Category Archives: Family History Tips

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: Our Village Ancestors, A Genealogist’s Guide to Understanding England’s Rural Past – Helen Osborn

Helen Osborn’s Genealogy: Essential Research Methods is a key book for many family historians. Her latest book, Our Village Ancestors: A Genealogist’s Guide to Understanding England’s Rural Past, is certain to form another important element in the family history researcher’s toolkit.

Focussing on village life from the mid-sixteenth to the turn of the twentieth century, the book is aimed at those who want to fill in the details of the lives of their ancestors, and want to open up – and make best use of – the wealth of records out there to achieve this. Even those at an early stage of their family history journey will benefit from the information it contains.

Placing these records in their geographic and historic context is a theme which runs throughout the book, because as the book explains:

…in order to gather truly the evidence that we need to reconstruct families into genealogical trees, we should understand both the historical and local context as well as have a good understanding of the documents used.

Farming communities and countryside life is integral to the research of most family historians, with up until the nineteenth century the majority of people living a rural existence. As the book says:

Almost everybody with English roots will have an ancestor who lived in a village…

The book covers records applicable to a full range of village ancestors from the humble agricultural labourer to farmer ancestors, those in supporting village industries and crafts, right through to the more affluent landowners.

It contains eight chapters covering a multiplicity of these genealogical records, all of which combine to help build a picture of our village ancestors’ lives. The chapters are:

  • The Rural Past;
  • Parish and Family;
  • The Land and the Farmer;
  • The Church and the Tithe;
  • Supporting the Poor;
  • Work and School in the Countryside;
  • The Whole Community: Lists of Villagers and the Victorian Census; and
  • Leaving the Village.

There is also an appendix containing a handy list of dates of interest.

Each chapter introduces a series of key records, explaining the background to their creation, the information they contain, any particular issues or pitfalls associated with them, and how to interpret and locate them. This information is interspersed with examples of these records from across the country. Accompanying this information are fascinating facts, and tips, which aid family historians and provide food for thought in applying to research. There are also pointers as to how indirect evidence can be extracted from records, even when ancestors are not specifically mentioned. The individual chapters conclude with a Starting Points for the Researcher section which neatly summarises the records discussed in the preceding pages.

Through combining information from these sources, pictures of the lives of even quite ordinary ancestors can be built up. The book includes examples of such record-combining to reconstruct a person’s life, including a 19th century agricultural labourer and the harrowing story of the Eaves family.

The book is packed with information, and there are far too many records and information sources for me to mention. But they include parish registers and how to unpick information from them; manorial records; enclosure details; probate inventories; tithe maps and apportionments; glebe terriers; churchwardens’ accounts; vestry minutes; Quarter Sessions; various records relating to the old and new Poor Law; hearth tax; rate books; newspapers; and early censuses. Note, if you are looking for information about records created by Victorian national administrations, such as civil registration from 1837, these are not covered.

In addition to the records, I found the individual topics covered fascinating. From the social status of the farmer, the farm and its work, alongside wages and conditions, to tips on matching tithe maps with older records and using the early census to discover whole communities. And how many of us have ancestors who appear and disappear? The Leaving the Village chapter is full of strategies and tips for filling these gaps.

It is an immensely readable book (I completed it over a weekend). It is also one which will act as a reference, and refresher, to a series of genealogically valuable records for anyone researching their family history, running a one-place or one-name study, or with an interest in local history generally. And, although the focus is on village life, there is a cross-over in terms of many records to our more urban ancestors.

In conclusion, this is a worthy addition to any family historian’s bookshelf.

Our Village Ancestors: A Genealogist’s Guide to Understanding England’s Rural Past – Helen Osborn
Publication date: 28 June 2021
Publisher: Robert Hale
ISBN 9780719814167
Hardback £15.99

Belladonna and a Research Rabbit Hole: Avoiding Assumptions in Family History.

Whilst reading a newspaper from July 1915, my attention was caught by an attempted suicide in Dewsbury. It read:

GIRL DRINKS BELLADONNA.
Thornhill Lees Servant Upset By
Brother Being At The War.

Clara Stead (17), domestic servant, of Pontefract, was summoned for attempting to commit suicide by drinking a quantity of belladonna liniment at Dewsbury on the 15th inst.

Hetty Armitage, who employed the girl at the Perseverance Inn, Thornhill Lees, explained that on Thursday last week Stead was in the kitchen black-leading, but she went to a bathroom and afterwards accused called for witness and said, “Mrs. Armitage, do you know what I have done?” Later she added, “I have taken poison.” Asked where she had got it from, she replied, “From the bathroom,” and asked why she had done it she answered, “I don’t know.” Witness’ husband gave the girl milk and water, and she was afterwards taken to the Infirmary,

In answer to a question in Court, as to the reason for her act, Jones, [sic] who appeared greatly distressed, said, “I have a brother at the war.”

The Chairman: That ought not to have depressed you like that. You are young to do a thing like this.

The girl’s mother preferred to take her daughter back home and look after her.

The Chief Constable thereupon asked for the case to be withdrawn, and the Magistrates agreed.1

That was it. I had to find out more. Who was the girl? What became of her? Did her story have a happy ending? Who was her brother? What happened to him?

And so I disappeared down a research rabbit hole for the rest of the evening. The results reinforced once more that you should check multiple sources even for the same event; and never make assumptions when researching family history.

The first thing was to compare the Batley News report with that of the Dewsbury Reporter to see if that added anything.2 It did. The three main extras were:

  • Clara had worked at the pub since June;
  • Fred Armitage was the pub licensee; and
  • In a difference to the Batley News, Fred gave her hot water and salt, not milk and water.

