Monday 20 December 2010

Mappy Monday - London, a birds-eye view

This map comes from the Pocket Atlas of London 1896, one of the many old books lining the walls of my house (and very good insulation they are, too). I published a reprinted version of this atlas some years ago, but because of the cost, it was in black and white. The level of detail is amazing, considering that the original is only about 12cm high and 18cm wide. It does look better in colour, though.

This is an enlarged view of the centre part of the map showing, among other famous landmarks, Somerset House. This was the home of various public offices over the years, but is probably best known as the home of the General Register Office, which left there in 1974. Today it houses a museum, and the unlovely car park in the courtyard has been replaced by fountains in summer, and an ice rink in winter

Somerset House in 2010

Sunday 19 December 2010

Shopping Saturday - a little bit piece of Christmas 1905

Boots the Chemist is one of the most familiar names on the high streets of Britain. It began as John Boot's herbalist store in Nottingham in 1849, and became a large and successful company under the management of his son Jesse. Jesse Boot and his wife took a keen personal interest in the company and its employees, and the scroll pictured here is actually a keepsake given to Boots employees for Christmas 1905. 

The poem 'The lesson of the Water Mill' is based on a proverb 'The mill cannot grind with the water that is past' - I'd never heard of it, but apparently it dates back to the 17th century. Unfortunately the scroll does not belong to me, but the owner kindly lent it to me to photograph. I wonder how many more of these are still around? 

Friday 17 December 2010

Advent Calendar - Moving house

Have you ever moved house just before Christmas? I have. Twice.
The first time was a very long time ago, when I was 7. We were living temporarily in a very small flat, but with the promise of a larger flat as soon as one became available. I remember being very excited at being allowed to decorate the Christmas tree for the first time. I was not impressed when someone brought us the good news just after I had finished my great work of art! On the plus side, this is where we moved to:

It was still a flat though, and not the whole house.

Nearly 25 years later, I moved house on 20 December, and this time I had a lot more to worry about than a Christmas tree. By now I was married with two children, and had accumulated a house full of stuff. We moved on the very last working day before Christmas, and the people buying our old house had hired themselves a solicitor from 'Nitwits'R'Us', so it took nearly all day to complete, and it was nearly dark before we could actually move in, and of course it was freezing cold too. But we made it, and we were very happy in that house for many years.

And when we had been in the house for five days, it was Christmas, and the whole family came to stay. We had hardly started to unpack, but I still managed to produce a full Christmas dinner for 10 people. It was a lot of fun, because no-one could expect it to be perfect under the circumstances, so anything short of total disaster would have been considered a success, and everyone seemed to have a good time, including me. All the same, if I ever move house again I'll avoid December if I can. 

Advent Calendar - Christmas at school

Until I came to write this post I had forgotten how much I enjoyChristmas when I was at school. The school I attended the longest was Chatham Grammar School, where they put up with me for over 7 years. The bit I liked best were the plays or revue that the sixth form put on for the rest of the school; it was always good to see the older girls, and better still the teachers who joined in, making fools of themselves for the amusement of the rest of us. And when you got to that year yourself, it was almost as much fun putting on the show yourselves.

But the show I remember best was one that I never saw. When Iwas in the second year (girls aged 12-13), the Powers That Be decided that we were too young and impressionable to be exposed to one of the performances. Indignation all round, but they were implacable, and we didn't get to see it. We found out later that it was all because of a rhyming couplet in a sketch, apparently some kind of skit on nursery rhymes:
'And where is the boy who looks after the sheep?...
... he's under a haystack with Little Bo Peep'
Do you think I would have remembered that line if we had actually seen the show? Neither do I. I'm really not sure what the moral of that is, but it's funny how some things stick in your mind, isn't it?

Silliness apart, there were some school Christmas traditions that I really treasure. The Mayor used to host a Christmas dinner for old people in our school hall, and we would put on a variety show to entertain them afterwards - we had some very good musicians in the school, although I certainly wasn't one of them. I did take part in a dance routine once, though, to 'I got rhythm'. Trust me, I looked a lot more presentable in a leotard then than I would now, if I were so foolish as to wear one.

But the climax of the Christmas term was of course the very last day of term, when we did no work at all. I seem to remember that they would show us a film for part of the morning, and we could bring in board games, or even records, if we were lucky, to play for the rest of the time. In the afternoon we had final assembly, which was a carol concert. We had singing practice for weeks beforehand in preparation for this, which was a real yawn, but I have to admit it was worth it, because the end result sounded fantastic. some carols were sung by the whole school, with the choir singing descant. They performed some on their own, which sounded even better, and there were songs in all the foreign languages taught in the school, including Latin. We always finished by singing 'The holly and the ivy', as we filed out of the hall to our classrooms, so the whole building was full of the sound of the singing. I had completely forgotten about this last bit until I was halfway through writing this post, and it's been lovely remembering it all. I wonder if they still do that at the school now? I wouldn't be surprised if they do.

Who do you think you are? Live 2011

The programme of talks, or 'workshops', has just been released for the event next February. The full details are not on the site yet, but there are pdf files to download for each of the three days with information about most of the sessions. There are a few gaps, including the details of the four talks that will be delivered by speakers from The National Archives. I can exclusively reveal (it's not at all exciting, I've just always wanted to say it!) that I will be talking on 'How to use The National Archives; online and onsite' in the 10:00-10:45am slot on Saturday 26 February. The other speakers' details will be added very soon, and I can promise that they are all very good.

Looking at the rest of the programme, there are a few other talks that I hope I'll be able to get to. I have to declare an interest here, because some of the speakers are my friends, notably Maggie Loughran who will be giving two talks about Irish records and Paul Blake, talking about South London research in one session, and Gibraltar in another. Bruce Durie's two sessions on Scottish records will be well worth attending (disclaimer - not only a friend, but course director of Genealogical Studies at the University of Strathclyde where I am currently one of his students!).

