1. How do you research your family tree?


    This is a cross post from the excellent blog by professional genealogist and Pharos Tutor Karen Cummings.  You may have missed the original, so we make no apologies for posting it again.

    How do you research your family tree?

    It’s not a trick question, I would like to know. There are so many adverts these days for the big commercial websites: “just type your name in and see what you will discover” and I am concerned we may be losing knowledge of how to conduct proper genealogical research.
    It’s not a question of clicking links on Ancestry (other commercial websites are available) and adding people to your tree, or, even worse, basing research on shaking green leaves or hints. Yes, you can easily create a family tree this way but, and I say this with tongue in cheek, you could end up barking up completely the wrong tree!

    There is far more to genealogical research: knowledge and methodology.

    To conduct genealogical research effectively you need an understanding of sources. What sources should you investigate for a particular research need? When were they created and why? What is the likelihood that your ancestor will be included? There are many courses available to increase your knowledge of different sources, such as those from the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies (IHGS), Pharos and the Universities of Strathclyde and Dundee. There are also lots and lots of books available, e.g. the “My Ancestor was…” series from the Society of Genealogists and the “Tracing Your … Ancestors” series from Pen and Sword and many articles in the family history magazines.

    Even with an understanding of sources there is still a need for caution with the data available on Ancestry, Find My Past and the like. What sources are actually included in a database? Is the database complete or will more records be added later? What are the most effective search techniques and how do you untangle the results you find?

    I saw this posted on a social media group recently:
    “Which side do you work from and why? Family Tree Maker or Ancestry?”

    Aggh! That had me positively jumping up and down on my soap box! Are we really led to believe that “everything is on Ancestry”? Is that what people think? Good quality research considers what sources are required THEN where they are, not the other way around.

    This brings me onto methodology. In the UK we really do not give methodology much air time. Our US cousins are far better at formalising genealogy methodology. In my opinion we really need to think about this more.

    Two things happened whilst I was at “WDYTYA Live” in Birmingham recently that left me with completely opposing opinions of “the way things are”. Firstly I went to a talk from American, Robert Charles Anderson, on the methodology he describes in his book Elements of Genealogical Analysis. It describes a systematic methodical approach to analysing your research and coming to sound conclusions. Some of you may be familiar with the Genealogical Proof Standard, more commonly used in the US but, again, a sound methodology to establishing “proof”. That deserves a series of blog post on its own so I won’t go into it further here. I thought Mr Anderson’s approach was excellent but around half the audience got up during the talk and walked out. Was it just the American records bias of the talk or are people really no longer interested in doing things properly?

    At the complete opposite end of the scale, a new book had just been published by Pen and Sword from a colleague of mine, John Wintrip, Tracing Your Pre-Victorian Ancestors. The title is deceptive and really does not show it off to the best of the publisher’s abilities. Yes, there is much discussion on the specifics of research in the pre-Victorian period but it is the subtitle that is important: “A Guide to Research Methods for Family Historians“. I understand that it was sold out by the end of day 2, and I certainly did not see any copies for sale on the last day, so maybe we are still taking this seriously after all.

    We need more of this in the UK: Sound advice on how to conduct proper, good quality genealogical research.

    John starts by considering the skills and knowledge needed for genealogical research and breaks this down into four areas:

    knowledge of sources
    searching skills
    analytical and problem solving skills
    external knowledge

    There are chapters on sources, distinguishing between original and derivative sources and records, and search techniques, including how to get the best from online databases.

    Special consideration is given to names, social status, religion, occupations and migration and how these may affect your research journey but there is much focus on methodology: using archives, evidence and proof and techniques such as family reconstitution.

    John’s book describes research techniques as used by the professionals and those who take their family history seriously. It introduces the concept of considering the records you are using in the context of what was happening from a historical perspective at the time. Filled with useful case studies from his own research John teaches you to consider the wider picture. Is it possible that a birth you may be looking for is not where you thought because the father was in the militia at the time and stationed elsewhere?
    We do not have a lot of information about genealogy research methodology in the UK.

    The only other recent publication that comes to mind is the also excellent Genealogy: Essential Research Methods from Helen Osborn. Taking a slightly different approach to John Wintrip’s book I heartily recommend both volumes to anyone serious about their research.


