Sunday 30 January 2011

Uncle Freddy, his parrot, and the cat

You know you're overdoing it when you find yourself dreaming that you are talking to some long-dead ancestor. This happened to me recently when I dreamed that I was asking  Uncle Freddy if the story about the parrot was true.

The story in question was told to me by my Uncle Charlie, the youngest and only surviving one of all my father's siblings. Now at this point I should insert a health warning, as any tale told by any of the Collins brothers should be treated with caution. I loved my dad very much, but boy, could he spin a yarn! His stories were entertaining, and improved with the telling, and all his brothers were the same.

Anyway, back to Uncle Freddy. Charlie said that he had been a merchant seaman, in possession of an African Grey parrot. I was puzzled at first, because I couldn't figure out who he meant; I knew that he and Dad had an Uncle Freddy, but he had died aged only 13. My dad was the eldest of all the brothers, and he didn't even know about poor Freddy, who had died before he was born. I worked out that he was Fred Allison, their GREAT uncle, or to be exact, the husband of their great aunt, Maggie Cross. He was a merchant seaman, although I have no documentary evidence of the parrot.

He is supposed to have come home from the sea with the parrot in a cage, which attracted a lot of attention from the family cat. The cat kept jumping up at the parrot's cage, which didn't go down well with the parrot, and annoyed the humans too. Uncle Freddy's solution was to take the parrot out of the case, put the cat in, and swing the cage around a few times, after which the cat never went near the cage again. So, was Uncle Freddy the man who really did swing a cat? You decide. Sadly, I awoke from my dream before I got an answer out of him.


Saturday 29 January 2011

Shopping Saturday - 'The Co-op'

Co-operative Wholesale Society billhead 1930s
One of the best-known and oldest established retail outfits in the United Kingdom is 'The Co-op'. It is more accurate to refer to the Co-operative Movement, of which the retail stores are just one part. There is lots of useful background information on the website of the National Co-operative Archive and for the retail side of the movement the Rochdale Pioneers Museum . Although the museum itself is closed for refurbishment until 2012, the site is full of useful information, including photographs. According to the site
Toad Lane, Rochdale is widely regarded as the home of the modern worldwide co-operative movement. This is not because it was the first consumer co-operative venture but because its Pioneers (founders) laid down a model of values and principles in their Rules that set out how, and why, to run a co-operative society.
This is a suitably careful wording, because, while Toad Lane is widely celebrated as the first Co-op shop, this can be disputed. In fact, the likely truth is that retail co-operation was an idea 'whose time had come'. In 2010 Co-operative News reported that a shop in Ripponden, Yorkshire could lay claim to being the first, in 1832, twelve years before the Toad Lane shop.

Retail co-ops were an early example of consumer power, where people banded together to purchase goods in bulk to get the best prices. Although this is mainly associated with the working classes, there were middle  class co-ops too; the Army & Navy Stores, now part of the House of Fraser group, began when a group of army and navy officers realised that it was cheaper to buy wines and spirits by the case. The now-defunct Civil Service Stores started in the same way, except that the commodity in question was tea!

The co-ops developed into regular retail shops, where the shareholders were the customers. Many people will have fond memories of shopping at the Co-op (or the 'Co-perative') as we called it in Scotland, and giving the cashier their 'divi' number, which would be marked up in a book, and the dividend would be distributed at intervals, according to how much you had spent. And you thought trading stamps, and now supermarket loyalty cards, were new ideas...?

Old stagers like me might also remember the overhead cash systems that were used in many shops, including the Co-op. There were a number of these systems, first introduced in the 1850s, and the one on the left shows the two halves of a wooden ball that were screwed together and used to send the customer's payment to the cashier's booth, and then back again with a receipt and any change. The wooden ball system used an arrangement of levers and pulleys to send the containers zipping back and forth over the heads of the customers. They must have made quite a racket on busy days in the shop. The system I remember used cylinders that were sucked through pneumatic tubes with a characteristic whooshing sound. I last saw them in use about 25 years ago in a very genteel department store in Cheshire. The wooden balls in the picture are from the reconstructed Co-op draper's shop in the wonderful Living Museum of the North at Beamish, County Durham. It's one of my favourite museums, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Visit if you can - if you're interested enough to read this blog all the way to the end, you'll love it. But wear comfortable shoes, there's a lot of walking.

Co-op draper's shop, Beamish


52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History - Home

Cartside Street, Glasgow
When I was 16, we moved house. Nothing remarkable in that, but it was the eighth time we had moved since I was a baby. So when I read this week's challenge - Describe the house in which you grew up. Was it big or small? What made it unique? Is it still there today? - I wondered how it would felt to grow up in just one house. My seven previous moves were when I was aged 1, 6, 7 (twice), 8 (twice) and 11.  I spent the longest time in the second of them (Cartside Street, left), when I was tiny, and don't remember much, and the eighth, when I was more a teenager than a child.

Between them, my childhood homes represent quite a wide range of British housing; the first four places where I lived were flats, not houses, and they ranged in size from what would now be called a 'studio flat' (ie, a room), to  a three-bedroomed house with a garden. The flats were all on different floors, and one of them was even on two floors. The gardens attached to the houses ranged from tiny to one that was so long you couldn't see the far end from the kitchen window. The oldest of them was built in 1687, and the newest dates from the 1950s. Coincidentally, this was also the last one, where we moved when I was 16, and where my mother still lives. Geographically they range from Glasgow, where I was born, proceeding all the way south to Gillingham in Kent, via Warwickshire. My Glasgow homes were in the suburbs, in Warwickshire we lived in a small village, while Gillingham is one of the Medway Towns, urban, but not a big city.