Next I looked at the locality. Thornhill Lees is now a suburb of Dewsbury, lying around one mile south of the town centre between Savile Town and Thornhill. Back then it was a village. Near the river Calder, it had a station on the Yorkshire and Lancashire railway. Its chief employment industries were the collieries and glass bottle works. If you watched the Jeremy Clarkson episode of Who Do You Think You Are? you will have seen the Kilner Brothers glass bottle manufacturers. The Perseverance Inn, at Forge Lane, Thornhill Lees stood by the Calder and Hebble Navigation Canal. Ironically it had seen its fair share of inquests over the years on those successful in ending their lives, particularly by drowning in the waterway. Although the building still stands today, it is no longer a pub.

Map showing the location of the Perseverance Inn, Ordnance Survey Maps – 25-inch England and Wales, 1841-1952, Yorkshire CCXLVII.7 (Dewsbury) Revised: 1914 to 1915, Published: 1922 – National Library of Scotland, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC-SA) licence

So who was Clara Stead? She was born on 2 December 1897 at Streethouse, near Pontefract, the daughter of William Stead and his wife Kezia (née Cooper). Her baptism took place on 23 December 1897 at Normanton All Saints, alongside that of her siblings William (born according to the baptism register on 16 July 1890, and was he really called William Stead as declared in the register? But more of that later);3 and Emma (born 16 September 1895).4 The couple’s other children were Minnie, born 14 January 1893;5 Colin, born on 13 December 1900;6 Richard, born 10 February 1903;7 and Lena, born in 1906. Note, other than Clara and William’s birth dates, I’ve not corroborated the remaining children’s births against any other sources.

The Stead family lived in the Streethouse part of Snydale-with-Streethouse, in both the 19018 and 19119 censuses. Pontefract lies around four miles to the north east of the village. Coal mining was the principal occupation, and Drighlington-born William was no exception, working as a hewer.

He married Kezia Cooper at Normanton parish church on 18 April 1892. At 26, she was four years William’s senior. The parish register entry records her as the daughter of Benjamin Cooper, and a widow – though this marital status is scored out.10 Unusually (but not impossible) the implication is her deceased husband was also named Cooper. But it is worth paying attention to such anomalies as the scoring out and name. The other thing to note about the marriage is it post-dates their son William’s birth by almost two years.

William’s birth certificate confirms this.11 He is registered as William Kirk. The certificate states he was born on 29 August 1890 at Ferry Fryston, although his birth was not registered until 5 November 1890 – way outside the 42-day limit. Also note this is some six weeks later than the birth date given in the baptism register. No father’s details are entered. But the certificate gives his mother’s name as Kezia Kirk, formerly Cooper. Like Kezia’s marriage to William Stead, this record has more question marks which need following up.

Kezia Cooper’s first marriage was the obvious next step. This was also at Normanton All Saints parish church on 2 January 1882, to John Kirk, a 21-year-old miner from Streethouse.12 The couple had three children – Jane Ann born on 15 October 1882 and who died on her second birthday; Maria born on 15 January 1886 and who died on the 23 January 1889; and another Jane Ann born on 21 July 1888 and who died less than one month later.

No death for John prior to Kezia’s second marriage to William Stead could be traced. The censuses indicated he was still alive, living with his father and step-mother at Streethouse in 1891 (and showing as married).13 Meanwhile in the same census, also in Streethouse, Kezia Kirk (married) and 8-month old William Kirk are living with her parents.14 Skip forward to 1901 and John Kirk is still alive and in Streethouse, but now married to Mary, and with daughter Mary Kirk and sons John Parkes and Charles Kirk.15 The marriage between John Kirk and Mary Parkes took place on 4 June 1892 at Holy Trinity church, Kimberley, Nottinghamshire.16

The assumption might be this marriage, and Kezia’s to William Stead a couple of months earlier, were bigamous. After all, as The National Archives guide states in this period “All divorce suits took place in London, thus restricting divorce to wealthier couples. Divorce did not really open up for all classes until the 1920s with the extension of legal aid and the provision of some local facilities.” 17 John Kirk was a coal miner living in a small Yorkshire village, as was Kezia’s father and new partner. None would seemingly fit the social status of those able to afford all the costs a divorce might entail.

However, Rebecca Probert whilst acknowledging that “the social profile of litigants remained definitely skewed towards the middle and upper classes” also points out that “there were plenty of examples of working-class petitioners” though “Those members of the working class who did petition for divorce tended to be drawn from the ranks of artisans rather than unskilled labourers.18

The inference to be made from this is just because a couple may not fit the accepted social profile for divorcees in this period, do not rule it out. And so it proved for John and Kezia Kirk.

John filed a divorce petition on 19 March 1891, a little over two weeks before the 1891 census date. The decree nisi was granted on 11 August 1891, and the decree absolute formally ending the marriage was issued on 23 February 1892.19

The grounds for the uncontested divorce were Kezia’s adultery with William Stead. Kezia left John for William on 15 October 1889, and on 18 July 1890 gave birth to William’s child. Note this is yet another date of birth for William Kirk – we now have 16 July 1890, 18 July 1890 and 29 August 1890 depending on record. Normally, considering the relative value of these sources, the birth certificate would carry more weight. But this is not always the case. And may not be in this instance.

