Tag Archives: genealogy

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

The Perfect Bank Holiday for a Family Historian?

To mark the Spring Bank Holiday weekend in the UK, I decided to run a Twitter poll to find out what would be a family historian’s perfect way to spend it.

Essentially the premise was you have some free time….but, here’s the catch, only enough to do one family history thing. What will it be?

I did not specify things such as weather – my assumption being that it would be neutral, not gloriously warm or pouring with rain which might sway choices.

One other thing that may have impacted the voting is the peculiar circumstances in which we currently live. Yes, pandemic lockdown restrictions are easing – but some constraints on what we can do remain, including numbers around meeting family depending on venue.

Being a Twitter poll I was limited to four options. I chose:

  • Family history research;
  • Ancestral tourism – to include any out and about visits to places associated with ancestors, be it where they lived, or went to school and married, to burial place;
  • Family time/memory making; and
  • Organising your research (be it formally collating and logging search results, updating family trees, labelling photographs, etc.)
Batley Cemetery – Photo by Jane Roberts

This limitation was frustrating. I ruled archives out, it being a Bank Holiday. However, there were many other possible options I wanted to include: From having a distinct DNA choice like spending time on results analysis, to writing a family history book, biography or blog; from family history-related reading, to undertaking genealogy coursework; even preparing a family history talk, contributing to the work of a Family History Society, or participating in a collaborative crowd-sourcing project.

I would also have liked to get a feel for age ranges and experience of those who voted, as this might also impact on choices.

I realise that many family historians would want to do a combination of elements over the Bank Holiday, rather than focus on one thing. However, forcing one choice only meant that current priorities (and interests) were teased out.

The poll ran over 48 hours, ending at just before 9am GMT on Bank Holiday Monday. 112 people voted (a huge thank you), and it proved to be an interesting, and incredibly close-run, exercise. In fact, it went right down to the wire. Even in the final minutes there was nothing in it – a single vote either way would have swayed it.

The results were as follows:

It is apparent from this that people like results-based, or the more social and active family history, activities – the fun side of it. Perhaps even more so at holiday time. That’s no surprise. If you don’t enjoy it, why bother doing it?

And it is abundantly clear that the important background tasks such as methodical documentation, organising and collating research findings (and by extension planning) is regarded as more of a chore, an undertaking less suited to an entertaining Bank Holiday. Maybe that is an aspect that needs more attention – the importance of these mundane elements in contributing to more effective and better research.

The noteworthy take-away point though was the closeness of the result, with only the slimmest margin of votes separating the top three. Under normal everyday circumstances I would have expected research to be the runaway winner, rather than scraping over the line by a narrow squeak. The Bank Holiday element maybe key here – the desire, or need, to participate in more family-oriented activities. The backdrop of COVID may have made that even more of a priority.

And as for my perfect family history Bank Holiday weekend? I am in the camp where COVID coloured my choice.

The impact of the pandemic on family time made me reevaluate my priorities this Bank Holiday. With the exception of under a month last July, my area of Kirklees has been in some form of lockdown since March 2020. Even in that brief July 2020 window, number and location restrictions limited opportunities to get together. Meeting up with family has, in effect, been non-existent.

We had a family birthday this Bank Holiday weekend. To celebrate we had a small, socially distanced gathering in a garden to have a birthday tea and catch up generally. This was the first occasion we’ve been able to have any meaningful face-to-face quality time as a family since Christmas/New Year of 2019/2020. I will also be spending time with my daughter and 6-month-old grandson.

A socially distanced birthday – making memories

So for me family catch-up time and memory making trumped research, or any other family history activity, this Bank Holiday – and that time has been priceless.

Whatever your family history activity this Bank Holiday, hope it is an enjoyable one.

Survived, Died and Newly Identified: Local Links to the Lusitania Sinking

On the afternoon of Friday 7 May 1915, the Cunard liner the Lusitania was on the final leg of her crossing from New York to Liverpool. The morning fog had lifted, and it was now a fine, clear, calm day. At 2.10pm, around 14 miles off the Irish coast and the Old Head of Kinsale, she was struck by a torpedo fired by the German submarine U20. It took about 18 minutes for the ship to sink. Of the almost 2,000 on board, 1,198 men, women and children perished.1

The RMS LUSITANIA homeward bound on her last voyage. She was sunk off Queenstown by the German submarine U-20 in May 1915. © IWM Q 48349, IWM Non Commercial Licence

It was a momentous international event, leading to anti-German riots across British cities and handing a huge wartime propaganda tool to the authorities. It was, in the initial aftermath, hoped by some that the USA would be drawn into the war. The circumstances surrounding the sinking is a huge topic in its own right which has merited many books, and one I am not covering in this post. Instead I am focussing on the local angle.

A poster by Fred Spear featuring a painting of a mother and child drowning following the sinking of the LUSITANIA. The image is simply accompanied by the word “Enlist”. © IWM Q 79823 IWM Non Commercial Licence

As a child I remember my grandma telling me about the Lusitania. She was only six years old when the ship went down. For her to recount her childhood memories around sixty years later shows the impact the sinking had on her.

What I failed to realise from my vague recollection of her tale of the ship was this event was not something that affected only the rich, famous and wealthy – the likes of American millionaire sportsman Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, American theatre producer Charles Frohman, world-famous Welsh tenor Gwynn Parry Jones, French-American stage and screen star Rita Jolivet, English-born playwright Charles Klein, and American artist and philanthropist Theodate Pope Riddle. Or even ‘ordinary’ crew and passengers from other areas of Britain.

It also had a massive local impact, with several of those on board having connections with the Batley, Dewsbury, Heckmondwike and Mirfield areas. Locally people would have known personally some of those on board, or at least known of them, making it an even bigger talking point in streets and homes across the area. That children were also involved would bring it to the attention of a younger audience. This, more so than anything, is why the sinking would have made a lasting imprint on my grandma’s mind.

