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.
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.
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.
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.
Learning. Linked to the above two, connecting and collaborating can lead to improving your family history research skills.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
This is the latest update of the pages relating to my Batley St Mary’s one-place study, the details of which I announced here.
During the last few week I have added seven pages. These include six weekly newspaper summaries. There is also one biography, that of Patrick Naifsey, which encompasses apparitions, miracles, evictions, Kipling and an Irish Great War poet, as well as the County Mayo/Batley connection.
I have also identified more men who served and survived, and have accordingly updated that page.
Below is the full list of pages to date. I have annotated the *NEW* ones, plus the *UPDATED* page, so you can easily pick these out.
Well 2020 did not go as planned. Massive understatement.
When the New Year dawned, little did I think the goals I set would be scuppered to such an extent. And if there was to be a hitch, a global pandemic would not have been top of my list of reasons. In fact, it would not have featured at all. But there you go.
2020 did begin well. Research for my new book got off to a great start. I gave a talk at Leeds library about World War One research based on the book I co-authored with my rugby league journalist husband. Other talks were lined up. I booked a couple of conference tickets, and the associated accommodation and transport.
And then March came, and with it lockdown. Everything went pear- shaped.
Archives visits and travel generally halted, along with it the prospect of any associated book research. Events and conferences were cancelled, one by one. As were the prospects of any further talks in these pre-Zoom days.
And unimaginably I lost any enthusiasm to review my family tree – apart from anything else getting through the trauma of daily life, where everything was so much more challenging and time-consuming, was an achievement. And these home-life challenges included a major water leak at the start of the year which necessitated a new kitchen and new bathroom – all work due to start in March. Lockdown came in as our bathroom was ripped out. Family history was the last thing on my mind.
The only thing that continued from my 2020 goals was blogging. In fact, this year saw an increase of around 50% in terms of those viewing my blog posts. Thank you. That was the one bright spot in my goals.
But things did pick up. In the place of conferences, I attended far more talks than I ever have before thanks to the wonders of Zoom. I also did a one-place studies course, and ended up starting one for Batley St Mary’s during World War One. Something entirely unexpected and unplanned at the start of 2020. But something I’m thoroughly enjoying.
As was becoming a grandma for the first time as 2020 drew to a close – I know, I’m way too young! It meant much of my free time this year was taken up with stitching a birth sampler ready for the big event.
In the light of all this I did think seriously about whether to set any goals for 2021, given the uncertainty we are still living under. But I do need something to aim for.
However, for 2021 my goals will be far more work-related, given how this has taken off.
And with work in mind, this was the major reason behind my decision to step down as editor of the Huddersfield and District Family History Society Journal. I loved doing it, and it is something I’m immensely proud of. But as work built up I increasingly found it squeezed the time I could devote to the Journal, particularly in the lead up to print deadline. My last Journal as editor goes out in January 2021.
And linked to this, my family history column in Down Your Way magazine also came to an end in 2020. The much-loved Yorkshire memories magazine was a casualty of the COVID-19 economic downturn. I must admit I really do miss writing a regular magazine feature, because it gave me another family history focus. But it has freed up even more research time.
As for my goals for 2021, they will be as follows:
Focus on my research work for others. It’s a huge privilege to be entrusted with someone’s precious family or local history research, and I undertake it with the same dedication and thoroughness as I would my own; and
Keep up to date with advancements in the field of genealogy as part of my continuing professional development programme. This will include undertaking a minimum of two formal courses, as well as a broad range of reading and practical work.
Finally a huge thank you for continuing to read my blog in these very trying times. As I said earlier this has truly been one of my year’s bright spots.
And as for the New Year, I hope that 2021 will be far kinder to us all than 2020 was.
If you regularly read my blog, you may have noticed I’ve been quiet on the posting front of late. There is a reason for it.
My blog does regularly contain stories relating to the Batley Irish community in the late 19th and early 20th century. Well, in future I’ve decided to consolidate this research and these stories into a formal one-place study. I’ve decided to chose St Mary’s War Memorial as the focus. It’s in the parish I most associate with my family – in effect since the parish’s inception. I see the study as a way to examine the life and times of the Catholic community in which my ancestors lived.
The study though will not be totally devoted to the Great War. I see the War Memorial as a way to investigate the history of a community not normally the focus of history – even within my home town. And the study will not be centred around those who normally feature in books – the civic leaders, the mill and mine owners. It will primarily be looking at ordinary, working-class people living in extraordinary times – both in terms of wider national and international events, as well as against the backdrop of the rapid expansion of the town.
Yes, it will look at the part played in the Great War by this Catholic community. But that is only one strand. In addition to biographies of the men, I will be researching their wider families. I will be mapping where they lived, investigating their occupations, and looking at the wider parish history and community – including that all-important migration from Ireland. In the process of my research I hope to identify those from the parish who served and survived, and weave their stories into the study. And I will be conducting a wide range of data analysis to build up a picture of the Catholic community in Batley.
If you look at the top of my website (possibly in the Menu section, depending on how you are viewing) you will see there is a tab entitled St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church War Memorial, Batley – One-Place Study. Click on that and you will find a number of sub-pages relating to the study. It is still early days and there is much work to be done. But so far there are the following pieces under these various sub-pages:
The downside is because they are not classed as blog posts (although that’s in effect what they are) they will not feature in the blog section of my website, so you will not automatically see them in chronological posting order at the front end of my website. To read them you need to click on the one-place study page.
The good news is that I will regularly write a blog post signposting this new material (along the lines of this one). I will also index the posts as usual, under the Blog Index page (again, for this, see the top menu of my website).
And I will be continuing to blog regularly on other topics as usual. So really the one-place study is bonus material.
