Friday 29 April 2011

Royal Wedding - there is no escape!

Prince George of Wales aged 18
I'm not a great fan of weddings at the best of times; I don't ever remember having what is often described as 'every girl's dream' about walking down the aisle in a big white dress. In my immediate family there has only been one church wedding in the last hundred years. So perhaps it's hereditary, but. for whatever reason, I have never discovered my inner Bridezilla. And although I remain bemused by all the fuss, I can't deny that most people seem to enjoy a good wedding, and it's a good excuse for a party, which I'm all in favour of. Today is of course Royal Wedding day, and we got a bank holiday out of it, which I'm also in favour of.

I can admit to being slightly interested in Prince William, because he is a few days younger than my younger son, so I was pregnant at the same time as Princess Diana. If I had a daughter she was going to be Elizabeth, and I was worried that if Diana had a girl, she might be Elizabeth too, and people would think I'd copied the royals. I was very relieved that we both produced boys.

Prince George of Wales aged 25
It is hard to grow up in Britain without having at least a basic grasp of the genealogy of the royal family, and if you become interested in history and genealogy, as I did, it comes with the territory. A few days ago the Prince of Wales was in the news when he became the longest-serving heir-apparent to the British throne, exceeding the record set by Edward VII, at 59 years, 2 months and 13 days. Naturally parallels have been drawn between Prince Charles and Edward, his great-great grandfather, but that set me thinking about parallels between Prince William and his great-great grandfather, George V. I came across a set of pictures of Prince George of Wales, as he then was, in the Strand magazine of 1891. Most pictures of George V show him with the full beard that he sported for his adult life, like the one on the left, when we was 25, but in the top picture, when he was 18, he is clean-shaven, and I was struck by the resemblance between him and Prince William. What they also have in common was that they both married at the age of 28, while serving in the armed forces - George was in the royal Navy - and while their grandmother was queen.

The parallels don't go all the way, though; George was married to Princess Mary of Teck in the Chapel Royal, St James's Palace, not Westminster Abbey, and he was the second son, not the eldest, his elder brother having died of pneumonia in the flu pandemic of 1889-92. What remains to be seen is whether the newlyweds emulate the example of George and Mary in having a long and devoted marriage. Royalist or republican, no-one would begrudge them that.


Sunday 24 April 2011

England and Britain are not the same - and why it matters

St George's Day is a good day to remind the world (including England) about this. The terms 'England' 'Britain' and 'UK' are often used interchangeably, but be warned, this can lead you into all kinds of problems. And I don't mean the risk of incurring the wrath of the Scots, Welsh, Irish, Manx and Channel Islanders.

For the genealogist, or any other researcher using British records, it is really important to know the difference, or you could be looking in the wrong place, or failing to look in the right one, which is just as bad. If you are not from the British Isles you may find this confusing; you are not alone. It's not just that some English people say England when they mean the UK, and vice-versa (and I have even heard history professors do this, and they really should know better).

I found a file among Home Office Correspondence in The National Archives (ref: HO 45/7928) which contained a petition, together with the official response. I transcribed both documents and placed them on the Your Archives wiki site, so you can read A Protest against The Name England being imposed upon the United Kingdom for yourself. See what you think.

A century and a half on, confusion still reigns. I am trying to do my bit, and in a couple of weeks I shall be delivering my talk 'What is Britain' at the NGS Conference in Charleston, South Carolina. I have previously given it in Florida, Massachusetts, Virginia and Utah, so after Charleston that will only leave 45 states to go...

I am being sponsored by FamilySearch to deliver this and another talk, and I am very grateful for their support. I have also recorded a shortened version of 'What is Britain' which can be viewed on the Research Courses page. At the risk of biting the hand that feeds me, I see they have filed it under 'England Research', presumably because there is no 'UK' or 'British Isles' Research section. Oh well. I have commented on this before in my earlier posts on the way that FamilySearch now describes records from the British Isles.

I won't go into any more detail here, but for a good online account see Uniting the Kingdoms.

I enjoyed seeing the flag of St George around London today. I think it looks better on a flagpole or a building than draped around tubby shaven-headed young men with lots of tattoos and no neck, but that's just my opinion.  