So my memories of growing up are scattered between all of these home. I can even remember the first one, where I was born, because we that was my grandparents' home, and we moved back there for a while, so my first and third homes were one and the same. I have random 'growing up' memories attached to all of them; looking out of our top-floor window in Cartside Street at the cricket field opposite (yes, cricket in Glasgow, incredible but true), the kitchen with two enormous sinks and an old-fashioned boiler when we moved back in with my grandmother. Moving to rural Warwickshire for a year was such a contrast, and that's when I 'caught' history - living in historic houses, how could I not? I wrote about this in a previous post about Moving House from Glebe House to Wootton Hall, both in the village of Wootton Wawen. We were only in our tiny flat in Glebe House for a short time, but I will never forget it. It didn't exactly have a garden, but it had a whole wood behind it where I could play. I can still smell the pine cones. Wootton Hall was a much grander house, and we had a bigger flat there, where I loved the fact that the window-ledge next to my bed was so big that I could lie on it, although it wasn't very comfortable.

I hated leaving Warwickshire after only a year, to move to Kent, but I didn't have much choice, being only 8 years old, but I grew to like it. Our first house there was only temporary, but it was a house, not a flat. It was a classic 'two-up, two-down', or if you are an estate agent trying to sell one 'artisan cottage'. Or for a followed of British TV soaps, a Coronation Street house. These houses were often built without bathrooms, and many now have had ground-floor bathrooms added on. This one wasn't quite there yet; At least we had an indoor toilet, but it led directly from the kitchen. There was a bath, too, and that was actually IN the kitchen, with a green gingham curtain on a wire that you pulled across for privacy! The next house was another British classic, the 1930's 3-bedroomed semi-detached, with pebble-dashed walls, bay windows, front and back gardens and a wrought-iron gate at he front. There were French windows leading to the back garden, which was narrow, but very, very long. About half-way up was an old chicken shed that made a great den, if you didn't mind the smell, and a walnut tree with a swing. The tree was good for climbing, and there were some fruit trees and bushes. Right at the very end was an old wartime Anderson shelter, another good den. Even a dedicated indoor type like me spent lots of time outside with a garden like that.

We moved to our next house when I was 11, and just before my brother was born. It was a nice house, one of the really well-built council houses of the late 1940s, with good-sized rooms. It even had built-in kitchen cupboards, and a convenient alcove in the hall for my brother's pram. I had a lovely big bedroom, with pretty wallpaper, which I proceeded to cover with pictures, mainly of pop stars (Mummy and Daddy's little girl was growing up!). But there was one thing I pinned up that was a centre-page pullout from the Radio Times. Remember the classic TV adaptation of the Forsyte Saga, the 1967 black-and-white version, that is? Well, my Radio Times pin-up was the illustrated Forsyte family tree. The shape of things to come?

Friday 28 January 2011

Countdown to Rootstech - two weeks to go.

I reserved my place at the Rootstech conference as soon as the booking opened. The event will take place in the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City 10-12 February. Frankly, I'd been looking for a good excuse to go back to Salt Lake City after my first visit in April last year, for the NGS conference. I want to have another crack at that library, for one thing. There are a few things I didn't quite have time for last time! But the main attraction is the Rootstech conference itself.

Rootstech is a new kind of conference, bringing together technology users and technology creators in the world of genealogy. I have been told that the conference is going to be very well-attended and will be very interesting to see how it turns out. One of the things that struck me at the NGS conference in April was the abundance of new technology, both in terms of hardware and software; in fact there was an entire technology hall in the exhibit area. At Rootstech the Expo Hall has the usual exhibitor booths, a Demo Area, a cyber cafe and some interesting new features - FamilySearch Digital Pipeline, Bloggers World and, most intriguing of all 'Rootstech Playground'!

Sixteen of the genealogy world's leading bloggers have been appointed Rootstech Official Bloggers and they will be blogging from the conference. Naturally, there will also be plenty of unofficial blogging going on, and a lot of tweeting, too. If you want to follow the proceedings on Twitter, the conference hashtag will be #Rootstech. The conference also has its own Facebook page. There is nothing quite like attending an event in person, but modern technology and social networking mean that it is possible to participate from a distance, or at least follow what is going on.

See you there - in person, or online.

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Birth registration - the great 1874 myth

Births registered in England and Wales 1870-1880
You will often read that registration of births was not compulsory until 1874, so if you are looking for a birth before that date, and cannot find it, it may be because the birth was not registered. Well, yes and no. YES, the law was changed in 1874, but NO, it did not make a significant impact on the rate of registration.

One of the numerous changes made to registration by the 1874 act was that the onus for registration was now placed on the parents, and not the registrar. Parents could be fined for failing to register a birth, but this was not new. From the introduction of registration in 1837, parents could be prosecuted for refusing to supply  details when asked by the registrar, or for refusing to sign the register. And they were. The Sheffield Mercury of 28 October 1837 reports the prosecution of John Wainwright for refusing to sign the register. His defence was that his child had been baptised in the Church of England, and that this was sufficient. In the early days, this was a common misconception, encouraged in some places by the clergy.

It was universally recognised that the wording of the 1836 act was deeply flawed, and it was not until 1874 that many of the problems were addressed. Meanwhile, the Registrar General was rightly concerned that registration of births might be incomplete, and 'pour encourager les autres' there were a number of prosecutions. Handbills were made of the report of Wainwright's prosecution. These could be handed to anyone who showed reluctance to provide information, or to sign the register, and this seems to have been quite effective.

There certainly were some deficiencies in birth registration in the early years, but the rate of non-compliance was much lower than some people would have you believe, and it was not uniform, either in place or time. As you'd expect, it took a little time for people to get the hang of this radical new system; the Superintendent Registrar of Birmingham, William Pare, estimated that in the first quarter of civil registration, July-September 1837, 340 births in his area went unregistered, against 677 that were registered, but in the second quarter only 118 were unregistered, and 905 registered. This is a massive improvement in a very short time. William Farr, who was Deputy Registrar General for many years and can be described as the first government statistician, estimated that the overall rate of non-registration was about 5% for the whole period 1837-1874, and that compliance improved over time. So the rate of non-registration would be much lower than 5%  by 1874, and the change in the law would therefore make no appreciable difference.

