Hello everyone, and Happy New Year! I hope the festive period was happy, enjoyable, peaceful, comfortable – warm! – or whatever it was you needed.
I decided today to talk about setting goals for our family history research. I’m not talking about anything wild and vague, as often seems to be the case with New Year’s Resolutions, but I do always think of New Year as a fresh start, so for me this seems like a good time to be focusing on goals and how to formulate them so that they’re useful and achievable.
Let me illustrate with an example from my own family tree.
I have a brick wall at one of my 4x great grandfathers: William Moss, who married in Northallerton, Yorkshire in 1800 and died, also in Northallerton, in 1827. So far I’ve used only online records to research him. I could set myself a goal that ‘This year I will break through my brick wall with William Moss’. But, well… maybe I will and maybe I won’t. It depends on how much time I can give to it, of course; but more importantly, if further records relating to his life simply don’t exist, or are hidden away in a private collection then the chances are I will not succeed in this lofty goal. It’s better, instead, to express my goal as an objective, and to indicate a series of steps I will take to move towards this goal.
Let’s start with what I already know about William.
- His burial record at Northallerton in November 1827 gives an abode of Northallerton and an age at death of 57. If correct, this indicates a birthyear of about 1770. Of course, it might not be correct, but it’s a starting point.
- William married Elizabeth Bumby at Northallerton in January 1800. The record indicates that this was a first marriage for both parties, and that both were of the ‘parish and township’ of North Allerton. If the birthyear of 1770 is correct, this would indicate an age of around 29 or 30 for William at the time of marriage. Elizabeth, whose baptism is known, was about 24.
- The marriage was by Licence. Since these had to be paid for, this generally indicates some at least minimal degree of wealth. William signed the register in a confident hand, as did five witnesses. Elizabeth made her mark.
- I have found only one child for the couple: William, who was born 4 January 1801 and baptised at Northallerton two days later. The entry in the baptism register indicates that William senior is a blacksmith. This connects with what is known about Elizabeth, who comes from a long line of blacksmiths, but based in Thirsk, about 8 miles away. Elizabeth’s uncle, also a blacksmith, was one of the witnesses at the couple’s marriage in 1800.
Let’s now turn this into a ‘Research Objective’ with an action plan:
Research Objective: To carry out further research into the life of William Moss, born circa 1770, parish unknown; died November 1827, Northallerton, Yorkshire, with a view to finding his baptism and parents
- Carry out page by page examination of the Northallerton baptismal register (digital images of original records available online at FindMyPast in the record set Yorkshire Baptisms) from 1801 to 1820, with a view to locating any additional children born to William Moss and Elizabeth née Bumby.
- Purchase William’s will, probate 1828, together with additional probate documents, located via search on FindMyPast. Examine for any additional information about William, his family and his place of residence.
- Contact Borthwick Institute for Archives regarding availability of marriage licence. This may include an age for William. If age given is 29-30, this reinforces the age given at death. Examine for any additional information not included on transcript. (Note point 11 below – possibly Marriage Licences will comes under the diocese of Durham.)
- Carry out wider search on FindMyPast for William Moss plus variations, using birthyear of 1770 +/- 10 years, with gradual increases in location starting with Northallerton + 5 miles, then 10 miles, then 20 miles. Note locations of Moss surname within these areas, even if there seems to be no baptism for William.
- Note also that William junior (b.1801) married in Kingston upon Hull in 1823 (also by Licence). Could William jr. have relocated to Hull for an apprenticeship? Note that the 1823 Licence gives William jr’s occupation as ironmonger, which clearly has connections to the father’s trade of blacksmith. Might William senior and Elizabeth also have moved there for a period of years? By September 1824 (baptism of first child) William jr and his family have returned to Northallerton, where they remain until some time after the death of William senior (who is buried on the same day as the baptism of his son’s third child.) Therefore the possibility of a family removal en masse is consistent with this (even if unlikely) and wider connections to Hull may also be explored.