This post covers a selection of local men, women and children caught up in the tragedy, people often overshadowed by the more famous on board.2 Some survived, one in particularly miraculous circumstances. Others though never made it home, including an entire family. Then there is the mystery man. Researchers to date have failed to uncover his origins. I believe he was a local man, and I include the progress I have made in identifying him.


Miss Olive North

Olive and her twin brother Roy Henderson North were born on 11 April 1889 in the Yorkshire village of Melbourne, near Pocklington.3 Their parents, James and Marion (née Barber) were schoolteachers whose work had taken them to Norfolk and Lincolnshire, as well as North Yorkshire.

By 1891 Marion, born in the Barnsley area, was living in Heckmondwike with her children Alice Lilian, George Garnett, Bernard Baines, Joseph Lambert, May and the twins. Another son, Frank Gordon, was with his maternal grandparents, also living in Heckmondwike. Even with this brood of seven youngsters at home in 1891, aged nine and under, Marion continued working as a teacher. It was no mean feat. James, who hailed from Heckmondwike, taught and lived elsewhere, in Skelton, North Yorkshire. This remained the arrangement up to and including the 1911 census, although at census-time in 1901 and 1911 some of the children are staying with him.

It was therefore not one of the town’s typical working class families that Olive grew up in.

At the time of the Lusitania sinking Marion North lived at Cambridge Street, off Cawley Lane, in Heckmondwike and taught at Battye Street Council School. Olive though had been away from the family home for some time, clearly having an adventuring spirit.

In the summer of 1913 the young milliner left her job. On 10 June, accompanied by her brother Frank, she departed from Liverpool on board the Megantic. The siblings sailed to Montreal, to visit their elder married sister, Alice, in Western Canada.4 Frank, a former soldier, was recalled on the outbreak of war. Olive, though, stayed on far longer than originally intended, finally leaving for New York in late April 1915 to sail back home 2nd class on the Lusitania. The ability to afford this standard of travel also serves to illustrate the social status of the North family.

Olive was aware of rumours that some disaster was going to befall the ship, writing home to that effect. But she added “if anything does happen to the boat I shall not be afraid to go into the unknown.”5 She also subsequently wrote:

When embarking on the “LUSITANIA” on May 1st 1915, some excitement was apparent, because of the rumour going around that the “LUSITANIA” would be sunk – and that this was to be her last voyage.6

Indeed, an Imperial German Embassy-placed advert had appeared in the New York Tribune on the morning of sailing, next to Cunard’s advertisement for the Lusitania’s departure, warning about the dangers of Atlantic voyages.

Newspaper advertisement relating to the Lusitania’s departure, from “The German Secret Service”. © IWM Q 43458, IWM Non Commercial Licence

The rumours did prompt Olive to plan what action she would take in case of any incident, scoping out the best place to make for. She later attributed this foresight as the means of saving her life. Nevertheless, until the fateful day, she described the voyage as “pleasant and un-eventful” with “the wartime regulations of “Darkened ship” at night being the only different feature from a normal sailing.7

On that 7 May afternoon, when the torpedo tore into the Lusitania, Olive and her party were just finishing lunch in the second class dining room. She described the impact as a terrible thud which seemed to be almost underneath their table. She also referred to a second explosion. One of the females in the party entreated Olive to stay with her in the state room so they could die together. But Olive told her “No, I am going to fight for my life”.8 This response must have given the woman renewed courage for she too was saved. In fact, one report states that all but two young men from the 11 passengers seated at Olive’s dining table survived.9

Olive described how the ship listed so badly it was difficult to climb the stair-ways. Furniture and crockery crashed to the floor in the dining room. Olive then realised she did not have her life-belt with her, so began to make her way to her cabin to collect it. On her way she met a ship’s steward who gallantly gave her his own life-belt, fixing it securely around her. It is not known if this selfless act cost the man his life.

Terrible scenes met Olive’s eyes when she finally reached the boat-deck, including the ghastly sight of a lifeboat full of people tipping into the sea as it could not be lowered properly. This prompted Olive to get out of the lifeboat she was in. People were swimming and floating in the sea below. Others were crushed to death on the boat deck. Some passengers jumped into the ocean clinging to chairs.

Olive remained standing there, and she remembered going down with the ship before finally losing consciousness on hitting the water. The next thing she recalled was fighting for breath as she surfaced, fortuitously finding herself near an upturned lifeboat to which she managed to cling. Hundreds of people were floating amongst the wreckage, clamouring for help. Many were jammed between pieces of wood. Olive’s heavy clothes kept her down in the water, which at first seemed warm.

After what seemed like ages she noticed a young red-haired man, possessing great strength, swimming in the water and dragging people towards a life raft for them to be hauled aboard by others. Some though were beyond his help, the ones wedged in the wreckage. But he managed to save Olive, along with over 20 others. At this point Olive began to feel the intense cold.

Another upturned nearby raft capsized totally, tossing its human cargo into the water. But the raft Olive was on was full, and could take on no more. They could only watch in horror as their former ship’s passengers disappeared beneath the waves.

Olive kept going and helped to row the raft she was on. It drifted for hours before they were finally picked up by the Steam Trawler, Brock. Here she was provided with dry men’s clothing (all that was available) and a cup of tea. One man climbing aboard became temporarily insane, believing the trawler was the Lusitania. The Brock finally reached Queenstown at about 10.30pm that night.

Olive’s mother heard about the fate of the Lusitania on Friday night. It was on Saturday morning that the North family received a telegram from Queenstown (today known as Cobh) with the terse, but emotive, words “Olive safe.” She arrived home in Heckmondwike on Monday night, haunted by her experience and thoughts of “the beautiful babies and the beautiful people” lost. She mournfully recalled that “the band was playing and the children were playing just before, and they are lost.”10

But Olive was amongst the fortunate ones. Other than the loss of all her onboard possessions, the emotional trauma, and bruising, she had survived.

