Maiden names: a handy code breaker!

Today’s post follows on from the last, in that the focus is on women. However, here we’re looking at the presence or absence of maiden names in official documentation, and their inclusion within naming patterns. (I’ve previously written more fully about Irish and English naming patterns, and these will also feature in my next post.)

Inclusion or absence of maiden names on civil birth certificates
Less experienced family historians often need help with understanding precisely what is meant by maiden name entries on civil birth registers and certificates, so we’ll start with this.

Without even buying a birth certificate there’s a lot of information freely available on the General Register Office Online Index, if you know how to decipher it. Here’s a classic entry to start with: the inclusion of Frances Mann’s mother’s maiden name (MMN) on the following entry tells us not only that her maiden name is Sword, but by extension also indicates that the former Miss Sword is now married to Mr Mann, and that he is the father.

MANN, FRANCES    SWORD  
GRO Reference: 1846  S Quarter in HUNSLET  Volume 23  Page 287
Copyright GRO: Online Birth Index

Compare with this next entry. The absence of MMN (the ‘ – ‘) tells us that Albert Robinson was born out of wedlock. In other words, the MMN is the same as the child’s surname because the mother is not married.

ROBINSON, ALBERT      
GRO Reference: 1879  S Quarter in LEEDS  Volume 09B  Page 471
Copyright GRO: Online Birth Index

What about this one?

TAYLOR, ALBERT    TAYLOR  
GRO Reference: 1877  J Quarter in HUDDERSFIELD  Volume 09A  Page 386
Copyright GRO: Online Birth Index

Here we see that a MMN is given, but that it is the same as the child’s surname. This could mean two things: either the child is born out of wedlock, and the MMN is stated even though it is the same as the child’s surname; or the parents both had the same surname before marriage. In such a situation we would need to see the actual birth certificate (or marriage certificate) to be sure. If the parents are married the birth certificate would probably give the ‘Name, surname and maiden surname of mother’ as ‘[forename] Taylor, formerly Taylor‘; and the father’s details will of course be included.

Here’s another type of entry that less experienced researchers often have difficulty with: Under ‘Name, surname and maiden surname of mother’ you might see something like the following: ‘Margaret Robinson formerly Macanerny previously Baxter‘. This means the mother, Margaret Robinson, now married to Mr Robinson, was previously married to a Mr Macanerny. Before that, her maiden name was Baxter. It is the name Baxter that will be indicated online on the GRO Index, but to get that additional information you have to see the actual certificate:

ROBINSON, JANE    BAXTER  
GRO Reference: 1857  D Quarter in LEEDS  Volume 09B  Page 351
Copyright GRO: Online Birth Index

Understanding all of the above is great because it directs us to other life events and documents, or indeed indicates that such documents will not be found. Be aware though that an official document is only as true as the information provided by the informant. In the last example, the marriage between Margaret Baxter and Mr Macanerny was never dissolved, and twenty years of searching suggests she never actually ‘married’ Mr Robinson.

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We can now turn to ways in which people chose to include mothers’ maiden names when naming their children or indeed as a later choice of the individual him/herself.

Maiden names as middle names
It seems to have been during Victorian times that the fashion really developed for including the MMN as a child’s middle name. It did happen before this period, but seems to have increased in popularity amongst the middling and working classes at this time. Some families seem to have given the MMN only to the oldest son or possibly the oldest daughter; others gave the MMN as a middle name to all their children. It has nothing to do with legitimacy or otherwise of the child. In examples in my own tree, marriage dates clearly evidence that this was not in question. It is of course a bonus for the family historian, since it links without a shadow of a doubt the child to the mother’s lineage, and it’s particularly useful if the child was born prior to the introduction of civil registration in 1837. I have a 4x great aunt, for example, baptised in 1812 with the name Maria Thompson Wade, Thompson being the MMN. This is all the more helpful because the only record so far found for this baptism is a transcript, giving only the father’s name.

There are a few caveats to making use of this practice in our research though:

  • On occasion the name passed down, although originating as a mother’s maiden name, may not be this specific mother’s maiden name. It may have been handed down by tradition in the male family, possibly originating some generations back, e.g. with a great grandmother. I have a possible example of this in one of my lines, and it’s a mystery I’ve not yet been able to solve: a child baptised in 1737 with the name George Chilvers Christian yet definitely the son of Christopher Christian and Barbara née Aylmer.
  • The middle name may be mistranscribed as double-barrelled. A hyphen may even be adopted by choice of the individual in later life. So Thomas Beecroft Mann, surname Mann and MMN Beecroft, may possibly be indexed under the surname Mann or Beecroft-Mann, even though he considered his surname to be Mann.
  • Here’s a tricky one that took me a while to work out: my 2x great aunt married a man named Allen Whitworth Schofield. As far as I can see, all of their children were registered with one or two forenames followed by Whitworth Schofield. Some of the children (the ones who emigrated to the US) adopted this as a double-barrelled name in adulthood. Others didn’t but transcribers often assume this to be the case. In fact the origin in this case does indeed stem from illegitimacy. Allen was registered in 1843 with the surname Schofield, and the absence of MMN on the GRO index indicates that his mother was unmarried. Four years later his mother marries Mr Whitworth and from that time Allen is recorded on censuses with the surname Whitworth. Although Allen eventually marries with the surname Schofield he continues to use Whitworth as a middle name, and to honour his stepfather he gives this as a middle name to his children.

Maiden names as first names
The use of a MMN as a first name may continue for several generations. When eventually we find the origin it’s a real bonus, confirming our research back to this point. The aforementioned Thomas Beecroft Mann named one of his sons ‘Beecroft’. I have also come across a Horner Ingham, also his uncle Horner Ingham, their name originating with the marriage of their grandmother/mother Ann Horner to James Ingham.