There is a good overseas contingent, with a considerable American element. I'm delighted to see that Laura Prescott, Joshua Taylor, Maureen Taylor and Darris Williams are all speaking, and I want to hear as many of their talks as I can. Eileen O'Duill, another great speaker, is coming from Ireland.

You can keep up with news of the show as it is released over the next few weeks by bookmarking the website See you in February!

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Warlike Wednesday: determined to join up

There are lots of family stories about young men lying about their age to join the army, and I have the proof of one right here. James Calderhead tried harder than most. He is not my ancestor, but he is part of a family closely connected with mine.

Almost as soon as was was declared in 1914, he signed up for three years' service in the Scottish Rifles, claiming to be 19 years old. Note the statement 'You are hereby warned that if after enlistment it is found that you gave a wilfully false answer to any of the following seven questions, you will be liable to a punishment of two years' imprisonment with hard labour'. So the army specifically did not threaten this as a punishment for giving a false age, one of the question before the warning.

The National Archives ref: WO 364/592
A few months later, he was discharged 'having made a misstatement as to age on enlistment' and a further note says 'Date of birth according to birth certificate 25th March 1901', which made him 13 when he tried to enlist. This is a clerical error, because I have a copy of his birth certificate, and he was actually  born on 25th March 1900. But 14 is a bit on the young side too, I think!

The National Archives ref: WO 364/592
In the autumn of 1915 he had another go, this time he joined the Royal Marines

The National Archives ref: ADM 159/162
The physical description part of this form (not illustrated) shows that he had grown 2 inches taller in the intervening year, but the Royal Marines took less than a month to rumble him, and he was discharged again for 'Mis-statement as to age' on 7th October. Undeterred by this, he decided to give the army another try, and less than two weeks after his discharge from the Royal Marines, he signed up for the duration in the Lovat Scouts

The National Archives ref: WO 364/592
This time he managed to serve 59 days before being found out, so he was back on Civvy Street before Christmas 1915.

The National Archives ref: WO 364/592
But did he give up? Of course not. Less than three months later, and about three weeks before his 16th birthday he joined the Royal Navy. He claimed to be nearly twenty years old, and this time he got away with it. His record shows that he served for the remainder of the war as an Ordinary Seaman, and was finally discharged in January 1919.

The National Archives ref: ADM 188/748
That is probably the end of the story, but on the birth certificate of one of his 14 children his occupation is given as 'Merchant seaman', so perhaps he had found life at sea appealed to him. However, I haven't found any evidence of this in the merchant navy records we have at The National Archives...yet.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Randy Seaver is my hero...

...for today at least. Let me explain.

This afternoon I was talking to other members of the Family History team at The National Archives about the imminent change from the old, familiar FamilySearch to the all-singing, all-dancing version as on the Beta site. As far as I knew this was going to happen quite soon, and warned them that we should familiarise ourselves with the way the new site works, so that we would be prepared when our regular users went to the site and got a surprise.

Then I went on duty at our (shiny new) enquiry desk for the evening shift, 5-7pm. After we closed, I went back to my own desk to pack up and go home, and before I went I had a quick peek at Twitter. And there it was, Randy's tweet ' has changed'. He was the first with this important news to reach my corner of the Blogophere, Twitterverse or what you will. Not only that, he alerted us to the (not at all prominent) link at the bottom of the homepage in tiny writing to get you back to the old site.

Tomorrow is my day off, so I won't be there to help out with any queries, but I was able to send a quick message round the office to my colleagues to warn them of the change before I went home.  So thank you, Randy, for the heads-up; your quick action might just have saved readers, and possibly staff, at The National Archives from a fit of the vapours. Forewarned is forearmed.

 Round of applause, please, everyone for Randy and his Genea-musings blog!

2011 Best genealogy blogs

Today I was surprised and delighted to find that this blog has been nominated for the 2011 Best Genealogy Blogs by Family Tree magazine (the USA magazine, no connection with the British magazine of the same name). and it's only been going since October! Fair enough, it is in the 'New Blogs' category, but I'm very flattered just the same.

I'm in good company too, some of my favourite blogs have also been nominated: Roots and Rambles, Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter, Ancestry Insider,

Monday 13 December 2010

Mappy Monday - Poor Law Unions of Kent

This is one of my favourite maps, and one of the first antique maps I bought, about 20 years ago. I have a particular interest in Kent, and I also lived there from the ages of 8 to 18, so I know parts of the county very well.

The map is undated, and was engraved for Lewis's Topographical Dictionary, of which there were several editions. So I can't date it exactly, but it is 19th century, and has to be later than 1834, when Poor Law Unions were formed, each Union being a collection of parishes grouped together for Poor Law purposes. The key in the bottom left corner of the map gives a number for each Union, and the printed boundaries on the map have been hand-coloured, making it more attractive and easier to read.

For the genealogist, maps like this are particularly useful because Poor Law Unions almost always have the same boundaries as Registration Districts for births, marriages and deaths, established in 1837. Anyone who is familiar with the Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers will recognise the style of this map, as the Atlas has similar county topographical maps (but without the marked boundaries) opposite parish boundary maps. I have a well-thumbed old copy of the Phillimore Atlas, but I rarely use it now for English research, because the wonderful England 1851 Jurisdictions map, part of FamilySearch, does everything that the Atlas does, and more. And it's FREE! If you haven't already used this fantastic resource, try it out. I've used it quite a bit, but I only discovered yesterday that you can save and print from it too. 

