Tuesday 31 January 2012

Rootstech - two days and counting

Throw a stone in Salt Lake City right now and you'll hit a genealogist. Not that I'm suggesting you throw stones at them; they (we) are nice people. I've been here since Thursday of last week, and a good number were already here then, for SLIG, the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy January 23-27. That was a pretty intensive week, as I have gathered from my friends who were either studying or teaching there.

Now attention is turned to Rootstech, and more attendees are arriving all the time, from all over the world. So far I have met people from New Zealand and Australia, and another Aussie is somewhere over the Pacific en route right now. The full schedule has been posted on the Rootstech site, including the 14 sessions that will be streamed live, so that you can follow the proceedings from anywhere in the world. You can also catch the buzz by reading what the Official Bloggers have to say or by following   #rootstech on Twitter. Th Official Bloggers are not the only ones in attendance; at the last count around 90 bloggers were expected to attend, and Amy Coffin of the We Tree Genealogy Blog is making it her mission to meet all of them. I am not am Official Blogger, but I am pleased to be participating in a joint session with two of them; one of them is Amy, and the other is Jill Ball aka Geniaus. The session at 11:00 on Friday is Genealogy 2.0: International Panelists discuss their use of social media Sadly, our Canadian friend, Lorinne McGinnis Schulze of the Olive Tree Genealogy blog is unable to join us. We will miss her.

I'm looking forward to seeing the Expo Hall (which will include book vendors after all, following a bit of a fuss some time back). Its distinctive features include the Demo Stage,  the Media Hub where the Official Bloggers are based, complete with interview booths, and the Microsoft Playground where you can, well, play; last year there was table football and table tennis. Last year soft seating areas were dotted around, where people could resort for a chat - I had the impression that a lot of business was done this way.

I can hardly wait


Monday 30 January 2012

Mappy Monday - Evacuation map of Scotland 1939

TNA ref: RG 26/6

A National Register was compiled throughout the United Kingdom in September 1939, on the outbreak of the Second World War. The information collected was used for a variety of purposes; identity cards, ration books, conscription into the armed forces and other services, and the evacuation of children. There is a great deal of background information in The National Archives about the administration of the system. Many of the documents can be found online at HISTPOP and there are some interesting details about the evacuation of children, including the map of Scotland, above. There is no corresponding map for England and Wales, but there is a county list. Every county was designated either as an evacuation area, from which children were to be removed, a neutral area, or a reception area.

Links to the evacuation papers and other documents on National Registration can be found on the HISTPOP page Documents relating to National Registration, 1939


Friday 27 January 2012

Great improvement at Familysearch

I couldn't have been in a better place to discover that FamilySearch had at last made the change I had been hoping for. I was in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, settling down to some Irish research, when I found that the British Isles category has been reinstated. I have written about this a great deal in the past, bemoaning, among other things, the fact that the British Isles categories in the left-hand list did not match the ones in the detailed list of resources 'United Kingdom' in one, 'Great Britain' in another, with a clearly imperfect understanding of the divisions within our collection of islands.

The site has now reverted to filters that more closely resemble the British Isles section of the old FamilySearch site. Well done FamilySearch, you listened to your users, including me! The categories are now:

Channel Islands
Isle of Man
United Kingdom

This is still not ideal, but it is a great improvement. The individual databases now reflect this list much more closely, and to be fair, some of the databases do not fit neatly into one of the main categories. If you click on the United Kingdom category, the three databases contained are all 'Great Britain', but these  are miscellaneous collections extracted from various sources, and at least Great Britain is part of the UK. The creation of a UK category as distinct from England, Scotland etc means that there is a home for any future databases that may be added in future; for example military or naval records that relate to the whole of the UK.

Some of the existing databases cover more than one place, the most obvious being the England and Wales censuses. But the Wales filter does include these within its results, which is another improvement - the Wales category was a bit of a mess before! It might be ungenerous to point out that the 'England and Wales census' databases also include the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, but does not appear in their filters. I'm sure that can be fixed.

It's a great way to start my stay in Salt Lake City. Now, if we could only get county filters too...


