One family, three generations, many errors…

My 6xG grandparents John Christian and Rose Moss had five children:

First child John’s baptism is missing, but he died in 1733 and was buried 20th March.  I have seen digitised images of the original record on Ancestry (record set: England, Church of England Baptism, Marriages, and Burials, 1535-1812) and FindMyPast (record set: Norfolk Burials) so I know for certain that this took place at St James Pockthorpe, Norwich.

However, according to record set: England, Select Deaths and Burials, 1538-1991, also on Ancestry, but licensed from FamilySearch, the burial took place on that same day but at Necton, Norfolk.

Second son Jonathan was baptised 25th August 1734. Again, digitised images of the original records on Ancestry (record sets: Norfolk, England, Church of England Baptism, Marriages, and Burials, 1535-1812 and Norfolk, England, Transcripts of Church of England Baptism, Marriage and Burial Registers, 1600-1935, this latter being Bishops Transcripts) and at FindMyPast (Record set: Norfolk Baptisms) leave me in no doubt that this took place at St James Pockthorpe, Norwich. 

Yet according to England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975, it too took place on the same day but again at Necton.

No baptism to be found for daughter Rose, but again digitised originals evidence her burial at Norwich St James Pockthorpe on 21st June 1737 – although there is also a separate indexing of the record on Ancestry under the name of Ross.  And once again England, Select Deaths and Burials, 1538-1991 records the event at Necton.

No problems for the baptisms of sons Christopher and Philip: correctly recorded at St James Pockthorpe on all record sets.  However, when it comes to Christopher’s second marriage in 1764, records for both the marriage and the banns, although having digitised images and correct transcriptions, are incorrectly attributed to the Northamptonshire county records office instead of the Norfolk archives.

Christopher already had a son by his first wife.  This son, also Christopher, would eventually marry Jane Childs on 18 July 1788 at Norwich, St Andrew.  I know this to be a fact.  I have seen the digitised image of the originals on Ancestry (Record sets: Norfolk, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1936; and Norfolk, England, Transcripts of Church of England Baptism, Marriage and Burial Registers, 1600-1935) and at FindMyPast (Record set: Norfolk Banns And Marriages – separate records for the marriage and for the banns which were read on 25 May, 1 Jun, 8 Jun, 1788).  All records indicate that both bride and groom are of the parish of Norwich St Andrew.

However, record set England Marriages 1538-1973, licensed by FamilySearch to FindMyPast, has three different transcripts for this marriage:

  • 18 July 1788 at Catfield, Norfolk
  • 8 June 1788 at Catfield, Norfolk
  • 18 July 1788 at Norwich, Norfolk

*****

All of the above relates to just three generations of one line of my family.  I have many similar examples, both in Norfolk and in Yorkshire – and possibly others that I just dealt with and corrected without really noticing.  This is easier to do when you are both experienced as a genealogist and familiar with the lay of the land.

But we are not all experienced, and we are not all familiar with the geography of the areas where our ancestors lived. At the time of coming across some of the above errors I was lacking in both – at least at the time of discovering the Necton mysteries.  When an entire generation of my family seemed to have been baptised simultaneously at both St James Pockthorpe in Norwich and at Necton, about 25 miles away – surely an impossibility in the 1730s? – I started to wonder if perhaps the church at Necton had some sort of connection to the parish of St James Pockthorpe in Norwich.  Perhaps St James Pockthorpe was a grand church, and Necton was some sort of chapelry linked to it?  Or perhaps my ancestors had family ties to Necton and the baptism was recorded there too. I have since visited St James Pockthorpe and know the former to be far from the truth, but at the time I remember posting a question about this on an online group.  A more experienced genealogist pointed out to me that all of the wrong information had come from one provider, that these record sets were transcripts only, and that the true information could be seen and verified by looking at the images on all the other sets.

There are several points to take from all of the above, and for less experienced readers I hope there will be something to learn from this. The first is that even on the same subscription site the same event might be recorded in several different record sets. In the examples above, the same event has appeared in the original parish register entry, the contemporary bishop’s transcript based on that register, and a more modern transcription of that information that someone has made for ease of bringing genealogical information free of charge to a wider audience.

The second point is that not all record sets are equal. A transcription is much better than nothing, but it is far better to see the original image for yourself. It was only through seeing the original record in several of the record sets for St James Pockthorpe that I knew for sure the Necton entries were wrong. It was then through realising that the incorrect information all came from one source – the transcriptions licensed from FamilySearch – that I realised the potential dangers of relying on transcriptions. Ever since, when I rely on a transcription made by someone else I note that it was a transcript and where possible I note the location of the originals. Over time, often the originals will become available online. We need to get to know which are the best sets for our geographical areas of interest, and to rely on transcripts only when necessary.

Third is that we must engage with the information. In the other main example above, when records suggested that Christopher and Jane married in two different places on two different dates it made me pause for thought.  It was unlikely that there were two Christopher Christians marrying two Jane Childs’s in Norfolk within a few weeks of each other. More likely that the different dates came about because of a record of the reading of the banns – and the lack of a field for the transcriber to record that this was the banns and not a marriage. It was also possible that that Christopher’s bride was from the parish of Catfield, therefore banns would be read at both places.  It was only by reading the information on the records that I could see both Jane and Christopher were from the parish of Norwich St Andrew and the problem was in the transcription; but also that yes, the different dates arose because some of the records related to the banns.

Parish register entry for marriage of Thomas Mann and Sarah Creak

Fourth is that errors are not limited to transcription sets. Archaic handwriting may be difficult to read, and even when the original image is included in the set the names may be wrongly indexed. I spent many years looking for the marriage of a Thomas Mann to a Sarah Creak. (See above) Creak had been transcribed as Cook. If something looks unlikely, or if we’re drawing a blank, it makes sense to try the same search using a different record set or even a different index with another provider, such as FreeBMD, FreeReg or FreeCen.

And then there is the matter in the final example above, in which the entire record set has somehow been assigned to Northamptonshire. If you were unfamiliar with the geography of your ancestors’ homeland you might easily record the location of the originals as Northamptonshire records office instead of Norfolk, which wouldn’t be a good thing.

I hope there is food for thought in all that. Now that we have the perils of over-reliance on transcriptions out in the open, my next post will look at the matter from the other side – how we can use them effectively in our research.

Counting the population, 1811-1831

Since 1841 the decennial census has been an increasingly invaluable resource for genealogists and family historians, providing us with a ten-yearly check-in on our ancestors that we can compare with parish registers, civil BMD certificates, and other documents recording events in their lives. 

But did you know that the census did not begin in 1841?  There were four earlier censuses, in 1801, 1811, 1821 and 1831. 

There had been calls for a better knowledge and understanding of the state of the population since the middle of the 17th century.  How many people were there?  How many paupers?  How many men were available to fight, and what would be the impact on their communities if they were required to do so?  These, and other important questions were behind the call, and it was felt increasingly that existing parish records were not up to the job. However, it was not until the turn of the 19th century that the issue finally found its way to the statute book.  The Population Act of 1800 provided for ‘an enumeration’ of the population on 10 March 1801, or as soon as possible thereafter, with two objectives:

  1. to ascertain the number of persons, families and houses and a broad indication of the occupations in which the people were engaged;
  2. to gather information to provide a better understanding of whether the population was increasing or decreasing.