Maiden name as surname with father’s name as middle name
In contrast with the use of the mother’s maiden name as a middle name, when these names are reversed this always indicates illegitimacy. (Please note that I’m referring here to the historic situation, and not to present day surname naming practices which may be quite different.) Historically, a child born out of marriage was baptised with the surname of the mother. If, shortly after that, the parents marry it is quite normal for the father’s name to be inserted as a middle name. Although this is what happened in the Whitworth Schofield example above, the gap between Allen’s birth and his mother’s marriage (four years) suggests her new husband is stepfather rather than biological father to Allen. However, when my 3xG grandmother, Annabella, was baptised in 1816, the parish register recorded her parentage as ‘Martha Walker, a single woman of Micklefield‘. Four months later, Martha married James Noble, and in all documentation after that the child was known as Annabella Noble Walker. It is the short gap between baptism and marriage that indicates James is more likely in this case to be the actual father. In fact I can’t understand why he just didn’t step up a few months earlier! DNA matches have now confirmed he is definitely my ancestor.

I have seen one early 20th century example of this in which for delicate reasons I won’t go into the mother and father were not able to marry. The child was given the mother’s surname and had no contact with or knowledge of the father who did nevertheless, we think, pay for the child’s upkeep. However, the inclusion of the father’s surname as a middle name was part of the little paper trail that was left for some genealogist (Me!) to track him down more than 100 years later and permit an acknowledgement of him as biological father.

Formalising a middle MMN as a double barrelled surname for reasons of family pride
And finally, I have one example in my tree of the mother’s maiden name being adopted as a double-barrelled surname for reasons of pride in that individual’s notable maternal ancestry. In that example the person clearly wished to emphasise his connection to his maternal grandfather and also to his mother’s brother, a rather dashing and highly accomplished uncle, whose biography the nephew went on to write.

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Have you come across any other unusual uses of maiden names? Have you been able to draw upon a historic maiden name to verify your research? If you can add anything to the above please do share in the comments.

Presenting a visual legacy

Black and white photo of group British Army National Service recruits

One of the young men in this photo is my Dad. It was taken in 1946 during his initial National Service training in Aberdeen. When I look at it I think of an amusing story he told me about his time there.

One of the other recruits was from the Western Isles. A Gaelic speaker, it soon became clear he didn’t understand English. The NCOs persevered, doing their best to make clear what they required, but eventually it was accepted it just wasn’t going to work. The decision was taken to release the Gaelic speaking man from National Service. Assuming he wouldn’t be able to navigate the route to the railway station and make himself understood when buying a ticket for the journey back to the Islands, they asked my Dad to accompany him, buy his ticket and see him safely onto the right train. This my Dad did, and as they were parting the young man who spoke only Gaelic turned to him, shook him warmly by the hand and said in perfect Scottish-accented English: ‘Well thank you very much. You’ve been very helpful.’ And with that he jumped on his train and escaped National Service.

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Starting with more recent generations is more likely to create interest
My personal observation is that even people with no interest in family history will nevertheless enjoy stories about people they knew. I’ve often made the mistake of thinking a distant cousin might share my fascination with our shared line back to the 17th century, only to find what they’re really interested in is the life of their grandparents. As luck would have it, those more recent generations are the ones we have photos for. It follows then that old family photos are a great place to start in encouraging younger generations to take an interest in their wider family history.

In my last post I wrote about my dawning realisation that unless I make my family photographs more accessible, they could easily be lost forever when I’m no longer around, and I outlined what I’ve been doing to organise my files. This time I’m focusing on using and presenting those images. The emphasis here remains on digital images. But as is clear from the above example, this doesn’t exclude the beautiful monochrome photos we inherited from our parents and grandparents. I wrote previously about archiving the originals and how, for safety, these old photos should be scanned and digitised too, before the originals are safely stored. My own digitisation of all the old photos I inherited is about halfway complete. So now – old photos or modern – I’m ready to turn to what we can do once they are safely stored in our digital archives.

We need to provide context
A Facebook Family History group I’m a member of often has requests from people working through old family photos but with no idea who the subjects are. It takes a group effort with people contributing knowledge about changing fashions, estimating ages and the like, so that the original poster can try to work out who the subjects might be. I’ve also participated in ‘spot the unusual earlobe’ type discussions in which we’re asked if two photos might be of the same person, thirty years apart.

At the very least, then, what we need is to provide future generations with notes about who and when. If possible what, where and why would also be great. I like to take it a stage further if I can, using the photo as a starting point for a story, just like the one at the top of this post. I know from experience that this can help draw people in, but I need a way of presenting them alongside the images for family members to keep. What follows considers physical creations using images you print off yourself; and digital creations, in which you create the entire thing at your computer and then share the file/ link or a print of that end product.

Physical creations
Photo albums and scrapbooking are tactile and can be beautiful. I used to love arranging photos, and adding notes and other memorabilia. However, they take up a lot of space, and it’s now widely known that many albums actually harm our photos. Even if I took swift action to replace those first albums with sticky pages covered with film bought for about 99 pence each in my early teens, I know that none of my later albums, despite being much better quality, are actually ‘archival’. What we need is acid/ lignin/ PVC-free archival quality albums; and these come at a cost. It turns out albums with black pages are a no-no too; I have two of these. What’s known these days as ‘scrapbooking’ (and has little to do with what used to be called ‘scrapbooks’!) is probably safer for the photographs, since those who enjoy this craft are more likely to be aware of archival issues; and archival quality scrapbook papers, adhesives and the like are widely available. Having given much thought to this whole issue I’ve come to the conclusion that provided I don’t use treasured originals of monochrome photos, and provided I have a digital back-up of any images used, albums and scrapbooking are fine. I’ve removed all the old monochrome photos taken by my Dad from the cheap album I put them in when I was 13, and will be keeping them in an archival quality box from now on, but as long as any prints used can be replaced, I’m happy to have my photos in albums and scrapbooking albums.

Digital creations
Undoubtedly, digital creations have a lot of advantages. Whereas you would probably compile only one album or create only one scrapbook about an event or a special person’s life, a digital version of the same can be circulated amongst the extended family. This list has been compiled following a lot of online research and mulling it all over, a bit of talking to others, and some dabbling. It has enabled me to work out what options I’m going to use, and I hope it will help you too.