Friday 20 January 2012

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy – Free Online Genealogy Tools

There is plenty of genealogical information and records online that you have to pay for, and sometimes there is no alternative. But before you part with your hard-earned, it makes sense to see what you can find out free of charge first.

FamilySearch is obviously the biggest and the best, as well as being the best-known. But there are many more free resources if you know where to look. I have written earlier posts about Digital Microfilm and Parish Registers Online which deal with free British, mainly English, resources.

Other major sites are FreeBMD for England and Wales birth, marriage and death indexes, and UKBMD for local indexes. The local indexes are better because they lead to original records, not the copies that are held by the GRO, but the coverage is limited. FreeCen  is a companion site of FreeBMD which can be very useful, although you will still need to use a commercial site or microfilm to see the images.

These are all reasonably well-know, but one of my favourite and under-used sites in the London Gazette. It is mainly used by genealogists looking for records of change of name, bankruptcy and gallantry awards, but it contains a lot more than that. You can find notices of the legal dissolution of business partnerships, sales of property following chancery cases and results of Civil Service examinations and appointments. I recorded a podcast The London Gazette: not just the brave and the bankrupt  that gives a lot more detail. This was in November 2010, and since then all of the printed indexes have been added to the site as pdf files. The portal site Gazettes Online also links to the Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes, which contain similar content.


Thursday 19 January 2012

Workday Wednesday - the Monthly Nurse

You may have found an ancestor whose occupation was 'monthly nurse' or found one in your ancestor's household. In the British 1881 census there are more than 3000 of them.

The best-known of the breed is a fictional character, the infamous Mrs Gamp in Charles Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit (yes, that man again).
'...Mrs Gamp being, in her highest walk of art, a monthly nurse, or as her sign-board boldly had it 'Midwife'

The monthly nurse would have been engaged by a family around the time of a woman's 'lying-in' to look after the mother and the new baby. She would have no qualifications of any kind, other than a willingness to perform what could be very messy and often unpleasant tasks. She would also be called in to lay out the dead, and, sadly, the two types of visit often coincided in Victorian Britain. Childbirth was a hazardous business, and many women died of post-partum infections generally known as 'child-bed fever'. Infant mortality was high throughout the 19th century, as you can see from the number of death entries giving the age at death as '0' from 1866 onwards when this is shown in the indexes for England and Wales. In the birth indexes from 1837 you will often see births with no forename but just 'male' or 'female'. Occasionally these are children whose parents hadn't chosen a name yet, but the great majority were poor little mites who lived for only a few hours, or even a few minutes after birth.

Mrs Gamp, however, appears in Dickens' novel when she is called in to perform the necessary offices following the death of the elderly Mr Anthony Chuzzlewit. He paints a vivid picture:

'She was a fat old woman, this Mrs Gamp, with a husky voice and a moist eye...She wore a very rusty black gown, rather the worse for snuff, and a shawl and bonnet to correspond. In these dilapidated articles of dress she had, on principle, arrayed herself, time out of mind, on such occasions as the present; for this at once expressed a decent amount of veneration for the deceased, and invited the next of kin to present her with a new set of weeds; an appeal so frequently successful that the very fetch and ghost of Mrs Gamp, bonnet and all, might be seen hanging up, any hour in the day, in at least a dozen of the second-hand clothes shops about Holborn. the face of Mrs Gamp - the nose in particular - was very red and swoln, and it was diffcult to enjoy her society without being conscious of a smell of spirits.'

It would be unfair to suggest that all monthly nurses were like Mrs Gamp, but Dickens was not the only writer who satirized them. The illustration above comes from a two-volume publication 'Heads of the People: or Portraits of the English', a compilation of writings by a number of authors in the 1830s. The chapter on 'The Monthly Nurse' was written by Leigh Hunt, who, like Dickens, was also a journalist. His description of the monthly nurse was:

...a middle-aged, motherly sort of a gossiping, hushing, flattering, dictatorial, ignorant, knowing, not very delicate, comfortable, uneasy, slip-slop kind of a blinking individual, between asleep and awake, whose business it is - under Providence and the doctor - to see that a child be not ushered with too little officiousness into the world, nor brought up with too much good sense during the first month of its existence.