In fact, she was well enough to travel down to Aldershot for the marriage of her twin brother Staff Sergeant Roy Henderson North ASC, which took place in the parish church on 12 May 1915. Olive was bridesmaid and witness to the marriage.11

In mid-August 1918 Olive married a man from her Heckmondwike home town, Percy Hanson. The marriage took place at Heckmondwike’s George Street Chapel. Percy was a Royal Naval Reserve wireless operator.12 Some accounts state that Olive met him whilst being rescued from the Lusitania by the Royal Navy cruiser the Juno, or have implied that Percy was on the Juno at the time. This is not true. The Juno did not take part in the rescue, being essentially ordered to remain in Queenstown for fear that the U-boat was still lurking and awaiting an opportunity to sink any RN rescue vessel that ventured out to help.13 Also, although Percy did serve on the Juno in 1914, at the time of the Lusitania sinking he was serving aboard the armed merchant cruiser Marmora.14 By a strange quirk of fate, and good fortune, he left the Marmora on 17 July 1918, weeks before his marriage. Days after his transfer, on 23 July 1918, the ship was sunk by a U-boat off the south coast of Ireland. Thus both Olive and her husband-to-be had cheated death at the hands of marauding German U-boats off Ireland.

Olive and Percy settled in Heckmondwike and were still living at Cawley Lane in 1939, with Percy working as a postmaster. The couple subsequently moved to Blackpool, and this was their residence at the time of Olive’s death on 4 July 1976.15


Mrs Florence Lockwood (née Robshaw) and children Clifford and Lily

Florence Robshaw (also known by the diminutive name of Florrie) was born on 13 June 1879 and baptised at St Philip’s parish church in Dewsbury in October 1880. Her parents were shoemaker William Robshaw and wife Mary Ann (née Auty).16 The family are recorded on the 1881 and 1891 censuses at Leeds Road, in the Soothill Upper area of Hanging Heaton, Dewsbury. As a child Florence attended the Eastborough Board School.

Florence Lockwood (née Robshaw)

Florence, a weaver, married cloth finisher Dick Lockwood at Batley parish church on 15 September 1900.17 The parish register entry incorrectly notes Dick’s father as Charles. Dick was in fact born in Batley on 8 September 1875, the son of cloth finisher George and Sarah Lockwood (née Illingworth).18

In 1901 the newly married couple lived at Warwick Cottages in the Warwick Road area of Batley. Florence still worked as a woollen weaver and Dick as a woollen cloth finisher. Dick’s employers included Messrs. Wormald and Walker’s Dewsbury mills.

By the time son Clifford was born on 6 March 1904, and baptised at Dewsbury Wesleyan Chapel on 28 March 1904, the couple had moved to Armitage Street in Ravensthorpe.19

In 1906 the Lockwood family took the huge decision to relocate to the USA. Florence’s uncle George Robshaw had emigrated there in the early 1880s, married, settled and raised a family, so it was not unchartered territory for them. Dick sailed on ahead of his wife and son. He is recorded departing Liverpool on 18 April 1906 on board the SS Friesland bound for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.20 On the US immigration manifest Dick gave his occupation as a miner, and stated his destination was Alto[o]na, Pennsylvania.

The move was a success. Weeks later Florence and Clifford followed Dick out, sailing from Liverpool on board the White Star Line ship Teutonic on 11 July 1906. They arrived at Ellis Island, New York on 18 July 1906. Florence gave her final destination as Frugality, Pennsylvania (around 14 miles away from Altoona), joining her husband. Perhaps Florence was displaying a little of that famous Yorkshire thrift and frugality of her own to get a cheaper infant fare. Clifford’s age on the passenger manifest is stated to be 11 months, rather than his correct age of over two years.21

By the time of the 1910 US Federal Census the Lockwoods were settled at Kearny Avenue, Kearny, in the Hudson District of New Jersey. Dick worked as a mill labourer. And the family had a new addition, two-year-old daughter Lily.

Lily and Clifford Lockwood

Florence, who had been socially active in Dewsbury as an enthusiastic worker for the Dewsbury Temperance Society, continued her community involvement in the USA. Some sources state she was the president of the New Jersey chapter of the Daughters of St. George, an organisation for women immigrants of British descent.22 She was certainly involved with the Kearny Star of Hope Lodge part of the organisation, holding the role of Financial Secretary for them in July 1912.23

In May 1911 Florence and her children made a summer visit home to family in England, sailing on the Arabic from New York to Liverpool. The catalyst for this homecoming appears to have been her mother’s possible ill-health and death.24 Her return journey to America was made on board the Campania, which docked at New York on 12 August 1911. She was accompanied on this return leg by her husband’s niece Beatrice Goodall (née Lockwood), Beatrice’s husband Willie, and their young son Leonard.25 The Goodall family had decided to make the move to the USA, with their destination being Kearny and their kinsfolk. I will return to the Goodalls later.

One poignant set of details we get from these sailing records are physical descriptions of the family. Florence was a tiny woman, standing a mere five foot tall. She had a dark complexion, black hair and brown eyes. The children took after her in colouring. Lily was too tiny to merit a height measurement. Clifford was three feet tall.

Two reasons were put forward for the fateful decision for Florence to make the 1915 wartime crossing to England with her children. US-based Robshaw relatives, with whom she spent the previous summer in Middletown, stated that her widowed father wanted her back home. These American Robshaws unsuccessfully tried to dissuade her from making the journey.26

However, this version of events was contradicted by her father, William. He believed the reason for her return was more to do with a shortage of work in America. As such Florence had decided to make the permanent journey back to England, with her husband due to follow a couple of months later once family affairs had been tied up overseas.

William wrote to Florence asking her to delay her journey because of the submarine threat, but she wrote back the week before the crossing to tell him she had booked her 3rd class passage, along with Clifford and Lily, on the Lusitania. Also returning would be her cousin Edith Robshaw, along with Dick’s niece Beatrice Goodall and her children.