Information relating to the first objective was to be collected by the Overseers of the Poor or ‘other Substantial Householders’, via house to house enquiry.  The second objective was to be addressed by selective scrutiny of parish registers during the previous hundred years, and was to be carried out by the Clergy in England and Wales, and by the Schoolmaster ‘or other fit person or persons’ in Scotland.

This pattern of specific Act of Parliament followed by a census the next year occurred every decade up to and including the 1910 Act / 1911 census.  (The Census Act of 1920 provided for future enumerations as well as for that due to be taken in 1921.)  As with the censuses since 1841, the questions asked were amended in 1811, 1821 and 1831.  You can read the exact questions asked, together with more about the history of the earlier censuses at the Vision of Britain website

Sadly for us as genealogists and family historians, what distinguishes these early censuses from those since 1841, is that they were simply enumerations of the population: there was no requirement to record names.  Of course the information recorded was and remains of use to various professionals including planners, population analysts and historians, and we can access digitised images of the original reports via online search at histpop: online historical and population reports.  An abstract for Leeds Town for the 1801 enumeration, for example, shows that the East division, where I know some of my ancestors lived at that time, had 1,156 inhabited houses, occupied by a total of 1,339 families.  58 additional houses were uninhabited.  I also see that in this division there were 2,387 males and 2,737 females, and I can see the breakdown of occupations of these people.  Similar information is available for 1811, 1821 and 1831 – and of course for every other parish in the country.

If by now you’re thinking this is all very nice, but you would far prefer to see records with the names of your ancestors and to learn a little more about them specifically and their lives… you may be in luck.

When the overseers, schoolmasters, clergy or other fit and substantial persons carried out their enquiries, they did of course make their own records. Generally this would have included a list of actual named householders, together with the required information for that household. They were, as we know, not required to submit this information; rather they extracted the numerical data from it. Having done that they may have destroyed their original paperwork. On the other hand, they may have retained it, often amongst the papers in the parish chest.

In fact quite a few name-rich lists from the early censuses are known to have survived and more come to light from time to time. As they do, their existence and whereabouts are recorded by a team at the University of Essex Department of History, who have published a booklet listing their findings: Census schedules and listings, 1801-1831: an introduction and guide, available online [here]. Documents are listed by county, alphabetically, and within that by parish. Known locations of the documents are included. They may, for example, be at the local record office; copies may be at the main library; and local history or family history societies may have transcribed them. The authors at Essex University acknowledge that theirs is a work in progress, so it’s possible that there may still be more to be found amongst parish records and papers at your local Record Office.

To return to my Leeds Town example, notes have been found for almost the whole township for 1801, and these do include the East division. I haven’t yet been able to view it, but it will certainly add another piece to the developing jigsaw puzzle of known information about my ancestors in this area.

I hope you find something of interest about your parishes too.

A virtual tour of medieval London

These two videos are nothing short of amazing.

They were created in 2013 by two teams of six students from De Montfort University. The task was to create a gritty representation of 17th century London.

Both videos ‘recreate’ 17th century London as it existed before The Great Fire of 1666.  The amount of research is clear, not to mention artistic and animation skills.  They researched street layouts using historical maps, contemporary building construction, and diaries from the period.  The hanging signs record genuine inns and businesses from contemporary records.

Watching these videos really helps me to imagine myself back in the period.  One of the things I notice is the number of church spires.  London had 126 parishes, and although most of them have not survived, the scenes remind me very much of central Norwich today, with a church and little churchyard at almost every corner.  I realise that London must have looked very similar.  I literally lose myself every time I watch these.

The videos were created for ‘Off the Map’, a competition run by The British Library and video game developers GameCity and Crytek.  ‘Pudding Lane Productions’ (above) won first prize.

The first video lasts 3 minutes 29 seconds; Triumphant Goat’s, below, is 7 minutes 59 seconds.

Old Peculiars, New Peculiars…

For some months now, all in the cause of my Advanced Genealogy course, I’ve been up to my eyes in old manorial records and samples of archaic scripts. I’ve really enjoyed the ‘Manorial Documents’ module, and have several action plans for various ancestral lines, to be actioned when it’s safe to visit the archives. In case all this is new to you, I’ll start by saying that historically, a ‘manor’ is not a rambling, pleasant country house such as we see dotted about the English countryside. Rather the term refers to the land that came under the jurisdiction of the ‘lord of the manor’ who lived in that fine house, and to the relationship between him and the people who lived within its bounds. Originally, most of these people would have been bonded to the lord, although by the 16th century this was no longer the case.

Much of England was divided up between the patchwork of many and varied manors, and you can easily find out if land in your ancestral places of interest formed part of a manor by using the online Manorial Documents Register at The National Archives. You can search by name of manor or name of parish. Some manors have no known surviving records, but for the majority that do you can click on the results and find a list of collections, together with the archive where they’re lodged. Be warned! They are originals, written in contemporary script and sometimes in Latin…

Working on this Manorial Documents module has helped me get to the bottom of a mystery surrounding a number of my ancestors who lived in Pannal (Harrogate) and had their wills proved at Knaresborough Honour Peculiar.

What’s a Peculiar?
The Court of Probate Act, 1857, created a Court of Probate along with probate registries in London and districts throughout England and Wales. In doing so, it removed responsibility (and power) for the granting of probate from the ecclesiastical courts, making this a civil function. Prior to this Act, the granting of probate and letters of administration when someone died had been the responsibility of those ecclesiastical courts: usually the courts of the diocese and archdeaconry. However, for many centuries, certain places had been exempt from the usual jurisdiction of the bishop and archdeacon. These were referred to as ‘peculiars’.

Ever since learning about my Pannal ancestors and their wills I had assumed the ‘peculiar’ was the parish. In fact this didn’t really make sense, because Pannal (where they lived) and Knaresborough (where probate was granted) are two different parishes. Now, after a good deal of research, troubling over misleading definitions and scratching of the head, I understand that peculiars can be parishes, manors or liberties. Where a peculiar is a manor, we can refer to it as a manor-peculiar. This was not a privilege granted to all manors: it was, after all, ‘peculiar’. Where this manorial right does exist it can generally be traced back to some former connection with an ecclesiastical corporation, such as the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem.

As I said, untangling the above was not straightforward. Most definitions of ‘peculiar’ mention only parishes. Even when I got to the bottom of the concept of the manor-peculiar, I still had to unravel the reason why Knaresborough’s manor-peculiar had jurisdiction over Pannal; and this is because it was an ‘Honour’. An Honour, such as Knaresborough Honour where these wills of my ancestors were proved, was a sort of overarching manor, the seat of a lordship with several dependent manors. It’s likely that my ancestors held land within the Manor of Pannal or the Manor of Brackenthwaite (also in Pannal), but that this manor came under the rule of the Honour of Knaresborough. (I hope to be able to confirm all this when I can eventually visit the archives.)

