Category Archives: Ancestry

Top Ten 1921 Census Tips

The dust is beginning to settle on the 1921 Census release, and I’ve had chance to familiarise myself with Findmypast’s online search, Here are some tips to help you get the best out of it.


1. Draw up your wish list and set your budget.
I’m not entering into the debate over the cost of viewing the 1921 Census online, or the tie-in with Findmypast as sole provider for the immediate future. Only to say it is standard for these major record releases, and company’s have to recoup the massive digitisation costs involved. Filming, transcribing and indexing something on this scale does not come cheap. And there is opportunity to access the 1921 Census for free – at The National Archives (Kew), Manchester Central Library, and The National Library of Wales (Aberystwyth). But then you need to factor in transport costs, and possibly an overnight stay. Family history, like many other hobbies and interests, does cost.

What I will say is before you even start searching is draw up a wish list of those people you are most interested in, prioritise them, set your maximum budget and stick to it. Otherwise it is all too easy to get carried away.

I compiled my immediate wish list, for direct line ancestors alive in 1921, and stuck to it. It amounted to eight images. Any other records, including ones relating to my one-name study (there are 527 people named Aveyard in this census), and my Batley St Mary’s one-place study will have to wait until I can get to Manchester Central Library for free access, or until it all becomes part of the Findmypast subscription.


2. Play around with searches to familiarise yourself with the system.
The second piece of advice I would give is don’t dive straight in. Play around with searches to get used to how the system works. That way you are going to get the best, and most accurate, results – and crucially minimise the risk of purchasing the wrong record.


3. Be aware of transcription errors.
This release appears to be littered with them across the entire range of possible searches, and this will affect results. Try to keep an open mind when searching. Be flexible with searches, and alert to possible transcriptions errors.

For example, for one of my ancestors the Christian name Martin was incorrectly transcribed as Morton, perhaps signalling the transcriber as a fan of the Morton Farrier Genetic Genealogist book series! I did not automatically discount the entry. Based on other information I was able to identify it as a likely error and took the plunge. But it could, depending on the error scale, result in a negative search. And the pay-per-view angle may rule out speculative purchases.

There is a transcription error reporting mechanism if you purchase the transcript – as I said I’ve not done this, preferring to spend my money on the original image. If you have not purchased the transcript you can still report the error, but the method is via email to Findmypast, at transcriptsupport@findmypast.com. The link giving more details about this is here.


4. Make use of the Advance Search facilities.
When you conduct a search you are given some basic information to enable you to determine if the result is the one for your family. For example, when searching for my great grandad Patrick Cassidy in Batley, the following clues are given.

Findmypast image

The hint says the record includes Patrick, John, Mary and two others. My problem with this was no John is linked to my great grandad’s family. And who are the two others? Can I confirm these names? Was this the correct family?

There is a simple way you can drill down this information to a more complete, granular level. Go to the Advanced Search. Leave the ‘Who’ boxes blank, and go down to the ‘Parish’ box and put in ‘Batley,’ and in other ‘Other Household Member” box type ‘Patrick Cassidy’. The results confirm the full names, birth year and birthplace of the other four members of the household, including Anne Cassidy, Mary Cassidy and Nelly Cassidy, plus Durham-born John Nixon. All this gave me confidence that I would be purchasing the correct record.

This is one example of an Advanced Search which worked well in this instance, though it may prove more challenging for common names. And some found Registration District worked better than Parish.

However, do not be put off. There are lots of other filters and options too. It is a case of playing with them to find the ones which help narrow the results suited to particular circumstances. And you can find lots of information simply through the free Advanced Search – and this may be sufficient to construct plans and spreadsheets for example for a one-place or one-name study.

One other thing to be aware of when searching on age is this census has a change. It gives it in years and months, with those under one month noted as such, rather than only years. This may affect searches, though it is always good practice to broaden age searches to give years +/- either side, as accuracy and ages in the census do not necessarily go hand-in-hand.

And, in a similar vein, do always keep at the back of your mind transcription errors and (in)accuracy of information provided by ancestors, which can skew results. Which leads onto Tip 5.


5. Be aware people may not be where expected, or tell the truth with the information they give.
There’s always the possibility that people may not be with their family on census night. The timing of this census, 19 June, instead of early spring has added complications. People may have been on holiday.

There is also the issue of seasonal workers. My County Mayo-born grandpa, who by the mid-1920s was in Batley, looks to be over on a farm in Cheshire with two of his brothers in this census, working as a farm labourer. They are appropriately living in Irish Man’s Cottage! The men in this family did have a tendency to come over to England in the summer for seasonal farm labouring work, and this appears to be borne out in the 1921 Census. It may also be the case for others normally resident in Ireland but who came over to England seasonally to undertake work on farms. It is worth checking to see if they do feature.

And, as ever, be alert for those half-truths and downright misleading lies which always creep in and can affect your search.

Again it is a case of keeping an open mind – though the pay per view element of this release may curtail the ability to undertake speculative downloads. This is a luxury which may best be reserved for the free access locations at The National Archives (Kew), Manchester Central Library, and The National Library of Wales (Aberystwyth). But you can undertake the prepatory work from home using the free basic searches, short of any image purchase.


6. View the image, not the transcript.
Linked to 3 (above), I would advise the image purchase option is always preferable to buying a transcript, even if it costs slightly more. The transcript may contain multiple errors which, unless you view the image, you will be oblivious to. Whereas if you view the image you can see exactly what the entry should say. And it may include details not referred to in the transcript. And there is always that added frisson of excitement of seeing the actual handwriting and signature of those completing the form.


7. Make sure you click on the Extra Materials.
Your purchase covers more documents than the original image. Don’t focus on this image at the expense of the ‘Extra Materials.’

