Category Archives: Ancestry

The Mysterious Mr Marshall of Gildersome

Do you have an ancestor who seems to appear as if from nowhere? My 4x great grandfather is in this category. On the surface there should be no problem finding his origins. There’s no mystery about him in census records. His marriage, wife, children and death are all traceable. He’s consistent in all his information. All evidence points to him being born in Gildersome, West Riding of Yorkshire, between 1799-1800. But that’s as far as I can get with him. Can I pin down his parents? Can I heck.

I’m writing this blog post more for me, to see if writing up my research will help me identify any gaps, or perhaps other avenues to explore. I’ve lost 10 years of my life to this man, you could save 10 minutes by stopping at this point. You have been warned!

You’re still with me? Well, let me introduce you to my mystery man. Step forward Abraham Marshall.

As mentioned he was born in Gildersome [1]. In calculating his date of birth, his census information [2] and age at death are remarkably consistent. If they are to be believed he was born between 8 March 1799 and 1 March 1800. He worked as a woollen cloth weaver – this throughout his life. Abraham’s address is similarly consistent – Gildersome Street.

He was able to sign his name – and here his surname is consistently spelled as Marshall. Despite this my brain is aching with Marshall spelling permutations – yes I’ve tried that one too – because variations appear when others spell the surname. Abraham’s signature appears when acting as a witness, or informant, for some family birth, marriage and death events. He also signed his name in the register when he married Hannah Greenwood on 26 February 1823 at St Peter’s Church, Birstall [3]. Looking at the witnesses to this marriage, one features frequently in this capacity in the register for this period, so probably a parish official. The other is Benjamin Ellis, but to date there’s no obvious connection to the Marshall or Greenwood families.

St Peter’s, Birstall – Photo by Jane Roberts

I have traced seven children born to Abraham and Hannah. These were:

  • Harriet – born on 2 August and baptised at St Peter’s, Birstall on 31 August 1823 [4];
  • Caroline – same church, born 29 May 1826 and baptised 3 September 1826 [5];
  • Salena (Selina) – same church, born 20 March 1829 and baptised on 21 June 1829 [6];
  • Milton – born circa 1831 [7]. No baptism yet traced;
  • Ann – born 7 February 1835. Baptised St Peter’s, Birstall 22 July 1855 [8];
  • Amelia – born 13 February 1838 [9]. No baptism yet traced.
  • Oliver – born circa 1841 [10]. No baptism yet traced.

Interestingly, there was no problem tracing Church of England baptisms for the first three children. The fifth child, Ann, was baptised when 20 years of age. But so far there is nothing for Milton, Oliver or Amelia. Combined with Ann’s adult baptism, one theory is this is a family with non-conformist leanings. It is evident in the baptisms of some of Abraham and Hannah’s grandchildren. And the area generally did have a non-conformist tradition. This includes Quaker links, with a meetings taking place from the turn of the 18th century.

Abraham’s wife died on 16 October 1860 [11]. He died of old age on 1 March 1878, age 78 [12]. Burials were Church of England – Morley St Peter’s [13], where son Milton was buried only two months earlier, and Gildersome St Peter’s [14] respectively.

Extract of Abraham Marshall’s GRO Death Certificate: Image © Crown Copyright and posted in compliance with General Register Office copyright guidance

In summary, there is nothing startling about Abraham. His information throughout his life is remarkably consistent. Yet his origins remain a mystery.

There are several baptisms for Yorkshire Abraham Marshalls between 1795 to 1815. It’s not as uncommon a name as I first hoped. But none have births obviously within the 1799-1800 parameters.

Gildersome wasn’t a parish in its own right in this period. It was part of the parish of Batley. There is one interesting Batley parish baptism for a child who was born on 18 October 1804. It took place on 19 April 1812 for Abrham son of Abrham Marshall, a labourer, and his wife Hannah (née Absen) [15]. The family had non-Conformist associations, with other children baptised at Morley Independent Chapel. But following this Abraham further shows he too was born in Morley. Crucially he can be traced in the censuses. So clearly not my Abraham.

There is, however, a baptism for one Abraham Marshall actually from Gildersome in the 1795-1815 period. A non-conformist one. This is recorded in the register for Morley Methodist Chapel. He was the son of Joseph and Rachell [sic] Marshall of Gildersome Street. Born on 10 July 1797, he was baptised on 30 July 1797 [16].

This was the second child of the couple baptised in this Chapel. Their daughter, Rachel, was born on 25 October 1795 and baptised 25 September 1796 [17].

Baptisms for two earlier children took place under the auspices of the Established Church at Batley All Saints. Mary was born on 23 July 1791 and baptised on 25 March 1792 [18]; and Sarah born on 7 March 1793 and baptised a few months later on 28 July [19]. The Batley parish register in this period is a wonderful Dade-style one, a pot of genealogy gold. From the entries Joseph is a clothier [20], the son of William Marshall. Rachel is the daughter of Christopher Jackson.

Joseph and Rachel married by Banns on 3 January 1791 at Batley All Saints, witnessed by Benjamin Wilkinson and John Marshall [21]. According to the 1841 census Rachel was not from Yorkshire [22]. Then, age 85, she is living at Gildersome with 40-year-old Rachel Marshall, Joseph Marshall and Mary Marshall. It transpires this trio was her unmarried daughter with two illegitimate children. There is also a 28-year-old coal miner, Joseph Dawson.

I’ve tracked Rachel (senior) back to her baptism on 12 September 1756 at St Bartholomew’s church in Colne, Lancashire [23]. She died in Gildersome on 21 September 1841, at the grand age of 87 [24]. Unfortunately the informant, a Joseph Dawson (inmate), offers no clues – he’s probably the man from the census three months earlier. The disappointment was it’s not my Abraham Marshall who registered the death. That would’ve been the answer to my prayers.

Extract from Rachel Marshall’s GRO Death Certificate: Image © Crown Copyright and posted in compliance with General Register Office copyright guidance

As things stand Abraham son of Joseph Marshall and his wife Rachel Jackson, is a possible candidate. His birth location fits; his birth date is within two years of the anticipated one, far from an unheard of discrepancy; I’ve not found any marriage or burial for him (although neither have I found anything definite for Mary or Sarah), so he’s not been eliminated that way; there is the occupational link of clothier between father Joseph and my Abraham; and, even more tenuously, there is my Living DNA test ethnicity results which does have an unexpected North West England component. This is all I have to go on. Far from enough to positively prove the connection.

And there are niggles too. Big ones.

The first is that birth date – the fact my Abraham is very consistent in records definitely tied to him, means the 1797 birth date of this candidate jars.

Then there are naming patterns. Names of fathers, mothers and siblings are often passed through generations. Although not proof definite, it can be a clue to relationship links. None of Abraham’s known children were named Joseph or Rachel. Neither do Mary or Sarah feature. So there are no shared names between my Abraham and this candidate.

There’s the fact neither Mary Marshall (b1791 and Sarah (b1793) are picked up anywhere else in records. If I can’t find what became of them, does that mean I’m also less likely to find out anything further for 1797 Abraham because I’m looking in the wrong place or the records haven’t survived? So the fact I haven’t eliminated him is not conclusive evidence.