The table above is taken from the figures provided by the annual reports of the Registrar General. If the 1874 act had any impact on the rate of registration, you would expect a noticeable increase in births registered in 1875, the year it came into effect. In fact there was a small decrease although that isn't very significant either. So if you fail to find a birth registration before 1875, it is possible that the birth was not registered, but it is more likely that the entry is either mis-indexed or omitted from the index through human error, or the name, date or place of birth are not what you had expected, for a variety of reasons.

William Farr's conclusions can be found in a collection of his writings 'Vital Statistics' published in 1885.
You can also find all of the Annual Reports of the Registrar General of England and Wales from 1836 to 1920 on the HISTPOP site, which also contains very informative essays on Civil Registration and the census.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

New FamilySearch, a view from the British Isles Part Three

Great Seal of Queen Anne 1707, commemorating the Act of Union of England and Scotland
Since my last post on this subject, I have been taking another close look at the collections in new FamilySearch that were formerly categorised as 'British Isles'. The fundamental problem with these records is that the place filters simply do not work. Unless this is sorted out, it will be very difficult for anyone searching British Isles records - England, Scotland, Ireland (North and South), Channel Islands, Isle of Man, or United Kingdom - to find what they are looking for, or even to know what is there to be searched in the first place. Some of the issues I have raised relate to this region, the one that I know best, but could apply equally to others; you can't filter by US state or Canadian province, which is just as bad as not being able to filter by county within the British Isles. But the way that the records here have been categorised is unique.

These lists don't match!

On the home page, scroll down to 'Browse by location' and select 'Europe'. You will see a list of 'countries' on the left, and a list of record collections on the right, in country order. The list of the left corresponds with the list on the right - up to a point. The list of countries on the left reads: Austria, Belgium, Channel Islands, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France ...and so on. The record collections mirror this exactly as far as Denmark, then the next collections are not from Finland, but England, which does not appear at all in the left-hand list.

The list on the left continues...Germany, Gibraltar, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland...but the right-hand list has Germany, Gibraltar, Great Britain, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy...etc. More record collections, this time for 'Great Britain' which have no counterpart on the left. The two lists continue in step almost to the bottom, where the last four countries listed on the left are Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Wales. Now if you look to the right-hand list of record collections, there is only Switzerland, Ukraine and Wales, the 'United Kingdom' record having been distributed, inaccurately, between England and Great Britain.

This discrepancy between countries and record collections ONLY occurs in relation to the British Isles records, and nowhere else in the whole of the Historical Records collections.

Collections in the wrong place

I have already mentioned some of the anomalies in my earlier posts, New FamilySearch, a view from the British Isles Part One and Part Two. There is a filter for Wales, but it contains only Probate Abstracts 1773-1780; the major collections of Wales, Births and Baptisms, Wales, Marriages, and Wales, Deaths and Burials are found within the United Kingdom filter. Also within the United Kingdom are the Great Britain collections: Great Britain Births and Baptisms, Great Britain Marriages and Great Britain Deaths and Burials. I had looked at these before, and found that they included some Irish records - all of Ireland used to be part of the United Kingdom, and part of it still is, but it has NEVER been part of Great Britain. The Irish Sea is in the way! Great Britain is the geographical term for 'the other island' as one of my Irish friends calls it.

Further investigation shows that the baptism register of St Peter's, Athlone and Drum, Roscommon, is included in Great Britain Births and Baptisms, which contains the baptism register of the Immaculate Conception Chapel, South Orange, Essex New Jersey! I also found a number of entries there from the Irish Civil Registration indexes. Naturally, I have reported this using the Feedback facility.

Overseas Records

There are in fact many more records classified as 'Great Britain' which do not belong there. These are not records that have been mistakenly put in the wrong place by someone with an imperfect understanding of British geography. These come from substantial collections of records which are held in London, but whose whole point is that they record events that took place OUTSIDE the British Isles. These comprise many thousands of events recorded in British churches and chapels overseas, or registered with British consulates, embassies and legations abroad. The original records are held at The National Archives in either the Foreign Office or General Register Office collections, or in the Bishop of London's 'International Memoranda' at the London Metropolitan Archives. A further large  collection of births, marriages and deaths at sea, held at The National Archives, is also included in 'Great Britain' by FamilySearch.

These records are not just relevant to researchers with British Isles ancestry; they include people from all nations, particularly the 'At Sea' records which include many records of foreign nationals who were passengers or crew on British-registered ships. They may be included here because they are held in British archives, but records from the India Office Collection, held at the British Library, are correctly indexed by FamilySearch under India, so we know it can be done. Time to hit the Feedback button again...

Monday 24 January 2011

Mappy Monday - A New Giant's Causeway

Cassell's New Penny Magazine 1899

This map shows the distance between Ireland and Scotland, only 12.5 miles at the narrowest point, and a 'Proposed Land Junction of Great Britain and Ireland'. According to the accompanying article, this was the idea of one J Charles King, who had been promoting it for forty years. He had spent a great deal of his own time and money on surveying the two coastlines from Morecambe to Ayr and Oban, and from Dublin to Ballycastle. He proposed the reclamation of the land at this narrow point, adding nearly a quarter of a million acres to Ireland, stopping the inflow of the Gulf Stream, 'making the Irish Sea an island-studded lake.' Vessels  would get in an out of this 'lake' by means of two new sea-level canals through the Cantyre (Kintyre) peninsula, and the existing Crinan Canal, a safer passage than the rocks and strong currents of the existing route.
There are no engineering difficulties. For the labour requisite for the undertaking, if carried out by the Government, the work of convicts could be well utilised here, aided by the labour of break-water builders.
The force of the current is so great here as to be sufficient to supply electric power for the work, and light up those parts of Antrim and Cantyre, the coal there giving subsidiary means of power for working machinery.
For finance - if kept out of the hands of private speculators - Government paper money would pay all costs, to be liquidated from rentals of the reclaimed land, no charge or toll to be levied for passage-way along the Causeway.
With judicious supervision, the work could be completed in three years, the projector, Mr J Charles King, undertaking to give his services free, if entrusted with the work to be done.

An intriguing notion for anyone with ancestors from Northern Ireland or south-west Scotland (like most of mine), and who moved between those two places (quite a lot of mine).