Thursday 9 December 2010

1911 Census Enumerators Summary Books

Now that these are online at Ancestry as well as Findmypast, you can see them without looking at the household schedules first. If you've never seen these before, they are quite unlike the census returns you have seen for 1841 to 1901. For the first time the statistical abstracts were made mechanically, and this was done directly from the household schedules, so there was no need to have the enumerators copy the results into books, as they had done in previous years. But they still needed to keep a record of the households where they had delivered schedules, and of the uninhabited buildings in the district. They also needed to record the district descriptions and all the summaries and totals that appear in the preliminary pages of the old-style enumeration books.

So the 1911 Enumerators Summary Books are like a version of the old enumeration books, but with some (but not all) names included. The names listed are of heads of household only, but including lodgers where they completed their own schedules.

They are a wonderful resource, but there are a few things you need to know to get the best from them.

This is a page from the book of instructions to Enumerators, showing how the summary book should be filled in. They were told to list the householders, and the illustration shows them with titles - Mr, Miss, Rev, Captain and so on. So when you are searching this record set on Ancestry, it is best not to include a first name, because they rarely appear. There are also quite a number of people whose surname has been wrongly transcribed as 'Lodger', so if you can't find a family, it might be worth putting their surname in the first name field, just in case!

If you are browsing by place, there are a couple of features to note. As in other census years, you select a county, then the rather unhelpful division of 'Civil Parish', and then 'Sub-registration district' (it really should be 'Registration sub-district', and come after Registration District instead of Civil Parish, because that is the way the census is arranged, but never mind). As in previous census years, you see a list of Enumeration Districts. They are not in strict numerical order, but you can find what you need. They appear the way that numbers do in spreadsheet column if you set it as an alphabetic field instead of a numeric one, and then sort them, so it may be easy to fix. I noticed that only the first district in each list has a 'view description of enumeration district' hyperlink. In fact, there is no need for this at all, since the number links to exactly the same thing - the Enumerator's Summary Book, which includes the description pages.

Once you open one of these to have a look, it may appear a little odd. The pages are not in order, but seem to jump about, and you can only see half of the description, because it is spread over two pages, and only one is visible. This is because the books were dis-bound to be scanned as double-page spreads. So the only two pages you will see together in the correct order are the two in the middle of the book. So look at the page numbers in the corner, and it will start to make sense. Honestly.

Finally, the source infromation provided by Ancestry is a little confusing. Although it contains some infromation specific to 1911, some of it is only applicable to earlier censuses, such as folio numbers, which do not appear at all in 1911. So you read it carefully and it doesn't seem to make sense, don't worry, it doesn't; it's not you. But you can still get a lot from it by just looking closely. Have fun. They have the books for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. The Scottish 1911 census will be released in April 2011, but will not have Enumerators' Summary Books.

Punch card as used to tabulate the 1911 Census for England and Wales (RG 27/8)

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Two new enquiry desks at The National Archives

Not an exclusive this time, because it has been open to the public since yesterday, but here it is anyway. The two new desks are not just new (and bigger), they are in new positions.

This is the larger of the two, which can can have up to 4 staff on duty at the busiest times. Most family history enquiries will be dealt with at this desk. There is a decent amount of space between the enquiry points, as you can see from the distance between the two computers shown here. On the right of the picture you can see a recessed area so that wheelchair users can get close to the desk without having to turn sideways.

Another improvement that might not be apparent to the public, but will be of benefit to the staff, is the increased amount of bookshelf space behind the desk. We keep reference books there to help with answering enquiries, but it used to be a bit crowded, and consequently hard to find the right book quickly. Now there is enough space to keep the categories separate, which should help.

The second desk is smaller, for two members of staff, and it too has wheelchair access. This is the place to go for help with general historical research; although most of our users are doing family or military research, we also have lots of graduate students and other researchers, and the single biggest record series that we hold is Foreign Office Correspondence.

One of the reasons for the current re-arrangement of the reading rooms is to make use of the extra space that we now have created. Now that we have far fewer microfilm cabinets and the microfilm readers that go with them, there is more room to consult the reference books that are in the open area, and in the Library itself.

There is still some way to go, with some more weekend moves and some painting and new signage to come. some parts of the room look decidely odd at the moment, which I haven't shown, but we're getting there. Watch this space.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Advent Calendar - Father Christmas

This is a full-page advertisement from the Islington and Holloway Press, Saturday 17 December 1932. Jones Brothers was a department store in Holloway Road, north London. Assorted newspaper adverts show that it was quite a centre for the local community. In the summer there were flower shows and other activities, but the Christmas events must have been the highlight of the year.

There was a children's party, and of course they could visit Santa in his grotto and get a Sixpenny Surprise Parcel. The grotto for 1932 offered
'the Wonderide... undoubtedly the greatest attraction of its kind ever staged in North London. Nearly 5,500 people have journeyed on it already'
Or there was the Teddy Bear's Wedding
'This delightful show-piece with its dozens of moving figures is proving a centre of attraction to young and old. You certainly must not miss the amusing antics of Wally the Whale, and the unfortunate airman. See him on the Second Floor' 
This Christmas item has nothing to do with my family, but I worked at Jones Brothers from 1976 until 1990, when it closed, and I have many fond memories of my time there. Although the children's parties as advertised here had long gone before I worked there, the store laid on Christmas parties for the children of the staff; my two boys attended quite a few, and got their presents from Santa.

I remember that at some time in the 1980's some alterations were made to the store, and when some panelling was removed in the basement, the brick wall behind was found to be painted with with scenes from a Christmas grotto from years gone by.

Monday 6 December 2010

Mappy Monday - Air raid precautions

This map is a bit of an oddity, and not the sort of thing I usually collect; I'm not usually interested in anything less than a century old, but the street names caught my eye. The area shown is only a few hundred yards from where I used to live.