Rather than having her frail, elderly father meet her at Liverpool, Florence informed him she would make her own way by train to Dewsbury, and would telegraph him details so he could meet her at Dewsbury railway station.

Florence never made it home. She, along with her two young children, and cousin Edith all perished. Her father learned of the ship’s fate from the calls of newspaper sellers, whilst waiting at home for the telegram from his daughter notifying him of her return train time.

One of the most disturbing set of images from the Lusitania tragedy are the photos of corpses recovered. These were used to try to identify the deceased. Body 69 is that of Lily Lockwood. Of all the local victims in this post she is the only one to be formally identified. She is buried in Common Grave B, at the Old Church Cemetery, Cobh, County Cork.

Graves of victims of torpedoed British ocean liner RMS Lusitania by a German U-boat in 1915, at Queenstown, County Cork, Ireland (now known as Cobh).
© IWM Q 18817, IWM Non Commercial Licence

Dick Lockwood remained in America after his family’s deaths. In the 1915 New Jersey State Census he is living in Kearny, New Jersey, in the household of Florence’s uncle George Robshaw, working as a machinist. The 1920 US Federal Census expands on this, stating he was employed as a machinist in a steel works. He married Louise Ernestine Meyer in 1916 and went on to have a daughter, Ruth Victoria. He was widowed for a second time in February 1926.

One final postscript to the Lockwood story. Florence’s uncle,27 George Robshaw, submitted a compensation claim to the U.S.–German Mixed Claims Commission for the loss of Florence, Clifford and Lily. This commission adjudicated on losses arising from the sinking of the Lusitania. George made the claim rather than Dick, because he was an American citizen. His intention was to give any award to Dick. The claim was rejected because George personally suffered no damage which could be measured by pecuniary standards.28


The Goodall family – Willie and Beatrice (née Lockwood), and children Leonard and Jack

When names were being sought for inclusion on Batley’s town War Memorial in 1923, Willie Goodall’s father put his son’s name forward. He explained he was Batley-born and went to America prior to the war. On his journey home with his wife and children he drowned in the Lusitania. The Borough Council rejected the claim. He is not on Batley War Memorial. However, his name does appear on Staincliffe Church of England School’s Roll of Honour.

Staincliffe School War Memorial, Including ‘Willie Goodall, Drowned in Lusitania’ – Photo by Peter Connor

In fact Willie Goodall was not even supposed to be sailing on the Lusitania that day. Only his wife, Beatrice, and children, Leonard and Jack, had initially booked passages. They were travelling back to England along with Beatrice’s Lockwood family relatives (see the section above).

Willie Goodall was born in Batley on 26 October 1881 and baptised at Staincliffe Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on 20 December that year.29 He was the second son of Staincliffe couple Fairfax and Emma Goodall (née Broadhead). In both the 1891 and 1901 censuses Willie, and his elder brother George Arthur, are not in the home of their parents and younger siblings at Tichbourne Street (1891) and Halifax Road (1901). They are recorded as living with their maternal grandparents, George and Elizabeth Broadhead, in the Staincliffe area of Batley, first at Bunkers Lane (1891), then (after George’s death) at Yard 5, 3 Halifax Road (1901). In the latter census Willie worked in the woollen textile industry as a woollen piecer.

By the time of his Batley All Saints marriage on 16 February 1907 he had progressed to follow his father’s textile career path, employed as a rag grinder. Companies he worked for included John Brooke and the Co-op’s Livingstone Mill, both based in Batley Carr. His wife, Beatrice, worked in the textile industry as a weaver, at the time of her marriage, also at the Co-operative Mills.30 Although some passenger sources record her as older than Willie, she was in fact his junior, her birth being registered in the September quarter of 1882.31 This is supported by census documents and the parish register marriage entry.

Willie’s bride, Batley-born Beatrice Lockwood, was the daughter of cloth finisher William Lockwood and his wife Adeline (née Haigh). William was the younger brother of Dick Lockwood, husband of Florence Robshaw. In fact, in the 1891 census the eight-year-old Beatrice Lockwood is living with her uncle Dick and her Lockwood grandparents at Cross Mount Street in Batley.

Later in 1907 the newly-wed Goodalls welcomed their first child into the world, a son named Leonard. Of a non-conformist religious persuasion, the family had their son duly baptised at Batley’s Taylor Street Chapel on 26 September that year.32

Mr and Mrs Goodall with eldest son Leonard

In April 1911 the young family are recorded living in the Staincliffe area of Batley, at 93, Halifax Road. Willie was still employed as a rag grinder, and Beatrice as a weaver. It was that year they took the plunge and moved to Kearny, New Jersey. As mentioned earlier, the family sailed from Liverpool to New York with Florence Lockwood and her children on board the Campania in August that year.

Once more the list of passengers for this voyage provides a physical description of the family. Willie stood at five feet two inches tall, with a dark complexion, brown hair and blue eyes. His wife was two inches taller with a fair complexion, blond hair and grey eyes. Leonard is incorrectly described as an infant, aged one year eleven months. No further details are provided for him.33 But once again is a Yorkshire family playing it crafty to sneak a cheaper fare for their child by knocking years off his age? Leonard was actually nearer to four years old.

The family settled in Kearny, New Jersey and this was where son Jack was born in 1914. However, life was tough, with Willie finding work hard to obtain. He switched jobs regularly, and the difficulty he had in securing satisfactory, lasting work is demonstrated by the range of unconnected industries these involved – from work in a cotton mill, to employment at a motor works and in a linoleum shop.

The employment situation further deteriorated after the outbreak of war, and this prompted the family decision to return home. However, only a week or so before the family planned to travel, Willie obtained what looked like a promising new post. He decided to stay on for two to three months longer to see how it went, leaving his wife and children to return to England on the Lusitania, in third class accommodation with her relatives.

