Blog

  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. 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

     

     

     

  5. 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!

     

     

  6. 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!

  7. 1931 Census

    Many of you will know that the English and Welsh 1931 census returns were destroyed during WW11. What many people do not realise, however, is that this was not as a result of enemy action but caused by a ferocious fire which mysteriously broke out in a store room at the Office of Works one night in December 1942. The devastation was so great that, in the words of W. A. Derrick, the member of staff who reported the loss, it left behind ‘’nothing more than shapeless mounds of paper” making any attempt at salvage “useless”. The hearts of all family historians reading this will no doubt just have shuddered in horror!
    Mr Derrick worryingly also stated in his report (written to a colleague at the Central National Registration Office at Southport) “Will you also let us know where the enumeration books and plans of division relating to the 1921 census are stored. The schedules, as you are aware, were damaged by water at Leonard Street and have since been dried out and are scattered over various parts of Somerset House; but no plans or enumeration books were brought from Leonard Street and it is assumed that they were stored elsewhere.”
    Thankfully archival storage arrangements are now far superior to the arrangements of the 1940s and, putting it into some historical perspective, few people today would consider a documentary source of a mere twenty year’s age to be that important! However I still can’t help casting a swift backwards curse in time at the fate of these records and the fact that no-one thought to separate the census books from the householders’ schedules when they were stored away. At least the Scottish returns were housed safely in Edinburgh!

  8. Farewell to Cumbria

     

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    Appleby St Lawrence

    For the last week my husband and I have been relaxing on holiday post-WDYTYA! Our favourite place is Cumbria, where we both have long established roots and, although we were staying in Appleby-in-Westmorland, as usual we ended up roaming all over the county from East to West, North to South (Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire North of the Sands – with bit of Lancashire proper too!) – walking, relaxing and exploring churches and churchyards. Just what I needed after after all the work involved in preparing for WDYTYA.

    Celia

    Celia Heritage

    I also spend time in both Kendal and Carlisle Record Offices searching for my own ancestors in manorial records. My visit to Carlisle RO was my first since its relocation and I was very impressed! A lovely purpose built, yet tasteful, building with efficient knowledgeable staff and even car parking! A rare treat these days. My only gripe with Cumbria Archives is that if they had to reduce opening hours to four days a week why must all the record offices shut on the same day (Monday)? A real pain if you are visiting for a week and want to carry out some serious research. At least closing some on Mondays and some on Fridays, for example, would give the non-local researcher a better opportunity to utilise all his or her time.

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    Lamplugh churchyard

    Some other highlights of our holiday were churchyards at Lamplugh where many of the older gravestones are wonderfully preserved such as the one shown here for Margaret Burnyeat who died, aged 72, in 1724 ; also Moresby on the West Coast – an impressive church standing near the cliff edge looking across to Scotland and surrounded again by many well-preserved graves, many marking those killed in the local mines.

    We took our fond farewell of Cumbria a couple of days ago to return home to Kent. Hopefully we will be back ‘up North’ before too long.

    Moresby

    Moresby churchyard

  9. WDYTYA – A week on and the first set of photos!

    My eight talks over and now just over a week on from WDYTYA Live 2015 I am now pleasantly relaxed after several days off! Here are some mementos of three very enjoyable and successful days.

    Apart from some acoustic problems in my talk How Far Did Your Ancestor Travel on Thursday (caused by the fact that the NEC microphone headset in SOG 2 did not adjust down small enough to fit my head!) all my talks ran smoothly, were well-attended and very well-received.

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    Tweet-up No 1!

    The highlights of the exhibition for me were my final talk on the Saturday in SOG 1, which was packed with over 270 people, and catching up with friends and colleagues in our many ‘tweet-ups’ and evening ‘genie’ gatherings. Also the fact that my health is now so greatly improved from a year ago. Last year I had to take regular breaks back at my hotel in order to carry out all my commitments and during my seventh talk on day three I can remember wondering  whether I would make it to the end with out passing out! At that time I had just been diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a disease of the connective tissues, which was leaving me increasingly exhausted and in almost constant pain. Thankfully, following my diagnosis, I was lucky to receive some very supportive treatment from a great physio and also CBT pain therapy. A year later, following an intensive exercise routine,I find myself so much fitter and stronger –  and by talk number eight this year I was still enjoying myself! I could not have been more pleased!

    Genie Meal!

    If you could not make the NEC, I will be giving my talks I’ve Lost My Ancestor Before 1837 and How Far Did your Ancestor Travel again on 30 May in Petersfield, Hampshire as part of a one day seminar with Les Mitchinson. For further details see http://www.mitchinsongenealogy.com/tuition/course-dates.Handouts for all my talks are also now available: those for TheGenealogist at www.thegenealogist.co.uk/celia and those for the Society of Genealogists (along with handouts from many other speakers) at www.sog.org.uk.