Finding Mrs Fezziwig

Last month I played Mrs Fezziwig in the Alan Menken / Lynn Ahrens musical production of A Christmas Carol.  As part of my preparation, I re-read the original Charles Dickens story on which the musical is based.

The kindly Fezziwigs feature as one of the happier memories from Ebenezer Scrooge’s life.  Guided by the Ghost of Christmas Past, he revisits the warehouse from where Mr Fezziwig runs his business, to enjoy once again a fine Christmas Eve party where food, friendship, wine, song and enthusiastic dancing are the order of the day, and everyone is welcome.

Reading the original account of that long-ago Christmas Eve party, I realised something that wasn’t made clear in the musical.  As a young man, Scrooge had not merely worked for Mr Fezziwig; he had been apprenticed to him.  Understanding the apprenticeship system before the Industrial Revolution is an important part of genealogy.  Evidence of an apprenticeship may open the door to a whole range of records, including trades guild membership, freedom of the city or town, perhaps an entry in historic local directories, and much more.

Dickens didn’t think it necessary to tell us what, precisely, was the nature of Mr Fezziwig’s trade.  However, lost, by now in the challenge before me I realised I could easily find the information I needed.  There should be a record of the apprenticeship agreement, probably held at the London Metropolitan Archives.  As a master of his trade, Mr Fezziwig would have been a member of the appropriate London Livery Company; and upon completion of his apprenticeship, young Scrooge would have been eligible for membership too – generating more records.  Depending on the dates, the apprenticeship may also have been recorded on the UK, Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures, 1710-1811, and with names like Fezziwig and Ebenezer Scrooge they would be easy enough to track down.  This would also provide Mr Fezziwig’s first name, which would help me to find his marriage, and by extension the first name of Mrs Fezziwig, which should enable me to find her baptism and perhaps information about her background…  By the time I remembered that Scrooge and the Fezziwigs were fictional characters, I had quite the mental To-Do List!

Be warned!  Genealogy is strongly addictive and can addle your brain!  It can transport you to previous time zones, while causing a serious loss of all sense of time in the present one.  ‘Just quickly checking this record’ can turn into hours following through from one rich, newly-discovered seam of records to the next.  It may provoke concerned glances between loved ones when you tell them what you’d really like for Christmas this year is a handful of death certificates.  And it may ignite a previously unknown wanderlust for holidays in the most unlikely of places (‘You want us to spend a week visiting disused MINES????!!’)

It’s on that cautionary note that I’ll end my genealogical jottings for 2018.  I’ll be back in January with more.

In the meantime, to those of you who celebrate, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Working back to 1837/1841: some conclusions

Last week’s post showed how it’s possible to start with very little information, yet take a family tree back to before 1837.  In just one hour I created a tree, discovered 33 people, attached 72 Ancestry records, and referenced a few more from GRO and FamilySearch.  I took the tree back to Cyril’s 3x great grandparents, John and Hannah, who were living around the year 1800.

Before moving on, I thought it would be worth standing back a little to consider some issues this exercise has thrown up.

First – why did we just follow the men?
We each have 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents, 16 great great grandparents and 32 3x great grandparents.  The number continues to double with every generation – and that’s just the direct ancestors!  So we have to approach it gradually and logically.  My method is to follow back one surname as far as I can take it – and of course a surname is traditionally passed down the male line.  I then come back to the women marrying into that line and work each of their lines back in turn – maternal and paternal.  Eventually all lines will be covered.

Is it always this easy?
Ah, if only!  😊
In fact I really wanted to follow Cyril’s paternal line.  I recently found his surname in my own ancestry in the 18th century and wondered if we might be distantly related.  Since the online search could only reveal with certainty Cyril’s father’s full name – no year/ place of birth, parents’ names, etc. – it wasn’t possible to do that.

This doesn’t mean all is lost.  Having located the record for Alfred and Dorothy’s marriage, I could purchase the marriage certificate.  It would reveal Alfred’s age and occupation, also his father’s name and occupation.  Alternatively, the release of the 1921 census (anticipated in 2022) should show Alfred living with Dorothy and their young family, and will include his age, occupation and birthplace.  Either of these records would help me to locate Alfred in previous censuses, as well as his baptism and birth records, enabling me to take his line back.