The writings of both men reflect a time when there was no kind of training for nurses, and no notion that nursing might be a profession. This was to come later in the century. Leigh Hunt was not uniformly unkind about the monthly nurse. Later on in the piece he expresses sympathy for the women whom circumstances had forced into this kind of work, and goes on to describe those higher up the social scale:
'The Monthly Nurse, as you ascend in society, is not seldom a highly respectable woman, who is nearly all that she should be - mild, firm and well-meaning.'
So if you have a monthly nurse in your ancestry, she may not have been a Mrs Gamp after all!


Tuesday 17 January 2012

Mappy Monday - Middlesex electoral map 1845

Middlesex 1845

The London and Middlesex electoral registers recently released on Ancestry.co.uk have attracted quite a lot of attention, so this seemed like a good time to bring out this map. It is an electoral map of Middlesex in 1845, showing the polling  places, indicated by a cross, and those boroughs entitled to elect two members of parliament, indicated by a black circle. The MPS elected by the boroughs were in addition to the members elected by the whole county. 

This was after the Reform Act of 1832, which reflected for the first time the notion that the number of MPs returned should have some correlation with the size of an area's population. There was still a long way to go, though; it was a step in the right direction, but we had moved from 'hardly anyone can vote' to 'a few people can vote'. You still had to be a) an adult male and b) the occupier of property over a certain value, to vote in parliamentary elections. There were different rules for local elections, and women could vote in these depending on the date and the place. 

Another notable feature of elections until 1872 was that there was no secret ballot. Voting meant declaring publicly your choice of candidate, or candidates. From the candidate's point of view this had the advantage that if you bribed someone to vote for you, they couldn't double-cross you by voting for the other man and pocketing the money anyway. Sometimes you will find the record of votes cast recorded and published in poll books. These can be very revealing if you find one for an election where your ancestor voted.

Great Stanmore 1851: LMA MR/PEO/1851/4/3 (Image from Ancestry.co.uk)

Although very few people could vote in the earlier years, it can still be worth looking at the register for the place where your ancestors lived. I called my earlier post 'Who was Stanmore Groat?' because it was a mis-rendering of the name of the parish of Great Stanmore. It was a small place, and it isn't marked on this map, but it is close to Edgware, which is shown. Edgware is on the east side of the road and the two Stanmores, Great and Little, are on the west side. Great Stanmore's population in 1851 was 1180, but there were only 22 voters, and half of them didn't even live in Great Stanmore, they just held property there. If you look at the printed register it tells you quite a bit about the place, and you will see names of some occupiers who are not voters, so you shouldn't assume that these early electoral registers are of no interest to you because your ancestors were not among the voting classes.

You can find registers for a place by browsing the collection, and while the drop-down menu claims to be a list of boroughs, you will see that it also includes three counties; London, Middlesex and Surrey. Some of these interesting early registers are found under 'Middlesex' where they should be, but most are in 'London' which didn't exist as a county until 1889. Never mind. I may talk about the whole London/Middlesex thing sometime, if I can summon the strength.

While most of the registers are later in date, and from 1889 you are much more likely to find you ancestors in them, but please don't neglect the early ones. It is worth the effort of negotiating your way through Ancestry's characteristically eccentric means of classification to find them. 


Saturday 14 January 2012

Abundant Genealogy - Week 2 - Paid Online Genealogy Tools

Paid online genealogy tools are essential to the researcher today, but the choice can be bewildering, especially for the beginner. I am sometimes asked 'Which is the best?', but there is no simple answer. First of all you need to ask yourself what records you need to look at, and then find the site or sites that have them. Some popular records, like the census. are on multiple sites, so you have a choice, but many others can only be found on a single site, so if that's what you need to look at, then that's where you need to go. Decision made. The other choice you may have to make is how to pay for the records you want to access; you don't always have a choice, but sometimes you can select different subscription levels or time periods, or even a pay-per-view option.