If you think reading the census is dull, think again. It can reveal some unexpected gems. I thought I’d share a few I’ve viewed over the years – ones I’ve found, and some located by others. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
As March is designated Women’s History Month I’m starting out with some 1911 census entries. The suffrage movement advocated boycotting this census. Some women deliberately absented themselves on census night, 2 April. Other census forms have information and notations which indicate they are clearly linked to people actively involved, or sympathising, with the suffrage movement.
Suffragist, and a founder member of the Women’s Freedom League, Dr Octavia Lewin of 25 Wimpole Street, Marylebone wrote ‘No vote. No census. I absolutely refuse to give any information’. She does then go on to list her impressive array of qualifications, ending with ‘assistant physician, London Homeopathic Hospital’. That, though, was the limit of the household information she supplied, with the Registrar annotating the form to the effect that the rest of information was estimated. 
Over in Ingatestone, Essex, Dorothea Rock, of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), was similarly forthright with her protest. She wrote:
I, Dorothea Rock, in the absence of the male occupier, refuse to fill up this Census paper as, in the eyes of the Law, women do not count, neither shall they be counted. 
Louisa Garrett Anderson, daughter of Elizabeth, a qualified surgeon and another prominent WSPU member, withheld any household information for her Harley Street home. Yet again the details, including for four anonymous people, were estimated. 
Other ‘No vote. No census’ protestors included Dorothy Bowker (WSPU). Lodging at Marylebone she wrote across her return:
I am Dumb politically. Blind to the census. Deaf to enumerators. Being classed with criminals lunatics and paupers I prefer to give no further particulars. 
The enumerator and registrar added further comments to the effect that Dorothy had returned temporarily to her lodgings to remove her luggage, then left.
Also in Marylebone, the occupational entry for Georgiana Alexandra Mott, a pioneer of education for women, simply read ‘Desires a parliamentary Vote’ . This sentiment was shared by another Marylebone resident, Ann Halliburton, who wrote ‘I desire the vote’. 
But the protest extended beyond Marylebone. The occupation given by 41-year-old married woman Ada Twells of South Kyme, Lincolnshire was ‘At present agitating for votes for Women’ . The occupation of fish merchants’ wife Clara Annie Braithwaite of Cleethorpes was ‘Suffragette’ . Clara Callander, 60, living at Wavertree went one further. Besides the occupation of suffragette, she gave her employer as UWSPU and under the infirmity column she put ‘disability to vote’ . In similar vein Christine S Bremner, a visitor at the Morgan-Browne household in Wimbledon, refused to giver her age or birthplace, but gave her occupation as ‘Suffragette’ and infirmity ‘unenfranchised’ .
Another suffragette with an infirmity was 23-year-old Marion Louise Kitchin, daughter of Doncaster-born veterinary surgeon James Edward Kitchin. The family lived at Woodford Green in 1911, and this is a information-packed return. His wife Elizabeth’s occupation is ‘Lady’. His 16-year-old son, William Norman, is a ‘gentleman at large’. Marion is a suffragette ‘looking for a job’, with ‘absent mindedness’ recorded as her infirmity. Sister Kathleen is afflicted with ‘unpunctuality’. Son Geoffrey was ‘argumentative’, I guess that’s teenagers for you. But not quite the infirmity information being sought! 
Then there’s the Folkestone household of Mrs Smart. She, and three anonymous occupants, were listed as suffragettes. There’s a supplementary note that Mrs Smart ‘refused to fill up a schedule and the others refused information for the reason that they state women have no vote’ .
Other indications of suffrage sympathies included the use of slave as an occupation. Examples here include 52-year-old widow Lucy Gilbert of Bermondsey . Variations on this theme included ‘Domestic Slave’, which was used amongst others by 48-year-old married woman Elizabeth Bond of Cherry Hinton, Cambridgeshire . ‘Family Slave’ also pops up, including Eleanor Snowden (35), a married woman from Harewood near Leeds .
As seen from the above, women campaigning for the vote deliberately withheld their names. But the censuses are full of unknown men and women, occasionally with extra information such as Italian man, German woman. One example which Jane Hough found in the 1901 census at Little Weldon, Northamptonshire, listed Poacher 1, 2 and 3, with an indication that the particulars could not be ascertained .
My favourite personal find though is from the 1871 census at Kirthwaite, Dent, where included in the Thompson household is a man ‘supposed out of work’ on the tramp. If you have a 40-year-old Stockport-born ancestor you can’t trace in this census, could it be this individual, described as ‘a man with a big nose’? .
Occupations provide a rich seam of hilarity to mine. How about William Neale in Shottesbrook, Berkshire whose occupation, as described in 1881, was ‘None (to idle)’ ? And perhaps an indication in 1851 Barnstone, Nottinghamshire, of the esteem in which Mary Carlisle held her daughter-in-law Maria: ‘too idle for anything’ . Skip forward to 1881, where George Huyton, a visitor to Parr, St Helens, was described as ‘too lazy to work’ .
But the prize for idleness must surely go to Matilda Sharpe, ‘81 tomorrow’. The sister of the head of a household in Islington, in 1911 she completed the form signing herself off as ‘Deputy Head’. Something many an under-valued author can appreciate, she described her occupation as ‘Alas too Idle yet writing a Book’. Then she duly put her creative skills to good use, ensuring an enduring written legacy. She described the Rev. Rose as having his ‘Heart in his Work. Alas Over-Worked’. His wife, Mrs Rose, was a ‘lovely Self Devoting Wife’. Caroline Chipperfield earned high praise as a ‘Cook – & a very Nice One’. Whilst Alice Percy had similar plaudits, being a ‘House Maid – all we could Wish’ .
In particular, some of the census entries relating to children are priceless. As you read them you can sympathise with the mixed emotions of desperation, frustration, love and humour felt by their parents.