And finally there are no obvious connections between the families of my Abraham and what could be his mother and sister, the two Rachels, in terms of family marriage witnesses and death informants. And yes, in addition to senior Rachel death registration, I’ve checked all the witnesses to my Abraham’s children’s marriages [25], plus those for the two children of Rachel (junior) [26]. The only thing I haven’t checked yet is who registered Rachel junior’s death.

There is another possibility too. As we’ve seen Abraham and Hannah’s choice of names was not conventional. 1829 Salena (Selina) and 1831 Milton are of particular note. And they’re not unique to Marshalls in this period. Over at Thornhill St Michael and All Angels parish church, Whitley miner Jeremiah Marshall and his wife Mary (née Howarth) had daughter, Selina, baptised on 4 September 1825 [27]; and son, Milton, on 14 September 1828 [28]. So was Jeremiah connected to my Abraham? Other than the naming similarities, there is nothing else to go on.

Jeremiah was born in Tong in circa 1791/2. I’ve not traced his baptism. A miner by trade, he attested on 29 August 1810 with the 1st Regiment of Lifeguards. [29] It was in London that he married Mary, on 7 April 1817 in Kensington parish church [30]. The following year, on 31 October, he was discharged to pension [31] and returned to Yorkshire with wife and son Henry, born just prior to discharge on 27 August 1818. The family initially settled in the mining community of Whitley and it was at Flockton Zion that Henry was baptised on 6 May 1819 [32]. In addition to Henry, Selina and Milton, their other children included Thornhill St Michael’s baptised James [33], Nancy [34] and Edwin [35]. Plus Bradford St Peter’s parish church (now the cathedral) baptised Squire [36] and Emma [37], when the family re-located from Whitley to Bowling.

Jeremiah, noted as being blind, was living separately from his wife and children in Bradford in 1851 [38]. He died on 31 May 1857, age 66 [39].

I have gone through the located parish register marriage entries for his children [40] and there is no apparent witness link in them to my Abraham Marshall or his children.

Other than being born in the same decade, both in Yorkshire about 1.5 miles apart as the crow flies, and having two children with the same unusual names, there is nothing more at this point to connect Jeremiah and my Abraham.

And on the subject of marriages and witnesses, my heart momentarily leapt with some Oliver Marshall associated entries. I really did think I’d found a link to Jeremiah, via my Abraham’s youngest son. Sadly it wasn’t to be – and has added another family into the mix. On 10 October 1863 Oliver Marshall married Sophia Marshall (yes, Marshall marriages add to the fun) at St Peter’s, Birstall [41]. Her father was miner Jeremiah Marshall.

Two years earlier an Oliver Marshall acted as a witness in the Batley All Saints marriage of John Marshall, son of Jeremiah [42]. John and Sophia were siblings. Their father, Jeremiah, was the son of Isaac Marshall.

And this is where it gets even more complicated. Jeremiah was baptised on 15 September 1816, age 3, along with his 1-year-old brother Abraham and infant brother William [43]. They were the children of Gildersome miner Isaac Marshall and his wife Hannah. Another son, John, was born in 1820 but not baptised until 1837 at St Paul’s, Birkenshaw [44]. I’ve not definitively traced Isaac’s baptism and I have a couple of potential non-conformist burials for him – but no ages given. One small success is I found he married Hannah Marshall (!) at Batley All Saints on 17 May 1812 [45].

So was Isaac (or even Hannah) connected to Abraham and/or Jeremiah? Or are the naming similarities a pure coincidence? Again more work to be done. But at least there are some angles to work with.

One final research point. Some Ancestry trees link 1800-born Gildersome Abraham Marshall as the son of Abraham Marshall (baptised in 1780) and Alice Pennock. No details of any marriage. But doing some further investigation it appears Alice was from Pennsylvania USA, as was her husband Abraham – he served in the American Revolution. They married in Pennsylvania in 1786, their children (including an Abraham) were all born there, and the couple both both died there. There is no evidence tying them directly to my Gildersome-born Abraham Marshall…but they did have a son named….Milton. And this family did have Quaker links.

It may now ultimately come down to trying to reconstruct all Marshall families in the area in the period – and the non-conformist angle makes it less than straightforward. It may be not everything is traceable. Hence my problem with baptisms for Isaac, Jeremiah and possibly my Abraham. I also need to see if any Quaker records exist, even if it is for elimination purposes. Writing this piece has made me aware this is something I’ve overlooked.

The point is family history research is not always simple. It is not a couple of hours work and hey presto, back to the 16th century. I want to ensure my research stacks up and meets genealogical proof standards. It can be tempting to take the easy option – in this case slot in my Abraham as being the son of Joseph and Rachel. However, as it stands, I’m not confident there is sufficient proof. And I want to ensure I’m researching my family tree. So more work is required.

Congratulations if you’ve reached this far. I primarily wrote this to try to marshall my thoughts about my Marshall research. It is, therefore, hardly the most scintillating read. Be thankful I’ve not shared all the details of searches conducted – these are in my search log.

It may be you stuck with it because you have Marshall ancestors. If you are working on these families, and have even possibly undertaken a DNA test, do please feel free to drop me a line. In the meantime I will continue to chip away at Abraham. I’ve been at it in and off fir 10 years . But I think I’m in for an even longer haul.

Notes:

[1] 1851 and 1871 censuses, the 1861 indicates Gildersome Street. The National Archives (TNA) Reference HO107/2314/69/32, RG09/3352/147/22 and RG10/4529/13/20, accessed via Findmypast;
[2] 1851-1871 censuses. Even in the 1841 census his age (40) fits given the rounding down convention, but because of this convention it doesn’t carry the same weight. 1841 census TNA Reference HO107/1299/2/43/4;
[3] Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number WDP5/1/3/7, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935;
[4] Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number WDP5/1/2/3, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;
[5] Ibid;
[6] Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number WDP5/1/2/4, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;
[7] Birth calculated based on census, marriage and death records;
[8] Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number WDP5/1/2/8, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;
[9] Birth certificate, GRO Reference 1838, March Quarter, Leeds, Volume 23, Page 422, accessed via the GRO website;
[10] Birth registered in 1841, June Quarter, Leeds, Volume 23, Page 473, accessed via the GRO website;
[11] Death certificate, GRO Reference 1860, December Quarter, Hunslet, Volume 9b, Page 160, accessed via the GRO website;
[12] Death certificate, GRO Reference 1878, March Quarter, Bramley, Volume 9b, Page 238, accessed via the GRO website;
[13] Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number WDP195/3/1, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985;
[14] Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number WDP26/1/18, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;
[15] Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number WDP37/2, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1512-1812;
[16] West Yorkshire Archive Service Reference C12/16/1, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985;
[17] Ibid;
[18] Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number WDP37/2, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1512-1812;
[19] Ibid;
[20] Rachel’s 1841 death certificate, however, indicates her deceased husband was a labourer;
[21] Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number WDP37/15, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1512-1812;
[22] 1841 census TNA Reference HO107/1290/2/47/12;
[23] Original register at Lancashire Archives, Reference PR 3172/1/6, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk Lancashire, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812;
[24] Death certificate, GRO Reference 1841, September Quarter, Leeds, Volume 23, Page 279, accessed via the GRO website;
[25] Harriet Marshall married Henry Peace (at Bradford St Peter’s on 2 May 1853 – father incorrectly named, but other records confirm this is Abraham’s daughter (William Holmes and Christopher Gibson); Caroline Marshall married Peter Aveyard on 4 June 1846 at Gildersome, St Peter (J Tappenden and Ann Elizabeth Hartley); Selina Marshall married Charles Ellam at Gildersome St Peters on 27 November 1848 (William Marshall and James Labley). She then married John Blakley Glover in the same church on 25 December 1858 (Samuel Scott & James Glover); Milton Marshall married Mary Hardcastle at Tong, St James on 8 June 1854 (David Clark and Peter Aveyard); Ann Marshall married George Auty on 30 November 1872 at St Peter’s, Morley (Charles Hargreave? and Mary Ann Rogerson); Amelia Marshall married Abraham Hartley on 29 July 1861 at St Mary Magdalene, Outwood (Amos Hartley and Oliver Marshall); and Oliver Marshall married Sophia Marshall at St Peter’s, Birstall on 10 October 1863 (Henry Ellam and George Bromley);
[26] Joseph Marshall married Hannah Mary Guy at St Peter’s, Leeds on 11 July 1852 (George Thornbury and ? Moore); and Mary Marshall married Richard Brook on 4 June 1846 at Morley, St Peter (Joseph Marshall and Julius Whitehead);
[27] Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number WDP14/1/2/1, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;
[28] Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number WDP14/1/2/2, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;
[29] TNA Ref Wo 97, Box 7, Box Record Number 19 Chelsea Pensioners British Army Service Records 1760-1913 accessed via Findmypast;
[30] Original register at London Metropolitan Archives, London, Reference Number: DL/T/47/21, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1932;
[31] TNA Ref Wo 22, Piece Number 35, Halifax – Royal Hospital Chelsea: Returns Of Payment Of Army And Other Pensions 1842-1883 accessed via Findmypast
[32] Original at TNA, General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; Class Number: RG 4; Piece Number: 3161, Accessed via Ancestry.co.uk;
[33] Baptised 9 September 1821. Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number WDP14/1/2/1, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;
[34] Baptised 9 March 1823. Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP14/1/2/1, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;
[35] Baptised 24 February 1833. Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number WDP14/1/2/2, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;[36] Born [1?]2 February 1837, baptised 7 June 1837. Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number BDP14, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;
[37] Born 4 July 1839, baptised 30 June 1844. Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number BDP14, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;
[38] 1851 census TNA Reference HO107/2305/155/14;
[39] TNA Ref Wo 22, Piece Number 35, Halifax – Royal Hospital Chelsea: Returns Of Payment Of Army And Other Pensions 1842-1883 accessed via Findmypast and GRO Reference 1857, June Quarter, Bradford and North Bierley, Volume 9b, Page 27. Note GRO death is 66, the Army pension record states 64;
[40] James married Mary Ann Jowett on 8 December 1844 at Bradford, St Peter; Nancy possibly married John Noble on 21 May 1843 at Tong, St James; Selina married Richard Rhodes at Calverley, St Wilfred on 18 February 1849; Milton married Elizabeth Appleyard at St Philip’s, Leeds on 7 February 1853; Edwin married Margaret Storey on 14 June 1856 at Shipley parish church (under the name of Edward!); Squire married Mercy Hodgson on 30 August 1856 at Bradford, St Peter; and Emma married Samuel Baldwin at St Peter’s, Bradford on 22 February 1880;
[41] Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, no reference given, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935;
[42] 23 November 1861 marriage, John Marshall and Bessy Hartley, original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number WDP37/21, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935;
[43] Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number WDP37/3, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;
[44] Original register at West Yorkshire Archive, new Reference Number WDP90/1/1/1, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;
[45] Original register at West Yorkshire Archive, new Reference Number WDP37/16, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1512-1812

Talk: Researching Your Great War Army Ancestors. (Includes details of my other 2020 talks)

Heads up about my forthcoming talk on 4 March at Leeds Central Library.

Based on my groundbreaking book The Greatest Sacrifice: Fallen Heroes of the Northern Union about rugby league players who died in World War 1, the talk investigates the stories behind some of the men. It will also be packed with tips for researching your own Great War Army ancestors.

The book, co-authored with Rugby League writer Chris Roberts, has received widespread acclaim, locally and nationally, in print and on radio. The reviews include:

The talk will take place in the Leodis Room, starting at 1pm. It will last for one hour, with opportunity to ask questions. Tickets are free and available through Ticket Source. You can also contact the library direct on 0113 378 5005.

This is one of a series of talks I give. The others scheduled for 2020 are:

  • Blogging for Family and Local History; and
  • The Home Front: the White Lee Explosion of 1914

For more details about these talks please contact me at: pasttopresentgenealogy@btinternet.com

That’s also the contact if you would like to buy a copy of the book. The price, including p&p within the U.K., is £14.99. It is also available direct from the publisher, Scratching Shed Publishing Ltd. It is also stocked at independent Leeds bookshop, Philip Howard Books. And it’s also available from the normal retail outlets.

Five Tips for a Family History Cemetery Visit

Perhaps taphophilia and family history go hand in hand? I can spend ages wandering through a cemetery marvelling at the various headstone designs and reading the inscriptions. The architecture and symbolic imagery of some headstones is simply stunning. They contain so many stories, so much history and they silently speak volumes about attitudes towards death, culture, beliefs, religion, mourning and mortality over the ages.

Lottie Oddy’s Batley Cemetery Headstone – “who met her death by the fall of the cliffs at Bridlington” – Photo by Jane Roberts

Importantly, for family historians, they can contain clues about family sizes, family relationships, occupations, interests and causes of death. For example, Lottie Oddy’s headstone (above) in Batley Cemetery, details her unusual death cause – a tale I wrote about in an earlier blog. And only the other day in Masham I discovered several occupational graves, including that of Ralph Edon (below).

Ralph Edon’s Headstone Inscription at Masham Giving Some Occupational Information (Late Surgeon, 35th Regiment) – Photo by Jane Roberts

They may record deaths of family members buried elsewhere. For example, several headstones in Batley cemetery record deaths of Great War servicemen buried overseas, or with no known grave. On a personal level for my research, a Hallas headstone at Roberttown All Saints includes the name of a child buried at Mirfield St Mary’s.

Some clues may be very subtle. One headstone in Batley cemetery recorded death dates for all family members bar one. Further investigation revealed his body had been dumped on a doorstep, and the exact date of death was unknown.

And don’t forget to note wider details. The headstone, or burial location within the cemetery, could be an indication of the family’s wealth or standing in the community.

I’ve visited so many cemeteries over the years, hunting down the headstones of ancestors and those I’m researching. Here are five tips to get the most out of family history tombstone tourism. 

Plan your visit. Make a note of names, dates and plot numbers. Check cemetery opening times – not all are open 24/7. There may be a useful cemetery website, a church or local authority contact point. 

See if there’s a map of the cemetery showing plot sections and plot numbers. Are there separate sections for different religious denominations e.g. a consecrated section for Church of England burials, and an unconsecrated area for other denominations? Even within the unconsecrated sections, there may be a clear division between Catholic and nonconformist areas. 

Some local authorities may, for a fee, be able to say who is buried in a particular plot and if there is a headstone. Many cemeteries have ‘Friends Of’ groups, or there may be a family history society who has made a note of Memorial Inscriptions. They too may have information databases.