I am most familiar with British records, so these are the examples I am going to discuss here, starting with the census for England and Wales. Indexed census images are on a number of sites, such as Ancestry.co.uk, Findmypast.co.uk, Genes Reunited , TheGenealogist.co.uk or British Origins and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Apart from 1881, where everyone uses the same set of transcription data, you will find some differences in the transcriptions. Even where the data is the same, the search engine on one site may work better for you than another. So whatever site you use, it is often worth checking one of the others if your search is unsuccessful.

For most other records you will have fewer sites to choose from, because there is much less duplication. So you need to work out which site has, for example, the baptism, marriage or burial records you need. This may be easier said than done. When I do any genealogical searching online, I want to know exactly what I am searching - is it a single register, or a collection?  Is it an original church register, or a copy, or a transcript? If it is a transcript, is it from a printed source such as Phillimore's Marriages? If it is a transcript, are all the fields indexed? What are the coverage dates, and is it complete for those years or are there gaps? These are the questions I would ask when searching parish register material, but the same principles would apply to any kind of record - probate, military service, poor law and  so on. When I find a record, I want to know where the original record is held, the document reference so that I can cite my source properly; giving a web link is all very well, but these, and even whole websites can be ephemeral, while the archive reference will be constant. No matter where you look at a page of the 1891 census for England, online, on film or on fiche its unique reference will be RG 12/ followed by a piece number, a folio number and, ideally a page number too.  

Sadly, none of the commercial genealogy sites meets all these criteria. Sorry guys, but a collection description that reads "This database contains information extracted from birth and christening records from various counties in England and Wales. The records date from 1530 to 1906. The records included in this database do not represent all localities in England and Wales and for any given area, coverage (both records within a year and total year range) may not be complete. Some parishes and counties are more complete than others." just doesn't do it for me. But what annoys me most is a site where I can't see a list of its datasets without signing in or subscribing.

Finally, there are some useful British records that you may only find on a single site, and that may not be familiar to you. Service records (mainly pension records) for men who left the British Army before 1913 are on Findmypast.co.uk service records for the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and a number of other records relating the armed forces are on DocumentsOnline (pay-per-view only), as are Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills (you can also view them on TheGenealogist.co.uk., by subscription) There is more useful probate material on British Origins along with some other resources you won't find anywhere else. These are just a few suggestions, and you should find even more once you start looking beyond the better-known sites.

Happy hunting


Friday 13 January 2012

Who was Stanmore Groat?

Great Stanmore Old Church, Middlesex 
If you search for Stanmore Groat using the exact search option on Ancestry.com you will find 189 results. If you look closely you will see that all 189 results are in the recently released London, England Electoral Registers 1835-1965. So this magnificently named person was apparently eligible to vote London, but left no other trace of their existence. Very curious.

Sadly, Stanmore Groat never existed (except maybe in the pages of Dickens' novels, it sounds like the kind of name he would make up). Neither did a whole cast of characters including Abbey Twyford, Hendon West, Chelsea Little, Magna Greenford, Dale Slade, Field Ponderend, Chase Hope-Cottage, Common Shortwood  and many more. They are place names that have been mistaken for personal names, which appear surname-first in the registers, and have therefore been reversed for indexing. With a few transcription errors thrown in for good measure you get 'names' like those above; there are nearly 5000 'people' called Stanmore Great, but I like Stanmore Groat better.

Having had my fun with this game, which brightened up a dull Friday afternoon, I will now say that these records are actually very useful and informative. We are accustomed to modern electoral registers which are just lists of names in address order, with minimal extra information. Some older registers, on the other hand, may give details of property, when there was still a property qualification, and even indicate if a voter was a lodger. Some 20th century registers indicate voters who were in the armed services, or who were eligible for jury service.

You will also find women in the registers well before they were able to vote in Parliamentary elections; when the London County Council was established in 1889 all adults were able to vote in its elections, regardless of their gender or the value of the property they occupied. It is worth remembering that many men were not eligible to vote in Parliamentary elections until 1918, although, like the women they will appear in the electoral register if it is a combined one for both local and national elections.

