealt with my latest shocking DNA results. I’m 100% from Great Britain and Ireland. No drama there. But imagine the horror this Yorkshire lass felt to discover she has genetic material from the dark side of the Pennines. I did try to kid myself that it couldn’t possibly be Lancashire blood. But a discovery last month via traditional family history research seems to confirm the accuracy of LivingDNA’s results. It points to a 5x great grandmother from Colne. How could my mum inflict this on me?
  • A Dirty Tale from a Yorkshire Town had just shy of 600 views. The 1852 inquiry into sanitation in Batley proved to be a fascinating peek into the lives of our ancestors, their struggles to obtain drinking water, the issues of sanitation in an increasingly urbanised area, the problems with disposing of the dead and the knock on health effects, with frequent epidemics. All illustrated with examples from the town. Despite the grim and dry(?) subject, the post clearly whet the appetite for this type of local context to family history.

So a real mix of posts ranging from topical family history issues, to DNA and general history and local history tales. This snapshot really sums up what my blog is about. A bit of my family history, interspersed with general genealogical topical updates, and a smattering of local history posts about the lives and times of my ancestors and the communities in which they lived.

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

  • Death by Dentition looked at teething as a cause of infant death in the 19th century. This research was promoted by the discovery of my 3x great grandmother’s youngest daughter’s death in 1870.
  • Batman – My Family History Super Hero uncovered the extraordinary persistence of my aged Irish great grandad in trying, and lying, to enlist to serve in the Great War not once, not twice but three times. I discovered his final attempt in 1918 was to join the newly formed RAF. So he, not his grandson (my dad) was the first to serve in that branch of the military.
  • In my commitment to the role of libraries in the community, I shared my thoughts on their importance in A Library is Not a Luxury but One of the Necessities of Life.
  • I also wrote about a couple of murders with local connections. One remains unsolved. Cold Case: The Huddersfield Tub Murder involved a woman of ‘ill-repute‘ whose tragic life and abusive relationships ultimately resulted in her death. The other, Mother-in-Law Murderer, was a tale of poisoning which resulted in the hanging of a Batley woman in 1794.
  • Finally, if you want to discover a claim to Brontë fame, check out Finding Your Brontë links.

What Does 2018 Promise? Well, as in 2017, I aim to do two posts a month. I’ve lots of ideas for these, including some in-depth research pieces. In this centenary year of the Armistice, some will definitely have a Great War theme. Others will have a more general family or local history context. And, of course, there will be the occasional topical offering when something big hits the genealogy news. Hopefully these topics remain relevant and interesting, but any other suggestions would be welcome.

The big question, as ever for me, is time. 2018 promises to be a busy year personally and professionally. This may impact on my blogging output, as I do need to focus on my family history client research work, the final year of my assessed genealogy course and my book. I’ll have to see how it pans out.

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

Wishing you a happy, peaceful 2018 filled with family history fun!

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My Top 12 Family History Suggestions for the New Year

As the year closes, here are 12 Family History suggestions for you to consider in 2018. 12 as in one per month. Or maybe because I simply couldn’t whittle them down to 10. You can judge!img_4905

