Tag Archives: family history

The Camera Doesn’t Lie – But the Caption Might. A Lesson in Family History Evidence

This post is dedicated to my dad who died in August 2017, after an almost three year battle with cancer. It is prompted by a photograph which appeared recently on a local Facebook page.

This is the photo which inspired me to write this post. It is a St Mary’s Batley school Rugby League team photo. Apparently under 15s.

St Mary’s 1948-49 Rugby League Cup Winning Team – Photo reproduced with permission of Mark Oliver Lockwood

The top right boy is identified as ‘Kev Hill’. My dad. My heart wanted it to be so, but my head said otherwise. It looked more like dad’s marginally older brother, Gerard. Plus dad would have only been about 12 at the time.

I knew dad was a good rugby player, a winger. He was quick, really quick. I know when dad served in the RAF, he played Rugby Union on the wing for them: back in the 1950s Rugby League wasn’t an accepted military sport. Rugby League though was his true game. It was in the family. His uncle, Thomas Brannan, played for Batley. His cousin, Brian Briggs, played for Huddersfield, St Helens and Wakefield. He also represented Yorkshire, England and Great Britain.

One of my earliest memories is dad taking me to Mount Pleasant on a Sunday afternoon to watch Batley play. We’d usually be accompanied by his brother Gerard, and my cousin Claire. It is from those early days watching the game with dad, either live or on TV, that I developed my love of Rugby League.

One of the conversations I had in dad’s last months was how he believed his playing days wouldn’t have been halted temporarily if his own dad hadn’t died when he was three. Dad suffered a bad led injury and, for a time, his naturally protective mum stopped him playing in the lead up to a cup final whilst at school. His mum eventually relented, but it was too late. It meant he missed the cup-winning final. A big deal for him, which almost 70 years later he talked about. It meant he wasn’t on the team photo which was on display in Batley Nash. Maybe it was the team photo in the year or so after the one above.

Anyway, back to this 1948/49 photo. Seeing it knocked me for six. It was the type of photo I’d share and discuss with dad. He’d go through those photographed, identifying them from his school days. But this was the first time ever he’d been labelled on a picture. And I couldn’t ask him about it.

Dad’s younger sister and brother are alive though. And they confirmed my belief. The photo is incorrectly labelled. It’s not dad. It is his older brother Gerard, who died a few years ago. I’d noticed uncle Gerard’s shorts contravened kit rules. My uncle also pointed out that Gerard wasn’t wearing rugby boots, something I hadn’t noticed. It turns out uncle Gerard was late for the team photo. So the family knew the history behind it.

Maybe if this photo had surfaced years later when those who knew dad and his brother were long gone, descendants would’ve accepted the name labelling as correct. Who is to say that the family history photos we have today haven’t been similarly mistakenly named? As with any other family history source it pays to evaluate that source and ask questions. In this case:

  • When was the labelling done – was it years later?
  • If names do appear, who did it? The person, another family member who knew them or someone totally unrelated?
  • Is it a family group photo, for example a wedding shot, which features many family members? This might make it easier to put names to individuals. Or is it a class photo, with no other family members on?
  • Does the period look right, in terms of clothes, style and type of photograph, studio name and location etc?
  • If there are dates indicated on the shot, do they fit in with what is known?
  • Does it match the family member’s appearance in other photos (if they exist)?
  • Do other sources corroborate it?

So the moral of this story, in life as much as in family history, is question and challenge. Back up with other evidence to build up a body of proof. Don’t go on just one single piece of ‘evidence‘ and don’t go with your heart – use your head.

Dad – Father’s Day 2014, with the Family History Book I wrote for his present

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Mischief Night

What links jam, string, dustbin lids, gate posts, bangers and November? If you’re of a certain age and grew up in West Yorkshire you might know.

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Essential Equipment – photo by Jane Roberts

Of late I’ve found myself reminiscing about my childhood. This time of year, autumn, used to be one of my favourites. A nip in the air, the magical dark-by-teatime nights. A season full of promise and magic.

The magic started with the annual St Mary of the Angels torchlight procession. This took place on the first Monday night in October. In this annual Catholic witness of faith which started in 1951, we’d set off from church and process through the streets of Batley, following a loudspeaker van leading us in hymn singing and decades of the Rosary. I think it was church organist and high school teacher Mr Scanlon who was the voice behind the megaphone. We’d be brandishing paper torches with a candle shoved through the middle, illuminating our way to Batley market place. It had an element of danger, which added to the excitement for children. If the wind got up, your flickering flame risked igniting the entire paper structure. There was many a scorched torch and mini inferno en route. Consider a good proportion of the participants were infant and junior school kids, carrying naked flames. Health and safety eat your heart out.

The season culminated in Bonfire Night on 5 November. It was as much about the lead up too, with chumping (collecting wood for the fire), building the up the magnificent structure, and creating the Guy to burn in top of the pyre. I never did the ‘Penny for the Guy‘ thing though, trailing the effigy around in a cart to collect money to buy fireworks.

And yes, it was Bonfire Night, not week or month. We’d have a Hill family bonfire in the garden, with combined family fireworks. We’d rotate the venue. One year it would be our house, the next my dad’s sister or brother would host the event. I think later on, bonfire parties were all at my auntie’s house.  All the cousins would be there, so a fun family gathering. We’d prepare traditional food – parkin, bonfire toffee, baked potatoes, maybe pie and peas. I remember one year we burnt all the grass in our garden. I think that was dad’s intention, because it was so overgrown. A scorched earth and start again policy. Another year at my uncle’s it was so wet the fire wouldn’t ignite. But that’s the stuff memories are made of. And only once Bonfire Night was done did the build up to Christmas begin.

In between the Torchlight Procession and Bonfire Night, there was Halloween: although that wasn’t the event it is today. No trick and treating. And no pumpkin. That was a very exotic and foreign gourd. No, we were tougher than that in Yorkshire. We carved our lanterns from turnips and swedes. Try hollowing one of those out. How we managed not to lacerate our hands in the process, heaven knows. Another one to give the health and safety obsessives nightmares. Maybe our torchlight procession attendance saved us? A kind of religious insurance protection.