So is there ALWAYS a way round?
Sadly, no.  Sometimes the records are just not showing.  Perhaps they don’t exist, or perhaps they’ve been wrongly transcribed.  Perhaps there are just too many people of the name you’re looking for born in the same place within a handful of years.  ‘Brick walls’, we call them.  I have several.  With luck, hard work and determination, eventually we may find some other evidence that will point us to the information we need.  But, hey – that’s part of the fun!  😀

What other information might be available about the people identified in Cyril’s tree?
Although I was just creating a skeleton tree for Cyril’s ancestors, lots of ‘Hints’ popped up, offering me other relevant records.  (I’ll do a separate post about using Hints soon.)  Even though I didn’t include these hints in my research at this stage, I could see that several were correct.  I saw, for example, military records from WW1 for some of the young men.  There was a fantastic series of photos shared by a family member showing Cyril’s great grandfather Charles Jagger with his siblings, their partners and their father Joshua.  I also noticed, very sadly, that Charles committed suicide.

What else might I expect to find?  Death records (I would have to buy the actual certificates for the full information), burial records, baptisms, electoral records, possibly mentions in the local newspaper or entries in directories, perhaps probate records, including digital copies of the actual will, and if these people were active in their church or the union, perhaps mentions in the minutes, etc.  All kinds of discoveries await!

Stories
When I work on a tree, I like to see what stories are emerging.  With just the skeleton of information collected in my last post two stories emerged for me:

The Jaggers were miners, and although they moved around a little, they were always part of a mining community.  Apart from the suicide, it struck me that other early deaths might have been occupational.  Were there accidents in the mines?  Do the certificates record deaths linked to occupational hazards for miners, such as respiratory?  I would try to find out more about the mines in the area, work out which ones these men worked at, perhaps even visit one if possible, or perhaps a mining community museum.  I would want to know about life not just for the miners but also their wives and families.

I also flagged up Nonconformity in my last post.  This is the umbrella term for Protestant religious organisations in the UK other than the established Church of England.  By the time of the more recent generations in Cyril’s tree, Nonconformity was widespread, but in previous centuries, Nonconformity, or being a ‘Dissenter’ was a huge commitment, impacting on every aspect of a person’s life.  This too, then, is something worth investigating.  How far back does Nonconformity go in this family?  Is there information on the history of the chapels they attended, about Nonconformity in the area more generally, or even Nonconformity linked to mining?  Early Nonconformity has emerged as an important story in parts of my own ancestry, and I’ll be exploring this is later posts.

Investigating such stories doesn’t depend on finding records about our individual ancestors.  We can learn much about them and their lifestyles simply by reading general historical accounts and records, visiting relevant places, and imagining our ancestors in this setting.  It’s one of the aspects of genealogy I most enjoy.

What about you?  What are the emerging stories in your tree?

Getting started: An hour to get back to 1800

Get coffee!  This is a long post.  In it, I aim to show it’s possible to start with very little information, yet quite quickly and accurately progress your family tree.  You’ll find background information on my previous post.

We might call this a ‘skeleton’ tree. It will contain just names, places, dates and occupations.  It can be padded out later using other records, but for now, every new search is targeted to find this ‘skeleton’ of information.  So I’m restricting my searches to two categories of records on Ancestry: Census & Electoral Rolls, and Births, Marriages & Deaths; with additional searches on FamilySearch and the General Register Office website where needed.  All searches are on Ancestry unless otherwise stated.

As you read through, be aware of this cycle:
Search
* I start by entering the information I have: these are my Search terms.

Review and Compare
* I look to make sure information on the new record agrees with what I already have.  If there’s any conflicting information, EITHER it isn’t the right person OR I need to be able to explain the discrepancy.  In other words, I’m building evidence.

Note new information
* Every new record gives more information, and I harvest as much as I can from it. This might include names of parents and siblings, ages (which gives us approximate birth years), places of birth and occupations.

Search
* As the cycle begins again, in the next search I use this new information as my starting point.

So without further ado…  The clock is ticking!

First and second generations:

1. Starting a new tree on Ancestry, I type in the name of my ‘Home’ person: Cyril Rayner, with an estimated birth year of 1920 and an assumed birthplace of Leeds, Yorkshire.

