Tag Archives: genealogy

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.

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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:

Is Family History “Proper” History?

This is my 100th blog post, and my first as an ex-civil servant. So to mark this milestone I’ve decided look at family history as a subject, and give my perspective on its place in the overall discipline of history. Does it actually deserve to be classed as history? 

Perhaps some do look down on it, thinking its a kind of “dumbed down” version of history. After all there’s nothing to collecting the names of a bunch of ancestors and tagging them with a few vital event dates. But that’s missing the whole point. Family history isn’t only about creating a tree full of connected names.

For me family history is a specific strand of history and is as valid a discipline as studying the Tudor period, or being an expert in the English Civil War. My history degree covered what are probably regarded as “traditional” history topics such as the origins of the Great War, the Russian Revolution, Latin American Independence Wars and politics, the Enlightenment and history of ideas or the foreign policy of the Chamberlain government. However, other elements had a definite family and social history slant. These included children in British society, parish registers, censuses, and various Factory and Education Acts.  

In fact family history encompasses a far broader time sweep than many specialist areas, with their comparatively narrow timeframes. More than that, it covers a wide breadth of elements. It requires a knowledge of international, national, local, economic, industrial, religious, medical, agricultural, demographic, political, judicial, legislative and social history – to name but a few areas. 

This broader historical perspective in turn leads to an understanding of when individual records so vital for family history were created and why, and crucially what is consequently available to further research. For instance parish registers and poor law developments down to the impact of the Civil War and Commonweath through to voting rights. 

At the same time geographical knowledge plays a part, from parish and administrative boundaries to the development of towns, transport links and migration routes and patterns. A bit of Latin and the ability to decipher handwriting akin to the meandering of a spider who has paddled in an ink puddle also helps.Family history therefore goes way beyond parish register and census hopping to create a list of names. It’s way more exciting.

To me family history ranges from contextualising the lives and times of my ancestors within events such as the Industrial Revolution, the English Civil War, or the First World War; it also drills down to putting specific life-changing decisions or events into the framework of national and international events, like the shelling of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool and my great grandad’s decision to enlist. Or the Irish Famine, its impact in County Mayo and the decisions made by my ancestors to remain or leave. 

Furthermore family history has enhanced my historical knowledge, drawing me to investigate areas that broader history would not touch upon. Lesser known events such as miners strikes in specific localities, such as Drighlington, and the impact it had on ancestral lives, leading onto coal mining communities and occupations generally; or the growth or decline of towns and villages, or industries and occupations and the associated migration patterns or job switches. It has also led me to conducting greater in-depth investigation into factors affecting their lives such as judicial changes, the Poor Law, various Factory Acts or diseases such as TB, diabetes and smallpox along with accompanying medical advances; without my family history hat on, for me these events would be looked at in a high-level generalised way and not considered in detail or applied to individuals who are my flesh and blood. Examining them in relation to my family makes them more real. And by extension it leads to communicating finds to other family members and hopefully making history more accessible, relevant and real to them.

And, as that’s the case, for me family history is truly one other strand of the various disciplines falling under the generic umbrella of history.  So done properly, and not a paper-chase exercise of populating a tree with thousands of names, the answer to those who cast doubts on its merits is an unequivocal yes: Family history is truly “proper” history.

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

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

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

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

Batley Cemetery – Photo by Jane Roberts

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

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

“You’ve a Mother and a Father. That’s All You Need to Know” – Batley Borough Court Records: Part 3

I thought long and hard before writing this post, the third in my Batley Borough Court paternity proof series. The reason for the deliberation is it concerns family information not discussed for years, if at all in living memory. “You’ve a mother and a father. That’s all you need to know” is a phrase that springs to mind. But I wanted to know more than that. So on and off I ferreted away at records.

The deciding factors for me in going ahead in writing this are:

  • it relates to my family history;
  • those directly affected are no longer alive. Neither are immediate subsequent generations;
  • the events took place over 100 years ago;
  • the information is publicly available;
  • when researching my family history I want to be even-handed with all aspects, the good and the not so good; and
  • this post may give an indication of some of the sources that are available when looking into the issue of tracing fathers of illegitimate ancestors.

I was elated with the find. Here the Batley Borough Court records have solved one of my long-standing family mysteries, as outlined in an earlier post about Parish Registers. It relates to the paternity of my great grandmother Bridget Gavan’s second child, a daughter, born on 28 August 1893.

