Sunday, 20 November 2011

When I was one, I had just begun ...

So said Christopher Robin in Now We Are Six - and the same is true of this blog, which is one year old today. This first year has raced by and I feel I have only made a small start to all the things I want to write about and accomplish.


Overview stats


Looking at my blog statistics, I have picked out some facts, figures and highlights:

  • I've written 65 posts - an average of one every 5 or 6 days.
  • There have been 9,386 total page views - an average of about 180 per week
  • By far the most popular post has been Scanning Saturday - My new Flip-Pal.
  • My Research Toolbox and Surnames page also get a large number of hits.
  • The month with the highest readership was October 2011, thanks to my Lost in London series of posts.
  • I have most readers in the USA and UK - just over 3,000 page views in each case. More surprisingly, I also seem to have regular readers in Russia and Slovenia.
  • My readers are a mainstream, even conservative, bunch when it comes to technology - 84% use Windows and 50% use Internet Explorer. Less than 4% access my blog from a mobile device (smartphone or tablet).
  • The main traffic sources for my blog are Google, Facebook, EOGN, Genea-Musings and my own website, Caro's Family.

Audience stats


I'm very grateful to all of you who have read my offerings over the past year, and especially to those who have taken the time to comment. I hope you will stick with me as this blog moves into the terrible twos!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

We are a grandmother: 1 - the name Edith

Back in 1989 Margaret Thatcher got a lot of flak for announcing, "We are a grandmother". People thought she was using the "royal we" and had delusions of grandeur. I now understand what happened. The arrival of your first grandchild produces such a combination of anxiety, fatigue and euphoria that, for some days afterwards, you are not responsible for anything you say or do.

Starting a sentence in the plural and ending it in the singular is nothing compared to how I behaved when my own first grandchild was born last week. I was so shell-shocked that I called her by another baby's name - twice. As a peace offering to her parents, I thought I'd blog about the pretty names they have given her - Edith Anne Georgina.

According to Nameberry: "Edith was a hugely popular name a hundred years ago that's being revived among stylish parents in London". Her parents, who live in London, will be pleased with that. I think it is a lovely name and it suits our new darling girl perfectly.

Edith comes from the Old English Eadgyth, derived from the words ead, meaning 'rich, wealthy, blessed, happy', and gyð, meaning 'battle, combat, strife, war'. Experts are divided about what the combination of these two words actually means. Since Edith has always been a girl's name, I don't think it means "war is a blessing" or "war makes you rich", neither of which is a very feminine attitude. I think it is much more likely that the name means "warrior for what is blessed" i.e. someone who fights the good fight. That is what us girls spend our lives doing, after all, as we work hard to build our homes and families and fight like tigers to defend our cubs.

Edith was a very popular name in Anglo Saxon times and has some rather splendid historical connections:

  • Edith of England (910-946), was the granddaughter of King Alfred the Great and wife of Otto I, the Holy Roman Emperor. She was very popular in her adopted country and when she died, "the whole of the German nation mourned her with an intense grief". Edith is buried in Magdeburg Cathedral and her sarcophagus was found and opened in 2008. Tests on the remains showed that they were from a high status lady, who ate fish and rode horses, and who had spent her childhood on the chalk uplands of southern England, thereby confirming the identification of Edith.

Edith of England

  • Edith of Wilton (961-984), was a nun of royal birth, later a popular English saint. She was the daughter of the mis-named King Edgar the Peaceful, who carried her mother off by force from Wilton Abbey, near Salisbury. Edgar subsequently did penance for this crime by not wearing his crown for seven years. Edith became a nun but refused her father's offer to make her an abbess. She was greatly celebrated for her learning, beauty and piety and was canonised shortly after her death. St Edith's feast day is 16 September and there are 21 churches dedicated to her in England.

Saint Edith

  • Edith the Fair (c1025-c1086), wrongly called Edith Swan Neck, was the common law wife of King Harold. She walked through the carnage of the battlefield at Hastings to identify Harold's body by markings on his chest known only to her, thus enabling the monks at Waltham Abbey to give him Christian burial.
  • Edith of Wessex (c1025-1075), was the wife of King Edward the Confessor and sister of King Harold. She was an educated woman who spoke several languages. She was Queen of England from 1045 to 1066. In the course of that fateful year she lost four brothers at the Battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings. She was the only member of her family to make peace with William the Conqueror and it has been suggested that Edith was responsible for commissioning the highly subversive Bayeux Tapestry. She died, childless, at Winchester and was buried beside her husband in Westminster Abbey.
    Edith of Wessex

The name Edith is also associated with some inspirational ladies in more recent times:

  • Edith Cavell (1865-1915), was the heroic English nurse who helped Allied soldiers escape from occupied Belgium during World War I and who, when caught, was shot by the Germans. She famously said, "Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone". Motivated by her strong Christian faith, she helped wounded soldiers from both sides of the conflict, saying, "I can't stop while there are lives to be saved". There is a monument to her memory at the bottom of St Martin's Lane in London, which has always been one of my favourite London memorials.


