Book Review: Titanic Survivor – The Memoirs of Violet Jessop – Stewardess

Titanic Survivor – The Memoirs of Violet Jessop are the recollections of the life of a stewardess who survived the sinking of both the Titanic and Britannic (‘sister ship’ of the Titanic). This written narrative is interspersed with commentary and explanations by editor John Maxtone-Graham.

Whilst not a literary masterpiece, Violet’s memoirs have a charming appeal, and capture an era of ocean travel from the perspective of a working-class woman on board a ship – a voice that is not often heard. For anyone with ancestors employed in a ship’s victualling department in the first part of the 20th century, particularly as a first class cabin steward, these memoirs give an authentic insight into their life and work.

Violet, born in Buenos Aires on 2 October 1887, was the daughter of Irish immigrants William Katherine Jessop (née Kelly). Suffering serious bouts of ill-health in childhood, in 1903 following the death of her father, she came to England with her mother, brothers and sister.

In October 1908 she made her first sailing as a stewardess with the Royal Mail on the West Indies route, the start of her 42-year career at sea. Her final sailing, in 1950, was in the employ of the same company she started with.

In between, she had employment with White Star (a company she only joined with reluctance), P&O (very briefly) and Red Star. As well as working as a stewardess for first class passengers on transatlantic crossings with the White Star Line, she undertook World Cruises, hedonistic “booze cruises” during the US prohibition era, and had a stint as a VAD nurse in World War One on board the Britannic, which was converted to a hospital ship. All this was punctuated by periods on shore undertaking a variety of clerical work. The Titanic and Britannic therefore only formed a short period in what was a career spanning decades.

So do not expect a book purely focused on Titanic.

In fact the Titanic forms only three of the 34 chapters. And many of the names of crew and passengers are disguised, perhaps with the discretion of an employee still working on ships (the memoir dates from the mid-1930s whilst Violet was still working). Of those identified and identifiable, she does mention ship designer Thomas Andrews, and clearly had great affection for him. And violinist Jock Hulme is also referred to by name, one of the bandmen who also perished in the early hours of 15 April 1912.

Her Great War VAD experience on board the Britannic, which struck a mine on 21 November 1916 and sank off the coast of the Greek island of Kea, fills another three chapters. These also cover her repatriation as a Distressed British Seaman. From her Titanic shipwreck experience she made sure she abandoned the Britannic with her toothbrush!

And there are intriguing gaps too. Although her White Star Line career included time on the Olympic starting from its maiden voyage in June 1911, it also covered the ship’s fifth voyage when she collided with British warship HMS Hawke. This event is not mentioned. Again it illustrates that there is so much which Violet’s memoirs have skimmed over or omitted – events which would have interested readers.

That being said, Violet’s memoirs are well worth reading for the additional first hand perspective she gives of historic events.

More that this, her memoirs give a broader insight into the work of life with a ships’s victualling department generally, and the lot of cabin stewards in particular, in that golden era of sea travel of the early 20th century. They give a flavour of difficulties of a young girl getting such work in the first place (it was normally a job for more mature women), the job insecurity, the hard work, long hours, short breaks, and the difficult conditions under which they lived on board. There are anecdotes about the foibles and demands of passengers, the job offers, and the marriage proposals. Violet frequently analyses the character and behaviours of those serving alongside her in a ship’s victualling department – from their tippling, to the drive to earn tips to supplement their meagre wages.

And, on a human level, there are the tantalising snippets leaving you wondering who she was referring to – for example on the Titanic; what became of Ned – the love of her life; who was the man she had a brief and unsuccessful marriage with – never referred to in her memoirs; and what was in, and became of, the missing chapter.

To conclude, I really enjoyed this easy to read, conversational-style book. A perfect weekend indulgence.

A Workplace With a Deadly History

The White Lee explosion at Henry Ellison’s chemical factory on Hollinbank Lane, Heckmondwike, which killed 10 men on 2 December 1914, does not tell the entire story of the chequered history of these works. Even before this catastrophic event it was the scene of multiple fires. Additionally there was a series of bizarre, and unassociated, deaths involving men who worked there between 1870 and 1885. All occurred during the tenure of the previous owners of the works, the Heaton family. And the Heatons themselves were not untouched.


James Heaton, who started the family’s involvement with chemical manufacturing, was originally a spinner by trade. From Little Gomersal, he married Jane Popplewell at Birstall St Peter’s on 28 December 1834. The newly married Heatons subsequently moved to Leicester to raise their family. Children included Joseph (born 1836), George (born circa 1838), Martha (born in 1839, and died in 1840), Mary (born in 1840), John (born 1841), Susannah (birth registered in 1841), and Jane (born 1847, and died in 1848).

I have not pinned down precisely the family’s move back up north, but it is likely to have taken place in the mid to late 1850s. Certainly, by the time of the 1861 census, the Heaton’s were in the Dale Lane area of Heckmondwike, with James and his three sons described as manufacturing chemists – a total shift away from James’ lambs wool spinning days.

Other clues around timing of the manufacturing chemist move come in Ordnance Survey maps and Directories. The 1854 Ordnance Survey map of the area (surveyed 1847-1851) does not feature the chemical works. Neither is the Heaton Chemical Works mentioned in White’s 1858 Directory of Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield etc. However one set of inquest notes indicate that one of the Heaton brothers, Joseph, had been involved in chemistry since around 1854. The accuracy of this statement though is uncertain – the same notes give the incorrect month and year of death for James.1

The newness of the concern is also indicated in newspapers, which also provide further details of the type of processes Messrs. James Heaton and Sons undertook. Besides chemical manufacturing, they were also involved in oil extraction by means of the pressing process, and grease production.2 A newspaper report from March 1863, describing a fire at the premises, states how a newly erected, and uninsured, shed used for the purposes of extracting oil etc was destroyed, damage estimated at £200. The adjoining shed, where several tons of oil and other flammable spirits were stored, was saved due to the assistance of neighbours.3 In addition to offices, warehouses and storage facilities, from newspaper reports over the years the extensive buildings included a rag storage area, a blacksmiths and a coopers.

A later map showing the location of the Chemical Works – Ordnance Survey Maps – Six-inch England and Wales, 1841-1952, Yorkshire CCXXXII.SW (includes Cleckheaton, Gomersal, Heckmondwike), Surveyed: 1889 to 1892, Published: 1894 – National Library of Scotland, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC-SA) licence

The family had fingers in pies other than the White Lee chemical and oil refining concern. They owned a farm, and had a growing property portfolio. In July 1874 they bought the old-established copperas and prussiate works in Roberttown, producing black dye and sulphuric acid. One member of the family even had a ship named after him: In 1882 an iron screw steamer, intended for the Indian and Atlantic trades, was launched up in Tyneside. The steamer, christened by Mary Heaton (wife of middle brother George), was named the George Heaton.


The Heatons, though, were not immune to local controversy. A Healey resident, writing to the local paper in 1879, accused the Heaton chemical works of being a public nuisance, responsible for “constantly bringing the most noxious gases and vilest smells into our homes; our sitting rooms and bedrooms, too, being frequently filled with them.4

Then there were the Local Board and Town Council water meter disputes, planning controversies, and accusations of providing cottages unfit for habitation.