The parish priest at St Mary of the Angels, Batley, at the time of the child’s baptism the following month believed Bridget to be married. The baptismal entry in the parish register is under the name “Regan” and Bridget’s husband is named as Charles Regan. The only problem: Bridget was not married. So proof you cannot always take what is written in parish registers as 100% accurate.

A later priest realised the error. When the girl’s marriage took place, some decades later, he noted against her baptismal entry that she married under the name Gavin [sic]. Yes the priests were meticulous in the practice of annotating baptismal entries with later marriage details!

But, although the baptismal entry gave a potential lead into the child’s father, I could not definitively identify Charles Regan. Not until a search of the Batley Borough Court register.

On 5 February 1894 Bridget Gavan was the complainant in a bastardy case heard at Batley Town Hall against Charles Ragan (note the subtle spelling difference here). Charles was ordered to pay 3/ a week until the unnamed child reached the age of 13. As well as court costs he also had to pay birth expenses of £1:1:0. So this provides corroboration of the baptismal paternity information.

Charles Ragan features a further eight times in the Borough Court Register between 1894-1907[1]. Three of these relate to police charges of drunk and riotous behaviour in various areas of Batley. The other five are cases brought by Bridget for bastardy arrears. Full details are at Table 1.Charles Ragan BBC

It can be seen from the entries that Bridget gave Charles time to pay on two occasions. Some of the bastardy cases took place after Bridget’s marriage in November 1897. And some of the adjudications around the bastardy arrears involved straight custodial sentences, without the option of paying a fine.

This then led me to the collection of West Yorkshire Archives Prison Records on Ancestry.

Bingo! I was astounded to find 20 entries in the Wakefield Prison Records Nominal Registers relating to Charles for appearances before West Riding Courts at Wakefield and Dewsbury as well as Batley. They relate to the various bastardy cases heard at Batley, outlined above, as well as charges in all areas for drunkenness and non-payment of costs.

Wakefield Prison

Wakefield Prison Image from around 1916 shared by David Studdard on the Maggie Blanck Website – see Sources

It appears that even where Charles had the option of paying a fine he chose not to do so, or perhaps simply could not afford to, and the alternative custodial sentence was enforced.  This includes one of the instances where Bridget had allowed extra time: Hence the large numbers of entries for him in the Wakefield prison register.

For my research purposes these entries provide a basic description of Charles, his age, religion, occupation, education level and, crucially, a birthplace. Although the records are not consistent, particularly around education levels which range from “imperfect” to “read and write” through to Standards I-III[2], they give a general picture.

Charles was around 5’5” tall, with brown hair, had only a very basic level of education and his employment varied from colliery worker to miner to labourer, so manual work. His birthplace was given as Leeds and further narrowed in some of the register entries to the Beeston/Holbeck area.  And his date of birth was somewhere between 1869-1876. Despite the variations, they clearly all relate to the same man given the detail provided including the previous custodial reference number.

The entries are summarised in Tables 2a and 2bCharles Ragan 2a

Charles Ragan 2bLooking at the censuses with this fresh information, Charles Joseph Ragan, to give him his full name, was born in Holbeck in 1869. He was the son of Irish-born coal miner John Ragan and his wife Sarah Norfolk, a local girl from Hunslet. The couple married in 1866 and by the time of the 1871 census the family was recorded living in Holbeck. Besides Charles other children included six year-old Hannah Norfolk, three year-old Thomas and infant daughter Sarah.

The 1881 census reveals further siblings of Charles: George, age eight; six year-old John; Arthur, four; and Elizabeth, two. By this time Charles had employment as a dray-boy.

1891 shows a move to East Ardsley and two further additions John and Sarah’s family – Alice born in around 1882 and Walter in 1884. Charles now worked as a coal miner, like his father.

The work opportunities in the relatively new pits in East Ardsley probably initiated the move from the Leeds area. The town’s extensive collieries were owned by Robert Holliday and Sons, with East Ardsley Colliery being known as Holliday’s Pit. They started to sink two shafts here in 1872, on land leased from the Cardigan estate. A third shaft was sunk in 1877. By 1881 in excess of 300 East Ardsley men were employed in mining. In 1899 the colliery produced 200,000 tons annually, making it the 11th largest Yorkshire coalfield.