2. Next I search for Cyril on the 1939 Register.  Created on the eve of World War 2, the Register recorded personal details of every civilian in Great Britain and Northern Ireland as at 29th September 1939.  It was then used to organise identity cards, rationing, and was later the basis for the National Health Service. The benefits of searching the 1939 Register are that it’s the most recent ‘census-type’ register; and it gives the exact date of birth of all recorded individuals.
I use the following search terms, limiting my search to Census & Electoral Rolls category:
Cyril Rayner, birth year: 1920 +/- 5 years. Birthplace: Leeds. Event: 1939, in Leeds.
Review/ Compare:
I find Cyril immediately, with his mother and brothers.  I note father was not present, but mother was not widowed, suggesting he may have been away with work for the war effort.  It does mean, however, I don’t have any information about Cyril’s father, not even his first name.
Note new information:
Names of Cyril’s mother (Dorothy) and brothers; exact date of birth and occupation for all of them; their present address.
I save this record to my tree, ensuring all named family members are now added.

3. Dorothy’s birth year of 1898 and that of her first child, 1916, suggests a marriage after her sixteenth birthday (1914) but at any time up to the birth of the baby.
I use the following search terms, limiting my search to Birth, Marriage & Death category:
Surname: Rayner; First name of spouse: Dorothy; Marriage year: 1914-1916.
This isn’t much to work with, and the Ancestry search is unsuccessful.  This is an example of the kind of search, with very limited information, that FamilySearch handles more successfully.  So I search again on that site – success!
Note new information:
Marriage between Alfred Rayner and Dorothy M Jagger in April/May of 1916.  I now have Alfred’s first name and Dorothy’s surname and middle initial as well as the marriage date.  (I can also now find the original record on Ancestry and save it to my tree.)

4. Next I look for Cyril’s birth.
I use the following search terms, limiting my search to Marriage & Death category:
Cyril Rayner, birth year 1920, Leeds.
Review/ Compare:
The birth record confirms mother’s maiden name is Jagger
Note new information:
Birth was registered in Hunslet, not Leeds.  (Hunslet is now part of Leeds but in 1920 was a separate Registration District.)
I now know I have the right family and all information is correct.  All information is saved to my tree.

Second and third generations:

I can now leave Cyril and start to look for Dorothy’s parents, siblings, place of birth, etc.

5. Switching to the GRO website, I now look up Dorothy’s birth. This searchable register includes surname, forename(s), gender, year of birth (+/- 2 years), district where birth was registered and mother’s maiden name. If you don’t have all that information you can leave certain fields blank, and any likely matching records will give you the additional information.  It’s often quicker to use than Ancestry.  However, births are not included until 100 years have elapsed, which is why I couldn’t use this database to find Cyril’s birth.
I use the following search terms:
Dorothy Jagger; year of birth: 1898; female, Birthplace: Hunslet.
Note new information:
My assumption that Dorothy was born in Hunslet was wrong, but by searching again and leaving the district blank I find her: Dorothy Mary Jagger, registered in Wakefield.  Her mother’s maiden name was Hartley.

6. I now have enough information to find Dorothy on the 1901 and 1911 censuses. That should also give me her parents’ names.
Starting with the 1911 census:
I use the following search terms, in Census & Electoral Rolls category:
Dorothy Jagger, birth year: 1898, location in 1911: Wakefield.
Note new information:
By 1911, Dorothy and her family had already relocated to Hunslet.  Father’s name: John William Jagger, a widowed miner, born around 1873.  The birthplace of John William, Dorothy and her siblings was listed as Lofthouse rather than Wakefield.  I know Lofthouse to be a mining community close to Wakefield, but if I didn’t know this I would use Google maps to locate the towns.

7. The 1901 census:
Search terms as above.
Review/ Compare:
I confirm that not only Dorothy and her father’s details are the same, but also the names of her siblings.
Note new information:
In 1901 the family were in Lofthouse.  Dorothy’s mother was still alive and her name was Mary Ann.  (I already know from Dorothy’s birth record that Mary Ann’s maiden name was Hartley.)  Her approximate year of birth: 1873; place of birth: Lofthouse.

8. Before moving back a generation I find Dorothy’s baptism at Lofthouse in 1898.
Review/ Compare:
This includes date of birth as well as date of baptism, plus parents’ names and father’s occupation of miner.