On a personal level, court cases included the ill-treatment of a horse (John), and the assault on a letter carrier in 1874 (Joseph). In this incident Joseph refused to hand over 2d to Heckmondwike Post Master employee Frank Richmond. Joseph then pushed the mail deliverer against a wall and pulled his ears because he felt the youth had behaved in a “saucy and taunting manner.5 Joseph escaped punishment because the assault was deemed of a trivial character.

The letter incident occurred days after another fire at the Heaton Chemical Works, and perhaps the stress Joseph was under affected his reaction that day. The previous year, in June 1873, a fire broke out in the uninsured works, but was quickly subdued with minimal damage. The fire which broke out on 2 February 1874, at about 5.30pm, was far more serious. Believed to have been caused by oil overflowing from one of the tanks, it took several local fire brigades until 10pm to extinguish the blaze, by which time it had caused damage estimated £20,000.6 Fortunately by now the Heaton’s business was partly insured, although it did mean they suffered losses of around £10,000.7 However the consequences were felt far beyond this date. Messrs. Heaton became embroiled in a dispute about charges for the fire brigade services that night. Legal proceedings followed to recover these costs.

The dispute rumbled on, and failure to settle payment from previous fires was the reason why all local fire brigades refused to attend yet another blaze at the works. Believed to have been caused by the ignition of overheated grease, this fire broke out in the early hours of 28 August 1879. One brigade did set off, but turned back round when they found out the location of the fire. It was left to local people to confine the conflagration to the originating building, extinguish the blaze and save the rest of the extensive works which were filled with combustible chemicals. Again only partly insured, damage was estimated at between £1,000 to £1,500.8


The above-mentioned controversies took place after the death of James Heaton on 27 April 1867, when sons Joseph, George and John took over the running of the business. John was the brother best described as the business’s superintending manager; Joseph and George travelled, and mainly did outside works, though Joseph was also the brother who conducted chemical experiments. And it was on their watch that the random sequence of deaths involving those connected to the chemical works occurred. Two were fire related, and both these incidents directly touched the Heaton family.


The first death occurred in 1870. 20-year-old carter George Miller had only worked at Heatons for three weeks when he met his death. Born in Kirkby Overblow in 1849, he was the son of farm labourer David Miller and his wife Ann. David died in 1862 and Ann, after being widowed for a second time, moved with her children to the Birstall area.9 George however lodged elsewhere. Ann, crucially for the turn of events, described her son as sober and very steady.

On 9 March 1870 George, along with Lister Kaye, another carter employed by the Heatons, took some charcoal to Heckmondwike then went to Ravens Wharf to collect two loads of sand. On the way back, at around 5.50pm they stopped off at the Prospect Beerhouse, Dewsbury Moor, where they stayed for about 1½ hours drinking ale with several other men before making their way back to the chemical works. Lister Kaye described George as “very lively10 – the implication being he had perhaps drunk a little too much.

At about 8.10pm, Catherine Droghan was walking up Staincliffe Hall Road. Almost at the top she saw George, walking unsteadily with his horse and cart loaded with sand.11 He spoke thickly to Catherine as if he had been drinking, then sat on the cart shafts until he reached the top of the hill. At this point he jumped down to pick up the reins of the horse which were trailing on the ground. As he tried to get back onto the shafts he fell to the ground on his face, and the cart wheel ran over him. His final words before he was carried to the Crown Hotel were “Oh dear let me lie still.12 He died 20 minutes later.

The Crown Hotel with Christ Church, Staincliffe (baptism place of some of the Heaton children) and Staincliffe Hall Road to the right – Photo by Jane Roberts

The inquest on 11 March 1870, incidentally also held at the Crown Hotel, ruled he had been accidentally run over. Perhaps it was a case of a new boy not used to drinking trying to fit in with the men. But it appears this stop off at the Prospect Beerhouse cost him his life.


The next employee’s death was of an entirely different nature. This was 21-year-old Thomas Dawson, who worked as a book-keeper at the Heaton chemical works. It was around a two-mile walk away from his home in Gomersal, where he lived with his mill engine operator father John, mother Ann, and younger brother William.

Thomas was born in Gildersome and, before his move to Gomersal, he spent his early years in Batley and Birstall, where he was a member of the Birstall Wesleyan Society. A hard working and studious young man, the fact he was learning French as an adult in this period supports his scholarly nature.

Described by his mother as “well and hearty,”13 he was working up until Saturday 1 November 1873. That day he complained of a pain in his head, and despite a visit from the doctor who diagnosed a mild attack of low fever, he did not improve.

At around 5am on the morning of 5 November his mother went to his room and found his bed empty. Downstairs, the house door was unlocked. The alarm was raised and search parties sent out.

Later that afternoon Nelson Oldroyd saw a walking stick floating in one of the Gomersal mill dams of Messrs. Thomas Burnley and Sons, the employers of Thomas’ father. The dam was within 50 yards of what had been the Dawson family home around three weeks earlier. Nelson then saw Thomas’ body lying face down in the 37 inch deep water. He called for help and the body was retrieved.

The inquest, held at the White Horse Inn in Gomersal, (a place mentioned in connection with John Heaton later on in this piece), reached a verdict that Thomas had drowned himself when of unsound mind.


The third death occurred on Monday, 17 May 1880. The victim was 20-year-old blacksmith’s striker James Flanagan.

James was the son of Irish farmer Andrew Flanagan. He lodged with his cousin Catherine, and her husband Michael Fallon, at Carr Street, Heckmondwike. He had been employed by Heaton and Sons for around 18 months, working alongside Staincliffe blacksmith Paul Perkin.

That Monday morning, at around 6am, James left home for work. A couple of hours later he was helping Perkin with the removal of a one-ton seak press. This was a type of press used to extract oil. Joseph Heaton arrived on the scene and took over the supervision of proceedings.

The machine was put on an 18 inch high horse-drawn cart, called a bogey. It proved a difficult operation, due to the slippery surface, the downward incline, and the fact there was only limited room for the horses to work. Various permutations were tried, one horse, then two, then back to one, with more men called to help push, then sent away again. Eventually it was left to Joseph Heaton to take the horse, with Paul Perkin on one side of the bogey and James on the other. According to Perkin, Joseph told the pair to try to keep in front of the bogey, but for some reason James continued alongside the back wheel.

Initially the bogey moved slowly and steadily. As they neared the crane Joseph Heaton pulled the horse to one side to avoid some casks. He then stopped. At this point the press began to wobble, before it, and the bogey, overturned. There was a scream.

Joseph ran towards James who was on the ground, pinned down by the press. Men were quickly summoned to prize the press off James, who was then placed on a trap sent for by Joseph, and taken to the old Batley Cottage Hospital where he was admitted at about 9.40am. This was the original cottage hospital which opened at Hillfield House, Knowles Hill, in August 1878, prior to the opening of the purpose-build Carlinghow Hill hospital on 27 March 1883.