So why was Kezia’s real marital status not declared when she married William Stead? Under the 1857 Act, no Church of England clergyman could be compelled to solemnise the marriage of a person who had been divorced because of their adultery. However, any other clergyman entitled to officiate within the diocese could conduct the marriage.20 A church marriage was therefore permissible. However perhaps Kezia stated she was widowed, and also used her maiden name, to try to avoid any difficult questions or judgement. But her second marriage took place in the same church as her first, and the rarity divorce in this community, with hers being finalised only a couple of months earlier and fresh in minds, must have been the talk of the neighbourhood. Also the vicar conducting the ceremony was not one brought in from elsewhere. The fact widowed is scored out indicates there was some background knowledge or question mark. But it all goes to show the Stead family background was more complex than initial appearances.

Glass bottle used for tincture of belladonna, England, 1880-. Credit: Science Museum, London. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Now back to Clara and her attempted suicide. What was it that she drank? Belladonna, known also as Deadly Nightshade, is, as its name suggests, a poisonous plant. However its roots and leaves have medicinal properties. Frequently advertised in the late 19th/early 20th century newspapers, it was a popular medicine-store cupboard standby. Its multiple uses included from insomnia relief, to as a diuretic and a muscle relaxant. It was also used as a pain reliever, with belladonna liniment recommended for such things as muscular aches, sprains, and rheumatic pains. Even chilblains and boils were treated with it. But it was also misused, with the newspapers full of poisoning cases and suicides. Then there were accidents, like a Birmingham family who mistakenly used it as a condiment in their stew. Or the Glasgow child who, imitating her sister drinking, took a swig out of a bottle containing belladonna liniment. Luckily Clara survived, unlike many others.

A huge positive about her court case is the compassionate attitude of the Chief Constable and the magistrates. On receiving assurances that Clara’s mother wanted to take her back home and care for her, they all agreed to drop the charges. Whilst this humane course of action is far from unique in this period, especially where there were promises not to do it again and where families were prepared to look after those charged, it could have been all too different. Lots of factors came into play, but I’ve looked at some other cases in the same period for girls of a similar age which had a range of far worse outcomes.

  • A 17-year-old domestic servant, who attempted to strangle herself on a footpath between Yeadon and Guisely in January 1915, was detained at an asylum;
  • In August 1915 the Vicar of Mapperley wrote suggesting to the court that a 15-year-old girl who jumped into a pond should be sent away, as it was not advisable to let her return home. The advice was taken and she was sent to a home for two years;
  • In June 1916 a 17-year-old Northampton girl was remanded to a workhouse for a week after throwing herself into the River Nene; and
  • Others were bound over, placed in the care of probation officers, or in the care of organisations such as the Salvation Army;

Did this tale have a happy ending? In part ‘yes’. Clara married a local coal miner in Pontefract Register Office on 6 March 1916. Her husband served for seven months with the Coldstream Guards in England towards the end of the war, and survived. The couple raised a family and Clara lived to a ripe old age.

But her fears for her brother, identified as William, turned out to be well-founded.

William Kirk married Heckmondwike girl Lily Victoria Andsley at Normanton All Saints on 16 December 1911.21 The couple had two girls, Dorothy born on 20 September 1912, and Edna born on 29 April 1914.22 William served with the 10th Battalion of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) during the war, going overseas on 11 September 1915. This means at the point of Clara’s attempted suicide, her brother, though in the Army, was still in England.

William died on 9 July 1916 as a result of wounds suffered in the initial days of the Battle of the Somme. He is buried at Heilly Station Cemetery, Mreicourt-L’Abbe, France, a cemetery used by medical units from the 36th and 38th Casualty Clearing Station during this period. The additional information provided by the CWGC is that he was the husband of Lily Victoria Stead (formerly Kirk), of 43, Belmont St., Streethouse, Pontefract, Yorks.

I did a double take at her new surname of Stead. It did fleetingly cross my mind that she had adopted the surname of William’s family. However the implication by the use of ‘formerly’ was a remarriage. And this proved to be the case.

William Kirk’s pension card notes his widow married miner Samuel Stead on 9 March 1918.22 The marriage took place once more at Normanton All Saints.23

So ended my rabbit hole exploration.

However the real take away point from this is not Clara’s story. It is far more basic, and to do with research. It is primarily not to accept things at face value and not to make assumptions when investigating family history. Do not try to make facts fit your theories. Approach research with an open mind. Always dig deeper to locate as many sources as possible to corroborate findings. Weigh up and evaluate the relative merit of evidence sources. And make sure you have a wide range of evidence to support your conclusions.

In the case of Clara and her family:

  • There are discrepancies in the newspapers, including one huge typographical error when Clara in one section of one newspaper report is called Jones. Newspapers aren’t gospel;
  • Clara’s mother Kezia was not widowed when she married William Stead – she was divorced;
  • Working class people should not be ruled out from obtaining divorces in this period;
  • The treatment by courts of those who attempted suicide did vary;
  • Try to seek as many sources as possible to corroborate information – which can vary from record to record, for example something as straightforward as William Kirk’s birthdate;
  • Do not make assumptions on surnames. From the parish register entry for her second marriage, it might have appeared Kezia’s ‘deceased’ husband’s surname was Cooper; from the census and his baptism, William seemed to be called William Stead, when in fact he was officially William Kirk; and when William Kirk’s wife was listed as Lily Victoria Stead on the CWGC records, this was no connection whatsoever to the Stead surname of her deceased husband’s family, and a name he had possibly used. She had in fact remarried and her second husband was called Stead;
  • people do not change. They do not always tell the truth today, and neither did the past confer magical, unwavering truth-telling behaviours on our ancestors, even given the more deferential, religious society in which they lived. It may be some details and events they were genuinely hazy on. But for others they did deliberately lie. And this applies even on official documents; and
  • read all documents carefully and critically for the clues they offer, either by phraseology, omissions or anomalies.