  • Edith Evans (1888-1976), was a British actress, created a Dame in 1946. She is most famously known for her wonderful portrayal of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest. When I played the same role in a University production, aged just 18, I relied heavily on Dame Edith's example.

Dame Edith Evans as Lady Bracknell

  • Edith Piaf (1915-1963), was a French street singer who became a worldwide cultural icon. She was named Edith in honour of Edith Cavell. She is remembered especially for her powerful renditions of the songs Milord and Non, je ne regrette rien. These two songs, released when I was aged 5 and 6, formed a powerful musical backdrop to my own childhood.

edith piaf

Friday, 14 October 2011

The Ancestors' Geneameme

Thanks to Jill Ball of Geniaus for starting this geneameme. My list is annotated as follows:

  • Things I have already done or found
  • Things I would like to have done or found
  • Things I haven’t done or found
  1. Can name my 16 great-great-grandparents (
  2. Can name over 50 direct ancestors (214)
  3. Have photographs or portraits of my 8 great-grandparents (6 so far
  4. Have an ancestor who was married more than three times
  5. Have an ancestor who was a bigamist
  6. Met all four of my grandparents (1 died before I was born)
  7. Met one or more of my great-grandparents (all died before I was born)
  8. Named a child after an ancestor (my daughter's second name is Laura after my grandfather, Lawrence George Buchanan Davis
  9. Bear an ancestor's given name/s (My middle name is Mary. I have 15 ancestors with that name.)
  10. Have an ancestor from Great Britain or Ireland (All except one)
  11. Have an ancestor from Asia
  12. Have an ancestor from Continental Europe (Julius Wilhelm Fritz from Bahn, Pomerania, Prussia
  13. Have an ancestor from Africa
  14. Have an ancestor who was an agricultural labourer (6)
  15. Have an ancestor who had large land holdings
  16. Have an ancestor who was a holy man - minister, priest, rabbi (2 great-grandfathers and 1 great great grandfather were clergymen)
  17. Have an ancestor who was a midwife
  18. Have an ancestor who was an author
  19. Have an ancestor with the surname Smith, Murphy or Jones (I have three different lines called Smith)
  20. Have an ancestor with the surname Wong, Kim, Suzuki or Ng
  21. Have an ancestor with a surname beginning with X
  22. Have an ancestor with a forename beginning with Z
  23. Have an ancestor born on 25th December
  24. Have an ancestor born on New Year's Day
  25. Have blue blood in your family lines
  26. Have a parent who was born in a country different from my country of birth (My mother was born in Canada
  27. Have a grandparent who was born in a country different from my country of birth
  28. Can trace a direct family line back to the eighteenth century
  29. Can trace a direct family line back to the seventeenth century or earlier (1555
  30. Have seen copies of the signatures of some of my great-grandparents
  31. Have ancestors who signed their marriage certificate with an X
  32. Have a grandparent or earlier ancestor who went to university (theological college
  33. Have an ancestor who was convicted of a criminal offence (
  34. Have an ancestor who was a victim of crime (
  35. Have shared an ancestor's story online or in a magazine (
  36. Have published a family history online or in print (
  37. Have visited an ancestor's home from the 19th or earlier centuries
  38. Still have an ancestor's home from the 19th or earlier centuries in the family
  39. Have a  family bible from the 19th Century
  40. Have a pre-19th century family bible

Sunday, 9 October 2011

SNGF: Genealogy Database Statistics


Tonight's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge from Randy Seaver is:

1)  If you have your family tree research in a Genealogy Management Program (GMP), whether a computer software program or an online family tree, figure out how to find how many persons, places, sources, etc. are in your database.

2)  Tell us which GMP you use, and how many persons, places, sources, etc. are in your database(s) today.


Family Tree Maker

I use Family Tree Maker 2012 (FTM) for my genealogy research. I went to Plan > Current Tree > More to find my file statistics.


FTM stats


This shows me that in my database I have:

  • 5,096 people
  • 1,374 marriages
  • 14 generations
  • 1,015 surnames
  • 1,911 places
  • 63 sources
  • 425 media
  • average lifespan 57.3 years
  • earliest birth date before 1555
  • most recent birth date 11 March 2011

My daughter is due to have her first baby two weeks today, so that last statistic will soon change.


The Next Generation

I use The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding (TNG) to publish my family history online. TNG also produces database statistics. These are slightly different from FTM because I haven't synced the two programs for a couple of days.


TNG stats


The TNG statistics provide me with the additional information that in my database I have:

  • 2,576 males (50.57%)
  • 2,499 females (49.06%)
  • 19 unknown gender (0.37%)
  • total living 582
  • total families 1,536
  • average lifespan 60 years 88 days
  • longest lived person 106 years

The large discrepancy in the average lifespan between FTM and TNG is surprising and I must investigate that further.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Lost in London - 4: Tracing an ordinary London family



To illustrate how much can be found about ordinary London families, I am including the following examples relating to my own Bluett and Fritz ancestors. They were poor Irish and German immigrants but the documents I have uncovered show that they actually lived extraordinary lives. The photographs of Mary Ann Bluett and Julius Fritz included in the family tree, above, came to me from hitherto unknown, distant cousins. We only made contact because my tree was online. 