  1. Review your research. Often research is ‘completed‘ and then shelved for years or possibly for ever, even if there are gaps. It does pay though to periodically revisit your research. What might have seemed a dead-end 12 months ago, may no longer be the case. A new record set, an additional piece of information gleaned through researching another family member, or even your own improved research techniques – all these can mean a brick wall is ready to come crashing down.
  2. Join a Family History Society. These organisations are the bedrock of family history up and down the country. They offer a wealth of help, advice and local knowledge. They also provide opportunities to meet with others sharing the same passion for, what can be, a solitary pursuit.
  3. Visit an archive. Contrary to what may appear to be the case, not everything is online. Far from it. And even what is there is not perfect. The indexing may leave something to be desired. Or the source citation may be so unclear as to mislead. One of the simple pleasures of family history research for me is physically connecting with original source material. To hold a document from a bygone era, possibly centuries old, and realise you’re touching something created by people long since gone. All the more special if, within that document you discover your ancestor’s name.
  4. On the same lines, check out your local library. They may have lots of free resources to help you with your family history research. From local newspapers on microfilm, to electoral registers, donated research, council minutes, medical officer of health annual reports, school yearbooks and magazines. The may have censuses, and microfilm or microfiche copies of parish registers. Many have free computer access to Ancestry or FindMyPast. So get down to your local library. You may be pleasantly surprised what’s there.
  5. Talk to relatives. They are living connections with the past, often too easily ignored whilst you pursue your paper trail. My dad died this year. Even though I did quiz him about the past, it’s only now he’s gone that I realise there’s so much more I wished I’d asked him. A few years ago I gave dad a book to fill in about his life. He never did it. So talk to your relatives whilst you have the chance.
  6. Do a family history course or webinar. Anything really to improve your skills. It doesn’t need to cost much. There are lots of free tutorials. Check out The National Archives events – they do some really good free online webinars. FindMyPast also do them. Your local Family History Society may run courses too. But ultimately your research techniques, and results, will benefit from it.
  7. If you do a DNA test, and if you are able to, please Please PLEASE include a tree. Even if it’s only a skeleton tree with a few direct line ancestors. There are so many treeless DNA testers, and it’s so frustrating trying to work out what the connection is between you and them. Yes there are ways and techniques to try to work round this. But it’s so long-winded and speculative. It’s far easier if at the outset there are some family names to work with. So if you received a DNA test this Christmas, besides the initial excitement of spitting or swabbing, do take a bit of time to upload a tree. By doing so you may get more potential DNA matches contacting you too.
  8. Check out #AncestryHour on Twitter. Tuesday’s at 7pm-8pm (GMT). Lots of fast-paced, fun, friendly family history chat, tips and plenty of opportunity to ask questions. More details are here. Starts again on 9 January 2018.
  9. If you do have a public tree on Ancestry, review it to make sure it’s accurate. And if you’re new to family history and looking at these public trees don’t take them as gospel. Do your own research and checking. So many of these things are blindly copied perpetuating the myth that 95 year old 3x great auntie Ann gave birth to twins!
  10. A bit long term, and on a less cheery note: what will happen to all your painstakingly researched family history once you’re gone? Will it end up in the bin? Start thinking now about how it will be preserved. Is there someone in the family to pass the baton on to? If not, is there another option?
  11. Photographs. A dying art in this digital age. I can’t remember the last time I put a family photo in an album, never mind label the names. They’re all on my phone, FaceBook, or when I get round to it, on my computer. So perhaps devote some time to putting a few key family photos (with names) in an album for future generations. Perhaps I’m showing my age and technophobe side here?
  12. Make 2018 the year when you better organise your family history research. Note sources in full. Note negative searches. Note dates searches were conducted. Write up research, and file it, at the time you do the work – not six months later when you’ve not a clue what paper is where, let alone what your scribbled note says and anyway it’s now all too overwhelming to sort out.montage

Whatever you do with your family history quest in 2018, enjoy it! I’ll publish my own New Year’s Resolutions tomorrow.

Access to Archives – What Price and at What Cost?

Would you pay £31.50 per hour to access your local archives? This is the charge Northamptonshire Archives and Heritage Services announced would apply from 21 August 2017. This eye-watering price is just to visit the archives and conduct your own research, (although subsequent information is this charge may apparently include dedicated staff time, whatever that means). It is more than the hourly cost most researchers charge to undertake research on your behalf!

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Archive Storage: Image – Pixabay

There is still free access to their Archives Service. But, according to the notice issued, this is limited to Tuesday to Thursday, 9am-1pm; and the first Saturday each month between April to October, 9am-4pm (note their website now reduces the Saturday hours further to 9am-1pm). In total, over the year, free access therefore amounts to less than 13 hours per week. In contrast, the chargeable access applies Monday and Friday 10am-1pm and 2pm-4pm; and Tuesday to Thursday 2pm-4pm: a total of 16 hours per week.