Footnotes:
1. Batley News, 24 July 1915;
2. Dewsbury Reporter, 24 July 1915;
3. Baptism and birth date details from Normanton, All Saints, Baptism Register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number: WDP151/1/2/5;
4. Ibid;
5. 1939 Register, Ref: RG101/3772E/004/17 Letter Code: KRDD;
6. Baptism 3 January 1901, Normanton, All Saints, Baptism Register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number: WDP151/1/2/6;
7. 1939 Register, Ref: RG101/3641G/012/2 Letter Code: KMWM;
8. 1901 Census, Ref: RG13/4296/28/18;
9. 1911 Census, Ref: RG14/27482;
10. Normanton All Saints Marriage Register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number: WDP151/1/3/6;
11. William Kirk Birth Registration, GRO Ref: Pontefract, December Quarter 1890, Volume 9C, Page 81;
12. Normanton All Saints Marriage Register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number: WDP151/1/3/4
13. 1891 Census, Ref: RG12/4588/28/14
14. 1891 Census, Ref: RG12/3759/36/34
15. 1901 Census, Ref: RG13/4296/30/21
16. Nottinghamshire Family History Society Marriage Indexes
17. TNA Research Guide: Divorce – https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/divorce/
18. Probert, Rebecca. Divorced, Bigamist, Bereaved?: the Family Historian’s Guide to Marital Breakdown, Separation, Widowhood, and Remarriage: from 1600 to the 1970s. Kenilworth England: Takeaway, 2015.
19. Divorce and Matrimonial Cause Files, Divorce Court File: 4262. Appellant: John Kirk. Respondent: Kezia Kirk. Co-respondent: William Stead. Type: Husband’s petition for divorce [hd]., 1891, Ref: J77/468/4262
20. Probert, Rebecca. Divorced, Bigamist, Bereaved?….
21. Normanton All Saints Marriage Register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number: WDP151/1/3/9
22. Western Front Association; London, England; WWI Pension Record Cards and Ledgers; Reference: 114/0536/KIR-KIR
23. Normanton All Saints Marriage Register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number: WDP151/1/3/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

Examples of the type of entry include:

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

And:

1859 (October)
THE “ROYAL CHARTER” STORM
.

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

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


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

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

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

The website can be found here.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Photo Trickery Tool – Reanimate Your Ancestors

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

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

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

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

The still enhanced image is below.

Jesse Hill, MyHeritage

The animation can be viewed by clicking this link.

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

Pauline Rhodes – MyHeritage

For more information see the MyHeritage blog

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

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

The Wonder of Maps – Virtual Family History Travel

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot of the National Library of Scotland Website

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

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

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

A Selection of Physical Maps – Photo by Jane Roberts

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

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

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

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

Public or Private Family Tree?

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

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

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

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

First the advantages of a public online tree.

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

Turning to the disadvantages of having your tree publicly available.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping Your Family History Research On Track

Do these scenarios sound familiar?

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

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

Which is where a research log comes in.

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

In short a log keeps your research on track.

My seven key points for research logs are:

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

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

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

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

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

The Anti-Vaccinator Kids

As you go through yet another family in your tree with children named John, Mary, George, Sarah, William and Ann, it can be all too easy to disregard the clues names may give. These can range from an unusual family name passed down through generations or the use of a mother’s maiden name, to the use of traditional naming patterns. They can hint at significant events personal to that family, from place of conception to wider historical events. They can also indicate social interests, political persuasion and even involvement in campaigning movements.

This piece is an extreme, and topical, example of the latter. A couple so vehemently opposed to compulsory vaccination, they felt compelled to signify their opposition not only in words and deeds, but through the names they gave their children.

But first, to set the scene.

Thanks to vaccination, smallpox has been eradicated worldwide. But, for our ancestors, it was a highly contagious, killer disease. It was arguably the most lethal disease in 18th-century Britain. Even after vaccination was introduced, at the peak of the last pandemic to strike England and Wales (in the early 1870s), 7,720 fatal cases were registered in the first quarter of 1872.1 It will therefore feature as a cause of death in most family trees – mine is no exception.

There was no cure, although newspapers contained adverts for purported remedies such as Holloway’s Pills,2 Dr Lockock’s Powders,3 Lamplough’s Pyretic Saline,4 and preventatives like the Sulphur Bath a la Turkey.5 The majority of those who did survive were left with permanent scarring (again big business was to be made supplying products to try disguise these blemishes); or deformities such as loss of lip, nose or ear tissue. Blindness was another legacy of the disease.

Gloucester smallpox epidemic, 1896: Mary Wicklin, aged 4 years, as a smallpox patient, a few days before her death. Photograph by H.C.F., 1896.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

In 1717, whilst in Constantinople (Istanbul) Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, writer, socialite, smallpox survivor and the wife of British Ambassador Edward Wortley Montagu, learned of a technique practiced in the Ottoman Empire whereby live smallpox virus was inserted into healthy individuals, in order to confer immunity to the disease. Before returning to England she had her young son inoculated.

By 1720 she was back home where, in the face of opposition from the medical establishment, she championed the practice of inoculation. The turning point in her campaign came in 1721. Whilst yet another smallpox epidemic raged, Lady Mary arranged for her young daughter to undergo the procedure – the first time it had been performed in Britain, thus pioneering the way for others (including royalty) to follow suit. An obelisk, erected in 1750, stands in Wentworth Castle Gardens, near Barnsley. It is dedicated to Lady Mary’s efforts.

Obelisk Dedicated to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Wentworth Castle Gardens – Photos by Jane Roberts

But the variolation process, inserting live smallpox to inoculate people, was not without its risks. Some did contract the disease as a result, with its consequences of death, disfigurement, or danger of sparking a wider outbreak.