LOL 3a


This article is from the Times of 15 May 1846. There was a family tradition that Thomas Bluett had been shot in London but the details were completely wrong. As a result, I researched without success for 18 years. Yet I found Thomas easily as soon as the Times Digital Archive came online. That one newspaper published nine separate articles about the shooting, arrest, death, autopsy, inquest and trial. There was also a classic thundering Times leader following the acquittal of the perpetrator, John Graham. Many other national and regional papers also published articles. From all this material I discovered that Thomas had been born in Ireland, whereas I had been searching for him in Devon & Cornwall for years!


LOL 4a


This article is from the Times of 11 June 1846. It provides wonderful information about Mary Bluett, née Langley, and her daughter Mary Ann Bluett, later Fritz. The second half of this article refers to Mary's previous residence in Hong Kong and to her having returned home on a ship whose Captain was subsequently tried at the Old Bailey, with Mary Bluett giving evidence. Armed with these clues and in collaboration with a cousin, found via the internet, I researched an amazing story of travels on three continents, confidence tricks, abandonment, mutiny, celebrity and crime.




Successive censuses showed that Julius Fritz had been born in Prussia but became a British Subject. I found his naturalisation papers in the National Archives and they gave me much valuable information about his origins, family, occupation and residence. They even gave me the name of his father in Prussia - Heinrich.




Cousins I found via the internet had a tradition that Julius was a Freeman of the City of London. I was initially sceptical as there was no such story in my branch of the family. But it turned out to be true and they were able to supply me with a copy of his application for the Freedom. This also gives the name of Julius' father - but as Ferdinand -and the information that he was dead by September 1876.




17a Fetter Lane, London was the Fritz family home and the location for Julius' tailoring business and second-hand china shop. Julius also let rooms to lodgers. It was a slum and was demolished in 1887. But it had been the home of the poet John Dryden in the 17th century and so it was sketched by several artists immediately prior to its demolition. A number of these pictures were found on the internet by a cousin, using Google. Members of the family are shown at the windows in this illustration. In another, a shop sign for J Fritz, Old China Dealer, can clearly be seen. 




This article is from the Times of 28 May 1878. It reports an affray involving one of the lodgers at 17a Fetter Lane, Mrs Amelia Lewis, in which Mary Ann Fritz (nee Bluett) and one of her daughters got caught up. They later gave evidence in court. Ordinary people frequently appear in police reports in this way.

Lost in London - 3: Helpful websites



Access to Archives. Search by name or place across the catalogues of most London repositories including the London Metropolitan Archives, City of Westminster Archives, Corporation of London Records Office and Guildhall Library.

Ancestry. Currently their catalogue lists 30 London specific databases, including London Births and Baptisms, 1813-1906; London Marriages and Banns, 1754-1921; London Deaths and Burials, 1813-1980; and London Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812.

Black Sheep Index. It's pot luck if you find anyone. I found two young ancestors who got on a train, very drunk, and objected violently to some pious fellow passengers who tried to convert them! I also found the reason for the disappearance of my great-great grandfather, Rev Frederick Davis – he fled abroad to avoid a charge of assaulting a young woman on a train.

British Newspapers, 1800-1900. 49 local and national titles. You may be able to access this collection for free using your library card.

Charles Booth Online Archive. Street by street notebooks and maps, documenting social conditions in London between 1886 and 1903.

City of Westminster Archives Catalogue. WESTCAT contains details of the official records of the City of Westminster and the former Boroughs of Paddington and St Marylebone together with parish registers and other parish records for these areas. The collections also include records deposited by businesses, estates, schools, clubs, societies, charities, institutions and private individuals. There are also images of prints and photographs drawn from the archival and local studies collection.

Cyndi's List. Check Cyndi's pages for London and the surrounding counties for thousands of relevant links.

Deceased Online. Digitised images of burial and cremation records from the London Boroughs of Brent, Camden, Greenwich, Havering, Islington and Merton.

Docklands Ancestors. Indexes to baptisms in dockland parishes, plus resources for researching Thames watermen and lightermen and other dockland ancestors.

Find My Past. The London Collection includes the City of London Burial Index; West Middlesex Marriage Index; London Docklands Baptisms; London and West Kent Probate Indexes and participants in the 1888 Matchworkers' Strike.

GENUKI: London. Don't forget to visit the pages for Middlesex, Surrey, Kent and Essex as well.

Google. To find all instances of a search term on a website, use the search prefix "site" plus your search term, for example: " gurney". This is very useful for sites such as Black Sheep Ancestors which have multiple databases with no overall search engine.

Google Books. Search for references to ancestral names or places inside old books. Read them online or order the book from your local library on inter-library loan.