‘Extra Materials’ available through purchasing the image – Findmypast

In these you will find the cover, which contains the RG15 Series Reference for the original household image, and Piece Number. Though I must admit my preferred method for obtaining the document reference is by downloading and saving the image (see 9, below), simply because the cover may be difficult to read and downloading/saving provides more accuracy by hopefully cutting out any enumerator error. Also be aware it is not a full reference number.

The ‘Front’ document contains that all-important address which is missing from the original household image. For more details about addresses see 8, below.

There are also maps which, besides pinpointing the area linked to the household, also have some useful background information – for example, population numbers, or details of any boundary changes.

The final files in these ‘Extra Materials’ are Plans of the Division. There may be more than one of these. The plans contain Enumeration District information, including boundaries and contents, basically the route the enumerator took. So, for example, for one set of my Hill ancestors, the Enumeration District where they lived comprised of:

Commencing at 1 Richmond Street taking all houses on left hand side to top odd nos. thence all houses in Vera Street, Crescent Street, Back Crescent Street all yards and Back Upton Street and down the left hand side of Upton Street to bottom even nos.

This is all vital information to pinpointing where the Hill family lived. This is particularly important if it is an area is unfamiliar to you, or if the streets have long-since gone. It will enable you to easily identify the area in old OS maps.

Note, once you have purchased an image it, along with the extra materials, are available to you each time you log on to Findmypast. So, if you missed them in your first eager foray into the census, you have not lost the opportunity.


8. The address is not missing when viewing the image.
Whilst it may not be immediately obvious, contrary to what some on social media believe, the address is there. There are two ways of accessing it. The ‘Extra Materials’ document suite includes one entitled ‘Front.’ This has the schedule which includes the address.

The same document can be accessed by clicking on the arrow to the right of the completed household schedule. Do be careful when using this method that you do not click too far as this will take you to the next household schedule and the option to buy it.

Clicking this arrow should take you to the address image – Findmypast

9. Download the images to save, including that all-important document reference.
Always save the document images to ensure you always have access to them. The best way of doing this, and getting the clearest image, is by using the ‘download record’ facility. When saving this way the RG15 document reference and piece number is included in the file title. It is not the full reference number, but it is a start.

You can also get the document reference from the cover, which is in the extra materials.

It is good practice to note the document reference, and including it as part of the file title is ideal.


10. Take note of the employment information.
The single most exciting information section in this census from my point of view is that on employment. Not only is there the occupation title, but for those working for an employer the name of that employer is provided, along with the place of work. This is fertile ground for further research to expand your knowledge of not only what your ancestor’s occupation was, but also where they worked, and investigation as to what business records survive – including any relating to employees.

For example, my husband’s 14-year-old grandma is described as a pottery paintress at Keeling and Co. Ltd, Dalehall, Staffs. I can now find out more about this pottery works.

My nana was a 16-year-old cloth weaver at J., T. & J. Taylor’s woollen manufacturers. West Yorkshire Archive Services has some company records which may be worth checking.

A whole series of my male ancestors worked in the coal mining industry. This census was taken during the coal miners’ strike. My ancestors do give their coal mining employment details, with the ominous words “Out of Work”. The names of their employers, and the specific coal mines, means I can now look at local papers to find out about the effect of industrial action generally locally, as well as how it affected specific coal mines. For me these include confirmation that my great grandfather did indeed work at Soothill Wood Colliery, Batley.


For my previous 1921 Census post, which looks at its background, includes some tips, has things to look out for, discusses why it is so important, & explains why I’m looking forward to it, click here.

Why Family Historians are Excited About the 1921 Census Release

Forget the New Year countdown and the return of Big Ben’s bongs this year. Instead, like many other family historians, I’m counting the days down to 6 January 2022, the day which marks 1921 census release day. Its family clues and secrets have been hidden for over 100 years. But this is the day when they will finally be revealed.

But why are family and local historians so excited? What is its background? Why is it so important for family and local history? How can you access it?

I’ll try to answer those questions in this post.


Background:
This was the census conducted in the immediate aftermath of the Great War, the Spanish flu pandemic and the introduction of voting rights for some women. It was a time of turmoil, upheaval and change.

The census was eventually taken on 19 June 1921, delayed for two months from its originally planned date of 24 April 1921, because of the state of emergency declared as a result of the coal miners’ strike.

Although care was taken to avoid holidays in the big industrial towns of the north, do be aware of the possibility the delay to the summer months may mean your family could be away from their expected residence.


What Information Will the Census Contain?

This census had the usual familiar mix of questions, but with some crucial omissions and additions from the 1911 Census. Questions included:

  • Name and Surname;
  • Relationship to the Head of Household;
  • Age – in years and (in a difference to previous censuses) completed months, with those under one month noted as such;
  • Sex;
  • Marriage or Orphanhood – For those 15 and over this means single, married, widowed or if the marriage has been dissolved. For children under under 15 this includes details about which parents are living/dead;
  • Birthplace and Nationality;
  • Personal Occupation (including attending school), Employment and Place of Work;
  • Married Men, Widowers and Widows also complete details about the number and ages of all living children and step children under 16 years of age, whether residing in the household or elsewhere.

The enumerator who collected the form was also responsible for recording the number of “living rooms” at the premises. And, for the first time, individuals in a household could also make separate confidential returns.

I’m disappointed that the so-called fertility question is missing from this census, with no information given about the number of completed years of marriage and the total number of children born within it, split between still living and dead. There question around blindness, deafness and dumbness has also gone.