Instead, our trick and treat night was more of the trick and trick variety: 4 November, the night before Bonfire Night, was deemed Mischief Night. When children roamed the streets smearing door knobs with jam or treacle; when gates would be removed from their hinges; when bin lids were tied to door handles, or door handles to neighbouring door handles; and where sprinting skills were tested to the limit by the dark art of door-knocking and running away.

Except my parents refused to let me play an active part. I could play out, but no annoying neighbours with pranks. So, imagine my surprise when talking to mum last week she described it as innocent fun. She even admitted being allowed to indulge in the door-knocking by her parents. And recalled some irate householder chasing the gang of door-knockers down a ginnel.

Surprise Number Two was the realisation that 4 November Mischief Night seemed to be particularly focused on the West Riding of Yorkshire. I always assumed children up and down the country celebrated the eve of Bonfire night in this manner. But no. Mr Arthur Blewitt, a former head-teacher, addressing the Woodbottom Parents-Teachers Association in 1952 stated:

“Mischief Night was unknown in the North Riding where he was brought up, and although he liked to regard himself as belonging to the West Riding, he certainly held these practices against the people there.”[1]

Surprise Number Three was my assumption that it was a centuries old tradition. It turned out I was only partly correct. The custom of mischief-making does date back centuries, but the actual date varied over the ages. The roots can be traced back to Roman times and the festival of Saturnalia on 17-19 December, days marked by unrestrained disorder and misrule. No public business was undertaken, law courts and schools closed and perpetrators of mischief went unpunished. In Medieval and Tudor England the Lord of Misrule directed Christmas tomfoolery at Court, a state of events which lasted a full 12 days.

In 1888 John Horsfall Turner’s book ‘Yorkshire Folk-Lore’ included a piece about Mischief Night.

“The last night in April is devoted, as far as the peregrinations of the West Riding Constabulary will allow, to a queer custom…..There is an old saying that the first of April is the “fools” day, and that the last day of the month is the “devils”…Mischief night is a night supposed by the imps of mischief (rough youths) to be, under some old law or tradition, theirs, to do as they wish with. Their duty and pleasure combined is to go round in small gangs bent upon doing all the mischief they can, unobserved by anyone in authority, or the owners they assail…..Happily, the good old times in this respect are things of the fast-disappearing present, and “mischief neet” will soon live but in the remembrance of a few.”

So, in the 19th century Mischief Night in Yorkshire was held on the last day of April. And this seemed to be the case in other English counties too.

But by the 1890s tales started appearing in the Yorkshire press about the youths of Leeds considering themselves free of all social obligations on the eve of Guy Fawkes Day. One correspondent in the Yorkshire Evening Post on 5 November 1891 wrote he had “not heard of Mischief Night until recently“.[2] But by 1894 the traditional liberties of “Mischief Night” were referred to.[3] And from the early 20th century onwards the devilment perpetrated became a huge feature of the news, with the event described as “treasured in the traditions of the British boy” and a “harmless, almost necessary incident in a lad’s life.”[4]

The mischief included the following:

  • Soot bags flung in the faces of passers-by;
  • Ropes tied across darkened streets. A refinement was for the rope to be tied between gateposts, the boys would knock on the householder’s door and he would be encouraged him to give chase to them, resulting in him ‘coming a cropper’;
  • Gateposts taken off their hinges and hidden – sometimes even suspended from lamp posts;
  • Spirit tapping, with trouser buttons suspended on string, fashioned to knock against windows;
  • Ghosts were created from turnips and purloined sheets;
  • Brooms lent against letter boxes, the door was knocked on and the householder clattered when they answered the knock;
  • Doors in the street tied together so tightly they could not be opened;
  • Boys dressed as girls and girls as boys, all wearing grotesque masks;
  • Dustbin lids removed, hidden, rolled down the street or tied to door handles;
  • Jam and treacle smeared on door handles;
  • Raids to steal wood from rival bonfires;
  • Bonfires lit in streets;

Of course, fireworks did play a part in the pranks, and occasionally it went too far. Bangers through letter boxes or thrown into shops was a particular favourite. In 1903 a small boy threw a lighted firework into a green-grocer’s shop in Hunslet. The shop sold fireworks and the missile landed in the enticing window display. Onlookers were treated to an unexpected, early pyrotechnic feast.

“Squibs and crackers fought for supremacy in the window: ‘bluelights’ and ‘Roman candles’ sizzled and spluttered in all directions, and in the end the window was blown out.”[5]

The boy did not hang around to watch his handiwork. Two fire engines attended the scene, but fortunately their services were not needed.

In 1928 another firework incident occurred in a Burley Road shop in Leeds. The Misses Simpson owned the establishment. A firework was thrown in, landing on the counter containing a display of fireworks, igniting them. One sister was overcome by smoke, whilst the other had a hole burnt into her dress. The fire brigade attended, but once again their services were not needed as neighbours managed to carry the burning showcase out into the street.

A more serious incident took place in 1946, with the destruction of a car in the Meanwood area of Leeds after a firework was thrown into the garage.

Sometimes Mischief Night led directly to Court. Assault was not unheard of. In 1908 James Moon summoned Mary Ann Thomas of Otley for assault and the use of threatening language. Moon had suffered Mischief Night stone throwing at his door. He chased and caught one of the culprits, the adopted son of Mrs Thomas, admonishing him. She heard about it, marched round to Moon’s house, and kicked and thumped him unmercilessly.

In Bradford in 1925, the appropriately named John Noddle was fined for assaulting 10-year-old Philip H Jennings, banging his head against a wall and hitting him. Jennings was part of a gang who repeatedly knocked on the door of Noddle’s 70-year-old sick mother. The other boys escaped. Noddle’s mistake was not giving the boy a slight slap – that would have been acceptable.