Third and fourth generations:

I’m now ready to move back another generation.  Leaving Dorothy behind I now focus on her father, John William Jagger, born around 1873 in Lofthouse.  A few minutes ago I didn’t even know his name.  Now he’s one of my accepted ‘facts’!

9. The 1901 census has already revealed that the oldest of John William and Mary Ann’s children was born around 1893. This suggests a marriage around 1891-3.
I use the following search terms, in Birth, Marriage & Death category:
John William Jagger and Mary Ann Hartley; marriage in 1892 +/- 1 year.
I’m quick to find their marriage in 1892.
Note new information:
Luckily, this particular record set on Ancestry provides a digital image of the record, not just a transcript.  I see that John William’s father is Charles Jagger, and he too is a miner.  Their place of residence at time of marriage is given as Ouzlewell Green, Lofthouse.  Mary Ann’s father, also a miner, is Joseph Hartley.  The marriage takes place in a Nonconformist chapel – this may be useful information for finding earlier ancestors, and gives me a little wider information about the family’s life.

10. Switching to the GRO website I look for John William’s civil birth registration:
Search Terms:
John William Jagger, male, born 1873 +/- 2 years, birthplace: Wakefield.
Note new information:
Birth in October-December of 1872; mother’s maiden name: Newell.
Back on Ancestry I also find his baptism:
Review/ Compare:
The father’s name is Charles, and his occupation is miner.
Note new information:
Mother’s first name is Elizabeth.

11. We already know that John William married Mary Ann in 1892, but at the time of the 1891 census he would likely have been with his birth family.
I use the following search terms, in Census & Electoral Rolls category:
John William Jagger, year of birth: 1872 +/- 1 year, place of birth: Lofthouse and residence in 1891 of Lofthouse.
Review/ Compare:
I find John William, a miner, with his mother Elizabeth and siblings at Ouzlewell Green.
Note new information:
Elizabeth was widowed; names of John William’s siblings.

12. Using similar search terms, John William, aged 8, is located with both his parents in 1881 at Lofthouse.
Review/ Compare:
Charles, a miner, and Elizabeth; two siblings are also present, their names matching the 1891 census record.
Note new information:
Ages given on the two censuses indicate a birth year for Charles of around 1851, and for Elizabeth née Newell of around 1855.  We also now know that Charles died between 1881 and 1891.

13. John William is the oldest child. His birth in late 1872 suggests a marriage of around 1871-72 for Charles and Elizabeth:
I use the following search terms, in Births, Marriages, Deaths category:
Charles Jagger, Elizabeth Newell, 1871 +/- 1 year; location: Wakefield
Note new information:
The marriage took place on 16th June 1872.  Fathers’ names are Joshua Jagger and Joseph Newell, both miners.

Fourth and fifth generations:

We now have all the information we need to get back one more generation, so we will leave John William and focus on his father, Charles.

14. Switching to the GRO website, Charles’s birth is found in the first quarter of 1851.
Review/ Compare:
There is a discrepancy in the place of birth.  We already know from the 1881 census that Charles was born in Ouzlewell Green, Lofthouse, which comes under Wakefield.  However, the birth was registered in Hunslet.  Fortunately, I know from previous research that the Hunslet Registration District originally covered a huge area.  Checking with https://www.ukbmd.org.uk/reg/districts/hunslet.html I can see that in 1851 Hunslet did indeed include Lofthouse.  Therefore both places of birth are strictly speaking correct, but Charles was actually born in Ouzlewell Green.
Note new information:
Mother’s maiden name is Thackrah.

15. Back on Ancestry I can now follow Charles’s life back through the censuses of 1851, 1861 and 1871. Starting with 1851:
I use the following search terms, in Census & Electoral Rolls category:
Charles Jagger, born 1851, Wakefield; father: Joshua Jagger.
Review/ Compare:
I find Charles aged 1 month.  His father’s name and occupation, together with the location, confirm I have the right family, but the stated birthplace for Charles is Carlton.  Google Maps confirm that these places are all within a mile or two of each other.
Note new information:
The family is in Rothwell.  Father Joshua’s age is 33, suggesting a birth year of 1818, and his place of birth is Crigglestone (Google Maps confirms this is in the Wakefield area, therefore consistent with previous findings).  Charles’s mother’s name: Isabella, her age of 30 (= birth year of around 1821) and her birthplace of Carlton.