But there are some big compensating questions. For example the changes to the questions around work will add a new family history component. This was introduced to find out about the travelling involved to get to a place of employment. The question around dissolved marriages is an interesting commentary about the recognition of increased availability of divorce. I am interested to see if any of my family is amongst the 16,682 people who declared themselves divorced on the returns. And, in light of the aftermath of the Great War and influenza pandemic, the recording of information for under 15s about whether both parents were alive or if either or both parents had died is a sad snapshot on the fragility of life.

If you want to familiarise yourself with the 1921 Census household form for England in advance of 6 January, you can download a copy here, courtesy of the ONS (Office for National Statistics) website.1


Why the Excitement with this Census Release?
All new major record releases are exciting. But for many the 1921 Census will be particularly special. From the poignant moment of seeing family members in a census for the first or last time, to finding out the impact the War had on family and community structures; to discovering the employment and possibly employers of their ancestors in this period of industrial strife, to where they were – and who they were with – on census night. Then there’s societal changes at the start of the Roaring Twenties, like the increase of divorce, and changes in the work of women from previous censuses. And not forgetting the inevitable disentangling of truth from mistakes and pure fiction in the entries of our ancestors – no, they were not always honest on official documents!

On the more humorous side, will there be any quirky, or protest, entries this time? And what will be the most unusual or unexpected occupation or name?

All this information, even these errors, half-truths and lies, will shed new light on the lives and characters of our ancestors – the type of information we family historians are constantly seeking.

Crucially, it is an excitement not to be repeated for another 30 years, because the next census release will not be until 2051, with the 1951 Census.

For many, this will be the last chance to experience the anticipation and thrill surrounding a census release. The highs of finding that missing piece of the family history puzzle, to simply finding out a little more about the lives of your ancestors. To the lows of will the site crash with the volume of hits?


My Census Plans
I have spent the Christmas period drawing up my family history census wish list.

I’m looking forward to the release on a personal family history level to find if my grandpa had made the move from Ireland to England at this point. If so, where was he living? And was he with family who had already made the move?

I also want to discover what various direct line ancestors and their families were doing. In particular, only three months before this census, my great grandfather died aged only 42. I want to see if there is any evidence of impact on his family. For example, were they still in the same home? Was the family still all together? Did my great grandmother have an occupation listed?

Also, being from a long line of coal mining ancestors, I want to see how many were still involved in the industry, especially given the census backdrop of a coal miners’ strike.

I have a wider interest in this census too, for my St Mary’s Batley One-Place Study. This focuses on the parish particularly in World War One, looking at not only those who served and died, but those who returned home, and the parish as a whole. I’m interested in seeing the impact both the war and the flu pandemic had on the parish population and family structures, with a particular interest in those families who had suffered war casualties. I’m also interested in any further Irish migration to the parish between 1911 and 1921. And I want to build up a bigger picture about employment in the parish. Batley was a significant textile town with the industry employing both men and women. The other major industry for the area was coal. Given this was the period of the coal miners’ strike, I want to see what impact this had on the census employment returns for the parishioners. Also, for returning military, was there a difference between their 1911 and 1921 employment? This, though, because of the scale, may be a longer-term plan based on a visit to one of the free access sites.


How Can I View the 1921 Census?
Now for the all-important administrative details about census access.

1. Who does this Census release cover?
• This release covers 38 million people in England and Wales. Technically the full scope of it is England & Wales, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the Armed Forces at sea or overseas (including in the nascent Irish Free State).
2. When can you access it?
• The launch date is 00.01 GMT on 6 January 2022.
3. Where can you access it?
• Online it will be available via commercial genealogy dataset provider Findmypast. They won the National Archives digitisation contract and have exclusivity for the 1921 census for up to three years. This will be the only online provider access during this period.
• In-person access of the digital images is available at The National Archives, Kew. The census will also be available via Findmypast at the Manchester Central Library, and the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.
• If you are still unsure, professional genealogists (including me) are undertaking census lookups. This may prove more efficient, accurate, cost-effective and ultimately less stressful.
4. How much does it cost?
• You will be able to search the indexes on Findmypast for free. But a pay-per-view system will operate to actually view the transcripts and images. It costs £2.50 for every record transcript, and £3.50 for every original record image.
• If you are a 12-month Pro subscriber there is a 10% discount.
• Whether a transcription or image, purchasing the record of one individual will allow you to view the entire household’s census return in that purchased format. Unless that person was in an institution.
5. Can you access the 1921 Census for free?
• Yes. It will be available to view digitally at The National Archives at Kew. It is also available to view free via Findmypast at Manchester Central Library and the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.
6. Which countries does the release cover?
• The release applies to England and Wales.
• Indexed images of the 1921 Scottish Census will be released on http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk and in the Scotlands People Centre, Edinburgh, in the latter half of 2022.
• The 1921 Census was not taken in Ireland due to the Irish War of Independence. Censuses in Ireland and Northern Ireland were conducted in 1926.

In addition, Findmypast has some useful information too https://www.findmypast.co.uk/1921-census

Update:
If you’re planning on going to Manchester Central Library to access the 1921 Census, the image below (posted on the Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society Facebook page) gives some important information. It’s essential pre-visit planning reading.


I’ll end this post with some snippets from Yorkshire to get you in the census mood.


The Sheffield Independent and Sheffield Daily Telegraph newspapers for 21 June 1921, reported on the case of three census wanderers. On census night, Sheffield police were tasked with searching highways and by-ways to round up those living outside. The three men, brought before the magistrates on 20 June and charged with lodging out, or wandering abroad without visible means of subsistence, included George H Jerram, of no fixed abode. He was found at 12.30am asleep in one of the Tinsley Park coke ovens with only 5d in his possession. He could not afford any lodgings.