Dissenting voices were heard though. Letters appeared in the papers complaining about this annual victimisation, with calls for protection from the authorities. Descriptions of wilful damage at Burley Rugby Union Football Club in 1936; Complaints that it was degenerating into gang warfare. Fears of the mayhem spilling over into Bonfire Night.

In 1937 Mischief Night was described as a minor orgy in parts of Leeds. A police official said:

“Many children seem to think that they can be hooligans on that night and the police will wink at it. We have all been children ourselves, of course, but there is a limit”.

That year complaints from around the city included a 70+ year-old woman who suffered the shock of a fire-cracker exploding in her letterbox; A road of over 100 houses in Adel where almost every house had its garden gate removed. Some were still missing, whilst others hung from lamp posts; In Kirkstall a motorist had a cracker thrown under his car. He said “I thought I had been blown up“.

Overall though, up to the late 1930’s Mischief Night was indulged, regarded as a grand old custom, part of an old tradition which should be cherished. Descriptions of ‘happy bands of black-faced small boys’ abounded. Children’s columns, such as ‘Children’s Corner’ in newspapers in the lead up to Mischief Night were full of tales about pranks, with the tongue-in-cheek warning

“PS – No MISCHIEF to-night – now REMEMBER, all of you”

Even ‘Leeds Mercury’s’ Alfie Apple got in on the act.

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Alfie Apple on Mischief Night 1934

Mischief Night was a safety valve for kids. Phrases appeared such as:

“A little nonsense now and then
Is realised by the wisest men”

Adults were urged to “Try, remembering your own youth, to be as tolerant as you can.”[6] Others admitted to taking their own pleasure in it “The boys enjoy their bit of mischief; and I – in my grim way – enjoy my bit of the chase.”[7]

Both the First and Second World Wars put a temporary halt on Mischief Night. The black out and impact on bonfire night put paid to the tomfoolery. But unlike the indulgent tone post World War One, the 1940s marked a change in attitude to Mischief Night pranks. Mind you, some of the stunts now ranged from dangerous to downright sinister. In 1945 Seacroft Estate suffered particularly badly with descriptions of uprooted fences, doors battered with half-bricks and rocks; 600-700 milk bottles shattered and glass strewn all over; and most disturbingly the theft and killing of white pet rabbits, the corpses of which were scattered about the roadway.[8] Calls for the police to be issued with good serviceable canes in the lead up to Mischief Night ensued.

The police did become far more pro-active. From October onwards, Leeds constabulary issued warnings about behaviour, with Leeds Chief Constable J.W. Barnett prominent in the papers.

In October 1947 the 999 system was introduced in Leeds. That year the Leeds City Police Force dealt with Mischief Night incidents via their new police operations room. 999 calls began to come in from 6pm. Within minutes police patrol cars were dispatched, and garden gates recovered and replaced. Other incidents that night included windows broken, warning lamps removed from roadworks, a gas lamp set on fire on the Scott Hall Road/Buslingthorpe Lane junction, and car tyres deflated in the Chapeltown and Moortown areas of the city. One child, seven-year-old Peter Norfolk, was treated in hospital for concussion after being struck by a bottle.

Leeds police put in place even more elaborate procedures to deal with Mischief Night mayhem in 1948. This included 40 police cars patrolling the city from 6pm until midnight – 17 of which were equipped with wireless communication!!!! On the outskirts special constables patrolled in their own vehicles. It marked their busiest night since the operations room’s inception, with the receipt of 56 emergency 999 calls. Incidents included the normal fireworks in letterboxes, deflated tyres and the removal of danger lamps from roadworks. And in one example of old-fashioned long since gone policing, the bobbies apprehended three boys who had thrown black paint on a door in Headingley. The policemen watched over the lads until they washed it all off – which took until midnight.

That year even the Pope was quoted as getting to the heart of the whole problem, when he said[9]:

When to mischief mortals bend their will
How soon they find fit instruments of ill!

1949 saw yet another increase in Mischief Night 999 calls in Leeds – the grand total of 61. Some folk were now urging for the abolition of this tradition. The police urged youngsters to confine mischief to innocent pranks.

Jump forward to the early 21st century and I reckon the tradition has gone. I don’t think my daughter has heard about it. Now it’s Halloween and Trick and Treat that’s king, a far more benign custom. But it’s wonderful to recall the good old days, and customs of the past.

And what has this to do with family history? Well, I think the history of the times is as much a part of family history as building a tree. I love to know what was going on when my ancestors were alive. Sometimes we ignore our more recent family stories too.

And you never know, you may find a family member named. For example this newspaper report[10] from Batley Borough Court in 1889 about a 5 November incident:

“LETTING OFF FIREWORKS IN THE STREETS…..Arthur Chappell, Charles Ottiwell , John Hill and Fred Smith were each fined 1s and costs.”

I wonder if this John Hill was my great grandad, age 16?

FOOTNOTE

As a result of this post I’m now collecting information about which English, Scottish & Welsh Counties celebrated 4 November Mischief Night. It might be only a small area in the County participated – if so please let me know. Similarly, I’d love to know if certain places held it on another night (e.g. 30 April).  I’ll update this post accordingly and hopefully by Mischief Night 2018 I’ll have an area map. 