Tuesday 19 April 2011

Commonwealth War Graves Registers on Ancestry - worth the trouble?

When I saw that these records had been added to Ancestry, I wondered what the point was, since the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site already has all this information, and it is completely free. It also has cemetery plans, and all sorts of other information, including printable certificates for each casualty. But of course I had to have a closer look, just in case there was something there that I was missing. The results were quite interesting.

Plymouth Naval Memorial  

The Commonwealth War Graves site has a single database for all services and nationalities, and for both world wars. The records recently added to are for the First world War only, and comprise two separate databases. First there is the 'British Commonwealth War Graves Register 1914-1918' which contains entries from only about 250 cemeteries in three countries; most of them are in France, with a few in Belgium and Iraq. The source is the series of books printed by the Imperial War Graves Commission (as it was called then) in the 1920s. I compared a number of entries in these books with their equivalents on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) site, and found no differences, except that in a few cases the printed books said 'killed in action', 'died of wounds' or 'died of disease', which did not appear on the website. I did find one entry where the CWGC gave the wrong date - 1916 instead of 1918 - but the correct date was in the book.

So there doesn't seem to be any great advantage in using Ancestry for these war deaths, beyond the outside chance of finding a entry that had been mis-transcribed by the CWGC. We can already check 'Soldiers Died in the Great War' for place of birth and place of enlistment, a database which is available on more than one site. But there is one advantage to using Ancestry; not for the information it gives, but for the search engine. If you put a place name in the Keyword(s) box you can find men from a particular town, and the name search finds names of next of kin as well as the fallen soldiers - try putting in female names and you will see what I mean.

The second set of records is 'UK, Royal Navy and Royal Marine War Graves Roll, 1914-1919' and for all the entries that I compared provides more detail than the CWGC. This often includes next of kin information, and exact birthdate where the CWGC just gives an age at death. I also found a number of cases where the CWGC gave only initials, but Ancestry's database provides full names. So this is definitely worth using, even if you have already found and entry for your sailor or marine on the CWGC site - with a couple of exceptions. First of all, the men listed are in the Royal Navy or the Royal Marines, but not the Merchant Navy, although I found a member of my own family there who was a merchant seaman, but whose ship had been commandeered by the Royal Navy, so there should be others like him.  Ancestry's description of the records suggests that the database contains records of Royal Navy and Royal Marines officers, but I could only find records of other ranks. One section of the description refers to the War Office, and seems to apply to the Army rather than the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, whose records were kept by the Admiralty. I will need to investigate further to get to the bottom of this. Watch this space.


Saturday 16 April 2011

Shopping Saturday - Mrs Addley Bourne

This is one of those frustrating newspaper cuttings that came as part of a bundle of assorted ephemera, without a date. It probably dates from the late 1870s, though, as I have seen similar adverts for the Swanbill Ceinture Corset dated around then. It's a fascinating looking contraption, and adds to the many reasons I am glad I live in the 2010s and not the 1870s. I have no idea what a 'Jeanne d'Arc Belt' is, but I don't like the sound of it. But once you get over the wince-inducing appearance of the thing, and the thought of what it would do to you ribcage and your circulation, the advertising pitch is interesting. 'It is most effective in reducing the figure and keeping the form flat'. Just look at the shape of it - not exactly designed to 'lift and separate' (for those old enough to remember the Playtex slogan). The 'graceful and elegant symmetry' it promises is fairly timeless, I guess, but nowadays we expect cleavage, not the reinforced mono-prow that this seems designed to deliver. It shows how concept of the ideal female form does change over time. I've been waiting patiently for thick ankles to come into fashion, but I don't think it's going to happen. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

Another feature of note is the pricing; 21s, or for a hand-made corset 30s or even 42s. It's a sign of the times that a shop in a high-class location like Piccadilly would offering ready-made items at all; a few decades earlier everything would be made to measure for the discerning and well-heeled customer. Ready-made items like this were a product of the industrial age. The most expensive hand-made item, though, was only twice the price of the ready-made one, which says a lot about the cost of skilled (female) labour in the 1870s. The equivalent modern values would be about £50 and £100 respectively. I'm not in the habit of buying corsetry of any kind, but it strikes me that £50 ready-made is on the expensive side, but £100 for hand-made would be a bargain.