Returning to Charles’ brushes with the law, newspaper reports added a little more detail, but not much. For example in the March 1900 case around arrears, Bridget revealed that Charles had failed to make payments for their seven year-old daughter for three years. Possibly this corresponded with the time Bridget was involved with her soon-to-be husband, who she married in late 1897.

The reports also indicate Charles lived at Lawns in August 1897 and thereafter in East Ardsley. Did his forays from there into Batley indicate he remained in loose contact with his daughter?  Or were other family connections the draw? There were a number of Ragans living in Batley during this period.

In terms of character, Charles certainly seemed fond of a tipple, given the number of drink-related offences. One from the West Riding Police Court, Wakefield, involved the assault on William Forrest, the landlord of an East Ardsley pub, the “Bedford Arms“.  George Mullins was his partner in this crime. The report in the “Sheffield Daily Telegraph” of 24 August 1897 read:

…the defendants did not appear, it being stated they had left the district. On the afternoon of Friday, the 13th inst., the defendents went to the public-house, created a disturbance, refused to leave, and on being forcibly ejected, Mullins bit the landlord on one of his arms, both men struck and attacked him, and defendants re-entered the house and again assaulted the landlord“.

geograph-3204067-by-Betty-Longbottom

The Bedford Arms, East Ardsley

 So what became of Charles Ragan? By August 1906 he was free of his weekly payments for his daughter, she being 13. It appears he married 34 year-old widow Jane Worth (maiden name Sow(e)ry) on 24 December 1911 at St Mary the Virgin, Hunslet. A quick scan of GRO records reveals the birth of three children, all registered in the Hunslet District between 1913 and 1917.

Charles’ death is registered in Leeds North in Q4 1932. He was 63. He is buried in Hunslet Cemetry.

Bridget died in 1947. Their daughter died more than 45 years ago.

See here for Part 1 and Part 2 of my Batley Borough Court series of posts.

Sources:

[1] Up until the end of my search in 1916
[2] See The Victorian School website for a descriptor of the various levels as they applied from 1872 http://www.victorianschool.co.uk/school%20history%20lessons.html

Elation and Frustration: The Reality of Family History Research

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

img_1606

Newcastle’s Discovery Museum – by Jane Roberts

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

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

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

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

All Saints Church, Newcastle – by Jane Roberts

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

In terms of positives:

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

The negatives:

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jigsaw Image from Pixabay

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Murderous Assaults with Poker & Rope: The (Un)Fortunate William Gavan

This is a tale of my 2x great grandfather William Gavan, a victim of crime but perhaps himself a wrong-doer? Two recent record releases, one on Ancestry UK and the other on FindMyPast, have supplemented earlier findings. One has possibly revealed a twist on this earlier research. 

William Gavan hailed from County Mayo, moving to England at around the time of the Great Famine of the late 1840s. He was certainly in Kidderminster by the 1851 census. It was in the town’s Roman Catholic chapel that he married County Mayo-born Bridget Knavesay in 1852. They moved to Batley in around 1860 with their young family, Honor, Margaret, Sarah and John. Eldest son James died sometime prior to the move, and Honor’s death followed in 1869. The couple had four further children – Mary, Thomas, Bridget (my great grandmother). Their youngest, William, was born in 1872. 

In the absence of any baptism record, William’s year of birth ranges anywhere between 1821-1832 depending on source. 

The story begins in April 1870. This was the first mention I found of William in Batley’s only town paper at the time, the “Batley Reporter”. I discovered the entry by pure chance whilst doing a library newspaper search for something totally unrelated. The headline captured my imagination: “Murderous Assault with a Poker“. It conjured up visions of the reputed cause of death of Edward II whose tomb I saw at Gloucester Cathedral. This story proved to be far less gruesome, but on a personal level far more interesting. As I read on I realised the victim was my 2x great grandfather William Gavan. 

On Saturday 9 April, at around 9.30pm, William was drinking with a friend, James Brannan, in John Farrar’s establishment, the “Ringers’ Arms” on New Street, Batley. The beerhouse was gain-hand for William, as he lived on the same street. Thomas Cain, a New Street neighbour, sat opposite William. Thomas, a much younger Irish man in his early 20s, lived with his mother.  