A map showing the location of the old Batley Cottage Hospital which was in operation between 1878 and 1883 – Ordnance Survey Maps – 25 inch England and Wales, 1841-1952, Yorkshire CCXXXII.11 (Batley; Morley), Surveyed: 1889 to 1892, Published: 1894 – National Library of Scotland, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC-SA) licence

James remained conscious almost to the end, but in great pain. He died just before noon. The inquest, which was held in the hospital on 19 May 1880, reached a verdict of “accidentally crushed.” James is buried in Heckmondwike cemetery.


The next fatality occurred six months later in very peculiar circumstances, and this time it was Joseph Heaton. Joseph was the brother who conducted most of the firm’s chemical experiments, to establish their properties for grease extraction. He had been involved in chemistry for around 26 years.14

At 11am on 22 November 1880, Joseph was in the inner office busy conducting some experiments with bisulphide of carbon. Used as a solvent, this was a toxic, volatile and highly flammable liquid. The fumes could act as an irritant and an anaesthetic. It was a liquid though that Joseph was accustomed to working with. However this Monday morning things went dramatically wrong.

At around 11.15am, somehow the liquid ignited and the copper vessel containing it dropped to the floor. Eliza Coleman, who was at the sewing machine in the inner office, became aware of a commotion and saw Joseph blowing on a small flame in the pan on the floor. Joseph would have been fully aware of the danger a fire posed – after all, the chemical works had suffered significant damage and financial losses before. He attempted to pick up the copper container but dropped it, burning his hand.

At this point Eliza, fearing a fire was inevitable, broke the office window and climbed out. Luckily in the process she avoided inhaling any fumes.

Joseph made another attempt to get the blazing pan out of the building. This time he successfully reached the office yard, where other workers quickly extinguished the flames. The office itself incurred minimal damage, but Joseph had inhaled the fumes.

Joseph took some castor oil before lunch, and remained at work that day. His brother John said he seemed perfectly composed and rational when he left him just before 4pm. However, when his other brother, George, enquired after him that afternoon he told him “I feel it on my stomach and I have burnt my hand in carrying it out when on fire.15

Joseph returned to his Hollinbank Terrace home as usual that evening. John, who lived next door but one, on hearing George’s account, went round to see how Joseph was and found him in bed conscious, but breathing very heavily. Charles Eyre Counsellor, a Heckmondwike surgeon and apothecary, arrived just after 1am and prescribed some remedies. John left at around 2.20am, but called back at just gone 7am, around the same time as Counsellor returned. By now Joseph was unconscious. Joseph died at around 8.30am that Tuesday morning, 23 November 1880.

The inquest was held at the Junction Inn, Heckmondwike, with the jury viewing Joseph’s body at his Hollinbank Terrace home. Their verdict was Jospeh died from inhaling bisulphide of carbon.

The copyright on this image is owned by Betty Longbottom and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Joseph left a widow, Ann (née Oliver) who he had married on 15 June 1871 at Barnby Dun, near Doncaster. The couple had two young daughters, Frances Jane, born in 1872, and Annie Elizabeth, born in 1874. Joseph was buried in Heckmondwike Cemetery on 26 November 1885.


The fifth death took place five years later in horrific circumstances. This time John Heaton was the victim.

John married Elizabeth Swalwell on 31 March 1870 at St Mary’s parish church, Scarborough. Children followed regularly, including Lizzie Maud (born in 1871), Bertha (born in 1872), Laura (born 1873), May (born 1874), Walter Leonard (born and died in 1875, age 3 weeks), Isabel (born 1876) and Jane Harriet (born in 1879, and died age 6 months in 1880).

On 14 August 1876 he was fortunate to escape serious injury. Returning from the White Horse Inn in Gomersal (the inquest location for former employee Thomas Dawson a shade under three years earlier) that Monday evening, the dog cart in which he travelled lurched violently as it turned into Muffitt Lane, throwing him out of the carriage seat and into the wall of a house. The driverless horse and trap safely made its way back to White Lee, whilst John lay unconscious. He did make a full recovery, but it was a narrow escape. In November 1885 his luck ran out.

At around 7pm on Saturday 7 November 1885 a huge fire broke out in the refining and oil press parts of the Heaton Brothers works. Fuelled by the combustible materials – the estimate was between 200 to 300 tons of oil went up that night – flames illuminated the skyline for miles around. Thousands of people from Heckmondwike and Batley congregated to witness the scene of destruction. Fire brigades from the Crystal and Union Mills (Messrs Kelley and Sons, Heckmondwike), the Liverpool, London and Globe Insurance Society, Birstall, Spen Valley Millowners and Staincliffe Mills all converged on the scene. When the flames were finally extinguished damage was estimated to be between £10,000 to £15,000.16

George Heaton was in Scarborough at the time, so was well out of the way. Only an hour or so before the fire broke out John had gone to Leeds for an evening out. His wife though sent a wire through to his destination and he returned home as quickly as possible by train and then cab from Batley railway station. It was a fateful decision. One only wonders how much his wife regretted her contacting him as events played out.

John dashed to the works to join in with the firefighting efforts. Despite having a sup of gin, he was described as excited, rather than the worse for liquor. With flames in the refining part now abating, the press area became the focus of these efforts. John formed the head of the chain along which buckets of water were passed, and it was he who took responsibility for throwing the water to douse the flames. He stood near a disused tank, the top of which was level with the floor – yet this was never considered dangerous. Ordinarily the tank contained cold water, but the fire caused pans of oil to boil over, and 18 inches of this boiling liquid now formed a layer on the water. By this stage John had thrown between 30-40 buckets of water. In the process of throwing yet another he slipped on a piece of zinc roofing and fell sideways into the tank. Quickly men pulled him out, but he was covered in hot oil with the majority of the scalds being to his arms, legs and face.

Despite his injuries John managed to walk back to his Hollinbank Terrace home. Dr Lee attended him, but John died in his home at about 3pm on Sunday 8 November. He was 44 years old, the same age as his brother Joseph was when he died.

The houses where all three Heaton brothers lived and died – Photo by Jane Roberts

Another inquest, another hostelry – this time the Cricketers’ Arms Hotel, Heckmondwike. The jury returned a verdict of “accidentally scalded.

John was interred in Heckmondwike Cemetery on 9 November 1885. His wife, Elizabeth, was in the early months of pregnancy. She gave birth to a daughter, Georgina, on 28 May 1886. On 18 September that year the family were back in Heckmondwike Cemetery once more – this time for Georgina’s burial.


The surviving Heaton brother, George, did not carry on with the family business. In 1887 the chemical and oil refining works, along with other ventures including the farm, the Copperas Works in Roberttown, and several properties, were all put up for sale.17 In the 1891 census he is described as a retired manufacturing chemist. In his retirement George split his time between Heckmondwike and Scarborough.

The Heaton headstone in Heckmondwike cemetery, pictured in detail below, gives clues to one of George’s major interests – Freemasonry. Both he and his brother Joseph, right up until their deaths, were members of the Amphibious Lodge in Heckmondwike. In 1896 George became Grand Master of the Lodge.