It dates from the Second World War, and it shows the homes of the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Wardens and the fire hydrants, and there are other markings that I can't identify (cue historian's chant 'Sorry, not my period').

Kenton is part of Harrow, which used to be surrounded by Middlesex countryside, but by the 1930s was an outer London suburb. As far as I know most of the houses and shops featured in the map were built in the 1920s and 1930s, and survived the bombing raids. It's part of the area immortalised by John Betjeman as Metroland. The house I lived is was built in 1936, and during the war years was occupied by a builder. He didn't think much of the government-issue Anderson shelters, so he got his men in to put a proper brick and concrete shelter under the garden. I know this because his daughter, a young child during the war, told me. Presumably it's still there, but it would need Time Team with their geo-phys and helicopters to pinpoint it. I made sure that the new owners knew about it when we sold the house.

Sunday 5 December 2010

Advent Calendar - Outdoor decorations

I wasn't going to post anything on today's Advent Calendar, because we didn't go in for outdoor decorations. And then I remembered something; when I was a student we put up some decorations that were designed to be SEEN from outside.

In my first year at university I lived on the third floor of a girls' hall of residence, and the rooms were in groups of four, with large square windows. Someone (and I genuinely can't remember which of us it was) thought it would be a good idea to spell out the words of a Christmas carol across the four windows

So we got some large sheets of shiny red paper, cut out the letters and stuck them in the windows.

Denise's window read:

Mine was:

Elaine hoped people wouldn't think her room was a toilet because her window said:

and finally, Lycia's window:


Shopping Saturday - Henry White & Sons, tailors and habit makers

I bought a new book yesterday (just for a change! It was a bargain, honestly) 'The design and printing of Ephemera in Britain and America 1720-1920' by Graham Hudson, London 2008. It is full of wondeful illustrations, including decorative billheads for shops and other businesses. I have always been fascinated by these, and I have acquired a number of them. This one is an interesting example from my collection.

The business of Henry White and Sons, Tailors and Habit Makers, Regimentals, Uniforms &C is listed in London directories from 1837 to 1913, first at 53 Great Marlborough Street, Westminster, then at number 58. Henry White and his family lived on the premises to start with, and 53 Great Marlborough Street is the address given on his will, proved 6 May 1873; he died there on 1 April 1873. The business passed to his sons, Henry Hart White and Thomas Thrush White, and by the time of the 1891 census they had moved to Wandsworth and Islington respectively. Henry Hart White died 28 October 1896 at his home in Granard Road, Wandsworth, and Thomas was his executor. Thomas Thrush White died in 1933, aged 84.

The bill itself is interesting, partly because it is a nice decorative example, but also for what it says. It details the kind of work undertaken by Henry White and Sons 'Liveries, hunting clothes, ladies jackets, clerical clothes', but the really interesting bit is the phrase '5 Per Cent charged after twelve months Credit'. It was common practice at the time for customers to purchase goods on credit, and tradesmen often had difficulty collecting the sums due; it was a matter of honour to pay one's gambling debts, but tailors' and other tradesmen's bills were another matter. Legal action was theoretically possible, but was likely to result in the loss of any further business not only from that customer, but from their friends and acquaintances. So shopkeepers often preferred to suffer in silence, in the hope of eventual payment.

Finally, the details of the transaction itself are a goldmine for the costume historian, although the finer points of Victorian tailoring are lost on me, I'm afraid.

Friday 3 December 2010

Follow Friday - HISTPOP

HISTPOP is one of my favourite sites, and at first glance seems to have to great appeal to genealogists; the home page even states ‘Note to genealogists and others tracing individuals: This site only contains a very small number of reproductions of original census enumerators' books for illustrative purposes.’ This is true, but of course a good genealogist is interested in more than just lists of names.

The site is provides background information on population statistics, through the work of the General Register Office. It includes the Annual Reports of the Registrar General for England and Wales, and the Census Reports up to 1931. There are scanned examples of documents held in The National Archives on census preparation, for example, and there is quite a lot of material for Scotland and Ireland too.

If you click on the 'Browse' tab there are several sections to choose from that explain what you can get from the site. The original source material is great, but I'd recommend that you look at the essays, written by Edward Higgs and Matthew who really know their stuff.

Or you can use the Search function to explore the site; try putting in the name of a disease or an unusual occupation and see how often it appears. Have fun

Advent Calendar - Holiday Foods

The first jobs I ever did were Saturday jobs while I was at school, first in a greengrocer's shop and then in a bakery. In the course of these two jobs I learnt something significant about Christmas food shopping; no matter how early you open the shop on Christmas Eve there will always be people waiting outside for you to unlock the doors; and no matter how late you close, someone will always come along and try the door after you have locked up.

But as for the food itself, I don't really have any particular memories of childhood Christmas meals - we lived in Scotland until I was 7, where New Year was the bigger holiday. My food memories are much more recent, from the time when I was in charge of cooking Christmas dinner, sometimes for a dozen people or more. Everyone lends a hand, and if you're really smart you can delegate everrything, end up doing nothing at all yourself and taking all the credit. Christmas dinner was always the usual turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes, vegetables, gravy and cranberry sauce, followed by Christmas pudding (with sixpences of course, except that since we went decimal they have to be 5p pieces). And regardless of how much they had put away at lunchtime, everyone could find room later on for cheese, sausage rolls, fruit, chocolates and so on, but most especially my mother's mince pies. I always made Boxing Day dinner an antidote to the richness of Christmas dinner; poached salmon, boiled potatoes and salad, followed by ice cream.