UPDATED AREAS

Those which celebrated Mischief Night

  • East Yorkshire
  • Merseyside (So far, the Liverpool area)
  • Parts of North Yorkshire (Mr Blewitt may possibly have misinformed the Woodbottom PTA):  villages between Pateley Bridge & Harrogate. Although another friend from Harrogate says they didn’t have it. 
  • West Yorkshire

Those which did not have a Mischief Night tradition

  • Cambridgeshire (including the historic Ancient County of Huntingdonshire)
  • Carmarthenshire 
  • Cornwall
  • Derbyshire (so far have been informed about South East of County)
  • Devon
  • Gwent
  • Lancashire
  • Norfolk
  • Nottinghamshire
  • Suffolk

[1] Shipley Times and Express – 12 November 1952
[2] Yorkshire Evening Post – 5 November 1891
[3] Yorkshire Evening Post – 6 November 1894
[4] Bradford Daily Telegraph – 5 November 1903
[5] Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer – 5 November 1903
[6] Leeds Mercury – 4 November 1936
[7] Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer – 4 November 1940
[8] Yorkshire Evening Post – 9 November 1940
[9] Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer – 5 November 1948
[10] Batley Reporter – 16 November 1889

Family History Alert: Launch of New GRO (General Register Office) Extended PDF Pilot for Certificates

Good news for those family historians wanting to potentially cut down on cost and delivery time for those all-important English and Welsh birth and death certificates. Almost 12 months since the launch of the last PDF trial, which I wrote about here, the GRO have launched a new extended PDF pilot, similar to 2016’s Phase 1 trial. GRO TrialThe results from that proved inconclusive in assessing impact on other GRO and Local Registration services. The GRO have therefore announced that, as from 12 October 2017, they will be running a PDF pilot which will run for a minimum of  three months – so not the mad dash three week/45,000 limit of last year’s Phase 1 trial. This longer run will better enable the GRO to make a considered evaluation of the pilot.

The more relaxed timeframe will also have benefits for us family historians  – giving us more time to evaluate our tree for gaps, and make repeat orders depending on what the certificates reveal once they arrive. The GRO say the PDFs should be received within five working days of ordering, providing the order is placed before 4pm.

Like last year the cost of a PDF certificate is £6. And, akin to the 2016 Phase 1 trial, it is limited to 1837-1916 birth certificates and 1837-1957 death certificates. This equates to those already digitised certificates under the GRO’s old DoVE (Digitisation of Vital Events) project. The DoVE project was never completed, hence the pilot limitations. So bad luck if you’ve been hanging on for a marriage certificate, or a post-1916 birth or post-1957 death certificate.

The GRO are unable to answer at this stage whether the service will become permanent or whether there will be an extension to more products (eg marriages).

That said, it is still a welcome announcement for those who want a birth or death certificate for family history purposes. Note the PDFs cannot be used for official purposes – e.g. passport applications.

The link to the GRO site is here. More details about the pilot can be found here.

I will be spending the weekend assessing any civil registration gaps in my tree.

Lost in France (Or Belgium)? Not Me, Thanks to a Friendly LinesMan. 

I’m back from my latest visit to the Somme and Ypres area. In 11 days I notched up in excess of 100 miles walking the battlefields. And, thanks to a fantastic piece of kit which I used for the first time this visit, I reckon on this trip few of those miles were as a result of getting lost and retracing steps. 

Let me introduce my new guide: it’s called a LinesMan. WW1 Trench Maps put together in one handy package by Great War Digital.

This miracle-worker actually belongs to my husband. It was his Christmas present. But due to surgery a few weeks ago, he wasn’t up to miles of walking. I was. Hence I laid claim to it – and I’m now loath to let it go.  

On Sunken Lane with my LinesMan2Go – Photo by Chris Roberts

I love walking the battlefields. In my opinion it’s the only way to get an appreciation of the distances and lie of the land facing those involved in the Great War. Normally I’m armed with walking guidebooks: Paul Reed’s ‘Walking the Somme’ and his old edition of ‘Walking the Salient‘; plus ‘A Visitor’s Guide: The First Day of the Somme: Gommecourt to Maricourt‘, and Battle Lines Ypres: Nieuwpoort to Ploegsteert‘ by Jon Cooksey and Jerry Murland. Brilliant though they are, occasionally the instructions are too ambiguous for me, which leads me up the battlefield equivalent of the garden path – the mis-communication trench.

For example, instructions such as “Continue through the woods…Approximately halfway along you will notice a track running off to your left at right angles. This was the junctionof Bunhill Row with the Strand” could be problematical if the route is unfamiliar. How can I be expected to know what is halfway on a path I’ve never trodden? Cue my LinesMan maps. I have the LinesMan2Go version, which is a Samsung Galaxy tablet preloaded with over original 800 geo-referenced digital images of British 1:10,000 scale trench maps of the Western Front in Belgium and France. The GPS shows exactly where I am via a red onscreen tracker circle, and the map pinpoints where the Bunhill Row/Strand junction is.  I can see exactly where I am in relation to the junction, a real navigation aid. 

An illustration of this is the photo below on the Butte de Warlencourt walk from Paul Reed’s 2nd edition of ‘Walking the Somme‘. Proof I made it.

LinesMan in Action on Butte de Warlencourt walk – Photo by Jane Roberts

On other occasions its beauty is in its ability to confirm you have taken the correct overgrown track and are heading in the right direction – a welcome reassurance when you’ve been walking for ages in what seems like the middle of nowhere!

The option to track my route via the LinesMan, in conjunction with the guide book, gives an even greater understanding of the terrain. The maps cover different dates, so one area has several maps enabling you to see any changes over time as well as linking to modern times. The LinesMan is therefore a perfect partner to the books. No need now to take multiple bulky trench maps on my visits, and even worse find I’ve left the relevant one at home.

More than that though, the LinesMan is invaluable from a family history point of view. It has enabled me to track the final days of my ancestor Jesse Hill. He served with the 6th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) and was killed in action on 19 September 1915, near Ypres. The Unit War Diary includes a map of ‘H‘ Sector dated 27 July 1915, and it is in trenches in this Sector the battalion were based at the time of Jesse’s death. 

‘H’ Sector trenches, 26 July 1915 – 6th KOYLI Unit War Diary

Comparing this Unit War Diary map with the Bellewaarde Ridge & Hooge walk in Cooksey & Murland, then tracking my route via my LinesMan maps enabled me to confirm earlier research, and pinpoint with confidence the area in which he died. 

Snapshot from Linesman Map 10-28 Part 5-160416 Hooge Showing Railway Wood Area

Walking the actual trench locations wasn’t possible – a field full of turnips put paid to that  (at least that’s what they looked to be given my pathetic agricultural skills, *ancestors spinning in their graves*). But it was enough for me just to know I’d definitely nailed it. It also confirmed the fact that my previous visits, without aid of the LinesMan2Go, had put me in roughly the right area.  It’s good to have that final piece of confirmation though.