The coverage is not as extensive as you might think, as you will see if you go to the 'Browse this collection' option. Not all London boroughs are covered, and the dropdown menu contains an odd mix of modern boroughs like Tower Hamlets, former boroughs like Willesden and three counties - London, Middlesex and Surrey. Some parts of present-day Greater London were once in Surrey, Kent or Essex as well as Middlesex, and there is little coverage for these areas, in many cases because the records are not held at the London Metropolitan Archives. However there are no registers for the old borough of Wembley, was joined with Willesden to form the modern borough of Brent, but only the Willesden registers are on the site. It is to be hoped that their registers will be added in due course.

John Reid has also looked at these electoral registers and makes some useful comments on his Anglo-Celtic Connections blog. I fully agree with his recommendation of the Gibson Guide Electoral registers since 1832 : and burgess rolls for an excellent introduction to electoral registers and how to make use of them.


Sunday 8 January 2012

Sentimental Sunday - the 'heavy mats'

This is part of my childhood, and I suppose it's a bit of social history, too. In the years following the end of the Second World War there was a shortage of consumer goods in the UK, and rationing didn't end until 1954. At the same time lots of couples wanted to get married set up home and crack on with producing a whole generation of Baby Boomers (like me). It must have been quite a challenge to gather together all the household goods you needed, and a lot of people relied on gifts of furniture from relatives - I have a dim recollection of a couple of truly horrible armchairs that my parents got rid of the minute they could get new furniture of their own choosing. In the meantime it was better than sitting on the floor, I suppose.

Despite the shortages, there was a ready supply of army blankets, there being a lot less army than before. Army blankets are warm and serviceable, if unattractive, and I suspect they were pretty scratchy too. But patchwork covers could turn them into perfectly good bedspreads. This was fine if you had a sewing machine, but if you didn't, you could do what my mother did and get them through a kind of co-operative arrangement called a 'menage', which was inexplicably pronounced 'man-odge' in Glasgow.  Twenty people each paid a fixed amount every week for twenty weeks, and every week the seamstress made a quilt. Every week lots were drawn and one of the contributors would get a finished quilt. Fabric was not exactly plentiful, so the patchwork was functional rather than artistic, as you can see from the picture above. I think the striped panel in the middle is a piece of mattress ticking. The two dark spots aren't specks of dirt on your screen, by the way, they are cigarette burns, so this is an authentic well-used artefact. The other side doesn't have any burn marks, but the design is even plainer.

Detail from my cot blanket
This quilt has spent the last few decades in my mother's airing cupboard, along a single-bed size quilt and a smaller one that was my cot blanket, which we always called the 'heavy mats'. I don't have pictures of the single-bed quilt because it has an unexpected new lease of life as a bedspread for my four-year-old nephew.

My cot blanket
Modern bedding is all very lightweight, and he is such a fidget, even in his sleep, that the duvet always ends up on the floor. The heavy mat, on the other hand, stays put. When my parents bought it for my bed, I bet they never imagined it would be in use more than half a century later.

There are no fancy symmetrical or geometric patterns here, lovingly crafted and put together by hand, but I love the heavy mats. They are practical and very much of their time, and they have outlived the 2-ply lacy shawl that my mother knitted for me before I was born. The moths got it.


Saturday 7 January 2012

Shopping Saturday - my favourite piece of retail ephemera

My mother was going to throw this out. Fortunately I was around to rescue it. and now it lives in my sitting room where I can look at it every day. It's a painted plywood box that was used to store reels of sewing cotton in a draper's shop in the 1950s, and my mother acquired it when the shop was modernising or re-fitting, as far as I remember, about 50 years ago.

The top and three sides all have the distinctive Sylko thread logo, which also appeared on the cotton reels themselves, and these were visible to the customer in the shop. You can't see the drawers on the other side, not just because of the angle I chose for the photograph but because, sadly, they are long gone, although the runners are still there. Each drawer held several rows of reels of cotton, with cardboard dividers separating the rows. Mum used it to keep her buttons, needles and other sewing bits and pieces, including of course some cotton reels. I used to love this little chest of drawers, and I remember playing with it when I was small. It came with us through 7 house moves, and at some point the drawers went AWOL, I have no idea when. It hasn't been needed as a sewing box for a long time, because Mum's arthritis means she can't sew any more - not that she was big fan of sewing, she sewed on buttons, mended and even made clothes because she had to, not because she wanted to. Remember when you used to be able to save money by making your own clothes? Knitting was much more her thing.