My mother still makes her famous mince pies, in industrial quantities, owing to popular demand. Everyone in the family has their own supply to take home, and I always have a large box that I take into the office after Christmas. Certain people that I work with wait eagerly for them every year, and I can't put them all out at once, I have to operate a phased release policy to ensure fair shares.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Warlike Wednesday: the War of 1812 - from the other side

I was lucky enough to be present when the Federation of Genealogical Societies Preserve the Pensions appeal was launched. These records are held at the National Archives in Washington DC, but there are two sides to any argument, and it set me thinking about any records from the British side that might be held in The National Archives in the UK.

Not surprisingly, there is quite a lot of material, and some of the records are full of the names of prisoners. Many prisoners were held on ships, and some of the most interesting records are the surgeons' journals kept by the Admiralty. They not only contain names, but give quite a lot more information besides. One of these is the surgeon's journal for the prison ship 'Bahama' carrying American and Danish prisoners.

The National Archives reference ADM 89/1

One of the volumes contains details of the illnesses and treatment of a number of men who were attended by the surgeon while the ship was at Chatham between 1812 and 1814. Some of the patients were sailors or marines, but most were prisoners. Some pages are just lists of names, but for a number of men ages are given, along with details of their illnesses, treatment, and whether they survived. Most of them did - there were only three deaths on board - but several of them, probably the sicker ones, were transferred to the hospital ship 'Trusty'.

The American prisoners whose ages and details appear were:

Alfred Leonard 39, Abnes Polland 41, Procter Symmonds 19, George Symington 48, George Brown 36, Adimus Bowen 44, Jeremiah Hill 46, Mr Lane (Mate) 48, Henry Shaw 32, Golding Spencer 30, Henry Scott 29, Capt Light 54, Francis Williams 28, Charlemagne 28

Medical details, but no ages, are given for:

James Head, Nicholas Noble, James Odihorne, Artimus Bowen, Jonathan Freeman.

All of these men either recovered or were transferred to the Trusty, except for Golding Spencer and Jonathan Freeman. Golding Spencer died of smallpox, and the unfortunate Jonathan Freeman died as the result of 'a singular kind of tumor in the groin' which was mis-diagnosed as a hernia by the first two surgeons who saw him. The third, James Brenan, took a great interest in this case, and wrote it up at great length. The abcess burst, and his symptoms were described in graphic detail. He succumbed to a fever as a result, was sent to the Trusty, but returned to the Bahama, apparently recovered, only to suffer a relapse that caused him to be sent back to the Trusty again, where he died.

Advent Calendar - the Christmas tree

I have an artificial tree now, but for some of my childhood Christmases we had a real tree. No matter how thorough the vacuuming, a small child will be able to find jagged little dried-up bits of pine needle for months afterwards - ah, those were the days!

But my overriding Christmas tree memory was not picking the needles out of my chubby little knees, or from the palms of my hands; it was the lights.

Modern lights are a joy, but the kind we had in the 50s and 60s were evil. They were put away carefully every year, but left unsupervised for 11 months they had plenty of time to get themselves into a tangle that would rival the Gordian Knot. That wasn't the worst of it, though; all the lights had to be in working order and properly connected to complete the circuit, otherwise none of them would work. It was a case of  'one out, all out', and every year there was always at least one faulty bulb or loose connection.

My father was a wonderfully laid-back, even-tempered, tolerant man. Except once a year when he was sorting out the Christmas tree lights. I think my mother used to grab the coats and take me out shopping until it was safe to go back! Once the lights were up and working, it was fun all the way, but Dad's annual grump had to be got out of the way first, a bit like having to eat up all your greens before you were allowed pudding, I suppose. Happy tree-lighting!

Monday 29 November 2010

A sneaky peek at the new 'Start here' desk

This will only be exclusive for a few hours after posting, but here it is anyway. This is what visitors to The National Archives will see when we open tomorrow, Tuesday 30 November. Regular visitors and followers of the website will know that there have been some changes over the last few weeks, and they will continue for the rest of the year. Every Saturday when we close at 5pm the contractors come in to install/move/paint things, and this continues on Sunday and Monday, while we are closed to the public. Every Monday the staff go and look at the search room to see what has changed, so that it doesn't come as a total surprise when we report for duty first thing on Tuesday (those who have Mondays off just have to get their orientation done really quickly first thing, and home the day starts gently while they get their bearings!).

The Start Here area is the closest to completion so far, with a soft seating area and some magazines.Some of the new signage is in place, and the new layout is starting to take shape. Because the work is being done a little at a time over the weekends, some things can't be moved to their final positions yet, so they are temporarily a little out of place; the cabinet containing the printed Research Guides is currently stranded on the wrong side of a glass panel, causing staff at the Research Enquiries desk to dodge round a pillar to fetch copies to give to readers. Fortunately this won't be for much longer. The new enquiry desks have been built, although they are not ready to use yet.
Although the changes to the main reading rooms are going on while we are providing a normal service, the Map and Large Document Reading Room is closed until Tuesday 14 December. It is having a much-needed major refit that can't be done while remaining open, but it should be well worth the wait. Details are on The National Archives website

All the changes have involved quite a lot of work for staff, especially those who work in the Map Room (fortunately for me, I'm not one of them). But it's a good opportunity to have a good clear-out, much like moving house. That's when you discover all kinds of unexpected things; I was checking the contents of some microfiche drawers when I discovered a roll of microfilm that didn't belong there. Not only was it a film in a fiche drawer, it wasn't even one of ours! It was an LDS film, which, you'll be glad to know, is being returned to its rightful owners.

Sunday 28 November 2010

Royal registration rivalry

Queen Victoria   
Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths was introduced in England and Wales in 1837, the year that Queen Victoria came to the throne. When her children were born, they had to be registered like everyone else's, with the local registrar, but which one? It should be simple enough; the registrar of births and deaths for the district where the birth occurred, of course.