‘H’ Sector area, 20 September 2017 – Photo by Jane Roberts

But it also has other uses. Map references, for example those CWGC ones indicating where bodies were found prior to being brought into concentration cemeteries, take on a new relevance with my LinesMan. I also liked the facility to map routes out as I walked them, so I could review my footsteps at the end of my walk. And flicking through the range of maps for a particular location across different dates show the changes (or not) which took place during the course of the war.

I do need to get more practice using my LinesMan (yes, I’ve claimed it) in order to familiarise myself with all its features and get the best out of it. Initial issues for me, which more practice should resolve include improving my speed in manipulating the various maps; I also found it extremely touch sensitive, so found myself inadvertently flicking maps – but again more use should remedy this. More problematical issues, which are beyond my control, relate to weather: too sunny and screen glare becomes an issue; too wet, and at times rain proved torrential, is even worse – I didn’t dare use my precious tablet.

As I mentioned I (sorry, Chris) have the LinesMan2Go version: a tablet with all the maps pre-loaded. That’s because I was a tad worried at my ability to transfer the maps to iPhone, iPad or Android device. For me the primary reason for the kit was to enhance my battlefield visits. But I would like to view the maps on my computer, beyond what is available via the National Library of Scotland maps. So for that reason perhaps I should have been braver and trusted my technological skills.

For more details about the Great War Digital’s LinesMan products, including how to purchase them, click here

Finally, my review of this product is totally independent. I used the LinesMan2Go for the first time this visit, and was so impressed by it I wanted to share my experience.

A Grave Plot: Rest In Peace?

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

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

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

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

Weathered Headstones at Tynemouth Priory – Photo by Jane Roberts

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

Batley Cemetery Headstones – Photo by Jane Roberts

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

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

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

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

 

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

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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:

Batman – My Family History SuperHero 

Just when I thought I’d reached the limits of what I realistically could hope to find out about my great grandad in the Great War, family history threw another curveball.

Last year I wrote about the 16 December 1914 German naval bombardment of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool prompting my 46-year-old ex-Army great grandfather, Patrick Cassidy, to enlist on my grandma’s sixth birthday. He was discharged from the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry the following month as unlikely to become an efficient soldier. 

Undeterred by this knock-back, by the summer of 1915 he returned to his original regiment, the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment. In the Electoral Register of 1918 he is shown as an absent voter due to military service. No Medal Index Card exists for him, so it appeared he must have seen the war out on home shores. I did keep an open mind about which regiment, but if I’m being honest, my assumption was the Duke of Wellingtons.

Wrong. 

This month, idly looking at Find My Past’s military records, I saw the familiar name of Patrick Cassidy. But not in the Army records. Instead it was the AIR 79 Series, British Royal Air Force (RAF) Airmen’s Service Records. It is definitely him. His Hume Street address in Batley, his birthplace (County Mayo), his marriage and children’s details are all correct (except eldest daughter Ellen is written as Helen). So no doubt whatsoever.

He attested on 12 July 1918, and his service number 267675 fits in with June/July intake of civilians. Clearly Patrick had not lasted the duration of the war with the Duke of Wellingtons. A tribute to his persistence, he was now trying his hand with the fledgling RAF arm of the military.

The RAF was born out of the difficulties arising from the competing supply needs, including men, of the Army-operated Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and its naval counterpart, the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). As a consequence design, technology, tactics and training were not being managed cost-effectively.  From 1916, ideas of unification surfaced, with an Air Board being created to attempt to resolve the issues of purchasing and supply. 

But the problems continued and increased. Alongside the competition for aeroplanes and aircrew, concerns arose around supplying air support to the Army on the Western Front, dealing with the U-Boat menace at sea and improving the inadequate air defences at home. The latter was initially highlighted by Zeppelin raids. However by late May of 1917 huge German Gotha bomber aircraft began a bombing campaign, particularly targetting London, causing hundreds of deaths. 

As an interesting aside to these raids, the accompanying fresh wave of anti-German sentiment engendered by them, with the name of the Gotha aircraft now on lips countrywide, finally prompted the Royal Family name change.  George V by royal proclamation on 17 July 1917, announced the dropping of the  German Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, to be replaced by the English Windsor.

In the wake of all this General Jan Smuts, a member of the War Cabinet, was tasked to look at air defence and broader air organisation. The South African Boer war opponent of the British, military leader and politician, who after the World War became South Africa’s second Prime Minister, recommended the creation of a united Air Force. On 29 November 1917 an Act of Parliament establishing an Air Force and an Air Council received the Royal Assent. The Royal Air Force came into existence on 1 April 1918. 

RAF Badge and Motto – photo by Jane Roberts

Recruitment for this new branch of the Armed Forces now began in earnest, desperately required to fuel its rapid manpower expansion. Posters, adverts, newspaper articles and local recruitment rallies appeared appealing to 18-50 year olds, offering attractive pay rates and the promise of no compulsory transfer to the Army or Navy. 

© IWM (Art.IWM PST 5277) – free to reuse for non-commercial purposes under the IWM Non Commercial Licence

From June 1918 onwards the recruitment tempo increased, as eligibility criteria was correspondingly decreased. The drive also played on the fact that lower grade men would be serving in comparative safety. For example, this from “The Midland Daily Telegraph” of 6 June 1918:

Opportunity is now offered during the months of June for enlistment in the Royal Air Force of men who are suitable as employment as clerks (in pay offices and stores as shorthand typists), as cooks, as hospital orderlies, as store men and as bat men. The men recruited must be over 35 years of age if in Grade II, or of any age from 18 if in Grade III.

Specially strong men are required as labourers for airship landing parties and for thr Mediterranean Balloon Section. Grade I men over 40, Grade II men over 30 and Grade III men of any age are required. General labourers are also required in Grade II over 30, or Grade III any age“.