    Please, and I know I have used this word repeatedly, can we do this properly?

    Find out more about Karen here

  2. Time to improve online coverage details


    This is cross-posted from Celia Heritage’s blog.  Celia is a Tutor with Pharos, a member of AGRA and runs a family history research and teaching business in Kent.
    Celia says:
    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.
    Please let’s help Celia achieve her aim!

  3. When is DNA not important to family history?

    1 Comment

    This post is by Wayne Shepheard
    I have quite an old copy (dated 1984) of the Concise Oxford Dictionary on my bookshelf. I don’t think much has changed over the years since it was published so it remains a reliable reference for me. Certainly the definitions provided in current online editions are much the same as those published in decades past (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/family). In my edition family is defined as: “1. members of a household, parents, children, servants, etc.; set of parents and children, or of relations, living together or not . . .; person’s children. 2. all descendants of a common ancestor, house, lineage . . . “ The word, genealogy is defined as: “account of descent from ancestor by enumeration of intermediate persons, pedigree . . .”
    So, are studies of family history or genealogy the same thing?
    Real families do not always consist of people who are all related by blood. The dictionary’s primary definition seems to be silent in that regard in describing a family as consisting of members of a household. Too often we ‘genealogists’ or ‘family historians’ talk in terms of pedigrees defined in terms of bloodlines – that is, sharing DNA. Perhaps we should differentiate the two and consider that family historians are really looking at the relationships of people, whether or not connected by blood, while genealogists deal only with those people biologically linked.
    In many generations of my own family, there were family members who shared only one parent with their siblings or, in some cases, were not even related by blood to their “parents”. One of my great-grandmothers had a daughter from her first marriage, before she married my great-grandfather. My father considered her his aunt in the same way he thought of her half-siblings, the natural daughters of both of his grandparents.
    I have found similar circumstance in the many Devon families I have investigated as an Online Parish Clerk. Several reasons accounted for such mixed or blended families (def: a family that includes children of a previous marriage of one spouse or both). Most often, in centuries past, one or both parents may have died before children reached the age of majority. The surviving parent would generally have remarried, the man in order to have someone take care of his home and children, a woman in order to have someone earn income to support her and her children. If both parents died, another family member commonly stepped in as an adoptive parent. On rare occasions, an abandoned child was taken in by members of the community and raised as their own.
    Until the 20th century adoption was not formally or legally recognized in many parts of the world. In the modern era, the first laws concerning adoption were passed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in the United States, in 1851, codifying what was considered to be in the “best interests of the child”. Other constituencies and countries followed over subsequent decades. England was one of the last major countries to enact laws concerning adoption with the passage of the Adoption of Children Act 1926 (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201213/ldselect/ldadopt/127/12705.htm).
    I have come across many examples in searching censuses and parish records of children becoming part of new families and even taking on the surnames of their step-fathers. Many kept their new names before there were laws regulating adoption. A few kept their birth names but then reverted to the surname of their step-father, or at least that is what they appeared to do. I wrote about one possible example in my blog, Discover Genealogy. http://discovergenealogy.blogspot.ca/2014/02/another-case-of-changed-name-samuel-and.html Such changes in names can confound and confuse those researching the history of their family.
    Which brings me back to the ideas of what the difference is between a genealogist and a family historian, and whether DNA is the most important thing to ultimately use in identifying a family connection. As stated above, most dictionaries define genealogy as the study and tracing of lines of descent which implies looking for a direct line of ancestors related by blood. The term “family history” is generally used interchangeably with genealogy but I think families are much more than just a relationship of consanguinity. They may also include members related by affinity (marriage) or nurture kinship (co-residence or shared consumption). The family is, primarily, the principal structure for the socialization of children (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family) and any study of a family should also include research into any individuals who may have joined the family through other than direct, biological means.
    Have you found individuals that are not related to you by blood but who you consider family members?
    About the Author
    Wayne is a past student of Pharos, having attained a certificate (with distinction) in the Family History Skills & Strategies (intermediate) programme. He is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program (http://genuki.cs.ncl.ac.uk/DEV/OPCproject.html), handling four parishes in Devon, England (http://www.cornwood-opc.com/). He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne has his own blogsite, Discover Genealogy (http://discovergenealogy.blogspot.ca/), in which he relates his experiences as a family historian. He also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated (http://familyhistoryfacilitated.ca/).

