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  1. Charging to Visit Archives

    Few can disagree that, as a result of restricted budgets and cut backs, archives are in a state of crisis. Wherever I go in the country and overseas it would seem that archives and libraries are closing or severely reducing their opening hours. The number of trained archival staff has also been drastically cut in many places.

    In the light of the current economic climate, although this is extremely worrying, it is hardly surprising. In comparison to many other services county councils have to provide, one can understand that archives will not top the priority list. However, it still comes as a shock to read that Northamptonshire Archives have decided to significantly reduce the number of hours that the archives can be freely accessed by approximately half –  unless you can afford to pay a new  extortionate fee which will give you more extensive access. Under the new system, which appears to have been implemented without any public consultation, access will be free for four hours on each of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings, but anyone who wishes to continue their research into the afternoon or who is not available on these mornings will have to pay  £31.50 an hour. This payment must be received three days in advance so you will not be able to gauge how much research time you need as you go along.

    It will no doubt be argued that this is a better option than simply reducing the opening hours to 12 in any week but, in my opinion, it creates an unnerving precedent of making archives much more accessible to the very wealthy. It must have been a conscious decision to limit the free access to mornings only on three days a week,  rather than giving free access say, for one or two whole days a week. Perhaps this is to try and force those travelling long distances, or those carrying out in depth research, to pay up so they can continue their research into the afternoon?

    I do hope this is not an idea that other archives decide to copy. Although I  have no revolutionary ideas as to how to resolve the current archival budgeting crisis, surely requests for donations from archive users could be more actively encouraged and would I am sure many users would be wiling to give what they could afford?

    Access to original documents such as this may be limited in the future as archival budgets are strained

     

  2. How To Start Your Family History

    As you start out on your quest to trace your ancestors its easy to be sucked in by the advertising of the commercial genealogy companies such as Ancestry and Findmypast. Ancestry’s current strap line encourages you to ‘Jump right in and Explore’. That, it says, will make ‘A Great Start’.

    In fact this is absolutely the worst way to begin your family tree and will, in many cases, lead to incorrect family trees. Far from jumping in, you should first take time to sit and reflect about what you know about your family already. Write down everything you know about your immediate family, including full names, occupations, places and dates of birth, marriage, death and burial, addresses and any other anecdotes you can remember being told about them. If you are unsure of a certain piece of information put a question mark next to it. It will need to be verified by other close family members or by documentary evidence at a later stage. Don’t worry about drawing out a family tree; just get the information written down so you can see what you have got and the information that is missing. Perhaps you don’t know your maternal grandmother’s name, having only known her as ‘Nan’, or perhaps there are certain dates missing from your list. All these pieces of information are vital for getting off to a sure and accurate start as they will form the basis from which you later go out and buy birth, marriage and death certificates and access census returns and from their grow your family tree.

    Starting notes for family tree research

    Working from known facts is essential. Even if you think your name is fairly rare there are almost always other people with the same, or similar, names out there living at the same time. Its important you identify the correct people in the records as you begin, and then progress, your research.

    Once you have written down everything you know then consult with other family members, especially older generations . Ask them to check your work to see if they agree with it and also to add anything else they know. Is there any disagreement about any of the information? If so flag this up for checking later. Older family members often have precious information about relatives who died many years before you were born and this may include information about their personalities and other events which happened to them which will not be recorded in documentary evidence. Make sure you write down what they tell you or (if they are happy for you to do so) record what they have to say.

    Next investigate to see if there is any documentary evidence to be found within the family. This might be copies of death, marriage or birth certificates, newspaper cuttings, or army service papers.Each of these records, and documents you may find, will provide important facts ranging from dates of birth, details of relationships and occupations, through to accounts of events in your ancestors’ lives. If there are copies of birth, marriage or death certificates in your family this will also save you money as buying modern-day copies costs £9.25 each.

    RAF Service Book

    Once you have done all this, you can then move on to exploring online records. You now have a sound basis from which to work and will be able to more accurately assess the long lists of results you will get when you access sites such as Ancestry and Findmypast. I will look at the best ways to search these sites in future blogs and Heritage on Heritage You Tube videos.

    Finally, if you are in the situation where you have very limited information about your parents or earlier generations and where there is no-one to ask and no family documents, then you will need to start with yourself and your own birth certificate. I will deal with how to proceed in this case in a later blog.