Like many fashion retailer, Mrs Addley Bourne played up the French association of the firm, believing that this would lend an air of chic sophistication, and she was probably right. Addley, incidentally, was not her first name, but that of her husband. In fact it was his middle name (his first name was Benjamin) and she was Ann, but followed the practice of the time in using her husband's name, as in Mrs Patrick Campbell. It is less common today, but we have become used to Princess Michael of Kent, I suppose.

The Bournes conducted their business at 37 Piccadilly for a number of years, and retired to Sutton, Surrey at some time in the 1880s, where they died within 3 weeks of each other in 1895. The Piccadilly address seems to have been very dear to them, because the birthplace given in the 1891 census for the three children who still lived with them was given as '37 Piccadilly'.


Thursday 14 April 2011

Those Places Thursday - London docks

St Katherine's Dock

The area round London's docks has always been busy and crowded, with people who lived there, and even more who were just passing through. Long before the railways or decent roads, the Thames was London's highway, and nearly all the goods that came into the capital city, even from other parts of England, came in through the docks at its eastern end.

This map of the Port of London describes the area from St Katherine's Dock and the Tower of London all the way downriver to the East India Docks. It covers areas like Stepney, Limehouse and Poplar on the north bank, and Bermondsey, Rotherhithe, Deptford and Greenwich south of the river.

These places were populated by people who depended on the river and the docks for their living, going back many centuries. They left plenty of evidence of their lives and activities, in parish registers and other records.

You can find out a lot about these people at, the website of Dockland Ancestors Ltd. Although it is a commercial site with books, maps, CDs and look-ups for sale, there is lots of background material and links to other useful sites. Many of the parish register indexes can also be searched on

Many of these will also be found on as part of their London Parish Registers collection. They also have some Poor Law Union records, which are not searchable by name, but can browsed.

The family history societies for this part of London are the East of London Family History Society for the area north of the river (Middlesex), the East Surrey Family History Society for Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, in the modern borough of Southwark (Surrey), and the North West Kent Family History Society for Deptford and Greenwich (Kent). That should be enough to keep you going for a while!

Such a busy port needed a lot of customs officers, and if your ancestors were among them you can find out about their records in The National Archives. None of the records is online, but there is a Research signpost that will tell you where to start researching.

But if you want background information about the place itself and its history, the Port Cities - London site is full of it. There are chapters on all kinds of themes, with a collection of images and even a 'virtual pub crawl'. How can you resist that?


Dr Tanner's Index of Diseases

There is nothing quite like a medical dictionary to hold the attention of the reader, without the aid of any narrative. I have a few of them (not many, honestly). This one 'Dr Tanner's Index of Diseases and their Treatment' is my favourite. It lacks the grisly illustrations that you find in some others, but I like it because it is aimed at physicians, and not the domestic audience. It therefore contains a lot more detail and technical medical terms.

The main part of the book, as the title suggests, is an alphabetical listing of diseases, from Abcess to Zona, with suggested treatments. Zona, in case you are wondering, is a kind of shingles, or herpes.

This is followed by an Appendix of Formulae, with advice on dosages, depending on 'Age, Sex, Temperament, Habit, Condition of System, Climate and Season of the year'. Some of the advice is rather alarming, as in 'Children bear as large doses of mercury as adults; but they are much more susceptible to the influence of opiates'. Good to know.

The Formulae included foods as well as drugs and potions. There is a scary-looking chapter on Electro-therapeutics, followed by a more reassuring one on Climates for Invalids, and another on Mineral Waters, by which he meant spa towns in Britain and Europe. The medicinal foods listed include such delights as raw meat juice, spruce beer and bread jelly. A whole range of therapeutic baths is described, mainly involving chemicals such as creosote, iodine and arsenic. As an alternative to baths, the patient might be enveloped in wet sheets of varying temperatures, depending on the ailment.

Many of the suitable climates for invalids were popular resorts in Britain, like Malvern, where the air is 'pure and invigorating', but for some patients the south of France, Egypt or even Australia might be recommended.