Historical Directories. Digital images of 81 London directories from 1808 to 1919.

London Ancestor. A miscellany of London links.

London Gazette. Includes bankruptcies, business failures and closures. I found a direct ancestor imprisoned in Maidstone Gaol as an "insolvent debtor".

London Jews Database. A database of names, addresses and some other information about Jews who lived in London in the first half of the nineteenth century.

London Lives, 1690-1800. A fully searchable edition of 240,000 manuscripts from eight archives and fifteen datasets, giving access to 3.35 million names.

London Metropolitan Archives. Information about collections, research leaflets and catalogue search.

London Road Name Changes. Indexed lists of the road name changes made by London County Council after 1889.

London Roll of Honour. London war memorials and rolls of honour.

Middlesex Marriage Index. Covers 31 parishes on the outskirts of London.

Old London Maps. Includes views of the city from the 16th to the 19th century.

Principal streets and places in London and its environs, 1856. Produced by the Post office, this directory gives the postal district for every street in London.

Proceedings of the Old Bailey. Pot luck again. This site has amazing detail about cases, with names, addresses and statements of victims, witnesses and perpetrators.

Society of Genealogists, City of London Resources. Includes information on the City Livery Companies, in addition to the resource categories listed for Middlesex, below.

Society of Genealogists, Middlesex Resources. Includes parish registers, marriage licences, monumental inscriptions, censuses, directories, poll books, periodicals and wills.

Times Digital Archive, 1785-1985. Information on how to gain free access and how to search. The Times is not just a source for "top people". Many ordinary people appeared in its pages, especially in reports of court cases and "human interest" stories.

Topographical Dictionary of London, 1831. "Containing descriptive and critical accounts of all the public and private buildings, offices, docks, squares, streets, lanes, wards, liberties, charitable, scholastic and other establishments, with lists of their officers, patrons, incumbents of livings, &c. in the British metropolis". 

Tower Hamlets BMD. Indexes to registrations of births, marriages and deaths within the Tower Hamlets district from 1837 to date.

Victorian London A to Z Street Index.

Lost in London - 2: Research strategies



General strategies

These are strategies applicable to all family history research:

  • Keep an open mind. Evaluate everything, assume nothing. What you think you know about dates, ages, relationships or places may be wrong and may be preventing you from looking in the right place.
  • Use all available sources. Never be content with just the readily available BMD and census information. More sources equal more pieces of the jigsaw.
  • Research related lines. Siblings share parents and first cousins share their grandparents. Work backwards through them and then come forwards down the tree again. Find living relatives. Different stories, photos and documents are passed down different lines. Distant cousins may hold vital clues. They may even help you research.
  • Use the internet. More and more images of primary sources are online, plus incredibly helpful indexes and search engines. The internet is an amazing tool, which has revolutionised genealogy. Use it!
  • Share your research. This combines the last two points. Publish your research online and watch the new cousins roll up and the brick walls tumble.

London strategies

Learn the geography.

"Mr Weller's knowledge of London was extensive and peculiar". Dickens

You need to "do the knowledge” like a London cabbie.

  • Learn the administrative structure. London consisted of the City of London plus parts of Middlesex, Surrey, Kent and Essex. There were different boundaries for registration districts, poor law unions, Church of England parishes and electoral wards. These overlapped in confusing ways. There were also frequent changes. During the 19th century there was repeated sub-division of Church of England parishes and, in 1889, the London County Council was created.
  • Study 19th century growth. London was transformed by the coming of the railways in the 1830s, leading for the first time to a divide between the inner city and the suburbs. There was new building on a massive scale, with the development of Islington, Paddington, Belgravia, Holborn, Finsbury, Shoreditch, Southwark and Lambeth.
  • Research street name changes. Many streets disappeared as a result of new road construction such as Kingsway in central London. Many had their names changed (sometimes more than once) to remove duplications. To track the changes you need maps. Reproductions of old Ordnance Survey maps and the A to Z of Victorian London are particularly helpful.
  • Consider migration routes. Identify possible routes  into London from your ancestors' rural places of origin. For example, the Gurney family moved from Norfolk to Bedfordshire to Hertfordshire to North London. And remember that they didn't just travel by road. You should look at the pattern of rivers and railways as well, when trying to identify where they came from or where they went.

Understand the society

"London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained." Conan Doyle

To do this you must read, read, read. Some helpful starting points are:

  • Ackroyd, Peter.  London: The Biography
  • Dickens, Charles. Any of his London based novels. See Dickensian London: A character in itself.
  • Engels, Friedrich. The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844.
  • Mayhew, Henry. London Labour and the London Poor.
  • Booth, Charles. Life and Labour of the People of London. The London School of Economics has put Booth's poverty maps and notebooks online. If you are lucky, you may find a detailed description of your ancestor’s street.