George died suddenly on 22 January 1898. He left a widow Mary (née Akeroyd) who he married at St Paul’s in Huddersfield on 25 November 1868. The couple’s two sons predeceased George. James William died, age 8, on 24 June 1878; Albert Edward died on 13 July 1879 just short of his fourth birthday. Both were buried in Heckmondwike cemetery and are commemorated on the family headstone.

George’s obituary appeared in The Freemason. It read:

Obituary.
BRO. GEORGE HEATON.

Bro. George Heaton, of Hollinbank-terrace, Heckmondwike, died somewhat suddenly on Saturday morning, the 22nd instant. He was 60 years of age, and was formerly in business as a manufacturing chemist and oil extractor. Bro. Heaton, who leaves a widow but no family, was formerly a member of the Board of Health,18 and for a while took an active interest in the Chamber of Commerce.19 It was in connection with Freemasonry, however, that he was best known. He joined the Amphibious Lodge, No. 258, Heckmondwike a quarter of a century ago, and has been a munificent patron of Masonic Charities. A few years ago he contributed 1200 guineas to the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution, and quite recently he gave 1300 guineas to the Royal Masonic Institution for Girls. He was a P[ast] M[aster] of his lodge, and had also held a prominent position in the Provincial Grand Lodge of West Yorkshire. Although his death was unexpected, he has not enjoyed good health for some time.20

Shortly after his death an oil portrait of George was completed. Commissioned during his lifetime, he was depicted in full regalia with decorations and seals of office as Provincial Grand Deacon of West Yorkshire. The full sized figure, measuring 7 feet 6 inches by 5 feet 6 inches, was hung in the Heckmondwike Masonic Hall. If this portrait still exists, and if there is an image of it, I would love to know. It would be great to include it as part of this blog.


Not including that final catastrophic 1914 explosion, the above sequence of events with numerous fires at the chemical works, and four of the five deaths being work-related but all in entirely different ways, shows the dangers our ancestors faced in days before health and safety. And this sequence was nothing out of the ordinary, as the newspaper accounts of accidents across factories, mills, mines and other workplaces in this period testify. Perhaps what is noteworthy about the Heaton Chemical Works story is the fact that it cost two of the three brothers their lives. Perhaps George made the correct decision in quitting when he did.


I will leave you with one final series of images for the Heaton family: the two family headstones with their inscriptions for James and his sons Joseph, George and John. These lie in the shadow of the now derelict Twin Chapels in Heckmondwike cemetery.


Notes:
1. Inquest notes, West Riding Coroner’s Notebook, West Yorkshire Archives, Ref: C493/K/2/1/86;
2. It is unclear if grease is a separate substance, or if it is a local word for oil;
3. Leeds Mercury, 9 March 1863;
4. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 15 February 1879;
5. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 21 February 1874;
6. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 7 February 1874;
7. Using the MeasuringWorth website at https://www.measuringworth.com/index.php, this equates to a real price today of £935,300;
8. £1,500 is equates to a real price today of £153,600 using the above MeasuringWorth website;
9. Sources from the time give her name as Ann Gill, widow from Birstall. After David Miller’s death, Ann remarried in April 1866 at Weeton. Her husband was Samuel Gill. He died in 1868. In 1871 Ann is living with Edward Gill at Hightown, described as his wife. They actually married in August 1873 at St Peter’s, Birstall;
10. Inquest notes, West Yorkshire Archives, Ref: C493/K/2/1/36;
11. It’s not clear from the reports, but given George was coming from Dewsbury Moor it is likely he was approaching the Butcher’s Arms crossroads from the Dewsbury Gate Road side, directly opposite Staincliffe Hall Road;
12. Inquest notes, West Riding Coroner’s Notebook, West Yorkshire Archives, Ref: C493/K/2/1/36;
13. Inquest notes, West Riding Coroner’s Notebook, West Yorkshire Archives, Ref: C493/K/2/1/53;
14. Inquest notes, West Riding Coroner’s Notebook, West Yorkshire Archives, Ref: C493/K/2/1/86;
15. Ibid;
16. Using the top-end estimate of £15,000, this equates to an eye-watering real price today of £1,632,000 using the above MeasuringWorth website;
17. Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 1 and 5 February 1887;
18. Heckmondwike, where he served one term of three years;
19. Again in Heckmondwike;
20. The Freemason, 28 January 1898.

Other Sources:
1841 – 1891 Censuses;
Baptism Registers – Birstall St Peter’s, Leicester All Saints and Staincliffe Christ Church;
Directories;
• Freemasonry Membership Registers
;
GRO Indexes;
Heckmondwike Cemetery Burial Registers;
Marriage Registers – Barnby Dun Parish Church, Birstall St Peter’s, Huddersfield St Pauls and Scarborough St Mary’s;
National Library of Scotland Maps;
• National Probate Calendar
;
• Newspapers, various dates – including Batley News, Batley Reporter and Guardian, Bradford Observer, Dewsbury Reporter, Huddersfield Chronicle, Huddersfield Daily Examiner, Leeds Mercury, Leeds Times, Wakefield Free Press, and Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer;
• West Riding Coroner’s Notebook;
• Wikimedia Commons;

St Mary of the Angels, Batley: One-Place Study Update – 1 to 31 March 2021 Additions

This is the latest update of the pages relating to my Batley St Mary’s one-place study, the details of which I announced here.

Moses Stubley

During the past month I have added eight new pages. These include four weekly newspaper summaries. There are also three War Memorial biographies – those of Michael Flynn, Thomas Foley D.C.M., and Moses Stubley.

I have also updated Austin Nolan’s biography with some new information about a childhood scrape he got into with two other of the St Mary’s lads.

Finally I have identified several more men who served and survived, and have accordingly updated that page. The eighth page is a biography of one man in that category, Thomas Donlan. The biographies of the others will follow in due course.

Below is the full list of pages to date. I have annotated the *NEW* ones, plus the *UPDATED* page, so you can easily pick these out. Click on the link and it will take you straight to the relevant page.

1. About my St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church War Memorial One-Place Study;

Batley Descriptions – Directories etc.
2. 1914: Borough of Batley – Town Information from the Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health.