Congratulations, Anglo-Celtic Connections and Scottish GENES

When looking through the February edition of 'Who Do you Think You Are?' Magazine I saw a couple of familiar faces in its pages. This month's Best Websites section featured genealogical blogs of particular relevance to those researching British ancestry, and it gave its top award to John Reid's Anglo-Celtic Connections 'John Reid covers events, news, gossip and reviews in the same informal style'

The Professional's Choice, selected by author and blogger Alan Stewart was Chris Paton's Scottish GENES '...keeps me well-informed about what's going on in the world of Scottish family history' 

I couldn't have chosen better myself. Well done John and Chris!

Saturday 22 January 2011

Shopping Saturday - London's bazaars

Pantheon Bazaar, Oxford Street 1845 
In my never-ending quest for media stardom, I rang a radio station this week. The Robert Elms show on BBC London has a 'Notes and Queries' feature on Wednesdays, and this week a listener was asking about the London Crystal Palace Bazaar, near Oxford Circus, which he had seen marked on an old Ordnance Survey map of 1870. I didn't know anything about this particular establishment, but I knew a bit about London bazaars, which were a kind of precursor of the indoor shopping mall. One of the prized elements of my collection of old books is a nine-volume set of 'Knight's London' dating from around the 1870s, and I knew it contained a chapter on London Shops and Bazaars. I looked it up, and found that there was a description of the London Crystal Palace Bazaar.
The London Crystal palace is the name given to a somewhat extensive and attractive bazaar, on the north side of Oxford Street, near Regent Circus. It has entrances both in Oxford Street and in Great Portland Street. The building was erected in 1858, from the designs of Mr Owen Jones, and is constructed chiefly of iron and glass. The name of the building, from the Great Portland Street entrance to the western extremity, is 180 feet in length by 33 feet in width, from which there is a transept extending southward to the Oxford Street entrance. The arched roof, which is of coloured glass, of mosaic appearance, is supported by light columns. On the ground-floor is a spacious hall divided by iron columns on each side into a nave and aisles; a gallery runs along the whole length of nave on each side, and in and under the galleries there are convenient and well-lighted stalls. From the galleries we look down upon the ground-floor, and find it arranged with counters in a very systematical order, loaded with uncountable trinkets. On one counter are articles of millinery; on another lace; on a third gloves and hosiery; on others cutlery, jewellery, toys, children's dresses, children's books, sheets of music, albums and pocket-books, porcelain ornaments, cut-glass ornaments, alabaster figures, artificial flowers, feathers, and a host of other things, principally of a light and ornamental character.
As the description above indicates, a bazaar consisted of a collection of stalls, hired out to individual stallholders, usually women. The stallholders had to comply with strict rules regarding their standard of dress and the appearance of their stalls. They had to open promptly each day, and if they were sick, to provide a substitute. Other bazaars are also described, notably the one housed in Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace, re-sited in 1854 at Sydenham in south London after the Great Exhibition of 1851. Another was the Pantheon Bazaar, also in Oxford Street, which had closed down by the time the book was written. I don't have a picture of the Crystal Palace Bazaar, but Knight's description of it sounds remarkably similar to the  the Pantheon Bazaar, above. The site of the Pantheon, originally a theatre, is now occupied by a large branch of Marks and Spencer, which is still known as the Pantheon branch. The Crystal Palace Bazaar was listed in the 1884 London Directory, but seems to have disappeared by 1891.

Thursday 20 January 2011

Those Places Thursday - Did you think Wales was a country?

Well of course Wales is a country, but it is also the name of a village in Yorkshire. It is in the heart of coal-mining country. You can see from the map above, from FamilySearch England Jurisdictions 1851 that it also close to the county boundaries with Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. It is part of the Registration District of Worksop, which is in Nottinghamshire, but includes parishes from all three counties.

If you have ancestors in this area  they are very likely to have connections with the mining industry, and you may find that earlier generations had migrated from other coal-mining areas such as Northumberland and Durham, the West Midlands or South Wales (the country this time!). There are also two excellent local websites one of them devoted to Kiveton and Wales and another covering a wider area called The reason for the odd title of this site is that it covers the area around Junction 31 of the M1 motorway. If you have coal-mining ancestors from further afield you should still find much to interest you here.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

'Funny Names' in the New Penny Magazine 1899

I found this little gem of an article in an issue of  'The New Penny Magazine', published by Cassells & Company.   It continues: 
There is, indeed, a good deal of humour in the Somerset House registry, the fun consisting in an odd or barbarous collocation of names. For hours the eye of the clerk will roam over reams of dull propriety in such names as Henry Wilson, George Williams, or Samuel Smith, and then the face of the clerk will be covered with a smile as he comes across 'Ether' for the front name, attached to the surname of 'Spray'. It may seem strange, but is certainly true, that entered in the books is 'foot-bath', which must be written in capitals, 'FOOT-BATH' as really the name of a fellow-creature. 'River Jordan' is another case in point...Mr Anthistle had a daughter to name, and he must be forgiven for giving her the Christian names 'Rose Shamrock'. 'Rose Shamrock Anthistle' is a young lady whose names must please any patriotic man. Another happy father who gave his innocent offspring the names 'Arthur Wellesley Wellington Waterloo Cox' behaved rather unfairly to the infant, as he pledged him to a career of greatness. 
I couldn't resist searching FreeBMD to see if these were genuine, and indeed they were. A little poetic licence was in play in the case of the first, where the only example I found was Rose Foot Bath, born in 1840 and married in 1863, whose surname was Bath, and Foot was her middle name, with no hyphen. The others all checked out OK, though, and there were even TWO young ladies called Rose Shamrock Anthistle, both of whom found favour with patriotic young men - well they both got married, at least!

Monday 17 January 2011

Mappy Monday - Chatham

This in an odd little map that I picked up several years ago, because I have an interest in the area covered by it; I lived in Gillingham and went to school in Chatham. I bought the map as a single sheet, and it is undated - like most maps of this kind it probably came from a book, and there is no clue to its provenance on the map itself. My guess would be that it comes from the early 19th century, or thereabouts, from the extent (or lack of it) of the built-up areas.