Yes, money is tight in local Councils. Over the past few years we have seen many cut back the opening hours of Archives and County Record Offices. We have also witnessed a similar reduction in the opening hours of many libraries alongside the closure of others. Museums have suffered similar fates. Culture, history and learning beyond school years are well down the list of Council priorities.

Archives do have a variety of charges already from photocopying, scanning and printout fees to charges for taking personal digital photographs and hiring a circuit breaker to use electrical equipment. These can differ wildly.

For example Berkshire Record Office charges £1 per self-service image taken, with an annual cap of £100 per academic year providing you are a student undertaking an individual project leading towards a recognised qualification. So if you do not fall under that category it could prove very costly. Others have set fees for a specific time-period or number of visits – for example Devon Archives and Local Studies have daily, weekly, monthly and annual photographic licences ranging from £5 to £80.

But £31.50 per hour to simply access archives? This is a step too far. If it is implemented, will other County Record Offices and Archives follow suit? Will there be differential charges for personal research and research conducted by professionals, akin to the charges for commercial use of images? Will it be the beginning of the end of Archives Services as we know them?

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Is this the Death Knell for Free Archives Services?  Image – Pixabay

It is so wrong on so many levels.

  • The free opening hours are so limited. Not everyone who uses the archives lives local to them, so factor in the cost of overnight stays or alternatively having to pay the hourly fee in order to have a full day’s research. The free access hours are also likely to be oversubscribed;
  • It may put off philanthropic people donating valuable historical documents to archives. And will others withdraw their loaned documents and collections?
  • The costs for chargeable sessions, and lengthy waits for free slots, may ultimately drive down the numbers using archives. This in turn may lead the Council to justify further reduction in services on the basis of decreasing footfall. It could be a death knell for archive services as we know them;
  • In the medium to long term it will discourage interest in academic, family and local history research and the use of primary sources in conducting this research. There will be increased reliance on secondary published material or online family history subscription sites. These providers in turn may feel able to push their prices up accordingly. But only a fraction of available documents are online. The result will be a reduction in the quality and quantity of research;
  • Only those with the ability to pay these costs will continue with research in archives. Research will become increasingly elitist and the province of the few;
  • Personal family history research is a popular hobby which provides intellectual stimulation. At a time when increasing attention is focused on mental health and wellbeing and the correlation made between being mentally and physically inactive and Alzheimer’s, the policy of charging for access to archives and reducing opening times may be counter-productive in the long term;
  • The policy seems contrary to the standards of UK Archive Service Accreditation. According to The National Archives, this accreditation “defines good practice and agreed standards for archive services across the UK, thereby encouraging and supporting the development of the archive service” Access is one of the key markers under the ‘Stakeholders and their Experiences‘ heading. Amongst other things, to achieve this core accreditation element, the Archive has to demonstrate “good access to its collections for its whole community and can evidence high quality user experiences. It has a planned, customer-focused approach to improving access and engagement “. It also states that “the archive service demonstrates a good understanding of the needs and interests of the community it is established to serve. It has plans in place which detail the actions that are being taken to meet stakeholders’ access requirements and to continuously improve service provision“. It would be interesting to know the take of The National Archives on this Northamptonshire development. Incidentally Northamptonshire Archives is not amongst the list of those receiving accreditation.

Northamptonshire Archives made their announcement about the new charges to access archives on 24 July 2017. The outcry on social media has been sizeable and vocal. I particularly feel for the archives staff who will have borne the brunt of this public anger. The protests have been on such a scale that this afternoon, 26 July, they have said a further statement about the changes to opening hours will be made tomorrow. I hope that given the widespread condemnation of the move, the Council will do the decent thing, ditch the chargeable slots and revert to free public access.

27 July 2017 Update:

Northamptonshire County Council are unrepetentant about their decision to reduce free access hours to their Archives, and introduce exorbitant charges for research outside these limited free hours. They have issued the following in defence of the changes:

STATEMENT ON ARCHIVES AND HERITAGE SERVICE OPENING HOURS

The County Council is responsible for making sure that limited and reducing local government resources are used as effectively as possible. In the current financial climate, it has no option but to look at how best to remodel service delivery with reduced budgets.