The game-changer came towards the end of the 18th century with Edward Jenner’s experiments using infectious, but far milder, cowpox materials to confer immunity. This technique was known as vaccination, and eliminated the risk of contracting smallpox from the procedure. Though not without opposition, this did provide the impetus for more widespread vaccination. Set against the backdrop of Victorian Britain’s emerging public health policy, it ultimately lead to a series of vaccination legislation in an attempt to reduce smallpox deaths and associated health consequences.

In 1840 the Vaccination Act provided free smallpox vaccination via the Poor Law Guardians in England and Wales. It also banned the risky variolation inoculation process. An 1841 amendment extended the principle of free vaccination to those not in receipt of Poor Law relief. But vaccination levels still proved unsatisfactory, and the government determined to increase the uptake against a disease described by Viscount Palmerston as ‘…undoubtedly one of the greatest scourges that afflicted the human race…6

The resulting 1853 Act made it compulsory to vaccinate children in the first three months after their birth. Those parents who defaulted were liable to a fine or imprisonment. The 1867 Act extended the age of compulsory vaccination to 14, with cumulative penalties for those refusing to comply.

Edward Jenner vaccinating patients in the Smallpox and Inoculation Hospital at St. Pancras: the patients develop features of cows. Coloured etching, 1803, after J. Gillray, 1802.
Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Opposition to vaccination was not new, as is shown by the early 19th- century etching above. It now coalesced, drawing in men and women from all classes, with objections coming from a variety of angles. The element of compulsion, which was seen as a major infringement on personal liberty, freedom of choice and the rights of parents, galvanised many. Others distrusted science, and claimed vaccination was unsafe, or unnecessary. Alternative medicine practitioners opposed it – perhaps I’m being cynical in wondering if the potential financial hit they would take from smallpox prevention helped sway them? Christians and vegetarians objected to the use of material from animals, with harvesting lymph material from calves, as opposed to humans, being one source of vaccine. Their arguments ranged from interfering with the Will of God and the corruption of the soul, to blood purity and animal treatment.

Credit: Ampoule of smallpox vaccine in original carton, England. Credit: Science Museum, London. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

This opposition led to the founding of anti-vaccination organisations, such as the early Anti-Vaccination Leagues of the 1850s, leading onto Richard Butler Gibb’s Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League in 1866, which then evolved into the National Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League founded by husband and wife, Rev. William and Mary Hume-Rothery in the mid-1870s.

It was during this period of more organised opposition that 23-year-old Samuel Joseph West married Katelena7 Allison on 16 October 1872 at St Nicholas Church in Rochester, Kent.8 Samuel, described as a dealer, was from the town, the son of Joseph and Caroline West. His father was a herbalist, which may have shaped Samuel’s views on vaccination. Herbalists practiced alternative medicine, using plant materials and extracts to naturally treat ailments. Herbalists, with their views on non-poisonous, natural remedies, often clashed with orthodox medicine. One area of dispute was vaccination. Injecting disease into the body was anathema to a herbalist’s natural, therapeutic principles. In fact the 1860s Anti-compulsory Vaccination League included herbalists amongst its officers.

Katelena’s background was not quite as portrayed in the marriage register. This names her father as Charles Allison, a farmer. In actuality she was born in Bridlington in 1853, the daughter of Agnes Allison. By the 1861 census Agnes and Katelena were in Rochester, with Agnes now the wife of police constable John Thompson.9

The GRO Indexes of births reveal nine children born to Samuel and Katelena. And a reminder, do bear in mind the various GRO Index sources are exactly that – an index. They do not routinely include all given names on a certificate. Neither are all indexes consistent in details they do provide. I’ve not obtained the birth certificates to check out the full registered names of these children, but the indexes combined with other sources such as censuses, parish registers etc go some way towards filling in gaps.

Agnes Caroline West was born on 19 April 1874, and baptised at Rochester St Nicholas. The baptism pinpoints that Samuel Joseph worked as a marine store dealer. No unusual naming features apparent – she appears to have been named after both grandmothers.

The second child does signal the couple’s vaccination views. Kattelina Antivaccinater (this is the GRO Index spelling, other sources have Antivaccinator, or similar variations) West was born on 17 April 1875. It appears Samuel’s refusal to vaccinate his daughter landed him in prison. Despite the slight name discrepancy, the 20 September 1875 entry in the diary of Prison Governor James William Newham seems to refer to this child. It reads:

A man (general dealer) committed to Maidstone Gaol for 21 days in default of paying a fine of £1 and costs. He is a member of an anti-vaccination league and refused to have his child, whom he named Catalina Anti-Vaccinator, vaccinated. His name is Joseph West, a Wesleyan, and he had been several times imprisoned for the same cause.10

There was no need to pursue Mr West for long in regard to this child. Her burial is detailed in the Rochester St Nicholas Register on 14 May 1876.

The birth of Sidney Joseph Antivaccinator West (the GRO website only states Sidney Joseph Ante V West) was registered in Medway in the June quarter of 1876. His burial, age seven months, is recorded in the Rochester St Nicholas burial register on 28 January 1877. Years after his death his name made headlines. For example the Warminster and Westbury Journal of 11 February 1882 hoped:

…that in sheer revenge, if he grows up to be a man at all, he will be a prosecuting vaccinator, should he ever get the chance.

Ernest Samuel Joseph Antivaccinator West came next. Born on 21 September 1877, his parents still held firm in their opposition to vaccination. In late March 1878 his father, described as “an incorrigible anti-vaccinator11 was a central figure in an anti-vaccination demonstration in Maidstone, which featured in several papers. The Thanet Advertiser of 30 March 1878 described the circumstances.