A number of features are indicated on the map, from two forts, Gillingham and Fort Pit, to a brick kiln and an oil mill, and even a pub, the Star, in the bottom right corner. The small cluster of dwellings that constituted Gillingham, and the even smaller Upnor are also shown, as are a few road names. But what interests me most is the lack of any label for arguably the most significant feature of the whole map, Chatham Royal Naval Dockyard. This is the area just to the north-west of the word 'Brompton'.

Although there is no key to the map, the faint dotted lines represent the parish boundaries, indicating 'part of Gillingham parish' and 'part of Chatham parish'. If you look closely you will see that the boundary between the two runs through the middle of the dockyard, so that part of Chatham Dockyard isn't in Chatham at all, but in Gillingham. The population of this are grew enormously during the 19th century, along with the growth of the dockyard itself, a major source of employment in the are until the late 20th century. In 1848 the completely new parish of Brompton was formed from parts of Chatham and Gillingham parishes, encompassing the whole of the dockyard, so that no part of it was in the parish from which it takes its name. Nowadays Brompton, including the dockyard, is part of Gillingham - a nice little piece of geographical trivia, which might come in handy in a pub quiz one day, you never know

Sunday 16 January 2011

Frustrated by new FamilySearch?

It's new, it's different, and it has some great new features BUT many of us are having great difficulty getting to grips with it. This is partly because it is unfamiliar, and partly because some of the features we want are not there yet, but have been promised - notably batch numbers, which are so useful on the old site. But much more problematic are those areas where the site simply does not work properly, or returns inconsistent search results, and so on.

Some people want none of it, and just want the old, familiar FamilySearch to remain untouched. Well that isn't going to happen, and nor should it. The old site is what we are used to but it is far from perfect, and couldn't cope with the quantity and range of records being added to the new site, let alone links to images.

So FamilySearch is changing, and there will never be a better chance to influence the eventual design of the site. I have written about this in previous posts here, and Rosemary Morgan gives a detailed account in her London Roots Research blog. We have both encouraged people to make use of the Feedback button visible on every page of new FamilySearch, and I think it is worth expanding on this a little.

When you click on the button, you have a choice of links, and the one you want is:

"Share your ideas Click here if you have a great idea on how to improve FamilySearch "

This doesn't take you to an ordinary feedback form, but to the FamilySearch Community page, a discussion forum. You can simply record your feedback as a new item, or you can look at what other people have already written and add your comment to theirs. You will need to sign in to contribute, creating an account if you don't aleady have one - it's very easy. You can even vote on what people's comments by clicking on a button 'I like this idea' The more people vote on a particular post, the more it gets noticed. So if someone has already made your point, it makes a lot of sense to add your vote to it, and add an extra comment if you wish. Some of the comments are along the lines of 'You have ruined this site, it's rubbish', which might be heartfelt, and letting off steam can make you feel better, but it's unlikely to achieve much. It's much better to be specific, and to describe exactly what you think needs to be changed, and why.

I recently wrote a blog post about my biggest problem with the new site, the unsatisfactory and inconsistent place filters for the British Isles. I had already raised this issue in the FamilySearch Community which got some attention. If you agree with what I said there, you can click on the 'I like this' button, and get some more attenttion for it (hint, hint). At the time of writing this post, only about 2500 people had registered any feedback at all in the Community. That's not many, considering how many people must use FamilySearch every day. So if you use FamilySearch, and want to influence the way it is going to develop in future, TELL THEM WHAT YOU THINK.

Like all bloggers, I appreciate comments on my posts, but in this case I'd far rather that you click on one of the feedback links above, and get busy in the FamilySearch Community. See you there  

Shopping Saturday - Mourning becomes her

Illustrated London News 22 January 1887

There have been a number of funerals in Soap-land recently. For the benefit of anyone outside the UK, our two longest-running soaps, The Archers (60, radio) and Coronation Street (50, TV) have marked their significant anniversaries by killing off central characters in highly dramatic circumstances.

This is as good an excuse as any for looking at the business of mourning in the past. And I literally do mean 'business'. As you can see from this advert from January 1887, there were entire shops devoted to mourning apparel and accessories. Nowadays, if we have to attend a funeral we wear black, quite possibly drawn from items we already own, with maybe a quick dash to the shops for a pair of gloves or a black tie. If the deceased is a close family member we might even wear black or subdued colours for a while afterwards, but that's about it. The Victorians, on the other hand, made a great deal more of the period of mourning, and the richer they were, the more they would spend on it.

There are a number of interesting features in this advert. First of all, the shop is 'Peter Robinson's Court & Family Black Goods & Mourning Warehouse'. Any draper's shop or department store worth its salt would have a mourning department, but the really big players, of whom Peter Robinson was one, had a completely separate shop selling much the same goods as the main shop, but in black or grey. You will notice that the items listed are not just items of regular day-wear, but also evening gowns, opera capes, accessories and even undergarments. There was a whole elaborate etiquette of mourning, depending on the closeness of your relationship to the deceased, and the length of time since the death. This of course provided many opportunities for the canny retailer to sell not one, but several, outfits to the bereaved - the ideal customer would be the newly wealthy widow with a social position to keep up. But even those of modest means would expect to have a decent set of mourning clothes, and with large families and lower life expectancy than now, you could be in some degree of mourning for quite long periods. The fact that they were having a January sale indicates that they expected people to stock up for the coming year's bereavements. Lovely.

This bill of sale dated four years earlier is from a much smaller provincial establishment, Thomas Thorp, Silk Mercer and Linen Draper of Burnley, Lancashire. The bill-head shows that he also arranged funerals, and the details of the bill itself bear this out; after the list of clothing and drapery items is a fascinating glimpse into the fumeral service provided, and how much they cost, from carriages to catering. The bill-head also says 'Accounts quarterly' but this bill is dated a full nine months after the funeral concerned.