    Get the special offer on my online Family History e-Course when you watch my accompanying You Tube Video ‘How to Start Your Family History’ . This gives further details about starting your family history research and documents you may find within your ‘family archive’. Go to  https://t.co/ruy1y3tn5F

  3. Help With Your Family History: You Tube Channel

    I have just launched a new Family History You Tube Channel called ‘Heritage on Heritage’. This will offer help with family history for beginners and, in due course, deal with more advanced discussion topics regarding genealogy, family history and other history-related matters.

    If you are new to family history then finding your way around the plethora of websites offering genealogical data can be bewildering. There are so many family history websites that it’s hard to know where to start and how to proceed. Large commercial companies such as Ancestry and Findmypast have the funds to target researchers via advertising and also the wherewithal to ensure their websites are the ones which head the page when it comes to search engine results. These commercial companies are, of course, primarily concerned with profit margins and, despite skilful advertising, a particular website may not actually be the best way forward for you. As you start out, and even when you have more experience, it’s important to know which sources you should be using and the best methods of accessing them.

    In my first video I offer help to buy copies of English and Welsh birth, marriage and death certificates online. You will need these to build a verified family tree, once you have found the relevant birth, marriage or death event in the General Register Office indexes. You should be careful when ordering certificates through a third party as you may end up paying much more than you need to. For example, Ancestry makes a charge of £22.99 per certificate, whereas you can buy the same thing for £9.25 using the government’s certificate ordering website at https://www.gro.gov.uk/. You can find my video ‘The Essential Guide to Buying Birth, Marriage, and Death Certificates’ at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiKbl7pqV5s. This takes you through each stage of what you need to do to order certificates. If you subscribe to the Heritage on Heritage Channel you will receive notifications when I release a new ‘Help with Family History’ video.

    Meanwhile my Family History e-Course offers the opportunity to build, hone and improve your research technique.

     

    Marriage certificates, such as this one, together with birth and death certificates are a vital tool in family history

     

  4. Genealogical Crime Mystery – The Spyglass File

    The Spyglass File is the fourth book from Kent-based author Nathan Dylan Goodwin to feature ‘forensic genealogist’ Morton Farrier. Goodwin likes to use genuine historical events and locations in his books and this story, set during WW11, revolves concurrently around the life of a young, unhappily married, WAAF (Elsie Finch) and the modern-day search to discover the true father of Morton’s latest client. The book provides some interesting historical background to the war and also to the locations in which the story is set; in particular the Kent/East Sussex border and Malta.

    Reading this as a professional genealogist working in the same part of the country as the fictional Morton, I couldn’t help making a comparison with Morton Farrier’s world of professional genealogy and my own! Morton appears to be in the unusual position of only having one case to work on at any one time – but he does admit his career is on a downturn! If my own cases were beset with as much danger as Morton’s, then I guess that one case at a time might be all I could cope with too! Goodwin’s description of the ill-disposed record office staff member at The Keep made me smile, as I remembered the early days of my own research, when archivists were not always well-disposed towards visitors! Thank goodness things are not really like this anymore.

    Goodwin is clearly familiar with searching online family history databases and using local sources in Kent and East Sussex. I was pleased to see mention of more unusual sources such as the Mass Observation Archive, held at The Keep record office near Brighton. As a family historian, however, I couldn’t help sigh at what is becoming an all too common habit – that of referring to standard genealogical sources by the names attributed to them by commercial companies, rather than names reflecting their true origins. Morton slipped up too when he thought a child whose birth was registered in the General Register Office (GRO) index for 1942 could have been a still birth. Still births were not registered in the standard GRO birth index, but in an especially dedicated index not open to the general public. Apart from these points, this was an enjoyable read and will be of particular interest to those people (like me) who grew up or who are familiar with the environs of Capel, Hawkinge, or Rye all of which feature heavily in the book.

    Finally, the question which many of you will be asking is ‘What exactly is a forensic genealogist’ as opposed to a ‘genealogist’? The definition of a forensic genealogist is, in my opinion, not yet clear cut, but the best explanation I have found so far is Dick Eastman’s blog post of 15 June 2014 which can be found here.

  5. Genealogy Courses: End of An Era: Beginning of Another

    Having just returned the last mark sheet for my final student at the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies, it is time for me to say farewell to my role as a tutor at the Institute. The last eight years have been rewarding ones for me and I have enjoyed assisting my students gain a deeper understanding of our subject and see several of them go on to become professional genealogists in their own right.