Dr Thomas Hawkes Tanner, we can safely assume, was a physician to the moneyed classes, and the book is aimed at similar practitioners. He seems to have been very successful, since the 1871 census shows that he kept 9 servants, including a butler and a footman. He died 4 months after the census, aged only 46, leaving a will worth nearly £14,000, the equivalent of more than £600,000 in today's money. The third edition of the book, dated 1883, was updated by William Henry Broadbent MD.

This book, nearly 500 pages long, gives a fascinating insight into the world of Victorian medicine. Even if only the wealthiest could afford the services of a physician like Dr Tanner, some of the simpler and cheaper remedies would have been available to many of the less well-off. And of course people suffered from much the same diseases, regardless of income, so it comes in very handy for interpreting some of those puzzling causes of death on death certificates.


Monday 11 April 2011

Mappy Monday - around Edinburgh

Edinburgh street plan 1877

With the release of the Scottish 1911 census last week, Scotland has been uppermost in my mind recently. Since I have no plans to visit Edinburgh in the immediate future, some maps are the next best thing. 

I have just scanned many of the illustrations from 'Black's Guide to Scotland', which include a number of maps. The large map at the top is a street plan of the whole city, and the others show what the guides considers the most interesting parts is more detail. 

Edinburgh Castle 1877
The castle is of course Edinburgh's most famous feature, and therefore merits a map of its own. If you look closely you will see that the detail includes the castle's famous gun, Mons Meg.

Calton Hill 1877
 Calton Hill is at the eastern end of the city centre, and while this map shows some interesting features of Edinburgh it just misses one of its most interesting ones;  one the left-hand side of the map you can see the caption 'Register House', but the building itself is just outside the frame. This is the building that now houses the ScotlandsPeople Centre, and for the genealogist this is the real centre of Edinburgh.

Greyfriars Churchyard 1877
The detailed plan of Greyfriars Churchyard points out what the Guide considers to be the most significant graves. It is easier to find it on the main map when you realise that the top of the this map is east, not north.

Edinburgh University and Museum 1877
  This map shows the City Chambers, St Giles cathedral and the old Parliament House as well as the university and museum, and is turned even further round from the norm, with south at the top of the map.

Between them, these maps tell us a lot about what Edinburgh was like in the late nineteenth century, except for one important thing; the route from any point A to any point B in Edinburgh is always uphill, and when you go back again it's still uphill.


Saturday 9 April 2011

I wouldn't have looked there!

Suppose that you had a British ancestor that you knew was born overseas. Where would you look for a record of the birth? Well, there are several places where you might find it, and you might even find more than one record of the same event. Or you might not find any record of it at all. It has never been compulsory to register vital events that take place abroad, although it may be advisable to do so. If someone was born abroad and later needed to produce evidence of their nationality, a proper birth certificate would come in very handy.

Now that so many records and indexes are online, you would try a few websites first. The indexes to the General Register Office miscellaneous overseas records are on and so you might start there. The indexes don't give much detail and you still have to spend £9.25 on a certificate, but it's a start. The other place you might think of is which includes a number of overseas registers, the ones in The National Archives in record series RG32 to RG36. These come from a variety of original sources, and there is some overlap with the ones that are still held by the GRO.  It's a pay-per-view site, but it's still cheaper than a certificate; or you can access it as part of a subscription to The Genealogist.

If you know the country where your itinerant ancestor was born, you might look for a record in the registration system of the country concerned. There are lots of these on sites like and but of course you'd try first because it is free, and you might look on Cyndi's List to see if there are any other free online resources. But there are some births, marriages and deaths of the British overseas on FamilySearch that you could easily miss. The page above is from one of these registers; it is the register of births from the British consulate in Kansas City, Missouri 1902-1922. Most of the entries are indexed (not all, which is puzzling) but they are listed under 'Great Britain births and baptisms 1571-1971'. I expect this has happened because the records are held here, but it is misleading. I only discovered this by accident when I was a having a good rummage through FamilySearch, trying all kinds of searches. I have reported this to FamilySearch, using the Feedback button - there's a direct link to this page via the big button on the right-hand side of this page.

I don't think I've helped make anything any simpler - the more you look, the more complicated it gets. Keep searching!