Cemetery registers may be available. If possible, try to note details of other plots in the particular section you are seeking. Your plot of interest may not have a headstone, and grave markers can be obscured. But you may be able to pinpoint your ancestor’s unmarked burial place from the neighbouring headstones. 

Another tip is to check sites such as Find A Grave or BillionGraves and download the Apps. Their images and GPS may help in pinpointing a specific grave.

When you get to the cemetery don’t rush in. Take a general look to get an overview, establish bearings and see if the cemetery has identifiable sections depending on burial time period. 

Dress sensibly and come prepared. Cemeteries can be vast, and a visit can involve lots of walking. The ground is often uneven, and not all burial grounds are immaculately kept. They can be overgrown with long grass, thorns and tendrils whipping around your knee and ankles, all hiding lots of biting insects. In wet weather the long grass may soak through points of contact. So stout, comfortable walking shoes are the order of the day. No heels, canvas shoes or open toed-sandals. Long trousers too. If it’s hot weather slap on the sunscreen and fetch your water. Pack waterproofs in case of a sudden downpour. And take something to kneel on – your waterproofs (if you’re not using them!) Even something as simple as a plastic bag comes in handy here. Without an improvised kneeler, damp, muddy trouser knees can be an uncomfortable occupational hazard of headstone photography – I speak from experience!

Take a pencil and notebook to record findings (including negative) and to write out problematical inscriptions, indicating where the gaps or issues are. It’s like a transcription exercise! In fact it may be prudent to copy in full all important inscriptions in your notebook, in case there is a problem with photographs which goes unnoticed until your return home.

And, sad to say, do take sensible safety precautions. Cemeteries can be lonely places. So explore in daylight, accompanied if possible, and not carrying lots of expensive kit.

Photograph. I take multiple snaps on both my camera and phone camera.  If there’s a sign indicating cemetery name, that’s the first image. It signposts where the subsequent headstone images were taken. 

Next, I take images of the full headstone from various angles, followed by close-ups of the inscription. These close-ups can run into several images depending on the headstone size, and the number and length of inscriptions. I include images from both back, front and, if appropriate the sides of the headstone. And don’t ignore the base of the headstone, peaking out at ground level. All these areas may contain inscriptions or additional details. One good example of this was the headstone of the Hallas Family at Kirkburton All Hallows. The front of the grave includes details of my 5x great grandparents Amos and Ann Hallas. Low down it indicates the grave owner is George Hallas, my 4x great grandfather. The reverse of the headstone has a gem of an inscription about the bizarre and unexpected way their daughter Esther met her death in July 1817, which I wrote about in my first ever blog post.

Front and Back of the Hallas Headstone at Kirkburton All Hallows – Photo by Jane Roberts

Finally, I take wider shots to include neighbouring headstones. These too may have a connection, as family headstones may be grouped together.

Once back home I can play about with image settings and use various photo editor apps and programmes. Manipulating the images may help overcome inscription legibility issues. 

Don’t be tempted to clean the headstone unless you know exactly what you’re doing, and you have permission. It can be frustrating if an inscription is obscured by algae or lichen, or if weathering has faded lettering. But irreparable damage can be done to the headstone by trying to clean it using inappropriate methods and products, or using remedies such as flour or shaving foam to make the engraving legible. And do remember some plants are actually protected by law. I personally stick to nothing more than a light dousing with water to see if that removes headstone dirt or improves legibility. For me, going beyond that is simply not worth the risk.

Record findings and check information. Do this as soon as possible after your trip, and include the visit date. Graveyards and headstones change over the years. It’s easy to put this mundane chore off, so it becomes caught up in a huge work backlog. Then you forget what you’ve done and where you’ve saved the information. It may even get damaged, erased or permanently lost. All of which could create more work in the long run – through trying to find your original photographs and notes, or even duplicating the work through unnecessary repeat visits.

Also, do not automatically accept any inscription as gospel. Headstones are not official records, and even official records are not immune from errors! Headstones may post-date an individual’s death by some years, and details may be mis-remembered. As a result, ages, dates and information may be incorrect. I’ve seen countless examples of this. As with any other source, headstone inscriptions should be not used in isolation. Their accuracy should be weighed up against other sources.

Hopefully these tips will help you plan your next family history cemetery expedition.

Footnote: Another trick is using a reflective surface, or torch, to light inscriptions from different angles, which can help deciphering them. With thanks to Sue Adams of Family Folk

It has also been suggested don’t take your children with you. After the initial spurt of enthusiasm they can easily get bored!

Ten Things You Wish You’d Known Before Starting Your Family History

Many will be starting their family history research in the New Year. That’s the time of year I embarked on my quest many moons ago, when my brother bought me some books as a Christmas present.

The other day I got to thinking about the mistakes I made in those early days, and the advice I wish I’d been given at the outset. Here are 10 tips I wish my younger genie had been given.

A selection of my research record books (see Goal 6)
  1. Talk to relatives…but only if they want to. Don’t push it. Not all relatives will be comfortable with this, particularly if there are skeletons in the family history cupboard. If they do agree to talk, bear in mind the memory isn’t infallible. Names, dates and events may not be recalled with total accuracy. And there may be some air-brushing to glass over uncomfortable truths.
  2. Make a note of all the sources and references for your findings. That includes the document description, location and reference number. If it was accessed via an online search, note the website address, document dataset and search date. Basically anything and everything you will need to locate it again.
  3. Make a note of all searches – negative as well as positive. It avoids unnecessary repeat searches. Note the search date. This helps with online searches. You only need to repeat when the dataset is updated.
  4. Tempting as it is, avoid the scattergun approach. Plan your research strategy. If you plan, you focus. Don’t try do everything in one go. Concentrate on one person, issue, family at a time. Define the problem, and look at which records may help. Work through methodically.
  5. Don’t accept online family trees as gospel. It’s all too easy if you’re new to family history to accept the research of others without question. Do so at your peril – you could find yourself barking up the wrong tree. Do your own research.
  6. Record your findings as soon as possible. Don’t build up a backlog. I started with a card index system which I still continue. I also now record on a family history software programme. But it could also as easily be an ancestral notebook, or downloading forms such as those available on the FamilySearch Wiki. It’s whatever works for you. The key point is you do it, so your research is up to date. you can quickly evaluate it and spot the gaps.
  7. Don’t get hung up on spellings. Literacy levels and accents all impacted. Be open-minded. Some of my family surnames have upwards of 20 spelling variations. Even Christian names could vary.
  8. By the same token be aware that your ancestors were not necessarily consistent with facts. They may have not known their exact birthday. They may have wished to bend the truth. My great grandmother lied about her age to make it appear she was closer to the age of her husband. She and my great grandfather lied in the 1911 census about the number of years they had been married, to cover illegitimacy of children. Your ancestors were human. And humans don’t always tell the truth. So when searching, build up in parameters either side of dates. Question, question, question. And refer back constantly to previous findings,
  9. Join a family history society. Consider courses. Read to expand your knowledge. Ask if you’re not sure. And accept help. We’ve all been there. And genealogists are a friendly bunch.
  10. Finally be aware – family history research could end up taking over your life. You’re never finished.

I do hope these tips help you start your research on the right track!