Remember the history

"If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us!" Coleridge

  • Your ancestors did not live in a vacuum, isolated from the great events of their day. To see the connections, superimpose a timeline of historical and/or local events on a chronological list of events in your ancestor's life. Tools to help you do this can be found in many genealogy software programs.
  • Are some of your male ancestors missing from the 1901 census? This baffled people when the 1901 census was first released. They had forgotten about the Boer War.

  • Did your ancestors appear in London out of nowhere in the 1840s/1850s? Remember the Irish Potato Famine, 1845-1852 and that Irish people did not necessarily have uniquely Irish surnames. 1848 is known as the Year of Revolution across Europe. Uprisings took place in France, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Poland, and their suppression was the trigger for a wave of emigration. Many ended up in London.

Lost in London - 1: Why is London such a problem?

Back in 2008 I gave a talk to the Family History Group of Thornbury U3A on the theme "Lost in London - Breaking down brick walls in London research". As my health no longer allows me to travel to give talks, I've decided to share my presentation on this blog. I've broken it into four parts for ease of reading. I hope you find it helpful.



Why is London such a problem?

"Hell is a city much like London - A populous and smoky city." Shelley

  • Size. By 1800 London was already the world’s largest city, with a population of 1 million. By the 1851 census, that figure had grown to 2.5 million and was 6.7 million in 1901.
  • Scale. The small market town where I live, Chipping Sodbury, consists of one parish and it is possible to search the whole parish register, if necessary, for one event. But there were over 100 parishes in the square mile of the City of London alone. And some of the parishes in the wider city were truly enormous. By mid century, the population of St Marylebone was over 150,000.
  • Range of repositories. In addition to the major collections in the London Metropolitan Archives, Guildhall Library and Westminster Archives, there are separate record offices in most London boroughs, plus numerous specialist repositories
  • Range of sources. The numbers of different churches, charities, directories, newspapers, books, government reports, etc. covering London make it impossible to search everything.
  • Difficult research period. During the early 19th century there was a decline in the number of children baptised, especially in poor urban areas, and this was prior to the start of General Registration in 1837 and the first useful census in 1841.

Why are Londoners such a problem?

"There are two places in the world where men can most effectively disappear—the city of London and the South Seas." Herman Melville

  • Extreme poverty. In "The Condition of the Working Class in England", published in 1845, Friedrich Engels described the abject condition of the London poor:

      On the occasion of an inquest held Nov. 14th, 1843, by Mr. Carter, coroner for Surrey, upon the body of Ann Galway, aged 45 years, the newspapers related the following particulars concerning the deceased: She had lived at No. 3 White Lion Court, Bermondsey Street, London, with her husband and a nineteen-year-old son in a little room, in which neither a bedstead nor any other furniture was to be seen. She lay dead beside her son upon a heap of feathers which were scattered over her almost naked body, there being neither sheet nor coverlet. The feathers stuck so fast over the whole body that the physician could not examine the corpse until it was cleansed, and then found it starved and scarred from the bites of vermin. Part of the floor of the room was torn up, and the hole used by the family as a privy.

      On Monday, Jan. 15th, 1844, two boys were brought before the police magistrate because, being in a starving condition, they had stolen and immediately devoured a half-cooked calf's foot from a shop. The magistrate felt called upon to investigate the case further, and received the following details from the policeman: The mother of the two boys was the widow of an ex-soldier, afterwards policeman, and had had a very hard time since the death of her husband, to provide for her nine children. She lived at No. 2 Pool's Place, Quaker Court, Spitalfields, in the utmost poverty. When the policeman came to her, he found her with six of her children literally huddled together in a little back room, with no furniture but two old rush-bottomed chairs with the seats gone, a small table with two legs broken, a broken cup, and a small dish. On the hearth was scarcely a spark of fire, and in one corner lay as many old rags as would fill a woman's apron, which served the whole family as a bed. For bed clothing they had only their scanty day clothing. The poor woman told him that she had been forced to sell her bedstead the year before to buy food. Her bedding she had pawned with the victualler for food. In short, everything had gone for food. The magistrate ordered the woman a considerable provision from the poor-box.

  • Extreme mobility. Because so many were leading a hand to mouth existence, with very little money for accommodation, renting rooms by the month, week or even by the night was common. Most poor families gave a different address at the birth registration of each child. It is not uncommon for the address to change in the few weeks between birth and baptism.
  • Fragmented families. The Industrial Revolution led to a huge migration of population from the countryside into the towns. People lost their rural roots and the extended family structures which went with them. Family members were scattered over wide areas of the city and children no longer supported their aged parents.
  • Social breakdown. People were no longer well known to their neighbours, or to the authorities, as is demonstrated in the cases cited by Engels
  • Official anonymity. Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths was not compulsory until 1875. There was deliberate evasion of the census takers and it was easy to cover up cohabitation, adultery and illegitimacy. One of my husband's ancestors fathered two illegitimate children whilst he was an apprentice. He and his partner were able to pass themselves off as man and wife when baptising those children in a large London parish. Once his apprenticeship ended, they went several parishes away to tie the knot quietly.