Kirsty Wilkinson (The Professional Descendant) made a really useful comment below - you can click here for her link to the list of overseas Catholic registers on ScotlandsPeople.


Friday 8 April 2011

Those Places Thursday - the dear green place

Glasgow Cathedral
That's Glasgow, in case you were wondering. Glasgow has given many things to the world; great ocean-going liners from the Clyde shipyards, the architecture of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, two of Britain's oldest seats of learning, the deep-fried Mars Bar - and me! I used to feel self-conscious about my very English accent whenever I visited Glasgow (I left there when I was 7). But not any more, because I realised that I am in fact a very typical Glaswegian. I was born there, as were both my parents, all 4 grandparents and 5 of my great-grandparents; I have one line of Glasgow ancestry going back to the time of Mary, Queen of Scots; some of my ancestors were drawn to Glasgow from all over Scotland and (of course) from Ireland; I have the obligatory mix of protestant and catholic ancestors. But I think that the real clincher is that I don't live in Glasgow any more! There are lots of us about - never underestimate the extent of the Glaswegian diaspora!

Wishful thinking - my parents posed
the 6-year-old me in front of Glasgow University
Glasgow has some fantastic genealogical resources, so I consider myself very fortunate to come from there. The Mitchell Library is the place to visit when you are there, for the City of Glasgow Archives. You have to be there in person to consult most of these treasures, but there is a lot of good stuff online too. There is an index to the Evening Times Roll of Honour for the First World War on the Mitchell website.

My favourite online resource for Glasgow is probably The Glasgow Story, which has images from several archives in the Glasgow area, as well as the Valuation Rolls for 1913-1914 and the accompanying maps. There are lots more useful resources for Glasgow in the Glasgow Digital Library

There are also Scotland-wide sites with good Glasgow sections, like ScotlandsPlaces and the Statistical Accounts of Scotland for 1791-1799 and 1834-1845. And although I linked to it a couple of days ago, it never hurts to mention the National Library's Maps of Scotland again.

Finally, if you are serious about tracing your ancestry in the Glasgow area you can't do without the Glasgow and West of Scotland Family History Society who have a good range of publications and a number of offline services and facilities available only to members. It's well worth the few pounds a year it costs to join. Gaun yersel!


Wednesday 6 April 2011

1911 Census for Scotland - the double-Cross sisters?

I hope everyone else had a successful time yesterday with the release of the 1911 Census for Scotland on ScotlandsPeople. I found three of my four grandparents - two of them before the official launch time of 11am BST. Optimists usually log on a little early, and sometimes it pays off.

I wasn't relying on this census to help me make any great breakthroughs, and I didn't make any astonishing discoveries, but there were a few surprises. I found extra family members, and filled in a few gaps.

The 'fertility in marriage' question revealed the existence of hitherto unsuspected infants who had died. I knew this was a possibility, because I had seen many people make such a discoveries in the 1911 Census of England and Wales over the last two years. All the same, it still gave me quite a jolt to find that my grandmother was one of five sisters, not three as we had always thought. In some ways this is one of the most rewarding things about researching family history, finding and recording the short lives of children who are quite closely related to me, but who literally have been forgotten.

This was the first time I had seen one set of my grandparents in the census, as this pair were born after 1901. By contrast with the discovery of my grandmother's two extra sisters, I found no new people in my grandfather's family, but it was an interesting census entry all the same. I already know quite a lot about the family, which is lucky, because the way they appear in this census would be misleading if I didn't. In the England and Wales 1911 Census, I have seen a number of schedules where the householders were evidently confused by some of the questions, and although in Scotland we only see what the enumerator has copied up, I think I this one was probably a bit of a mess. They lived at 76 McAlpine Street, which was still standing in the 1960s, and there is a picture  of 64-84 McAlpine Street on the excellent Virtual Mitchell site, which has lots of images of Glasgow.