ROCHESTER. – ANTI-VACCINATOR. – On Saturday afternoon last, Samuel Joseph West, of 115, Eastgate, Rochester, was released from Maidstone gaol, where he has undergone a term of imprisonment in the cause of vaccination. He was triumphantly conveyed in an open carriage drawn by four grey horses through the principal streets. In the carriage was a friend of Mr. West’s, and also two females, each of whom carried a baby. A cornopean player on the box gave vent to the trains of “They all do it,” which may have been a lament for the errors of that majority of the population which believes in vaccination. The “martyr,” having been thus exhibited before the public….proceeded to the Fair-meadow, where several of the men…harangued a small mob, which of course vociferously applauded the diatribes launched against vaccination. The Maidstone demonstration, which, so far as it’s effect in exciting public sympathy is concerned, was a miserable failure….

It’s not stated if Sidney was one of the babe’s in arms in the carriage. But he was another West child who failed to thrive. His burial is recorded in the Rochester St Nicholas register on 1 June 1879.

Samuel Joseph and Katelena’s next child, Clifton Antivaccinator West was born on 24 August 1879. Named in honor of Lord Clifton, a strong opponent of the vaccination laws, once more Samuel appeared at Rochester police court in April 1880 having neglected to have his infant son vaccinated. Samuel was described as a prominent member of the National Anti-Vaccination League12 who had frequent convictions for infringing the vaccination laws. Samuel argued vaccination increased the risk of smallpox and refused to pay the fine. The upshot was another one month committal to prison, to which Samuel replied:

…that he could “do” it as easy as a fortnight, and then wished the magistrates “good morning”.13

The proceedings attracted wider attention, even featuring in The Sportsman on 19 April 1880. In discussing the case of this “curiously-bedubbed infant” they summed it up succinctly when writing:

If Mr West had only himself to consider in the matter he would have our keenest sympathies; but as his refusal to vaccinate his child affects the health and interests of the whole population, we can but regret that his prejudice overrun his judgment.

Even Lord Clifton weighed in. In his letter, published in the Kent and Sussex Courrier on 5 May 1880, he called it a “senseless and useless prosecution…

One wonders what his father thought when attesting in the Army Service Corps in 1897 Clifton West stated he was willing to be vaccinated!14 Clifton served for 12 years, including in South Africa during the Second Boer War. Afterwards he was a Lieutenant in the Legion of Frontiersmen, a patriotic organisation formed at the turn of the 20th century to watch over and protect the boundaries of the Empire. He also patented inventions, as varied as a perambulator brake, a game, a firearm magazine and projectiles. During World War One he was involved in a dispute over one of his inventions, an aerial torpedo, which he claimed had been stolen. He also claimed he had been granted an exemption from military service because of his experiments in this area.15 At a City (of London) Military Service Tribunal in 1917 he claimed to hold 150 patents, including several adopted for military purposes.16

But back to his parents. It would be wrong to claim that the Wests’ opposition to compulsory vaccination was purely down to Samuel. Or that Katelena was a meek and mild Victorian wife. Katelena shared her husband’s anti-vaccination zeal. In January 1880, only months after Clifton’s birth, she was amongst the candidates standing for election to the Rochester School Board. This was one arena where women could take a role, and it provided an opportunity for strong feminist women to show they were capable of public administration. Elected by ratepayers, the Board examined provision of elementary education in the area, and if there was insufficient provision they had the power to build and run schools. Put forward as an opponent of vaccination in Board Schools, she was duly elected.17

In January 1882, as a mark of her work on the Rochester School Board, the Rochester Independent Working Men’s Committee presented her with a cross ornament for “the conquering in Kent of the prejudice against females serving in municipal offices.” Inscriptions included “Just, yet merciful always,” and, with possibly a nod towards vaccination legislation, “Persuasion better than compulsion.18

By the time of the 1881 census the family were in Gravesend. The boundary of the port of London, for many it marked the start of a new life: emigrants departing to carve out new opportunities overseas; and immigrants lured by the prospects of a better life, and fleeing famine or persecution. Samuel appears to have a change in occupation too. The census records him working as a bottle merchant, whilst Katelena continued as a member of a School Board. The household also included a general servant.19 By the end of the following year Samuel was the proprietor of the town’s Port of London Temperance Hotel.

Within months of the 1881 census the Wests had a new addition to their family – born back in Rochester. And their anti-vaccination associations once more translated into the naming of this son William Hume Rothery West – I had to compare several sources to get to this one – the GRO Website had him as William Hurne Rothery West, whilst Findmypast had William Hume R West. The 1891 census has him down as William H. R. A. West.20 What’s the betting the A stands for something along the lines of Antivaccinator?