“Ringers Arms” sign, a few decades later – image courtesy of Batley Community Archive

 Initially conversation was friendly. At some point though Thomas made some remark, about William beating his wife. William responded by telling Thomas to go home and mind his mother. This seemingly innocuous response triggered a dramatic reaction. Thomas grabbed a poker and struck William on the head, a blow so violent as to render him unconscious and draw a copious flow of blood. William was taken home and the Doctor, William Bayldon, summoned. 

He found William slumped in a chair, faint through blood loss which had saturated his hair, covered his face and even soaked into the chair. The almost two inch long wound, on the left of his head, extended through the whole thickness of his scalp and resulted in an arterial rupture of a branch of the left temple artery.  

Police Sergeant Lund apprehended Thomas in his home at around 4am in the morning of 10 April. When charged with the assault he declared “I did hit him once with the poker, and I hope the b______ will die, if I thought he would not, I would have given him another blow”. So a fairly clear admission. 

William was confined to bed for five days after the assault, necessitating the deferral of the case against Thomas. Finally able to give evidence, William appeared at Batley Borough Court on 18 April. He must have cut a dramatic figure with bandaged head, remaining seated throughout the process. Dr Bayldon said the wound had not healed and would probably require treatment for a further fortnight. So a pretty impressive injury. Equally theatrical was the dramatic production of the offending poker during the case.  

The assault was of such a serious nature Batley Borough Court decided to refer the case to the Quarter Sessions at Bradford. The “Batley Reporter” had a one liner reporting the outcome on 21 May 1870: “Nine Months – Thomas Cain, unlawfully and maliciously wounding William Gavin [sic], at Batley” 

This is where the new records in Ancestry.co.uk come in. A recent addition is the West Riding Quarter Session records, 1637-1914. They are searchable by the name of the person indicted, but not by victim or witnesses. Luckily, through newspapers, I knew the name of William’s assailant. The indictment book gives detail of the full charge against Thomas Cain – in essence that he unlawfully made an assault on William and unlawfully beat, wound and ill-treated and did other wrongs to him. It also provides the names of the witnesses. The case was heard on 19 May 1870 and Thomas pleaded guilty. The wording is very formulaic and repetitive and doesn’t really add many details – for that the newspaper report is best. But it does provide another layer of detail, and a search of these records could help identify hitherto unknown charges against ancestors. 

By the time of the 1871 census Thomas was back home from the Wakefield House of Correction and once more living with his mother in New Street. The Gavan family had upped sticks and left the street on which they’d lived since their arrival in Batley. They now resided at Spring Gardens. I do wonder if the re-location owed something to the return of William’s attacker. I don’t expect many would want to remain living in the immediate vicinity of their poker-wielding assailant. 

But at the back of my mind was the wife-beating allegation Thomas made against William, which precipitated events that April 1870 night. Was there any substance in the claim? Was William ever hauled in front of the Magistrates to answer accusations? Did he beat Bridget? No charges on this count showed in the Quarter Session records, but any case wasn’t bound to get to that level. It may most likely have been dealt locally in the Petty Sessions.  

I never got round to further perusing the local newspapers for the period to see if William featured again. In the absence of any other information it was too formidable undertaking; neither did I check at West Yorkshire Archives for any lists of those appearing before Batley Borough Court.  

Here FindMyPast’s newspaper collection came to the rescue. It pays to keep checking because newspapers are added regularly. I was overjoyed to discover the addition of the “Dewsbury Reporter”. Not quite as good as having the “Batley Reporter” or the later Batley town paper, the “Batley News”. But not to be overlooked, because Batley stories feature in this neighbouring town’s paper. Also, it’s fair to point out, on FindMyPast there is a limited run for the Dewsbury paper. So far, it covers editions from its inception in 1869 until 1884. But it is part of the period of my ancestors lived in the town. So definitely worth a speculative search one evening. Hopefully the coverage will expand over time.

I really had to play around to overcome OCR errors as well as the dreaded surname variants for Gavan. It was worth the effort. Whilst there may be more to find, I unearthed some absolute corkers. And not confined to the occasional drunk and riotous episode either. 

Reports for the Gavan family included a rather interesting one dated 6 September 1873. In short William was summoned to appear at Batley Borough Court on Monday 1 September to answer a charge preferred against him by his wife, Bridget, of threatening to take her life. When the case was called she refused to say anything against her husband until Inspector Wetherill said he would lock the pair of them up. This loosened Bridget’s tongue. Apart from anything else, she had young children to consider. Youngest child William was only one.