Jerram remarked that “he was lodging out in France from August, 1914, to April, 1920,” and since coming out of the Army had only worked five weeks.”2

The Chairman discharged him, giving him the opportunity to fill out his census form.

I wonder if he will appear?


The Yorkshire Post of 21 June 1921 had a reporter going round an industrial quarter of Leeds with a census enumerator. Someone asked: “We have not put the dog on the paper. Will that be all right?

I wonder if pets will feature though, something I wrote about in an earlier census piece. Please click here if you want to read this, and the other quirky entries which have appeared in previous censuses.


However, a dismal story of unemployment and overcrowding also emerged in this Yorkshire Post piece.

  • For example, an Irish woman and her brother (both single), their brother, sister-in-law, and seven children aged 3 to 19, living in four rooms, Three of the adults were out of work;
  • A coal-hawker and a son assisting him, both out of work, two errand boy sons out of work, and five children attending school, with only one son (aged 20) working;
  • An out-of-work boot riveter, his wife and six children, ranging from 23 years old downwards, living in three rooms.

Occupants were described as being terribly afraid they would be turned out of their squalid dwellings because of overcrowding. Authority could, and did, strike fear.

In Grimsby, forms revealed in one instance five families living in four rooms; in another seven families were in one house, with a further house consisting of eight families.


The Hull Daily Mail of 21 June 1921 reported on a census conundrum regarding a baby born after midnight but before 1am (British Summer Time), the equivalent of 11pm and midnight Greenwich mean time. Was the baby born too late for the census? No definite pronouncement was made, but the assumption was the system in operation at the time, British Summer Time, would govern such questions.

I wonder if anyone does have an example of a child recorded in this census who should technically not be?


And in an example of a potential missing entry, a correspondent’s letter appeared in the Halifax Daily Courier and Guardian of 25 June 1921. Essentially, a son completed the household form for his father (the head), himself, his sister, and his sister’s three children (two grandsons and a grand daughter of the household head). They all slept in the house on census night. However, when the enumerator collected the form, he said the grandchildren should not be recorded and crossed them out. The correspondent was concerned they would not now be counted.

Again, some of us may therefore have difficulty in finding people we know should be there. It may simply be down to a mis-transcription, or not adopting the correct research strategies. But it could also really be down to an omission, or deliberate dissembling to disguise identity. This is an example where a professional researcher may be able to help.


So get ready for 6 January, and the big day in the family history world. I hope you find what you’re looking for.


Footnotes:
1. For Wales and Monmouthshire, there was an extra question for each person (over three years) on whether they spoke English and Welsh, English only or Welsh only; and for Scotland (when that is released) watch out for the extra questions about whether each person (over three years) spoke Gaelic only and also whether they were entitled to benefits under the National Insurance (Health) Acts;
2. Sheffield Independent, 21 June 1921;

Book Review: The Foundlings by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

The Foundlings is the ninth novel in the Morton Farrier Forensic Genealogist series of books by Nathan Dylan Goodwin. And I promise no spoilers in this review. Suffice it to say if you read the book you’re in for a treat!

Once more genealogist Morton Farrier’s latest investigation is a fast-paced enjoyable read with plenty of plot twists and turns along the way, keeping you guessing right to the end. Farrier’s own family history is woven into the case, which proves all the more emotionally challenging for him because it is close to home.

It’s a case in which Farrier combines traditional family history research with DNA and genetic genealogy in order to find out the parentage of three women abandoned as babies. There’s real creative skill in how the author draws together all the various strands in this multi-layered story, with shades of darkness, to build to a credible ending. And for me it’s a sign of a good book when I’m compelled to flick back through the pages once I’ve finished, to re-read those “Aha” moments whose significance I’d not realised in my first run through.

As a family historian I really appreciate this series of books because I love following Farrier’s research processes. I can relate to the various records used, both online and in archives. And I do try to guess what steps he will take. This tale introduced an ethical dimension too. That being said, you certainly do not need to be a genealogist to become immersed in the story. If you like a satisfying mystery or crime novel, especially with some history thrown in too, The Foundlings – and the previous Forensic Genealogist books – will be right up your street.

I must confess I’m already an avid fan of the Morton Farrier Forensic Genealogist series of books, so his character was not new to me. I had just finished reading The Spyglass File. It meant The Foundlings was a few jumps ahead from where I’d got to in the series. And yes, I can confirm it can be read as a stand-alone novel, though I did quickly skip the few references to his previous case so as not to give away any clues to that story. I can also confirm it is up there with the previous books in the series, which goes from strength to strength.

In summary, if you’re in to family history, crime mysteries or historical thrillers I can highly recommend this book, along with all the others I’ve read in the series.

If you’ve not read any of the previous books in the Forensic Genealogist series and want to start at the beginning to sequentially see how the character’s back story evolves, here’s the full list:

  • The Asylum – A Morton Farrier short story;
  • Hiding the Past;
  • The Lost Ancestor;
  • The Orange Lilies – A Morton Farrier novella;
  • The America Ground;
  • The Spyglass File;
  • The Missing Man – A Morton Farrier novella;
  • The Suffragette’s Secret – A Morton Farrier short story;
  • The Wicked Trade;
  • The Sterling Affair;
  • The Foundlings.

Finally, here’s the all-important purchase information for The Foundlings. I read the paperback version, ISBN-13: ‎979-8481041421, price £8.99. There is also a kindle edition. Full purchase details for this, and all the previous books in the series, can be found on Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s website.

Footnote: I was given a copy of this book by the author to preview. But if I hadn’t received a copy I would have certainly bought it – as I have all the earlier ones

Who Could Have Thought It – An Unexpected Lead To My 5x Great Grandfather?