Identifying peculiar jurisdictions
You can find out if a parish of interest to you came under peculiar jurisdiction by using FamilySearch maps. If you’ve never used this – it’s brilliant! Try it now by searching for Pannal (It’s the one in Yorkshire). The map shows you the boundaries of the parish, and a box pops up with three mini pages: ‘Info’, ‘Jurisdictions’ and ‘Options’. Click on ‘Jurisdictions’, and amongst other jurisdictional bodies you’ll see that before 1858 Probate was dealt with by The Court of the Peculiar of the Honour of Knaresborough. By contrast, the adjacent parish of Kirkby Overblow had the usual probate arrangements: Exchequer and Prerogative Courts of the Archbishop of York. Now try this for any parish you like, and it will tell you if there was peculiar or the normal ecclesiastical jurisdiction for probate. Then it’s a matter of finding out where these probate records are kept, and whether they are available online. In my case, some of the wills proved at The Court of the Peculiar of the Honour of Knaresborough are online with Ancestry. These ones are lodged at the West Yorkshire Archives, because Pannal and Knaresborough were formerly in the West Riding. The rest are at the Borthwick Institute in York, which is where the main collection of ecclesiastical records for the Archbishop of York’s province is lodged.

Old Peculier
But this is New Year’s Day, and I’m still appreciating the down time. So the real reason I’m writing about this today is that one of the oddities that turned up in my research was about Theakston’s ‘Old Peculier’. The name of this beer (note the archaic spelling of ‘peculier’) is actually a reference to these historic courts. On the website Theakstons say ‘The name pays tribute to the unique ecclesiastical status of Masham [where the brewery is located] as a ‘Court of the Peculier’ and is also reference to the strong characteristic of the beer.’ (Having just drunk the glass in the above photo I can confirm it is very nice! 🙂 ) Using FamilySearch maps we can see that Masham was indeed subject to the testamentary jurisdiction at the Court of the Peculiar of the Prebend of Masham. Not ‘unique’, though… but definitely peculiar.

It seems fitting to end this very peculiar year with a bottle of ‘Peculier’ beer of Peculiar origins, and to raise a glass to 2021 in the hope of it being decidedly less, well… peculiar. I hope this finds you and your families happy and healthy, that the festive season, although low key, was enjoyable, and that we can all look forward to what the New Year holds.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, peaceful and successful 2021 for us all!

The Princess Mary Gift Box, 1914

My first post this year was about my maternal grandparents who were married on 24 January 1920, three weeks after my Granddad returned from India. He had been away with the Army ten and a half years, and they had not seen each other since he went away shortly after proposing to the young lady who would be my grandmother. By the end of 2020 their first child, my uncle, was born.

I’ve been thinking about them a lot, recently: all those years my grandparents never got to be together. I suspect the hardest times were when my Granddad’s Regiment was posted to yet another exotic location with no home leave at all, and when he wrote each time to his fiancée to tell her his homecoming would be delayed yet again. That and Christmas, when he would have loved to be with her and his family. In a strange echo of the past, their son would write from India at Christmas 1945 to say how fed up he was to be delayed in India after the end of the Second World War, instead of being back home.

Back in 1914, when it was still thought the war would be over quickly, seventeen year-old Princess Mary wanted to send every soldier and sailor involved in the war effort a personal gift for Christmas.  ‘Her Royal Highness the Princess Mary’s Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Fund‘ was created, and donations were invited from the general public.  In a letter released by Buckingham Palace early in November 1914 and published in British and colonial newspapers, the princess wrote:

“I want you now to help me to send a Christmas present from the whole of the nation to every sailor afloat and every soldier at the front. I am sure that we should all be happier to feel that we had helped to send our little token of love and sympathy on Christmas morning, something that would be useful and of permanent value, and the making of which may be the means of providing employment in trades adversely affected by the war. Could there be anything more likely to hearten them in their struggle than a present received straight from home on Christmas Day?

Please will you help me?”

The gift was to be a small embossed brass box containing a number of small items. Most contained one ounce of pipe tobacco, twenty cigarettes, a pipe, a tinder lighter, Christmas card and a photograph of the Princess. For the non-smokers the brass box contained a packet of acid tablets, a khaki writing case with pencil, paper and envelopes, and the Christmas card and photograph.  Boxes for the nurses contained the card and chocolate.

The response to the appeal was overwhelming.  The cost of purchasing sufficient quantities of the gift box for 145,000 sailors and 350,000 soldiers was estimated at £55,000 – £60,000, but the appeal raised £162,591 12s 5d, meaning the gift could be sent to all British and Imperial service men and women: about 2,620,019 in all. The gift boxes were to be delivered in three waves: First all naval personnel and troops at the Front were to receive theirs before, on or shortly after Christmas Day.  Wounded soldiers in hospital, men on furlough, prisoners of war (whose gifts were held in reserve) and nurses serving at the Front were also included in this first wave, as were widows and parents of soldiers killed in action.  The wording on the card was ‘With Best Wishes for a Happy Christmas and a Victorious New Year from the Princess Mary and Friends at Home’ 

The second wave included all other British, colonial and Indian troops serving outside the British Isles; and finally in the third wave, all troops stationed in Britain.  Second and third wave recipients were to receive their gifts during or shortly after January 1915 – although in reality some had to wait much longer than that.  For them, the wording was amended to ‘With Best Wishes for a Victorious New Year from the Princess Mary and Friends at Home’.  The front of the card bore the Princess’s monogram, with the year 1914 for the first wave and 1915 for the rest.

Princess Mary’s plan to give the service men and women ‘something that would be useful and of permanent value’ was a great success.  The empty brass box was light and air-tight, but also of quite sturdy construction.  It could be used to carry and keep safe small personal items such as money, tobacco and photographs throughout the rest of the war.  Many of them, my Granddad included, treasured it for the rest of their lives.  That’s his (now mine) you see photographed here, together with the original card from Princess Mary that indicates he received his in India as part of the second wave: it’s dated 1915 and bears the ‘Victorious New Year’ greeting. 

As for the ‘Victorious New Year’, well that was a little longer coming…

You can read more about the Princess Mary Gift Fund Box, and see photograhs of some with the original contents, on the Imperial War Museum website, and on the Netley Military Cemetery website.  They are a lot more sparkly than mine.  I decided not to clean it.

*****

On that note, thoughts return to 2020, and to the present Christmas.  As I write this, here in the UK hundreds of lorries are backing up at the ports; European hauliers, with no food and few facilities, are unlikely to make it home to be with their families for Christmas; and many people’s already scaled-down plans have been dashed following emergency measures announced after a mutation of the COVID-19 virus.  Wherever in the world you are, and whatever changes from your usual festive arrangements you’ve had to make, I wish you a Safe and Peaceful Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year for us all.

DNA: Proactive strategies for engaging with your match list

Today’s post is the last in my three-part mini-series on practical ways to make the most of your DNA results.  The first post, concentrating on what you can do right away, aimed to encourage you to get to know the layout of your testing company’s site and what resources there are attached to your DNA results.  The second looked at ThruLines (Ancestry) and Theory of Family Relativity (MyHeritage).  Throughout, the importance of constant reference to your family trees is emphasised.  DNA works alongside the genealogy; it doesn’t replace it.