- If William senior’s will indicates any further children other than son William, searches will be carried out for their baptisms.
- At this stage (at the time of writing this plan) progress is delayed pending arrival of the 1828 Will and information about the survival or otherwise of William and Elizabeth’s 1800 Marriage Licence (awaiting reply to email). However, further investigation of a more general nature can be carried out as follows:
- Northallerton was a parliamentary borough/ constituency from 1640. However, there is no mention in Gibson & Rogers Poll Books finding guide of the survival/ whereabouts of any Poll Books from the period prior to 1832 specifically for Northallerton. Initial investigation indicates that in Northallerton the right to vote was vested in the holders of burgage tenements, of which there were roughly 200. Might William senior have had the vote, and might any Poll Book entry provide further information regarding his residence? (Awaiting email response from North Yorks Record Office).
- As a Borough, might there be any Apprenticeship records? Might William senior have completed an apprenticeship in Northallerton? Or perhaps in nearby Thirsk, where his wife Elizabeth was born and raised, and many of the family are blacksmiths? Equally, might William junior have completed an apprenticeship in Northallerton or in Hull? What records exist for these three boroughs, and if any exist, how much information is provided about the apprentice’s father?
- The Manorial Documents Register (MDR, National Archives) indicates seven manors for the parish of Northallerton. Can a map be located to show the whereabouts of each? Can any of them be discounted as a residence for William senior, based on information on marriage record that his residence was in the ‘parish and township’ of Northallerton? (Awaiting email from North Yorks Record Office). It is noted from the MDR that most manors have a good collection of surviving records including some that could help to locate William in the township. However, the Northallerton Borough Manor records unfortunately end in 1635. No further investigation to be carried out until receipt of information from Record Office.
- It is noted that for some aspects of the Church of England administration, Northallerton and the former Allertonshire were part of the diocese of Durham rather than (as expected) York. Clarify which aspects, and (bearing in mind that all records so far identified as relevant to this family are lodged with North Yorkshire Records Office and Borthwick, York) whether any record sets of potential use might be found still at Durham.
- Only one trade directory has been located for Northallerton for the period of William senior’s known life in that place: Baines Directory of 1823. William is not included. Might any other directories have survived? In 1823 William would have been about 53 and therefore expected still to be working as a blacksmith.
- The GENUKI page for Northallerton has been located, also the FamilySearch page and the Northallerton page of Parishmouse Yorkshire. These will be examined for any further information.
- A dedicated Family History Society has so far not been identified. However, the Northallerton & District Local History Society has a website and contact details.
So that is my research objective and action plan to date. Much of it has already been set in progress and at the present time I’m awaiting information in the form of William’s 1828 probate documents, and replies to several emails. I’m unable to do more until I have that information and (I hope!) can gather further clues.
The next stage, after all of the above has been worked through, will be a visit to the North Yorkshire Records Office, which is in Northallerton. However, that would would involve a very long journey, and while working on the above I realised I have a few other ancestral lines in the North Yorkshire area, also requiring some attention. It would make sense to work on each in turn, researching the local history, jurisdictions, availability of records and so on, and preparing a detailed action plan for each for a visit to the archives, probably in 2024. This timescale allows for a thorough yet leisurely approach, and a few days in Northallerton would be very nice!
By approaching goals in this way, refining the plans as required and making notes on findings, the time is not wasted even if our ancestors’ origins are not ultimately found. It will not be a failure. At the very least in doing this we’re eliminating avenues, familiarising ourselves with what records are available and hopefully gathering a little more information. New record sets are being made available online all the time, and perhaps at some point in the future something new will turn up, and a quick refresher with notes made now could enable that new information to slot easily into place.
What about you? Have you set yourself some New Year goals for your family history research? Is there a brick wall you’d love to smash? How are you approaching it? If you haven’t previously tried setting out your goals as objectives with detailed step-by-step plans, I hope the above helps.
Here’s a to a successful year – genealogical and otherwise – for us all.