And it was the refusal to vaccinate this latest child which brought Samuel before the Rochester magistrates once again at the end of January 1882 – his 13th appearance in court. A false rumour circulated that Lord Clifton would appear for the defence. In his circuitous guilty plea Samuel referred to vaccination as a “beastly operation”, and that he had a “reasonable excuse” for non-compliance as in innumerable cases vaccination caused disease and death. Inevitably though he was found guilty.21

Credit: Spratley-type vaccinator, York, England, 1820-1910. Credit: Science Museum, London. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Katelena was clearly a feisty woman. A wife and mother, undertaking a prominent public role, she too was not afraid to challenge the authorities. And, within a year of her husband’s 13th encounter with the judiciary, a pregnant Katelena too made a series of appearances before the Gravesend police court in a bizarre, and widely covered, assault case. It all stemmed from her involvement in the arrest of a drunken man, Edward Lambourn, late at night on 2 December 1882. During the course of the arrest Katelena apparently dragged police constable Stanley off Lambourn. She appeared in the initial case as a witness in defence of Lambourn, accusing PC Stanley of being drunk. The case escalated. She issued a summons against PC Stanley for assault. This was rejected. Instead a police summons was granted against Katelena who was charged with assaulting a police officer and obstructing him in the course of his duty. In her final court appearance on 15 December she withdrew her allegations of police drunkenness. In turn Mr Sharland, representing the police, stated there were no allegations against her personal character. She was, however, convicted of the assault and obstruction charges and fined 20s and costs.22

When naming their next child, a girl, there could be only one name which could follow William Hume Rothery. This infant was registered Mary Hume Antivaccinator West, honouring the other National Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League founder. Although born in Gravesend, her burial is recorded at Rochester St Nicholas on 12 September 1883, age five months.

Lillieon (Lillian) Allison Anti-vaccinator West was born in 1884, baptised at St Andrew’s Waterside Mission, Gravesend on 21 September 1884.23 Charles Dickens was one of the donors who contributed to the building of this church, which served the bustling Gravesend waterside community, teeming with sailors, fishermen and emigrants. The church saw the baptism of hundreds of emigrants heading for new lives to Australia, New Zealand and the Americas.

On 25 August 1886 the church was the location for the final baptism of a child of Samuel and Katelena West.24 GRO records name him Samuel Joseph A West. An educated guess can be made at what the letter ‘A’ stands for. In less than 14 years of marriage this was the Wests’ ninth child.

But it was not Katelena’s final pregnancy. The Gravesend and Dartford Reporter of 5 November 1887 carried the announcement of the death on 3 November of both Katelena West and a newborn boy. She was 34. Like four of her children her burial, on 8 November 1887, is recorded in the register of Rochester St Nicholas. Her headstone inscription reads:

IN LOVING MEMORY
OF
OUR DEAR MOTHER
KATELENA WEST
WIFE OF
SAMUEL JOSEPH WEST
WHOM GOD CALLED HOME
ON THE 3rd NOVEMBER 1887
AT THE AGE OF 3425

A little over a year later Samuel married Susannah Emma Stephens.26 The couple were living in Portsmouth with Samuel’s five children by 1891, with Samuel now working as an insurance agent.27 This period, the 1890s, saw another change in smallpox vaccination legislation.

In 1889 a Royal Commission was appointed to investigate the issue, looking at the grievances of anti-vaccinators, as well as the evidence for the need for vaccination. It reported in 1896, concluding vaccination did protect against smallpox. It also recommended the abolition of cumulative penalties and the use of perceived safer calf lymph harvested vaccine. Interestingly, and of relevance in today’s COVID-19 world, the rush for a vaccine and discussions around length of immunity, there was a recognition that the protection conferred by the smallpox vaccine:

….though lasting for some time, is gradually lost, so that there comes a period when the protection is very slight indeed. Re-vaccination is naturally the first remedy….28

Credit: Death as a skeletal figure wielding a scythe: representing fears concerning the Act of 1898 which made vaccination against smallpox compulsory. Wood engraving by Sir E.L. Sambourne, 1898. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

These recommendations were incorporated into the 1898 Act, which also included a conscience clause. This meant parents could obtain a certificate of exemption if they satisfied two magistrates of their conscientious objections to vaccination on grounds of its efficacy or safety. This exemption certificate had to be obtained before the infant was four months old.

Credit: ‘The Public Vaccinator’ by Lance Calkin, circa 1901. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

In practice, though, it proved difficult to obtain an exemption in the prescribed timeframe, with many magistrates refusing to be satisfied. As a result a further Act in 1907 simplified the process. This meant a parent could make a Statutory Declaration within four months of the birth of their child stating their belief that vaccination would adversely affect its health, and Magistrates had to sign such Declarations.

It was against the backdrop of these changes that Samuel’s final three children were born. And again it’s a case of checking a number of sources for their names. The birth of Charlotte Kate West was registered in the Portsea Island registration district in 1892; Susannah Kate Anti Vaccinator West (only one birth index out of three versions checked includes the name Anti Vaccinator) was registered in 1894 at Romsey: and Daisy Matilda West was registered in Poole district in 1896.

Skip forward to the 1911 census though, when the family were living in East Grinstead, Sussex. On this record all three girls have Anti Vaccinist as part of their suite of Christian names.29 The fact that Samuel West (or Joe as he signed himself) even signalled his opposition to vaccination on this post 1907 Act census shows how strongly he continued to feel about the issue. And a further name confirmation comes in the National Probate Calendar, when Charlotte Kate Antivaccinist West is one of those granted probate when mother Susannah died on 3 March 1921.

By the time the West family resided at East Grinstead in 1911, Samuel’s occupation had changed yet again. A land agent living in Ludgershall, Wiltshire in 1901, he had now morphed to become a small freehold developer with the East Grinstead Estate Company. This was the principal landholder in Felbridge, Surrey. The 1913 Kelly’s Directory for Surrey shows he was their land salesman, and now had moved to Felbridge, living at Invicta Lodge. This was on the London Road, known today as Ebor Lodge. Both he and wife Susannah were very much into property dealing, and this was the case at the time of Susannah’s death in 1921 when the National Probate Calendar entry records Samuel Joseph’s occupation as ‘Estate Agent’. Samuel’s death, as recorded in the National Probate Calendar, took place on 27 August 1927. And in another name twist here Charlotte’s name is given as Charlotte Katelena West – indicating the possibility that his firstborn daughter from his second marriage was named in an affectionate remembrance of his first wife.

