Wednesday 30 October 2013

Gazing at the Gazettes - beta site

I've been looking at the new beta site for The Gazette which is set to replace the three separate sites for the London, Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes. It looks very different.

I am a big fan of the Gazettes, and the London Gazette in particular. It is a wonderful source for family and local history, and not just for bankruptcies, changes of name and gallantry awards, for which it is fairly well-known. In fact, as part of the day job, I gave a talk called 'The London Gazette: not just the brave and the bankrupt' in 2010 which you can still download as a podcast.

The fact that you can now search across all three Gazettes at once is an improvement. As before, you can search by key word, date range or Gazette page reference. Although there is no 'Advanced search' or 'Search builder' option, You can still do all these things on the beta site. Previously, there were boxes for all words, exact phrase or any word. You can still do all these searches in the new single search box, using double quotation marks for "exact phrase" and OR between your key words for an 'any word' search, ie the regular Boolean operators. You select the date range using a calendar feature, not a drop-down menu, which works well. The pre-set selections for particular events, notably the two World Wars, have disappeared, which is a pity.

There are several new filter features, some of them very detailed, starting with 'Notice type', but based on a few trial searches I have made, these only seem to work from 1998 onwards - editions up to 1997 appear as pdf files of whole pages, while the later ones are text versions of individual notices. There is also a place filter, using place, postcode or local authority, which also seems to return only recent results. I have no insider knowledge, but my educated guess is that this is why the post-1997 filters can be so detailed. So neither of these tools will be of much help for historic searches, but there is one new feature that will be useful for everyone; you can register with the site (it's free) and save your searches in an area called 'My Gazette'. You can also share your findings using Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

The beta site and the old site will run alongside each other 'Until we have migrated all the notices and are completely confident the new site is flawless' so there may be some changes to come. There is one vital feature that I can't find on the new site, which I very much hope will be added before long - the PDF versions of the printed indexes to the London Gazette. These are particularly helpful when searching for gallantry awards, which can be very tricky to find using the usual search methods.


Monday 28 October 2013

Memories of the Probate Service - Somerset House

The recent news about the move of the Probate Service searchroom from First Avenue House, with little advance publicity, set me thinking about how things have changed over the years. When I started researching, back in the 1980s, the Probate Search Room was in Somerset House, where it had been for nearly a century. The room, like the rest of the building, was a handsome one, and apart from the introduction of electric light seemed to have changed little during that time. Many of the index books, called 'calendars' were in shelved in free-standing bookcases with a lectern on top, as in the picture above, which actually illustrates the earlier searchroom at Doctor's Commons. The rest were in bookcases around the room, mostly without lecterns or handy shelving, although there were some tables. The most recent indexes were on microfiche, and as I recall there were never enough microfiche readers.

The books were large and heavy, but unlike the birth, marriage and death indexes, did not have handles on the spines, so they were prone to damage from mis-handling. When you found an entry for a will you wanted, you had to decide whether you wanted to read it, or order a copy, then fill in a form and pay the appropriate fee. This was more complicated than it sounds. As well as the form, you had to take the book to the desk for checking, and you could take two at a time - although carrying more than two would have been no mean feat! It cost 25p to read a will, or 25p a page for a copy. Either way, you then had to wait until the will was brought up for you to read, or a note of the number of pages if you wanted a copy to be posted to you. You would hear names being called out as each item arrived, and if you were lucky you'd work out fairly quickly that they called out the testator's name, not your name, or you might have a long wait.

The fun(?) part was paying the fee. You had to go down the corridor to the cashier, and it was a good idea to have the right money, because the cashiers never seemed to have any change. Except during the lunch hour, when the cashier's office was closed and you had to go down a different corridor and up two floors to another cashier who didn't have any change either. They never quite fixed the cashier problem, but the pricing did become simpler, when the price of copies was fixed at 75p, regardless of the number of pages.

Somerset House's days were numbered as a home for the Probate Search Room, though, because it simply wasn't big enough any more. It wasn't just crowded with probate searchers, it also shared the building with the Divorce Registry, which was desperately short of meeting rooms where the parties could confer with their lawyers just before a court appearance. On one memorable occasion I had to step over a barrister, in robe and wig, who was sitting on the stairs with his client as I made my way up to the cashier's office.

The good old days? I don't think so (apart from the price, of course). So the whole operation left Somerset House and moved up to First Avenue House, but that's another story.