16. The 1861 census provides names of more siblings,

17. By 1871 Isabella is widowed, meaning a death for Joshua of between 1861 and 1871. Using search terms: Joshua Jagger, Wakefield and a death year of 1866 +/- 5 years, Joshua’s death and burial are located in 1869.

18. 1841 Census:
I use the following search terms, in Census & Electoral Rolls category:
Joshua Jagger, born 1818
Note new information:
Joshua and Isabella are both approximately 20 years old.  They have no children.

Fifth and sixth generations:

We can again move back a generation, so we will leave Charles and focus on his father, Joshua.

19. Assuming Joshua and Isabella are newlyweds, their marriage must have taken place around 1839-1841.
I use the following search terms, in Births, Marriages, Deaths category:
Joshua Jagger, spouse: Isabel Thackrah, Wakefield, 1840 +/- 1 year.
Note new information:
Marriage date: 25 Dec 1840, in Rothwell.  Father’s names: John Jagger and Charles Thackrah, both miners.

20. Joshua’s baptism.
I use the following search terms in Births, Marriages, Deaths category:
Joshua Jagger; birth year 1818 +/- 2 years; Father: John Jagger.
Review/ Compare:
Joshua’s baptism took place in the same Nonconformist chapel that future generations would use – an extra confirmation that I still have the right family; name of father: John.
Note new information:
Birth Date: 1 May 1818; Baptism Date: 7 Jun 1818; Baptism Place: West Parade Wesleyan, Wakefield.  Mother’s name is Hannah.

This is the first record we’ve identified that predates the new record regime of 1837 and 1841.  We now have the father’s name and the mother’s first name.  Undoubtedly, their births would take this line back to around 1800 or just before.

That’s it – my hour’s up!

I hope you followed all that. In the next post we’ll consider some issues arising from this exercise.

Getting started: Working back to 1837/1841

The Ancestry advertisements on television make it look so easy.  You might even imagine you’ll just have to type in a name and your entire family tree will magically appear, as Ancestry’s powerful computers work it all out before your very eyes.  It isn’t as easy as that.  It’s not even as easy as it looks on Who Do You Think You Are?  We don’t get to see all the records they discount before the celebrity clicks on the correct one!

But that said, it isn’t so very difficult either, not when you know how.  With a little practice you’ll get to know what information you’ll find on the various types of record, and how to use these records in conjunction with each other, confirming and adding to what you know as you work your way into your ancestors’ past.

In English family history research there’s a very definite change at 1837-1841.  More recently than this point we use one group of records, while going further into the past we must learn to find and use lots of other record sources.  Fortunately, since we work backwards from the present, it’s the easier system we must learn to use first.

To demonstrate how you can get your family back to the generations living as at 1837-41, I gave myself one hour to work on the ancestry of an old family friend about whose past I knew very little: just his name, approximate birth year, the area where he grew up, and the names of his mother and one of his brothers.  All sources identified are public records, readily available, but being deeply aware of privacy/ security issues, I chose this person because he died more than thirty years ago, has no descendants… and actually I think he would be pleased to have helped. 🙂

In the next post I’ll show you exactly how I did it, but for now I’ll introduce you to four websites.

Ancestry
Ancestry is a subscription genealogy website.  Operating from Utah, it’s the largest for-profit genealogy company in the world.  Ancestry does not ‘own’ the records you’ll find on its pages; the originals are kept in various archives throughout the country (or throughout the world if you have a ‘worldwide’ membership).  However, through Ancestry, you’ll be able to see digital images or transcripts of those original records.  You can also build your tree on the Ancestry website.

Find My Past
FindMyPast is a UK-based online genealogy service, and like Ancestry, provides subscribers with Internet access to digital images or transcripts of official genealogy records.  Again, there’s a facility to build your tree on the FindMyPast website.

There’ll be more to say about both Ancestry and FindMyPast in future posts.