This remained the belief of Willie’s family back home in England, even in the initial aftermath of the sinking. They did not realise Willie had changed his mind the day before the sailing, as the new job did not fulfil expectations. He made a last-minute decision to come home to England and surprise his parents. Grieving for the feared loss of Beatrice and the children, they now learned the crushing news of Willie’s fate in a remarkable way.

Early on in the voyage home, the Goodalls made friends with the Eddie and Annie Riley from Great Horton, Bradford. They were amongst the lucky ones, being saved along with their four-year-old twins Sutcliffe and Edith. Almost as remarkably, photos of the Riley family, taken in Queenstown in the days after their rescue, survive.

This image was originally posted to Flickr by National Library of Ireland on The Commons at https://flickr.com/photos/47290943@N03/29518574043. It was reviewed on 5 August 2020 by FlickreviewR 2 and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the No known copyright restrictions.

Once the Rileys got back to England, they voraciously read the newspaper accounts for any updates. These updates included one from the parents of Willie, stating he had remained in America whilst his family sailed home. Knowing this not to be true, the Rileys travelled to Staincliffe on the 15 September to break the news of Willie’s death to his parents in person.

When the Lusitania was torpedoed Willie was in the smoke-room and Leonard was running about playing on deck. Beatrice was also on deck, with baby Jack, talking to the Riley family. When the explosion occurred Beatrice ran off to seek her husband and eldest child, whilst the Rileys made for the lifeboats. They did not see the Goodalls again.

The Riley family, before returning to England, did make the grisly visit to the mortuary in Queenstown to see if they could recognise any members of the Staincliffe family, but failed to do so. Subsequently Cunard wrote to Willie’s parents stating, in what today seems like a remarkably insensitive manner:

We have now received some photographs of the unidentified bodies recovered and other photographs will be taken as the bodies are brought in, and will be sent here (Liverpool), and displayed for identification. We shall be very pleased to show you these photos, should you care to come to Liverpool….34

These are the sets of photos from which the body of Lily Lockwoood were identified. Unfortunately none of the Goodall family were recognised from them. They have no known graves.


Rev Herbert Linford Gwyer and wife Margaret Inglis Adams (née Cairns)

One of the most iconic incidents in the sinking involved newly-wed Margaret Inglis Adams Gwyer, and her husband the Rev. Herbert Linford Gwyer. The couple were on their way from Canada to Mirfield, for the Rev. Gwyer to resume his association with Yorkshire, taking up his appointment as curate at the parish church of the ancient Mirfield church of St Mary the Virgin.

Mirfield St Mary the Virgin, the church to which the Rev. Herbert L. Gwyer was travelling on the Lusitania, after his appointment as curate there in 1915 – Photo by Jane Robert

Herbert Gwyer was born in London on 19 March 1883,35 the son of stockbroker36 John Edward Gwyer and wife Edith, née Linford. The family lived at Dorchester Place, Regents Park at the time of Herbert’s birth, and this was where his mother died the same day.37 Herbert’s baptism was swiftly arranged at St Paul’s, Lisson Grove on 20 March 1883.38

Educated at Uppingham public school, and Magdalene College Cambridge, Herbert was ordained a Deacon by the Bishop of Wakefield on 23 September 1906.39 His first appointment, as curate at All Hallows parish church, Kirkburton, lasted from 1906 to 1911.

Early in 1911 he left Yorkshire, to take up his new appointment as a missioner to the Railway Mission in Western Canada. In July 1914 he also took charge of the Empress Parish, on the west side of the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. Described as “indefatigable in his efforts for the betterment of the local society40 it was through his endeavours that in the autumn of 1914 a new church edifice was erected.

Margaret Inglis Adams Cairns was born in Dunbar, Scotland on 1 July 1888.41 She was the daughter of local potato merchant William Cairns and his wife Alice. Latterly the family lived in the Warrender Park area of Edinburgh.

The Cairns family, comprising of William, and offspring Thomas, Margaret and Alice, left Glasgow on 2 April 1910 to settle in Canada. Son Norman followed them out later that year. The Cairns family became wealthy farmers with ranches in the Cochrane district, south of Calgary. Meanwhile Margaret made her home in the southern Saskatchewan town of Fort Qu’Appelle.42

It was whilst working in Canada the couple met. Herbert preached for the last time at St Mary’s Anglican Church, Empress, on 11 April 1915 and his resignation from the Railway Mission Society took effect from 12 April 1915. Three days later, in the Empress Church, he and Margaret married.43 They were to sail for England, and to Herbert’s new appointment in Mirfield, on 1 May 1915.

Like Olive North, the Gwyers travelled second class and were in the dining room when the torpedo struck. Writing to an Empress barrister later in May 1915, Herbert recounted the events of that day.

Unlike Olive, the Gwyers opted not to return to their cabin for lifebelts. But, in similarities to Olive’s account, Herbert told of the boat listing badly which prevented any safe lowering of the port side lifeboats – the one attempt he saw resulted in the craft being smashed against the liner’s side killing many. His other recollections were of crockery crashing; people rushing about on deck; and some jumping off the deck to the water below, which by now was full of wreckage and bodies.

Herbert and Margaret moved to the first class deck where the final lifeboat was being loaded. Margaret got one of the last places in it. Herbert remained a solitary figure on deck, many passengers having gone down to their cabins to retrieve valuables.

For a while Herbert stood quite alone waving and calling messages to his wife as the Lusitania went down. Then he made his bid for survival:

I shut my eyes and jumped, and by a merciful providence landed right into a boat in the water. Just then the Lusitania sank and her funnel came right over us. How we were not sucked down I cannot imagine. We all thought the end had come, and when I looked around Margaret was no longer in the boat.44 [From this written account by the clergyman it appears that, by some miracle, the Rev. Gwyer may have landed in the same boat as his wife.]