Creating Timelines
This idea turned out to be a lot more complicated than I expected. There are so many online applications and articles about creating timelines, that I had to keep reminding myself of what I was trying to achieve. What I want to be able to do is quite specific:

  • create a series of short timelines focusing on just one person or even just one part of that person’s life, for example my Dad’s time doing National Service, or my Granddad’s service with the Green Howards
  • build each timeline around my own family photographs
  • attach stories and significant local or world events as context
  • include maps
  • have it online, but private and password protected, so that I can invite family members but not overload them with info at any one time. This also means they could return to look any time they want without fear of losing, say, an email link or a document from me.

I narrowed the various options down to four online timeline websites.

Twile is online, free, private, password-protected and family members can be invited to view and collaborate. They provide the option to start by uploading a GEDCOM file, which I did. After a bit of exploration it seems easy to use. However, the skeleton timeline created by my GEDCOM goes back to the 1500s and this will seem cumbersome and off-putting to family members. So – just because I’ve already uploaded the entire GEDCOM – I’ve decided to use Twile for a different purpose: to create Timelines for more distant ancestors when I’m working on their life stories and researching/ recording context.

Timetoast appealed because it’s not linked to a family tree. You can create as many timelines as you like – so you can home in on a specific part of a person’s life and make another timeline for their full life if you wanted. Provided you’re happy with them all being public the account is free. There are two options for paid accounts, the more expensive Pro account providing an all-bells-and-whistles experience. My problem here is that I would want my recent generation timelines to be private but wouldn’t make so many timelines that it would be worth paying the full subscription. However, if you would make sufficient use of it this does seem like a good option.

HistoryLines also looks very good. They make it clear that what they’re about is the stories, and that’s just what I’m trying to achieve here. Their vehicle for telling these stories is your family tree and although you can start with a couple of stories for free, there is a subscription if you want to keep going. Their offering is different from the others in that they have gathered together a lot of contextual information that you can access and link directly to your timelines. This contextual information is arranged by State and, being a US-based company, my impression from the website was that you’d get more from what they have to offer if your ancestry is within the US. However, I wrote to ask a few questions and received very full and helpful responses to them all. Importantly, they tell me they do have a lot of contextual content for England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. You can also just input information and leave it to HistoryLines to auto-write the stories if you don’t feel confident about writing your own content.

Treelines is free but they do reserve the right to charge at some point in the future. They say ‘If ever we do start charging users, even if you decide not to pay for a subscription, we will not delete any data you’ve already added to the site.’ You have the option for uploading a GEDCOM, but for this website I’ve inputted manually myself, my parents, my grandparents and my great grandparents. I’ll gradually add siblings, etc, as I focus on the timeline for each of these people. Your tree is accessible only to the people you invite to it, although there is an option to make any timeline public. Importantly for my needs, there is the facility to add additional stories away from the main timeline for that person. This is the website I will use to share stories and timelines with my children, nephews and niece.

Books
Online self-publishing and marketing platforms like Blurb offer free book-making tools to help users design and publish books and ebooks. They also provide a platform for promoting and selling the product should you wish to do that. They offer a variety of book formats and quality papers, and a range of styles of book, including travelogues and family photo books.

My husband’s second cousin (also a genealogist; we worked together on their shared line) has been using Blurb for fourteen years. She tells me the company is helpful, the quality and colour of the printed books excellent, and they deal well with text passages alongside images. The maximum number of pages for the printed book is 240. She pays extra for premium lustre paper and image wrap onto the cover. The pdf file of a book costs about £3.80 and you can share it with no restriction, but the cost of printed books is high so she waits for special offers. I haven’t seen any of her actual printed books but I do have a copy of the pdf of her family history book, which is nothing short of a masterpiece. It seems to me that paying a lot for what is destined to be a family heirloom is money well spent. When I wrote to Blurb to ask a couple of questions they replied within 24 hours, answering fully. They advised that all of their papers are acid-free/archival quality, and that all their books, regardless of paper type, should last as long as a typical bookstore book with proper care and handling.

Photo printing Apps
A quick Google search indicates quite a few photo printing Apps are available. After downloading to your mobile device you can use them to create a range of books (hardback, softback, booklet), prints and other products. So this is a variation on Blurb, but only for your mobile phone/tablet photos, and great if your phone is your primary camera. This is not for me – I want to edit photos and add contextual information, spending time poring over it to get the wording just right – but it might suit you. My husband has used Popsa and tells me it’s very easy to use.

Digital scrapbooking
There are various options for digital scrapbooking, from a free basic online programme called Smilebook to highly customizable software costing around £60-100, and all levels in between. These are expensive to make if you intend to print off the pages, but for circulating as digital creations, once you’ve chosen your programme, the only cost is your time. Here’s a review of the best digital scrapbooking software for 2021. As a result of exploring all this I’ve bought some digital scrapbooking papers and embelllishments and have been creating digital scrapbook pages using the Photoshop Elements programme I already use for photo editing. The results have been quite impressive and – wait for it! – I’ve had interest in them and the stories behind them from two nephews!

DIY Options
To keep costs down, here are some ideas for creating something yourself on your home computer. If you’re going to circulate to family members via email or Dropbox there’s no need to print these off, so no additional ink costs.

Finding Guide
This first idea is simply administrative and I’ve already created my own. It includes a list of my digital folders, where they’re to be found (PC and remote storage), dates covered and some thumbnail examples of the photos in each. Having put so much effort into my digital photo archives I feel confident that the folders themselves won’t change much, so it’s simply a question of keeping them up to date and updating the finding guide as technology and remote storage changes. I don’t need this: I know my archives system inside out; but our grown-up children can access our remote storage. They will now be able to find old photos, including the monochrome ones but also their own childhood photos, any time they want to.

Stories with photos
You could create a series of stories and recollections in a Microsoft Word document, each page starting with an image and followed by the text, like I did above. Other than a single photo followed by a body of text though, Word isn’t ideal for lots of images and wrap-around text.

Creating a Timeline using Word
Here’s a ‘Quick and Easy How To Tutorial’ for creating a family history timeline using Microsoft Word. I haven’t put it to the test, but the instructions seems clear enough.