The deceased in this case was an 82 year old spinster, Susannah Gilbertson, who is described in the census as 'annuitant', 'landed proprietress', or 'no occupation' although in 1851 she was a schoolmistress. and was probably living on the income derived from a legacy. The value of her own estate when she died was £323 13s 10d.

Friday 14 January 2011

FamilySearch - some useful tips

Back at the day job, one of the things I have to do is collate the feedback forms after the public talks that we have every Thursday. Yesterday's was the first one after the Christmas and New Year break, and we got off to a great start with 'What's happened to the FamilySearch website?' from Sharon Hintze, Director of Family History Centres (or Centers!) worldwide. In England we know her as director of the London centre, the only large FHC outside North America. She is always a popular speaker when she visits us  at The National Archives, and yesterday was no exception, with a full house and lots of positive comments on the feedback forms.

I was there to introduce the session, and I took a few notes too. Although I am already quite familiar with some of the features of the new site, I still learnt a lot. I'll try to pass on some of Sharon's tips, with the health warning that the site is still being developed so details may change from one day to the next. Although Sharon was in Britain, talking to a British audience, about British records, most of what she had to say also applies to the rest of the world.

The IGI as we know it has gone; it used to be a mixture of entries extracted from registers and 'patron submissions' but now the register material is part of Historical Records on the new site, while the patron submitted entries will be part of the new Family Trees section, along with the former Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File. So far only the Ancestral File material has been loaded.

She showed us the new version of the Library Catalog, and I tried a few searches of my own afterwards to try it out. As you type a place name, it makes suggestions, which is a nice feature, but there are some areas where the old version still works better. For example, Brighton in Sussex used to be called Brighthelmstone, and if you search for Brighthelmstone in the old version the result is a hyperlink '(See) England, Sussex, Brighton; if you search for Brighthelmstone on the new site, it returns 'no records found'. There seem to be similar problems with other places that have alternative names, or alternative spellings. I am sure this will be sorted out in due course, but for the time being it is a good idea to check both sites.

When you get some results from the Catalog, one of the fields is 'Availability'. This will usually say 'Family History Centers', which means that the item is on microfilm and can be ordered through your nearest Family History Center for viewing there. Even a large one like the London Family History Centre only has a tiny fraction of the films in the catalogue in its permanent onsite collection. If the availability is 'Family History Library' this is likely to be a book, or some other item that cannot be copied, so you can only view it onsite in Salt Lake City.

Sharon gave us an overview and some explanation of the new site as a whole, with only limited time available to cover the business of searching the Historical Records collection, especially the British Isles records. I will report on what she had to say in a later post, but we hope to get her back later in the year to give us an entire talk on that subject, which is definitely one to look forward to.

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Tech Tuesday -

This is a wonderful piece of technological silliness that I can't resist playing with. The website is called and you use it to create patterns from words. You just paste in 'a bunch of text', click on 'Go' and see what happens. You can also enter the URL of any blog, blog feed, or any other web page that has an Atom or RSS feed, or a user name.

The result is a word cloud based on the words you have entered, and although it is generated randomly, you can change fonts, colours and a number of layout settings to get a result you like. Or you can just keep hitting the 'Randomise' button.

The one above came from the Family Recorder's URL, and the one below is the text of an article about the 1801 census. Apart from their casual amusement value, these images come in handy when you need a graphic element for a web page or publication. You can save your image as a screen shot, and then crop it to your liking, or save it to the public gallery, go straight to the public gallery and sae it from there.

I used it for my New Year blog post when I had no suitable illustration, and I made a new decorative insert for the insulated coffee mug that I use at work by cutting and pasting the text of The National Archives catalogue entry for the records of the General Register Office. If I ever lose it around the office, it is bound to be returned to me - who else would own something like that?

Have fun trying it out, but I warn you, it can be addictive (works well with song lyrics and recipes, too)

Mappy Monday - a census oddity

This map is a lucky find, from a source where you would not normally expect to find maps.

Every enumeration book in the census has a page at the start, giving a brief (sometimes very brief) description of the area covered. In rural areas it might just say 'The whole of the parish of...' and leave it at that. In towns there is usually a list of the streets included, and sometimes a description of the route followed by the enumerator. The more recent the census, the greater the amount of detail is likely to be provided. But what you will rarely see is a map of any kind.

It can often be difficult to work out the exact boundaries of an enumeration district just from the written description, and the enumerators sometimes got it wrong themselves. This is why you will occasionally find a household enumerated twice in the same census, where two enumerators believed that the house was in their patch, so both delivered schedules, and the occupants dutifully completed both. Enumerators were not provided with maps, but I have seen some examples where they drew a rough sketch map to explain the area covered. If you are very lucky, as in this case, some helpful person will have provided a good clear map of the district; this might be the enumerator himself, or the local Registrar who organised the taking of the census in all the enumeration districts in the his area. We shall probably never know.

This map is for part of Marylebone in central London, close to Regents Park. It has been cut from a printed map, and the area covered by this enumerator is indicated by a heavy black line, with the list of streets written neatly at the side. I'm not too sure about the little stick-man drawing, though; it has a very 20th century look to me. If you compare this map with a modern one, the street plan is still recognisable, and the little stick man is on the site now occupied by Lord's Cricket Ground.

Sunday 9 January 2011

New FamilySearch, a view from the British Isles Part Two

I have been having a closer look at New FamilySearch, with particular reference to the British Isles collections (even though the term 'British Isles' is no longer used as a place filter, see my earlier post on the subject). This time I have been looking at some of the collections themselves, and although these observations apply to specific collections in this region, the same kinds of features may well occur in records elsewhere.

