Tag Archives: Family History Tips

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.

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My New Toy: Irish Birth, Marriage and Death Images

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

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

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

Glan Church, Kilkelly, County Mayo

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

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

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

But the positives far outweigh these niggles:

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

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

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

5 October 2016 update:

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

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

Visit Tips for Archives

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

1200px-Coventry_History_Centre

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

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

    The “Archives Hands” Phenomenon

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

My Archives Visit Kit – Photograph by Jane Roberts

Sources:

 

What a Difference a Year Can Make – Calendar Confusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chesterfield’s Calendar Act Extract

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

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

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

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

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

img_0596

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

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

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

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

September hath 19 days this year

Then, after a baptism entry on 2 September:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Left it too Late: Batley’s Greenhill Mills Destroyed

Thank goodness no-one died, but even so I am feeling quite emotional about this. On 14 January a massive fire ripped through Greenhill Mills, Grange Road, Batley razing it to the ground.  

Apart for the sadness for those who will have lost their jobs, it was a place very much associated with an ancestor, Jesse Hill, who died in WW1: the ancestor I have spent most time researching. 

That connection has now gone, wiped out in a matter of hours. 

The firm Jesse Hill worked for, Wrigley & Parker, went into liquidation in the late 1920’s and the mill was sold. But it was still the same building. 

The mill was only down the road from me. I kept meaning to photograph it but I never got round to it. And I never made the effort to see inside, walk on the wood floors, touch the stonework. I know that sounds odd, perhaps it’s a family historian thing. 

Unlike many other places connected with my family history, because it was on my doorstop I didn’t have to make a special trip. It was there, I’d do it one day, no rush. A Victorian structure, still being used. It wasn’t like it would disappear overnight…..or so I thought.  

Following the inferno of 14 January, that’s exactly what happened.   

Not sparing the time to take that handful of photographs to record Jesse Hill’s workplace is something I now very much regret. As is never seeing the interior. It’s example of how we take for granted our local and family history.  

So a lesson learned the hard way. Don’t put off the chance to visit a family history connected location; don’t put off talking to family to record memories. Because one day you’ll wake up and realise that chance has gone. 

This is the only photo I took – too late.  

The remains of Greenhill Mills

 
Neither does Jesse Hill’s Spurr Street home exist. 

Spurr Street, Batley

Top Ten Genealogy/Family History Books by a Self-Confessed Bookworm

Tsundoku” – the Japanese word for buying books and letting them pile up unread. Yes I’m guilty of that. But I also have piles of read books because I don’t have enough bookshelf space, despite buying yet another one last year to accommodate my burgeoning genealogy and WW1 book collection. I return to these books time and time again for pleasure and my research (interchangeable, because I get enjoyment from research).   

Part of my Book Collection

 Trying to narrow it down to my top ten go-to books has been a really difficult decision because it depends on which aspect of research I’m concentrating. Some such as the handy little Gibson Guides covering topics from Militia Lists, to Hearth Tax and Probate Jurisdictions are invaluable but very specific. I wanted a broader range of topics in my selection.

So in the end I’ve gone for a mixture of general reference and more specialised books, including some tailored to my own family history interests. Here they are, in no particular order: 

  • Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History” – Mark Herber. Exactly as described in the title. It’s my definitive reference book, written in a easy-to-read style and jam-packed with information. A book I couldn’t do without.
  • The Dictionary of Genealogy” – Terrick V H FitzHugh. An alphabetical glossary of terms. A quick reference source to dip into.
  • Tracing your Ancestors in the National Archives: The Website and Beyond” – Amanda Bevan. An in-depth guide which clearly set outs and explains The National Archives series of records. It is indeed “the biggest and best guide to The National Archives”  
  • The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers” – edited by Cecil R Humphrey-Smith. Although this might not be for everyone because the information is available on the Internet, I find it invaluable having everything about pre-1832 parishes at county-level in one place, juxtaposed with the topographical county map. There is a comprehensive index of the parishes complete with dates of registers. The Ecclesiastical and Peculiar Jurisdictions are also included. It covers England, Scotland and Wales. Though for those with poor eyesight, a magnifying glass to see the maps in detail is advisable!
  • UK Timeline for Family Historians” – Angela Smith & Neil Bertram. Provides a timeline for family historians setting genealogical events and resources into a wider historical context. It’s not exhaustive but it is a really useful quick, basic reference book.
  • Genealogy – Essential Research Methods” – Helen Osborn. This is a different type of book. It is a detailed, well laid out reference for problem-solving research strategies to help break down brick walls. Some excellent advice on research methodology.
  • Palaeography for Family and Local Historians” – Hilary Marshall. I think it is essential to have a book about palaeography, abbreviations and Latin to help with deciphering old handwriting and language. I have a number all of which I use to varying degrees, so it was difficult to chose one. But in the end I went for this comprehensive book. It has the standard characteristics of letters, abbreviations and a Latin vocabulary. But it also includes copies of original documents accompanied by the transcript, translation, a description and any notable features of the script. So everything in one book.  
  • Tracing your Mayo Ancestors” – Brian Smith. I have a significant contingent of Irish ancestors. I agonised about which Irish ancestry book to include in my list. I was torn between this and John Grenham’s “Tracing Your Irish Ancestors” covering the whole of the country. But as, so far, all my ancestors are from County Mayo I went for a book focusing purely on the records for this County. There are other County books in this series of Flyleaf Press publications.
  • My Ancestor was a Coalminer: A Guide to Coalminer Sources for Family Historians”  – David Tonks. I love the SoG “My Ancestor was A…..” series of books, alongside Pen & Sword’s “Tracing Your Ancestor” series. My ancestors were predominantly coalminers, so for me a coal-mining family history research book is essential. I’ve included this one for the comprehensive pointer to various coal-mining sources. But I could have equally chosen Pen & Sword’s very informative and generally more detailed “Tracing Your Coalmining Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians” by Brian Elliott (I’ve cheated though and  included this book in my final picture). However the deciding factor was my final choice, another Pen & Sword publication.
  • Tracing Your First World War Ancestors” – Simon Fowler. First World War ancestry is another one of my particular interests, having researched the 76 men on my local church War Memorial, St Mary of the Angels RC Church, Batley. I have a number of books about military research. But this is a good basic introduction covering the full range of those involved in the conflict, including women and civilians at war.  

To keep a track of my books I keep a A-Z by author index of them all. I make sure I take to any family history fairs and events so, in theory, I won’t duplicate purchases; and even if I can’t immediately spot a book on my over-crowded bookshelves, I know it’s there somewhere!

If you have tips for essential family history books please feel free to share them. It’s great to hear about key books, whether you are beginner to family history research or more experienced.