Saturday 26 October 2013

Where are the wills? Searching for the searchroom

I heard from a couple of reliable sources this week that the Principal Probate Registry searchroom is no longer at First Avenue House, but has moved to the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand. This move will only affect researchers who want to search and order wills in person in London; other registries and postal searches through the District Probate Registry at Leeds will not be affected.

Information about HM Courts and Tribunals Service can be found on both the and GOV.UK sites, but both link to the same page for the London Probate Service still giving the First Avenue House address and opening hours. I could not find any announcement about the move on either site, but the Society of Genealogists received a notice from HM Courts and Tribunals Service which they published on 17 October. It reads:

With effect from Monday 21 October 2013 the London Probate search facility currently ar High Holborn will be moving to Court 38, Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London WC2A 2LL 
The opening hours will be 9am to 4pm although please note the search facility will be unavailable between the hours of 1-2pm.  
The fee payable for this service should be paid at the Fees Office, Royal Courts of Justice, which is signposted within the building. Maps will also be available prior to the opening of the search facility at the new location.  
The search facility will consist of the same search facilities as now, there will still be no Level One Service, copies ordered for collection will be ready after 48 Hours, if you have requested the postal option, and the copies will be posted within 14 working days. 
If you have any enquiries please contact a member of the London Probate team on 020 7947 6043

This number and the general enquiries number from the London Probate Department page have been added to the Royal Courts of Justice page. You can download a map of Courtrooms in the Royal Courts of Justice which shows that Court 38 is on the ground floor of the West Green Building, near the Carey Street Entrance.

I don't know what the situation will be when the courts re-open on Monday, but earlier this week my sources said the searchroom terminals were not yet up and running, so if you are planning a visit I would strongly suggest that you ring and check first.


Tuesday 22 October 2013

Tuesday's Tip - it's not the document you need, it's the information

Sometimes we need to just stop and ask why we are doing what we do. I'm not starting a whole philosophical debate on the Meaning of Life, I just mean that as genealogists we should consider why we are performing a particular search. Suppose that you are searching for an ancestor's birth certificate; fine, that's a very sensible thing to do. But why do you want it? Is it because you like the nice wavy pattern on the watermarked paper, and the offiicial goverenment stamp at the bottom (I'm talking about England and Wales here, by the way)? No, it's because you want the information it contains. So it's good if you find the birth certificate, but it need not be a disaster if you don't, because you might be able to get the information you want from another reliable source.

Back in the Middle Ages, when there were hardly any census name indexes, I was trying to find a family in the 1861 census in Glasgow. The only way to do that at the time was to hope they were at an address from a certificate, a will, directory entry or some other source close to the census date. I wanted to find out about my great-great grandparents, starting with their ages and birthplaces. I had found their marriage in 1849, but this was in Scotland before the start of civil registration in 1855 so all the information I got from that was the date and place. I tried the address on the birth certificate of one of their daughters born in October 1861, but the weren't there. There was an older daughter born in 1858, but they weren't at that address either. Then I found the death of a child in December 1860 at yet another address, but they weren't at that one either.

At this point I gave up on this line for a while. If they had lived somewhere smaller I might have searched the whole place, but this was Glasgow, so it would have taken a very long time. I decided it was more sensible to work on another line instead, and then I made a breakthrough. It was the best kind of discovery, one that you make by accident when you are looking for something else altogether. I was looking at Poor Law applications in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow for my elusive Collins ancestors when I spotted an entry for Margaret Charlton. This was my great-grandmother's maiden name, and it was cross-referenced with the surname Soutar. Charlton is not a very common name in Scotland, and the application was dated July 1861, so this had to be her. And so it proved to be.

It hadn't occurred to me to look for the family in the Poor Law records, but the single page document that I saw gave me all the information I would have found in the census, and more. Not only did it provide the birthplaces of the whole family, but for Margaret and her four children the actual street addresses were listed. Better yet, it showed that William had been in the army for 15 years, and had been discharged about twelve years earlier. This was all news to me, and I now I had all kinds of leads to follow up. When I did eventually find the family in the 1861 census, after it had been indexed, it was a bit of an anti-climax. It was nice to have, though, and it provided me with yet another address for them, making four different ones between December 1860 and October 1861.

So it can pay to think laterally. Getting a birth certificate is the obvious way to find the mother's maiden name, but if you can't find it, or if your ancestor was born before the start of civil registration and therefore has no birth certificate, the birth of a younger brother or sister will provide the information. Of course, you have to be sure that they are full siblings, and not half-siblings.