Don’t Let Parish Register Indexes and Online Searches Lead You Down the Family History Garden Path

It’s so easy to rely on online parish register searches or transcripts and indexes for family history. But by putting absolute faith in them you could be missing out on so much more. Hopefully this post illustrate why you should also invest time in looking at the register itself, or digitised images, and not simply place all your faith in the easier options.

Family History Society transcripts and indexes include the health warning to check against the original register, and it is sound advice. Even if they are accurate, information in the original register may by omitted due to space constraints or because they do not neatly fit in the templates. The same caveats also apply to search results from online providers of family history records.

I finally decided to write about the issue after recently going through baptisms in the Wakefield All Saints register for the 1750s and 1760s and comparing against online search results.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Here are some of the problems associated with not looking at the original registers, and benefits which may be gained from putting in the effort.

  • Registers can be damaged making entries illegible. It may be just for the odd entry, but it could involve weeks, months or even years. There may be periods where the register does not survive, or was never kept. Whole pages may have been omitted during the digitisation process. This may be the reason why the entry you are seeking does not come up in a search or appear in an index, or why if it does there may be transcription errors. Without checking the actual register, or images, you may never know. And by not knowing you may end up with incorrect family history information or be missing out on work rounds like failing to check Bishop’s Transcripts (BT) copies.
  • If you are relying on searches and indexes to find an entry, do not confine your to check the digitised or original parish register image for the entry concerned. Look at the surrounding ones too to get a feel for the register. These checks should include ensuring the parish or church matches against the one identified on the finding aid. This can be a particular issue if a parish church has associated chapelries. Birstall Parish for example had a Chapel of Ease, White Chapel, which had baptism and, eventually, burial rights. This subtle difference is not necessarily picked up if the register itself is not checked.
  • Mistakes in transcribing and indexing. Recently I’ve seen the surname “Wright” mistakenly indexed as “Might“. Doing an online search for the surname, including any of the usual variants just won’t find it.
  • Similarly Christian names can be totally wrong – James instead of Sam[ue]l is one that springs to mind in one of my family baptism searches. Without checking the register I would be led down the garden path for any future references to the child.
  • On this theme, parish register amendments are not necessarily picked up in any searches. Two examples here. An 1816 baptism at Whitkirk. Ancestry has this indexed in searches as “William Illegitimate Pennington” son of Grace. This is wrong. The child was not illegitimate and the entry should be William Hill. There is a note at the bottom of the page of the baptism register stating it is erroneous and Grace was lawfully married to Francis Hill. Ancestry have not picked this up. And there is a similar theme for Wakefield All Saints when William son of William Jennings was baptised on 8 November 1764. The register has an annotation indicating three competent witnesses testified the child was actually called Thomas. Granted a search for Thomas Jennings on Ancestry.co.uk will fetch “William Jennings” in the results, but you need to drill down to find out the full details.
  • The Wakefield All Saints register which promoted this search had several entries in the early 1760s for the birth of illegitimate children with the register noting the name of the father. Some indicate the child was “basely begot not declaring the father.” Others indicate the father in general terms like “a French Man” or “a French prisoner” (and those entries lead to a whole new set of questions). But others will name the putative father, including some with occupations (plenty soldiers) and some even giving his abode. The father is not shown in online searches, you need to view the entry. And if your ancestor was the father you possibly would not know without going through the register.
  • Burials throw up the issue whereby some online searches give no surname for married women and children. Try Ancestry’s collection of West Yorkshire Church of England Burial Registers 1813-1985. In the early decades of this collection this surname omission is rife. Imagine the problem if your ancestor was an Ann, Mary or Elizabeth!
  • Problems with dates. There are numerous examples of this. The wrong number for the day, month, or even the wrong year given. A particular issue is around the pre and post 1752 calendar change from Julian to Gregorian. Many parishes continued with the old style calendar way beyond 1752 in their registers, with the New Year still starting on 25 March. Without checking the parish register you may end up attributing a birth to the wrong year.
  • Going through the registers yourself improves your transcription skills. You start to get your eye in for reading older documents, which only benefits your wider family history research.
  • And finally by going through the register you start to get a feel for the community of your ancestors, the status of various parishioners, occupations in the locality, indications of disease outbreaks, maybe even weather updates and wider events. The Wakefield register is a perfect example of the snippets you can pick up. Between 1760 and 1764, using baptisms alone, there’s an abandoned child, the three children born to different women by a French man/French prisoner. On 13 August 1763 there is the baptism of Richard Brown, a black man from Carolina. And on 4 October 1764 “John Vernon a Black from Antiga [sic] ab[ou]t 22 y[ea]rs old.

Published indexes and online family history database providers are fabulous finding aids and have opened up family history to a much wider audience. But they should be treated as that – finding aids. Using different sources may help overcome the issue. For example a Family History Society booklet may give different information to an Ancestry, FamilySearch or FindMyPast search, some of which may use the BT rather than the parish register. And that is another issue. What is the source used by the online provider or Family History Society? Is it the parish register or is it a BT? It might seem a minor detail, but this too can impact on search results.

So if at all possible check the original register, or digitised images, for yourself. It may surprise you – and could save you a lot of time in the long run.

Transcription Tuesday 2019 – Your Chance to Give Something Back to Family History

A date for your diary: 5 February 2019 is Transcription Tuesday.

This annual event, launched by Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine in 2017, promises to be the biggest yet and it’s your chance to be part of it.

As Sarah Williams, the magazine’s editor, says:

The internet has transformed family history but the documents that are going online need to be transcribed or indexed to make them searchable, and for many projects the only way that is going to happen is with the help of volunteers……We hope to see hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers from across the world join together and give something back to family history.

Three projects, covering three distinct record sets, form this year’s event:

  • Transcribing a book covering railway worker accidents between 1901-1907 in just 24 hours. This Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants volume, the forerunner of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), records accidents and legal cases involving its members. It is a strand of the Railway Work, Life and Death project, and is being carried out in conjunction with the University of Portsmouth, the Modern Records Centre based at the University of Warwick and the National Railway Museum (NRM). The tome will make a potential 2,150 railway worker records widely available.

Sample page from the railway accidents book that volunteers will transcribe on Transcription Tuesday 2019 CREDIT: Modern Records Centre

  • Warwickshire witness statements from the county’s quarter sessions. This is a part of Warwickshire County Record Office’s Warwickshire Bytes project encouraging volunteer participation in indexing records held by the archive; and
  • A range of parish registers in association with FamilySearch.

There are so many reasons to take part in Transcription Tuesday. It is your moment to be part of something big; it is an opportunity to give something back to the wider family history community; it is a chance to make more accessible to families the lives of thousands of ancestors; it could help you improve one of the core skills of a family historians – reading and transcribing original documents; and you never know, if you have a railway ancestor, Warwickshire roots or the parish records relate to your ancestral homelands you may be lucky enough to find yourself uncovering part of your family history!

To find out more about the day, the projects and how to get involved visit: http://www.whodoyouthinkyouaremagazine.com/transcriptiontuesday

And please spread the word to help make this year’s Transcription Tuesday the biggest so far.

The Confessions of a Blogger: Review of 2018

I’ll start with an admission: My 2018 blogging year was not as prolific as usual. In fact it was nowhere near the efforts of previous years. But I’m far from downhearted. In fact I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope you have too.