And, more locally, the pronouncement of the Chairman of an Ormskirk Tribunal was reported in “The Yorkshire Evening Post” of 10 June. Grade III men were now required for the Air Force because:

…instructions had been received from the Ministry of National Service that owing to the urgent necessity of maintaining all aerial craft, men of all ages and grades were required for the Royal Air Force. Certain branches of this work are being done and must be done by Grade 3 men. Higher grade men were needed for the fighting line.

In the national interest, tribunals must consider the absolute necessity of Grade 3 men for the Air Force“.

These pleas obviously appealed to my great grandfather, whose records show his occupation as one of those much in-demand labourers. His RAF attestation papers describe him standing at 5’3 1/2”, with grey eyes, a sallow complexion and dark grey hair. The grey hair is unsurprising. He was no spring chicken. His stated age is 49 and he gives his date of birth as 24 May 1869. This, yet again, is a false declaration. But not as wildly out as his 1914 attempts to get in the Army. He was in fact born in March 1868. He had shaved a year off in order to meet the age criteria for enlistment. His papers also show his Grade III category, able to serve at home.

His rank was Private 2nd Class, so a service role. He was assigned by the RAF Reserve Depot (Blandford) to No.1 (Observer) School of Aerial Gunnery at Hythe, in Kent, as a batman: in other words a personal servant to a commissioned officer. Is this the man my grandma remembers coming to the house seeking my grandad, as recounted in my earlier post

His service record goes on to show his character as “very good” and his degree of proficiency “satisfactory“. However, on 6 November 1918, days before the Armistice, he was recategorised as Grade E. In other words permenantly unfit for service. He was finally discharged on 22 January 1919. 

His record also shows that he apparently received a modest pension for his service, but the writing is extremely faint. And on 1 May 1919 he was awarded a Silver War Badge, 7162. 

Silver War Badge (not my great grandad’s) – Photo by Jane Roberts

The Silver War Badge (SWB) was instituted in September 1916. British and Empire service personnel honourably discharged due to old age, wounds or sickness received or contracted at home or overseas, received this medal. To qualify, the recipient had to have served for at least seven days between 4 August 1914 and 31 December 1919. Therefore those discharged before the badge’s institution date received the honour retrospectively. 

The badge was worn on the right lapel of civilian clothes, an indication of the recipient’s loyal war service. This visible display aimed to put a stop to men discharged as no longer fit, but without any obvious physical injuries, being publicly humiliated, harassed and accused of cowardice and refusal to serve. 

The rolls for the SWB generally record the man’s date of enlistment and discharge, and whether he was discharged as the result of being wounded or through age or “sickness”. RAF men’s badge numbers bore the prefix “RAF“, with over 10,000 issued.

These SWB rolls are at The National Archives and also available on commercial websites. Often, where service records no longer exist, these are the only indication that a man who did not go overseas served in the First World War. The bad news for me is my great grandad’s is not there. According to The National Archives, the only true RAF record relating to the SWB is in AIR 2/197/C33296. So, unless your RAF ancestor was a RFC recipient (WO 329/3244) or RNAS (ADM 171/173-87), you’re likely to draw a blank. This is something not made clear in the description on the commercial sites.

Similarly, although RAF personnel did receive campaign medals, there are no medal rolls in The National Archives for men who joined after the formation of the RAF on 1 April 1918, unless they transferred from the RFC or RNAS. For direct RAF entrants you are reliant on service records for medal entitlement including, in the most part, for their SWBs. 

I’m immensely proud of my great grandad on a number of levels:

  • His steadfast determination to do his duty despite his age;
  • His refusal to let age hold him back;
  • His never-give-up attitude, in the face of repeated rejection; and 
  • His willingness to embrace modernisation and progress, taking a leap into the future by joining the newly created RAF.

I’ve also delighted in being able to tell my dad he wasn’t the first member of his family to join the RAF. The story has also reminded me of my own happy work-days in RAF contracts and, later, aero-engine supply management. Also the frightening march of time: I think most of the aircraft I dealt with are now obsolete, including Phantom, Buccaneer, Nimrod, Hunter, Harrier, Sea Harrier, Victor and  Jaguar. I think the Hercules, Tucano and Hawk are the only ones left. But I’m a bit out of touch with aircraft now, so don’t take my word for that.

From a family history angle, the moral of this story is don’t rule out the improbable in researching family history. Ancestors were real people and, as such, often made the unlikeliest of choices. 

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“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:

A Dirty Tale from a Yorkshire Town 

Imagine the following street scenes.

A crowd of “…..30 to 40 people waiting for water around the public well. The most they get at a time was ….about three gallons, and for this …..the poor people had to go to the well as late as 11 o’clock at night, and as early as 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning”.

It is a common practice for the people to excavate cesspools in the rock to receive the house refuse, which would otherwise be thrown on the surface of the streets”.

In some parts of the town he believed there was not more than one privy to 20 houses, all of which were probably densely overcrowded”.

The entrance into the fold or yard in which this [large common] privy was situated was blocked up with offensive matter, and the smell was quite overpowering”.

And houses with “…as many as four families were found herding together in one small room”.

This was Batley in 1852, as described to an official inquiry looking at the state of the town’s sewerage, drainage, water supply and sanitary condition. What on the surface seems a fairly dull, uninspiring document proves to be anything but. The report is packed with evidence from Batley residents and officials detailing the town’s appalling sanitation and water provisions.

The investigation in to the state of Batley’s sanitation resulted directly from the 1848 Public Health Act. The purpose of this Act was to promote the public’s health and to ensure “more effective provision … for improving sanitary conditions of towns and populace places in England and Wales”.

Prompted by social reformer Edwin Chadwick, one of the 1834 Poor Law architects, he argued that improving the health of the poor by reducing illness and deaths from infectious diseases would reduce the numbers seeking poor relief. The money saved by reducing the burden of relief would outweigh the costs of public health measures, such as improved drainage and sewerage, provision of clean drinking water and refuse removal. It took the 1848 cholera outbreak to force the Government’s hand. The Act was introduced, making public health a local responsibility, establishing a structure to deal with public health issues and paving the way for future public health developments.

