Blog

  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. The King Family of Ivychurch

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    The King gravestone temporarily raised last year

    As part of my one place study of Ivychurch in Kent (where I live) I have come to know some inhabitants of the churchyard better than others. Some, such as William Bates, whose grave I can see from my office window and who left 55 grandchildren behind him, seem to have descendants scattered all round the world and I have had several emails from them this year alone! Others grab my attention for other reasons, such as William Kennett King and his wife Louisa. During our churchyard survey last year theirs was one of two stones which had been recumbent for many years and which we managed to raise temporarily to read and photograph. It is an irony that since William and Louisa’s stone had fallen face down, the writing on it was well preserved. Had it fallen the other way this would not have been the case.
    William Kennett King was born in nearby Kenardington in 1867. Although his father was a labourer, William trained as a grocer and by the 1891 census appears in Appledore, just a few miles from Ivychurch, working as a grocer’s assistant. He married Louisa Orman from Ivychurch in 1894 and the couple had two children, Olive and Mabel. By 1911 William and his family had moved to Ivychurch where William was working in his own right as a grocer and draper while both he and Louisa were running the sub- post office at Kent House.
    Sadly their daughter Mabel died in 1919, aged 22, and just a few years later in 1922 both William and Louisa died – within four days of each other! The parish registers show that William was buried on 18th January and Louisa on the 23rd. Receiving an email from one of the King family members I learnt that rumours in the wider family told that Louisa had committed suicide. Seeking the truth behind this tale, I bought her death certificate. Although the death certificate of someone who took their own life will not necessarily record the death as ‘suicide’, an indicator would be that the coroner’s name would be given in the column for the informant and the death would have been subject to an inquest. The date and place of the inquest will also be noted on the certificate from 1875.
    The certificate showed that in actual fact Louisa died from diabetes, from which she had had for two years and four months. She fell into a coma 33 hours before she died and there cannot have been any suspicious circumstances, because there was not even a post mortem. She was 47 years old. It may be the case that once William died she lost the will to live and this may be where the rumours of suicide began.
    Before we leave the Kings, however, another lesson can be learnt, this one regarding accuracy of dates and ages on gravestones and in other sources. William’s age at death is given as 53 in the burial register, on the gravestone and also on the 1911 census. Checking the GRO birth index it was, however, 1867. His daughter Mabel, who is recorded on the same gravestone, has her age given as 23 years, although in the burial records it states 22 years. Checking the GRO birth index again it is probable that she had not reached her 23rd birthday when she died, as her birth was registered in the final quarter of 1896. It is almost certain that Mabel’s sister Olive raised the stone in memory of her family, possibly some years after their deaths because Mabel’s death is the last one mentioned despite the fact that she died first. Olive must have got her father’s age wrong and forgotten that her sister had not had her birthday in the year she died. So bear in mind that any source can be subject to inaccuracies.

  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