There are all kinds of places where you might find vital information on dates, places and relationships, not just in registers and certificates. My poor law application is just one example, but it illustrates the fact that your ancestors might have had to provide details of their birth and marriage, and perhaps even prove it by producing written evidence. Schools, employers, the armed forces and all kinds of public authorities might have required this at some point, so don't give up when the head-on approach doesn't deliver the goods.


Wednesday 18 September 2013

Wordless Wednesday - occupations

I have a large collection of old (and comfortably out of copyright!) books, many of therm with illustrations. In fact, I bought quite a few of the books for the illustrations alone. I have scanned some of them, although there is still a long way to go.

Just for fun, I thought I'd share some of them. I've chosen a selection from my collection depicting occupations. I had forgotten that I had a picture of a diver, which would have been topical a week ago, when Sarah Millican's episode of Who Do You Think You Are was shown. Oh well. So here is the diver, and pictures of a few other occupations that your ancestors might have followed.







Tuesday 17 September 2013

Copac update: The National Archives Library added

Copac National, Academic and Specialist Library Catalogue
I'm a big fan of copac* and I use it a lot to find resources in UK and Irish libraries. Of course I use Worldcat, too, but if you are based in the UK or Ireland there are obvious advantages to using copac* to search only libraries in our two countries. The contents of many major British and Irish libraries are listed on both sites, but some are only on Copac. The two sites offer different search experiences, so where a library's holdings are on both, you might choose to use one site or the the other, depending on your requirements at the time.

Here is today's announcement:
Copac is pleased to announce that the Library holdings of The National Archives have been added to Copac. The collection serves primarily as a research library for users of the archive and holds approximately 65,000 books and journals as well as online resources. It is open to visitors and staff of The National Archives.
 The Library holds publications from the 17th century onwards and is still growing. Primarily a history library, its collection includes local history record society series, military history especially covering the First and Second World Wars, family history and directories including London Post Office directories. It also houses complete sets of the published State Papers and other calendars of public records, a good collection of Acts and Statutes and a range of academic journals. A growing number of online resources are also available.
 To browse, or limit your search to the holdings of The National Archives library, go to the main tab on and choose ‘The National Archives Library’ from the list of libraries.
This is a library that I know well, because I have the good fortune to work in the building where it is housed. I often think that if it was a standalone library it would be very impressive, but it is somewhat overshadowed by the millions (yes, millions) of documents in The National Archives. The library used to be in its own area of the building at Kew, behind a discreet pair of double doors leading off the old Microfilm Reading Room. I suspect that there were regular users of the archives who never even realised that there was a library. The library is still in pretty much the same location, but the doors have gone and the wall has come down, so it's hard to miss now if you are in the open-plan Research and Enquiries Room.

It's still not used as much as it should be, and you could be missing out if you aren't aware of some of the treasures it holds. The books, periodicals and other resources support and complement the archival holdings, and they include many volumes that are effectively finding aids to the documents. There are also many works that are the fruits of authors' research in The National Archives. These books and articles can be really useful; one of my favourite tricks is to consult works in the same general area as my own research and look at the footnotes and references. Good authors always cite their sources comprehensively and accurately, don't they?

So if you are planning a visit to Kew, or any other archive, it's a good idea to check out the library Books are my bag campaign to promote bookshops
catalogue as well as the archive catalogue. It's a good idea to check out library catalogues anyway. It just is. Quite an appropriate piece of news just after the launch of the


Thursday 29 August 2013

Soldiers' wills online - good news (up to a point)

Will Form in a soldier's pass book 1945
As reported in the Guardian and on the BBC, the long-awaited collection release of soldiers' wills is at last being released by HM Courts and Tribunals Service. Like most other genealogists I am delighted that the Probate Service has finally made some data available online, but I'm afraid that as it stands, the service leaves a great deal to be desired.

On the positive side, they have provided an online index to some of their records, which is something that the General Register Office for England and Wales has yet to achieve. And at long last it is now possible to pay by credit or debit card, a particularly welcome move for overseas searchers. Also, the range of years covered, 1850 to 1986, starts 8 years before the Principal Probate Registry, and continues 20 years after the most recent calendars from the main collection, online at

So far, so good, but there is still a long way to go. First of all, unless you use the link from one of the news stories, the introductory search page might be hard to find, since it is not in the Probate Service part of the HM Courts and Tribunals Service site, but in the Death and Bereavement area of GOV.UK. The Courts and Tribunals site is due to be merged into GOV.UK, so this confusion should only be temporary. The information, or lack of it, on the search page is of much more concern.