The 1851 census entry for Edith, under two months, the daughter of Edward and Elizabeth Higgin in Liverpoool read ‘(Occupation) Suckling & Sleeping’ .
In the same census, over in Bradford, Hannah, the four-month-old daughter of Robert and Hannah Kennedy was ‘constantly crying at home’ .
Another early example appeared in the 1881 census when West Derby (near Liverpool) barrister George Zavier Segar described his wife’s occupation as ‘Looking after me and the Family’. His three-year-old daughter Mary G was occupied ‘Eating Sleeping Talking’; whilst her one-year-old brother Robert S included the additional string to his bow of ‘getting into mischief’ .
Across in Chadderton, in the same census, James Lever’s infirmity was being ‘without money’. Perhaps his two-year-old daughter Mary’s occupation caused this financial hardship, because her occupation is described as ‘crying for halfpennys’ .
Whilst in 1881 Atherstone, Adelaide Forbes, two-year-old daughter of Stuart Forbes was ‘Eating, Drinking, Sleeping etc’. He recognised his wife Isabel’s role of ‘Keeping House & nursing children’. And sister-in-law Grace Churchill was worthily described as ‘Feeding the Hungry & Clothing the Naked’ .
There are scores of 1911 census examples featuring children. I’ve listed some of these below:
Elsie Irene Axtell, age nine months, the daughter of Archibald and Ada Axtell from Bristol was described as ‘Eating Drinking Sleeping’ .
Florence Brown, nine months, of Limehouse, London, daughter of Frederick and Florence was occupied ‘Crying’, with the indication that she undertook this job ‘at home’. The family also included ‘Perfect’ for all members in the Infirmity column .
The youngest two members of the Herrington family in West Rounton, North Yorkshire, had occupations befitting their ages. Alfred, three, was occupied ‘Crying Eating & Sleeping’; and sister Mary, under one month, worked at ‘Crying Sucking & Sleeping’ .
Across in Scarborough, Robert and Elizabeth Knaggs wrote of their three-year-old daughter, Marjorie, ‘Play mostly Crying occasionally’ .
Edna Lee, age three, living with her grandparents and parents in Bradford was described as ‘Eating Drinking Playing’ with ‘Sleeping’ added later in brackets . Was this by an enumerator with a sense of humour?
The occupation of Stanley William Pawley, one-year-old son of William and Flora Pawley of Fakenham was occupied ‘Crying & Breaking Feeding Bottles’ .
Harold Urquhart Roberts, age one, living at Farnborough was ‘Eating Drinking & Shouting’ in the ‘Baby’ industry or service .
In Willesden, Gerald Stollery, three, was engaged in ‘mostly destroying toys’, whereas sister Eileen, one, had the sole job of ‘crying’ .
It is, however, sobering to consider not all these children survived to adulthood. But they live on, and stand out, through their wonderful census descriptions.
I’ll end the example of children in the censuses section with an 1871 entry. This is yet another classic, on a par with idle book-writer Matilda Sharpe who inspired this post. This one is for the Parsons family living in Basford, Nottinghamshire. Susannah Parsons, wife of William, was described as ‘Her husband’s devoted nurse’; granddaughter Florence, nine, whose condition was ‘Tall & thin’ rather than single was ‘a student of rudimentary accomplish[men]t’. Sussannnah H, eight, was ‘a still younger student of above’; grandson William, one, ‘very fat’, had his rank, profession or occupation column proudly annotated ‘His rank is most upright for he can walk and is very independent’; six-year-old granddaughter Emily G, ‘very thin’, was engaged in ‘innocent mischief’; and not forgetting Caroline Jones, a ‘most excellent serv[an]t as nurse’ .
The elderly could also have unusual occupational annotations. Samantha Willis highlighted a 1911 entry from Hastings linked to her family. Household head Arthur Edward Callis, ‘Waiter. Boots. Chamber Maid. God knows what’ wrote of his 90-year-old mother-in-law Jane Sargent ‘Does nothing sleeps’ . Maybe this is simply an accurate reflection of the impact of advanced years, or ill health, rather than any form of sarcasm.
And do watch out for other unsolicited snippets of information. For example in Bognor in 1911 George Henry Harrington, 37, has no work. The explanation is given: ‘Had neurasthenia several years now. Because very deaf at 34…’ .
There’s also a 26-year-old unmarried naval officer, Thomas Wallace Young, a visitor in 1911 Harting, Sussex. The dashing image is, well, dashed when his afflictions are listed: bald and toothless.
And John Underwood of Hastings wasn’t wrong in describing his affliction as ‘bad temper’ in 1911. He was sufficiently annoyed to identify all his family’s individual afflictions starting with his wife, occupied in cooking and washing, but the possessor of a ‘long tongue’. His children were quarrelsome, stubborn, greedy, vain and noisy .
Finally Britain is often labelled a nation of animal lovers. We often think of our pets as family members. And thankfully some census entries supporting this have sneaked through too.
In 1911 Heanor, church worker Frances Catherine Stone, 46, listed her two other household members: Timothy the Cat, age seven; and Jack the Dog, eight .
Meanwhile, in Doncaster that year, the Cooke household hosted a rather unusual boarder. Single, age one, his name was Jim the Cat. And naturally enough his occupation was ‘mouse catcher’ .
And the 1911 census Rigby household in Birkenhead have a tom cat named Tobit C[r]ackitt. His age is obscured (the enumerator is unamused by the family’s sense of humour), but you can still read that he’s married with 16 children, all living. He works as a ‘Mouse Catcher Soloist Thief’. Nationality is ‘Cheshire Cat’ and he does sadly have an infirmity: He is speechless. William Rigby, the household head, perhaps thinks too much information is being sought and writes:
All the Above Mentioned Have Breakfast Dinner Tea & Supper. Eat Standard Bread Drink Sterilized milk. Sleep with the Windows open. Wash our feet once a week. “Etc” God Save the King. R.S.V.P. Rest in Peace .