Those first two posts focused on using the information being offered to you on a plate and trying to relate it to your own research.  In this third post it’s time to get more proactive.  Perhaps there’s a gap in your tree or a brick wall, and you want to see if you can use DNA to solve it.  Or perhaps there’s a mystery match of a decent size and you want to find where this person connects with you on your tree.  In other words, you’re now coming to the DNA with a question.

Before going any further I’m going to tell you about the limitations of my own DNA testing capability.  I have no surviving parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins, and only one brother.  Already this means I’m depending on second cousins testing.  Now as it happens I do have an unusually large number of second cousins.  One great aunt alone was the matriarch of eleven children and about 48 grandchildren.  But although I’ve had contact with some, I’ve never met any of them and certainly couldn’t approach any to ask if they would oblige by spitting into a tube for DNA testing purposes to serve my whim.  You’d think that out of so many second cousins some of them might have taken a DNA test anyway.  Well yes, I know of three.  I make good use of the results of two of them, but the other’s results are private.

Whenever I read books or blogposts from respected DNA authorities I’m in awe of the number of family members for whom they have DNA results.  It’s plain that some buy DNA tests in bulk when they’re on offer and simply dole them out to family members, all of whom willingly oblige.  Add into this mix the fact that DNA testing is far more popular in the US than it is in Europe, and you might start to get an idea of the gap between the kind of results these DNA gurus work with and the paltry results available to me.  Apart from my brother and the two second cousins, my closest matches are at 3rd cousin once removed distance and then we’re down to 4th cousins and a lot of matches in the 30-40cM range.

What all of the above means is that I have to work a lot harder to get answers from my DNA.  It also means that with perseverence, it is possible.  This genuinely is a case where if I can do it, so can you.  In fact chances are your matchlist will be stronger than mine.

So with all that in mind, here are some proactive ways you can engage with the information available on your match list and in the attached trees, and use this to confirm your research and/or break down brick walls.

Filtering
You can use the filter bar at the top of your match list to home in on focused information.

At Ancestry you can home in on unviewed matches; matches with common ancestors; matches with public / private / linked / unlinked trees; people you have already messaged, added to a group or made notes for; you can filter by relationship or shared cM; by date of test; and you can search for matches by name or with specific surnames or specific birthplaces in their trees:

Ancestry's DNA matchlist filter bar

MyHeritage allows you to filter by tree details (Theory of Family Relativity; Smart Matches; shared surname or birthplace; has a tree); by proximity of relationship; by country and ethnicity.  You can also sort by segment information, full name, and in recent order of testing.  And you can search by name or ancestral surname:

My Heritage filter bar for DNA matches

I’ve had some success using surname filters to find a common ancestral line, and also using birthplace filters to try to home in on a likely geographical area within Northern Ireland for an ancestral line with records suggesting two conflicting places of origin

Building trees
If you have a decent match that you don’t recognise and they have the beginnings of a tree attached to their results, you can try working their tree back yourself.  What you consider a ‘decent’ match will very much depend on how many close or extended family members you have on your matchlist.  You may, for example, consider that anything less than 80cM isn’t worth your time.  I will do it for much lower matches.

By way of example of what is possible.  I’ve done this, and found my connection with:

  • A 73cM match with only seven surnames (no first names) on the tree.  Our connection is 3C1R
  • A 55cM match with only the name of my match and the name of the person managing the DNA test, who was her son to, work with. Our connection is 4C1R.
  • A 53cM match with six entries on a tree – two of them private, one ‘unknown’, one with only a first name (which was not entirely correct), and two who were known by names other than the ones given at birth (!)  Our connection is 4C.

It isn’t always possible, but it often is.

If you want more ideas on how to progress these ‘Quick & Dirty’ trees, the following video (18:58 mins) might help get you started: Blaine Bettinger: Building Quick & Dirty Trees to Identify Genetic Matches

Remember that if you have close matches and both your trees are well-developed but you can’t find your common ancestors, then either your tree or your match’s tree is wrong, doesn’t go back far enough or sufficiently wide (siblings, half siblings, etc) OR you have uncovered a misattributed parentage in one of your trees. See my previous post about unexpected test results.  I have also started to look wider in my own tree building, bringing more lines forward in the hope of ‘meeting’ ancestors of distant cousins who haven’t yet been able to find their way further back.

Clustering
‘Clustering’ is the term used for grouping your DNA matches into groups using the ‘Shared Matches’ tool.  The idea is that the resulting ‘clusters’ will represent the distinct lines of your own family tree.  Clustering was developed  in 2018 by Dana Leeds.  Her technique, which became known as ‘The Leeds Method‘ uses a spreadsheet and you can read all about it on her website.

In 2019 MyHeritage introduced an Autocluster tool, based on the same principles, but saving a lot of time by generating the clusters for you at the click of a button.

Since then Ancestry have introduced a colour grouping facility to their match list and a system has been developed for using these as a clustering tool.  You can see this in operation in the following video: Larry Jones: How to Cluster your DNA matches With Ancestry’s New DNA Matches

The idea is that, by pointing to a common ancestral line, clustering narrows down where you have to look for your connection to these matches.  You can then focus on each of these family ‘clusters’ as a whole – look for connections in trees, perhaps even build one ‘Quick and Dirty’ tree for each cluster rather than a separate one for each mystery match you want to explore.

A problem I have with all of these clustering techniques is that I don’t have enough close matches to be able to set the systems up.  Dana Leeds bases her method on first cousin matches.  Larry Jones’s system on Ancestry is based on second cousin matches.  I don’t even really get going until 3rd and 4th cousin matches.  Nevertheless, I do run the Autoclusters report on MyHeritage from time to time, and I do make use of the colour groupings on Ancestry.  I have eight colours: one for each great grandparent, and I add matches to these groups either when I have a confirmed match or when, based on shared matches, a connection looks likely.

Asking family members to test
Back in July I wrote about how our family members’ test results can help us in our research. In that post I wrote about the different ways our various family members’ DNA can help us to isolate the branches of our tree.  If you’re lucky enough to have relatives who will take a test for you, that post will help you work out who to ask.

Chromosome mapping
If you tested with 23andMe or if you tested / uploaded your DNA results to MyHeritage, FTDNA or GEDmatch, you’ll be able to view your matches in a chromosome browser.  This takes us into a whole new range of possibilities for working with our DNA, and I have another little mini-series of posts about this planned for the spring of 2021.

*****

My aim for this mini-series of posts about practical application of your DNA results has been to provide sufficient basic information to enable you to start to work with your DNA and then to be able to ask informed, focused questions as you need to.  And trust me – you WILL need to!  I hope you’ve found it helpful.

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Note
My posts about DNA are aimed at complete beginners and aim to provide information in manageable chunks, each post building on previous ones. Click [here] to read all of them in order, or to dip in and out as you wish. You’ll also find lots of resources, useful links and book recommendations.

‘ThruLines’ and ‘Theory of Family Relativity’

For DNA testers who have attached a decent sized family tree to their test results, Ancestry and MyHeritage have tools that trawl through your matches to find common ancestors.

On Ancestry this tool is called ThruLines and it’s one of the three options on the main page when you enter the DNA part of your Ancestry site.  Click the green ‘Explore ThruLines’ tab, and you’ll find all your known direct ancestors up to and including 5xG grandparent.  Hover your curser over the ancestor to see if there are any matches and click on the ancestor to review the matches and decide for yourself if they are valid.