Biographies: Men Associated with St Mary’s Who Died but Who are Not on the Memorial
3. Reginald Roberts
4. William Frederick Townsend

Biographies: The War Memorial Men
5. Edmund Battye
6. Michael Brannan
7. Thomas Curley
8. Michael Flynn *NEW*
9. Thomas Foley D.C.M. *NEW*
10. Michael Horan
William McManus – See William Townsend below
11. Patrick Naifsey
12. Austin Nolan *UPDATED* – Previously unseen information from childhood.
13. Moses Stubley *NEW*
14. William Townsend, also known as McManus

Biographies: Those who Served and Survived (this includes a list of those identified to date and who will later have dedicated biographical pages) *UPDATED*
15. James Delaney
16. Thomas Donlan *NEW*

Burials, Cemeteries, Headstones and MIs
17. Cemetery and Memorial Details
18. War Memorial Chronology of Deaths

During This Week
19. 1914, 8 August – Batley News
20. 1914, 15 August – Batley News
21. 1914, 22 August – Batley News
22. 1914, 29 August – Batley News
23. 1914, 5 September – Batley News
24. 1914, 12 September – Batley News
25. 1914, 19 September – Batley News
26. 1914, 26 September – Batley News
27. 1914, 3 October – Batley News
28. 1914, 10 October – Batley News
29. 1914, 17 October – Batley News
30. 1914, 24 October – Batley News
31. 1914, 31 October – Batley News
32. 1914, 7 November – Batley News
33. 1914, 14 November – Batley News
34. 1914, 21 November – Batley News
35. 1914, 28 November – Batley News
36. 1914, 5 December – Batley News
37. 1914, 12 December – Batley News
38. 1914, 19 December – Batley News
39. 1914, 24 December – Batley News
40. 1915, 2 January – Batley News
41. 1915, 9 January – Batley News
42. 1915, 16 January – Batley News
43. 1915, 23 January – Batley News
44. 1915, 30 January – Batley News
45. 1915, 6 February – Batley News
46. 1915, 13 February – Batley News
47. 1915, 20 February – Batley News
48. 1915, 27 February – Batley News
49. 1915, 6 March – Batley News *NEW*
50. 1915, 13 March – Batley News *NEW*
51. 1915, 20 March – Batley News *NEW*
52. 1915, 27 March – Batley News *NEW*

Miscellany of Information
53. The Controversial Role Played by St Mary’s Schoolchildren in the 1907 Batley Pageant
54. The Great War: A Brief Overview of What Led Britain into the War
55. Willie and Edward Barber – Poems
56. A St Mary’s School Sensation

A Very British Obsession: The Weather (and Some Ideas for Sources to Use for Family History Research)

Like many other Brits, I can be ever so slightly obsessed with the weather. In fact a Bristol Airport commissioned poll back in 2018 suggested the average British person spends the equivalent of four and a half months of their life talking about the weather. Nearly 50 per cent of those 2,000 adults surveyed said chatting about temperature, sunshine or rain is their go-to subject when making small talk.

Winter Landscape, George Morland – Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain Image

But unlike many of my nationality, I go way beyond the current forecast. I even seek out historical information. There’s a particular reason for my historical weather curiosity though – it adds context, colour and background to my family history research.

My historical weather digging is varied. There are the mundane, everyday issues, like finding out what it was like on various ancestral wedding days. Or whether a significant local weather event provide a talking point in the communities of my ancestors. For example the 1916 lightning strike which destroyed St Paul’s Church, Hanging Heaton (no fatalities, including parish registers, thankfully).

But weather could be extraordinary, and a genuine matter of life and death. An increase in mortality rates in the parish register? Was it the result of a particular illness outbreak like smallpox or measles? Or perhaps harsh winter weather was the primary driver?

And on a more basic everyday level, in the agriculturally-dominated society of bygone years, the changing seasons and weather patterns dictated the rhythm and structure of the lives of our ancestors. Any untoward variation from the expected cycle could have a critical impact. An unusual weather event could mean the difference between a bumper harvest, available work and plentiful food; or delayed sowing, a badly reduced – or even ruined – crop, limited employment, squeezed food supplies, high prices and hunger. It could extend beyond food crops. Livestock might perish and their fodder be in short supply. Weather could therefore have a devastating impact. Drought and crop failure could change the course of lives, potentially even driving migration.

So where to find this information? Here are a few ideas to get you started.


Newspapers are an obvious source. But think beyond their weather forecasts and weather event reports. Even something as simple as a football or rugby match report, a mundane summer fete article, or the circumstances of an accident, may refer to the weather conditions. It’s a case of thinking outside the box even in an obvious source.


When thinking of weather today, the Met Office might be your go-to source. They also retain historic station data, with monthly data made available online for a selection of these long-running historic stations. The series typically range from 50 to more than 100 years in length. The 37 stations cover the length and breadth of Britain, including Armagh, Durham, Bradford, Lowestoft, Southampton, Stornaway Airport and Valley. The relevant website link can be found here.


There are several other weather-related websites. One outstanding example is Martin Rowley’s Booty Meteorological Website. This brought together historical information about the weather in Britain using multiple sources. The site no longer exists. But fear not. It has been archived, via the UK Web Archive, and is still accessible here.

There is a time-slice menu starting at 4000-100 BC and going up to 2000-2049, although the last entry is for 2012 (the site’s last update being February 2013). The information is colour key coded denoting the type of event/year, be it hot or cold, wet or dry, or stormy. There is also a companion historical menu too, which enables you to put climatological events into a historical context.

Examples of the type of entry include:

1768 (February)
Snow-melt & rain event overtopped banks (of the River Aire) in Leeds (W. Yorkshire)….I think we can assume that snowfall during January around and above Leeds (across the Pennine headwaters of the Aire) must have been considerable. [The year 1768 is the second-wettest year in the EWP series].1

And:

1859 (October)
THE “ROYAL CHARTER” STORM
.

The gale of 25th / 26th October 1859, which wrecked the fully rigged ship “Royal Charter” on the coast of Anglesey, drowning about 500 people (and loss of gold bullion), led to the introduction of gale warnings (in 1861) by means of hoisting of signals around the British & Irish coastlines (‘hoist North Cones’!). The ship was only one of over 200 vessels wrecked between the 21st October and 2nd November, with the loss of around 800 lives – most of these losses occurred in the ‘Royal Charter Storm’.

The Website of Pascale Bonenfant has a page on British Weather from 1700 to 1849, drawing on Martin Rowley’s information. So if you are struggling to access the Booty Meteorological Website you can see an extracted portion of it here.


The Tempest Database of Extreme Weather in the UK is a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Spanning five centuries, this contains historical accounts of weather drawn from archival materials including diaries, letters, church records, school log-books, newspaper cuttings and photographs. The research was focused on five case-study regions – Central England, Southwest England, East Anglia, Wales and Northwest Scotland, though entries do relate to places across the UK (check out the “other” locations in the place/location selector box). Even if your location is not covered, the sources do give some good ideas for ones to check out in your area of interest.

The search is flexible. Options include by case study region, place, date, document type, repository etc. Specific weather events can be searched – and this is extremely wide-ranging from the expected snow, flood, gale and heatwave events, to rainbows, comets and earthquakes. So not only do you get the famous Youlgreave weather of 1615 with its terrible and long-lasting snows, including the memorable sentence “Uppon May day in the Morning, instead of fetching in flowers, the youths brought in flakes of snow which lay about a foot deep upon the Moors and Moutaunes…” you also get the notes of the Rector of Thorpe Malsor, Northamptonshire, on the earthquake in the early hours of 6 October 1863.

Results give those all-important source reference numbers so you can check original entires rather than relying on transcripts. And the results can even be mapped.

The website can be found here.