Whilst looking at a 19th century map of the West and East Ardsley areas, the place name Who could have thought it captured my imagination. Although I don’t live too far away from the area, this was the first time I had encountered it.

That was it. Instead of focusing on a course about agricultural labourers (the reason I’d been studying the map in the first place) I now set about trying to find out more about the origins of this unusual location name. Amazingly this led me down a rabbit hole which was connected to my own family history.

Map showing the proximity of Chestnut Terrace to Brewery Lane, Ordnance Survey Maps – Six-inch England and Wales, 1842-1952, Yorkshire 233 Surveyed: 1848 to 1851, Published: 1854 – National Library of Scotland, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC-SA) licence

Some sources state that Who Could Have Thought It was named after a tragic accident in 1809, in which ten East Ardsley miners were killed.1 The location was a small cluster of miners’ cottages at Spring Bottom, which, as a result of the tragedy, became known locally as Who Could Have Thought It. The name appears on O.S. maps until circa 1930, after which it becomes Haigh Hall Terrace.


As a result of this information my interest was piqued further. I have direct maternal line ancestors who were miners in and around East Ardsley in this period. These include my 4x great grandfathers David Hudson, born in circa 1795, and George Broadhead, baptised in East Ardsley in 1803.

Now it was time to find out about this accident.

The York Herald and County Advertiser reported on it as follows:

We have to record a most melancholy accident which happened on Friday week, in two of the pits belonging to Mess. Lee, Watson and Co., situate at East Ardsley, near Wakefield. Ten men and four boys, colliers, employed in the said pits, were instantly drowned by the bursting, it is supposed, of the tunnel of some old pits, lying near and not now in use. —The water, which is not less than ten or eleven yards deep in each pit, is drawing off as quick as possible, but it is thought the bodies will not be got out before Tuesday. —Several of the unfortunate sufferers have left wives and families; thus in a moment bereft of their only earthly protectors and friends. Three young lads, who were at the mouth of one of the pits, on hearing the running water, swarmed up the rope, and alarming, by their cries, the men at the top, were fortunately extricated from their perilous situation. An inquest will be held on the bodies of the sufferers as soon as they can be got out. It since appears that only six men were drowned – four having escaped, but through what means we have not learned.2

The escape of these four additional men reduced the death toll to ten. An article in the Morning Post provide more details about their rescue. It also provided the names of the dead:

DREADFUL ACCIDENT

In the melancholy catalogue of misfortunes, so frequently occurring in Coal Mines, few have produced a deeper impression on the public, or been more dreadfully fatal in their consequences, than that which happened in the pits of Messrs. Lee, Watson, and Co, at East Ardsley, near Wakefield on Friday the 30th ult. The workmen at the time the accident happened, were driving through a throw, as it is technically called, when coming in contact with some exhausted pits, the water rushed through an aperture with irresistible impetuosity, and almost instantly inundated the pit where the people were at work. Three lads, fortunately in a situation to take the bucket, were drawn up without injury, but eleven men and three boys were shut up in the subterraneous abode, and for three days and nights consigned, in the imagination of their families and friends, to the mansions of the dead. Every exertion was made to drain the pit in hope that some lives might be saved; two engines were set to work for that purpose, and the Colliers from the works of Messrs. Branding, Smithson, Fenton, Wood, and Walker, were unremitting in their endeavours to rescue, if Providence had so ordered it, some, at least, of their unfortunate fellow workmen from the jaws of death.

On Monday, voices were heard to ascend from the pits; imagine the anxiety of wives, mothers, fathers, and children, all standing at the mouth of the abyss – anxious to catch a sound – and intensely anxious in that sound to recognise the well-known voice for some near and dear relative.

The moment had arrived when the hopes of some were to be elevated into reality, and the fond expectation of others to be sunk to dispair [sic]. Two men and two boys, John Hudson, Robert Kendrew, William Broad, and Joseph Goodyear, were drawn up alive and in health, though they had remained for three days and nights without rest or sustenance, except a little bread, which Kendrew happened to have in his pocket, and which, with unexampled generosity, he divided among his half famished companions, supplying his own wants with a quid of tobacco.3 The following are the names and families of the ten unfortunate sufferers:—

Aaron Haigh, a boy; George Gothard, an unmarried man; Samuel Bower, an unmarried man; John Haigh, has left a wife pregnant; Thomas Brook, one child and a wife pregnant; Thomas Broad, a wife and two children; William Broad, a wife and three children; Thomas Marshall, a wife and five children; Thomas Hartley, a wife and six children; and Jonathan Gothard, a wife and nine children.4

According to another report John and Aaron Haigh were brothers. They were alive for some time after the flooding. Eventually they made a bid to get out, but were drowned in the attempt. The remaining eight corpses were dragged out of the pit once the water subsided. Their lifeless bodies were presented to their heart-broken relatives.5


By now I was well and truly hooked. A Hudson featured amongst the saved, as did a Broad. Two further Broads were amongst the dead, including a Thomas Broad.

The cogs in the family history part of my brain were kicking into overdrive as a result of the Broad angle. My earlier research into the Broadhead family had revealed they sometimes used the surname Broad. My 4x great grandfather, George Broadhead, married in 1826 under the name Broad, and this was the recording of his surname in one census (1841). Some (but not all) of his children were baptised as Broad too. And George’s 1803 baptism entry (under Broadhead) names his father as miner Thomas. Other than that, I had no more information about Thomas. To be fair it is a branch I’ve not looked at for a few years. Could this mining accident be a breakthrough?.

A couple of more general points struck me from the newspaper coverage. Firstly the community involvement, with miners from other local pits helping in the rescue and recovery attempt.