Here are the details.

The Statistics. My blog saw a noticeable decline in output, with 25 posts during the year, down from 33 in 2017 and in excess of 60 in 2016. This was entirely due to other commitments such as completing my genealogy studies and publishing a book. Neither was it unexpected – I did forecast this in my 2017 blogging review post. And it is pretty much in line with what I promised: two posts a month.

However onto the positives. Despite the downturn in posts, my blog has grown from strength to strength numerically. Views increased from 20,649 in 2017 to well in excess of 21,000 in 2018. Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read my random family and local history outpourings.

My blog has now well and truly developed its character with core themes of my family history, interspersed with local history tales from Yorkshire, alongside news from – and my musings on – the genealogy world’s latest developments.

Most Popular Times? Monday proved my most popular blogging day, with 21% of views. And my golden hour shifted to the slightly earlier time of 6 pm. I suspect this shift is as much a result my blog posting times as anything more profound.

How Did They Find You? Search Engines took over as the key engagement route accounting for around 7,000 views.

Where Did They Come From? The global reach of WordPress never fails to amaze me. Going on for 100 countries are represented in my list of views. The UK accounted for well over 10,000 of these which was almost double the number of my next most popular country, the United States. Australia came third with over 1,000. But all corners of the globe feature with readers extending to Cambodia, Tonga, Peru and Tunisia. A huge thank you to you all! You’re what makes it worthwhile researching and writing these posts.

And it’s fantastic to receive so many comments either indirectly via Facebook and Twitter, or directly on my blog site. They’ve added new information, context and connections. Thank you for getting in touch.

Top Five Posts of 2018: Other than general home pages, archives and my ‘about’ page, these were:

General Register Office (GRO) Index – New & Free. This was actually posted in 2016 but, as in 2017, it continued to perform well in 2018 . This post was about a new free source for searching the GRO birth and death indexes (note not marriages) for certain years, one which gives additional search options. It also covered the initial £6 PDF trial, an alternative and cheaper source than buying a birth or death certificate. Note the PDF option, a copy of the register entry rather than a certificate, still continues. However the cost will rise to £7 on 16 February 2019. The cost of a certificate increases from £9.25 to £11.

Living DNA: I’m Not Who I Thought I Was. This was another 2017 post which continued to prove popular. It is testimony to the importance with which genetic genealogy is now seen. lt dealt with my shocking DNA results. I’m 100% from Great Britain and Ireland. No drama there. But it indicated that I’m not entirely the Yorkshire lass I thought – the ethnicity pointed to some genetic material from the dark side of the Pennines. I reckon this could be linked to a potential 5x great grandmother from Colne. I really do need to push on with my Abraham Marshall New Year’s Resolution.

Cold Case: The Huddersfield Tub Murder. Yet another 2017 offering, and in last year’s “one that got away” category as being one of my favourite posts which failed to reach the Top 5 that year. Well it proved immensely popular in 2018. It dealt with the unsolved murder in Huddersfield of a Dewsbury woman of ‘ill-repute’ whose tragic life and abusive relationships ultimately resulted in her death.

“Historical Vandalism” as more Archive Services Come Under Threat. Published in December 2018 its appearance in the Top 5 for the year shows the importance with which any threat to these vital services are seen. It covered some recent swingeing funding cuts to archives and corresponding proposed (and actual) major reductions to these services across the country. Some of the consultations, Surrey (4 January 2019) and Kent (29 January 2019), close imminently. So I would urge you to have your say.

Tripe Tales – Food Nostalgia. My childhood memories of food led me to focus on this particular northern ‘delicacy’, which was very popular when I was growing up. It covered some early 20th century local tripe stories including theft, death and prodigious eating feats, as well as recipes to try. I was also inundated via social media with suggestions of where I could still buy it. I’ve yet to confront once more this culinary challenge.

So yet again this was a mixed bag of popular posts, ranging from topical family history issues, to DNA and general history and local history tales – which sums up my blog perfectly.

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

Fur Coats Can Prevent Flu – The 1918/19 Pandemic looked at how to use various information sources to build up a picture of the impact of the Spanish Flu “plague” on local communities. In my example I focused on Batley.

How the Western Front Association WW1 Pension Ledgers May Have Solved another Family History Mystery. I used this newly available online record source to prove a family tale and discover more about my great uncle.

Irish DNA Breakthrough and Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue covered how DNA led to the demolition of one of my family history brick walls and helped me find out more about two of my Irish grandpa’s sisters who emigrated to the United States.

A Family Historian on Holiday: A Whitby Cemetery and WW1 Shipwreck was about the sinking of the Hospital Ship Rohilla off the Whitby coast in 1914. With links to the Titanic, heroic rescue attempts and a disputed will it illustrates how a family and local historian is never off duty, even on holiday!

Finally there was Published: The Greatest Sacrifice – Fallen Heroes of The Northern Union. This marked my greatest achievement of 2018 and the culmination of around two years’ work, the publication of my book co-authored with husband Chris. It has been described as the definitive book about those Rugby League players who fell in the Great War.

What Does 2019 Promise? Well, as in 2018, I aim to do two posts a month. These will be on the same type of themes as usual – family and local history tales, plus topical genealogy offerings when anything big hits the headlines. I will also be including some Aveyard One-Name Study stories.

I anticipate my major challenge this coming year, as ever, will be time. I also have the added concern of keeping things fresh and relevant. I now have two other writing roles to add to my blog. At the end of 2018 I took on the role of editor as the Huddersfield and District Family History Society quarterly Journal, the first edition of which came out in January. And I now write a regular family history column in Yorkshire nostalgia magazine “Down Your Way.” So clearly I want to ensure my blog posts are separate and distinct from my other writing commitments. However, my head is buzzing with ideas so I don’t think that will be too much of a creative dilemma.

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

Wishing you a happy, peaceful 2019 filled with family history fun!

The Golden Boot or a Christmas Turkey? My Genealogy Resolutions for 2018

2018 was a World Cup Year. Did I get the golden boot, or were my aims well wide of the mark? Time to see if I achieved my 2018 New Year’s Resolutions.

I had five genealogy goals for the year. So here goes.

Work on my Aveyard One-Name Study (ONS): Despite still working on data collection, I reckon on balance this was a success. I did a deep dive into my West Ardsley Aveyard family as part of Resolution Number Two. As a result, I have forged ahead with collecting parish register data, looked at various Borthwick Institute wills and marriage licences, and managed to disentangle the pre-1800 Aveyard branches. The latter is no mean feat, and I will be posting more about this in 2019.

Complete my Pharos Tutors Family History Skills and Strategies (Advanced) Course: Yippee!!!!! I’m thrilled to say not only did I complete the two-year course and construct my project around my pre-1800 Aveyard family, I passed with a Distinction. It has been a tough, but rewarding, two years. I’ve learned so much and met some fantastic people along the way. I’m now enjoying putting all I’ve learned into practice. And amazingly I fitted it all around researching and writing a definitive, major Rugby League history book! Resolution Number 3.

Finish my Book Research: Not only did I complete my research into those Rugby League players who perished in the Great War, but The Greatest Sacrifice: Fallen Heroes of the Northern Union was published in September. It involved far more work than I ever envisaged. But this labour of love has been an overwhelming positive and my biggest work-related achievement EVER. Those eve of war players have finally been recognised by the sport’s national body (the sport never had a Roll of Honour). And for the Armistice Day Centenary Test against New Zealand the current England team read out their names.