 Here's a close-up view of the logo, although I'm pretty sure we didn't call them logos in the 50s. I like the fact that the box is rather shabby, and that the colours have mellowed a little with age. The box doesn't fulfill any practical purpose these days, it just sits on my sideboard. I keep my buttons and sewing gear in a big layered basket.

Writing this set me thinking about the old wooden cotton reels that were sold from boxes like this. I think I may have a few of them tucked away somewhere, and they are so much better than the plastic ones you get now. Once the thread had been used you could use them to make all kinds of interesting things; you could hammer three or four nails into one end of a wooden cotton reel and and turn it into a 'Knitting Nancy' for making long woollen cords. You could pile them up like building blocks, or turn them into dolls house furniture, or crude wheeled toys - I seem to remember something that involved matchsticks and twisted rubber bands as some kind of propulsion  system. Lightweight plastic just isn't the same.


This week's census release

RG14/4135 SN194 'Delicate health'
This week is much less exciting than I thought it would be, and that's a good thing. If you had asked me, or many other British genealogists, about five years ago, we would have said that we were eagerly looking forward to the once-in-a-decade release of a new census in January 2012.

The first working day in January in the year ending in 2 has for many decades been census release day for England and Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, with a bigger fanfare every time. This week we have seen the unveiling on Findmypast.co.uk of the details in the 'Infirmities' column in the 1911 census for England, Wales, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, the British Army overseas and some shipping. And that's it. This is because the 1911 census for England etc was released early following a request under the Freedom of Information act. The infirmities column was redacted until now, in accordance with the Information Commissioner's ruling at the time. The Scottish 1911 census not included in this release, since Scotland has its own Freedom of Information Act which would not allow its early release. However, instead of waiting for the customary January opening, the census was opened on the anniversary of the census itself, in April. 2011.

OK, the earlier than usual release dates mean a correspondingly longer wait for the release of the 1921 census - the 1920 Census Act which governed all future censuses is, apparently, much less open to interpretation than its predecessors, so there is much less chance that it will be released early. But there are so many exciting developments in the world of genealogy, and so many more to come in the next few years that I don't mind too much. The availability of online records on a massive scale means that we're not going to run out of new toys to play with anytime soon.

I have been researching my family history since the 1980s, so 1911 was the third census release I have witnessed, and they have all been very different. Some time before the release of the 1891 census the Public Record Office (PRO) had relocated the Census Reading Room from the abomination that was the Land Registry building in nearby Portugal Street to the newly refurbished basement of its Chancery Lane building. This was much more spacious and pleasant to work in than the old location, but there were still long queues every day in those early weeks of 1992. The census room staff (or at least some of them) dressed in period costume on the actual release day, which was quite a sight. Back in those days a new census release meant that you could view it on microfilm or microfiche. Place indexes, and street indexes for large towns, had been prepared in advance, but there were no name indexes until family history societies and other groups had time to compile them after the public release. In the meantime, we had to do all our searching the hard way, by location or address, and hoping that your people were there.

The next census release was very different. By January 2002 the PRO had vacated the Chancery Lane building and the census rooms were now part of the Family Records Centre in Islington. The census was released there as before, but on microfiche only, not film. Of course, what most people remember about that particular census is the all-singing, all-dancing digitised and indexed online version that, er, didn't quite work perfectly to start with. I had already tested the site, as a member of the advisory panel, under conditions of absolute confidentiality. It was the first time that any name-indexing had been done before a census release. The embargo on disclosing information before the official release date was taken very seriously by all concerned, I can assure you. When the 1901 site was finally up and working a few months later it was the first step on the path to a completely new way of searching the census that we now take for granted. We've come a long way in ten years.