Family Search
This website is created and provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons).  Family history is important to followers of that faith so that they can have relatives from past generations retrospectively baptized into their church.  The website is free for anyone to use, but you must create an account and you must be signed in each time you use it.  FamilySearch holds transcripts of records rather than access to digital images of originals.  However, there are certain types of search when I know FamilySearch will more accurately return the records I need than the subscription websites.  There will be an example of this in the next post.

General Register Office for England and Wales
(GRO)  Here you can search the historical birth and death registers for England and Wales.  These start at 1837.  At the time of writing, the death register is searchable up to the year 1957; and births are searchable to 1917.  Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates may be ordered here, and for this there is of course a cost.  However, the searchable register itself includes information that may help you to progress your research without purchasing the certificate.  To use this site you have to create an account and you must be signed in, but there is no subscription charge.

In the worked example to follow in my next post, I limit my subscription searches to Ancestry, and to the following specific record categories: Census & Electoral Rolls; and Births, Marriages, Deaths.  I also make use of the free searches at FamilySearch and the GRO website.  The main types of record I will be looking for are:

  • Civil Birth, Marriage and Death (BMD) records – these commenced in 1837;
  • Census returns – from 1841 these include individual people, recorded in household groups.

Why not take a few minutes now to familiarise yourself with the two free websites.  And remember to keep this information to hand as you follow through the worked example in my next post.

Genealogy – why do it?

There must be as many combinations of reasons for doing genealogy as there are genealogists.  Here are mine.

Honouring my ancestors
I was always interested in history at school, but after discovering genealogy it struck me that what I learned back then was all about rich, important men, the decisions they made and only in the broadest terms the impact of those decisions on ordinary people.  I remember learning about famine in Ireland, for example; about the ‘Ten Hour Bill’; and about the gradual expansion of the electorate.  It never occurred to me that the Irish great grandmother I vaguely knew of might have had a connection to the famine – yet now I see the arrival of her parents in England did indeed coincide with those terrible events.  I’ve found records of various ancestors – male, of course – who voted in the early 18th century, and others who didn’t achieve that right until 1868.  And as for the ‘Ten-Hour Bill’, properly known as the Factories Act of 1847 – I see my ancestors leaving behind their cottage industry lifestyles and gradually homing in on Leeds as the Industrial Revolution kicks in.  I can only imagine their lives in those huge, noisy factories.  What I do see, however, is that prior to the Industrial Revolution, all my ancestors had respectable occupations – silk weaver, tailor, woollen weaver, yeoman, shopkeeper…  Each played an important part in their communities.  Many had undertaken apprenticeships and become masters of their crafts.  Their lives were self-determined.  And yet by the end of the Industrial Revolution most of them were described on records simply as ‘labourers’.  They had become anonymous cogs in a huge wheel driven by someone else.

History reflected in the people of one family
If I could sit down and have a cup of tea with my ancestors, the stories most would tell might seem small and mundane (although believe me, others have stories that would make your hair curl!)  But take a step back and the story they tell collectively is the history of the woollen industry in Leeds, the impact of the Industrial Revolution, Guild society in York, migration, military life, life and loss in wartime, the rise and decline of Nonconformity and so much more.  So much history just in the stories of one family – mine.  And no doubt many more in yours too.

Freeing my inner detective!
Researching a family tree is not just a matter of names, dates and places.  These are, of course, of vital importance – if you don’t get this right everything else will be wrong.  But I want more than this.  I want to know what their lives were like.  What happened locally that impacted upon my ancestors?  What were the conditions they lived in?  Even though most of their houses will no longer exist I enjoy walking the streets looking for old landmarks that they would have recognised, and looking at old photos of the area.  Speak to any genealogist and they will tell you of the pleasure in finally finding that long-sought-for missing piece of the jigsaw.

Connections
Whenever I delve into original records from my home town I come across surnames of people I used to know – children I was at school with, family friends, local businesses.  These are local surnames, not widely found elsewhere, and it’s strange to think that my ancestors and the ancestors of my contemporaries would have known each other three hundred years ago!  Some of those long-ago people whose surnames I recognise from school are in fact my ancestors, suggesting that some of my old friends were distant cousins.

Coincidences abound in family history.  I see from various records that my paternal great grandparents (dad’s dad’s parents) and my maternal great grandparents (mum’s mum’s parents) were all living in the same street, almost opposite each other, circa 1891-93.  They then went their separate ways, and it would be another sixty years before the families were united through the marriage of my parents.  I often wonder if they got on?!  What would they say if they knew their grandchildren would eventually marry?