In recognition of our work, in November Chris (my husband and co-author) and I were invited as special guests of the Rugby League to the Annual Dinner of the All Parliamentary Party Rugby League Group at the House of Lords. We’ve given several book talks too.

But above all the personal recognition, the names of those players are now out in the public domain.

Personal Research: No hiding place. I only started researching the origins of 4x great grandfather Abraham Marshall on 23 December. My potential Lancashire links are therefore still shrouded in mystery. And it all goes to show that I spend more time on researching other people’s families than I do my own.

Attend a mixture of Conferences, Lectures, Family and Local History Fairs and Talks: I committed to six family-history events and I said I’d champion the work of Family History Societies. I reckon by all measures I’ve overachieved. Not only did I attend the Secret Lives conference, I also went to many other events and talks. These included the Family History Show at York as well as talks at Leeds Central Library, West Yorkshire Archives and various family and local history groups. But I went one step further. Towards the end of the year I took on the role as editor of the Huddersfield and District Family History Society quarterly Journal. My first one is due to be distributed in January 2019. I can therefore safely say this is another resolution achieved.

In conclusion, it has been a fantastic year with some major achievements. I really do not think I will ever have a better one. I’m thrilled I achieved 4 out of 5 my resolutions, especially given the challenging nature of some. Ironically, the more difficult the resolution the better I performed. So although I missed one goal it was certainly not a turkey year, I reckon it’s definitely a silver boot standard!

I will set out my 2019 goals before the New Year.

‘Historical Vandalism’ as more Archive Services Come Under Threat

In recent weeks there has been unwelcome news for archives users countrywide with the announcement of a spate of council budget proposals and public consultations about services in the face of swingeing funding cuts.

These are some of the recent ones:

  • Surrey County Council’s total budget for Cultural Services 2019-20 may be more than halved from £8.7 million to £4 million. The Heritage Service’s consultation, which closes on 4 January 2019 (am I cynical about the timing of this?) can be found here. The response from The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA), which perfectly sums up the concerns, is here.
  • It’s a similar tale of woe in Worcestershire. In what is described as an act of ‘historical vandalism’ the council cabinet this month approved a 2019-20 draft budget which more than halves the funding for Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service from £700,000 to £295,000. The Worcester News has more details, as does Who Do You Think You Are? magazine.
  • Kent Libraries, Registration and Archives Service are running a consultation on their draft strategy for 2019-2022. This closes on 29 January 2019.
  • In summer 2017 there was a huge public outcry about the reduced free hours and proposed charges at Northampton Archives. That change was shelved, but radical cuts to services across the board are still on the cards for the financially struggling Northamptonshire Council.
  • East Sussex County Council’s August 2018 announcement that it’s overall services and functions would be cut back to the statutory minimum provision. This was further clarified in the Core Offer document of 13 November 2018 to be considered by the Council Cabinet. For Archives and Records it stated:

We will:
• manage the records which we are required to keep by law. We will meet our basic statutory duties as a Place of Deposit for public records at The Keep including a basic level of public access to those records.
The proposed change from our current offer is that:
• We will not be able to provide the same level of support to customers of The Keep when requesting archive material, both in person and online and we will not provide an educational outreach offer.

And who knows how many more archives service changes are under discussion in councils up and down the country? It looks, for example, as if West Yorkshire Archives are conducting a review of opening hours. Their website includes opening hours for the five offices (Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield.) All but Bradford have days on which they are temporarily closed – and these temporary closures have been in force for some time. The Wakefield West Yorkshire History Centre, states with regard to Saturday opening hours:

We are reviewing our opening hours and as a result we are not currently able to offer Saturday appointments. We are aiming to resume normal service as soon as we can.

If anyone does have any other examples of reduced archives services and closures please let me know so I can update this list.

The future facing archives and heritage services, ironically some of which are in new flagship buildings, is an insidious creep of reduced opening hours and closures, alongside staff cuts with a resulting irreplaceable loss of expertise.

The_Hive_-_Worcester_(27316994562)

The Hive, home of Worcestershire County archives, which opened in 2012 – Photo by Esther Westerveld from Haarlemmermeer, Nederland – The Hive – Worcester, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74295190

I’m not going to get into the politics behind these cuts. And I’m sure we can all point to examples of huge wastes of public money which could have been far better spent. But the wholesale demolition of swathes of archive, library and museum services, largely (but not wholly) driven by almost a decade of destructive reduction in central government funding to local authorities, is undoubtedly a retrograde cultural and educational step.

I recognise heritage is an easy target when compared with other essential council services. And these too are under severe pressure and struggling to cope with funding pressures with an immediate hard impact on people, particularly the vulnerable. Impossible choices and trade-offs are being made.

However community-wide history, heritage, knowledge and learning has a far more nuanced impact than front-line services. It is these “softer” services which mark of a progressive, developed and civilised society. And once we get rid of the professional cadre of staff with their unique skills, and reduce access to our history and heritage, it will be very difficult to ever recapture it.

Reducing access to archives, and libraries, results in the lack of incentive for those who wish to deposit records and documents. It so acts as a broader community barrier to accessing knowledge and learning, reducing the chance for many to view, discover and interpret original documents and perhaps reveal new insights into past generations. Ultimately this leads to an overall depletion of heritage and a diminution of education and skills locally. And the brunt of these consequences particularly impact on the opportunities of all but the very rich.

And no. Not all is online. Neither will it ever be.

Updates

  • Suffolk County Council have held a consultation (now ended) to close Lowestoft Record Office, based in the library, and relocate the collections to Ipswich. With thanks to Bob Collis, Chair of Save Our Record Office (SORO), for this information. More details are available in comments section for this blog post.
  • In January 2019 it was revealed Norfolk County Council have proposals seeing Norfolk Record Office reducing its opening days from five to four a week, and those four days will see shorter opening times.
  • An enquiry in early January 2019 to West Yorkshire Archives (Kirklees) to access a specific collection held off site met with a response that due to staffing shortages this was not accessible until 4 February 2019 unless urgent. This collection is not available online.
  • There is an update to the Worcester Archives situation. Full details are in The Worcester News article of 26 January 2019, and in their blog of 1 February 2019. To summarise, the funding reduction looks like being only £250,000 out of the £700,000 budget – not the £405,000 initially mooted. This after a reduction in 2010 when the budget was £1.2 million. The final budget will be confirmed in February. The Friends of Worcestershire Archives have launched a petition against the cuts.

How the Western Front Association WW1 Pension Ledgers May Have Solved Another Family History Mystery

Last weekend I finally gave in and subscribed to Fold3 taking advantage of their cyber week special and buying annual premium membership at a 40% discount of $47.95. The deciding factor was the need to view their exclusive record set:- the Western Front Association (WFA) collection of Pension Record Cards and Ledgers.

Dependents of each serving British soldier, sailor, airman and nurse who was killed in the Great War were entitled to a pension. So were those service personnel wounded or otherwise incapacitated. For those who died the next of kin and pension amounts are detailed in the cards and ledgers. For those who survived they provide details of injury (wounds, illness), plus regimental details (unit, regimental number) and home address. The latter are particularly important for researchers, as those who survived are often more difficult to find information about, especially with common names.