  4. It’s family history Jim, but not as we know it

    1 Comment

    This is a post by Simon Fowler, Author, Tutor and Professional Genealogist.  We thought this was an interesting follow-up to the general discussions about only doing genealogy online.  Family reunions may perpetuate those old family myths, but they are fun!
    I recently moderated a family history reunion for a client. They wanted me to provide genealogical expertise and a guiding hand. But in fact I was hardly needed. The group was more interested in sharing details of second and third cousins and not listening to me. There was a real buzz about the afternoon.
    But it was not family history as taught on Pharos courses. Tangential links were made without real evidence: someone claimed descent from the English poet Edmund Spenser. I haven’t checked but it seems unlikely. Family trees had been scribbled on envelopes. And notes came in a variety of forms – some were in impressive looking photograph albums with photos, documents and even a tram ticket.
    The group had only the shakiest grasp of British history, based on hazily remembered history lessons from fifty years ago, television programmes and potboiler histories. There was even a debate about the relationship between the French and English lands owned by the Normans, although why I could not fathom, as nobody had traced their ancestors with any certainty much back before the 1850s.
    Of course I should have intervened and insisted on proper evidence, effective record keeping and all the other things we teach and learn on Pharos courses. But I didn’t have the heart. They were having so much fun. And it would probably have been counter-productive.
    This is genealogy as experienced by many people with all the joy of discovery and communication without any of the rigour. Like the Who Do You Think You Are? TV programme, but without the celebrities.
    But does it really matter? Of course ultimately it does, but I think this is an ideal way into the hobby. With luck rigor will follow, as participants realise that it helps both their research and to learn about the generally unromantic lives that their ancestors really lived. And I had a blast learning how most people get started on their family history.
    Simon Fowler is the author of many genealogy and family history books, and teaches the Pharos Tutors military courses.  He was previously the editor of The National Archives Ancestors magazine.  There is a full list of his books on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Fowler_%28author%29

  5. Five dangers of only doing genealogy online


    Danger One: Health. Too much time at the computer or on your tablet can lead to eye strain, back problems, loss of fitness. In the past, we would walk to the archive, physically go to the filing cabinet and get the film, wind it on, go back to the cabinet for the next film, now we risk RSI from typing and mouse clicking. I used to be so fit from standing up all day and physically lifting the books at The Family Record Centre, now I am not.
    Danger Two: Record Context. We become divorced from the context of the record. We no longer feel and smell the paper or parchment, no unwrapping of ancient string tying bundles of documents together. No more dirt on the hands either, and it is better for the documents not to be handled, but all the romance is lost. Not only this, but even if you have the images online in front of you, you don’t always have the front and end pieces, or even all the page, or know what could have been written on the back. You have probably not looked at a catalogue, so don’t understand how the record fits in with other records in the same series or set either.
    Danger Three: Speed. It all happens so fast, we tend not to make notes or record what we do. Click, click I am here, click, click now I am somewhere else. Where did I just see that result? Click, click, now I have lost where I was, and I am looking at something totally different.
    Danger Four: Descriptions confusion. There needs to be a new language for describing results found online; some of the old definitions are creaking under the strain, what do we really mean by source or record in an online context? Some of the citation advice is overly complex and off-putting to many, but we need a common and standardised way of telling others or reminding ourselves where we found things that is not overly complicated, yet takes into account the shifting, changing nature of online resources. The big data websites do not help by using different language to describe the same source, or by not being accurate in their description of what it contains. If we don’t describe things accurately then confusion reigns.
    Danger Five: Too many results. As data websites get bigger and bigger and include more and more record sets from around the world, it becomes increasing difficult to drill down to find what you need to search. Blanket searches across all data sets bring in far too many results, yet knowing what indexes are available on any website and how reliable they are is becoming more and more important. I used to know what people had searched if they told me they had looked at the IGI or searched on findmypast, now I do not have a clue. Family historians are not educating themselves as to what a website actually contains and it therefore makes it really difficult to explain which databases are more trustworthy than others, if indeed any of them are. I am no longer sure. Perhaps we are going to come full circle and start teaching people that they will have to look only at original records in an archive office if they are to be sure of their research, because only then will they know what they have looked at.  I used to be such a big advocate of online genealogy, but if it is starting to frustrate me, I don’t know what it must be doing to those who don’t have a sound background in the original records.  It could be putting them off completely.
    What do you think?