It was a three-generation household, which can be a good source of confusion to start with. It confirms what my grandpa told me, that he lived with his grandparents, and I was pleasantly surprised to find his grandfather, Thomas Cross, making his first and only census appearance; Thomas was an Irishman in the merchant navy, so he had always been out of reach before. The household appears to consist of Thomas and Jane Cross, two daughters in their 20s, Ellen J and Margaret Cross, four visitors, and Jane Cross, aged 3 described as a relative. But the two daughters are listed as married, with the fertility in marriage details given, even though they have the Cross surname. The visitors are Ellen Collins and Maggie J Allison, also in their 20s, and married, and two small children, Henry and Ellen J Collins. The sisters are listed twice, under both their maiden and married names.

Well, I have seen duplicate entries in the census before, but never two people listed twice in the same household! Little Henry is my grandpa, and his sister is my great-aunt Agnes. And I do mean Agnes; he did have a sister called Ellen, but she wasn't born until 1916! He also had a brother, Robert, born in 1910, but goodness knows where he is! The 'relative', Jane Cross, is Margaret/Maggie's daughter who was born a couple of months before she married Fred Allison in 1906.

I am very glad that I already have a couple of decades' worth of research on this family, because if I were starting with this census entry I'd be very confused. I have plenty of birth, marriage and death certificates and other records for these people, so I can be confident that the family just made a complete dog's breakfast of filling in the form! One of the things that I know from the certificates is that Jane Cross and her daughters could not write; they all made their mark instead of signing on every document I have seen. I have no evidence either way on Thomas, but we are clearly not dealing with a very literate family here. The completed enumeration book is neatly written and very legible, but I can just imagine the poor enumerator tearing his hair out trying to make sense of what must have been a pretty horrible-looking piece of paper, full of crossings-out, or else he had to ask them the questions and try to make sense of their answers.

So I will take this opportunity to apologise publicly to the descendants of the poor man, one T S Taylor, on behalf of the combined Cross, Collins and Allison families. Sorry. I will see that it doesn't happen again.  


Tuesday 5 April 2011

Mappy Monday - some links

Instead of digging a map from my own collection, I thought I would link to some map and map-related sites instead. Here are a few of my favourites, in no particular order.


Digital collections of historic maps

Maps for research (UK)

Old Street Plans (UK)

A vision of Britain through time

London: a life in maps

MAPCO (London)

Booth poverty maps (London)

Maps of Scotland

Historical Map & Chart Collection (USA)

Library of Congress map collections


I put this list together in a few minutes, from my favourites list. Maybe you'll find something here you didn't know about before - I hope you find something you like. But if you want to read an article by someone who really took some time and trouble over it, I recommend:

Mapping out the past, a post from Kith and Kin Research (aka Luke Mouland).


Monday 4 April 2011

1911 Scotland, England and Wales - nearly the same, but not quite

We're almost there, the 1911 Census for Scotland will be released (fingers crossed) within hours now, not days. Scotland'sPeople is bracing itself! I wish I could be in Edinburgh for the launch, but the day job takes precedence, and at least I hope I will be able to access it remotely. The site will be under quite some strain to start with, I expect, and if we can't all get access immediately...well, it's been closed for a century, a little longer won't hurt.

By now many of us are familiar with the 1911 Census for England and Wales, so we have a pretty good idea of what to expect. There is one important difference, which is that as in previous census years, the Scottish census was copied into enumerations books, and the household schedules were destroyed. This was an administrative decision by the General Register Office for Scotland. The information gathered was much the same as in England and Wales, and the tabulation was done by machine, as in England and Wales. The extra information gathered was a significant increase on previous censuses, so it will be pored over gratefully by Scottish family historians, myself included.

The lack of household schedules means that we won't be able to see our ancestors' actual handwriting, which is a pity, but a greater pity is that when the enumerators wrote up their books, they will have left out the details that had not been asked for. By this I mean the widows who provided the length of their marriage, and the number of children they had, living and dead, when the question was only addressed to married women. On the English and Welsh schedules these were crossed out by the enumerator, but are still clearly visible.

Birthplace questions - England and Wales
There are some differences in the questions, too.

Like the schedules for Wales, but not England, the Scottish census contains a language question; whether a person spoke English, Gaelic or both. The questions on birthplace and nationality are subtly different, though, more details being asked for in England and Wales, with one exception.