    It’s now time for me to concentrate on my own online Family History Course – The Celia Heritage Family History e-Course, which is now has over 70 students enrolled. I will also be concentrating on my new book,The Family Historian’s Guide to Cemeteries, Graveyards and Funerals.

    To find out more about the Celia Heritage Family History e-Course see http://www.heritagefamilyhistory.co.uk/ecourse

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    With my successful Higher Certificate students Barbara, Jane and Margaret at the IHGS prize giving July 2016

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    The Institute of Heraldic & Genealogical Studies, Canterbury

     

     

     

  6. Surnames & The Norman Conquest

    I was recently interviewed for the BBC’s The One Show  regarding the introduction of surnames into England at the time of the Norman Conquest. Here I expand on the short interview to give you a better idea of the complexities of this subject.

    At the time of the Norman Invasion, surnames were a new concept; unknown in England and in their infancy on the continent.  A very small minority of the Norman knights who came to England at this time actually had what we would term ‘surnames’; that is a hereditary name to be passed on to successive generations. All of these made reference to the name of the estates they came from in Normandy

    Today, surnames are one of the main ways by which we identify ourselves, but in the 11th century people in England were known by their first names and then a ‘byname’.  Bynames and surnames were very similar, but a byname was not passed down to the next generation. Both were based on similar ideas; identifying someone by the way he or she looked, their personality, occupation or the place where they lived, for example, a feature in the landscape or the name of an inn.

    Although William 1 was victorious at Hastings in October 1066 he was then faced by the arduous task of bringing the rest of the country under his control: no easy feat. One way of doing this was to re-distribute all the land in the country. From this point onwards all land technically belonged to the King and he in turn granted use of the land to men he believed would be loyal to him. These vassals did homage to their king and provided military service when required. In return the lords would require homage and services from those people who lived on their estates. Despite the fact that the new ruling classes were Norman, experts believe that one reason for the growing use of surnames among them was to strengthen their association with the land which they had been given. These were uncertain times and no-one felt secure!

    Surnames did not suddenly come into use overnight! While we can pinpoint their origin among the landed classes at this time, it was not until the 13th century that surnames started to come into general use. By the end of the 14th century most people had one, but the rate at which the practice of using a surname became the norm differed around the country and many surnames from this time did not remain stable. There are many examples of different ‘surnames’ being passed down to siblings throughout the ensuing centuries.

    The Normans did not just introduce surnames to England; they also brought a new pool of Norman-French personal names. If you have ever sighed in frustration over the plethora of people you find with the same name first and last name when researching your family history, you may thank the Normans! Over time, the wide-ranging stock of Old English and Anglo-Norse names such as Egbert, Wulfric, Harold, Ulf, Alfred and Edgar gradually fell out of favour with a few exceptions. They were replaced by the much more limited range of Anglo-Norman names such as Robert, Henry, Richard and William and later popular saints’ names such as John and Thomas. This had a knock-on effect on surnames since many surnames were to derive from Christian names spawning names such as  Roberts, Dickinson, Williamson, Johnson and the like.

    It is fascinating to study the names of the knights who came over with William both before and after the Battle of Hastings. It’s easy to see links between the names borne by those men and our modern-day surnames, but we must remember that in most cases the surnames we bear today would not have evolved for another 200 years or more. If your surname is Warren or Warrener, for example, you are likely to be descended from someone whose job it was to look after the rabbit warrens on the local lord’s estate, rather than from William de Warenne the companion of William the Conqueror! Many surnames appear to be of ‘French’ origin but they can be deceptive. My own surname, Heritage, is a good example. Most surname dictionaries define it as referring to someone who inherited land from an ancestor, rather than holding land from the lord. Most give its origin as ‘Old French’. Yet there is no similar surname on the continent, which is strange. A more likely interpretation is that it derives from the Old English word heretoga which originally meant a war leader, but by the time the surname evolved probably referred to a local community leader.

    Surnames in Ireland, Wales and Scotland have different histories and I will look at them another time. For more on the evolution of surnames and how to interpret them, my recommended reading is George Redmond’s book Surnames and Genealogy: An Introduction available second hand or in good libraries.