The enumerator has crossed this piece of insubordination out too.
But I’ll leave journalist James Ange Little with the last word though. It could well be that he too was getting a dig in at the perceived intrusiveness of the census questions, but his final entry is pure census gold. He wrote:
Incidentally, we have an Airedale Terrier. I do not know whether particulars are required, but in case you want them here they are….
He then went on to give details for Keighley-born Roger, age five. Information generally about his marriage were unknown, other than his children probably numbered something over 100. He worked as a watchdog on his own account. The industry/service was ‘looking after house’ and this was undertaken ‘at home & outside’ .
As you can see from the above, most examples are from the 1911 census simply because of the survival of the original householder schedules, as opposed to the sanitised enumerator books from the earlier censuses. But, as I’ve identified, there are stray examples which slipped through from earlier censuses too.
If you can add to the list of quirky England and Wales census examples do feel free to add a comment, or email me. If you could provide the census reference too, that would be appreciated. I’ll update this post to reflect any received.
Update 1 – 10 March 2020: After Siblings and Niblings informed me in the comments section about a relationship status of paramour in the 1911 census, I investigated further. And yes, there are lots of other examples. One I located in 1891 Stepney had a household head, Arthur Newstead, a 24-year-old widower. The household also included Charlotte Linch (married) whose relationship status was ‘paramour’. Not only that, there was a five-year-old girl, ‘paramour’s child’; a baby whose relationship was ‘putative daughter’ and a 27-year-old man whose connection to the head was ‘paramour’s brother’ .
And I am still seeking out the quirky. One particularly astonishing one is from Chesterfield in 1851. Thomas Cooke, a 61-year-old married man is the head of the household. Also listed is his wife, Jane, age 44. There are four other members. These comprise Harriett Cooke, 30-year-old unmarried niece, described in the occupation column as ‘concubine of her uncle!’ But that’s not all. There are three children ranging from six years old to two months and in the occupation column they are described thus:
Son of do. [concubine]……………) Dau[ghte]r of do. [concubine]..) by her uncle!!! Son of do. [concubine]……………) 
And yes, the exclamation marks were inserted by a shocked enumerator. Perhaps it equated to an exclamation for Harriett and each of her three children?
 1911 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG14/525
 Ibid, Reference RG14/10034
 Ibid, Reference RG14/518
 Ibid, Reference RG14/548
 Ibid, Reference RG14/551
 Ibid, Reference RG14/19604
 Ibid, Reference RG14/19987
 Ibid, Reference RG14/22674
 Ibid, Reference RG14/3463
 Ibid, Reference RG14/9755
 Ibid, Reference RG14/4634
 Ibid, Reference RG14/1898
 Ibid, Reference RG14/9081
 Ibid, Reference RG14/25953
 1901 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG13/1450/115/26
 1871 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG10/4250/47/5
 1881 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG11/1315/65/7
 1851 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference HO107/2139/28516
 1881 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG11/3738/75/51
 1911 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG14/984
 1851 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference HO107/2182/323/26
 Ibid, Reference HO107/2307/72/18
 1881 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG11/3713/113/4
 Ibid, Reference RG11/4085/52/14
 Ibid, Reference RG11/3058/78/19
 1911 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG14/14919
 Ibid, Reference RG14/1555
 Ibid, Reference RG14/29357
 Ibid, Reference RG14/28955
 Ibid, Reference RG14/26788
 Ibid, Reference RG14/11555
 Ibid, Reference RG14/6251
 Ibid, Reference RG14/7004
 1871 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG10/3488/14/22
 1911 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG14/4748
 Ibid, Reference RG14/5376
 Ibid, Reference RG14/5440
 Ibid, Reference RG14/4741
 Ibid, Reference RG14/20398
 Ibid, Reference RG14/28198
 Ibid, Reference RG14/21991
 Ibid, Reference RG14/2457
 1891 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG12/292/153/27
 1851 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference, TNA Reference HO107/2147/273/16
Do you have an ancestor who seems to appear as if from nowhere? My 4x great grandfather is in this category. On the surface there should be no problem finding his origins. There’s no mystery about him in census records. His marriage, wife, children and death are all traceable. He’s consistent in all his information. All evidence points to him being born in Gildersome, West Riding of Yorkshire, between 1799-1800. But that’s as far as I can get with him. Can I pin down his parents? Can I heck.
I’m writing this blog post more for me, to see if writing up my research will help me identify any gaps, or perhaps other avenues to explore. I’ve lost 10 years of my life to this man, you could save 10 minutes by stopping at this point. You have been warned!
You’re still with me? Well, let me introduce you to my mystery man. Step forward Abraham Marshall.
As mentioned he was born in Gildersome . In calculating his date of birth, his census information  and age at death are remarkably consistent. If they are to be believed he was born between 8 March 1799 and 1 March 1800. He worked as a woollen cloth weaver – this throughout his life. Abraham’s address is similarly consistent – Gildersome Street.
He was able to sign his name – and here his surname is consistently spelled as Marshall. Despite this my brain is aching with Marshall spelling permutations – yes I’ve tried that one too – because variations appear when others spell the surname. Abraham’s signature appears when acting as a witness, or informant, for some family birth, marriage and death events. He also signed his name in the register when he married Hannah Greenwood on 26 February 1823 at St Peter’s Church, Birstall . Looking at the witnesses to this marriage, one features frequently in this capacity in the register for this period, so probably a parish official. The other is Benjamin Ellis, but to date there’s no obvious connection to the Marshall or Greenwood families.