  6. I wish I knew when they were born!


    Have you ever wondered how long the gap was between a date of birth and a baptism? When you are used to knowing a date of birth from working with civil registration records, moving into parish registers and having only a baptismal date can be frustrating, particularly in the absence of other good quality information about a person. Sometimes in questions of multiple identity we really do need a precise date of birth, or at the very least a definite year and probable month. Sometimes we have a date of birth perhaps from a family record, but no baptism date. How far along should we search? What was the common interval between a birth and a baptism?
    Until the 17th century, the Church in England & Wales required that no longer than 7 days should elapse between birth and baptism. Indeed some baptisms in the mid-16th century (when parish registers begin) are known to have taken place on the same day as the birth (Chislet, Kent) and it is thought that medieval practice was also for baptism on the same day as the birth. The Book of Common Prayer held that a child should be baptised on the next Sunday after birth, or failing that the following Sunday. But did people obey this ‘rule’?
    Yes and No.
    One of the interesting but highly frustrating things about doing family history, is that each family is unique, and of course some parts of any family are going to be more awkward and less conforming than others. After all, if everybody did exactly the same thing, then it would be easy to find them and easy to predict them, and genealogy would not be full of all those ‘But why?’ type questions, and all the duller for it. Historians can satisfy themselves with what was the ‘norm’ by looking at all the births and baptisms from those rare parish registers where both are recorded, (the well-known ‘Dade and Barrington’ registers of Yorkshire and Durham have both) and draw some general conclusions, but unless we family historians have the specific facts in front of us, there is no way of knowing how much our own family conformed to the rest of society. It seems very likely that different districts had different ‘norms’; thus it would be foolish to presume that birth/baptism intervals in both Kent and North Yorkshire would be the same. Many factors are likely to have come into play; how far the church or chapel and baptising Minister was from the family home, the time of year, whether the family were Dissenting or not, what the neighbours did, how strict the Minister was, indeed how strict the diocese was, and whether the community was rural or urban.
    Nevertheless, we can apply a rule of thumb to the period when the Church tended to have a tighter grip on things, say prior to the 1640s. If you have a baptism but no way of knowing the date of a birth, then it should be within a 14 day period, and in the 16th century probably more like 7 days, unless something very unusual had happened. That is the good news. The bad news is that most of us don’t have our ancestors back as far as this, or at least only have a few ancestors back as far as this. Over the next 200 years, the interval between birth and baptism tends to get longer, particularly growing in the second part of the 18th and into the 19th centuries. The work of historians and demographers tend to tell us things like ‘75 % of children in X parish were baptised within 14 days of birth in 1750’. This does not help a genealogist work out a likely gap in 1830, in Y parish, although it might be helpful to know that you should consider a gradually increasing interval as being normal. In a regular church going family it is highly likely that any child would be baptised between one and six months old. But then, not all families were regular church goers, as the Victorians were shocked to discover from the 1851 Religious census. http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/building-on-history-project/resource-guide/source-guides/religious-censuses.htm
    I have been building a big tree for a client, and one family has 14 children born in the period 1800 – 1820 in various locations, including in India and one even at sea. The family were good church attenders with the father being a churchwarden at one point. We have dates of birth for all of them from family records, so we can be sure that we have a fairly accurate picture. The eldest children were all baptised within 28 days. With the younger children it becomes much more flexible, with the biggest interval stretching to six months, but most of them being baptised at four or five months. In the previous generation of the same family, (1760s to 1780s) the birth baptism interval (where known) is always about one month.
    Looking at my own family at the start of the 19th century, where the information on both birth and baptism is known, some children are baptised at one month, but there are also others at around five months. Perhaps a conclusion to be tentatively drawn from this is that the more children you have, the more lax you tend to become, suffering less pressure from others to do the ‘right’ thing.
    Historians and demographers have only done studies on a very few parishes, because it was hard for them to locate registers where both birth date and baptism dates were known; Pevensey in Sussex is one. However, now that so many registers are online it is hopefully not going to be too long until studies based on more registers which show both birth dates and baptism dates are made.
    Where there are really long intervals, as with adult baptisms, it does beg a lot of questions. I have an interesting example in my own family, with four children baptised on the same day in 1815 in a chapel far from where they were living in central London. The father was an Attorney at Law, and although of foreign extraction (his father being an Italian-French migrant to London); I have no evidence for him being anything other than Church of England. He was educated and well to do, so why did two of his children get baptised in London (the two boys), and then all four children (boys and girls) get baptised or in the boys case, re-baptised (one of them within 2 months of their first baptism) at Aldborough Hatch, a little chapel of ease for Barking?
    I don’t know when the two middle children, the girls, were born, but I think they were about 8 and 5 years old in 1815. Naturally it is one of the girls I particularly want a more accurate date of birth for. They definitely lived in the parish of St Anne’s Soho in London, so this little chapel was obviously chosen as an out-of-the way place to avoid any nosey neighbours, but why? Were the parents not legally married, which was then rectified just prior to this set of baptisms in June 1815? It was obviously originally considered more important to baptise the boys rather than the girls, so were the 1815 baptisms a change of heart, in which case why include the boys?
    If anyone has any ideas, or similar stories from their own family, please share them!
    What are the birth and baptism intervals in your family?
    Read more from Stuart Basten
    Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure

  7. What happened in the year….?


    This is a guest post by Wayne Shepheard
    I have a booklet, given to me by my sister on the occasion of my 60th birthday, called Once Upon a Time in the World 1945.
    It resides in the bathroom, along with other reading material, where I can occasionally look back on that momentous year, such as the following: among many World War II news stories, in February of 1945, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and Franklin Roosevelt met in Yalta to discuss war arms; the Nobel prize in Medicine was awarded to Sir Alexander Fleming, Ernst B. Chain and Baron Florey for the discovery of penicillin; the Oscar for Best Movie went to The Lost Weekend starring Ray Milland and Jane Wyman; the song, Sentimental Journey reached number two on popular music’s Top Ten Hits; and, in August, atomic bombs were dropped on two cities in Japan.
    So I wondered what I could find for those years in which some of my ancestors were born. Perhaps looking at the news of the day would give me a better understanding of life then – the important events that affected day-to-day life, or just what might have interested or entertained them. I started with my paternal 2nd great-grandfather, John Shepheard. His birth in 1830 was far enough back to offer interesting comparisons with the modern-day world but not so far back that finding information would be very difficult.
    On December 30th, the date John Shepheard was baptized, the four-page newspaper Trueman’s Exeter Flying Post had all kinds of interesting information on:
    • world affairs – comments on the effect of the French and Belgian Revolutions on trade; the Five Great Powers agreeing “to acknowledge the independence of Belgium”; the King of Prussia adopting “precautions to preserve his share of the plunder of Poland from the epidemic of revolt”
    • government notices – one given setting the date for the Epiphany General Quarter Sessions of the Peace for the County of Devon
    • domestic matters such as – a report on a meeting about Poor Relief; the Quarter Sessions summary for Exeter City
    • results of criminal court matters – such as the sentencing of three gentlemen to transport to New South Wales “for disinterring and carrying away dead bodies at Stoke Damerel”
    • classified advertisements for – real estate for sale and rent; positions available; commercial goods and services; auctions
    • association and club meeting notices and reports – including some information about future fox-hound group meeting dates
    • commercial transactions and market reports
    • birth, marriage and death notices from several areas in Devon and elsewhere
    Page one of the Post also had a series of interesting advertisements for many medicinal products including Butler’s Cajeput Opodeldoc (a remedy for chronic rheumatism, spasmodic affections, chilblains, palsy, stiffness and enlargement of the joints), Improved Pectoral Balsam of Horehound (for coughs, colds, asthmas, hooping [sic] cough and all obstructions of the breast and lungs), Partridge’s Concentrated Pills (for “head ache, giddiness of the head and dimness of sight”), Hart’s White Itch Ointment (for obvious afflictions and which could “be safely used by persons of the most delicate constitution”), Dr. Sydenham’s Antibilious or Family Pills (for “bilious and liver complaints, gout, indigestion, flatulencies, habitual costiveness, spasms and nervots [sic] headaches”), Congreve’s Balsamic Elixir (for “coughs, hooping [sic] cough, shortness of breath and asthma”) and Powell’s Balsam of Aniseed (also for “coughs, colds, hoarseness, difficulty of breathing and huskiness in the throat”). These were real eye-openers of the complaints of the times!
    It was like reading ‘A day in the life of. . .’! There were no reports from the Cornwood area in that particular edition of the Post, of course, as Exeter is some distance away and a small, rural parish did not always generate much activity that was newsworthy. I did find some references to the parish in other issues of both the Post and the North Devon Journal published during the year 1830, though.
    Turning to events outside Devon, a Google search for “events in 1830” had 32,500,000 hits so it looked like I would not have any trouble finding out what was going on that year. Narrowing the search to “events in 1830 – United Kingdom” alone resulted in 858,000 hits. Wikipedia listed: the death of King George IV and his succession by his brother William IV in June; the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway; the last hanging for piracy in London; the Swing Riots by agricultural workers in East Kent who protested the against the use of labour-displacing threshing machines; another disturbance called the Otmoor Riots, in Oxfordshire, following the enactment of laws concerning enclosure which disadvantaged many farmers; and, closer to home for me as an Earth scientist, the publication of the first volume of Principles of Geology by the Scottish geologist, Charles Lyell.
    Next up – what happened in the year 1792, when my 3rd great-grandfather was born?
    Have you done something similar with your family history? We would love to hear about what was happening on specific days when your ancestor was born or married.
    About the Author
    Wayne is a past student of Pharos, having attained a certificate (with distinction) in the Family History Skills & Strategies (Intermediate) programme. He is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne has his own blogsite, Discover Genealogy, in which he relates his experiences as a family historian. He also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