The introductory page gives only the coverage dates (1850-1986) and:

     You will need: 

    • the soldier’s last name and year of death to search for a will 
    • to register for the service with an email address 
    • to pay £6 to access a will

Regrettably it does not tell you that only the years 1914 to 1921 are included in the initial launch, or indeed give any indication that the collection is incomplete. Nor is there any background information whatsoever.

There are both basic (surname and year) and advanced search functions, but both searches will only allow you to search a single year at a time, there is no facility to search a range of years. The extra fields in Advanced Search are: Forename, Month of Death, Day of Death and Regimental Number. I don't know how or why these criteria were chosen, but they are not the ones I would have picked. For an ancestor who died in the two World Wars the exact date and regimental number can easily be found on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site, but outside of these time periods you are unlikely to know these details, although you might know the man's regiment, or at least be able to hazard a guess. As it stands, searching for the will of a man with a common name could prove very expensive at £6 a time, with only a name, year and number. This is much less information than is provided in the regular probate calendars.

A regular calendar entry (which include wills and administrations of some soldiers who died in the World Wars) might read as follows:

COLEMAN Reginald John of 36 Trewsbury Road, Sydenham, Kent, lance-corporal 36th Machine Gun Company died 19 June 1917 in France or Belgium, Probate London  30 October to Frederick Vincent Buckhurst, bank inspector and Edward Ffoulkes Jones, commercial clerk. Effects £3433 5s 3d

If this had been one of those in the newly-released collection, his entry would simply read:

COLEMAN Reginald John 71482 19 June 1917

The search page contains a link at the top 'Beta: This is a new service - your feedback will help us to improve it' and I can only suggest that anyone who is interested in these wills gives the site a thorough road test and feeds back their own opinions and suggestions.


Monday 12 August 2013

Fantastic find in a newspaper!

I've always loved using newspapers for family history. Mostly this has meant looking at old newspapers, online, on film or even in hard copy - which reminds me, I must pay a fond farewell visit to Colindale before it closes later this year. More and more titles are being made available online all the time, revealing new details and sometimes astonishing breakthroughs for researchers.

But this time it is a current newspaper that got me and my family excited. On 27 July the paper in question ran a feature to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the peace treaty of Panmunjom which brought the Korean War to an end. My aunt is a regular reader of the paper, and was interested in the feature because her late husband, my uncle Tommy, had served in that war. She got the surprise of her life when she looked at picture of a group of soldiers and right in the middle of the picture, there was Tommy!

She rang the newspaper and asked if she could have some copies of the picture, which she was perfectly willing to pay for, but instead they said they would send her a couple of copies, free of charge! We are a big family, so quite a few of us wanted copies. Technology to the rescue; you can take pretty good pictures with a mobile phone, so a copy of the photo has now been emailed around (it took me about half an hour on the phone instructing my mother, step by step, how to forward an email to me, but we got there eventually).

I've chosen not to show the picture, because the copyright belongs to the paper, and I haven't named the paper either, because they might not appreciate being 'outed' as a paper that gives away free pictures. Sorry about that. So you have a nice generic picture of the badge of the Black Watch, my uncle's regiment. I thought the story was worth telling, though, because it shows how you can find pieces of family history in surprising places, and when you are least expecting them. So remember to keep your eyes peeled, folks


Saturday 8 June 2013

Shopping Saturday - Selfridges decorations for the Coronation in 1937


Selfridges is a store that has always known how to put on a show. A special occasion like a coronation is a great excuse to hang out the flags - literally. This week Britain has been marking the 60th anniversary of the present queen's coronation, so it seems like an appropriate time to look back at the coronation of her father, King George VI, in 1937.

The whole of Selfridge's Oxford Street and Orchard Street frontages were decorated with flags, sculptures, pictures and banners bearing the Royal arms, and the company produced a 20-page booklet, from which these illustrations are taken.

 The centrepiece was a sculptural group 'The Empire's Homage to the Throne' over the main entrance, and above this was the Royal Medallion featuring portraits of the new king and queen.

Above this was a giant representation of the Imperial State Crown, amid a gold and silver sunburst, and the whole thing was surmounted by the figure of Peace 'Let Peace Prevail' which towered 150 feet above ground level.

Just above window level on the Oxford Street front was a series of 18 bas-relief panels depicting scenes in British history, from the Druids and Stonehenge to the Armistice in 1918. These were flanked by two 35-foot high sculptures representing Canada and India.