She and William quarrelled on the 29 August. During the row he threatened kill her, something she took seriously. Afraid he would do her grievous bodily harm she reported him. William was bound over to keep the peace for six months. So perhaps there may have been something in what Thomas Cain alleged over three years earlier. Maybe Thomas was indeed upset at the way William treated his wife. And the hot-headed youth acted whilst in his cups. 

The next gem involved Bridget. On Wednesday 2 June 1875 it was her turn to appear in the Borough Court. I love the phraseology and images conjured up by the newspaper report, so much so I’m reproducing it in its entirety: 

Bridget Gavan was charged with assaulting Mary Winn, wife of Peter Winn, Spring Gardens, on the 20th May. Mr Hudson appeared for the complainant, and stated that the complainant’s husband was a coal agent, and sold coals in the neighbourhood, and collected money in small instalments. On Saturday last he called at the house of the defendant for some money, but instead of receiving the money he received a very warm reception from the defendant’s tongue, which induced him to leave the house and go away about his business. After visiting several other places, he went again and saw the defendant, who struck him, and scratched him in the face. He went home and told his wife, who naturally was not very well pleased with it, and on Monday she happened to meet with the defendant at a friend’s house, and asked her why she had insulted her husband. The defendant used some very naughty words, and afterwards she followed complainant to her house, seized her by the hair of the head, and a scrimmage took place to the detriment of both parties; and then it was that the complainant took out a summons for assault, and the summons was served on Monday. The summons was taken by the defendant, and in a very indecent manner was thrown by her into the complainant’s house, and she also broke a window. Evidence having been given by Peter Winn and the complainant, the defendant said the complainant struck her first with a brush. The Bench thought there had been some provocation on both sides, and only inflicted a fine of 2s 6d and costs”. 

I do wonder what constituted “very naughty words” and the mind boggles at how a summons could be taken in an “indecent manner”.  And why did Bridget react like this? Had Peter Winn overcharged her? Was he trying to collect money already paid? Was the coal he supplied of inferior quality? The dispute between the Winns and Bridget must have been the talk of Spring Gardens! I wonder if the Gavan’s used a different coal agent subsequently? 

But the residents of Spring Gardens were to be treated with another far more dramatic domestic disturbance in the Gavan household a little over a year later, stoking their gossip fires in a way far beyond the coal dispute. 

This jewel in the crown of my finds was accompanied by yet another “murderous assault” headline. Once more William had the role of victim. This time his attacker was his son-in-law, John Hannan. Again a much younger man in his 20’s.

John married the eldest surviving Gavan daughter, Margaret, at St Mary of the Angels RC Church, Batley on 21 September 1875, shortly after Margaret’s 20th birthday. The newly-weds lived at Spring Gardens in the household of Margaret’s parents. 

Less than 12 months after their wedding John, who was well-known to the authorities, appeared in Batley Borough Court facing charges of being drunk and riotous at Spring Gardens, assaulting Inspector Inman and assaulting William. His previous convictions included unlawfully wounding, larceny and attempted breach of the peace in connection with a prize fight. So an array of offences. 

His latest brush with the law followed drink-fuelled events on the evening of Saturday 1 July 1876. At 9pm that evening several women besieged Batley Police Office to report William lay seriously injured, probably dying, following an attack by John. 

Inspector Inman went to the house to find William with his head on a pillow, surrounded by more women. When Inspector Inman asked John what he’d been doing, John’s responded “What are you doing, you b____”. As the Inspector attempted to take John to the police station, John got hold of him by the thigh, threw him on his back and made his escape, assisted by several of the women. These allegedly included William’s daughter, 19 year old Sarah Gavan. She vehemently denied this, claiming she was away at that particular point in proceedings. 

In the meantime Dr Bayldon attended William, the same physician as was called following the 1870 attack. Again mirroring the earlier attack, William had several facial cuts, including a two inch one down to the bone. Bizarrely he also had a rope tied around his neck.  

Crime Scenes – Batley

 Fortunately William’s injuries were less serious than initially thought. Able to appear in court, without undue delay this time, he asked the Bench to “go easy” on his son-in-law. Upon being told that the matter was far too serious, William claimed not to remember anything about the night, when he “had had a sup of drink himself”. He believed John had tied a rope around his neck, but he had no feeling as John had rendered him insensible. Whether this memory loss was legitimate or a way of protecting John is open to question. I know where my suspicion lies. And the Mayor did remark to William “And yet you want to be very kind to him”. 