My final suggestion is the humble parish register, but you could easily extend this to wider parish records. As seen in the Tempest Database of Extreme Weather, parish records were one of the primary sources it drew upon when gathering information.

Several people sent me some wonderful examples when I asked on Twitter, (I’ve included the link so you can read the full range).

Amongst them is a particularly memorable line summing up the bitter cold at Whittington, Shropshire in February 1776, as submitted by One-Namer and One-Placer Steve Jackson. The entry describes how “The wings of small Birds were so frozen that they fell to the ground.

Three more from Yorkshire and one from Derbyshire show some further examples of the type of entry. I’ve illustrated the first with some follow-up research.

My ancestor Esther Hallas was buried on 13 July 1817. The parish register of Kirkburton All Hallows notes she was killed by lightning. There are no other details. But that entry led to a newspaper report with more details. The Leeds Mercury of Saturday, 19 July 1817 had the following snippet:

Yesterday se’nnight, a fatal accident took place at High Burton, near Huddersfield, during the thunder-storm on that day: The lightning struck the chimney of a house belonging to Mr Fitton, and having partially destroyed it, proceeded down the chimney, into the kitchen, and in its passage through which a servant girl was struck, and killed on the spot; the face of the clock was melted, and several panes in the window broken. Two men were also hurt by the lightning, but not dangerously

In another example, the Almondbury parish has an original entry in Latin, and alongside it a loose later English translation. Essentially it reads along the lines of:

In this year, 1614, so great a fall of snow as was not known in the memory of any living, far exceeding that in 1540 in magnitude and duration, in which many travellers as well as inhabitants of Saddleworth perished.

The entry is dated 28 January 1614/15. Investigating further, this fits in with the timing of the Youlgreave extreme weather entries of early 1615. A check of the Booty Meteorological Website shows the “Great Snow” of the winter and early spring of 1614/15 affected various parts of the country.

In another snow event, North Yorkshire County Council Record Office sent in this entry from the parish register of Thornton in Lonsdale:

March 16th 1719 is memorable for a prodigious quantity of snow falling… the storm went so high that door neighbours could not visit one another without difficulty of danger…

The final example is from Janet Braund Few, with a 1 February 1715/16 entry from Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire. This shows the further potential consequences of bad weather:

On that day there was an extreme wind. It blew the weathercock off the steeple and brake it in pieces, and a great Ash down in the Church- yard; with vast great loss to most people in their houses, some being blown downe.


This is by no means an exhaustive list of historical weather sources for family history. But hopefully these six examples give you some ideas to aid your research, providing context, colour and background to it.

Notes:
1. England and Wales Precipitation series (Met Office / Hadley Centre)

St Mary of the Angels, Batley: One-Place Study Update – 1 to 28 February 2021 Additions

William McManus

This is the latest update of the pages relating to my Batley St Mary’s one-place study, the details of which I announced here.

During the past month I have added seven pages. These include four weekly newspaper summaries. There are also two biographies, those of Edmund Battye and William McManus/Townsend. And in the miscellany section is a story about an alleged sensational incident regarding a pupil and the acting head teacher of St Mary’s school.

I have also identified several more men who served and survived, and have accordingly updated that page. I have also updated Patrick Naifsey’s biography, after establishing the family connection which would have drawn him to settle in the Batley area.

Below is the full list of pages to date. I have annotated the *NEW* ones, plus the *UPDATED* page, so you can easily pick these out.

1. About my St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church War Memorial One-Place Study;

Batley Descriptions – Directories etc.
2. 1914: Borough of Batley – Town Information from the Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health.

Biographies: Men Associated with St Mary’s Who Died but Who are Not on the Memorial
3. Reginald Roberts
4. William Frederick Townsend

Biographies: The War Memorial Men
5. Austin Nolan
6. Edmund Battye *NEW*
7. Michael Brannan
8. Michael Horan
9. Patrick Naifsey *UPDATED* (to include new family and service record information)
10. Thomas Curley
11. William Townsend, also known as McManus *NEW*

Biographies: Those who Served and Survived (this includes a list of those identified to date and who will later have dedicated biographical pages) *UPDATED*
12. James Delaney

Burials, Cemeteries, Headstones and MIs
13. Cemetery and Memorial Details
14. War Memorial Chronology of Deaths

During This Week
15. 1914, 8 August – Batley News
16. 1914, 15 August – Batley News
17. 1914, 22 August – Batley News
18. 1914, 29 August – Batley News
19. 1914, 5 September – Batley News
20. 1914, 12 September – Batley News
21. 1914, 19 September – Batley News
22. 1914, 26 September – Batley News
23. 1914, 3 October – Batley News
24. 1914, 10 October – Batley News
25. 1914, 17 October – Batley News
26. 1914, 24 October – Batley News
27. 1914, 31 October – Batley News
28. 1914, 7 November – Batley News
29. 1914, 14 November – Batley News
30. 1914, 21 November – Batley News
31. 1914, 28 November – Batley News
32. 1914, 5 December – Batley News
33. 1914, 12 December – Batley News
34. 1914, 19 December – Batley News
35. 1914, 24 December – Batley News
36. 1915, 2 January – Batley News
37. 1915, 9 January – Batley News
38. 1915, 16 January – Batley News
39. 1915, 23 January – Batley News
40. 1915, 30 January – Batley News
41. 1915, 6 February – Batley News *NEW*
42. 1915, 13 February – Batley News *NEW*
43. 1915, 20 February – Batley News *NEW*
44. 1915, 27 February – Batley News *NEW*

Miscellany of Information
45. The Controversial Role Played by St Mary’s Schoolchildren in the 1907 Batley Pageant
46. The Great War: A Brief Overview of What Led Britain into the War
47. Willie and Edward Barber – Poems
48. A St Mary’s School Sensation *NEW*

Photo Trickery Tool – Reanimate Your Ancestors

Family history research company MyHeritage – whose suite of genealogical tools include record datasets, family tree building capabilities, and DNA testing – have launched a groundbreaking piece of photo animation kit, called Deep Nostalgia™.

Building on it’s photo colourisation and enhancing tools, you can now animate your family history photos, bringing movement, smiles and blinks to the faces of your ancestors. There are several different animation sequences to chose from.

As for cost, you can animate an unlimited number of photos if you have a Complete MyHeritage subscription. Non-subscribers can animate a limited number of photos for free.

It’s a clever piece of wizardry, and really does bring your still images to life in a weirdly compelling way. It is easy to use and the results are shareable. Here are a couple I’ve done. The first is of Jesse Hill, taken in around late 1914/early 1915, who I wrote about here and here.

The still enhanced image is below.

Jesse Hill, MyHeritage

The animation can be viewed by clicking this link.

The second is my nana, taken in around 1916. Again the still enhanced image is below, and the animation can be viewed by clicking this link.

Pauline Rhodes – MyHeritage

For more information see the MyHeritage blog

And whilst some will love this new feature, there are concerns around potential misuse, with the creation of so-called “deepfake videos.” Some of these fears are discussed here by the BBC.