I have traced seven children born to Abraham and Hannah. These were:
Harriet – born on 2 August and baptised at St Peter’s, Birstall on 31 August 1823 ;
Caroline – same church, born 29 May 1826 and baptised 3 September 1826 ;
Salena (Selina) – same church, born 20 March 1829 and baptised on 21 June 1829 ;
Milton – born circa 1831 . No baptism yet traced;
Ann – born 7 February 1835. Baptised St Peter’s, Birstall 22 July 1855 ;
Amelia – born 13 February 1838 . No baptism yet traced.
Oliver – born circa 1841 . No baptism yet traced.
Interestingly, there was no problem tracing Church of England baptisms for the first three children. The fifth child, Ann, was baptised when 20 years of age. But so far there is nothing for Milton, Oliver or Amelia. Combined with Ann’s adult baptism, one theory is this is a family with non-conformist leanings. It is evident in the baptisms of some of Abraham and Hannah’s grandchildren. And the area generally did have a non-conformist tradition. This includes Quaker links, with a meetings taking place from the turn of the 18th century.
Abraham’s wife died on 16 October 1860 . He died of old age on 1 March 1878, age 78 . Burials were Church of England – Morley St Peter’s , where son Milton was buried only two months earlier, and Gildersome St Peter’s  respectively.
In summary, there is nothing startling about Abraham. His information throughout his life is remarkably consistent. Yet his origins remain a mystery.
There are several baptisms for Yorkshire Abraham Marshalls between 1795 to 1815. It’s not as uncommon a name as I first hoped. But none have births obviously within the 1799-1800 parameters.
Gildersome wasn’t a parish in its own right in this period. It was part of the parish of Batley. There is one interesting Batley parish baptism for a child who was born on 18 October 1804. It took place on 19 April 1812 for Abrham son of Abrham Marshall, a labourer, and his wife Hannah (née Absen) . The family had non-Conformist associations, with other children baptised at Morley Independent Chapel. But following this Abraham further shows he too was born in Morley. Crucially he can be traced in the censuses. So clearly not my Abraham.
There is, however, a baptism for one Abraham Marshall actually from Gildersome in the 1795-1815 period. A non-conformist one. This is recorded in the register for Morley Methodist Chapel. He was the son of Joseph and Rachell [sic] Marshall of Gildersome Street. Born on 10 July 1797, he was baptised on 30 July 1797 .
This was the second child of the couple baptised in this Chapel. Their daughter, Rachel, was born on 25 October 1795 and baptised 25 September 1796 .
Baptisms for two earlier children took place under the auspices of the Established Church at Batley All Saints. Mary was born on 23 July 1791 and baptised on 25 March 1792 ; and Sarah born on 7 March 1793 and baptised a few months later on 28 July . The Batley parish register in this period is a wonderful Dade-style one, a pot of genealogy gold. From the entries Joseph is a clothier , the son of William Marshall. Rachel is the daughter of Christopher Jackson.
Joseph and Rachel married by Banns on 3 January 1791 at Batley All Saints, witnessed by Benjamin Wilkinson and John Marshall . According to the 1841 census Rachel was not from Yorkshire . Then, age 85, she is living at Gildersome with 40-year-old Rachel Marshall, Joseph Marshall and Mary Marshall. It transpires this trio was her unmarried daughter with two illegitimate children. There is also a 28-year-old coal miner, Joseph Dawson.
I’ve tracked Rachel (senior) back to her baptism on 12 September 1756 at St Bartholomew’s church in Colne, Lancashire . She died in Gildersome on 21 September 1841, at the grand age of 87 . Unfortunately the informant, a Joseph Dawson (inmate), offers no clues – he’s probably the man from the census three months earlier. The disappointment was it’s not my Abraham Marshall who registered the death. That would’ve been the answer to my prayers.
As things stand Abraham son of Joseph Marshall and his wife Rachel Jackson, is a possible candidate. His birth location fits; his birth date is within two years of the anticipated one, far from an unheard of discrepancy; I’ve not found any marriage or burial for him (although neither have I found anything definite for Mary or Sarah), so he’s not been eliminated that way; there is the occupational link of clothier between father Joseph and my Abraham; and, even more tenuously, there is my Living DNA test ethnicity results which does have an unexpected North West England component. This is all I have to go on. Far from enough to positively prove the connection.
And there are niggles too. Big ones.
The first is that birth date – the fact my Abraham is very consistent in records definitely tied to him, means the 1797 birth date of this candidate jars.
Then there are naming patterns. Names of fathers, mothers and siblings are often passed through generations. Although not proof definite, it can be a clue to relationship links. None of Abraham’s known children were named Joseph or Rachel. Neither do Mary or Sarah feature. So there are no shared names between my Abraham and this candidate.
There’s the fact neither Mary Marshall (b1791 and Sarah (b1793) are picked up anywhere else in records. If I can’t find what became of them, does that mean I’m also less likely to find out anything further for 1797 Abraham because I’m looking in the wrong place or the records haven’t survived? So the fact I haven’t eliminated him is not conclusive evidence.
And finally there are no obvious connections between the families of my Abraham and what could be his mother and sister, the two Rachels, in terms of family marriage witnesses and death informants. And yes, in addition to senior Rachel death registration, I’ve checked all the witnesses to my Abraham’s children’s marriages , plus those for the two children of Rachel (junior) . The only thing I haven’t checked yet is who registered Rachel junior’s death.
There is another possibility too. As we’ve seen Abraham and Hannah’s choice of names was not conventional. 1829 Salena (Selina) and 1831 Milton are of particular note. And they’re not unique to Marshalls in this period. Over at Thornhill St Michael and All Angels parish church, Whitley miner Jeremiah Marshall and his wife Mary (née Howarth) had daughter, Selina, baptised on 4 September 1825 ; and son, Milton, on 14 September 1828 . So was Jeremiah connected to my Abraham? Other than the naming similarities, there is nothing else to go on.