Herbert would never forget that awful moment. He went on to write:

It had been bad enough seeing her into the boat, but the sea was calm and I thought that with wreckage, etc., even if I wasn’t picked up I should be able to get on something till rescue came. The idea of being drowned never seemed near at all, but when she was washed overboard, I never thought I should see her again.45

Margaret’s ordeal now took on a whole new level of terror. As she was washed overboard, the rush of water sucked her down one of the Lusitania’s great funnels. As the tons of sea water poured on the furnaces below, enormous quantities of steam were generated. This forced a reaction, with jets of water, clouds of steam, oily black water and soot shooting forcefully back out of the funnel and into the sea. And in the midst of all this was an unrecognisable Margaret Gwyer, severely bruised, with injured ribs, clothes stripped away from her, and blackened with layers of soot and oil.

But, unbeknownst to her husband, she was alive, fished out of the water and saved. It was an extraordinary escape from death. And she was described as thoroughly cheerful despite her ordeal.

Herbert Gwyer met his wife again on a fishing boat. Initially, due to a combination of her dramatically changed appearance and his shock, he did not recognise her. But when he did, he could not begin to describe his sheer relief.

The Gwyers left Ireland and landed at Fishguard on Sunday morning, 9 May, with the waiting press eager to hear Margaret’s amazing escape – although many early newspaper reports described her as Herbert’s sister-in-law. They then travelled to Oxfordshire to recuperate with relatives before Herbert took up his appointment at Mirfield St Mary’s in July 1915. He remained in that post until late 1916. His last funeral is noted in the parish register in November of that year.

Rev Herbert Linford Gwyer

Between late 1916 and early 1919 Herbert served as a Temporary Chaplain to the Forces at the Royds Hall Huddersfield War Hospital. Margaret undertook V.A.D. work there. And then, with another of those strange coincidences life often throws, in March 1919 he was appointed Vicar of Christ Church, Staincliffe – the school of which houses the War Memorial inscribed with the name of Lusitania victim Willie Goodall.

Christ Church, Staincliffe, where Rev. Herbert L. Gwyer moved to in 1919, with Staincliffe Church of England School in the foreground, which contains the Memorial Plaque bearing Willie Goodall’s name – Photo by Jane Roberts

His subsequent religious appointments included Bishop of George in South Africa from February 1937. In 1952 he returned to England, becoming the Vicar of Amberley, in Sussex, serving there for five years before his retirement to Chichester in January 1957.

The experiences of Herbert Gwyer and his wife did not deter them from sailing. They appear on numerous passenger lists over the years. On 17 November 1960 the retired clergyman embarked on his final sea crossing. It was a last ironic twist of fate. Two days into the voyage from Southampton to South Africa, on board the Athlone Castle, his life ended, the primary cause being a cardiac arrest.46 45 years after the sinking of the Lusitania he did ultimately die at sea. Margaret survived him by almost 15 years, her death occurring on 16 April 1975.47


Arthur Taylor

The final Lusitania victim in this tale is mystery man Arthur Taylor. Numerous theories as to his identity have been put forward by researchers, but none are conclusive. And, so far, I have come across none who have reached my interpretation.

I believe the mysterious Arthur Taylor was a Thornhill Lees resident.

Official information about him is sparse. Other than his name, nationality (English), that he was travelling 3rd class, his occupation as a sand polisher and his last place of abode being Canada, there is little to go on. One newspaper lists him amongst those from Toronto feared lost, giving his address as Amsterdam Avenue.48

My lead came in the form of a newspaper snippet which reads:

There is unfortunately only too good a reason to believe that a Thornhill Lees young man, Arthur Taylor (30), of 17, Beatson Street, is one of the lost. Up till about three years ago, Taylor was a bottle-hand at the local works, but he then went out to Canada, and he has recently worked for a silver-plate company in Toronto. He is the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. John Taylor, of Brewery Lane, and it was not known at the time of the disaster that he was coming home, though he had recently written to the effect that he would return shortly. On Monday his friends received a telegram from Toronto (but from whom is not known, presumably a friend of the young man), saying that he had sailed on the “Lusitania.” Inquiries were at once set afoot, and his name was found on a passenger list, but not in that of the survivors. On Thursday morning a letter was received from an official source at Liverpool that he was a survivor, but telegraphic communication with Queenstown, the same day, elicited the fact that this was incorrect. Mr. Arthur Taylor was amongst the third-class passengers. He has a wife and a little boy.49

Disentangling this mystery has not proved straightforward because of anomalies with the information provided in the report and with corroborating records.

However, based on my research, it appears the most likely candidate for the Lusitania’s victim is Arthur Taylor, son of Thornhill Lees-born glass bottle maker John Sykes Taylor and his wife Ann Elizabeth Kershaw.

The couple married at Thornhill Lees Holy Innocents church in 1876, but they did not stay local, eventually ending up in Shirehampton, which is located in the Bristol area of Gloucestershire. It was here their younger children were born, with Arthur being the youngest son. According to the baptism register of Shirehampton parish church, he was born on 27 November 1884.50

The move to the south west did not prove permanent, and the 1891 census found the family back in the Thornhill area. Their address in 1901 and 1911 was Chestnut Terrace, Thornhill Lees, and by this latter census John Sykes Taylor had switched from glass bottle making work to become a greengrocer and fruiterer.

Arthur though, followed his father’s old trade. In 1901 the 16-year-old worked as a glass bottle maker. This was almost inevitable given the area in which they lived, with the glass bottle works providing major local employment. The Kilner glassworks, producing bottles, jars and apothecary items, began at Thornhill Lees in 1842. By 1894 the firm employed as many as 400 hands (men, women and boys), and were making up to 300,000 bottles of all types per week.

20-year-old Arthur married Amy Booth on 28 October 1905 at the Thornhill church of St Michael and All Angels. She was the 21-year-old daughter of Sam and Clara Brook.51 Arthur and Amy’s son, John, was born on 19 April 1907, and baptised at the Thornhill Lees Holy Innocents church the following month.52

In the 1911 census the family abode was Thomas Street, Thornhill Lees, with Arthur (26) working as a glass blower and Amy as a cloth weaver in a woollen mill.