But the queen gave birth to her children in Buckingham Palace, so big that it was in two different registration districts. When her first child, Princess Victoria, the Princess Royal, was born on 21 November 1840, George Rawlins, the registrar of births and deaths in the Charing Cross sub-district of St Martin-in-the-Fields believed that he was entitled to register the birth. He had, however, heard that a person from outside the district had been appointed for all the royal palaces, and wrote to the Registrar General on 5 December for clarification, pointing out that a registrar was empowered by Act of Parliament to register all the births in his district, and it would take another Act to deprive him of this right.

Princess Victoria born 21 November 1840
 The Registrar General, Thomas Lister, 'caused enquiry to be made', and found that since most of Buckingham Palace was in the Belgrave sub-district of St George Hanover Square, the registrar of that sub-district was to have the honour of registering the birth of the princess. So Mr Rawlins was disappointed. (The National Archives reference HO 39/5)

Queen Victoria went on to have nine children in all, and when the fifth of them, Princess Helena, arrived in 1846, George Rawlins was no longer registrar of the Charing Cross sub-district. His successor, James Leonard, made a valiant attempt at reclaiming the registration of royal births for St Martin-in-the-Fields. He wrote to the Registrar General ' being certified to me by the Churchwardens and other Parochial Authorities of the Parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields, that the north wing of the said Palace, in which are the private apartments of Her Majesty the Queen, and wherein the birth took place, is within the Charing Cross District for registration...I did on the 26th of May present myself with my Register Book of Births at Buckingham Palace and left a written request that a time might be named to register the birth of the said Royal Infant... ' The response from the Palace was to suggest that Mr Leonard should refer to the Home Secretary for guidance, which he duly did.

The matter was once again referred to the Registrar General, Lister's successor George Graham, who confirmed the earlier decision. His records showed that the question had also been raised in 1841 and 1843 on the births of the Prince of Wales and of Princess Alice, by both parishes, and that plans of Buckingham Palace and boundary maps had been consulted. George Graham wrote 'I am of the opinion that the same course should again now be pursued;...and to inform the Registrar of Births and Deaths for the Charing Cross District...that his services will not be required' (The National Archives reference HO 45/1424)

Thursday 25 November 2010

There and back

Robert and Mary Donaldson
One of the great things about records going online is the new things that you find. OK, that's pretty obvious, but I don't just mean the things you are actively looking for, like waiting patiently for an new census release to get an elusive ancestor's birthplace. It's the unexpected finds that are the most fun, the things that you wouldn't even have considered looking for.

My favourite find was when I did a 'hit and hope' kind of speculative search and got much more than I bargained for. The people in the picture are my grandfather's grandparents, and I knew a lot about them. They were born in the 1830s and lived well into their 80s. They had eight children, and I have plenty of birth, marriage and death certitificates, parish register entries and census returns for the family. They moved around a lot, but always in the counties of Fife and Forfar, much as you might expect of farm workers. Two of their sons, including my great-grandfather, moved west and settled in Glasgow, and I used to think that this picture was of a sweet old couple who stayed behind in the countryside while their more adventurous offspring moved on. I was wrong.

Like most genealogists I am interested in tracing forwards to see what happened to the siblings of my ancestors, and I had accounted for some members of the Donaldson family in Scottish records, but not all of them. Donaldson is not exactly a rare name, but one of their sons, Robert, had the distinctive middle name of Robertson, so in a fit of optimism I put his full name into as an exact search, and got a result in the US World War I Draft Registration Cards, with his exact birthdate, giving his resdience as Marshall, Minnesota. I wasn't entirely surprised to find that he had emigrated, but when I investigated further and looked for him in the US census, I was amazed to find that his parents were with him!  I then found that they had sailed from Glasgow to New York in 1888 on SS Devonia, with his younger brother James. I have the death certificates of Robert snr and Mary in 1919 and 1920 respectively in Inverkeilor, Forfar, so it had never occurred to me that they might have left the country, although I hadn't been able to find them in the 1891 or 1901 censuses. In 1902 Robert and Mary returned to Glasgow on the Laurentian, and as far as I know this was the end of their travels.

So the sweet old couple that I assumed had never ventured beyond two counties in the east of Scotland turn out to have spent 13 years farming in Minnesota! Robert stayed on in Marshall, where he died in 1946, and was a veterinary surgeon. He became a US citizen, and married his wife Jean, another Scots-born immigrant, in around 1912. They don't appear to have had any children, so I probably don't have any distant cousins in Minnesota. His younger brother James also stayed in America, but I hold out no hopes for any cousins there either, because the last sight I have of him is as a 54-year-old newlywed in the 1930 census.

This shows the benefit of looking for collateral lines, which can bring the unexpected bonus of extra information about your direct ancestors; but now that so many records are easily searchable, particularly passenger lists, I'm sure I'm not the only person with emigrant ancestors they never suspected of being emigrants at all. Perhaps you can't find the death of an ancestor who seems to vanish after their children have grown up and married, because they emigrated with another son or daughter and their family. I also have a couple of those, and I can't believe that my family is all that unusual, so maybe it's worth looking at passenger lists, or doing the kind of entirely unscientific search I described at the start of this post. You never know what you might uncover.

Monday 22 November 2010

Mappy Monday - the Valuation Office Survey 'Lloyd George's Domesday'

Part of central Oxford, featuring Broad Street
We have an anazing collection of maps at The National Archives, and one of my favourites is the set that goes with the Valuation Office Survey, taken shortly before the First World War. The field books that were compiled for this survey are the most wonderful source for house histories, and to identify the right field book, you need first to use annotated versions of Ordnance Survey maps, and this is generally the trickiest part of the operation. This has been made a little easier by the Valuation Office map finder being tried out on the The National Archives Labs site.