Secondly, there is an incredible amount of detail for a newspaper report of the time into a mining accident in a Yorkshire village: Even down to the victims’ names, marital status and number of children. Reports in this period can be very sketchy on such details.

That the events in East Ardsley captured the public imagination is evident. It is not hard to see why. Apart from the tragedy, it had elements of raw human emotion, bravery and acts of pure selflessness, with the events having a central hero in Robert Kendrew.

Such was the impact of the East Ardsley pit disaster, and the survival over days of the four miners, in 1818 the Reverend James Plumptre, the Vicar of Great Grandsen, Huntingdonshire, wrote a play based on them. Entitled Kendrew: or, The Coal Mine, it focuses on the struggle for survival of Robert Kendrew, John Hudson, William Broad and Joseph Goodyear. The play is still available to read, with its religious overtones, its whitewashing of the realities of pit work, its romanticised depiction of a female miner and the weaving in of a love story.6


Back to reality, I decided to check parish registers for the burial of the men. So far I have located information for eight.

Four of the burials took place on 4 July 1809 at Woodkirk St Mary’s parish church. The register has the helpful annotation that they drowned in a pit on 1 July (note this is the day after the accident).7

  • William Hartley, from East Ardsley, Collier;
  • Thomas Brook, of Hague Moor, Collier;
  • John Hague of Hague Moor, Collier; and
  • Aaron, son of Aaron Hague of Westerton, Collier.
St Michael’s Church, East Ardsley – Photo by Jane Roberts

The burials of a further four of the victims are recorded, minus any explanatory notes, in the parish register of St Michael’s, East Ardsley.8

  • 4 July 1809 – Sam[ue]l, son of Jonathan Bower, Labourer, Wakefield Parish;
  • 4 July 1809 – Tho[ma]s Marshall, Miner;
  • 5 July 1809 – Thomas Broadhead, Miner; and
  • 5 July 1809 – William Broadhead, Miner.

My heart skipped a beat. Here Thomas’ surname is recorded as Broadhead, not Broad. Disappointingly there were no further clues in the register entry. An age would have been a bonus. The Bishop’s Transcript (BT) unfortunately added nothing further. Although on this occasion the BT was no help, they are always worth checking. The only hint as to age, therefore, came from the newspaper which indicated he had a wife and two children.


It was now time to hit the parish registers in earnest. In addition to East Ardsley, this included checking its surrounding parishes in this period: Dewsbury, Woodkirk, Rothwell and Wakefield. Searches included both Broadhead and Broad. As a result I now have page upon page of Broadhead research and family notes!

For consistency, in the following write-up of this research, I will use the surname Broadhead rather than Broad. However, I will indicate when the Broad version was used in records.

I focused on not only Thomas, but William Broadhead too, in case there was a family connection between them. The newspapers had mentioned the Haighs were brothers, nothing about the relationship between the Broadheads. But perhaps they were cousins?

The newspaper indicated William had three children and Thomas two. I first set about trying to identify these children to see if there was a possibility this Thomas was the father of my 1803 baptised 4x great grandfather.

Sod’s law. William was a doddle, Thomas was not.


William Broadhead was baptised at East Ardsley parish church on 13 June 1784, the son of coal miner William Broadhead.9 Siblings included David, Nanny and James. No sibling named Thomas has been found. William married Mary Claiton, also at East Ardsley, on 25 December 1805.10 Their children, all baptised in the same church, were:

  • Hannah, baptised 27 July 1806;11
  • Jane, baptised on 16 December 1807;12 and
  • Elizabeth, baptised on 24 June 1809, less than a week before her father’s death.13

In all the baptism entries William is listed either as a miner or coal miner. Elizabeth died in 1810.14 The other two girls survived, with Hannah marrying John Wainwright in 1823,15 and Jane marrying John Bedford in 1825.16


Over to Thomas, then. I checked for any Broadhead East Ardsley baptisms between 1773 and 1823, with a father named Thomas. The post-1809 dates were deliberate, to see if there was a Thomas in the parish after the accident.

There were eight baptisms in total, all occurring between 1797 and 1810. Four could be discounted as they related to children of a clothier from Wakefield parish. Another, linked to a labourer from Wakefield parish, was similarly ruled out. That left three, as follows:

  • George, baptised 13 March 1803, son of Tho[ma]s, miner [my 4x great grandad];17
  • John, baptised 11 February 1805, son of Tho[ma]s, miner.18 He died in 1818;19 and
  • Ellin, baptised 20 August 1809, daughter of Tho[ma]s and Hannah, miner.20

The obvious issue here is the number of children – three as opposed to the two cited in the newspaper. The other issue is Ellin’s baptism took place after the 30 June 1809 accident, and there is no reference in her baptism entry to her father being dead. The only difference in the BT was name, Ellioner, so no help there. I checked the baptism entry for John Haigh’s child for comparison purposes. The newspaper reports mentioned his wife was pregnant at the time of his death – no such mention for Thomas Broadhead’s wife. Unfortunately for my purposes the Haigh baptism took place in Woodkirk parish so the phraseology for the entry in this parish cannot be directly compared with that of East Ardsley. In the Woodkirk register, whilst John is named as the baby’s father, the entry clearly indicates he is deceased.21

The anomaly may simply be a newspaper oversight: Thomas did have two children when he died – George and John. But had his wife so very recently given birth to a third that it had been missed in reporting? Although saying that, William’s third child had only recently been born and she was included. The more likely scenario, however, assuming the likely interval between birth and baptism was weeks (though accepting this was not always the case), and with the 20 August baptism date, was Hannah being pregnant at the time of Thomas’ death, and this being overlooked in press reporting. Though the discrepancy is worth noting as an end that does not neatly tie, this latter scenario seems not improbable.