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Well, they are my ideas and I hope the above has provided some useful information for you. If you have any experience with any of these photo-plus-story presentation options please let us know about it in the comments. The process of working through all this has certainly helped me to plan my next stages, and I’ll be reporting back on some of these options when I’ve had a chance to really explore them.

A visual legacy for future generations

Small boy with camera, taking photograph

One of my many Lockdown goals (I wrote about it in April 2020) was to conserve, organise and digitise all my old monochrome family photos. In fact I’ve only recently started work on that. This is because, before scanning and creating digital copies of the old photos, I decided I needed to tidy up my existing digital photo archives.

We got our first digital camera around 2002, but it wasn’t until I bought my first digital SLR in 2007 that I got serious and set up my own digital archive system. All of the digital images from that initial five years have been safely stored by my husband. About ten years ago he also used a specialist negative scanner to convert the negatives of all our analogue photos to digital files. We do, however, have different approaches to naming and archiving these files, and our ‘systems’, shall we say… don’t dovetail!

My Dad was an accomplished old-school photographer and I’ve had a camera for as long as I can remember, including a pretty decent Pentax before we turned to digital. I used to lovingly create albums with the photos, including tickets, memorabilia and notes about the events and locations. And so we come to the first of the only two disadvantages of digital photography that I can think of – being that very few people these days actually print off their digital images. I’m ashamed to say that since we went digital, although we have printed off a few individual images I haven’t compiled a single photo album.

I’ve been thinking about all this while reorganising my digital photo files. My archive system is good. Individual image files are stored in named folders, and since I upload them from my camera via my main processing software (Photoshop Elements), they are also visible in the Elements ‘media browser’ in date and time order. So they’re searchable by date in the media browser, by category (folder) in my digital archives, and also by keyword search in Elements. In theory it can take seconds to find the exact image I’m after. However, it isn’t always this straightforward. I might have returned home from a holiday in Sicily and taken a few photos of my children in the garden the following morning before uploading the entire batch with the filename ‘Sicily’ and storing them in a folder called ‘Sicily’. On my Photoshop media browser I can see the children’s images, and they will appear in date order, quite clearly taken the day after our return from Sicily. But if I want to find those images of the children in the garden in my digital archives, I probably won’t remember they are in the Sicily folder. This happens a lot, and that was why I needed to sort them all out. If I can lose images in my own pretty well-organised files, then how will my children and future generations fare? How will they even know what photos exist? And here’s the second disadvantage of digital photography: it’s so cheap and so accessible that we take many photos and often place little value on them. I’m horrified to note that having reached this stage of organising my folders, deleting quite a lot of images, copying the ones my husband had stored and renaming/incorporating them into my own system… I have just under 21,000 images in my Photoshop media browser. Many of them will be of no interest to anyone else (but they are to me) and although at least now my folders are meticulously organised and the folder names self-explanatory, it doesn’t seem such a loving legacy to expect my kids to go rooting about on my computer after my demise to rescue digital photos of their childhood days.

So it occurs to me that despite the ease of digital photography we’re in danger of having even fewer photographs to hand on to future generations than our grandparents and great grandparents left for us. Yet while there may be far more of these photos than the ones we inherited from our grandparents, these too are important. They are a visual legacy that we can pass on, alongside those old black and white images, to future generations – but only if we organise them so that they can be found and accessed. My reorganisation is now complete, and I’ve moved on to photographing and uploading the old monochrome photos, which are also being stored and categorised within my existing system. So with all this fresh in my mind, here’s my advice:

  • The first step is to organise them well, in a consistent manner that’s meaningful to you and hopefully also to others who you want to use them. Some digital photographers advise naming folders with the date. So the batch in this folder was taken on 2020 12 04 and in that folder on 2121 03 16. It’s very neat and easy to find the folders on the computer, but it’s not for me. My memories are linked to people, places and events, not to what I was doing on April 7th in any given year. So I have folders that reflect this: ‘York’, ‘Honfleur’, ‘Embroidery Projects’, a folder for each of my children for activities and friends as they were growing up, ‘home’ folders where family life is recorded, and so on. When I upload new batches my default settings are that each image is named with the date it was taken, followed by custom name, and then the number of the image from the memory card. All I have to do is decide what the custom name should be and in which folder the batch should be stored. Even if all your photography is on your phone (where custom names is not an option) you could still make images easier to find by organising them into albums.
  • Make multiple back-ups. I learned the hard way how important this is back in 2010 when my hard drive corrupted and I lost several months’ photos. I had them backed up to what I thought was two drives, but somehow backing up from there to remote storage kept getting put off and when the hard drive burned out I lost the lot. The advice is to save to three places, at least one of which is remote.
  • Keep the best, delete the rest! Once you have the equipment, whether that be a phone or a top-notch camera with digital darkroom software, actually taking the photos costs nothing, so we might take a LOT of photos. Part of my reorganisation has been to delete the excess or poor quality photos. There’s more to do, but it will have to be a work in progress.
  • Metadata. Every digital image file has text information embedded into it. Some of this data is generated automatically by the camera or phone. It includes date and time taken, possibly the precise GPS location, and the size of the file in terms of megabytes and pixels/dimensions. If the photo was taken with a camera rather than phone some technical details about the exposure will be included. If, like we did for our pre-digital photos, you create a digital file by scanning the negative, or indeed by scanning the original photo, the metadata will relate to the creation of this new file and not to when the photo was actually taken. Since it’s the metadata information that dictates where the image ends up in my media browser, I’ve had to go through and manually change the date metadata for every single scanned file. (Oh what fun that was!) However, there is other metadata that we can add manually that will really help in retrieving a file quickly when we want it. This includes the filename given to the image at the time of uploading (or as amended afterwards). It also includes tagging people who are in the image, and any keywords we add – I often use keywords when a person’s face is not fully visible and the software won’t permit me to ‘tag’.

Apart from all that, there’s the possibility of adding administrative data, including image owner and restrictions on use. I won’t go into that here since it’s not the sort of condition we would impose on our families and descendants. But if you have the right software and can make use of all these tools, it will really help you to find photos more quickly.