Jeremiah was born in Tong in circa 1791/2. I’ve not traced his baptism. A miner by trade, he attested on 29 August 1810 with the 1st Regiment of Lifeguards.  It was in London that he married Mary, on 7 April 1817 in Kensington parish church . The following year, on 31 October, he was discharged to pension  and returned to Yorkshire with wife and son Henry, born just prior to discharge on 27 August 1818. The family initially settled in the mining community of Whitley and it was at Flockton Zion that Henry was baptised on 6 May 1819 . In addition to Henry, Selina and Milton, their other children included Thornhill St Michael’s baptised James , Nancy  and Edwin . Plus Bradford St Peter’s parish church (now the cathedral) baptised Squire  and Emma , when the family re-located from Whitley to Bowling.
Jeremiah, noted as being blind, was living separately from his wife and children in Bradford in 1851 . He died on 31 May 1857, age 66 .
I have gone through the located parish register marriage entries for his children  and there is no apparent witness link in them to my Abraham Marshall or his children.
Other than being born in the same decade, both in Yorkshire about 1.5 miles apart as the crow flies, and having two children with the same unusual names, there is nothing more at this point to connect Jeremiah and my Abraham.
And on the subject of marriages and witnesses, my heart momentarily leapt with some Oliver Marshall associated entries. I really did think I’d found a link to Jeremiah, via my Abraham’s youngest son. Sadly it wasn’t to be – and has added another family into the mix. On 10 October 1863 Oliver Marshall married Sophia Marshall (yes, Marshall marriages add to the fun) at St Peter’s, Birstall . Her father was miner Jeremiah Marshall.
Two years earlier an Oliver Marshall acted as a witness in the Batley All Saints marriage of John Marshall, son of Jeremiah . John and Sophia were siblings. Their father, Jeremiah, was the son of Isaac Marshall.
And this is where it gets even more complicated. Jeremiah was baptised on 15 September 1816, age 3, along with his 1-year-old brother Abraham and infant brother William . They were the children of Gildersome miner Isaac Marshall and his wife Hannah. Another son, John, was born in 1820 but not baptised until 1837 at St Paul’s, Birkenshaw . I’ve not definitively traced Isaac’s baptism and I have a couple of potential non-conformist burials for him – but no ages given. One small success is I found he married Hannah Marshall (!) at Batley All Saints on 17 May 1812 .
So was Isaac (or even Hannah) connected to Abraham and/or Jeremiah? Or are the naming similarities a pure coincidence? Again more work to be done. But at least there are some angles to work with.
One final research point. Some Ancestry trees link 1800-born Gildersome Abraham Marshall as the son of Abraham Marshall (baptised in 1780) and Alice Pennock. No details of any marriage. But doing some further investigation it appears Alice was from Pennsylvania USA, as was her husband Abraham – he served in the American Revolution. They married in Pennsylvania in 1786, their children (including an Abraham) were all born there, and the couple both both died there. There is no evidence tying them directly to my Gildersome-born Abraham Marshall…but they did have a son named….Milton. And this family did have Quaker links.
It may now ultimately come down to trying to reconstruct all Marshall families in the area in the period – and the non-conformist angle makes it less than straightforward. It may be not everything is traceable. Hence my problem with baptisms for Isaac, Jeremiah and possibly my Abraham. I also need to see if any Quaker records exist, even if it is for elimination purposes. Writing this piece has made me aware this is something I’ve overlooked.
The point is family history research is not always simple. It is not a couple of hours work and hey presto, back to the 16th century. I want to ensure my research stacks up and meets genealogical proof standards. It can be tempting to take the easy option – in this case slot in my Abraham as being the son of Joseph and Rachel. However, as it stands, I’m not confident there is sufficient proof. And I want to ensure I’m researching my family tree. So more work is required.
Congratulations if you’ve reached this far. I primarily wrote this to try to marshall my thoughts about my Marshall research. It is, therefore, hardly the most scintillating read. Be thankful I’ve not shared all the details of searches conducted – these are in my search log.
It may be you stuck with it because you have Marshall ancestors. If you are working on these families, and have even possibly undertaken a DNA test, do please feel free to drop me a line. In the meantime I will continue to chip away at Abraham. I’ve been at it in and off fir 10 years . But I think I’m in for an even longer haul.