There is one final document to build the case for Thomas being my 5x great grandfather, and this is a probate document from the Exchequer Court of York. On the 12 August 1809 Administration of the goods of Thomas Broadhead, late of East Ardsley who died intestate, was granted to his widow Hannah Broadhead.22 The death can refer to none other than the miner who lost his life in the pit. This document is confirmation of the name of the widow of this miner.

As it stands I believe the balance of evidence is overwhelming now pointing to the 1809 death being George’s father, and my 5x great grandfather, Thomas Broadhead. There is simply no other candidate.


I wanted to find out what happened to Ellin, as much as anything for any further clues this might offer. Besides parish registers, other sources used here included censuses to corroborate age and birthplace, and GRO indexes.

Ellen Broad (note the surname) married Jonathan Hanson at Dewsbury All Saints parish church on 16 September 1827.23 The witnesses offer no further family information. The interchange between the Broad and Broadhead surnames is demonstrated by the registration of those children born after the introduction civil registration. Two have Broadhead as mother’s maiden name, and one has Broad.24


I now returned to Thomas and Hannah. When did they marry?

There were two candidates for the marriage, neither in East Ardsley:

  • Wakefield All Saints, 16 January 1792, Thomas Broadhead and Hannah Batty, both of this parish, with a William Broadhead as a witness;25
  • Rothwell Holy Trinity, 19 April 1802, Thomas Broadhead and Hannah Lumb, both of this parish, with a John Broadhead as witness.26

The first was eliminated. This couple appeared to be having children baptised in Wakefield parish from 1792 to 1807. And the baptism of one child, Charlotte, in 1804 provided the confirmation, naming Hannah as the daughter of David Battye.27 Interestingly one baptism for this family, from 1799, mentions an abode of Beck Bottom. only a hop, skip and jump over the East Ardsley parish boundary. And in 1817 David Broadhead, (brother of William who died in the accident), along with his wife Hannah and six children were removed from East Ardsley to Alverthorpe with Thornes.28 There does appear to be a particular location focus emerging for these Broadheads, around the southern East Ardsley parish boundary with the Alverthorpe area of Wakefield parish at the time.

Map showing location of Who Could Have Thought It, Beck Bottom and Kirkham Gate. The latter two fall under Alverthorpe Township. The East Ardsley parish boundary runs just to the north of Kirkham Gate and Beck Bottom, and covers Who Could Have Thought It. To give some idea of distance, Beck Bottom is under a mile away from Kirkham Gate.

This left the 1802 Rothwell marriage of Thomas to Hannah Lumb. Broadhead was not a common name in this parish. A Thomas cannot be traced in it before the marriage. There are no children of the couple baptised there subsequently. Another Broadhead marriage took place there in 1806, that of a William Broadhead to Charlotte Wainwright.29 Despite this also saying the couple were both of this parish, William was actually from Woodkirk parish, this is where the couple lived after their marriage and it was the baptism parish of their children. On this basis I have concluded the 1802 Rothwell marriage of Thomas Broadhead and Hannah Lumb is the correct one.


As for when Thomas Broadhead was born, this is still a work in progress. The most obvious baptism is one at East Ardsley on 29 October 1780, for Thomas son of miner John Broadead.30 But I cannot be definitive as there are other options in Wakefield and Woodkirk (the most likely other parishes) which I need to work through. Checking baptisms between 1740-1790 produced this list of candidates:

  • Wakefield, 26 October 1741 – Tho[ma]s, son of Dan Broadhead;
  • Wakefield, 16 February 1741[42] – Tho[ma]s, son of Adam Broadhead, Potovans;
  • Wakefield, 1 September 1755 – Tho[ma]s, son of Sarah Broadhead, base begot by John Beaumont, Thornhill;
  • Wakefield, 18 November 1769 – Tho[ma]s, son of Samuel Broadhead;
  • Wakefield, 26 December 1770 – Tho[ma]s, son of Jonathan Broadhead;
  • Woodkirk, 9 February 1772 (note this parish is still using old style dating and it is 1771 in the Register) – Thomas, son of James Broadhead, Beggarington, collier;
  • Wakefield, 24 February 1775 – Tho[ma]s, son of Joshua Broadhead;
  • Wakefield, 24 August 1778 – Tho[ma]s, son of Widow Broadhead;
  • East Ardsley, 29 October 1780 – Tho[ma]s, son of John Broadhead, miner;

Unfortunately, because of the scant information in parish registers of this period, it may prove impossible to reconcile them all with marriages and burials. I may be left with more than one candidate. I may have to see what alternative sources exist, and even that might be insufficient.


And in further frustration I have yet to establish what, if any, connection there was between the 1809 mining casualties Thomas and William Broadhead. The only lead I have is very tenuous. Witnesses at the 1823 East Ardsley marriage of William’s daughter Hannah to John Wainwright include what looks like two separate George Broadhead signatories. Having these handwriting examples for comparison purposes have not helped yet. Unfortunately, when my 4x great grandfather George Broadhead married Rachel Speight, at Woodkirk on 18 June 1826, he made his mark.31 This was a period when he was styling himself Broad, not Broadhead which constitutes yet another smokescreen. I have known people who did switch between marks and signing their name, but to date I have no signature for my 4x great grandfather with which to compare. In another complication neither of the other two George Broadheads I know who were around in this period signed their names when they married, so I cannot definitively eliminate them either. 32

Parish Register signatures: 1823 marriage at East Ardsley of Hannah Broadhead with a George Broadhead as witness; and my 4x great grandfather George Broad[head]’s mark in the Woodkirk parish register at the time of his marriage in 1826.