Under the 1848 Public Health Act provisions, 218 out of Batley’s 1,934 ratepayers, (elsewhere the document mentions  1,935 ratepayers), requested a preliminary inquiry which was held at the Wilton Arms before William Ranger, Superintending Inspector to the General Board of Health. His written findings were delivered in August 1852.

There is a wealth of information in the report, ranging from the growth of the town, mortality and burial charges to daily life and conditions, changing demography and attitudes to the Irish.

The impression given in Ranger’s report is of a rapidly expanding manufacturing cluster comprising of six townships in 17 square miles, all facing similar water and sanitation problems. These townships , Batley, Heckmondwike, Dewsbury, Liversedge, Gomersal and Cleckheaton, had a combined population of 50,000 but the largest of them on its own totalled a little over than 14,000. As such, they lacked the individual resources in terms of population numbers and finances, to forge independent solutions. Dewsbury was first to apply the Public Health Act, Batley and Heckmondwike followed suit, starting with this inquiry.

The shortage of water provided a recurring theme in the report. The drought of late 1851, which continued into the spring of 1852, aggravated the situation. But the main issues were the town’s population growth combined with its industries. The sinking of colliery shafts cut supplies to the town’s wells draining them of water, and in any case this water was too hard for cooking and cleaning. The waste and refuse from the burgeoning textile mills, combined with sewage and refuse from houses accommodating a rapidly expanding population, polluted its streams.

The problem affected all areas of the township, from Carlinghow to Healey. People queued often two to three hours throughout the day and night at public wells to fill three-gallon containers, known locally as kits. Many chose to go at night for shorter queues. Some, like Mr Stubley and Mr E. Taylor, kept children at home specifically for the task of water collection. Others, with no family, had to fit water collection in around long working days. People collected rain water to supplement meagre supplies. Those with money attempted to sink wells, often costly and unsuccessful.

The poor water quality caused disease. According to Rev. Andrew Cassels, vicar at Batley Parish Church, the beck in Batley was in an extremely bad state. A few years previously, mortality of those living near it was so high, as a result of fever, that entire families were wiped out. Mr H. Ingram stated his wife had suffered from incapacitating diarrhoea for a considerable time due to the impure water. Mr J Willans said cattle refused to drink from the beck at Carlinghow; whilst others trailed their livestock for several miles to get drinkable water. As a result milk yields decreased.

Batley Beck – Photos by Jane Roberts

But, whatever means they employed to collect drinkable water, it still proved insufficient. People resorted to paying water carriers ½d for three gallons of better quality water from a well in neighbouring Morley. Most spent at least 2d to 4d a week for this water, a not insubstantial sum for the poor.  Some paid more – for instance J.T. Marriott paid 2s a week. John Jubb said the normal range was between 3d and 1s 6d. It all depended on the size of family and their finances.

The other issue was lack of sewerage, drains and toilets. Descriptions abounded of areas with no sewers, or ones choked up to the point of overflowing. In other areas houses springing up to accommodate the growing population did not have connections to the main sewers or access to privies. Where privies existed, multiple households shared them, and consequently they became so blocked as to be unusable. Liquid refuse collected outside houses. Rubbish, including the euphemistically named night-soil (human faeces), was thrown in the street or placed in privately-dug street cesspools, from which it then leaked. Animal waste provided another health hazard. For instance horse transport in towns, and the accompanying manure, compounded the issue. Houses were poorly ventilated. The stench was overpowering.

The Irish came in for particular criticism in the report. The Great Famine, and ensuing mass emigration, commenced in 1845. The famine was only just abating by 1852, by which time Batley had seen a huge influx of Irish, mainly from County Mayo. Medical man George Allbutt said “There had been a considerable immigration of Irish into Batley and neighbouring townships during the last few years, and these people were most filthy in their habits”. John Jubb went even further in his condemnation stating “The immigration of Irish into the district had made it more filthy and unwholesome than it would otherwise have been. These people were in fact demoralizing [sic] the whole town”. One amusing conclusion, hinting at the rivalry between Batley and Dewsbury, read “It is right to say, that many of the Irish, formerly residents in Dewsbury, are now living in Batley, but their habits in no way improved”. What is clear though, the Irish lived in the worst ventilated, overcrowded accommodation and were consequently extremely hard-hit by contagious diseases.

During the cholera epidemic the largest number of fatal cases occurred in a cellar occupied by Irish people. In 1847 typhus was rife in the Irish enclave at Brown-Hill. However disease was not confined to the Irish. Typhus regularly affected Healey, not an area typically associated with that comunity. Saying that, it is particularly striking that the Healey Lane area of the village/hamlet, which was occupied by the Irish, suffered disproportionally.

Other areas noteworthy for typhus included Carlinghow (until the beck was covered), New Street, Chapel Fold and Burnley’s Fold. In the September and October 1851 typhus fever outbreak, scarcely a household in Newsome’s Fold, which adjoined a large privy, was unaffected by the disease.

Henry Brearley, Batley District Registrar, reported 438 death between 1 August 1850-6 July 1852. Epidemic, endemic and contagious diseases accounted for 65 of these, including 21 from measles, 12 from scarlatina, nine from typhus fever and five from smallpox. In fact there was an outbreak of the latter disease at Parson’s Fold, at the exact time William Ranger conducted his inspection.

Given the connection between health and those receiving poor relief, 119 men, women and children under 16 in Batley received maintenance in the six months to 25 March 1852 , the overwhelming majority outdoor rather than in the workhouse. The total cost for expenditure on the poor in the period exceeded £439, and ranged from officers’ salaries, to medical bills, the maintenance of lunatics in asylum and burials of paupers dying in the workhouse.