On MyHeritage the equivalent tool is called Theory of Family Relativity.  You’ll find them as they occur on your DNA match list, alongside those matches for whom ‘theories’ have been generated.  Just click the ‘Theory’ alert and review what’s being suggested.  Alternatively, you can use the filter bar at the top of your match list to see only matches for whom there is a ‘Theory’.  You’ll find it in the menu if you click on ‘All tree details’.

My Heritage filter bar for DNA matches

All you need to make use of these two tools is a well padded-out tree, and to have that tree linked to your DNA results.  You can have several sets of DNA results linked to the one tree and they will all work with ThruLines and Theories of Family Relativity.

In both cases – Ancestry and MyHeritage – the suggestions are based on your tree and your match’s tree.  They draw upon these and on other trees and records in their database to suggest how you may be related to your DNA matches through common ancestors. Hence although they will only show up if you and the other person are a DNA match, they are based on the genealogy, not the genetics.

These suggestions can be really helpful.  They are, however, ‘theories’, ‘suggestions’, ‘hints’.  We must review them and confirm (or otherwise) for ourselves. In this sense they are not dissimilar to the hints that pop up on our trees.

A ThruLines success!
Here’s a very recent (yesterday!) example from ThruLines that enabled me to break down a long-standing brick wall.  George Gamble is my 4xG grandfather.  He married my 4xG grandmother (Hannah) in 1790, when she was 20 years old.  I assumed he would be about the same age and was looking for a baptism between around 1760 and 1770.  When this ThruLine suggestion first popped up on my screen each of the two columns was headed by a different George Gamble – mine with an estimated birth year of 1765 and the one on the left with a birth year of 1749.  It didn’t make any sense, but I thought maybe the two Georges might be cousins, and this might lead me to my George’s father, so I clicked on the ‘other’ George.

That George was married to Susanna, but I noticed that they stopped having children in 1789 – the year before my George married Hannah.  Might Susanna have died in that year, perhaps in childbirth?  I checked for a burial for a Susanna Gamble, and there it was – about 14 weeks after the last birth – possibly milk fever?  I then checked all the occupation references for this other George.  He was a clothier – the same as my George.  The 1790 marriage entry for my 4xG grandparents refers to ‘George Gamble of this parish, clothier, and Hannah Brook of this parish, spinster’, but makes no reference to George’s own widowed marital status.  This was, however, undoubtedly the same person.  My 3xG grandmother Betty was from George’s second family, with Hannah; Phebe was from his first marriage to Susanna.  I amended George’s birth year to 1749, added in his first wife and children, and was able to take his line back another two generations.  Thrulines updates every 24 hours, and so today this new version of the chart has appeared: one George at the top of both lines, with a birth year of 1749.

Chart showing an example from Ancestry's ThruLines

The green entries on this ThruLines chart are significant.  My DNA match here has only fifteen people in her tree, and Ancestry’s system drew upon other trees to insert the connecting generations.

In the example above you’ll note that I didn’t just accept the suggestion.  I dug around, clarified, verified and decided for myself that this was a genuine connection.  In fact, being a ‘half 4th cousin 2x removed’, this match and I share very little DNA – only 8 centiMorgans.  With such a low match I would never have explored our connection without this nudge from Thrulines, and yet this chart enabled me to break down a decade-long brick wall.

Having said all that, in the interests of balance I will also say that the suggestions offered up by Thrulines and the Theory of Family Relativity are not always correct.

There are several reasons why this might be so.

‘Potential ancestors’ based on others’ trees may be wrong
As we have seen in the above example, if you or your match have a gap in your tree – for example if your line ends at a brick wall, or if your line goes back several generations further than your match’s, ThruLines actually fills in gaps. If these suggested ancestors are correct this can be a huge help, but they are not always correct.

One of my early posts on this blog was about the advantages and pitfalls of using public online trees.  A key point in that post was that just because it’s on someone else’s tree doesn’t make it right.  However, the way the algorithms work is that they go with the majority.  Your tree may be beautifully researched and documented and may be absolutely correct, but if six people have copied the wrong research it is that which will show up as the way to go.

Here’s an example.
In every census, my 3xG grandfather Joseph Groves gives an age consistent with a birth year of 1816 together with a birthplace of ‘London, Middlesex’. On his marriage certificate he gives his father’s name and occupation as ‘William Groves, gunsmith’.  However, there are no local ties to help me to navigate back to William, because as a young man Joseph leaves London, spends twenty years in the West Midlands and then relocates to Yorkshire.

An 1817 baptism record in Lambeth looked promising, and although the father’s name is Joseph rather than William it was worth following through.  However, this Joseph (the son) is still in London in 1841, by which time my Joseph has moved on to Staffordshire.  In any case, this part of London, south of the river, was referred to as ‘London, Surrey’, rather than Middlesex.  This is not my ancestor.

Despite this, and even though I have named my Joseph’s father as William, ThruLines persists in offering up Lambeth Joseph’s mother (Susannah) as my 4xG grandmother.  Note again, that because it’s a suggestion, Susannah’s thumbnail is green.  Clicking through and looking at the trees on which this suggestion is based I see a completely different family for Susannah and her son, Lambeth Joseph.  There is no doubt that this is not my Joseph and Susanna is not my 4xG grandmother.

Ancestry's ThruLines thumbnail example

You and your match may be distant cousins on more than one line
One of my DNA matches and I have two fairly close ancestral connections.  We are 4th cousins along my paternal grandmother’s line and 3rd cousins once removed along my paternal grandfather’s line.  I found the second link by accident when I was working on a third person we both link to.  There is no way ThruLines could have worked this out.  Its job is to trawl until it finds a match – one match.

This matters because we might look at other fairly close shared matches and assume that our match is along the same line.  It’s also particularly important if you start to use a chromosome browser – which I will cover in a future post.  Chromosome browsers enable you to use known segments as a basis for placing other unknown segments, so it really matters that you have attributed a segment to the right ancestors.  In this case, working with the chromosome browser, I have since been able to work out which segments shared with my double cousin belong to which line.

In case you think this is a rare scenario – it isn’t.  I have at least three more examples just like this in my tree.

You or your match may have made a mistake in your research We all make mistakes, and it’s important to be open to that possibility and to review if things aren’t looking right.

There may be an unknown misattributed parentage in one of your lines
Since the hints are based on trees rather than on analysis of segments the fact that two testers share DNA does nevertheless mean they are related elsewhere.

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I hope this little run through ThruLines and Theory of Family Relativity has demonstrated to you their obvious benefits.  All we have to remember is to use them as suggestions and to work through it and decide for ourselves if it’s real.

This video from Devon Noel Lee at Family History Fanatics might help to consolidate some of the above information for you.

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My posts about DNA are aimed at complete beginners and aim to provide information in manageable chunks, each post building on previous ones. Click [here] to read all of them in order, or to dip in and out as you wish. You’ll also find lots of resources and useful links

So your DNA results are in! What now?