Monday, 12 September 2011

UK Genealogy News & Views: 12 September 2011

Essex Ancestors Update

The planned launch of Essex Ancestors on 30 August has been put back to 3 October. This means that you have an extra month to view the digital images currently online for free, as explained in my previous post. Don't miss this opportunity whilst it is available.

Genhound - a little known resource

I read a lot of genealogy blogs and follow many genealogists on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. Some sites get mentioned repeatedly but I rarely see any reference to Genhound. That is a pity as it is full of useful content which is growing fast. Records include parish registers, monumental inscriptions, newspapers, obituaries, wills, military records, court records, land records, biographies and much more besides. You can see a complete list of databases here. At the moment there is a little bit of everything, so it's a real lucky dip. As someone who's stuck in late 17th century Scotland, I am particularly keen on the Scottish Deeds Index, which now covers the period 1675-1696. But I've also found relatives in poll books, directories and school records. Genhound is extremely reasonably priced. You can buy 60 Credits for £3 and they have no expiry date. The average record costs just 10 credits (50p) to view. Do give their search engine a try today and let me know how you get on.

New Crew List Records on Find My Past

Find My Past have recently added records from 1881 and 1891 to their database of Crew Lists, 1861-1913. This database is potentially very valuable. It contains indexes to around 33,500 lists of crew members on board British merchant vessels and around 413,500 records of individual crewmen. Information available in the index includes name, age, place of birth, rank, previous ship, current ship, dates of voyage, details of the vessel, details of the owner, master and other crew members and the reference number for the original crew list at the National Archives.

Unfortunately, the usefulness of the index is seriously undermined by the limitations of the search function and the poor quality of the indexing. It is not possible to search by the birth town, only by the birth county (usually not in the original but added by the indexers). You must select from a list of counties which covers England, Wales, two counties in Ireland - Cork and Dublin, Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man and Overseas. The database contains a large number of crew members who were born in one of the other Irish counties, or in Scotland, but it is impossible to search for them by birth county.

Birth towns have also been incorrectly allocated to counties. Whilst ploughing through 28 pages of Andersons to find my Scottish relatives, I came across Falmouth indexed in Cork instead of Cornwall, Ferryden in Overseas instead of Angus and Arundel in Norway! There are five whole pages out of the 28 where the places have not been allocated a county at all. Many of these birth places are blank, abbreviated or obscure, but others are instantly recognisable, such as Morpeth, Tipton, Halifax, Glamis, Kirkcaldy and Pontypridd.

Unlike most of the other Find My Past databases, there is no facility to submit corrections to these indexes.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Merchant Navy records: Wreck, Rescue & Racism

My son in law's great grandfather, Leonard Harold Glenister, 1904-1995, was a merchant seaman. So when Find My Past released their new collection of Merchant Navy records last week I looked him up.

The records are index cards created by the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen for all those serving on British merchant navy vessels from 1918 to 1941. The front of each card contains biographical information plus a description and, if you are lucky, there is a photograph on the back, together with details of ships on which the person served.

I duly found a card for him, covering the period 1918 to 1921. He joined the merchant service as a "Deck Boy" in 1918, aged 14.  He was only 4 foot 7 inches in height, with light brown hair and grey eyes. He looked very solemn and worried in his photograph.

Glenister Leonard Harold 1918

Find My Past have included a helpful link to the Crew List Index Project, to identify the names of ships from the official numbers used on the index cards. From CLIP I learned that Leonard's first ship, which he joined on 23 January 1919, was the SS Zealandic. Constructed by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, she was launched in 1911 and owned by the White Star Line, of Titanic fame. Her home port was Liverpool. In 1917 she was commandeered by the Royal Navy for the transportation of troops and was still being used for that purpose when Leonard joined her, sailing between Liverpool and Wellington in New Zealand. Troops returning home were carried in one direction and meat from New Zealand in the other.

SS Zealandic

On 13 January 1920, Leonard moved to his second ship, SS Athenic, also owned by the White Star Line. She was a passenger liner, built in Belfast by Harland and Wolff and launched in 1901. She carried 121 passengers in first class, 117 second class and 450 third class. The ship was equipped with electric lighting and cooling chambers for the transport of frozen lamb. Like the Zealandic, she sailed on the New Zealand route.

SS Athenic

Leonard Glenister's voyage on the Athenic turned out to be rather eventful. I have pieced together the following account of what happened from  newspaper reports in the United States and New Zealand.

On her outward journey from London to Wellington, via the Panama Canal, the Athenic was carrying 500 homebound New Zealand soldiers. On 2 February they were docked in Newport News, Virginia, where an influenza epidemic was raging. The soldiers were forbidden to go ashore but 50 of them defied the order. Their commanding officer promptly reported them to the local police and they were arrested as deserters. According to the newspaper report, "They resented the charge of being deserters, but were herded back to their ship without difficulty after a brief stay in the police station". Athenic was due to sail the following day but was kept in port for a further three days by a fierce storm which brought 50 mph winds and huge waves.