The Archives Service changes to opening hours that will be implemented from 21 August show a commitment to maintaining free public access to archives. The service will continue to be free for on-site visitors from 9am to 1pm Tuesday to Thursday and one Saturday morning each month.

Customers have said that they most need and want online access to resources; numbers visiting the service in person have fallen dramatically in the past two years. This has been taken into account in this revision to opening hours and the intention is that outside the core opening hours, the service’s limited staff resources will be redirected to the work of digitisation and developing on-line access to archives.

In order to mitigate the impact on research of the changes, the service has in fact extended the times during which people can choose to visit. These additional hours are chargeable but are offered in order to support researchers and not otherwise.

This is a bold step in difficult times and we seek your support as we work to ensure that researchers can enjoy and learn from our rich collections now and into the future.

Their decision misses the point totally. They are narrowing access to archives for the majority. Who can afford these charges? How is this encouraging use of archives? Note the worrying digitisation and online access argument, which fails to recognise and understand the realities that not everything is/will be online. It also fundamentally ignores the value of archivists. Also equally worrying is the footfall defence – is this going to be trotted out, not too many years down the line, when the inevitable consequences of these changes kick in?

I would urge everyone reading this to sign the petition to Northampton County Council about these charges at https://www.change.org/p/northamptonshire-county-council-northamptonshire-county-council-don-t-charge-for-visiting-archives

4 August 2017 Update:

This is the latest statement by Northamptonshire Archives and Heritage Service, released today on their Facebook page.

Northamptonshire County Council has reviewed its decision to change opening hours at its archives and heritage service after listening to the views of its regular users and supporters. 

The archives service will now be open for free access on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 9am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm and the first Saturday in each month, 9am to 1pm.

In light of financial pressures and reducing visitor numbers, there will be a review of the service ahead of the next financial year as part of the budget setting process and this will include a full consultation around any proposed changes.   

In 2016, the service was visited by a total of 3,500 researchers, a drop of 50 per cent compared with 2006.  

County council cabinet member for public protection, strategic infrastructure and economic growth Cllr André Gonzalez de Savage said: “Having listened to the views of our service users here in Northamptonshire and across the UK, a decision has been made to reconsider the proposed changes to opening hours. 

“However, given our significant financial challenges, changes to customer behaviour and a growth in online enquiries, we need to consider how best to use our limited resources and will be reviewing the service in the coming months as part of the annual budget process.

“As part of this there will be a full public consultation in which service users will be able to provide their feedback ahead of any changes being implemented.”

They further clarified:

Today’s press release details the hours for free access to the search room, index room and to original documents as follows: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 9am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm and the first Saturday in each month, 9am to 1pm.

We would like to clarify that the option to pay for research room time outside of these hours will not be offered. Researchers can continue to book 1-2-1 time with our Research Assistant during the times we are otherwise closed, as has always been the case. It is this service that is charged at £31.50 per hour. The only change to our current arrangements is that the search room will be closed between 1pm and 2pm, though the public tea area and toilets will remain open.

Whilst it is welcome news that free access now applies to three full days and a half day every first Saturday of the month, it clearly is not the end of the matter. The Council will be reviewing the service and now have committed to a full public consultation in advance of any changes. So, although safe in the immediate months, the threat of reduced hours and very limited free access still stands. I suspect this is far from being the end of the matter. And it begs the question why did the Council attempt to by-pass any consultation process this summer? 

Links to Other Blogs/Posts about Northamptonshire Charges

Sources:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elation and Frustration: The Reality of Family History Research

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

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Newcastle’s Discovery Museum – by Jane Roberts

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

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

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

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

All Saints Church, Newcastle – by Jane Roberts

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

In terms of positives:

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

The negatives:

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

West Yorkshire Archives, Wakefield Office – Photo by Jane Roberts

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

And it has been wonderfully, and unexpectedly, enlightening.

The registers contain columns giving information such as:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

 

 

 

Visit Tips for Archives

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

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

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

    The “Archives Hands” Phenomenon

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

My Archives Visit Kit – Photograph by Jane Roberts

Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jigsaw Image from Pixabay

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

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

Sources:

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

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