 1851 and 1871 censuses, the 1861 indicates Gildersome Street. The National Archives (TNA) Reference HO107/2314/69/32, RG09/3352/147/22 and RG10/4529/13/20, accessed via Findmypast;  1851-1871 censuses. Even in the 1841 census his age (40) fits given the rounding down convention, but because of this convention it doesn’t carry the same weight. 1841 census TNA Reference HO107/1299/2/43/4;  Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number WDP5/1/3/7, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935;  Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number WDP5/1/2/3, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;  Ibid;  Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number WDP5/1/2/4, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;  Birth calculated based on census, marriage and death records;  Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number WDP5/1/2/8, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;  Birth certificate, GRO Reference 1838, March Quarter, Leeds, Volume 23, Page 422, accessed via the GRO website;  Birth registered in 1841, June Quarter, Leeds, Volume 23, Page 473, accessed via the GRO website;  Death certificate, GRO Reference 1860, December Quarter, Hunslet, Volume 9b, Page 160, accessed via the GRO website;  Death certificate, GRO Reference 1878, March Quarter, Bramley, Volume 9b, Page 238, accessed via the GRO website;  Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number WDP195/3/1, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985;  Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number WDP26/1/18, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;  Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number WDP37/2, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1512-1812;  West Yorkshire Archive Service Reference C12/16/1, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985;  Ibid;  Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number WDP37/2, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1512-1812;  Ibid;  Rachel’s 1841 death certificate, however, indicates her deceased husband was a labourer;  Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number WDP37/15, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1512-1812;  1841 census TNA Reference HO107/1290/2/47/12;  Original register at Lancashire Archives, Reference PR 3172/1/6, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk Lancashire, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812;  Death certificate, GRO Reference 1841, September Quarter, Leeds, Volume 23, Page 279, accessed via the GRO website;  Harriet Marshall married Henry Peace (at Bradford St Peter’s on 2 May 1853 – father incorrectly named, but other records confirm this is Abraham’s daughter (William Holmes and Christopher Gibson); Caroline Marshall married Peter Aveyard on 4 June 1846 at Gildersome, St Peter (J Tappenden and Ann Elizabeth Hartley); Selina Marshall married Charles Ellam at Gildersome St Peters on 27 November 1848 (William Marshall and James Labley). She then married John Blakley Glover in the same church on 25 December 1858 (Samuel Scott & James Glover); Milton Marshall married Mary Hardcastle at Tong, St James on 8 June 1854 (David Clark and Peter Aveyard); Ann Marshall married George Auty on 30 November 1872 at St Peter’s, Morley (Charles Hargreave? and Mary Ann Rogerson); Amelia Marshall married Abraham Hartley on 29 July 1861 at St Mary Magdalene, Outwood (Amos Hartley and Oliver Marshall); and Oliver Marshall married Sophia Marshall at St Peter’s, Birstall on 10 October 1863 (Henry Ellam and George Bromley);  Joseph Marshall married Hannah Mary Guy at St Peter’s, Leeds on 11 July 1852 (George Thornbury and ? Moore); and Mary Marshall married Richard Brook on 4 June 1846 at Morley, St Peter (Joseph Marshall and Julius Whitehead);  Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number WDP14/1/2/1, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;  Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number WDP14/1/2/2, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;  TNA Ref Wo 97, Box 7, Box Record Number 19 Chelsea Pensioners British Army Service Records 1760-1913 accessed via Findmypast;  Original register at London Metropolitan Archives, London, Reference Number: DL/T/47/21, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1932;  TNA Ref Wo 22, Piece Number 35, Halifax – Royal Hospital Chelsea: Returns Of Payment Of Army And Other Pensions 1842-1883 accessed via Findmypast  Original at TNA, General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; Class Number: RG 4; Piece Number: 3161, Accessed via Ancestry.co.uk;  Baptised 9 September 1821. Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference NumberWDP14/1/2/1,accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;  Baptised 9 March 1823. Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP14/1/2/1,accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;  Baptised 24 February 1833. Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference NumberWDP14/1/2/2, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910; Born [1?]2 February 1837, baptised 7 June 1837. Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number BDP14, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;  Born 4 July 1839, baptised 30 June 1844. Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference NumberBDP14, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;  1851 census TNA Reference HO107/2305/155/14;  TNA Ref Wo 22, Piece Number 35, Halifax – Royal Hospital Chelsea: Returns Of Payment Of Army And Other Pensions 1842-1883 accessed via Findmypast and GRO Reference 1857, June Quarter, Bradford and North Bierley, Volume 9b, Page 27. Note GRO death is 66, the Army pension record states 64;  James married Mary Ann Jowett on 8 December 1844 at Bradford, St Peter; Nancy possibly married John Noble on 21 May 1843 at Tong, St James; Selina married Richard Rhodes at Calverley, St Wilfred on 18 February 1849; Milton married Elizabeth Appleyard at St Philip’s, Leeds on 7 February 1853; Edwin married Margaret Storey on 14 June 1856 at Shipley parish church (under the name of Edward!); Squire married Mercy Hodgson on 30 August 1856 at Bradford, St Peter; and Emma married Samuel Baldwin at St Peter’s, Bradford on 22 February 1880;  Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, no reference given, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935;  23 November 1861 marriage, John Marshall and Bessy Hartley, original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference NumberWDP37/21,accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935;  Original register at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference NumberWDP37/3, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;  Original register at West Yorkshire Archive, new Reference NumberWDP90/1/1/1, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910;  Original register at West Yorkshire Archive, new Reference NumberWDP37/16,accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1512-1812
Heads up about my forthcoming talk on 4 March at Leeds Central Library.
Based on my groundbreaking book The Greatest Sacrifice: Fallen Heroes of the Northern Union about rugby league players who died in World War 1, the talk investigates the stories behind some of the men. It will also be packed with tips for researching your own Great War Army ancestors.
The book, co-authored with Rugby League writer Chris Roberts, has received widespread acclaim, locally and nationally, in print and on radio. The reviews include:
The talk will take place in the Leodis Room, starting at 1pm. It will last for one hour, with opportunity to ask questions. Tickets are free and available through Ticket Source. You can also contact the library direct on 0113 378 5005.
This is one of a series of talks I give. The others scheduled for 2020 are:
That’s also the contact if you would like to buy a copy of the book. The price, including p&p within the U.K., is £14.99. It is also available direct from the publisher, Scratching Shed Publishing Ltd. It is also stocked at independent Leeds bookshop, Philip Howard Books. And it’s also available from the normal retail outlets.
It’s the end of January and I’m still eating my way through my Christmas chocolates. As I do so I can’t help but compare them with my family history research.
Each box and tin contains an overwhelming selection. One temptation is to dive in and, without any planning or forethought, work your way right through the entire box. That can be true of family history. A scattergun approach, jumping from one tempting ancestor to another. It’s great to start with, but ultimately it becomes less and less satisfying.
The other similarity is that often in that box or tin, some flavours and types are your favourites. You may be like me and go for them first (coconut is my personal weakness). The least tempting I leave till the end, and then I’m faced with nothing but a heap of orange creams which I must force myself to eat (it has to be done). Again, family history research can be the same. You have your favourite ancestors and these are the ones you go for first. You can’t get enough of them. Other ancestors, for whatever reason, don’t hold the same interest. These are the ones left for another day. And when you do pick them up, they’re not very satisfying.