Personally I’m in the undecided camp over this. It does feel a little disturbing when I view the results. My husband’s reaction was “Wow!” A case of make your own mind up and treat with caution.

The Wonder of Maps – Virtual Family History Travel

One of my genealogy pleasures is maps. From working out various boundaries, to identifying streets where ancestors lived, the schools and churches they attended, and the places they worked; From finding and calculating distances between locations, to mapping out transport routes to plot migration patterns. Maps are integral to family history research.

There are so many posts I could write on the topic. This introductory post on the subject covers one suggested use, primarily based on the more modern 19th and 20th century maps.

Maps are brilliant for undertaking virtual, as well as physical, walks. So if you are restricted to home, or if the locations are too far to travel to, why not take a virtual ancestral tour instead?

Using the online censuses, or 1939 Register, and the accompanying enumerators’ books, find out where your ancestors lived. Then utilise various maps to pinpoint the exact locations. And don’t forget to compare a time series of maps. From these you can build up a picture of the changes ancestors may have experienced over decades. Some online sites have overlay facilities, enabling comparison against modern maps to work out where long-gone streets once stood.

My go-to online map site is the National Library of Scotland, here. Don’t be misled – it covers far more than Scotland. And it’s free to use.

Screenshot of the National Library of Scotland Website

There are a host of others though, a mixture of free and chargeable. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Archaeological & Historic Sites Index (ARCHI) has a selection of maps, here.
  • The Genealogist, a family history dataset provider, has its Map Explorer facility.
  • Old Maps UK, which can be found here.
  • For a more global option try Old Maps Online.

Taking the visual view one step further, how about trying the free Britain from Above website? With its aerial photographs dating from 1919 to 2006 it really does take you to the locations of your 20th century ancestors in a unique way. You may even be lucky enough to see images of the mills and factories where they worked, seeing them and the surrounding streets through their eyes.

A Selection of Physical Maps – Photo by Jane Roberts

For those who prefer a physical map, Alan Godfrey’s reprints of old OS maps are ideal. Details about available maps, prices and ordering are here.

Or, if you have a Yorkshire interest, you could try Old Yorkshire Maps with its particular local focus.

And if you can visit the locations, the maps really do add to the experience. As part of my lockdown daily exercise, I walk locally discovering the forgotten network of footpaths my ancestors trod. It made me realise how efficient these routes were, providing shortcut connections to the locations key to my forebears. I was then able to go back to the period maps and link them to these trails.

So do make use of old maps. They really do give an invaluable new dimension to your research.

St Mary of the Angels, Batley: One-Place Study Update – 2 to 31 January 2021 Additions

St Mary of the Angels Church, Photo by Jane Roberts

This is the latest update of the pages relating to my Batley St Mary’s one-place study, the details of which I announced here

During the past month I have added eight pages. These include seven weekly newspaper summaries. There is also one biography, that of William Frederick Townsend. This was one of several name and name variants used by this mystery Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve man with theatre connections, who is buried beneath a CWGC headstone in Batley cemetery.

I have also identified more men who served and survived, and have accordingly updated that page.

Below is the full list of pages to date. I have annotated the *NEW* ones, plus the *UPDATED* page, so you can easily pick these out.

1. About my St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church War Memorial One-Place Study;

Batley Descriptions – Directories etc.
2. 1914: Borough of Batley – Town Information from the Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health.

Biographies: Men Associated with St Mary’s Who Died but Who are Not on the Memorial
3. Reginald Roberts
4. William Frederick Townsend *NEW*

Biographies: The War Memorial Men
5. Austin Nolan
6. Michael Brannan
7. Michael Horan
8. Patrick Naifsey
9. Thomas Curley

Biographies: Those who Served and Survived (this includes a list of those identified to date and who will later have dedicated biographical pages) *UPDATED*
10. James Delaney

Burials, Cemeteries, Headstones and MIs
11. Cemetery and Memorial Details
12. War Memorial Chronology of Deaths

During This Week
13. 1914, 8 August – Batley News
14. 1914, 15 August – Batley News
15. 1914, 22 August – Batley News
16. 1914, 29 August – Batley News
17. 1914, 5 September – Batley News
18. 1914, 12 September – Batley News
19. 1914, 19 September – Batley News
20. 1914, 26 September – Batley News
21. 1914, 3 October – Batley News *NEW*
22. 1914, 10 October – Batley News *NEW*
23. 1914, 17 October – Batley News
24. 1914, 24 October – Batley News
25. 1914, 31 October – Batley News
26. 1914, 7 November – Batley News
27. 1914, 14 November – Batley News
28. 1914, 21 November – Batley News
29. 1914, 28 November – Batley News
30. 1914, 5 December – Batley News
31. 1914, 12 December – Batley News
32. 1914, 19 December – Batley News
33. 1914, 24 December – Batley News
34. 1915, 2 January – Batley News *NEW*
35. 1915, 9 January – Batley News *NEW*
36. 1915, 16 January – Batley News *NEW*
37. 1915, 23 January – Batley News *NEW*
38. 1915, 30 January – Batley News *NEW*

Miscellany of Information
39. The Controversial Role Played by St Mary’s Schoolchildren in the 1907 Batley Pageant
40. The Great War: A Brief Overview of What Led Britain into the War
41. Willie and Edward Barber – Poems

Public or Private Family Tree?

This is a perennial question for many people researching their family history. Whether or not to have a public family tree available online. And it is a dilemma which can arise fairly early on in the research path. Sometimes though it is not even considered, and for some the consequences of a decision to go public emerge too late.

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Before I go any further I want to make it clear there’s no right or wrong answer. It really is a purely personal decision, one with which you need to be comfortable.

However, here are some considerations which I’m sharing to provoke a deeper examination of, and debate about, the implications. It’s not intended to be an exhaustive list, more a thought trigger. I’ve split them into pros and cons.

First the advantages of a public online tree.

  1. Connecting. It goes without saying, but a public online tree allows other researchers with the same family history interests to easily find and contact you. This enables you to connect with distant cousins, compare research, potentially plug gaps and share photos.
  2. Collaborating. Following on from this, once connections have been made this can lead to collaborative working on trees, pooling research, and the possibility to discuss findings and theories with someone who has a mutual family history connection.
  3. Learning. Linked to the above two, connecting and collaborating can lead to improving your family history research skills.
  4. Expanding. By having an online presence you may be able to expand your tree, pushing back lines and breaking down brick walls. All at a far quicker pace than solo research offers. Though a word of caution. Do not accept the research of others at face value. Always do your own work to check and verify.
  5. DNA. If you have undertaken a DNA test in order to further your family history research, a linked public tree is an important corollary to that test. I realise this may not always be possible. But if it is an option, there are clear advantages. A tree is one of the first things your DNA matches will look at to identify potential links. And it does encourage contacts. Ask yourself if, amongst a plethora of DNA matches, are you more likely to initially investigate and contact the treeless or those with trees? Personally, I find one of the most frustrating things about DNA testing is to see a possible match, but for that match to have no tree.
  6. Tree Purpose. Is your tree family history, pure and simple? Or is it something along the lines of a one-name or one-place study? The latter two may have a lesser emotional/personal attachment, and also a need for a far broader range of collaboration/connection networks than your own family tree.
  7. Family History Community Spirit. Having an online tree may fosters for you a feeling of really contributing and sharing to further the research of others.
  8. Legacy. You may be the only one in your family interested in family history. There may be no-one to bequeath the family history baton to, no subsequent generations willing to take on your work. You may be wondering how to ensure your research is preserved for the long-term. Putting it online is one option.
  9. Unexpected heirlooms. Recently a story made the news about the love letters written by a soldier, killed during the First World War Battle of the Somme, to his wife. They turned up in a sewing box donated to a charity shop. An appeal was put out, and within hours searches by members of the public on an ancestry site resulted in the tracing of family descendants, which will result in the letters being reunited. More details here. This is a rare, potential unexpected bonus of having a public tree.