But the problems did not end with death. The burial ground was another source of health concerns. This in an era before the establishment of Batley’s public cemetery, which was not laid out until 1865. Situated in the Old Churchyard at All Saints Batley Parish Church, the Rev Cassels testified the burial ground was so overcrowded “it was difficult to make a fresh grave without disturbing some of those already existing”. Others, like J.M. Marriott thought the old burial ground should be closed because “the extreme wetness of the soil rendered it an unfit place for interments”. There was the imminent prospect of a further plot of churchyard burial land following the Earl of Wilton’s donation of an extra portion of adjoining ground. Nevertheless it was all very worrying, with a rapidly expanding population and the increasing awareness of having burial grounds in town centres. Just think about the water run-off, diseased, decomposing bodies and resulting contaminated water supplies .

The report gives a year-by-year breakdown of burials in the ten-year period from 1842/3. A total of 1,408 burials took place. 1849/50 saw the highest number, 254. This was almost 100 more than the next highest year, 1848/9. These years coincided with the British cholera epidemic. The report also provides a breakdown of burial costs, including 1s for the clergyman, 8d for the clerk, 1-8s for the sexton depending on grave depth, varying costs depending on headstone type and 4d or 6d for mounding the grave up following interment.

Other fascinating insights included street lighting. In today’s light-polluted environment where stars cannot be seen, it is hard to imagine Batley as a place where pitch-black darkness descended many areas at nightfall. Complaints of no gas lamps from ½-1 mile of homes were commonplace, despite paying gas lighting rates, and this in places like Carlinghow Lane. Imagine having to make your way in the dark, through refuse-filled streets, to and from the well to collect three gallons of water.

One final snippet of particular interest to me with my Healey origins, is a year ending 25 March 1849 highways entry. It shows the princely sum of over a £1 paid for young trees when widening Healey Lane. I wonder if any of these trees stand today? I will look at them with new eyes now.

As a result of the inquiry and Ranger’s report, a Batley District Local Board of Health was established in 1853. Batley, along with the local boards of Dewsbury and Heckmondwike, obtained an Act of Parliament in 1854 for supplying the three districts with water. The White’s 1858 Directory stated the waterworks were approaching completion, supplied from large reservoirs excavated in the moorland dells near Dunford Bridge, 17 miles south-west of Dewsbury. The water was intended to be conveyed in open culverts and large cast-iron pipes to service reservoirs at Boothroyd and Staincliffe. The former was to supply Dewsbury and the latter Batley and Heckmondwike. Both this Directory, and the 1857 Post Office Directory of Yorkshire, named Thomas Dean as the clerk for Batley. By 1860 water was coming through.

However the amalgamation of Batley, Dewsbury and Heckmondwike was never going to work, such was the rivalry between the towns. The joint Water Board scheme was doomed for failure right from the start, with reservoir leaks, water shortages and friction about rights to excess water, if a town failed to use its right to a third of the supplies: Dewsbury seemingly preferring to sell its surplus to areas other than partner Batley, even when Batley was short and willing to pay.

By 1870 Batley had had enough of the politicking and inadequate water supply. With the town’s industrial growth the Corporation felt they could now go it alone. Accordingly they obtained an Acts of Parliament in 1871 and 1878 to build their own waterworks. The works were situated on the eastern slopes of the Pennine chain, between Holmfirth and Dunford Bridge. It included three reservoirs, Yateholme (work commencing 1874), Riding Wood (work starting in 1874) and Ramsden (with an 1881 building start date). Their combined capacity was around 231,000,000 gallons of water. This was conveyed by means of a large main to the service reservoir at Staincliffe, and from there distributed throughout Batley. Construction work on the Staincliffe service reservoir finally commenced in 1875. These works were erected at a cost of £360,000.

Staincliffe Reservoir – Photo by Jane Roberts

For those with Batley ancestors, the male-exclusive group mentioned in the 1852 report include:

  • Henry Akeroyd
  • George Allbutt, Esq
  • William Bailey
  • J(ohn) Blackburn, a resident
  • Henry Brearley, Registrar
  • Rev Andrew Cassels, Vicar of Batley
  • Joseph Chadwick, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Mr (Robert) Clapham, sub-agent to the Earl of Wilton
  • B Clay
  • John Day
  • Thomas Dean, Esq, residing at Healey, on the Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852,
  • Benjamin Exley
  • D Fox
  • S Fox
  • John Gledhill, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Richard Greenwood, clothier
  • W(illiam) Hall, assistant overseer
  • Mr Hampson, head agent for the Earl of Wilton
  • J Hepworth
  • Mr Ibbetson, a ratepayer
  • Mr A Ibbetson (possibly Mr Ibbetson, above)
  • H Ingram
  • John Jubb, a resident ratepayer (there is also a John Jubb, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852, so possibly the same man)
  • J Jubb (possibly John or Joseph Jubb)
  • Joseph Jubb, jun, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Samuel Jubb
  • W(illiam) Knowles Esq, Surgeon
  • J.T. Marriott
  • Mr Porritt, sexton
  • Mr Shackleton
  • Mr (John) Sharp
  • Mr Spedding
  • Mr Stubley, a resident ratepayer
  • E Taylor
  • George Thornton
  • A(braham) Walker, Carlinghow Lane
  • John Whitaker
  • Mr (Thomas) Wilby, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • J Willans
  • Mr (David) Wilson, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852

Names in brackets are where a name appears in the report as a surname only in one place, with a full Christian name elsewhere. So possibly the same man.

Sources:

  • Report to the General Board of Health on a Preliminary Inquiry into the Sewerage, Drainage, and the Supply of Water, and the Sanitary Condition of the Inhabitants of the Township of Batley” – William Ranger Esq, 16 August 1852
  • Post Office Directory of Yorkshire – 1857
  • William White’s Directory and Topography of the Boroughs of Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, and Wakefield; Dewsbury, Heckmondwike etc – 1858
  • The History of Batley” – Malcolm H Haigh
  • Kelly’s Directory of the West Riding of Yorkshire – 1927
  • Borough of Batley Year Book 1959-60 (courtesy of Wendy Storey)