  8. Are middle names just a fashion statement?


    When did middle names start in your family?
    The oldest one of mine is Robert Porten Beachcroft who was born in 1744. I thought 1744 was pretty early, because the majority of middle names in my tree start in the early 19th century, becoming more frequent as that century goes on. I would like to find out more about when it first became fashionable to give children a middle name, and when common-place. The entry in Wikipedia is not very helpful, saying:
    It is debatable how long middle names have existed in English speaking countries, but it is certain that among royalty and aristocracy the practice existed by the late 17th century (and possibly much earlier), as exemplified in the name of the Stuart pretender James Francis Edward Stuart (1688–1766).
    I consulted Alison Weir’s Britain’s Royal Families and discovered that the first Stuart with two Christian names was born in 1594; Henry Frederick, eldest son of James VI of Scotland and I of England, and his wife Anne. Anne was the daughter of the King of Denmark and Norway and she seems to have brought the practice of middle names into the Scottish Stuarts. When the House of Hanover took over the English throne in 1714 they too added a Continental preference for second and third Christian names. George I was baptized George Louis, and his father was Ernest Augustus, (born in 1629). Perhaps it was George II and his family who made the practice of two names fashionable in London from the 1720s onwards. George III’s descendants had three or even four Christian names and from then on, many of the Royal children have had four names.
    But the English had, and sometimes still have, a liking for giving a middle name to a child that comes from the surname of a grandparent or great-grandparent (or perhaps a godparent?), whereas the evidence is that our Royal family gave their children grand middle names such as Augustus (meaning ‘great’), not surnames from connected families. Thus Robert Porten Beachcroft is the first in my tree, not only to have a middle name but also one that provides an extra clue to his ancestors, Porten being his mother’s maiden name. His younger brother Joseph Mathews Beachcroft takes the Mathews not from a slip in any spelling of Mathew, but from his paternal grandmother’s maiden name of Mathews.
    The Beachcrofts were a family ‘made good’ in Georgian London and they were probably only too conscious of status and the fact that they had no real gentry connections, so they were aping the aristocracy, where it was more common to take a female name into the male line when a wife was an heiress in her own right. I would be very interested to know more about when this practice started in families who were not landed gentry and without aristocratic connections, and whether it is confined to London or occurs country-wide.  I wonder too whether such names were a way of expressing trading relationships in the City of London.  My research has shown that City men married into those families they did business with. Good connections were vital in a world where personal recommendation was key, so a middle name that reminded your associates of connections to well-known business families would be important to help you advance.
    The first female in my tree to have two Christian names, is Ann Juliana Taunton born in Devon in about 1748. Why did her parents give her such a European sounding middle name? I am glad they did, because with plain Ann as a name, I might not have found her family. The difference between Ann Taunton and the Beachcroft boys, is that her name does not come from a parental snobbery (or business good sense?) that wishes to emphasize valuable connections, but it is nevertheless a fancy sounding name. Perhaps it signifies a different kind of ‘otherness’; one that wishes to distinguish a female child from the run of the mill. Interestingly either Ann or her name was thought to be important enough for the name combination of Ann(a) and Juliana to pass down three generations in her tree. There is certainly room for some more investigation there.  Was it fashion or something else entirely?
    What are the earliest middle names in your tree? Can you beat 1744? Are they female surnames or normal Christian first names and when did your female ancestors start being given middle names?