On the schedules for England and Wales the parish of birth is required for anyone born in the United Kingdom. Anyone born elsewhere in the British Empire is asked for the name of the Colony or Dependency, and the Province or State. If born in a foreign country, the name of the country is all asked for, and anyone born at sea is required to write 'at sea'.  

Unfortunately the Scottish census asks for the parish of birth only from people born in Scotland. Anyone born in England or Ireland is only required to put 'England' or 'Ireland'. There is no mention of Wales at all, so it may be assumed to be part of the well-known administrative unit 'EnglandandWales'. Sorry, Wales. Like those born in foreign countries, people born in Colonies or Dependencies are only asked for the name of the country, unless that country was India. And this is where Scotland requires extra information; the Indian-born are asked to state whether or not they were of European origin.

Birthplace questions - Scotland
In both countries, foreign-born people are asked for their nationality; whether British by parentage, naturalized British subject, or of foreign nationality, and if so, which nationality. But only in England and Wales are naturalized British subjects asked for the exact year of their naturalization, and those born outside England and Wales are to state whether they are residents or visitors.

These discrepancies in the questions will make no difference to most researchers, and there is still a lot more detail than in any previous Scottish census, so we will all have plenty of new toys to play with (you did stock up on ScotlandsPeople credits before the price went up on Friday, didn't you?). The difference that will affect most genealogists is that sadly, those of us with Irish-born ancestors in Scotland can't expect to discover their exact birthplaces here. Pity. Oh well, it's back to fiendish ingenuity and the power of prayer again.

Happy Census Release Day, fellow Scots. I'm sure it's going to be PDB* for some of us.

*PDB = Pure dead brilliant!


Sunday 3 April 2011

A question of nationality

I have just read a very interesting and thought-provoking blog by Polly Kimmitt He's not American. Is he Kenyan, English or Irish? The whole business of nationality can be much more complicated that you might think. In the UK we have the added complication of the four home nations, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Most of us identify ourselves with one of these, although our nationality is British, as a glance at a passport will confirm. The full wording is 'United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland' but I must admit I was glad to be able to tick 'Scottish' on my census form last week.

I have lived in England for most of my life, but I have never considered myself as English, and I never will. British, yes, but never English. I like it here, though, and I have no plans to leave; the natives seem to have accepted me. My young nephew, on the other hand, has absolutely now doubt that he in English. Fair enough, because he was born in England, and so were both of his parents, but that is a s far as it goes. But none of his grandparents came from England; one set were Scottish, the other Irish. So he could qualify to play football for any of three counties, and who knows, he might do so one day, because he's a pretty good footballer. Sorry Wales, you don't get a look in.

The whole sporting thing gets more confusing the more you look at it. In the Olympic Games and some other sporting events we compete as the United Kingdom (sometimes referred to as 'Team GB', which is wrong of course, and must annoy Northern Ireland even more than it annoys me). But in others, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland send separate teams. Except for Rugby League and Rugby Union, where Ireland is represented by combined teams drawing players from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Don't spend too much time thinking about it, it will make your brain hurt.

Sporting allegiance and national identity may be important to the way you feel, but the hard legal facts of nationality law can affect where you are allowed to live. Many of the enquiries we deal with at The National Archives are not from genealogists, but from people who need to prove their right to British nationality, or their right of residency in the UK. We hold certificates of naturalization and of nationality issued up to 1983, and there are lots of different kinds, depending the kind of certificate and where it was issued. It also depends on the legislation that was in force at the time. It's a complicated business. There is a Wikipedia article on British Nationality Law that explains it, but you need to set aside a good long time to read it all. Like I said, it's a complicated business.

To add to the fun, there are many anomalies in the relative status of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and the relations between them. Britain used to be a colonial power, and when they gained their independence most former colonies and dominions became members of the Commonwealth. The Republic of Ireland, however, is not, and has never been, a member, and distanced itself from the UK to the extent that it remained neutral during the Second World War. Despite this, there has always been free movement between the two countries, and until 1978 the two currencies were of equal value, even adopting decimalisation at the same time. Irish people who lived in the UK could vote in elections here, even before our two countries joined the European Union.