Round the corner in Orchard Street was a giant picture depicting the great seaports of the British empire, with a border consisting of the house flags and funnel markings of major British shipping companies. Either side of this were two more sculptures, this time for Australia and South Africa. Finally, each of the large plate-glass windows all round the store at street level, normally full of merchandise, contained an oil painting of a scene from the His Majesty's life. There were 30 of these in all. It must have been quite a sight.


Wednesday 17 April 2013

Funeral of Britain's greatest 20th century peacetime prime minister

From The Times 12 October 1967
Clement Richard Attlee 1883-1967


There was little of the pomp usually associated with the passing of Prime Ministers at the funeral service for Lord Attlee in London yesterday. Fewer than 150 people attended the ceremony, which lasted 20 minutes, in the Temple Church.

There were no crowds, few policemen. Most of the congregation were either family or close friends.

Some of Lord Attlee's oldest colleagues were there: Emanuel Shinwell, who had been his Minister of Fuel and Power and Secretary of State for War, with George Wigg who had been his parliamentary private secretary, during both appointments, and James Griffiths, Minister of National Insurance during the postwar administration.

Veterans knew the words

Links with the past and present were established by the presence of Mr Alister MacDonald son of the first Labour Prime Minister of England [sic], and Mr Harold Wilson, the party's third Prime Minister.

The immediate family mourners were Lord Attlee's son, Lord Prestwood (now the second Lord Attlee), with his wife Anne, Lord Attlee's eldest daughter Lady Janet Skipton, now a United States citizen, and his other daughters Lady Felicity Harwood and Lady Alison Davis.

Two wreaths were all that lay on the small oak coffin during the service. One, inscribed 'To Daddy, with love, from all your children' was of red carnations and roses, yellow chrysanthemums and lilies. The other, a bunch of freesias, roses and lilies read: 'With much love, from grandchildren'.

The service was worthy of the old socialist, with the lesson taken from Revelation, St John's vision of 'The New Jerusalem', and one of the two hymns 'Jerusalem', sang at so many Labour gatherings. Many of the veterans present sang it without their pamphlets.

'Building one people'

The master of the Temple, Canon Milford, conducted the service. He was assisted by the Archdeacon of Westminster, Canon Edward Carpenter, who spoke the prayers and the eulogy. In this he referred to Lord Attlee as one who 'sustained a passionate concern to promote social justice, to break down barriers, and to build up among men one people'.

After the ceremony the chief mourners went in procession to the cremation ceremony at Putney Vale. On the leading car was a wreath from the Cabinet 'Flowers from the garden of Chequers, which he loved'. Lord Attlee's ashes are to be interred at a memorial service in Westminster Abbey early next month.

Some 30 people standing in one of the Temple squares watched the funeral procession of the man who had introduced the welfare state move off into the rain.


Tuesday 16 April 2013

Old Bailey Online - the Will Forgeries

Bank of England Rotunda
It was all over the papers in 1844, and places in the public gallery at the Old Bailey must have been highly sought-after but the Will Forgeries is now largely forgotten. It's an amazing story, though, and if it were fiction you'd say it was far-fetched. You really couldn't make it up.

It concerned an organised crime ring defrauding the Bank of England of large sums of money held in dormant accounts. It started with a perfectly legal activity, that of finding the people legally entitled to the money and helping them claim it - for a fee or commission, of course. These would be the next of kin of people who had died leaving sums in the Bank, much in the way that the firms we see on TV on 'Heir Hunters' contact the heirs of people who die intestate. Sometimes there is no heir to be found, and of course the same thing happened in the 1840s.

This is where one man, Joshua Fletcher, crossed the line into illegality. If he and his agents couldn't find an heir, then it was likely that no-one else could; so if he invented an heir and forged the supporting documentary proof, he and his gang could pocket the money. It took some planning, and involved the assuming of false identities, and even disguises, but it worked very well for a time, until the Bank of England became suspicious of the higher than usual number of dormant accounts that were springing back to life.

Although many accounts were involved, the charges finally brought at the Old Bailey were the ones where they had the strongest evidence, those of John Stewart who had died intestate with no heirs and Anne Slack who was a real person (and was still alive) for whom Fletcher and his accomplices had forged a will and obtained a fictitious death certificate. The forged will is in The National Archives, which I transcribed and wrote about in a blog post there last year Fraud, forgery and identity theft in the 1840s 

The defendants were all found guilty in the Anne Slack case, and two of them in the Stewart case. This was enough for Fletcher to be sentenced to transportation for life, along with William Henry Barber, the solicitor who carried out his legal work. But that was not the end of the story. Throughout the trial, all the way to Australia and while he was in the penal colony on Norfolk Island, Barber continually protested his innocence. He had been duped by Fletcher, and while he may have been guilty of naivety, he was not part of the criminal conspiracy. With astonishing persistence and single-mindedness he was finally vindicated, gaining first a conditional and then a full pardon. He made his way back to England, was granted £5000 in compensation from the government and even got back his licence to practice law. You really couldn't make it up.