  9. What has demography got to do with it?


    Demography is the study of the human population by statistical methods. Stated baldly like that, it might appear to be irrelevant to the genealogist. But, if there were no demographers then there would be precious little in the way of sources enabling the kind of genealogy research we are able to do in Britain and Ireland, and indeed throughout Europe. Demographers have been responsible for the census, for civil registration and even for the recording of people in parish registers. John Rickman who was the architect of the five census returns from 1801 – 1841, was one of the most important from a genealogy point of view, and his work deserves to be better known. Thomas Malthus who published in 1798 the Essay on the Principle of Population as it affects the future improvement of Society, is much more famous for his theoretical work, but it was Rickman who enabled the British government to find out whether the population was rising or falling, and who started the process of statistical analysis of the people.
    One of the best websites as an introduction to population statistics for Britain and Ireland is Histpop, where you can find useful essays on the census returns and learn more about the organization of the General Register Office.
    One of the most potentially useful aspects of the work of more current academic demographers is their published work on the accuracy (or not) of our vital records. How many times have you wondered how complete the parish registers are, or what exactly is the known under-representation in the civil registration of births? Existing work on these subjects should be in every genealogy help or text book, but authors usually prefer to describe records, rather than try and produce useful new works of synthesis by applying what is known by the demographers to help us with genealogy puzzles. Even if the genealogy world generally ignores demography and anything statistical, that doesn’t mean that work on the accuracy of the records we use isn’t available (see the works of D V Glass, E A Wrigley and R S Schofield among others).
    Free PDF back issues of Local Population Studies journal up to 2008 can be downloaded, many of these contain extremely useful articles to genealogists and local historians:
    Current academic work on population is headed up by The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure. They are publishing results online using mapping tools, on such interesting topics as: mapping the economic geography of England in 1851; mapping population growth by hundred 1761 – 1841; mapping turnpike roads and waterways with their dates; and the demography of early modern London, among other items of great interest. All of these projects could help you visualize the world of your ancestors and work out how or why movement from place to place happened. Their work is freely available on the website and deserves to be accorded a special place in the heart of any serious genealogist. The visual appeal of the maps certainly takes the pain out of any dry statistical analysis.
    Why wouldn’t we want to study this work? Demography, bring it on!

  10. Natural Disasters and Their Effect on the Lives of our Ancestors


    This is a Guest Post by Wayne Shepheard

    The lives and livelihoods of our ancestors were controlled or affected as much by natural conditions and events as by political and societal constraints. In many cases the latter were strongly influenced by the former. Natural phenomena directly affected the environment in which people lived and worked affecting both the physical health as well as the economic well-being of people.

    Every generation has stories about living through the worst weather or natural disaster to befall mankind! And yet each generation only repeats similar stories told by previous generations. Today, through instant, world-wide communication technologies, we can see the results of major natural disasters and how they affect people locally, regionally and globally. Reports of the devastation caused by these events are readily available on television, in newspapers and, especially, on the internet, almost as they happen.