Björn Larsson's Maritime Timetable Images

The return journey was even more dramatic. On Sunday 2 May 1920, an American steamer, the SS Munamar, on a voyage from Antilla, Cuba to New York, ran aground on a reef off San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. The ship was in a very dangerous position and taking on water fast, so the passengers were all put into the lifeboats. Athenic was in the vicinity and received Munamar's SOS call about 9pm. The first Athenic's passengers knew of the incident was when her engines suddenly stopped. It was too dark to effect a rescue but fortunately it was a calm night, so the Munamar's passengers sat in their lifeboats, whilst the Athenic circled, waiting for dawn. At daybreak on 3 May the 83 passengers from the Munamar were rescued, and their baggage and the mails salvaged from the stranded ship. The whole operation took about two hours.

Björn Larsson's Maritime Timetable Images

Athenic had a full passenger list and no empty berths, so the Captain ordered beds to be made up in the public rooms for the new arrivals. Unfortunately, this led to an ugly display of racism. 30 of the rescued passengers were black and the other Munamar passengers objected strongly to sharing accommodation with them. They "made a great many complaints" but the Captain of the Athenic stood firm. No doubt all concerned were very relieved when the Athenic landed the Munamar's passengers at Newport News, three days later. From there they made their way to New York by train.

The Munamar was eventually floated off the reef, after 2,000 bags of sugar from her cargo were thrown overboard, and taken to a dry dock in Jacksonville, Florida, for repairs. She then returned to service between Cuba and New York. Some time later, Captain Crossland of the Athenic was given a gold watch by President Warren Harding, in recognition of his ship's rescue efforts.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

SNGF - Ahnentafel Roulette

Tonight's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge from Randy Seaver is:

  1. How old would your great-grandfather be now, if he had lived? Divide this number by four and round off to a whole number. This is your "roulette number."
  2. Use your pedigree charts to find the person with that number in your ahnentafel. Who is that person?
  3. Tell us three facts about the person with that "roulette number."

My great-grandfather, Rev Alban Edgar Brunskill Davis, was born in 1852. Had he lived, he would be 159 years old. Dividing this number by four gives me a "roulette number" of 40.

Number 40 in my ahnentafel is my 3x great grandfather, William Eaton, 1777-1857.

My three facts about William are:

  1. He was a carpenter in the small village of Dean in Bedfordshire and also had a side line selling beer. He was the fifth in an unbroken line of seven generations of Eatons who were carpenters in Dean, spanning the period 1679 to 1898.
  2. He married three times.
    • His first wife was Elizabeth Hardwick, 1779-1814. Elizabeth was from Great Staughton in Huntingdonshire, where they married in 1801. William was two years older than Elizabeth.
    • His second wife was Martha Windsor, 1796-1820. They married in Dean in 1815. William was 19 years older than Martha.
    • His third wife was my 3x great grandmother, Elizabeth Panther, 1802-1868. William was 25 years older than Elizabeth.
  3. As a result of these three marriages, William had 17 children over a period of 39 years, from 1803 to 1842. His last child was born when he was 65:
    • With Elizabeth Hardwick he had eight children:
      • Sarah Eaton, 1803-1803
      • William Eaton, 1804-1824
      • Thomas Eaton, 1805
      • Samuel Eaton, 1806
      • Mary Eaton, 1808
      • Hannah Eaton, 1809
      • John Eaton, 1811
      • Joseph Eaton, 1813-1814
    • With Martha Windsor he had only one child:
      • Elizabeth Eaton, 1816
    • With Elizabeth Panther he had eight children:
      • Robert Eaton, 1822-1898
      • Sarah Eaton, 1823-1832
      • Ann Burgess Eaton, 1825
      • Emma Eaton, 1828
      • William Eaton, 1829
      • Mary Eaton, 1832
      • Sally Burgess Eaton, 1839
      • Samuel Panther Eaton, 1842

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

Saturday, 30 July 2011

SNGF: 10 Signs you have summer holiday GOCD

For tonight's SNGF challenge, Randy Seaver has invited us to add to Michael John Neill's list of 10 Signs You Have Genealogy OCD.

As we are in the middle of the summer holidays, I decided to base my list on that theme:


Summer Holiday


  1. You book your holiday accommodation in a former ancestral hometown - if possible, in a former ancestral home.

  2. You pack your laptop, notebook and pencils but forget your swimsuit and sunblock.

  3. You take three days to get there because of all the genealogy related stops along the way.

  4. You spend your days in the archives / cemetery whilst your family go to the beach.

  5. You spend one evening at the local genealogy society meeting.

  6. You spend your other evenings researching online whilst your family watch TV.

  7. You send reproductions of old postcards to your friends and family back home.

  8. You buy local maps and histories as souvenirs.

  9. You are Facebook friends with all the local genealogists by the time you leave.

  10. All your holiday snaps are of gravestones.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

SNGF: Where I'm From

This week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge from Randy Seaver is to write a poem about "Where I'm From" using the template found at the website

Here is my entry:

Where I'm From

I am from toast and dripping, Hovis and honey, full cream milk and eggy soldiers.