Thursday 4 April 2013

Those places Thursday - Quarry Bank Mill, Styal, Cheshire

Quarry Bank Mill and its chimney
Quarry Bank Mill is one of the most popular sites run by the National Trust and it is one of my favourites too. Much as I enjoy visiting the many 'stately homes' also run by the Trust, I love Quarry Bank Mill because it shows how ordinary people lived and worked (in places other than the kitchens - always a popular part of the stately home tour). You have probably seen the mill on TV, as its working machinery is often featured in documentaries on the Industrial Revolution. It is not just the buildings that are well-preserved, there are unusually good records of the Greg family who owned the mill, and even better, for the mill's apprentices and employees. The Unitarian Greg family were regarded as model employers who treated their staff much better than most other industrialists; all the same, when you look at the details the lives of the child apprentices were still very hard.

The mill is set to be a TV star again, not in a documentary this time, but in a Channel 4 costume drama based on real people and events in the mill's history. The working title is 'The Mill' and there is is no transmission date as yet, but it should be on our screens later this year. Sounds interesting, and I will certainly watch it. I hope it is a good production, but even if it isn't I can turn off the sound and enjoy looking at the locations.

As well as on its own page on the National Trust site, there is a lot of interesting background information on the mill and its history at Spinning the Web - the story of the cotton industry. That site is a wonderful resource for anyone whose ancestors were involved in the cotton industry, especially in north west England.

I have visited the mill many times, and it is where I actually joined the National Trust many years ago. There is always something new to see, and over the years I have seen many changes as many restoration projects have been undertaken. Back in the 1980s our family visits always included putting some coins in a box for the 'wheel appeal' to bring a mill wheel to the wheel chamber and restore it to working order - somewhere in my attic there is a teddy bear wearing an appeal sweatshirt that was bought for my younger son when he was four years old! Now they have developed an ingenious means of fundraising more suited to the 21st century; you can help to raise funds by playing online games through the Quarry Bank Appeal page. You can play play free of charge too, but obviously the Trust hope you will pay - seems like a better use for your money than buying coins or gold bars or magic crystals on Facebook games.


Wednesday 3 April 2013

'Everyone deserves to be recorded' - Dennis Brimhall, RootsTech 2013

No-one who witnessed Denis Brimhall's keynote session at Rootstech 2013 will ever forget the astonishing account of his father's escape from a burning plane during the Second And World War. If you missed it, you can catch the recording at Rootstech recap, it is well worth it. (Warning: the video starts up when you click on the link, so choose your time carefully). But it was a phrase from another part of his speech that stuck in my mind 'Everyone deserves to be recorded'. Once someone has passed from living memory, the only way that we know they ever existed is through a written record, a picture or a story that has been passed down through the generations. Once people stop passing on the story, then they are lost forever unless some documentary or picture evidence exists, and someone finds it, records it and puts it in place in the family or community. It is remarkable - and often shocking - how swiftly and easily this can happen.

Viewers of the British TV series 'Heir Hunters' will be very familiar with those cases where relatives of someone who died intestate are the surprised recipients of a sum of money from the relative they didn't know they had. This is often an old person with no children of their own, and if that person was also an only child, the heirs are often cousins once or twice removed. Often the heirs express regret that they never knew their unexpected benefactor while they were still alive, and then take steps to find out more about them, and contact people who knew them in their final years. Some of them become very interested in the wider family tree, and I'm sure some are inspired to take up genealogy as a serious pastime, and we all know where that can lead us! Better late than never. But just think about the people who remain 'lost' to any family because they die without leaving a sum of money that makes heir-hunting worthwhile. Only estates worth £5000 or more appear on the Bona Vacantia lists, and for probate firms like Fraser & Fraser, Hoopers or Celtic Research the cost of research means that only estates worth much more than this are worth pursuing. That leaves an awful lot of people who are recorded, in that they have a death certificate, but are otherwise forgotten because they are apparently unconnected to anyone else.