    In past centuries, there is no doubt that similar disasters caused significant death and destruction, often over wide geographic areas and across broad socio-economic groups of people:

    • Storms, floods, earthquakes and disease all had immediate impacts on people and communities.
    • Volcanic activity, erosion of coastal margins, infilling of estuaries, drought and famine all affected living conditions and economies lasting from several months to several years.
    • Gradual changes related to climate change occurred over hundreds of years and had much longer-term effects on the environment and human habitats.

    In the study of the history of families and the communities in which they lived, it is instructive to consider how people were affected by, or reacted to conditions we have witnessed in more recent situations. Would your great-great-grandparents have been forced to give up their farm if they were flooded out? Would your carpenter ancestor have moved to a location where there was a great deal of work available to repair the damage caused by a major windstorm? Did any of your ancestors lose their lives when tragedy struck in the form of a natural disaster?

    Major storms – one example of natural events – have inevitably resulted in significant mayhem. As a maritime nation, Britain has had its share of such events coming ashore from both the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea.

    A much-written about storm, called The Great Storm, struck the south of England and parts of Europe bordering the English Channel on 26 November 1703 (7 December 1703 on the Gregorian calendar, already in use in continental Europe but not introduced to Britain until 1752). The Great Storm occurred during the height (or depth) of the Little Ice Age (1350-1850), a period of much cooler global temperatures and extremes of weather conditions.

    Picture used with permission, copyright British Library

    The storm was part of a massive counter-clockwise, very deep, low pressure trough that moved across the region, from west to east, affecting areas as far north as Birmingham and Norwich. Some of the devastation dealt to the country over the space of just a few hours included the following:

    • Wind gusts possibly topping 120 mph at the peak of the storm, levelling almost everything in its path
    • Over 700 ships wrecked while docked or at anchor in harbours around southern England and while still at sea, with an estimated death toll of up to 10,000 sailors
    • Thirteen Royal Navy warships sunk, with the loss of over 1,500 lives; many others severely damaged
    • Over 120 lives lost, and hundreds more injured on land across England and Wales
    • Significant damage in towns and cities – in London over 2,000 chimney stacks blown down, demolishing parts of the houses to which they had been attached
    • Tens of thousands of head of cattle and sheep lost on farms along the storm’s path
    • Major parts of forests levelled
    • Areas around major estuaries impacted by floods from storm surges, in many cases more dangerous than the accompanying winds
    • Severe disruption to local economies just emerging from decades of recession, the effects of which felt for years afterward
    • Mercantile shipping, involving fleets serving major cities like London and the export markets, disrupted for many years until replacement ships could be put to sea
    • Immediate inflation of prices in foodstuffs and other goods – building materials in particular
    • On the plus side, work multiplied for tradesmen such as carpenters, masons and plumbers, the latter being expert in the installation of lead sheet roofing

    Losses during the storm have been estimated at about £6 million, representing about 5% of the total value of the building stock in England and Wales at the time – a very significant proportion! The potential loss for such a storm if it were to strike today might be well in excess of £10 billion.

    Could it happen again? There have been other, major storms which battered Britain, causing significant property loss and numerous deaths – in October 1987 as an example. Modern improvements to sea defenses around harbours and estuaries, beach stabilization methods, inland flood control measures, early storm warning systems and rapid response of disaster teams all have aided in preventing the same levels of devastation as occurred during The Great Storm of 1703, however.
    Was your family impacted by The Great Storm of 1703 or from other types of events? I am compiling examples of natural disasters and their impact on people and communities in past centuries. If any readers have such stories of events that affected their own ancestors, I would very much like to hear about them.

    Brayne, Martin. (2002). The Greatest Storm. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing.
    Defoe, Daniel. (1704). The Storm or, a Collection of the most Remarkable Casualties and Disasters which happen’d in the Late Dreadful Tempest, both by Sea and Land. Downloaded through University of Adelaide website 30 March 2014 under Creative Commons License from http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/defoe/daniel/storm/complete.html
    Lamb, Hubert & Knud Frydendaho. (1991). Historic Storms of the North Sea, British Isles and Northwest Europe. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

    About the Author
    Wayne is a past student of Pharos, having attained a certificate (with distinction) in the Family History Skills & Strategies (intermediate) programme. He is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne has his own blogsite, Discover Genealogy, in which he relates his experiences as a family historian. He also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.