Been there, done that, got the T-shirts
By the time of the early release of the 1911 census, the Family Records Centre was no more, and the Public Record Office had joined with the Historical Manuscripts Commission to become The National Archives with all its operations based at Kew. I had also joined the staff of the Family Records Centre in late 2002. Unlike a normal census release, 1911 did not arrive fully-formed, but was issued in phases, county by county. Because of the anticipated heavy demand, a special area was set aside in our reading rooms, and readers had to book one-hour time slots on the terminals there so that everyone could get their fair share. The reading rooms were transformed overnight, including smart new signage. My favourite part was the trail of stick-on footprints leading people to the 1911 area; you'd be amazed how many people tried to follow them step for step, like King Wenceslas' page! There were a few hiccups, but on the whole the system worked well, and after a few months when the initial rush had subsided the fledgling 1911 could be released into the wild and made available on all the public terminals.

I haven't forgotten Scotland - how could I! When I began researching in the 1980s Scotland was a decade ahead of England, because the 1891 census was already open there, although I had to travel a few hundred miles to Edinburgh to see it. So the first Scottish census I saw released was 1901 (my maternal grandparents were in that one, but I had to wait until last year for the paternal set, a pair of 20th century babes).

The so-called 'hundred year rule' doesn't really apply to Ireland, because so much of the 19th century Irish census was destroyed that 1901 and 1911 were opened way ahead of time, as a kind of consolation prize - at least in the Republic of Ireland. For a long time you could access the 1911 census for the six counties of Northern Ireland in Dublin, but not in Belfast. How wonderfully Irish.

Looking ahead, 1921 is next, except for Ireland, where no census was taken that year, although there are moves in the Republic to open the 1926 census early. After 1921 there is a long wait for the next England and Wales census, because the 1931 returns were destroyed by fire during the Second World War and no census was taken in 1941 because of the war. The Scottish returns for 1931 survived intact so, if spared, I look forward to seeing my father and a few aunts and uncles in it in 2031 or 2032.


Friday 6 January 2012

Those Places Thursday - it's not where you think it is

Place names are full of trip-wires, booby-traps and assorted other traps for the unwary. You need to know this if you are going to get anywhere with your genealogy. It helps if you look at maps and gazetteers as well as records.

Over the years I have discovered all kinds of ways that place-names can conspire to be misleading, and I have fallen foul of a few of them myself. When I started researching in English genealogical records I thought I had a pretty good basic grasp of the geography, but I quickly discovered that I didn't know as much as I thought I did.

The first major lesson that I learnt was about registration districts; these are the first administrative units you come across when you start researching an English or Welsh family in the 19th or 20th centuries, and their names are not always as you would expect. They don't always correspond to modern place-names, or even historic ones. For example, if you know that your family came from Manchester, you might expect their births, marriages and deaths to be registered in the district called Manchester. And so  they might, but they could also be found in the registration districts of Ashton-under-Lyne, Barton-on Irwell or Chorlton. It's much the same for Liverpool; your Liverpudlian ancestors are as likely to have been born, married or died in the registration districts of Toxteth Park or West Derby as in Liverpool itself; note that West Derby has nothing to do with Derby, which is two counties away!

Similarly, England's second biggest city, Birmingham, also has three registration districts; Aston, Birmingham and King's Norton. But while Manchester and Liverpool are contained within a single county - Lancashire - Birmingham sprawls across three of them. Most of it is in Warwickshire, but there are parts of the city in Staffordshire and Worcestershire too.

And then we come to London. That's a whole subject in itself, but as far as registration districts are concerned there are LOTS of them, and most of them don't contain the word 'London'. One that does is West London, but it is part of the ancient City of London, and is nowhere near places like Ealing or Hammersmith, which are what most people would regard as West London nowadays. As for the county or counties that London is in, well, that could be Middlesex, but might be Surrey, Kent or Essex depending on the time period. Or the county of London itself, which came into existence in 1889.

Another way that place names can trip you up is when there are two or more places with the same name, particularly where one of them is large and well-known. For example most people have heard of Luton, a major town in Bedfordshire, but far fewer know of the Luton which is part of Chatham in Kent. This could trip you up if someone gave it as their birthplace in the census, even if they gave the information accurately. I have seen examples where the birthplace was 'corrected' by the enumerator or a census clerk, because they thought they knew better. I spent some time going in the wrong direction because my great-grandmother's birthplace, correctly written as 'Bona' which is part of Inverness, had been crossed out and changed to 'Boness and Linlithgow' by a census clerk. He must have thought that the silly woman had made a mess of filling in the census paper, and perhaps he had never heard of Bona, but he did know of Bowness in Midlothian. It's quite an assumption to make a chnge like that, but I doubt if he was unique.