     

    P1090363 ed

     

  7. Old (& New) Family Photographs: Clues to Past and Future Family History

    I have been hooked on history, especially family history, since I was a child. For many years I concentrated on finding out more about my Mum’s side of the family, while my Heritage family history remained a mystery since my Dad never spoke about his family. All I knew was that he had a sister in New Zealand and had had an elder brother called Ron who was killed in WW11. His silence spurred me on to find out more.  One afternoon I secretly ventured into our attic to see what I could find. Among suitcases, Christmas decorations and old kitchen utensils, I found several boxes of old books, some of which had the name of Dad’s brother inscribed in the front. Even better, however, was the box stuffed full of memorial cards and old family photographs! Memorial cards were popular in the 19th and early 20th century, being sent to friends and family after someone had died. They usually provide vital information about the deceased including full name, date of death, age and burial place. The wodge of cards I found were later to provide many clues for building my family tree while the photographs were (like most old family photos!) all unlabelled and very frustrating.

    I sat for some time staring at the faces of the people in the pictures, wondering exactly how they were related to me and what their names were! Most of these were group photographs taken at weddings and a precious memory of each event, but also a record of so many of my relatives. When I was older I plucked up the courage to ask my Dad about his family and to my surprise he didn’t mind talking about it at all! (‘You never asked’, he said!) We spent an afternoon going through each of the photographs and he told me the name of all those relatives he remembered and I duly wrote them in pencil on the back. These days of course I use an acid free archival pen!

    Earlier this month I celebrated my 50th birthday! While on the one hand I wanted to celebrate successfully reaching such an advanced age, I was also determined to combine it with a family reunion, concentrating (due to space restrictions) on my maternal family. It seemed that the only time we all got together was at funerals. With all the invites sent, I waited impatiently to see who would be able to make it. A few people, sadly, could not make the chosen weekend, but twenty nine relatives could and, together with many friends and colleagues, we had a truly wonderful weekend blessed with ideal weather conditions for an outdoor party!

    Much interest was stimulated by the family tree chart, showing how we are all descended from James Postlethwaite Wilson and Mary Dickinson. Another success was my request that each relative bring a family photo of a common ancestor or relative. This revived many old memories as did a wonderful cine film of a 1957 family wedding. We spent hours re-running the five-minute film and identifying family members past and present! A few photographs remained tantalisingly unidentified or undated and for these I shall be engaging the services of Jayne Shrimpton to help identify them with her brilliant photo dating and analysis service. You can learn more about photo dating through Jayne’s many books, while she also writes a very informative column for Family Tree Magazine.

    Remembering future generations is just as important as looking back in time. Our ancestors often left a healthy paper trail for us to follow, but those who come after us may find it much more difficult as our trail becomes increasingly digitised. Will our digital photographs be passed on to later generations? Will they be labelled?

    My party was an excellent opportunity to make a photographic record of so many family members. Here I would like to thank Mia Bennett for spending much of the weekend snapping away in a series of informal but also formal group shots.  These are currently being printed out and labelled so that in times to come, everyone will know who we were and what we looked like! My favourite shot (below) was our attempt at a Victorian non-smiling pose. If you look closely you will see that not everyone managed not to smile but this picture, together with the other photos, are a great record of a wonderful day and will help provide a paper and digital record of our present-day family.

    Victorian Style Group Photo crop

  8. Donation of Hackney, Undertaker’s Records: James Recknell

     

    Recknell books

     

    I am delighted to have received a wonderful donation to my collection of death records! This is a set of undertaker’s records for the firm James Recknell & Co. This company operated from 46 Dalston Lane, Hackney for many years.  My initial read through these fascinating records shows that, while the business ran under the name of James Recknell & Co from 1886 to 1973, it was taken over by Albert Thomas Camfield in 1939. Albert later went into partnership with William Arthur Marr. William took over the business after Albert’s death in 1952 finally closing it in 1973. The site is now occupied by the undertakers’ business T. Cribbs.

    The freehold of the property at 46 Dalston Lane was owned by the family of Cecil Rhodes (founder of Rhodesia) and deeds show transfers of leases from Cecil’s brothers, Arthur Montague Rhodes and Bernard Maitland Rhodes, and later his nieces Georgia and Violet Rhodes, to James Recknell in 1932, Albert Camfield in 1939 and to William Marr in 1953.

    Of all the books in the collection, most fascinating are the undertakers’ order books and accounts giving details of funeral arrangements for hundreds of people, not just from Hackney but from places much further afield too. These also provide a useful insight into the work of an undertaker.