I decided to look at the Scottish records, a very small collection compared with the inaccurately-defined 'United Kingdom' one.There are two record sets 'Scotland Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950' and 'Scotland, Marriages, 1561-1910' . The description of the first collection is rather vague

Index to selected Scotland births and baptisms. Only a few localities are included and the time period varies by locality. This collection contains 9,431,034 records. Due to privacy laws, recent records may not be displayed. The year range represents most of the records. A few records may be earlier or later.
You can scroll down the page for more information, or click on links that take you to the appropriate page in  the Research Wiki. There is a lot of useful information here, but it is all general rather than specific, and at no point is there list of the actual historical records that make up the collection. To be fair, the old FamilySearch did not provide this information eithe; the last time you could find such a list was in the Parish and Vital Records listing that came with the old microfiche editions of the IGI, and the last one of those was produced in 1992.

ADDENDUM: Chris Paton's comment below mentions the very helpful GENOOT site, so I have added the link here so that you can click on it instead of having to cut and paste. Cheers, Chris!

On the plus side, you can search the FHL catalog using the film number from any given entry and find details of the original source, which certainly was not always possible with the old FamilySearch. Furthermore, since the patron submissions from the IGI have been separated out, the source should now be an actual record that can be checked and evaluated. Or so I thought.

The date range 1564-1950 is very wide, and I guessed that the most recent entries would come from Civil Registration, known as the Statutory Registers in Scotland, so I did a search among the most recent entries to find out. This is another good feature of the new site, because you seem to be able to search on as many or as few fields as you wish, even a search on a date range of a single year, with no other fields filled in. Oe of the irritating features of the old site was getting a message  like 'You must enter at least a first or last name, or you must enter a father's full name and at least a mother's first name' 

A search in the range 1946-1950 returned 10 results, but only 4 of them were births from that period, the others were much earlier, but they included dates of DEATH that fell within the specified range. For the first time in my rummaging through new FamilySearch, I found that none of these entries included a film number, or any means of identifying the source. It may be that this information will be added later; I certainly hope so. But what I found more worrying was the fact that records containing death dates were in a collection called Births and Baptisms. The information shown is what you would expect to find on Scottish death certificates, except that the date and place of birth of the deceased do not appear in death entries during this period. So while these look like very informative records, I have no idea what I am searching.

I looked at the marriages next, and while the record descriptions were as vague as for the births and baptisms, there were film numbers that I could check in the FHL Catalog. I also discovered another advantage of new FamilySearch; it will return results from anywhere within the record being searched, which was not possible before. For example, a search for a man's name will not only return results for grooms of that name, but also where he is recorded as the father of the bride, which was an unexpected bonus. Not that this information appears in many Scottish marriage records before 1855, but it's wonderful when it does. Names of both parents of the bride and the groom appear from 1855 onwards, and marriages up to 1875 have been included in the IGI for many years, but only the brides' and grooms' names were included in the index. All the same, if post-1875 records are included later, or if the extra detail is ever added to the existing marriages, it's good to know that FamilySearch can cope with it.  It's nice to end on a positive note for a change.

I'll carry on exploring - and using the Feedback button of course - and report back again in a while

Saturday 8 January 2011

Shopping Saturday - Old houses in Fetter Lane

Old houses in Fetter Lane, West side, near the Record Office, from a drawing by Shepherd 1853
Fetter Lane is on the western edge of the City of London and runs between Holborn to the north and Fleet Street to the south. The 'Record Office' referred to is the Public Record Office, which was in nearby Chancery Lane until 1997, and is now part of The National Archives at Kew.

The business of Lightfoot, fruiterer and greengrocer, at number 133 is clearly visible in the engraving, and next door is Talmage, Dyer and Scourer. Both businesses were run by widows at this time, and the 1851 census shows both Ann Lightfoot and her son Thomas (TNA Ref HO107/1527 f226 p11) and Katherine Talmage with her daughters Frances Ann and Mary at Number 134, on the next page. In 1841 the Talmage and Lightfoot families were at the same addresses (TNA Ref HO107/1527 726 book 9 f7 p7), when both husbands, Henry Talmage and Thomas Lightfoot snr were still alive.

The 1841 Post Office Street Directory for London containes entries for many, but not all, of the addresses in the street. It includes Henry Talmage at 134, but there is no entry for No 133.

These shops are just two among many examples of women continuing to run businesses after their husbands had died. I did a lot of research on this many years ago, looking at female proprietors of businesses in Maidstone, Kent, in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Who knows, I may even write it up one day! After the 1851 census, the Lightfoots disappear from Fetter Lane, but the Talmage dying business was carried on by one of the daughters, Frances Ann. She never married, and when she died in 1879 she left an estate worth between £2000 and £3000, a tidy sum for those days. Her name also appears a number of times in the London Gazette as holder of bank shares, so she must have been a pretty good businesswoman. Girl power!

Thursday 6 January 2011

New FamilySearch; free talk at The National Archives (UK)

Back at the day job, we are kicking off the new year's programme of Thursday afternoon talks with a very timely offering What's happened to the FamilySearch website?  from Sharon Hintze, director of the London Family History Centre, on Thursday 13 January.

The talk is free, and there is no need to book, just turn up an pick up your free ticket in the Start Here zone. For anyone who can't get there, most of our talks appear on the website as podcasts in due course.

Wednesday 5 January 2011

New FamilySearch, a view from the British Isles Part One

I don’t wish to be an old stick-in-the-mud, but when something new comes along, it isn’t always an improvement. Having said that, there are lots of good features in new FamilySearch, but sadly, there are quite a few flaws too. The optimist in me thinks that it should be possible to tweak and amend it so that more of the good features of old FamilySearch are re-introduced, or even improved on. We shall see.

There have been some very useful comments and observations from other bloggers; if you don’t already subscribe, I’d strongly recommend The Ancestry Insider as one of the best on this subject. I agree with much that has already been said, but I want to add some observations of my own from a British Isles perspective.

You will notice that I said British Isles, and not just ‘British’, and this is deliberate. Many people use the terms ‘British’ and ‘English’ interchangeably, but they are not the same, and it’s important to know the difference. It’s not just a question of courtesy to the Scots (most of me), the Irish (the rest of me), the Welsh, Manx and the Channel Islanders; if you are looking for records of your ancestors, it saves time if you look in the right country, it really does.