It was later that year when Arthur left home, unaccompanied by his wife and child, bound for America. He sailed from Liverpool on the RMS Baltic, and arrived at New York on 9 December 1911. The final destination given for the 27-year old bottle hand, whose last residence was Dewsbury, was Wallingford, Connecticut. This was to the farm of his uncle George Kershaw, the elder brother of Arthur’s mother.53

From the records we have a physical description of Arthur. Standing at five feet nine inches tall, with a medium complexion, brown hair and eyes, he was said to be in good health.54

The first anomaly in this record is place of birth, given as Newport, England – not Shirehampton. There is a village called Newport in Gloucestershire, which is around 19 miles north from Shirehampton – but it is a point to note.

Also, curiously, though married, he names his nearest relative in England as his father John, rather than his wife, Amy. The address given for John though is not Chestnut Terrace, but Brewery Lane, Thornhill Lees. This is the second anomaly. However the map below shows the proximity of the two locations.

Map showing the proximity of Chestnut Terrace to Brewery Lane, Ordnance Survey Maps – Six-inch England and Wales, 1842-1952, Yorkshire CCXLVII.NE Revised: 1905, Published: 1908 – National Library of Scotland, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC-SA) licence

There is a further travel record for the now 29-year-old Arthur Taylor which adds more complications to the mix. This is in the form of a US Border Crossing card, when he left his new home in Toronto, Canada to travel to Buffalo, New York on 14 June 1913. By now he is working as a silver polisher, and again this record gives his birth place as Newport, England – not Shirehampton.55

The first discrepancy on the Border Crossing card was quickly resolved. He declared he had arrived in New York on the Baltic in December 1910, and had lived in Connecticut between 1910 and 1912. This would have meant he could not have been in England for the 1911 census. From migration records it was easy to show he simply got his dates mixed up by one year – his arrival was December 1911 as the passenger and crew lists I mentioned earlier show.

The next point of note is this record names his nearest relative as wife Emma, of 17 Beatson Street, Dewsbury. Whilst the address is a match for the 1915 newspaper report naming Arthur as a Lusitania victim, the name of his wife is incorrect – it should be Amy. However I have seen such name confusion between Amy and Emma in other genealogical records. And the 17 Beatson Street address does indeed link with Amy’s family. This is where her widowed mother Clara lived in 1911.

The final anomaly with the details on this card relate to physical description. There is a height discrepancy of a little over one inch. But, more glaringly, in this record his eyes are said to be blue, not brown. But once again this is not a unique error. For more details on an identical case see my post Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.

I have found no newspaper follow-up piece confirming Arthur’s fate. But, despite the anomalies, I believe the weight of evidence to date overwhelmingly points to Arthur Taylor of Thornhill Lees being a Lusitania casualty for the following reasons:

  • The newspaper report as a whole;
  • The occupational correlation – he worked in the silver plate industry according to the newspaper report, and is variously described as a silver polisher and sand polisher in other records from the period;
  • The Toronto abode;
  • The links between the man who emigrated in 1911 and the Thornhill Lees family; and
  • Crucially, despite exhaustive searches, there is no other candidate from the Thornhill/Thornhill Lees/Dewsbury area who would fit.

I may return to Arthur at a later date, if more evidence comes to light – including what became of his wife and child.



This small sample of 11 local Heavy Woollen District Lusitania connections give some idea of the impact of the ship’s sinking on communities up and down the country. It illustrates how the First World War touched the lives of people beyond those serving in the military. These people, too, became casualties as a direct result of the conflict. It seems fitting, therefore, that Staincliffe school remembered Willie Goodall as such.


Appeal for Help with Photographs: Sourcing copyright free photos of images for posts such as these is always problematic. I located several brilliant online images of those involved in this local history piece which I simply could not use. In the past I have been fortunate that, as a result of my research, families have subsequently shared photos and allowed me to publish them. If anyone does have any such photos I could add to this piece, I would be most grateful.


The searching, sourcing and referencing, including those equally important negative searches, for this post was huge. These references won’t be of interest to many readers. As such I’ve only included an abbreviated form below (and that is lengthy enough). If anyone does want more detailed references please contact me direct.