  • Be mindful of changes in technology. Goodness knows what the technology will look like in the future! All we can do is be mindful, and try to do what we must to ensure our images are still accessible.

There’s no underestimating the time consuming hard work that has to go into retrospectively organising the above, but it’s lovely to find photos you had forgotten about – and once it’s done you can start to have fun with your images, use them in creative ways and add context that will be meaningful to future generations. That’s what we’ll move on to in my next post. In the meantime, if you have any advice about how you’re building an accessible photographic legacy for your own future generations, please share.

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Note: The image above is a digital scan of the negative of a photo taken in the summer of 1998 when we watched the final stage of the Tour de France from les Tuileries. Since it was a scan the metadata embedded into the file had a date of 2010. Using Google I’ve been able to date that stage, and therefore this photo, to 2nd August 1998. I changed the metadata on the file manually so it’s now named 1998 08 02_Paris_0039.jpg and is stored in a folder called Paris August 1998. Since it’s a scan of a pre-digital image there is no other metadata, other than the size of the file. Plus I have tagged it with my son’s name. The original photo is in a little scrapbook he and I made together about our trip to Paris. I still plan to experiment to see how these scans of the negatives compare to scans of the actual photo.

Leaving a family history legacy for future generations

I’ve been thinking about what we can do to plan for passing on our research, photos and family history legacy to future generations – whether this means to our own families or to others interested more generally in our findings. All this has been weighing on my mind for two reasons. First, I’ve spent a lot of time recently reorganising and refining my photographic archives. More about that in the next two posts. Second… well, to be honest, my grown-up children are not particularly interested in their ancestry, and I suspect this is the reality for many keen genealogists. I have even featured in a video sketch made by one of their friends, in which I turn every topic into an ancestral story… In the video my leaping off point was an onion! It’s perfectly understandable really: I wasn’t interested in my Dad’s stamp collection, and I have no right to expect my family to be fascinated by the events surrounding 3xG Uncle Anthony’s transportation to Australia. I just wish they were – it’s a truly fascinating story! 😀

So this post is written from the personal starting point of trying to work out what we can do to interest family members in our research… The next two posts will be about organising digital photos and making them more accessible and interesting, but in this first post we’ll look at ‘genealogy wills’ and a few other ideas for trying to engage our children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces…. anyone! – in their family legacy.

Make a ‘Genealogy Will’
First, the serious stuff… The idea is that you leave a genealogy-specific Will along with your regular one to be dealt with by your executors. The aim is to do what we can to ensure our research doesn’t just get wiped or go in the bin when we’re no longer around. RootsWeb published an outline ‘Genealogy Will’ that you can download and fill in the gaps or use as the basis for writing your own. It includes listing people who might be interested in taking custody of and responsibility for maintaining your work, and failing that, organisations you think might be interested in receiving it. FamilyTree.com write about how you might plan for this in their blogpost Create a Genealogical Will, although it’s aimed at readers in the United States. It makes sense, if possible, that rather than leave this to our executors, we identify for ourselves a family member who is prepared to be the custodian of our work, and show them the ropes. I hope all this is well into the future for us all, and I don’t feel inclined to write one just yet. For a start, absolutely no one springs to mind who would want to take it on. And who knows what the technology will look like by then or what online companies and local history societies will have survived? But when I do write it I intend to include websites and passwords, and to review it from time to time.

Creative ideas for passing on a family history legacy
There are lots of articles online that focus on leaving a family history legacy for your family. Obviously, different ideas will appeal to different people. Mostly, they involve creative activity, either for you alone, or with children. Some of them are about treasuring memories made together and having them to pass on, rather than specifically about our ancestry.

  • If you enjoy doing crafty things with the children or grandchildren, working together on a family scrapbook might appeal.
  • A Google search for ‘children’s family tree book’ turns up lots of books to get children interested: some stories, some for recording information.
  • Older children or teenagers with an interest might like to help collate and chronicle old family records, letters and heirlooms.
  • Keen cooks might enjoy writing up a collection of family recipes to be passed on. I like the idea of that, but to be honest my Mum viewed cooking as a chore and I only have two genuine heirloom family recipes, which is a bit limited as the basis for a family recipe book. Even this lack of recipes could reflect social history: I remember watching a TV history programme in which it was suggested that girls growing up during the war, particularly in cities, didn’t learn to cook from their mothers because their mothers were just making do with what they could get. I know, for example, that my Grandma stopped making bread and all they had was the ‘utility loaf‘.
  • If your kids have so far resisted the call of family history but you fancy enlisting the grandchildren by stealth, a shelf of family treasures is suggested, the idea being that you use them as visual aids while you tell stories about who they belonged to.
  • Needleworkers might enjoy putting together a quilt using fabric pieces from old clothes. I enjoy embroidery and have made a number of items for family members, such as Christmas stockings, each dedicated to the recipient. I know these are/will be treasured and passed on as heirlooms, but that’s a story that starts with them and me. It doesn’t bring in the older family legacy.
  • Making a video or audio recording, perhaps at a family gathering, might be more your thing. StoryCorps, whose mission is ‘to preserve the stories of our time in America’ have published lists of starter questions to get people talking.
  • If you’re a musical family you might like to make a recording of a song or musical piece. We produced a ‘singing Christmas card’ in 2002 – a CD of us singing ‘Rocking Around the Christmas Tree’. Obviously we didn’t send it to everyone on our list, but those who got it appreciated it; and I still enjoy it every year at Christmas.
  • If you always wondered if you had a book inside you, you might try your hand at an autobiography or even a larger history of the family based on your research. In her video How to Write and Self Publish Your Family History Book, Lisa Louise Cooke interviews J.M. Phillips, self-published author of Lamlash Street: A Portrait of 1960’s Post-War London Through One Family’s Story. In the video the author shares her story together with some hints at getting started and seeing it through to the end. Of course, you don’t have to publish your work; you might just write down memories and stories in an exercise book. I was passed just such a personal account by a distant cousin, and it provided a rather gossipy insight into the family life of my great grandfather.
  • Another idea I’ve seen is to bury a time capsule. I find it quite difficult to think through the logistics of that, unless you have a settled country pile that’s likely to remain in the family – but if you have such a residence then this might be the idea for you! Safe.co.uk published How to do your own time capsule and keep your memories safe, aimed broadly at people with our interests. Another blogpost aimed more at getting children to bury time capsules was published by the Museum of Wales: Bury a Time Capsule. You can even buy special time capsules guaranteed to keep the contents safe for a certain number of years.