In her blog, Polly describes the complications that arose because her British husband was born in Kenya, while his father had been sent there to work by the British government. Something similar occurred in a family that I am related to, where the father was Irish and the mother British. Two of their children were born in England, but one was born overseas, because her father, an Irish citizen, was a soldier in the British  Army and was stationed there at the time. She had no idea that this could cause a problem until as an adult, she applied for a passport, and discovered to her surprise that legally, she was not actually British. It was sorted out in the end, and she did get her passport, but it makes you think.


Shopping Saturday - between boards

I came across an interesting little article while browsing through a magazine called 'The Leisure Hour', dated 1887. That's the kind of thing I do in my spare time.

It describes a largely forgotten aspect of the retail trade, the way that some shops promoted their wares. The writer describes a scene at 5:30 in the afternoon near Piccadilly Circus.

Two hundred [men] with boards and bills of various colours, are in front of me. They march down into a yard, fall into double lines like a regiment of soldiers, and take off their boards. Every man stands with his board in front of him. a man comes and inspects them when all are in, and soon the process of paying begins.

It is clear from the illustration that these men were a sorry lot. Many were former soldiers who did this work because it was better than not working at all. They were lucky to have been picked at all, since as many were rejected each morning as selected. The best dressed men had the best chance of being picked, and could earn the princely sum of 1s 2d for a day's work walking the streets. They could earn a little more, 1s 6d, if they were prepared to be 'dressed up and made into guys'. For the extra 4d a day they would endure the looks and remarks, and run the risk of being recognized by someone they knew. From 9 till 5, with and hour for lunch they were required to be on on display. If they were caught skulking, they might get no work for several days. These men were recruited and paid by agents, who seemed to make a tidy profit; the men were paid 1s 2d for a day's work, but the cost to the retailer was 2s.

This is a little-known aspect of retail history, and not a very happy one. For the men who did this often degrading work it was not just a low-paid job with a high embarrassment factor. If it was known that you had once 'carried the boards', it could harm your prospects of getting a respectable job in future. The sandwich-board men are often portrayed as figures of fun in cartoons, but I am not sure I will look at them in the same way again. So spare a thought the next time you see someone on a street corner holding one of those big 'Golf Sale' signs, or handing out leaflets in a shopping mall while dressed as a chicken. They are the the modern counterparts of the sandwich-board men, and it probably isn't their ideal career choice either.


Friday 1 April 2011

A Census April Fools' Day joke?

RG 11/20 fol 126 p 48 (image courtesy of              
This looks much like a lot of other census pages, but if you examine it closely you will see that is is very odd. In fact, it is a fake. I first became aware of it after the 1881 census was indexed, and it was the subject of some discussion at the time. I don't know if anyone had picked it up before then.

The image is not easy to read, because the film from which it was scanned is faint, but you can make out enough to see that it is not a genuine part of the 1881 census. First, look at the address, 16 Acacia Gardens; there is no Acacia Gardens in Paddington in 1881, and this page is the only one that shows this address. If you browse the images around it, you will see that it is almost at the end of the enumeration district, with a blank page after it. The page before is the real end of the enumeration district, with the last four names from 4 Poplar Square. The description of this enumeration districts lists all the streets it contains, and the list does not include Acacia Gardens.

Next, the entry itself. The names themselves are perfectly normal and plausible (although you'll have difficulty finding these people in any other census), but the ages of the family are not implausible, to say the least. Now look at the birthplaces. Timbuctoo is s real place, but it is hard to believe that anyone would have six servants who were born there. And you don't see 'Australia (penal colony)' given as a birthplace very often. But the real giveaway is Pakistan, which didn't exist in 1881.  You might also find it hard to credit the occupations of Robert Goodman snr and jnr, given as 'International playboy' and 'Ponce' respectively.

And finally, the handwriting is not only quite different from the rest of the district where it appears, it also has a very 20th century look about it. So the the only conclusion is that at some point before the 1980s, when this census was filmed, someone vandalized the original document. It was crudely done, and therefore doesn't stand up to close scrutiny, but it does make you wonder if it was an isolated case.

If nothing else, it is a timely reminder that you can't always take the information in a document at face value.

Did I ever mention the documents in The National Archives that we know are forgeries?

Maybe some other time...