Dennis Brimhall's comment struck a particular chord with me because of some the earliest findings I made in my family research. Like everyone else I am pleased when I find an interesting or distinguished ancestor or relative; I was surprised and delighted to find a very distant cousin who won the Victoria Cross, and if anything I was even more excited to discover an extremely distant connection by marriage who was an Inspector of Registration for GRO Scotland! But the most affecting discoveries I made are the children who died very young, and who were forgotten in a remarkably short time. I knew that my father had a brother and a sister who died in childhood, because I grew up around the rest of the family who remembered them. But just a single generation before it was a different story. When I was about 13 I compiled my first pedigree charts, by asking my parents about their families. I figured that since I knew all of my aunts, uncles, cousins and  grandparents, my parents must know all about theirs too. My father, born when his parents were quite young, was particularly helpful because he had met a lot of his older relatives. He listed all of his father's siblings, including Mary, who had died very young. I wrote down all the details - and did nothing at all with them for another 20 years!

By the time I took up family history in my 30s (the descendants no longer requiring my attention 24/7, they were both at school) my father, his parents and a number of his older relatives had died, so I was glad that I had actually asked him those questions while he was still alive. On a research trip to Scotland I was staying with my uncle Tommy, Dad's younger brother and telling him what I had discovered so far about our family, including poor little Mary. This was news to him, he had never heard of her, and for a while he was convinced I had got it wrong. Aunt Margaret to the rescue 'I know who'll know all about the Collins family' she said, and mentioned my grandfather's younger cousin Lizzie whom I had met only once before. After a couple of attempts we got hold of her on the phone - for an elderly lady who got about only with the aid of two sticks she had a surprisingly busy social life! Good for her. She remembered Mary, and gave me a pretty good estimate of her dates of birth and death too. Then she said 'Didn't your dad tell you about Freddy?' I turned out that Freddy was another of my grandfather's siblings who had died in childhood, but before my dad was born, whereas he was 5 when Mary died at the age of 10, just a few days after his own baby brother, Henry. No wonder he remembered. Just imagine the effect that would have on a 5 year old.

Since then I have discovered that my maternal grandmother was not the middle one of three sisters, but the middle sister of five, and on the other side of the family both sets of great-grandparents lost four children in infancy. So that makes a total of 12 'forgotten' children in my grandparents' generation. So far I have identified nine of them, and I'm working on the other three - they are part of a Brown family in Glasgow so it's quite tricky. These were all the brothers and sisters of people that I knew well. I am lucky to have good memories of all of my grandparents, so I feel that as a tribute to them I should do what I can to record all of their families, not just the ones who have descendants of their own. Nowadays in the developed world if we have children we expect them all to live to adulthood, but it's a sobering thought that only two or three generations back this definitely was not the case.

The theme of this year's Rootstech was 'Find, Organize, Preserve, Share' and there was a strong emphasis on telling the stories of your family, and not just recording dates. We should remember that the children who never grew up are part of that story too.


Saturday 30 March 2013

Shopping Saturday - Marks in Time

Marks and Spencer is close to the heart of many a Brit, or at least close to their skin - or in their underwear drawer.  Marks in Time is the website of the M&S company Archives, and it recently celebrated its first anniversary. The archive itself is housed in the University of Leeds, and the website is well worth a visit, whether you are a serious student of retail history or you just like looking at old pictures. The site makes very good use of the company's extensive collection of images - photographs of buildings and people, and packaging and merchandise. For the Baby Boomer generation, that iconic 1970's fashion statement platform shoes will take you right back! You can do simple or advanced searches of the catalogue, with an option to select only items with images, and you can choose from a drop-down menu of subjects such as 'wartime', 'food and home', 'children' and so on. When I searched for all items with images in the category 'women', I found, as expected, lots of clothing items, but also wine labels and bars of chocolate. Makes sense, I suppose.

As well as the archive catalogue, there is a history of the company since its famous start as a Penny Bazaar in Leeds Market, complete with a timeline, biographies and memories. There is also a fine collection of resources for schools, including a game where you match the fashion to the decade. I have already spent more time than I intended to exploring - well, it's cold outside! Feel free to do the same.


Friday 29 March 2013

Kent newspaper online - South Eastern Gazette 1852-1912

I was following the pre-launch news about this online newspaper resource, and it actually went online a week ago, while I was in Salt Lake City and rather preoccupied with Rootstech. Now I am back I have been able to explore it a little. Earlier reports had suggested it would be free to UK residents, but chargeable if you are overseas. It is part of ukpressonline and you have to register to use the site. When you have done a free search and try to view the full page you are told that your subscription does not cover it, so you have to 'buy' a year's access for £0.00. From here in the UK I can;t see what the arrangements are, if any, for overseas users.