Perhaps there’s something there to interest you. If you have any other ideas, or if you’ve already managed to interest family members in your family history, please do share the secrets of your success in the comments. In the next post we’ll move onto photographs.

Edward’s last journey

Family stories are not always true, but often there is truth in them.

I wrote in my last post about my elusive GG grandfather Edward Robinson. Last month, after a 25-year search, I was finally able to place him with his birth family. Throughout the search there had always been at the back of my mind my mother’s story – which must have had its origins with her own grandmother, Edward’s daughter Jane. The story was that when Jane’s mother died, after spending all his money on women and drink Edward went back to The Crooked Billet where he was born, and threw himself in the river. I knew The Crooked Billet, still a pub until fairly recently, and although I never went inside, whenever I drove past I would think of its connection to my family history.

Even with a one-line story such as this there may be several elements. I had long ago found evidence to show that my GG grandmother, did indeed die long before Edward – thirty years earlier to be precise. I had also found several drunk and disorderly charges, each resulting in several nights in Wakefield prison. What surprised me when I first researched Edward was that there was another long-term partner after my GG grandmother. Edward was with Hannah at least seventeen years, from before the 1881 census until his death in 1898. This was never passed down in the story. And finally, Edward’s act of suicide and the location is evidenced by his death certificate and the Coroner’s notes.

Only one element of this story remained to be proven: that Edward was born close by The Crooked Billet inn in Hunslet. Throughout the years of my search for Edward’s birth family I remained guided by this, but always open to the possibility it might not be accurate.

I now know that on his father’s side Edward is descended from generations of Edward and John Robinsons, all living in Hunslet in Meadow Lane, just across the river from Leeds township and marked on the map below with a blue dot. Edward’s family lived here at the time of his sister Elizabeth’s baptism 1822. They also, it turns out, had an older son, John, baptised in 1818, Meadow Lane being the place of residence given here too. At some point between sister Elizabeth’s birth in 1822 and brother John’s death in 1834 Edward sr. broke with tradition and moved with his family to Pottery Fields, marked on the map with a pink dot. The Crooked Billet inn was more than a mile away in Thwaite Gate, indicated with a red dot, right on the border with the parish of Rothwell. It isn’t looking like Edward would have been born there.

Map of Hunslet dated 1846-47. Note: This was a time of enormous and rapid industrial and housing development in the area. Even 20-30 years earlier it would have been more rural in character.

It is in fact Edward’s mother, Elizabeth Clarebrough’s family that is key to this puzzle. I’ve now traced her line back to my 11xG grandparents in the sixteenth century. The Clarebroughs are a long-established Rothwell family, located mainly in the Oulton and Woodlesford area. Elizabeth and her twin sister were eighth and ninth of thirteen children, although at least three of them did not survive to adulthood. Baptism and burial records indicate that the family relocated from Oulton between January and August 1791. The place they moved to was… Thwaite Gate in Hunslet, the exact location of The Crooked Billet. They were still there in 1805 when Elizabeth’s father was buried, and although by the time of Elizabeth’s mother’s death in 1830 she was living in Woodhouse Hill (indicated on the map with a green dot), she would seem to have remained close by the area around Thwaite. Even if a baptism record does somewhere exist for my GG grandfather Edward, the abode given will be the usual residence – Meadow Lane or Pottery Fields – and yet it is entirely reasonable to consider that his mother Elizabeth might have gone to stay with her own mother for the period of her confinement, and that he really was born right next to or at least close by The Crooked Billet.

Thinking more widely than this story for a moment – I wonder if this might sometimes be the key to locating missing baptisms? What if our ‘baptism-less’ ancestors who insist on census records that they were born in place X really were born there, because the mother had gone to be with her own mother for the birth, even though a baptism record will be found in place Y…? After all, the parish register records the name and abode of the father, not the actual place of birth. Quite apart from a truthful response to the question of the father’s own abode, it was in any case important for proof of settlement for a child to be registered in the correct parish.

Back to Edward, we can now fast forward to March 1898 when, the story goes, he left his home in Leeds township (marked orange on the map below) and drowned himself in the water by The Crooked Billet (red dot). In fact, thanks to several witnesses whose words are recorded in the Coroner’s notebooks, we can be more precise than that. South of Leeds the river Aire, being not fully navigable, is accompanied on its way to the Humber by the Aire & Calder Navigation canal. The Coroner’s notes, written the day after Edward’s death, evidence that Edward had walked along the water from Thwaite Gate in Hunslet and thrown himself in the canal close to Rothwell Haigh, at roughly the spot marked by the blue dot. Knowing what I know now about his mother’s origins, just a little further along the river, in and around Woodlesford and Oulton (green dot), knowing that as a twin her family’s connection to her sister and her children might have been particularly close, and knowing through burial records that the older generation retained a strong connection to the parish of Rothwell even after moving to Hunslet, I can imagine happy childhood days playing by the water, or walking the three miles or so along the water to visit family.

Edward’s Last Walk: Map of Leeds and Rothwell dated 1900

Of all my ancestors, Edward has been the hardest to love. Finally, working through his story with the additional information, and re-reading the Coroner’s notes, has helped me to make my peace with him. My impression of Edward was that he didn’t have a good life. He didn’t settle to a trade, and the deaths of two significant women in his life – his mother and his first wife, seem to have sent him off on self-destructive behaviour. My mother’s story, suggesting that in his despair, Edward was returning to his own roots to drown himself, was certainly true, but I now believe the attraction was not The Crooked Billet inn itself, but happy childhood memories with his mother and family by the water on the way to Rothwell.

*****

I’ll be taking a break from the blog for a few weeks. My next post will publish on 15th July.

