Tuesday, 23 August 2011

UK Genealogy News & Views: 23 August 2011

Only a week left to get Essex records for free

Essex Record Office currently have digital images of a number of parish registers available free via the Essex Ancestors section of their SEAX search engine. Coverage varies by date and parish - excellent for Dedham and very poor for Prittlewell, for example. From 30 August they will be offering unlimited access to Essex parish registers and wills on a newly launched Essex Ancestors website but it will be a subscription service. The charges will range from £5 for one day's access to £75 for a year. So if you have Essex ancestors, take a look to see if digital images for their parish are currently free online, before this week's window of opportunity closes.

London Confirmation Records, 1850-1921, on Ancestry

Ancestry usually add new databases quietly, a few days before they announce them publicly. I regularly check the New Collections page to see what they've sneaked in and last week I spotted the addition of London Confirmation Records, 1850-1921. I had high hopes for this collection but they were soon dashed. The new database contains  records from just 25 parishes, some covering very short time periods, such as St John, Kensal Green, 1892-99 and St Jude, South Kensington, 1904-1912. There are less than 23,000 records in total. So don't get your hopes up, fellow London researchers! Oh, and St Martin, Kensal Rise, has been indexed as St John, Kensal Green!

Poor indexing of the 1851 census on Find My Past

British genealogists often complain that Ancestry make a hash of transcribing our records, as in the example above. Yesterday I found equally poor indexing of the 1851 census records on Find My Past. I was looking at the delightfully named Dorset village of Whitchurch Canonicorum and found that over 160 people born in the village had their birthplace mistranscribed as "Whitchurch and Coventry". Other gems of mistranscription included "Whitchurch Lanonicorner" and "Whitchurch Cononicorem". Given that the parish name was clearly written, in full, at the top of the first page, you'd think it would have been fairly easy to get it right! I've suggested to Find My Past that they should review their indexing of this whole section of the census.

Scottish records in English archives

People researching Scottish ancestry naturally gravitate to Scottish repositories and to websites such as Scotland's People. But don't forget that English archives also contain important Scottish records. I have struck lucky in a number of places. In the National Archives at Kew, the TS 11/1082 series of papers relating to the 1745 Jacobite rebellion contains three letters sent to one of my Scottish ancestors. I found deeds for properties in Angus, owned by my 17th century ancestors, in the Sheffield Archives, in the papers of a local aristocratic family of Scots descent. And I have been able to trace the careers of a number of Scottish relatives in the India Office Records at the British Library. The Access to Archives search engine is a good place to start looking for Scottish names and places in English archives and you should also search the National Archives online catalogue.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Identifying & Dating Old Photos: Mystery Photo 1

This evening I participated in an excellent webinar by Maureen Taylor, Photo Detective, on the subject of Identifying and Dating Family Photographs. It has really motivated me to get back to work on an album containing photographs of my Lowe ancestors in Coupar Angus, Scotland, which a cousin shared with me last year. See Every Picture Tells a Story for the background. Of the 96 photographs in the album, only 26 have so far been identified.




I have decided to start with this full length portrait of an unknown man because it has details of the photographer on the reverse:




Here is what I know so far, set out under headings suggested by Maureen's webinar:

Provenance of Photograph

From an album belonging to Dr John Lowe (1849-1925), and his wife, Annie Willie Cowpar. The album was subsequently taken to Canada by their son, Major Robert Lowe (1882-1955). It is now in the possession of one of his daughters, my third cousin, once removed, from whom I obtained a digital copy.

Type of Photograph

Paper print, common in England from 1858 to 1914.


Thanks to Photo London, I know that Alexander Lamont Henderson, born in Edinburgh in 1838, had a studio at 49 King William Street, London Bridge, from 1860 until November 1887. His son gave his photographic library to the Guildhall Library in November 1907. Alas, it was destroyed during the Blitz in 1942. Otherwise I could simply have looked up the print number in the library.

Internal Evidence

The painted window, looking out on a country scene, was popular in the late 1860s.


A number of features suggest the first half of the 1860s:

  • Loose fitting suit
  • Peg top trousers, wide at the top and tapering to a close fit at the ankle
  • Dark jacket worn with light trousers
  • Shoes neither square-toed nor pointed

Genealogical Research

Most of the photographs in the album were taken in Scotland. This one suggests someone who was living in London. Between 1863 and 1872, George Lowe (1819-1915), worked in London as an engineer, first at Woolwich Arsenal and later at St Pancras. He was aged 44 to 53 during this period, which fits with the age of the man in the photograph. I have a photograph of George Lowe taken in 1902, when he was 83. Comparing the two photographs, there would seem to be a similarity in the eyes, nose, mouth and ears:


Copy of Lowe George1902 head 

Add up all the Clues

The evidence so far suggests that this may be a photograph of George Lowe, taken when he was working in London during the 1860s.

Next Steps

George Lowe and his family emigrated first to Canada, in 1872, and then to the USA in 1873. I am in touch with one of his descendants in the USA, my fourth cousin. I shall email him to see if he, or his relatives, have any photographs of George Lowe.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Porter who told porkies had previous

In Porter tells porkies to the police I wrote about how my great-grandfather, John McCarthy, lied about his age in order to join the Metropolitan Police.

Before joining the police, John had been a porter and signalman with the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. Yesterday Ancestry released a new database of Railway Employment Records, 1833-1963 and I was very pleased to find John McCarthy's service record amongst them.


Shadwell Station 1910


The details can be briefly stated: John joined the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway as a porter at Shadwell Station in March 1880, on a salary of 16 shillings a week (about £400 today). On 13 September 1880 he was promoted to signalman and his pay went up to 22 shillings (about £550). He resigned on 25 November 1881, a month before he started his new career in the Metropolitan Police.

What intrigued me was to see that John had also lied about his age to the railway company. In March 1880 John was 16 but told them he was 19. The reason for the deception is baffling, as the records show other boys taken on as porters on the same salary as John, aged only 15. Whatever his motives, it is clear that he had "previous" when it came to pulling a fast one on the Metropolitan Police.

The staff records also reveal that he was recommended to the railway company by Hyam & Co. They were a large and very well known firm of outfitters, with headquarters in Oxford Street and branches in all the main British cities. In 1851 they advertised themselves in the official catalogue of the Great Exhibition as "the most extensive tailors and clothiers in the world". My assumption is that John McCarthy worked for them before joining the railway. Perhaps it was from them that he acquired his taste for elegant clothes, which led to his nickname: The Beau Brummell of the Yard.


Hyam & Co