Turning to the disadvantages of having your tree publicly available.

  1. Information control. Obvious really, but once your tree is out there publicly available to all, you have no control who can access it and how it is used. Be prepared for it being copied wholesale by multiple people without them even contacting you, and without them even referencing the person behind the original research. Is this something which would bother you? If it is, think of other options.
  2. Reduced Contacts. Linked to this, your tree’s proliferation may even reduce the chances of you being contacted. Unless yours is stand-out, it may be lost amongst a forest of other similar trees. Of course though this does not reduce your opportunities to contact others.
  3. Photos. This is a particularly sensitive subject. You may have ancestral photos linked to your tree. You may also have document images, such as civil registration certificates or probate records. Whilst you might be happy to have the basic tree information copied, you may find the copying of photographs in particular, and them popping up on scores of trees, a bridge too far. Several bridges if the photo is misattributed – great aunt Jane labelled as someone entirely different.
  4. Copyright. This is a topic in its own right, so I’m only putting some initial thoughts out there. Your own private tree for your personal use only is one thing. But where do you stand if you link photos, copyright document images etc to a public tree for all to see, copy and share? What about your own linked notes and analysis? And is that going to create a whole new set of potential issues?
  5. Errors. What if you include something in a public tree which you later wish to correct or amend? You may find the horse has already bolted, with your early research replicated across many other online trees.
  6. Privacy Concerns. Whilst living relatives should not be on a public tree, something to bear in mind is how traceable ultimately you (or your family’s) details potentially may be even if the living are unnamed. It might not be the first thing you think of when constructing a public online tree, and it may only be a very minimal risk, but you should be aware of the possibilities for abuse. As an aside, while online trees hosted by genealogy providers do anonymise the living, I’ve come across trees on personal websites where details of the living have been included.
  7. Etiquette. Essentially by openly sharing your tree you are entrusting your work to others. Do not assume all online will have the same courtesy standards regarding information sharing, use and acknowledging.

And finally, in the interest of openness, here’s how I handle the dilemma.

Well over a decade ago I did have a bad experience regarding someone copying my once online tree, including notes and other elements, and it didn’t sit right with me. However, I can see the benefits of information sharing to mutually further research. I now have a threefold tree strategy. This is:

  • A full tree which is on Family Historian and it is entirely private;
  • A private tree on a commercial website shared with a couple of trusted people – a very much pared down version of the Family Historian tree, minus any images or photographs. Only very basic information, with no source links or citations. I’ve not updated it for quite a while, but it is useful to consult when I’m out and about (family history events, archives visits etc.); and
  • An online publicly available skeleton tree, with basic direct line information only, linked to my DNA research. No photos. No documents. No comments. No analysis. It is there primarily for DNA purposes. That way I have a way of connecting with other DNA researchers. And I can then share selected relevant information, rather than my full tree.

I realise it does limit my opportunities for connection and collaboration because of its reduced public visibility. However, that hybrid approach is a decision I am most comfortable with. But it may not necessarily be the right one for you.

The bottom line is make sure you define your reasons for putting your tree online in advance of doing so. Ensure you know the full range of privacy settings on whatever online medium you decide to use for a family tree (if indeed you decide to go down that route). Think about what would work best for you and what you would be comfortable with. And go into it with your eyes wide open.

Keeping Your Family History Research On Track

Do these scenarios sound familiar?

  • Halfway through a piece of research, do you realise you’ve done it before?
  • Do you get broken off from your research, or shelve it, then pick up the problem months later – but can’t recall what you’d done or where you’d got to?
  • Are you a scatter-gun researcher, flitting from one unplanned search to another, and at the end of a couple of hours you have no idea what records you’ve checked. Then go round in circles once more, repeating the same searches?

You’re not alone. But it means you’re wasting research time; you’re potentially overlooking key pieces of information; you are duplicating your efforts; and your research is unfocused. 

Which is where a research log comes in.

A log makes for efficient research, with no wasted time or duplicated effort. You can pick up a piece of research months later and know exactly what steps have previously been taken. It also means you can more easily identify gaps in your research.

In short a log keeps your research on track.

My seven key points for research logs are:

  1. Define the research objective: Set out clearly the problem, e.g. finding out the date of birth of an ancestor, or who their parents were. Include what you know through evidence, and any assumptions or conflicting information. This enables identification of issues, leading on to potential sources and search strategies
  1. Identify possible records and sources (e.g censuses, parish registers, probate records, books): These must be fully detailed including description, location(s) and type e.g. original documents, indexes, transcripts, digitised images etc.
  1. Date of the search: Archives add to their acquisitions. Records are continually being digitised and appearing online, and this includes updates to ones already online (think 1939 Register, or the GRO Indexes). So a search conducted 12 months ago may not have the same outcomes if conducted today. A date helps you decide if it’s worth repeating the search.
  1. Set out fully the search parameters: What spelling variants did you use? How many years either side of a specific date did you search? Which locations/parishes did you use? Did you rely on a data provider’s online search? Did you visually confirm results? Did you go through the record (and all the years) yourself? If a book, did you rely on the index or read the entire chapter or book? Some datasets (e.g. censuses) are on multiple websites – did you search just one? The same search on another website may have a different result. This enables you to see exactly what has been done and identify other possible areas of research.
  1. Record in detail the results – including negative ones: Fully record search results along with your analysis, conclusions and any discrepancies. This includes problems with the records, e.g. were there any gaps or record damage which might affect the result? Do ensure that the explanation is clear because it might be a while before you revisit it. And do include negative searches.
  1. Full source citations: Note where the original document can be found. Include full document reference, with page number. For website searches also include URL, description and date accessed. Give as much information as possible to enable you to find the document again. Do not assume it will always be online! 
  1. Next steps: Review your log. Identify follow-up searches. 

Your log could be electronic (do remember to back it up). Or it could be paper-based.

There are lots of pro-formas online. I have included my example above. Or perhaps you might prefer to design your own bespoke log.

And do not be put off by the thought of the time taken to keep a research log. It is minimal when compared with the time you will save in the long run from trying to remember exactly what you’ve done before, reducing the number of repeat searches and pinpointing what you have not tried.

Whatever method you use, online or paper-based, your research will benefit.