And the moral of this story is...you really need to get to know the geography. I've mentioned it before, but it always bears repeating, the online England Jurisdictions 1851 which is part of FamilySearch is absolutely invaluable. There is nothing quite like it, unfortunately, for Wales or Scotland, but there is still A Vision of Britain Through Time


Monday 2 January 2012

Mappy Monday - Strange Maps

This is an interesting site if you like maps that are a little out of the ordinary. It was the most recent post the Underwritten States of America that caught my eye, but there are lots of other intriguing links in the 'Recent posts' section. I particularly like the Alphabet Maps of Great Britain and Ireland

You can also search the blog archive of more that 500 posts, or browse back, post by post. There are a number of comments attached to each post, and these can make interesting reading too. For example, one on the Underwritten States of America page suggests that it is for the purposes of life insurance, rather than health insurance, which I am inclined to agree with.


Sunday 1 January 2012

2012 - It's going to be a Dickens of a year

At the hairdresser's - Nicholas Nickleby
You can take your pick of anniversaries to celebrate in any given year, but I think my favourite for this year will be the bi-centenary of the birth of Charles Dickens. I went to school in Chatham, which is very much Dickens country, and quite honestly you can get a bit over-Dickensed there; to this day I have an aversion to David Copperfield, one of his most popular books, having been dragged unwillingly through it at a tender age. It actually took twenty years after that for me to read Dickens without being forced to, but we get along just fine now, Charlie and me. I decided to give 'Great Expectations' a try, and I loved it.

You might wonder what works of fiction have to do with family history, and the answer is - quite a lot, as it happens. One of the reasons I think I found Dickens rather heavy going first time round was having to read the whole book in one go. That's not how Dickens' eager Victorian audience read them; the stories came out in instalments, often ending on a cliffhanger so that the next would be all the more eagerly anticipated. Since each section would be about the same length, sometimes they would go off at an apparent tangent so that the story would reach exactly the right stage on its last page. These little diversions might have little relevance to the plot, but are a goldmine of information on everyday life in Victorian England. For example, the picture above illustrates a visit to the hairdresser in Martin Chuzzlewit.

It was not exactly a hair-dresser's; that is to say, people of a coarse and vulgar turn of mind might have called it a barber's, for they not only cut and curled ladies elegantly and children carefully, but shaved gentlemen easily. Still it was a highly genteel establishment, - quite first-rate in fact, - and there were displayed in the window, beside other elegances, waxen busts of a light lady and a dark gentleman which were the admiration of the whole neigbourhood. Indeed, some ladies had gone so far as to assert that the dark gentleman was actually a portrait of the spirited young proprietor, and the great similarity between their head-dresses - both wore very glossy hair with a narrow walk straight down the middle, and a profusion of flat circular curls on both sides - encouraged the idea.'
You don't get that sort of detail in a dictionary of occupations. This is just one of many examples of passages in Dickens' novels that shed light on occupations in early Victorian England. I picked it because I happen to have an illustrated edition of Martin Chuzzlewit, but there are plenty more. And there are insights into other aspects of Victorian life and society. The stories may be pure fiction (and we can leave the question of Dickens' attitude to women and his female characters for another time) but they are set in a very real world. And if you have English ancestors it's a world you should be interested in.

Dickens didn't just write fiction, although that's what we remember him for. He wrote a number of non-fiction, mainly travel, books, and he was also a journalist, contributing to and editing a number of journals throughout his career. They make interesting reading, and there some extracts I will write about during the year. In the meantime, for some genuine practical genealogy here is a copy of the entry in the parish register of St Luke Chelsea recording the marriage of Charles John Huffam Dickens to Catherine Thomson Hogarth in 1836, and for a pre-1836 marriage it's more informative than most.

Happy new year.