I am extremely grateful to Noland West, the great grandson of Samuel Joseph West, who contacted me after reading this blog post. He gave me permission to use the West family photograph (below). It depicts Samuel Joseph West with two of his sons, including Clifton Antivaccinator West – who had an incredibly varied life himself. It is always wonderful to see photographs rather than relying on a narrative. It really does add another dimension to their family history, a human face to it all. An ordinary English family whose lives spanned the 19th and 20th centuries, and who had their own unique place in the history of Britain.

Samuel Joseph West (centre) along with son Clifton Antivaccinator West in the uniform of a Lieutenant in the Legion of Frontiersmen (right) and his wife and children. Left is either William or Samuel West.30

I’ll end with some points to take away from this tale:

  • Do not ignore clues offered by names;
  • If you find an unusual name, it’s always worth following it up. There may be a reason for the choice which will provide enriching family history insights;
  • Do not assume that all GRO Indexes contain the same information and, if possible, don’t rely on just one version of the indexes. Beyond that, it pays to check several record sources;
  • Do not assume the GRO Indexes detail all the names on the registration – and that can apply to someone with only a couple of given names as much as to someone with 26 given names; and
  • Anti-vaxxers are not a new phenomena. The reasons for their opposition in the 19th century are pretty much the same reasons trotted out by current crop of anti-vaxxers. And, as in the past, their decisions affect not only themselves and their children, they endanger the health and lives of the wider population.

Footnotes
1. Rolleston, J.D., The Smallpox Pandemic of 1870-1874, 24 November 1933, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/003591573302700245
2. The Leeds Intelligencer, 14 January 1860
3. Broadwater’s Buckinghamshire Advertiser and Uxbridge Journal, 16 May 1865
4. The Leeds Times, 22 November 1873
5. The Manchester Evening News, 26 April 1871
6. 1853 Vaccination Extension Bill debate, Hansard HC Deb 20 July 1853 vol 129 cc470-5
7. The spelling of Katelena does vary in records, but this is the most commonly used and the one on her headstone inscription at Rochester St Nicholas
8. Rochester St Nicholas marriage register, transcript accessed via Findmypast, Medway Archives Reference P306/1/22
9. 1861 Census, accessed via Ancestry, TNA Reference RG9/476/109/6
10. Newham, J. W., & Coltman, P. (1984). The diary of a prison governor: James William Newham: 1825-1890. Maidstone: Kent County Library, Kent County Council
11. Kent and Sussex Courier, 27 March 1878
12. Folkestone Express, 24 April 1880
13. East Kent Gazette, 24 April 1880
14. Royal Hospital Chelsea: Soldiers Service Documents, accessed via Findmypast, TNA Reference WO 97
15. Mills, S. (2019). DAWN OF THE DRONE: From the back room boys of the Royal Flying Corps
16. Pall Mall Gazette, 20 April 1917
17. Leamington Spa Courier, 3 January 1880 and The London Daily News, 7 January 1880
18. Folkestone Express, 21 January 1882
19. 1881 Census, accessed via Findmypast, TNA Reference RG11/887/21/9
20. 1891 Census, accessed via Findmypast, TNA Reference RG12/876/13/20
21. The Thanet Advertiser, 4 February 1882
22. Gravesend Reporter, 9 and 16 December 1882
23. St Andrew’s Waterside Mission 1865-1970 baptisms, accessed via Findmypast, transcription by Rob Cottrell, Trueflare Limited
24. Ibid
25. Rochester, St Nicholas Cemetery. (n.d.). Retrieved September 25, 2020, from https://kentarchaeology.org.uk/research/monumental-inscriptions/rochester-st-nicholas-cemetery
26. GRO Marriage Indexes, accessed via Findmypast, Reference March Quarter 1889, Gravesend, Volume 2a, Page 617
27. 1891 Census, accessed via Findmypast, TNA Reference RG12/876/13/20
28. The Report of the Royal Commission on Vaccination. Nature 55, 15–17 (1896). https://doi.org/10.1038/055015a0
29. 1911 Census, accessed via Findmypast, TNA Reference RG14/4980
30. With thanks to Noland West for permission to use this West family photo. This photograph is not to be reproduced without permission.

Miscellaneous Sources
•Brown, P.S, The Vicissitudes of Herbalism in Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Britain, Downloaded from https://www.cambridge.org/core
Felbridge & District History Group. Accessed October 3, 2020. https://www.felbridge.org.uk/
•GRO Indexes, via the GRO Website, and the datasets on Findmypast and FreeBMD
National Probate Calendar, England and Wales
•Riedel, Stefan. Edward Jenner and the History of Smallpox and Vaccination, January 2005. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1200696/
Rochester St Nicholas parish register transcripts, accessed via Findmypast. Kent Archives References P306/1/11 (baptisms) and P306/1/32 (burials)
•Valentine, S. (2020, June 23). The Victorian vegetarians who led the revolt against the smallpox vaccine. Retrieved from https://reaction.life/the-victorian-vegetarians-who-led-the-revolt-against-the-smallpox-vaccine/
•Walter, M. P. (2015). The Rhetoric of Nineteenth Century British Anti- Vaccinators: An Interdisciplinary Movement of Medicine, Religion, Class, and Popular Culture [Scholarly project]
Wellcome Library Images (n.d.). Retrieved September 25, 2020, from https://wellcomelibrary.org/
•Wolfe, R.M., Sharpe, L.K. Anti-vaccinationists past and present. BMJ. 2002d;325:430-432