I was doing some research on Oxford, and in particular Broad Street, one of the streets featured in my post Those Places Thursday - Oxford so I used the map finder to locate the field book that included Blackwell's Bookshop and found it in document reference IR 58/64883 It shows details of the property including the owner, in this case B H Blackwell.

The description of the property shows the type of construction, number and size of rooms, and what they are used for, as well as services like gas, water and electricity and the general state of repair. Unfortunately the person who wrote up this field book had fairly horrible handwriting, but with some perseverance you can make out that it describes it as a 'mixed lot' with some lath and plaster construction, and a number of store rooms for books - quite recognisable to anyone who visits Blackwell's in Broad Street today!

Sometimes the field book includes a small sketch map or plan of the property, but unfotunately there isn't one for Blackwell's. There is one for the Coach and Horses public house next door, on the corner of Broad Street and Parks Road. The pub no longer exists, and its site is now part of Blackwell's

Friday 19 November 2010

Follow Friday - The Workhouse

Now celebrating 10 years online, The Workhouse is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the Poor Law. That is pretty much anyone researching in England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland. Even if none of your ancestors were not among the poor (lucky you, lucky them) they will have been involved in its operation. Workhouse masters, medical staff, contractors, Guardians of the Poor and a host of clerical staff can be found in the records. And even those not directly concerned in the administration were ratepayers.

The site is an astonishing achievement, as is largely the work of one man, Peter Higginbottom. He has not only researched and written the content of the site, he has photographed many of the buildings too. There are countless maps, pictures and old photographs too.

This is not the place to look for lists of names, although there are some; it is where you will find out how the poor were looked after - or not - back through the centuries. It's also a great way to find out what records exist, and where you can find them. I keep returning to the site because there is always something new to discover. 

Thursday 18 November 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday - 'A Happy Pair - thanks to Murphy's'

This is a 1938 promotional leaflet for Murphy's Football Pools, featuring one of their recent winners and his wife. The couple concerned are William Furminger 1892-1969 and his wife Lottie (Wyneschenk) 1893-1983, my mother-in-law's parents.

He is also featured on the inside of the leaflet, along with several other winners, where it is revealed that he won £1548 5s, quite a tidy sum in 1938, the equivalent of around £44,465 (or more than US $71,000) today.

It reads 'Mr L Fulminger of 14 Hopton House Loughborough, Brixton, London S. W. often worried about the future of his wife and family if anything  'happened' to him. "But, now", he says, "the future is bright and cheerful since my £1,548/5/0. win in Murphy's Penny Points Pool

It's a lovely thing to have, and a reminder that you can't believe something just because it's in print; His initial was W, not L, and his surname is Furminger, not Fulminger. It's yet another one to add to the dozens of other variant spellings I have found for this surname. They did get the address right, though.

Sunday 14 November 2010

Remembrance Sunday in Chesham

This is a scene played out all over Britain at 11am today, Remembrance Sunday. Veterans, members of the forces, the British Legion and a number of local organisations marched down the High Street to the war memorial. As always, a crowd waited expentantly as the sound of the band heralded the arrival of the parade, and the reception party headed by the Mayor included two guests of honour, Chelsea Pensioners, in their red dress uniforms and their medals.  

The Last Post was played, and the two minutes silence was observed by all present. People had brought their children to watch, and many children took part in the parade and the ceremony, Cadets, Scouts, Guides and even the little Beaver Scouts who are only about 6 or 7. Wreaths were laid, and speeches made; one speaker reminded us that the number of people who lived through the Second World War is dwindling - even the youngest are now in their late 60s. Another gentleman, originally from Pakistan, drew our attention to the millions of Empire troops who had fought for the Allies, and they were volunteers, too. I won't call this a reminder, because I'm sure many people weren't even aware of this in the first place. It turned out this his own grandfather had not only served, but had been Monty's driver.

The comment about the Second World War fading from living memory, and the presence of the Chelsea Pensioners set me thinking about Remembrance Days past. I remember watching the Festival of Remembrance broadcast from the Albert Hall, as a child in the 1960s, and seeing Chelsea Pensioners, veterans of the Boer War (1899-1902) marching in the parade. My father used to tut disapprovingly at what he considered the sloppy standard of marching by the regular army; lines not straight enough, arms bent when they shouldn't be etc. He said the Army would never have stood for it when he did his National Service in the 1940s!

So what has all this to do with genealogy? Well, quite a lot. Most British people have ancestors who served in the First World War, and on some days it feels as though they have all come to The National Archives at once to look for their records! Local historians are also researching the names on their local war memorials to find out more about the fallen from their town. Chesham is no exception, and a local historian, Lesley Perry, who is also chairman of Chesham Museum, has been researching the stories of Chesham's First World War casualties.

Understandably, most of the interest is in the Army, and it's fairly well known that many of the records were destroyed during the Second World War. But the records of Royal Navy and the Royal Marines survived intact, and they are on DocumentsOnline My grandfather is recorded there three times! He joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, then the Royal Naval Division, and finally the Royal Navy. In civilian life, he worked in the shipyards on the Clyde, so maybe he was just keen to get on board one of the ships, instead of just building them.  

Thursday 11 November 2010

Short-lived Registration Districts

When civil registration of births, marriages and deaths began in England and Wales in 1837, the new registration districts were based on Poor Law Unions. These were groupings of parishes that had been created in 1834. The Clerk to the Board of Guardians was the senior officer in a Poor Law Union, and a Superintendent registrar was in charge of each registration district. Registrars of births, deaths and of marriage reported to the superintendent registrar, and  none of the registrars was salaried, but were paid fees for the events they registered, certificates issued, and some other duties.