Will the real Edward Robinson please stand up?

When I started researching my tree my Mum told me what she knew about her family.  It wasn’t much, but enough to get me started.  Regarding her mother’s grandparents she could name only one, and even then only his surname: Robinson.  However, for the next 25 years, my GG grandfather Robinson – Edward, as I discovered – kept his origins a closely guarded secret.  The problem was that there were no documents to evidence his birth family.  He didn’t actually marry either of his ‘wives’, and if there was a baptism, I have never been able to find it.  Any of these records would have evidenced Edward’s father’s name, location and occupation. From 1851 onwards I collected a great deal of information about Edward, right up until his death in 1898. All censuses and other documentation are absolutely consistent with a birth year of 1826 – and with one exception, even consistent with a birthdate between 18th March and 3rd April 1826, but there was nothing at all to enable me to place him with a family.

Even before knowing Edward’s name, I grew up hearing stories about him.  He had a stall in Leeds market. My Grandma told me he paid a shilling for her mother, Jane, to go to school one day a week, and Jane used to play with gold sovereigns on the floor.  After Edward’s first wife, my GG grandmother Margaret died, he turned to drink and lost all his money.  There is truth in this: I unearthed drunk and disorderly reports and short spells in the slammer, but I rather suspect there was never that much money to lose.  Finally, my Mum told me that after losing all said money ‘he went back to The Crooked Billet where he was born, and threw himself in the river’.  This too is true.  I have the Coroner’s Report made the day after his death in 1898, although Edward actually drowned himself a couple of miles along from that spot.

It’s fair to say that Edward had a colourful life, and from 1851 I think I have the measure of him.  I even suspect that withholding information was a reflection of his personality: he probably didn’t trust the authorities, and maybe it has taken him all this time to trust me too!  Nevertheless, in amongst all of the above there were several clues:

  • Edward was born in 1826, or at the latest in 1827
  • In all records he gives his birthplace as Leeds
  • My mother’s story suggests a birthplace of Hunslet – not part of Leeds township at that time, but just across the river, and within the large ancient parish of Leeds.
  • There was a hint that he might actually have been born at the Crooked Billet inn in Hunslet.
  • Edward had two daughters: the younger, Margaret, was named after her mother.  Might the older, my great grandmother Jane, have been named after Edward’s own mother?

Two of these clues turned out to be red herrings, but they had me hooked for a while.  At the time of Edward’s birth the innkeeper at the Crooked Billet was John Robson.  Could that name somehow have morphed into Robinson?  No, it hadn’t: it seemed Edward could have been born *near* the Crooked Billet, but not *in* it.

As for Jane, there was an Edward of the right age living with a Jane old enough to be his mother in Hunslet at the time of the 1841 census.  However, searching the parish registers for a Robinson marrying a Jane in the parish in the years before 1826 returned only two records, both traceable in the 1841 and 1851 censuses living away from Leeds. 

Searching the parish registers for Edward’s baptism proved equally fruitless.  Ten Edward Robinsons were baptised in Leeds between 1825 and 1831.  There were also two marriage records in 1847 and 1867 that might possibly have been him.  I had long ago realised that the reason Edward and my GG grandmother Margaret didn’t marry was that she was already married to someone else.  Perhaps Edward too, had married another woman before meeting Margaret?  But no: the couples in these two records were still together in subsequent censuses when I knew Edward was with Margaret or, after Margaret’s death, I knew where he was.

It troubled me not being able to break down Edward’s brick wall, so a couple of weeks ago I decided to give him another opportunity to reveal his identity.  Using Ancestry, FindMyPast, TheGenealogist, FreeReg and FamilySearch, I listed every possible baptism for every Edward Robinson baptised in Leeds from 1824 to 1831.  I was able to discount a couple on the basis of location or father’s occupation; another died in infancy; and the rest I worked forwards through the 1841 and 1851 censuses.  I knew where my Edward was in 1851, so if any of these Edwards could be located elsewhere, they were not my Edward.  I was left with about three baptisms, and no way of choosing between them.  I then searched the 1841 census for any additional possibilities, and found two not accounted for in the baptisms.  One of these was my long-preferred Edward with Jane in Hunslet.  The other was Edward and sister Elizabeth, living in Hunslet with their parents Edward and Elizabeth.

At this point I did something I hadn’t had the opportunity to do on previous attempts to break through Edward’s brick wall: I turned to DNA.  Using the filters on the Ancestry website I searched amongst all my DNA matches for anyone with the surname Robinson and birthplace of Leeds in their trees.  I didn’t expect to find anyone.  I needed someone who had already traced their ancestry back to Edward’s parents, who had young Edward in their tree, who had taken the DNA test, and shared DNA with me – not guaranteed at 3rd or 4th cousin level.  It felt like searching for a needle in a haystack. But unbelievably I found someone: just one person, estimated at 5th to 8th cousin.  He had my Edward in his tree, born c.1826, living in 1841 with sister Elizabeth and parents Edward and Elizabeth.  This was, in other words, one of the families I had already identified as a possibility.  Unlike Edward, sister Elizabeth had a marriage certificate and a baptism record and had therefore been traceable quite easily back to her birth family. My DNA match, Elizabeth’s descendant, already had another bit of information on his tree too: a marriage record for Edward’s parents, and with that a maiden name for the mother: Clarebrough.  But could this just be coincidence? My match and I didn’t share very much DNA; this could be a case of confirmation bias. The next step was to do the same filtered search on Ancestry, but this time for the unusual surname Clarebrough and a birthplace of Leeds.  If I could find anyone amongst my DNA matches just one generation further back from Elizabeth Clarebrough but descended from a different sibling, then there was no doubt that this was my Edward…  Bingo!  A DNA match, and three more on MyHeritage.  Finally, after 25 years of trying, I have my Edward!

I hope there’s something in this account and the methodology to interest you. In those pre-census/ pre-Civil BMD days, listing all possible baptisms and then working each one forward to discount as many as possible can often solve the puzzle. In Edward’s case it didn’t, and without bringing in the DNA cavalry at this point I would never have been able to break through this brick wall.