Here’s a surprising figure: we each have 4096 10x great grandparents, and the number of direct ancestors we have between now and then totals 8190.  The further back we go the more people will share the same ancestors.  In other words – go far enough back and we are all one big family.  A sobering thought in these times of rising nationalism and ‘us’ against ‘them’.

Leaving something for my descendants
All of these people, and all of their experiences and decisions affected not only their own lives and the lives of their children, but ultimately resulted in me, my children and my descendants not yet born.  In choosing to honour the former I want to leave something for the latter.  I want to tell them the stories that lead from the past to them.

*****

So these are my reasons for researching my family tree.  Have you thought about why you want to do it, and what you’d like to achieve?

So why ‘English’ Ancestors?

This is a blog about English Ancestors – mine, and perhaps yours too.

But why ‘English’ ancestors?  Why not ‘British’?

Well, for the simple reason that whilst the principles and practice of ancestry will be the same the world over, the records and sometimes the knowledge required even for researching the various parts of the United Kingdom can be quite different.  My area of expertise is with English records.  I know, and am constantly learning more about, which English records would likely provide the information I need to help me progress.

That isn’t to say that my ancestry is entirely English.

I have connections to the island of Ireland – North and Eire – and would love to be able to trace my Irish roots further back in time.  Alas, the records can differ quite considerably from English ones.  What’s more, many – but not all – were destroyed in a huge fire at the Public Records Office in Dublin in 1922.  There’s also the issue of surnames: the same name may have been recorded in English or Gaelic, and with various spellings.  And on top of all that, records may never have existed in the first place.  I haven’t given up on my Irish roots; learning more about Irish family research is on the ‘To Do List’, but all my Irish forebears pre-date 1830, and I’ve accepted, sadly, that I may never find them.

So what about other parts of Great Britain?  I haven’t had much need to delve into the records of these nations, although there are as yet unproven hints of Scottish and Welsh ancestry in my research.  Scottish records too, have some differences in comparison with the English, with some Scotland-specific websites, such as Scotland’s People.  Even researching distant Welsh ancestors requires certain specialist knowledge; while the wide usage of certain surnames brings its own problems.  (My probable Welsh connections, for example involve the surnames Thomas and Jones, which I have found is like seeking a needle in a haystack!)

Researching our ancestry gives us knowledge and reason to celebrate every part of our roots.  Our ancestors’ stories and experiences are the back-story to our own lives: they are part of who we are.  Anyone who considers themselves ‘British through and through’ will likely have a mosaic of cultures and heritage running through their past.  I’m proud of my mysterious great great grandfather who seems to have hailed from Prussia.  I’m intrigued by the 10x great grandfather who likely reached these shores after fleeing religious persecution in Flanders or the Netherlands.  And being from Yorkshire, I’m delighted at the hefty chunk of Scandinavian in my DNA – my thousand year-old Viking roots.

But the English records are where most of my ancestors are to be found for the past few hundred years, and this is where my expertise has developed.  Since in this blog I hope, amongst other things, to show you how you can research your own family history, it seems appropriate to limit it to what I know best.

I hope you’ll join me. 🙂

Remembering

This is a new blog about remembering the past, honouring our ancestors and at times learning lessons from what has gone before.

It seems appropriate, then, to launch it on this Armistice Day of 2018, as we commemorate one hundred years since the end of the First World War. There are so many beautiful tributes to the young men – and women – who died during those four hellish years: national events like the torches at the Tower of London and local tributes up and down the country, many featuring hand-knitted and crocheted poppies.

In total, ten million military personnel plus seven million civilians from all sides lost their lives in The Great War,

This is my own tribute to them all, and in particular to two young men:

My great uncle Cyril Mann, killed at Passchendaele on 1st August 1917

Cyril Mann Inscription on Menin Gate

My great uncle Joseph Lucas, also killed at Passchendaele, on 9th October 1917.

Joseph Lucas grave at Poelcapelle

May they rest in peace, and may we and the politicians who represent us be ever mindful of the lessons of the past.

We have more in common than that which divides us
We are one human race