Finally, it looks highly probable that the boy named William Broad[head] named amongst the rescued, was baptised at East Ardsley on 25 December 1794, son of miner John Broadhead.33 I did initially wonder if he could be a younger brother of Thomas, especially if the 1780 East Ardsley baptism is the correct one. But further analysis showed this William’s parents were John Broadhead who married Mary Marshall at East Ardsley on 18 November 1793.34 Furthermore John and Mary are alive in the 1841 census, with John’s age being 70 (possibly rounded down in accordance with that census).35 His burial at East Ardsley on 23 July 1848, age 77, provides yet further confirmation this man cannot be the father of Thomas who married in 1802.36 But could he be a brother? More work needed there.


All this mixed bag of results goes to illustrate that family history is not simple. It takes time, and at the end of it there may not be a conclusive answer. I believe the evidence has stacked up in favour that Thomas Broadhead, who died in the 1809 mining accident, being my 5x great grandfather. Also that Hannah Lumb is my 5x great grandmother. If this is the case, I also have two siblings for my 4x great grandfather, in John and Ellen. But beyond that I have not found Thomas’ baptism. The most probable is the 1780 East Ardsley one, son of John. But I cannot categorically state that and add it to my family tree.

I also need to find out what became of Thomas’ widow, my 5x great grandmother Hannah Lumb, after his death.

It’s a typical case of answer one family history question and end up with a whole bunch more.


More work remains. In the list of priorities I need to:

  • Visit Morley Library (original) or West Yorkshire Archives (microfilm) to see if anything further can be found in the East Ardsley township and Churchwarden records about the Broadhead family, in particular after the death of Thomas;
  • Try to confirm Thomas’ baptism. Whilst the 1780 is a possible, I need to do more in investigation around the other Thomas Broadhead baptisms. Ultimately it may come down to attempting to reconstruct the Broadhead families in the East Ardsley, Woodkirk and Wakefield parishes, which is where the main linkages appear to be. And this will involve going through parish registers page by page. It is a painstaking and time-consuming task. And after all that I may still have no perfect answer; and
  • It is also then a case of seeking out any other sources which may help for the parishes of interest, beyond the East Ardsley ones mentioned above. Things like wider parish poor law records including removal orders, settlement certificates, bastardy bonds…if they survive!
  • And then there’s trying to trace Hannah Broadhead (formerly Lumb) in records – knowing in advance there are a number of Hannah Broadheads in the area.

If there are any developments coming out of this work I will provide an update.


The ‘Who Could Have Thought It’ area in May 2021 – Photo by Jane Roberts

In conclusion, this has been a glorious rabbit hole to explore. At a minimum I now know more about the turn of the 19th century East Ardsley community of my ancestors. Above all I believe I have made a family tree breakthrough and identified a set of 5x great grandparents. I also have information about my 5x great grandfather’s death, and added to my mining family history in the process.

Who would have thought a course on agricultural labourers, a map and a place called Who Could Have Thought It would lead to that?


Postscript: I am still unclear how the pit accident could lead to this peculiar place name, unless it was some reference to the survival of the four miners. Also the place name is not unique. I have since discovered another Who Could Have Thought it to the north-east of Thornton, Bradford on the 1847-1850 surveyed six-inch ordnance survey map, published in 1852. Who knows how many more there are?


Footnotes:
1. Loyal “Who Could Have Thought It” Lodge No. 416 of the Grand United Order of Oddfellows (Huddersfield Unity), Huddersfield Exposed, https://huddersfield.exposed/wiki/;
2. York Herald and County Advertiser, 8 July 1809;
3. Chewing tobacco;
4. Morning Post, 11 July 1809;
5. Statesman, 11 July 1809;
6. Plumptre, James. Original Dramas … With Prefaces and Notes. MS. Notes and Corrections by the Author. Cambridge: J. Hodson, 1818. Available via Google Books;
7. Woodkirk St Mary’s parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP108/1/1/4;
8. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/2;
9. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference:WDP16/1/1;
10. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/8. Register records she was the daughter of Mary, a widow;
11. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/2;
12. Ibid;
13. Ibid;
14. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/2;
15. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/8;
16. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/9;
17. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/2;
18. Ibid;
19. St Michael’s East Ardsley burial register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP16/1/16
20. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/2;
21. St Mary’s Woodkirk parish register, baptism of Rachel Haigh, 20 August 1809, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP108/1/1/4;
22. Thomas Broadhead, Administration, East Ardsley, AUG 1809, Exchequer Court of York, Borthwick Institute
23. All Saints Dewsbury marriage register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP9/21;
24. Dewsbury registered Emma (1837) and John (1840) have Broadhead; Martha Ann, registered in Halifax in 1845, has Broad;
25. All Saints Wakefield parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP3/3/5;
26. Rothwell Holy Trinity parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: RDP91/3/3;
27. Charlotte Broadhead baptism 30 December 1804, Wakefield St John the Baptist parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP45/1/1/1;
28. West Riding Quarter Sessions, Leeds Sessions 16 October 1817, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: QS10/4;
29. William Broadhead marriage 8 September 1806, Rothwell Holy Trinity parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: RDP91/3/3;
30. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/1;
31. St Mary’s Woodkirk marriage register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP108/1/3/3;
32. George Broadhead who married Mary Hartley at Wakefield All Saints on 26 August 1822, son of William and Mary and baptised at Wakefield on 20 April 1801; and George Broadhead who married Elizabeth Broadhead at Woodkirk on 18 November 1828, likely the son of John, baptised at East Ardsley on 24 May 1807;
33. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/2;
34. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/8;
35. 1841 England and Wales census, The National Archives, Reference HO107/1267/1/13/23;
36. St Michael’s East Ardsley burial register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/16.


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.

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.