My interest was driven by the need to find out more about my great uncle Michael Callaghan, brother of my grandpa John. The son of Michael Callaghan and his wife Mary (née Murphy) of Carabeg in County Mayo, his birth date was registered in the Swinford District as 17 January 1890.

It’s a date I take with the usual large pinch of salt. His baptism at Glan Chapel, according to transcripts, took place on 1 January 1890, pre-dating his birth and indicative that he was born in late 1889 – Irish catholic baptisms taking place shortly after birth. This is a common theme with my Callaghan ancestors – their official birth dates often postdate their baptisms. It was easier, and more important, to be received into the church. By the time they got round to official registration, dates were fudged to avoid late registration fines.

Mum said she thought Michael served with the Irish Guards during World War One and had received a severe facial injury. She cannot recall ever seeing him, and believed he lived in Leeds. She said she’d been told he was tall, with very dark hair like his mother and, in his youth, had been very good-looking.

That’s as much as I had to go on.

A few years ago, the possible I’d come up with, based on the assumption his injury resulted in his military discharge, was a Private Michael Callaghan of the Irish Guards, service number 11415. According to the Silver War Badge Rolls he enlisted on 31 July 1916 and was discharged on 29 July 1918, age 29, no longer physically fit for war service as a result of wounds. His Badge Number was B71936. Checking with Michael’s Medal Index Card it also showed he had served as a Private in the Labour Corps, Service Number 702152. But this entirely speculative search proved nothing, so I parked the information in my research file.

Silver War Badge – Photo by Jane Roberts

The Pension Record Cards and Ledgers on Fold3 offered a new avenue to explore. Still being uploaded, when I checked on 6 December 2018 there were four records relating to the Silver War Badge Pte Michael Callaghan. They confirmed his injury as a gunshot wound to his face, and the degree of disablement which was attributed to his war service ranged between 40 to 60 per cent. He was awarded a life pension. Interestingly two different birth years were given – 1889 and 1890. The records indicated he was unmarried. Mum seems to think he did marry and had two sons, but she isn’t entirely sure and has no names.

They also gave three addresses – none though in Leeds. The earliest record had an address of Carpenters Arms, West Woodside, Lincoln but also indicated a permanent address of 18 Bound[a]ry Street, Bury. By 1924 the address was recorded as 55 Union Street, Hemsworth, Wakefield. These latter two addresses were of particular interest. My Michael Callaghan had brothers with links to both Bury and Wakefield.

Checking the 1911 census, a 47-year-old widow named Catherine Walsh lived at 18 Boundary Street, Bury. Also in the household were her four surviving Bury-born children Martin, Mary, Annie and John, whose ages ranged from 17-24. There were also two nephews listed – 30-year-old Barney Roan and 25-year-old Thomas Callagn, both miners. They, along with Catherine, were born in County Mayo (recorded as Maho in the census).

This 1911 census entry is a perfect illustration of not relying on indexes: both Ancestry and TheGenealogist record Thomas’ surname as Roan in their index, whilst FindMyPast’s version is Collagen.

Thomas piqued my interest – Michael’s brother Thomas settled in Bury. The surname wasn’t too far out – I’ve seen many a mangled version of Callaghan. His date of birth was 19 November 1884 giving an age of 26 at the time of the census – so not too far out either.

Catherine’s address was also 18 Boundary Street in the 1901 census, when her husband John Walsh was alive. Checking the GRO birth indexes for the registration of Martin, Mary, Annie and John revealed Catherine’s maiden name as Bones or Boans.

I next turned to the Lancashire OnLine Parish Clerk. The marriage of John Walsh (Latin form Joannem used in the parish register), son of Joannis Walsh, and Catherine (Catharinam is the Latin register version) Bones, daughter of Andreae, took place at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Bury on 29 November 1884.

This was perplexing – so far my Callaghan line doesn’t link to either Bones or Walsh. So was Thomas, described as Catherine’s nephew in the 1911 census, really my grandpa John’s eldest brother?

I decided to look for the baptisms of John and Catherine’s children, again using the Lancashire OnLine Parish Clerk. And it is here Catholic registers come into their own. Anna (Latin form of the name) Walsh, daughter of Joannis Walsh and Catherinae, formerly Bones, was born on 26 August 1888 and baptised at St Joseph’s on 16 September 1888. And the priest helpfully annotated the entry, stating Anna married Thos. Callaghan at St Joseph’s on 15 June 1912.

Unfortunately, this marriage has not been transcribed on the Parish Clerk site. However, the baptism of two of the children of Thomas and Annie are there, including Mary (or Maria as recorded) born on 14 April 1914. The priest’s note that she married Gulielmo J. Dunne on 24 May 1947 was enough. My mum attended this wedding – Mary was her cousin. Bingo! The same family.

One final corroboration was the 1939 Register entry for Thomas and Annie Callaghan. The birth dates of 19 November 1884 and 26 August 1888 matched. Mary’s married name of Dunne has also been added – the Register was a living document used subsequently by the NHS as it’s Central Register.

So now I have a link for Pte Michael Callaghan back to my Callaghan family in Bury via the 18 Boundary Street address on the pension entries. And it appears I have now evidence of my great uncle’s Great War military service and injury, corroborating what mum heard as a child. I’ve still a fair way to go – I would like to learn more about his war service. I also want to know if he did marry and have a family. I also want to find out when he died. But I have now made a start as a result of the Pension Cards and Ledgers.

More information about the cards can be found on the WFA website in a series of articles including ‘The Western Front Association’s Pension Record Card and Ledger Archive,’ ‘Great War Pension Record Cards and Ledgers: deeper understanding‘ and ‘Pension Record Cards and Ledgers: some examples of dependents’ cards.’

20 DECEMBER 2018 UPDATE

If you are a member of the Western Front Association you can now access these records using your membership login and without having to subscribe to Ancestry/Fold3. Here’s the relevant information. As of this month about 37% of the total archive has been digitised, so it’s worth checking back as more are rolled out in 2019.

Sources:

  • Birth Registration for Michael Callaghan, 17 January 1890, Swinford via https://www.irishgenealogy.ie/en/irish-records-what-is-available/civil-records
  • Michael Callaghan Silver War Badge Number B71936, via Ancestry.co.uk, Originals held by The National Archives, War Office and Air Ministry: Service Medal and Award Rolls, First World War, Ref WO329 Piece Number 3087,
  • Medal Index Card for Pte Michael Callaghan, 11415, Irish Guards via Ancestry.co.uk
  • Pte Michael Callaghan, 11415, Irish Guards Pension Cards and Ledgers via Fold3, originals held by the WFA
  • 18 Boundary Street, Bury Household in the 1911 Census via FindMyPast, The Genealogist and Ancestry.co.uk, The National Archives, Ref RG14/23489
  • Catherine Walsh, Bury, 1901 Census via FindMyPast, The National Archives, Ref RG13/3638/38/35
  • Lancashire OnLine Parish Clerk website https://www.lan-opc.org.uk/
  • Thomas and Annie Callaghan, 1939 Register via FindMyPast, The National Archives, Ref RG101/4319E/017/8
  • Western Front Association, webpages indicated via hyperlinks in main body