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.

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.

Spinsters

Full page of TitBits magazine dated April 1889, featuring responses to a competition for spinstersImage from Dr Bob Nicholson @DigiVictorian on Twitter.
Click the image for a slightly bigger version that will be a bit easier to read.

Dr Bob Nicholson, who shares stories from the Victorian era on Twitter, recently wrote about a competition in Tit-Bits magazine in 1889.  Single female readers were invited to answer the question: ‘Why Am I A Spinster?’, with a prize awarded to the lady providing the best response.  In the event, there were too many good responses to be able to choose just one, so on 27th April, 1889, the full page of responses pictured above was published. Some are witty, some poignant.

I’ve been meaning to write about spinsters for a while.  I’ve noticed a few in my ancestral lines and wondered why.  After all, society was not geared up for independent, single women.  Of course, as suggested in the Tit-Bits article, there could be any number of reasons.  Perhaps they were not interested in men/ marriage/ motherhood, or perhaps one daughter was expected to stay home to take care of ageing parents.  Perhaps they had lost their one true love in war?  Or maybe, despite the ‘old maid’ sniggers, they wanted to retain their independence, and this was the only way to achieve that?

To refer back to my previous post about researching female ancestors, before the Married Women’s Property Act of 1870 married women were not allowed to keep their own earnings, while prior to the 1882 Married Women’s Property Act all of a woman’s property and possessions passed to her husband when she married. The only way a woman could retain property and finances was to remain single or, after the death of her husband, to avoid remarriage.

Most women, of course, would not need to trouble themseleves with the matter of how to hang on to their personal wealth.  It was more a matter of how would they survive.  This was not just a concern for spinsters.  Widows and abandoned wives, too, may have had difficulties in later life when left without a husband/ father bringing in the money.  Many had to rely on charity for accommodation (e.g. almshouses or living with a brother’s family) and for living expenses.  Some of our maiden great-aunts will of course have been sufficiently well provided-for, and others had worked all their lives and continued to do so.  I have examples of all of these in my tree, and perhaps you do too.

However, one of my own ancestral families particularly piqued my interest.  My 4x great grandparents, John and Sarah, had five sons and five daughters.  The family business (Woollen drapers to the people and gentry of York) was doing well, all five boys married after securing admission to the Freedom of the City of York, and the oldest son rose to the position of Lord Mayor of York in the 1860s.  And yet of the daughters, one died aged 25 and the others remained at the family home until the death of their parents in 1860, by which time the sisters were aged 48 to 32.

Some years ago I obtained their father, John’s, will.  At first sight I was quite upset by what I read.  John bequeathed all his money and the family business only to his sons.  The four daughters were not even mentioned.  Indeed by the census of the following year one of the sons had bought out the family business and although he and his wife remained in their former home, all four sisters had moved out of the rooms above the shop premises in Stonegate and were living together in a private house in York.

And yet the sisters did not seem to go without.  In the censuses of 1861-1901 they describe themselves as ‘Railway Annuitants (Railway Stock)’, living off the dividends from these investments.  I could also see from the Probate Calendar on Ancestry (England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995) that each of them would eventually leave a will, bequeathing what she had to her remaining sisters.

The Probate Calendar does not provide a copy of the actual will.  For that, you have to place an order via the Find A Will website.  Fascinated though I was by this story, I really couldn’t justify spending £40 on a series of wills just to satisfy my curiosity.  You may remember, though, that last July the price of wills was greatly reduced, from £10 to £1.50 each.  Now spending £6 to satisfy my curiosity was entirely reasonable….

It seems that each of the four sisters made a will in 1862, and on the basis of this, when the oldest, Maria, died in 1895 she left £1523 to her sisters.  Shortly afterwards, the remaining sisters, now aged 66 to 78, each made a new will, leaving her worldly possessions to whoever outlived her, and in the event of herself being the sole survivor, to three named charities.  I suspect each sister chose a charity dear to her own heart, and all had agreed to share the final funds equally between the three charities, regardless of which sister survived the other two.  Hence at her death in 1899 Louisa left £1983; and in 1900 Emma left £1956 to just one surviving sister, Sarah.  It’s interesting too, to note the circles the sisters moved in.  These were educated and knowledgeable women, able to take on the role of executrices for each other.  However, the executors for the will of whichever sister died last were to be the solicitors George and Frederick Crombie, both of whom described in the wills as ‘friends’, not merely professionals carrying out a service.  It was not until the death of Sarah at the age of 87 in 1904 that they were required to perform this role.  Her estate, totalling £6140, was left in equal shares to the York Branch of the RSPCA, the Royal Sailor Rest at Portsmouth and Devonport and the Sailors’ Orphan Home.  According to the Bank of England Inflation Calculator, this figure equates to around £750,000 in today’s terms.

How on earth did Sarah end up with so much money?!
I think the key is in the census entries: they lived in York, and they were living on dividends from investments in the railway.  Investing in the railways at this time must have been akin to buying shares in Microsoft in the late 1970s.  The sisters were very fortunate.

But this brings us to the question of who, exactly, made the investments.  Perhaps sometimes the sisters invested their own money, out of any wages or allowance they received from the family business, but almost certainly the bulk of the funds would have come from their father, John.  To understand why he would do this we need look no further than the financial arrangements prior to the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882, as outlined above.  What John was doing (and what many other fathers did) was to protect his daughters from the system.  Had he left 1/9 share of his business to each of his offspring, and had any of the daughters married, her capital would immediately have passed to her husband.  And not all husbands were kind, family-oriented men who were good with money…  This way, John was ensuring that each of his daughters would never be without an income of her own.

I was so glad to have worked all this out.  I’m no longer cross with my 4x great grandfather.  And as for his daughters, I would like to have known them too.

Just to clarify – this information wasn’t hard to find!
I found it all using just three types of document:

  • the census returns
  • the Probate Calendar
  • copies of the wills (this would currently cost £7.50 for all five)

… And then I sat back and thought about it all, drawing upon my wider reading and a bit of lateral thinking.

Perhaps there will be similar stories lurking in the wills of your ancestors.