In his defence John claimed both he and William were drunk. He was attempting to get his father-in-law in the house and to bed. He’d pushed William causing him to fall and receive his injuries. He denied all knowledge of the rope around William’s neck. 

Sarah Gavan’s answers proved equally unsatisfactory and vague. John brought her father home and the pair participated in some “acting”, one trying to get twopence out of the other’s hand. She accounted for the rope around her father’s neck as part of this horseplay. John tried unsuccessfully to get her father to bed and she left them to it.  

It seems that concluded the evidence. John pleaded guilty to the drunk and riotous charge, and to the assault on William. For each of these offences he was fined 10s and costs, or 14 days. To the assault on Inspector Inman, he pleaded not guilty. However the Bench convicted him, imposing a one month prison sentence. No fine option for this offence. 

So a very fruitful search, adding more colour to the characters of my paternal ancestors. What struck me was how neatly the incidents linked, the symmetry between them – neighbourhood quarrels; family fall-outs; hot-headedness; Dr Bayldon’s visits to patch William up; and too much booze.

I am now in the process of a series of visits to the Wakefield branch of West Yorkshire Archives to see if the Batley Borough Court records point to any further potential ancestral misdemeanours. The list of complainants, defendants and dates will make a newspaper search more manageable. And, even in these early stages, there are plenty more newspaper searches to go at as a result.  

However, it’s something of a race against time, given the planned closure of Wakefield on 13 May until early 2017. My impending surgery could in effect mean I may have to wait until next year to finish. I do have a number of archive visits booked, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 

Sources: 

  • Ancestry.co.uk:  West Riding Quarter Sessions 19 May 1870 & HO 27 – Home Office: Criminal Registers, England and Wales 
  • Batley Community Archive – “Ringers Arms” sign
  • Batley Reporter” – 16 & 23 April 1870 and 21 May 1870
  • Census: 1851-1881 
  • GRO Marriage Certificate: William Gavan & Bridget Knavesay 
  • Parish Register: St Mary of the Angels, Batley 
  • FindMyPast: 
  • Dewsbury Reporter” – 6 September 1873, 17 October 1874, 5 June 1875 and 8 July 1876 & HO 140 – Home Office Calendar of Prisoners 

WDYTYA? Live 2016 : So much to do, So little time

The evening after the day before. I’m still recovering after a 220 mile round trip and a jam-packed day at “WDYTYA? Live”.

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The “Ask the Experts” area, busy right from the off

This year I focused on talks as trailed here. I did a mixture of ticketed and free talks. Pre-booking the Society of Genealogists (SoG) Workshops proved a wise choice for me – I think all my chosen ones had sold out before the event. So it meant this year I got a seat instead of loitering on the periphery.

I picked up lots of useful tips from all three SoG talks I attended, including search tips and suggested books. I now have a couple of new research strategies and record sets to check out for my Irish research from “Luck of the Irish”. It was fascinating to follow step by step the methods used in conducting research from one name in Meath, tracing the family back to way beyond pre Civil Registration.

And, following on from “Tracing a 16th and 17th Century Family Tree”, the moment I got home I ordered a copy of “Courts of the Manors of Bandon and Beddington 1489-1552” to help with my Latin to English translation of Manorial records.  Going to a Catholic school and studying Latin for two years is of limited help – and then only for basic words. My “Ecce Romani” Latin is useless for Manorial rolls!

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A Packed “Tracing a 16th and 17th Century Family” Tree Workshop

My husband also attended three workshops. He’s only into Family History at a basic level, but learned lots from the “What they Don’t Tell you about Visiting Archives” and WW1 research talk “Overcoming Trench Walls”. He came away fired with enthusiasm, and insisted there and then on sharing his new-found knowledge!

As a journalist he also attended the “Copyright and Family History” talk. It was interesting to compare his perspective of what is done in reality (and ways round things), to what should be done.  He said this talk would put the fear of God into anyone about doing anything!

As an old-school journalist he was trained in shorthand, so made copious notes. I will be keeping an eye on the SoG website  http://www.sog.org.uk/ because, as in previous years, many (but not all) of the speakers’ handouts or slides presented at the show will be uploaded in due course.