Notes:
1. Numbers range from 1,191 to 1,201. 1,198 was the number from the Cunard official lists;
2. I have not covered all of those with a local connection as the piece would be too long. Depending on interest I may do it at a later date;
3. 1939 Register and GRO Death Registration. As an aside, Roy is registered as Thomas in the GRO birth indexes;
4. UK Outwards Passenger Lists, The National Archives (TNA), Reference BT27 and the Dewsbury Reporter, 15 May 1915. Note the 1914 date given in the National Maritime Museum papers referred to at [6] is incorrect;
5. Dewsbury Reporter, 15 May 1915;
6. Various accounts of Olive North’s survival and rescue from the sinking or the RMS LUSITANIA, National Maritime Museum, Reference NRT/1;
7. Ibid;
8. Dewsbury Reporter, 15 May 1915;
9. Batley News, 15 May 1915;
10. Dewsbury Reporter, 15 May 1915;
11. Marriage Register of St Michael the Archangel parish church, Aldershot, Surrey History Centre, Reference 6927/1/21;
12. Leeds Mercury, 14 August 1918;
13. The catalogue description of the Olive North National Maritime Museum papers state she was returning to England aboard the Lusitania ostensibly to marry her fiancé Percy Hanson. The wedding was postponed until August 1918;
14. Percy Hanson, Registry of Shipping and Seamen: Royal Naval Reserve Ratings’ Records of Service, TNA, Reference BT 377/7/127199;
15. Olive North, England and Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), Probate date 8 September 1976
16. Baptism Register, St Philip’s, Dewsbury, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference WDP9/439;
17. Marriage Register, Batley All Saints parish church, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference WDP37/34;
18. GRO birth registration December Quarter 1875, Dewsbury, 9b, Vol 618, mother’s maiden name Illingworth. Date of birth from U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, New Jersey, Hudson County;
19. Dewsbury Wesleyan Chapel Baptism Register, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference WC21;
20. Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, TNA, Washington D.C., Record Group Number 85, Series T840;
21. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957, TNA, Washington D.C., Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 7; Page Number: 28;
22. Gare Maritime website, https://www.garemaritime.com/lusitania-part-12-gone-forever-dead-missing/;
23. The Paterson Morning Call, 1 July 1912;
24. Mary A Robshaw, GRO death indexes, Reference September Quarter 1911, Dewsbury, volume 9b, page 899;
25. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957, TNA, Washington D.C., Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 18-23; Page Number: 167;
26. Middletown Daily Argus, 17 May 1915;
27. The Commission incorrectly states he was the brother of Florence;
28. Claim by the USA on behalf of George Robshaw, Docket No 2202, 7 January 1925, taken from Opinions in Individual Lusitania Claims and Other Cases: To May 27, 1925. Washington: G.P.O., 1925;
29. Staincliffe Wesleyan Methodist Chapel Baptism Register, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference C10/21/1;
30. Batley All Saints parish church Marriage Register, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference WDP37/36; and Batley News, 22 May 1915;
31. GRO birth registration September Quarter 1882, Dewsbury, 9b, Vol 586, mother’s maiden name Haigh;
32. England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975, FamilySearch, FHL Film Number 1657189;
33. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957, TNA, Washington D.C., Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 21-23; Page Number: 167;
34. Dewsbury Reporter, 22 May 1915;
35. South African Biographical Index 1825-2005 (various dates); UK and Ireland Incoming Passenger List, arrival 2 April 1955, TNA, Reference BT26/1330; Sea Departure Card for his trip to the Cape in November 1960, TNA Reference BT27/1906Pt1/1/294
36. Subsequently he was secretary of the Provident Clerks Mutual Life Insurance Association, based at Moorgate, London;
37. Edith Gwyer, England and Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), Probate date 10 October 1884
38. Baptism Register of St Paul’s, Lisson Grove, Westminster, accessed via Ancestry, misindexed as Groger, London Metropolitan Archives, no reference supplied
39. Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 24 September 1906
40. The Saskatoon Phoenix, 31 March 1915
41. Her GRO Death Registration gives 1 July 1888 as her date of birth, but some passenger lists state 5 July 1888. I have not obtained her birth certificate to confirm. However her Sea Departure Card for her trip to the Cape in November 1960 has the 1 July 1888 date, so this is likely to be the accurate one. TNA, Reference BT27/1906Pt1/1/565
42. The Saskatoon Phoenix, 31 March 1915;
43. Ibid;
44. The Saskatoon Phoenix, 14 June 1915;
45. Ibid;
46. Deaths at Sea, TNA Reference BT334/0114;
47. Margaret Inglis Adams Gwyer, England and Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), Probate date 15 January 1976;
48. Toronto World, 10 May 1915;
49. Dewsbury Reporter, 15 May 1915;
50. Shirehampton parish church Baptism Register, Bristol Archives, Reference P/St MS/R/2/c;
51. St Michael and All Angels Thornhill Marriage Register, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference WDP14/1/3/12;
52. Holy Innocents Church, Thornhill Lees, Baptism Register, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference WDP169/1/1/2;
53. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957, TNA, Washington D.C., Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 1; Page Number: 102;
54. Ibid;
55. Manifests of Alien Arrivals at Buffalo, Lewiston, Niagara Falls, and Rochester, New York, 1902-1954; TNA Washington DC, Record Group Number: 85; Series Number: M1480; Roll Number: 146

Other Sources (not the complete list):
1861 to 1911 Censuses, England and Wales (various references);
1891 and 1901 Censuses, Scotland;
• 1910, 1920 and 1930 US Federal Census
(various references);
• 1915 New Jersey State Census;
• 1939 Register
(various references);
Amory, P. The Death of the Lusitania. Toronto?, 1917;
• Batley News,
15 May 1915;
Crockford’s Clerical Directory, 1932;
Deaths at Sea Lists, (various);
Dewsbury Reporter, 15 and 22 May 1915;
England and Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), (various);
• Hoehling, A. A., and Mary Duprey Hoehling. The Last Voyage of the Lusitania. Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1996;
Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 10 May 1915;
Imperial War Museum;
• King, Greg, and Penny Wilson. Lusitania: Triumph, Tragedy, and the End of the Edwardian Age. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016;
• Labour, Ministry of. Dictionary of Occupational Terms: Based on the Classification of Occupations Used in the Census of Population, 1921; London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1927;
• Larson, Erik. Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania. New York, NY: Random House Publishing Group, 2015;
Lusitania Online Website: http://www.lusitania.net/
New Jersey, U.S., Death Index, New Jersey State Archives;
• New Jersey Marriage Index,
New Jersey State Archives;
Passenger Lists, (various);
• Peeke, Mitch, Steven Jones, and Kevin Walsh-Johnson. The Lusitania Story: the Atrocity That Shocked the World. Barnsley, England: Pen & Sword, 2015;
• Preston, Diana. Wilful Murder: the Sinking of the Lusitania. London: Doubleday, 2015;
The Berwick Advertiser, 14 May 1915;
The Berwickshire News, 18 May 1915;
The Daily Mirror, 10 May 1915;
The National Library of Scotland Maps;
Wikimedia Commons.

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

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.

My 2020 Family History Review. And is it Really Worth Setting Any Goals for 2021?

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.

Birth Sampler

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:

  1. Pick up my book research, as and when I am able;
  2. Continue my blogging;
  3. Build up my St Mary’s Batley WW1 One-Place Study, details of which are at the top of my WordPress site;
  4. 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
  5. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Family History is Like A Box of Chocolates

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.

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

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

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

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

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