One of the most useful features of old FamilySearch is the way you can filter searches by place, and much of this has carried over to the new site BUT for this corner of the world it has become much worse.

Old FamilySearch

You need to select the IGI search page for this (you can only filter down to Country level from the All Resources page)

Region: British Isles
Country: England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man or Channel Islands, or you can leave it at 'All countries'
County: you can select a county, or 'All counties' or 'county unknown', except for the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, which are very small to start with

New FamilySearch

Under Historical Records, 'Browse by location'

Region: Europe
Country: Channel Islands, Ireland, Isle of Man, Scotland, United Kingdom, Wales (There is no collective British Isles category)
County: 'No further place filters found'

There are a number of obvious problems with this. First of all, there is no option called 'England', and no way to search all of the British Isles records at once, you have to search each one separately. If you look closely, the databases in 'United Kingdom' are mostly from England, but they include 'Wales Births and Baptisms.1541-1907', 'Wales Deaths and Burials 1586-1885' and 'Wales Marriages 1541-1900'. Wales has its own country category, but this only contains 'Wales Probate Abstracts 1771-1780'. If you then explore the actual databases listed within the 'United Kingdom' category, there are three (apart from the Welsh ones I have just described) that are not excplicitly English, these are the 'Great Britain' categories for Births and Baptisms, Marriages, and for Deaths and Burials. These, as you might expect, contain mostly events in England, but there are also a great many events which took place abroad or at sea - go to 'Great Britain Births and Baptisms 1571-1977', enter 'Florence' in the Place box and you will see what I mean. I have also found a number of Irish baptisms in the same category. Incidentally, 'Great Britain' is not the same as either 'England' or 'United Kingdom', and definitely does not include Ireland.

I will return to this subject again, but this is enough for now. I am still trying out the new site and there are features that I haven't explored properly yet. I have used the Feedback button to report my comments, and I do have some positive things to say about new FamilySearch too, but my first concern is with these place filters. FamilySearch as an organisation has been kind enough to sponsor me to speak at this year's NGS Conference in Charleston South Carolina in May; one of the sessions they have asked me to deliver is a favourite of mine called 'What is Britain?' It would be nice to think that some of the software engineers might pay attention to what I have to say.

Tuesday 4 January 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History - New Year's Day

Christmas and New Year  holidays have come and (almost) gone, time to get back to whatever passes for normal. So, wishing a happy and prosperous 2011 to all, here we go.

Whatever day of the year you want to feature, Hillman's hyper-linked and searchable Chambers' Book of Days is a wondeful source to dip into. In this case, it is full of detail about this day in the past, including notable (or obscure) events, traditions and customs. January 1st has so much going on that it occupies two whole pages. Some of this is to do with the fact that it is New Year's Day, but of course this was not always so. We are accustomed to using the Gregorian Calendar today, but this was adopted at different times in different places (1752 in England). Not only did the calendar shift by 11 days when the new system was adopted, the year was deemed to start on January 1st, instead of March 25th, Lady Day. The link I have given goes into the mathematics of it all, if you like that sort of thing. I don't; it makes my brain hurt.

Since my memories of New Year are all from the 20th century I can safely stick to the Gregorian calendar, thank goodness. I lived in Scotland until I was 7, where New Year used to be a much bigger event than Christmas. Even today Scotland has two bank holidays for New Year and one for Christmas, while England has two for Christmas and one for New Year. I have some early Christmas memories, but I think I can remember more of New Year. The last New Year I spent in Scotland was 50 years ago, so they may be a little hazy, but for what it's worth, here they are:

There seemed to be a great fuss about getting everything ready on New Year's Eve (Hogmanay), cleaning, tidying but mainly making sure that there was enough to eat and, of course, to drink. I believe that shortbread was involved, and my mother's home made version is the best. There are crumbs on the keyboard as I type...There would be quite a bustle as it got close to midnight and 'the bells', to make sure that everyone had a drink ready, and the man selected to be 'first foot' was hustled out of the door with a piece of coal and a bottle of whisky. We all had our best clothes on - I seem to recall my dad dashing around at the last minute, looking for his best cufflinks. For the record, I was always awake for New Year, which was quite acceptable. My mother says I was awake at midnight on lots of other nights when I was a baby, which was less acceptable, apparently. On the stroke of midnight everyone would take a drink and wish each other Happy New Year. The poor shivering soul outside would be let in, we'd sing 'Auld Lang Syne' and it was party time! If you brought in the new year quietly in your own house, you might go round to the neighbours after midnight, have another drink there, and then all move on to another neighbour's house. I'm not sure exactly how this worked, and how much was pre-arranged, I just went along for the ride!

There are a few things I should explain here; although the parties went on until goodness knows when, no-one would touch a drop of (alcoholic) drink until midnight. This might well be the time you had your first ever drink, when someone would decide you were old enough to have a wee sip of whisky as a special treat - it may or may not have been New Year, but when I had my first sip of whisky I thought it was disgusting, and I still do. The 'first foot' tradition is an old superstition, and it was meant to bring good luck if the first person to enter your house came with gifts of coal and whisky to represent warm and plenty for the year to come. It was meant to be a dark-haired man, because women and red-heads were supposed to be unlucky. Just as well I'm not superstitious, because I fail on both counts, and as I've already mentioned, I can't stand whisky.  Finally, there's 'Auld Lang Syne'; that's Auld Lang Syne with an 'S', not a 'Z', so why do English people always sing 'Zyne'? If you're from Zummerzet where the zyder comes from maybe, but there's no excuse for the rest of you. But what annoys my mother more than anything is the joining hands thing, where you cross your arms and join hands with the folks either side of you. I have no problem with this, but you can rely on her to point out the error of your ways if you do this before the line  'And there's a hand my trusty fiere, And gie's a hand o thine'.

So now you know, and you can do the right thing from next new year. But unless you are in the presence of my mother (unlikely), I doubt that anyone will care, so feel free to do your own thing.

One nice family detail is that New Year's Day (Ne'erday) was my grandfather's birthday, another good reason to celebrate.

Happy New Year, and lang may yer lum reek!