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Final Packed Workshop of the Day – Research Before 1837

I also attended Debbie Kennett’s “Autosomal DNA Pleasures and Pitfalls” talk. A clear explanation of a complex subject, and I now feel better prepared to re-visit my DNA tests. Immediately on my return home I downloaded her talk slides and joined the “DNA help for Genealogy (UK)” Facebook page. So these should help with what is a daunting subject for my scientifically-challenged mind.

One nugget I did take away with me, which hadn’t previously crossed my mind with the Ancestry DNA kit, was the need to factor in my annual Ancestry subscription cost. This is required in order to be able to continue to access the full range of their DNA online result features.

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Debbie Kennett Points out the Pleasures and Pitfalls of Autosomal DNA

One talk which me and my husband attended together was Andrew Robertshaw’s “The Story of the Somme”. As my husband put it, the clearest most concise 20 minute explanation he has ever heard.

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“The Story of the Somme” – one of the highlights of the show for me

As a result of the number of talks I attended, regretfully I didn’t have as much time as I needed to explore the rest of the cornucopia of exhibitors. I did plan out in advance those I wanted to visit but didn’t get round them all. Part of the problem was navigating the stand numbering system – I kept getting hopelessly lost and distracted.

I was particularly disappointed I didn’t make it to the Forces War Records stand to see what the discount was, as I am considering subscribing.

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WW2 Spitfire in the Forces War Records Area

I did manage to get my 25% Ancestry renewal discount. Definitely one bargain not to be missed out on.

I was torn about purchasing some more DNA kits for the family. Ancestry had a great deal, with kits retailing at a massively discounted £59 and Family Tree DNA’s autosomal Family Finder kit at £65. I decided against it. But with luck, judging by the rate they were flying off the shelves, I may get some more matches (hopefully with attached trees).

As ever I spent a small fortune on books, my big weakness. The Pen & Sword stand got the largest chunk of my book cash. Their offer of three books for £30 proved far too tempting and I ended up buying 5 for £40! Only the fact I’ve got the indispensable “Phillimore Atlas of Parish Registers” stopped me from grabbing a £20 bargain at The History Press stand.

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Pen & Sword Haul

I also managed to sign up for a Pharos course (with 20% discount). So I’ll be doing their “Introduction to One-Name Studies” course in May. For good measure I ended up registering a one-name study name with the Guild – heaven knows how much extra work I’ve landed myself there!

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More Goodies – including One-Name Studies Guidance

On the subject of courses, I managed to speak to a number of providers. I’m now pondering about doing the Pharos Advanced course, the Institute of Heraldic & Genealogical Studies (IHGS) correspondence course or a Centre for Archive and Information Studies (CAIS) one. As ever for me the sticking point is fitting genealogy learning around work commitments. I need the flexibility. I also want a course which will potentially lead to formal accreditation with the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA).

And talking, listening and learning is another fantastic thing about “WDYTYA? Live”. It was great to meet so many people who share this passion for family history, including so many #AncestryHour Twitter folk! So faces to Twitter names at last.

Given my interest in WW1 history, I visit Flanders and the Somme annually. So the show provided me opportunity to do some planning for my two visits scheduled for this year.

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Holiday Planning

On a WW1 theme finally, as the show was winding up, Chris and I paid for joint membership of the Western Front Association, something we’ve meant to do for quite some time.

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Plenty for Military Researchers

Yet again I thoroughly enjoyed my day at “WDYTYA? Live”. The talks I attended were excellent. However, given that I felt I missed so much this year in terms of exhibitors, next year I won’t try to cram everything into one day. I will stay for two, possibly the full three, days. That in itself sums up how useful the event is.end of show

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

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

Victorian Headstones – Photo by Jane Roberts

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

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

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

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

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

Cause of Death Pedigree grandma Hill 2

Chart 1: Paternal Grandmother Cause of Death Pedigree

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

Cause of Death Pedigree grandad Hill 3a

Chart 2a: Paternal Grandfather Cause of Death Pedigree

Cause of Death Pedigree grandad Hill 3b

Chart 2b: Paternal Grandfather Cause of Death Pedigree

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

Cause of Death Pedigree nana Callaghan 1a

Chart 3a: Maternal Grandmother Cause of Death Pedigree

Cause of Death Pedigree nana Callaghan 1b

Chart 3b: Maternal Grandmother Cause of Death Pedigree

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

Cause of Death Pedigree grandpa Callaghan 1

Chart 4: Maternal Grandfather Cause of Death Pedigree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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