    You can read more about funeral records and also gravestones, burials and cemeteries in Chapters 2, 3 and 7 of my book Tracing Your Ancestors Through Death Records

    As I work my way through these precious records I will report further!

     

     

  9. Ready for WDYTYA Live 2016

    It’s that time of year again when the world of family history descends on the NEC in Birmingham for the Who Do You think You Are? Live show. This year promises to be as good as ever with a wide range of talks both in the Society of Genealogist’s workshops, in the DNA arena and also at various other venues around the exhibition hall.

    On Thursday and Friday I have two daily talks. The first, Unique and Essential Online Sources, takes place at 11.15  at The Genealogist’s Talk Stand  (306).  I shall be looking at some of the less commonly used but essential online sources, notably tithe records. Later in the day I will look at  how to make sure your family tree is accurate by enhancing your research technique. This is a 20 minute talk entitled The Golden Rules at 2.50 pm in the Education Zone.

    On Saturday my Unique and Essential Online Sources talk takes place at 2 pm followed by my talk on Tracing a 16th and 17th Century Family Tree at 3.15 pm in SOG 2. Here I will look at some of the sources that will help you find out more about your family and extend your pedigree in a period where information is often harder to come by.

    Meanwhile  my 2014 article on probate inventories at  has just been made available online by Family Tree Magazine and is free for all to read.

    I hope to see you there!

  10. Time to Improve Online Coverage Details

    It is my opinion that genealogy websites should provide full source details and coverage dates for each of their databases. They should also clearly state where a database is not yet complete.

    While there is a wealth of genealogical and historical data now available online courtesy of websites such as Findmypast, Ancestry, TheGenealogist and FamilySearch it is becoming increasingly difficult to accurately determine what exactly the various databases include and, in some cases where they came from, thanks to the inadequate or inconsistent detailing of their sources.

    This is caused by several factors but the main two are as follows.

    • A lack of information as to where the information came from and the coverage dates and any gaps within the coverage. Source data should be clearly visible for anyone using the database or at least for anyone who wishes to make the effort to check the details.

    • Inaccurate or unhelpful title names indicating complete coverage where coverage is not in fact complete are misleading.

    Let us take parish registers as an example. Neither Ancestry nor Findmypast has a complete county-by-county listing of what they hold. If I am searching for a missing baptism, burial or marriage I need to know exactly which parishes for a certain county or counties are available online and for which dates. Once I know this I can work out which are not and will potentially have to be searched in the record office. However, since neither company provides a county-by-county listing of which parish registers they hold it’s not easy to check this.

    I emailed Findmypast to ask if they had such a listing on their website as I know that they do sometimes issue such lists when new databases are released. This is the reply I received:

    ‘We are sorry but the website does not have a full list of coverage for the parish registers. You would have to check the search form for the parish and then carry out a blank search. Once you have done this you can change the results page by clicking the sort order at the top right – relevance. If you change this to ascending/descending you will see the years covered.’

    This seems a very long-winded way of established county coverage, especially when they must have such listings in existence! Ancestry collections are better detailed but they still have no means of checking county coverage in one go. Similarly, the Family Search Wiki is a quite good way of determining which parishes have online coverage, but I don’t believe this is entirely up-to-date and this is again not as useful as a county-by county- listing, as each parish has to be searched individually to determine online coverage.

    To my knowledge the only major commercial website to offer a county-by-county listing for parish registers is TheGenealogist which has its ‘List of all datasets’ at the bottom of its home and search pages. This provides a full list of which parish registers it offers and the coverage dates for each type of event and, for logged in users, this can also be accessed from the ‘Search’ tab, entitled ‘What’s included in my subscription?’ The list naturally covers all its other datasets too, not just parish registers, although some of the other categories are not as detailed as they should be.

    In order to prevent the online world of genealogical sources descending into chaos, I call upon the major genealogy companies to make it quite clear what information their datasets do and do not include. Surely this is not too much to ask?

    If you would like to join me in my campaign to encourage companies to improve the quality of their sourcing details and a new openness about which records they do and do not offer, please spread the word and encourage those interested in family history to email the companies concerned as well with this simple request. Let’s start with a request for full county-by-county parish register listings. Please share my blog with the genealogy world  and you can also follow my posts on the subject on Twitter @CeliaHeritage and Facebook. Your examples of inadequate source detailing and coverage are most welcome.