I first took a DNA test to help with my family research about eight years ago.  Although I’d done a little reading and understood the basics, I had no idea how to make practical use of the DNA.  In the absence of knowledge, tools and even significant tester databases my modus operandi was to contact my matches and ask if they would be prepared to work with me at trying to locate where, on our trees, we matched.  Some never replied but even with the ones who did it wasn’t a success, resulting in zero confirmed matches.  None of us really had any idea how to actually use the new information the DNA itself provided.  Now, when I look back at the people I contacted I can ‘read’ the DNA info regarding our match better and I can see why we never found / in some cases never will find our common ancestors.

Since then, there have been lots of developments:

  • Many more people have tested
  • People have emerged as ‘authorities’, writing books, blogs, and producing helpful videos
  • Facebook groups have formed where people help each other and again, some have emerged as leaders and experts
  • Ancestry and MyHeritage have developed their own tests aimed specifically at genealogists, and working increasingly seamlessly with the tree-building functions of their websites
  • Other people and companies have created tools for us to use alongside our DNA results to help us get the most from them

Eventually I decided to get on top of this DNA thing, challenging myself to see how far I could progress within one year.  I tested again, this time with Ancestry (so I could access their large database), I read books, watched videos, learned how to use some of the new tools, and I joined Facebook groups, asking questions when stuck.  More than two years have passed and I’m still learning, but these days I can usually work on a match without ever needing to contact the other person, just using information on the database.  Of course there remains much to learn.  I still read, seek out videos on specific learning points, and if I’m stuck on something specific there is always someone on the Facebook groups with apparently encyclopaedic knowledge on matters DNA.

Earlier this year I published five blogposts (starting here) about how we can use DNA to develop our trees.  They were aimed at the complete beginner with no knowledge, and in particular at readers who hadn’t tested and didn’t trust or understand that DNA can provide a very useful additional string to your bow.  I tried to cover a number of common objections and misunderstandings I see regularly in online discussions

I’ve now put together another little series of posts.  This time the focus is more practical: how can we put the theory covered in those earlier posts into practice?  These posts have grown out of many email exchanges with some of my own DNA matches in which I’ve tried to answer their questions or explain to them how we might be able to progress together.  Again, this series focuses on known sticking points – often discovered in working with my own DNA matches.  So if you’re reading this because we’re DNA cousins (Hello!) then this post, the next two, and others that will follow in spring 2021 are dedicated to you.  My hope is that by writing it here instead of (repeatedly!) in emails, it will help other new – or even not-so-new – testers, who are still finding out how to make the DNA work.

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Getting started: Looking at your results
I’m going to concentrate here on the two DNA testing providers mostly used by amateur genealogists: Ancestry and MyHeritage.  These companies are increasingly integrating their DNA service with their online tree function.  However, other testing companies will present the essential information in a similar way.

When you open up the DNA page on Ancestry or MyHeritage the options you’re presented with are pretty similar.

On Ancestry you’ll see:

  • Your DNA Story, including ethnicities, and breaking these down further into regions, counties and smaller areas.
  • DNA Matches
  • Thrulines

On MyHeritage you’ll see:

  • An Overview, where you can scroll down to access all the other options but where you can also see your ethnicities at a glance
  • Ethnicity estimate – the areas are broader (less focused) than Ancestry’s
  • DNA Matches
  • Tools

EVERYONE looks at the ethnicities first!
Many people take a DNA test purely out of curiosity for the ethnicities.  They have no knowledge of and no interest in their family tree.  Often, the people listed as your DNA matches who have no tree attached will fall into this category.  (The other possibility is that they have no tree because they don’t know who their parents are and have taken the test to try to find out.)  Whatever your reason for taking the test, this is almost sure to be the place you look first, and on the surface it’s the easiest part to understand.

Ethnicities are, however, the least ‘accurate’ part of the whole DNA testing journey.  They are based on a comparison of your DNA to that of selected people with deep regional roots and well-documented family trees from around the world.  These people are referred to as the ‘reference panel’.  Different testing companies arrange their panels in different geographical groupings.  They also use different algorithms.  What this means is that your ethnicities are only an estimate; and although of course your DNA doesn’t change, from time to time, based on all of the above, the testing companies will update their estimate of your ethnicities.  It also means that the estimate of your ethnicity will differ according to which company provides it.  Hence at the time of writing this my own ethnicity is estimated as follows (the largest area is first in each case):

Ancestry: England & NW Europe, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, Germanic Europe, Wales
FTDNA: Scandinavia, West and Central Europe, British Isles and a dash of Siberia
MyHeritage: (The DNA data I put on here was uploaded from my original FTDNA test): Mostly North and West Europe with some East Europe and a little South Europe

That’s quite a range, although taken as a whole they are all European and all centre on the north and north-west of Europe if not actually the British Isles.  (And of course like many people I cling to the hope of deep down, being a Viking. 🙂 )  It’s advised that tiny percentages (like my Siberia) be taken with a pinch of salt, but certainly as more people test, ethnicities are becoming more accurate.  If something unexpected shows up at a high percentage it’s likely to be a reasonable guide.

Ancestry have taken ethnicities a step further with the integration of ‘Genetic Communities’ into their ‘DNA Story’.  The smaller (regional, county, locality) groupings referred to above are in fact a combination of genetics and genealogy: they draw upon the family trees of your DNA matches.  These are generally found to be very accurate and in my case have homed in on two very important areas of my ancestry.

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The important bit: DNA matches
For genealogy and family history enthusiasts, this is the most important information.  Whichever company you tested with, your DNA matches will be listed in descending order starting with those with whom you share the highest amount of DNA at the top, right down to the tiniest matches.  You will have a LOT of matches but you should start at the top.

Your matches will be placed into categories.  At MyHeritage matches are placed into ‘Close Family’, ‘Extended Family’ and ‘Distant Relatives’ with an ‘estimated relationship’ for each person.  At Ancestry the divide is at ‘4th cousins or Closer’ and ‘All Matches’, with matches arranged as e.g. ‘Full Siblings’, ‘3rd cousins’, ‘4th cousins’, and a more specific estimate for each person.

For each individual match you’re given additional information.

Ancestry provide:

  • the person’s name (or pseudonym) and maybe a photo
  • the amount of shared DNA, expressed as centiMorgans (cM)
  • the number of individual segments these cM are arranged in, and the largest segment
  • whether they have a tree, and whether it’s public or private
  • whether you have already added any notes

Click on the person’s name for more information:

  • links to your match’s tree(s) – there may be more than one tree, but only one can be linked to their DNA
  • whether Ancestry’s algorithms have identified any common ancestors in your trees
  • a link where you can compare your own ethnicity with your match’s
  • a link to a list of shared matches – people who match both of you
  • You will also see where you can add the notes mentioned above and where you can add the person to a group, using a coloured dot of your choice

MyHeritage provide:

  • the person’s name (or pseudonym) and maybe a photo
  • the amount of shared DNA, expressed as cM and also as a percentage of your total DNA
  • the number of individual segments and the largest segment
  • whether they have a tree and how many people are on it
  • A ‘notepad’ icon where you can make notes (icon is red if you have already made notes for this match)

Click on ‘Review DNA Match’ for more information:

  • lists of ancestral surnames in your trees, with any shared surnames highlighted
  • lists of people who match both of you (shared matches)
  • a comparison of your ethnicities
  • and right at the bottom something called a chromosome browser, in which you can see exactly where, on your 22 chromosomes, you and this person match.  (I’ll be looking at this in detail in a mini-series of posts about chromosome mapping early in 2021.)

