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. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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.

    Tweet-up

    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.

  6. Ready for WDYTYA Live NEC!

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    Tomorrow sees the first day of the hugely popular WDYTYA Live Family History show and this year, for the first time, the venue is the NEC in Birmingham.

    I arrived at the NEC at lunchtime and spent some time exploring the venue which is in Hall 2 of the NEC. Unlike Olympia the hall is on one level but it is well laid out and there is easy access from both the airport and train stations.

    The picture below will give you an insight into the amount to work that goes into each exhibition and at 4pm on Wednesday the hall is still being transformed into tomorrow’s show ground!

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    Meanwhile I am prepared to give eight talks in total – twice daily for TheGenealogist on stall 500 where at 12 0′ clock and 2pm each day  I will be talking about (among other things) tithe records and apprentice records, and other occupational sources. At 3.15 on Thursday I am speaking on migration within the UK for our pre-19th century ancestors in the SOG 2 arena. You may be surprised at just how far your ancestors travelled before this date and this may account for many of your ‘missing’ ancestors. At 3.45 on Saturday my last talk (SOG1) will look at how to trace those missing ancestors before 1837. In between you can pick up copies of the revised edition of my book Tracing Your Ancestors Through Death Records at the Pen and Sword stand (402).

    All set and ready to go! Roll on tomorrow!