Every Clerk to the Guardians was offered the post of Superintendent Registrar, in addition to his existing job, and in most cases they accepted, because the two posts could be conveniently combined. Where they declined the offer, another suitable candidate had to be found, and this was not always successful. In November 1837 the Clerk of the Lewes union wrote to the Registrar General

'in consequence of the remuneration for the Superintendent Registrars being inadequate to the trouble given no respectable person can be found to fill the office'
As a result, some unions were soon combined for registration purposes only. but for a short time there were some now unfamiliar names among the list of districts. The districts of Hursley and Sedgefield existed briefly in the first quarter (September 1837) before disappearing forever, followed by Buntingford, Cerne, Chailey, High Peak and West Firle before the end of the year. Dulverton, Lanchester and Whitchurch also vanished, but were re-constituted as registration districts some years later. Chailey and West Firle were joined to Lewes, to which was also added Newhaven in 1838. So the Lewes clerk had good reason to comment on the difficulty of filling the posts in his area.

Source: HO39/4 Home Office correspondence Registrar General's Office 1837

Wednesday 10 November 2010

The story behind the sign

I always carry a camera, and if I see a 'ghost sign' like this one I take a picture. This one is clearly visible from the northbound platform of Finchley Road station on the London Underground (one of the quirky features of the London Underground is that most of it isn't underground) It is on the back of a building in Canfield Place.

Faced with evidence like this, what's a girl supposed to do but look in the 1911 census? Sure enough, there they were at 7 Canfield Place, Charles Bryant, 25, chimney sweep, and his wife Eliza, 29, with their only child, 3-year-old Charles. All three were born in Hampstead, and they had a visitor, Ann Daw, 32, a dressmaker, born in Derby (RG 14/645 schedule 280) on Findmypast

It turns out that sweeping chimneys was a Bryant family tradition; The 1911 census shows that Charles and Eliza had been married 5 years, and the London parish registers on include the marriage of Charles Bryant and Eliza Daw on 6 August 1905 at Emmanuel Church, Hampstead. Charles, aged 20 was a sweep, and so was his father, also called Charles. Charles Bryant's baptiam is also on Ancestry, on 30 October 1886 at Holy Trinity, Hampstead, son of Charles Bryant, master sweep, and Eliza Sophia. The marriage of Charles Bryant and Eliza Sophia Coventry took place on 15 January 1883 at St Mary, Kilburn. Charles, a widower, was the son of George Bryant, another chimney sweep.

In 1901 7 Canfield Place is the home of Charles Bryant, chimney sweep and carpet beater - not young Charles ' father, but a cousin. Young Charles, aged 14, has the occupation 'showroom porter'. Eliza S Bryant, aged 40, is also there, described as a housekeeper, but who may be Charles' mother (RG 13/123 fol 95 p25). In 1891 Charles is with both of his parents, this time in Hendon (RG 12/1050 fol 23 p20) Eliza's age and birthplace are consistent with those of Eliza the housekeeper in 1901, and we learn that Charles Bryant snr came from Lidlingtom, Bedfordshire, and was born around 1856. This is helpful, because on the 1883 marriage certificate he is described only as 'full age'. In the same census year no Bryants were present at 7 Canfield Place, but the premises were occupied by Henry Henderson, chimney sweep, so Charles may have taken over an existing business at some time between 1891 and 1901.

In 1871 Charles Bryant snr was aged 15, and already working as a chimney sweep in his birthplace, Lidlington, but his father, George is shown as a shopkeeper, not a sweep (RG 10/1556 fol 53 page 16). But in 1861, George is 'ag lab and chimney sweep (RG 9/1002 fol 54 page 16). He too was born in Lidlington, around 1831.

George, Charles and Charles, three generations of Bryant chimney sweeps; looking forward, it appears there was also a fourth. The National Probate Calendar shows that Charles Bryant jnr died 14 February 1937, and left no will, but Administration was granted to his widow, Eliza and to Frederick Bryant, chimney sweep. Frederick was his younger son, born in November 1911. This information is shown on the record of Charles' service in the Royal Artillery in the First World War, found on among the British Army WWI Pension Records 1914-1920. He served for less than 2 years as a driver in the Royal Artillery, but was discharged as unfit due to a congenital heart defect, and received a gratuity of £15.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

People of Abbotsham, so good they named them twice?

Part of my job is to answer enquiries sent by email, and I received one recently that drew my attention to an unusual set of census returns. The enquirer asked if it was possible for a person to appear twice in the same census. The answer to this is yes, for a number of possible reasons.

But this one was particularly interesting because it is not a single individual who appears twice, but half of a village! The place in question is Abbotsham in Devon, in 1841. There are two enumeration districts in Abbotsham, and the enumerator for one of them has listed all the names twice, first in ink, and then in pencil. The instructions to the enumerators in 1841 said that the enumeration books should be completed in pencil, so it may be that this man did not read them properly until he had written everthing out beautifully in ink, all ten pages. The next ten pages see all the names repeated, in exactly the same order, but in pencil (and without the gaps between households that he had left the first time round).

Anyone who has used the 1841 census might wish that a few more enumerators had done the same, because the version in ink is much clearer and easier to read! The reference for this district of Abbotsham in 1841 is HO 107/242 book 2, or if you are browsing by place on Ancestry, Enumeration District 8. Alhough census images can be found on other sites, this is one case where the Ancestry version wins hands down. This is because the images are, unusually, in colour. Most images have been scanned from microfilm, and are therefore in black and white, but where the films were too hard to read, as was the case with Abbotsham, Ancestry were able to scan the original pages.

Just over 200 people were listed twice in Abbotsham, but they were only counted once by the clerks who abstracted the totals, so the population was counted correctly, which was, after all, the object of the exercise.