For an explanation of centiMorgans see my earlier post on Using DNA to develop your family research.  See also the Shared centiMorgan Project chart that sets out the possible relationships for any specific cM range.  As a general rule, don’t spend too much time working on matches below 30 centiMorgans.

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This is what you can do straight away
My advice is to take a while getting to know how the information is laid out, and to take note of anything that leaps out at you. I say this for two reasons.  Firstly, there’s a huge amount of information there and it’s easy to become overwhelmed.  But secondly, it takes a while for the powerful computers to find all your matches and include them on your match list, along with their trees and lists of shared matches.  The following action plan focuses on what you can do straight away while you find your way around the system.

  • Look at your list of matches.
  • For the closer matches (at the top of your list) do you already recognise them? Are they known cousins, second cousins, etc?
  • For any closer matches (such as 2nd or 3rd cousin) that you don’t recognise but who have trees, can you compare your trees and find a common ancestor?  Bear in mind that second cousins are descended from the same great grandparents; third cousins from the same great great grandparents.  But be prepared to look a generation or so either side.
  • When you can confirm your first match and have worked out your Most Recent Common Ancestors (MRCA) you can assign this match to a specific part of your tree.  You now know your documentary research to this point is correct and there were no adoptions or unexpected paternity events along the way.  Making immediate use of the notes box means you won’t waste time looking again for your match.
  • If you’re using Ancestry you can assign this reasonably close match a coloured dot.  How you organise your coloured dots is up to you.  I have eight colours – one for each great grandparent.  Whenever I can confirm a new match I give them the appropriate colour dot for the part of my tree they slot into.
  • You now have the beginning of a guide for other matches for this part of your tree.  For example, a first cousin match may help you to place any shared matches to your maternal or your paternal side; a second cousin may help you to home in on a specific grandparent.  See my previous post on Asking other family members to test for more guidance on this.
  • With this in mind, look now at the shared matches for you and your confirmed cousin match.  Again, perhaps you already know some of these people.  Perhaps you recognise their surname from your tree.  If not, perhaps their own tree will guide you to the place where your trees merge: your MRCA.
  • Join an online group.  There are several groups on Facebook, but DNA Help for Genealogy run by Donna Rutherford is a good place to start. Gradually you’ll understand more and be able to make better use of more of this information.

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My next DNA post, on 15th November, will look at Ancestry’s Thrulines and MyHeritage’s Theory of Family Relativity.

I’m deliberately releasing this information in manageable, bite-size chunks.  However, if I’m going too slow for you, have a look at Donna Rutherford’s blogpost on Frequently Asked Questions about DNA.

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Note
My posts about DNA are aimed at complete beginners and aim to provide information in manageable chunks, each post building on previous ones. Click [here] to read all of them in order, or to dip in and out as you wish. You’ll also find lots of resources and useful links.

Thomas and Lucy: a Removal Order

Historic church photographed from inside modern building

If you know Norwich you may recognise this scene, captured from The Forum.  The 15th century church opposite is St Peter Mancroft.  The significance of this scene for me was not only the reflections of the super-modern structure juxtaposed with the historic church, but also in the fact that here I was with my son, inside the modern structure in the year 2019, looking out on that ancient church inside which, 230 years earlier, my 4x great grandparents were married, and six years after that my 3x great grandfather Thomas was baptised.

All of this is relevant to the tale that follows. It follows on from my last post about the operation of ‘settlement’ as the key concept in dealing with the poor.

I was in Norwich visiting my son, spending each evening with him and passing the days while he was studying, at the county archives or walking around the churches and parishes of significance to my Norwich ancestors.  Amongst others, I was on the trail of the aforementioned Thomas and his wife Lucy: my 3x great grandparents.  After marriage they settled in another Norwich parish: St Martin at Oak.  Yet the baptism records of their children were puzzling: five children born in St Martin at Oak between 1819 and 1828, then a daughter born two hundred miles away in Fewston, Yorkshire in 1830, another son back in St Martin at Oak in 1832 and then seven more children in Fewston and Leeds between 1834 and 1846.

I understood why they had moved to Yorkshire.  Thomas was a weaver: the very trade upon which Norwich’s wealth had been built; and yet even by the time of Thomas’s apprenticeship weaving was on the decline in Norwich, and with that the city itself.  Quite simply, Norwich was unable to compete with the new spinning and weaving mills located in other parts of the country alongside fast flowing water and ready coal supplies.  And so Thomas traded in his cottage industry lifestyle, working long hours at his loom beside the trademark long weavers’ window on the upper floor of the family home, for a position spinning flax at West House Mill at Blubberhouses within the parish of Fewston, about eight miles from Harrogate.

Long window in Norwich typical of traditional weavers' houses

Typical Norwich weavers’ window

It’s known that the owners of West House Mill toured workhouses and charitable institutions in London and other large towns in search of hundreds of apprentice children, just as Thomas’s orphaned contemporary Robert Blincoe (‘The Real Oliver Twist’) had been ‘recruited’ around 1800.  In fact, they hold the dubious honour of being amongst the first to do that.  It’s reasonable to suppose, then, that Thomas might have been persuaded to relocate to the mill as an ‘engine minder’ while the owners were on a recruitment drive in Norwich.  Reasonable, too, to imagine that all the benefits of this new life were highlighted, and little of the reality.  The fact is that West House Mill was a huge, noisy, five-storeyed mill in a remote position in the Washburn Valley on the southern edge of the Yorkshire Dales.  The working day, starting at 5am and ending sixteen hours later with perhaps just an hour’s break for rest and a midday meal, was hard-going and repetitive.  The mill depended on the slave labour of the pauper children, effectively imprisoned there until they reached the age of twenty-one: it was a place of misery.  While workers’ cottages were provided and the beauty of the countryside undisputed, the culture shock for Lucy and Thomas, used to the milder climate, the facilities of Norwich, the tranquillity of detailed work at the handloom and family nearby would be immense.

There was very little risk for the mill owners in employing Thomas.  In accordance with the law, it’s almost certain that he left Norwich with a Settlement Certificate.  Ever since the 1662 Settlement Act these certificates had facilitated migration by serving as a guarantee from the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor of the ‘home’ parish to those of the intended ‘host’ parish that, in the event of difficulties resulting in an application for poor relief, the home parish would pay the costs of ‘Removal’.

Early 19th century engraving of large flax mill

West House Mill at Blubberhouses, Fewston, Yorkshire

Two days after taking my ‘ancient and modern’ photo I was back in The Forum.  Alongside several restaurants, the building is home to the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library which includes the Norfolk Heritage Centre.  Here, I came across a reference to Thomas, Lucy and their first four children: a Removal Order dated 1826.  This surprised me on two counts.  First, based on the baptism records I had believed their initial migration took place between 1828 and 1830; and second, if my family had been removed from Fewston back to St Martin at Oak in Norwich, what was the reason for this, and why had they returned there in time for the 1830 baptism of their sixth child?