Maidstone, where the South Eastern Gazette was published
I tried out a few searches, and the OCR (Optical Character Recognition) works moderately well, although I got a few results where the highlighted text bore no relation to my search term, and in the advanced search an 'exact phrase' brought some results where the words appear quite separately on the page. The search results also include a short extract of text, which is generally less helpful than you will find on other sites like the London Gazette or the British Newspaper Archive  and sometimes there is no text extract at all. On the whole, the site is easy to use and the quality of the PDF page images is good. I was able to clip and save the items I was interested in. Results are returned in that old favourite 'Relevance' order, but you can re-sort them into date order, and display them as thumbnail, list or gallery view. You can see preview pages, view or save PDFs to your computer, or save them to your own bookshelf within the site. I was pleased to see that you can browse, as well as search. If you choose the PDF view, the text is highlighted, a very helpful feature with these large pages, but a mouse click on the page removes it, so you can get a nice un-highlighted copy.

An early cylinder press
There are other useful resources on the site, mostly 20th century, which you do have to pay for, and subscriptions are available for educational institutions and libraries. Have fun.


Thursday 28 March 2013

What I got out of Rootstech

First the free stuff - badges, blogger beads and more.
This is just a selection of the goodies I acquired during Rootstech 2013, to add to a fair old existing collection - you can hear me coming, even if I'm not talking (it can happen!) with the clanking of the beads and badges I have accumulated over the last few years.

The blogger beads attract quite a bit of attention, and it has become a custom for members of the Geneabloggers community to get a new set of beads, courtesy of blogging royalty Thomas MacEntee and Dear Myrtle. The Rootstech 2013 beads were from Dear Myrtle, and they are the tasteful black and silver/grey ones with a 'Dear Myrtle' luggage tag. The sparkly pink, purple and silver ones are not strictly blogger beads, they were the required adornments for guests at Thomas's birthday party on Friday night (great party, Thomas!).

Badges can be more functional, especially the conference ID badge, marked with the events you had pre-booked. As it turned out, the events on the badges bore little relation to the sessions actually booked, but it didn't matter at all because the Rootstech door stewards had paper lists. I got badges from My Heritage, 'I Tweet' from the Society of Genealogists and another British badge from The Rude Genealogist - follow that link at your own risk! I also got a rather attractive enamelled pin for doing some FamilySearch indexing which is edging ever closer to the 1 billion mark.

The magic target wasn't quite reached during Rootstech, but it should be any time now... I have done quite a bit of indexing before, intermittently, and it's quite good fun. Well, it usually is - I consider myself a fairly experienced interpreter and transcriber, but the batch I did in public in the Expo Hall had the worst handwriting I have seen in a very long time (New Zealand passenger lists, since you ask). Ireally earned that badge!

Conference attendees can usually pick up a selection of adhesive ribbons to stick to the bottom of their  ID badges, and I was quite restrained this time, I just got Ancestry and Findmypast membership ribbons, plus 'I love British Newspapers' and 'I flip over Flip-Pal'. This year's complimentary lanyard was from Mocavo. I was also one of the lucky recipients of a voucher worth a 6-month subscription to My Heritage, a site that I have to confess I don't know very well, so I look forward to giving it a good try-out. And of course I can always find a use for a ScotlandsPeople voucher! Not a bad haul, I think.

What I didn't get...

Josh Taylor says 'sorry' and I forgive him!
The demand for Findmypast's 'Kiss me, my ancestors were...' badges greatly outstripped supply, and by the time I got anywhere near the stand they were long gone. But we have been promised further supplies at future events - put me down for Scottish and Irish, please.

Enough of the freebies, maybe next time I'll write something more serious and thoughtful.


Monday 25 March 2013

Rootstech - some pictures from Day Two

Shipley Munson  (aka Tenor 13) opens proceedings
Keynote speaker Jyl Pattee
Tim Sullivan on Ancestry family trees!...
....which is also true
Announcing a major collaboration with FamilySearch
Michael Leclerc of Mocavo, in the Backblaze Demo Theatre
Craig Miller of FamilySearch with keynote speaker Jyl Pattee
Tony Beardshaw of My History with Darris Williams of FamilySearch
In the Media Hub, blogging power trio Jill Ball, Randy Seaver and Dear Myrtle
Randy Seaver doing some Genea-Musing
My geni-mate Jill Ball (aka) Geniaus