On the same theme some chocolates are expensive. Others have more substance. Or they may have multiple layers and taste sensations. These could be your wealthy ancestors, or your ancestors with lots of associated records or the ones with really fascinating and varied lives.
My final comparison is that you can have too much of a good thing. It’s that end of January feeling when eating chocolates becomes a huge chore rather than a great pleasure. Personally I’m at the stage of not wanting to see another chocolate, but I feel I must plough on. And yes, hard as it is to believe, that can happen with research too. Family history morning, noon and night can leave you jaded by it all. That initial enthusiasm can wear off. So it’s good to have a break from it, even if only for a week or so. Then, like chocolates, you can return to it with renewed enthusiasm!
Actually, in hindsight, I may have eaten far too many chocolates this month. And done too much family history too (only joking). Which is why I’m having such fanciful thoughts. Normal service will be resumed in February.
What plans have you made to preserve for your family history research after your death? That’s a question I posed nearly two years ago. Dealing with life from cradle to grave and beyond, you’d think this would be something family historians, more than most groups, were on top of.
Wrong. Almost half of those who responded said they had no plan in place. Reasons for this varied, including no-one in the family was interested; the researcher had no close relatives; or even simply a case that they had never given it a thought. Surprisingly, this latter response didn’t apply only to those new to family history. I guess we don’t like to think of a time when we’re not here!
What will become of my research is something I’ve considered ever since. Not least because I was one of the ‘no plan’ cohort. I guess I hoped it would all be OK. But, thinking about it, it isn’t fair to let my relatives and executors sort it out. In addition to their grief, they will have enough practical arrangements to deal with. And under those circumstances, there is a possibility it all may be thrown away as the easy option. So, I need to take responsibility and make things easier for them. It’s up to me to decide what I want to happen to my research…including if I’m happy for it to be destroyed.
The bottom line is I don’t want it to end up in the bin after I’m gone. And I expect many other family historians, one-name and one-place ‘studiers’ feel the same about their work. That means making plans now.
For some, the emotional and personal aspect of family history research means the ideal solution is to bequeath it to an immediate family member…assuming there is someone eager and able to take it on. Although conversely, does this ultimately rob them of the pleasure of research? That’s another dilemma.
In the case of a one-name study, there may be someone else willing to continue researching that name.
But beyond that, there are other alternatives. In this piece I’ve put forward some of these wider options.
Three key points from the outset.
You need to check that the individual(s) and organisation(s) who you intend leaving your research to are happy to receive it. They simply might not have the space or resources to house it. If it’s an organisation, it may not be suitable for them. And, particularly if it is an organisation, it’s only fair to make sure your donation is going to be in a format acceptable to them. All this requires planning. Which leads on to the second point.
If possible, do make sure you have properly organised and labelled your research. That’s one of the reasons for including in my 2020 New Year’s Resolutions the commitment to review all my research and ensure full source citations are included. Then I need to make sure it’s stored in an organised, logical manner. That means it’s far easier for it to be passed on, and those looking at it in later years can fully understand the sources used, any gaps with them, and the arguments underpinning the conclusions. And finally;
Whatever you decide, do formalise it by including it in your will. In addition, do make sure several people know this is your wish. You don’t want it ending up in the skip before the will has been executed.
So what are the wider options?
Many family history societies have library sections which take donations. Some will have established formal donation policies. It’s worth making contact to see if your research is something they would be interested in, especially if it fits with the area they cover.
Check out local history societies too. Again they may have a library section to accommodate research, or even an active website where they can share information about local families.
It may be worth contacting your local Council’s library department, particularly if there is a main local studies library, or if the various branch libraries specialise in local history themes. It is worth bearing in mind, though, the funding pressures facing libraries. Many have downsized or closed in recent years, with reference sections being particularly squeezed.
Depending on the type of documents you have, would a local archive be interested?
Nationally, organisations such as the Society of Genealogists (SoG) take donations. Their collections policy states they welcome “original work and papers of genealogists and family historians as well as material primarily of genealogical interest which other archives are not interested in.” More details about donating to the SoG are here.
If you have a one-name study check out the Guild of One-Name Studies, and their page which explains more about preserving your study, including an example will codicil.
Ultimately, it may be that your research covers a number of distinct areas, and is best split between multiple organisations. But, if so, even more reason for you to do the planning now.
There are other things to consider when bequeathing your research, particularly to an organisation or repository. These include asking yourself if they are likely to be around long-term to ensure your work is preserved. With so many organisations struggling due to cut-backs or falling membership numbers, their future viability is a genuine factor. If so, can you include provisions for that eventuality? For example, will your donation be classed as a permanent gift, or is a loan possible? If your aim is to ensure your research is made available to others after your death, will the recipient be able to deliver that level of accessibility? And would you want access to be free? Also, because there is a financial cost to the organisation in cataloguing, storing, conserving and making available your research, do consider making an accompanying monetary bequest.
Finally, there are some practical steps you can take to share and disseminate your work in your lifetime. These include blogging, creating a website, having a family history FaceBook Page, uploading a public version of your family tree (e.g. via Ancestry or GenesReunited), sharing information with relevant one-place or one-name studies, or even writing a family history book and distributing copies to relatives. But some of these may lead to whole new topics…not least around preserving your digital legacy!
Hopefully this has given you some ideas. As for me, I’m leaving everything to an interested family member. I’ve also got my blog which includes some family history tales. And in 2014 I wrote and distributed my paternal family history book (which now needs updating). Which reminds me, I must do one for my mum’s side – something I’d overlooked until writing this post. Family history is never done!