The detail of the Removal Order was even more unexpected.  In 1826 Thomas, Lucy and their four named children (6 years to 3 months) were removed from St Martin at Oak, where they had ‘lately intruded themselves contrary to the law relating to the settlement of the poor, and that they had there become chargeable’.  By decision of two Justices of the Peace they were to be returned to the last legal place of settlement, and that was Fewston in Yorkshire.

I confess that until this point I had misunderstood the full draconian extent of the application of ‘settlement’ in the operation of relief of the poor.  While fully understanding the rules for acquisition of settlement rights in a new parish, my understanding had been that an individual would always retain rights acquired by birthright.  In other words, that the granting of new settlement rights was a privilege and an additional set of rights.  Raising my eyes from the index, my eyes lighted once again on St Peter Mancroft, right outside the huge modern windows of The Forum.  Here Thomas had been baptised.  Here his existence had first been recorded.  In trying to do his best to provide for his family Thomas had lost his right to live in his home town and was henceforth banished to a noisy, remote mill two hundred miles distant.  My ‘ancient and modern’ photograph now assumed a new significance: loss and injustice.  Injustice because the empty promises made to him cost the mill owners nothing, while believing them had cost Thomas and Lucy a great deal.

Sadly the Settlement Examination papers (I referred to this stage of the process in my last post) have not survivied, nor have the equivalent papers for the other end of the process in Fewston.  These would have given me a lot more information about dates of migration.  However, thanks to this Removal document I now know that Thomas and Lucy first moved to Fewston earlier than previously thought – probably around 1825.  I now understand that the Certificates of Settlement were time-limited.  As soon as Thomas had acquired legal rights of settlement in Fewston – presumably by being hired continually for more than a year and a day – the certificate ceased to have value.  Hiring Thomas may have been risk-free for the owners of the West House Mill, but for Thomas and Lucy it was a one-way ticket.  We might imagine that they tried to make it work, but finally were so unhappy that they decided to return to Norwich; and by then it was too late.  All previous settlement rights had been erased.  On 29th April, 1826, just three months after the Norwich birth of their fourth child, the Removal Order was signed for their forced return to Fewston.

Thomas and Lucy did not go quietly.  They were back in St Martin at Oak for the baptism of a fifth child by 1828; in Fewston for the sixth in 1830; possibly (according to a note on the parish accounts) back again briefly in 1831; and in 1832 a final child was baptised in St Martin at Oak. Between 1834 and 1843 six more children were baptised, all at Fewston, and the 1841 census shows them here, living in workers’ accommodation.  Thomas, formerly a skilled handloom weaver, is now an ‘engine minder’.  The six oldest children, aged twenty to eleven are all ’employed at the flax mill’.  I strongly suspect that it was through realisation that this would be the inevitable fate of all their children, and a desire to avoid this, that Lucy and Thomas were so desperate to escape.  It is notable, however, that the eventual ‘acceptance of their fate’ coincides with the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, with its central focus on the workhouse in dealing with the poor.  Faced with trying to make a go of it in Norwich but the likelihood of the workhouse for the entire family if they failed to do so, Thomas and Lucy seem, reluctantly, to have chosen Fewston.  They would now live out their days in Yorkshire, relocating to Leeds by 1846, but my guess is that their hearts remained in Norwich.

Relief of the poor: Settlement

The threat of ‘the workhouse’ loomed large over our nineteenth century ancestors.  Even if they worked hard and were able to provide well for their families, there was always the possibility of accidents (even fatal ones), disability, sickness, failure of harvests… and therefore no longer being able to work.  The workhouse regime began with the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 and was formally abolished only in 1930, yet it wasn’t the first legislative arrangement for dealing with ‘paupers’ and ‘vagrants’.  Prior to 1834, relief of the poor was based on the 1601 Act for the Relief of the Poor and the Act of Settlement of 1662.

There are two important issues at the heart of all this.  The first is that relief of the poor was a parish matter.  This had less to do with any sense of ‘Christian duty towards those less fortunate’ than with the fact that alongside the spiritual role we associate today with the local church, the parish was also the local administrative unit, responsible for collecting monies and ensuring the smooth-running of the local area.

The next important issue follows on from this.  Since local people had to cough up the money to provide for the poor, the parish was at pains to ensure that only genuinely local poor people were eligible.  This led to the concept of ‘settlement’.

Even if we say that essentially, a person had the right of settlement in the parish in which he or she was born, there still had to be some acknowledgement of migration, and a system for allowing the acquisition of settlement for those genuinely moving into a new parish for sound reasons.  It was the 1662 Act (and later amending Acts) that introduced the rules under which a newcomer acquired such legal rights.  These were:

  • holding parish office
  • paying the parish rate
  • renting property worth more than £10 p.a. or paying taxes on a property worth more than £10 p.a.
  • being resident in the parish for 40 days, after having given the authorities 40 days’ notice before moving into the parish
  • being currently apprenticed to a master in the parish
  • having served a full seven-year apprenticeship to a settled resident
  • being hired continually by a settled resident for more than a year and a day
  • having previously received poor relief in that parish

However, the above rules applied only to men and unmarried women, and there were different rules for children born within wedlock and those born illegitimately:

Much as the need to restrict relief of the poor to genuinely local people was real, suffice to say there was plenty of scope in all of the above for trickery, twisting the rules, cruel, draconian decisions and absurd outcomes. It became common practice, for example, to look for masters outside the parish when placing a child as a parish apprentice… so that in case of problems the child would have ceased to be a burden on the home parish.  Over time, this extended to sending children as young as seven years old to growing industrial towns in the north, often many miles from home.  Robert Blincoe, for example, believed to have been the real-life inspiration for Dickens’s Olver Twist (see above link), was sent from London to Nottingham.  Later, he was transferred to a parish in Derbyshire, where the unscrupulous mill owner built the apprentice living quarters just across a stream in the adjacent parish. In other words, the profits and benefits of the mill and the children’s labour went to the owner in one parish, while the burden of providing for their burials and other disablement expenses fell to another.  Another ploy was the avoidance of settlement rights after employment for a year and a day by employing migrant workers only on short term contracts.  And the different arrangements for men, women, and legitimate / illegitimate children could mean that in times of genuine hardship the man’s settlement was deemed to be where he had worked; his cohabiting but unmarried ‘wife’s’ settlement was where she had been born – or even in the parish of another, estranged, husband; while their illegitimate children would have settlement in their own place of birth and those aged over seven then apprenticed to masters throughout the country.

The means by which such decisions were made was the Settlement Examination, a legal document drawn up pursuant to those rules outlined above.  Generally, the trigger for a Settlement Examination was the application for poor relief by the person who had fallen on hard times.  The examination focused on the personal, employment and ownership histories of the individual, or if a married woman, of her husband, late husband or absconded husband.  You can read more about Settlement on the London Lives website – a general overview; it doesn’t matter if you don’t have London roots – and there is also a separate page about Settlement Examinations.  On both pages there are links to examples of Settlement Examination documents, or you might like to follow the case of one person’s experience:

Susanna Flood:
Settlement Examination 1
Removal Order 1
Petition and Appeal
Settlement Examination 2
Removal Order 2

If you come across Settlement Examination documentation in your own ancestry it will give you valuable information about family members and any migration history.  In the pre-census era this can help you add detail to your ancestors’ lives.