I am from a pebble-dashed semi - coal bunker, Mabel Lucy Attwell print, ginger kitten climbing the curtains - next door to the district nurse.

I am from the rose trellis and vegetable plot, compost heap and cherry tree. Opposite the oak wood dell, pirate haven and Red Indian camp, where my brother fell from a tree.

I am from grammar school education and eccentricity, Scottish pride and London poverty. I am from upstairs and downstairs - Alban and Georgina and Viv and Alice.

I am from wanderlust and laughter, a passion for history and the gift of the gab. From "I can see a way round this" to "you get yours, mate".

I am from mixed-marriage, second-class, never quite good enough Catholics. I am from Bible believing Baptists, upwardly mobile Methodists, bells and smells Anglicans, down the pub atheists.

I am from the Surrey hills, channelling Dorset, Yorkshire, London. I am from the Braes of Atholl and from the Blarney Stone. I am from puddings - Christmas and Yorkshire - spaghetti bolognese and the Chinese chippy.

I am from the snake in Dad's tent and the flood over the library. I am from Passchendaele and Poona. From the Rector of Brympton and McCarthy of the Yard.

I am from a biscuit tin of photos, tea-time stories, Grandma's memories. I am from a crocheted cot blanket, an ivory hairbrush and a tortoiseshell mirror.

I am from strong roots in good soil.

Monday, 27 June 2011

An ancestor who fought at Waterloo

Since my daughter married, two years ago, I have been tracing my son in law's ancestry. I recently discovered that his 4x great grandfather, George Stables, fought at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815.

George Stables was born at Cairnie in Aberdeenshire in December 1782, the son of George Stables, a crofter, and Jean (or Jane) Minty. George junior originally worked as a weaver but on 9 February 1807, at the age of 24, he enlisted as a Gunner in the Royal Artillery.

Unfortunately, the only part of his military service record which survives is his discharge record, so it is impossible to piece together the details of his military service prior to Waterloo. It seems highly likely, however, that he saw service during the Peninsular War (1808 to 1814).




By 1815, George Stables was a Gunner in Captain Courtenay Ilbert's Company, 5th Battalion, Royal Artillery, which formed part of Wellington's Reserve and did not see action at Waterloo. Shortly before the battle, however, a detachment of 3 Officers, 3 Bombardiers and 33 Gunners were sent from Captain Ilbert's Company to join the 2nd Company, 3rd Battalion, Royal Artillery, under the command of Brevet Major Thomas Rogers. George Stables was one of the Gunners and Lieutenant George Sylvester Maule was one of the Officers.

George Maule kept a journal which is now in the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives. I was able to purchase a transcript and commentary by Mike Robinson at 1815 Limited. I also found online a detailed presentation on the history of Rogers' Company of the Royal Artillery. From these two sources, it is possible to know what George Maule and the men under his command experienced in the three days from 15 to 18 June 1815.

On the evening of Thursday, 15 June, they were quartered at the Chateau at Foret, two and a half miles south of Brussels. They were roused from their beds at 11 pm by a courier bringing orders to march. Between 1 and 2 am on the morning of Friday 16 June they left Foret and marched to Brussels, where they waited some time for the 5th Division, of which they were part, to form up. They then departed by the Namur Gate, marching to the tune of "The British Grenadiers".

About 8 o'clock on the morning of 16 June they arrived at Waterloo and rested on either side of the road outside the village, in the Forest of Soignes. During the course of the morning they passed several places from which the inhabitants had fled, apart from some terrified old women.


Quatre Bras


At 1pm they arrived at the strategic crossroads of Quatre Bras, where Dutch and Belgian troops were already engaged in fighting the French. Rogers' Company, who were equipped with six 9-pounder guns, formed a line and were soon in action. They took part in a furious artillery duel with the French, whose guns were well hidden in a wood 600 yards in front of them, and fought off a charge of Cuirassiers and a column of enemy infantry. The Company suffered heavy losses in men and horses but kept up their steady firing. The fighting carried on until dark (which at that time of year would have been late evening) when the two armies bivouacked where they had fought.

At daybreak on Saturday 17 June they buried the dead officers and the ordinary soldiers, such as George Stables, took the opportunity to fit themselves out with new kit at the expense of their dead comrades. At 11 am they marched back they way they had come towards Waterloo, with French troops harrying them from behind. They were also caught in a dreadful storm. By 6.30 pm the whole British army had taken up its positions at the hamlet of Mont St. Jean, with the French about three quarters of a mile away, with whom they exchanged artillery fire until nightfall. Heavy rain extinguished their fires as they bivouacked for the night.




They were up and under arms before daybreak on Sunday 18 June, although the battle did not start until later in the morning. Rogers' Company were positioned in front of the infantry and were under direct orders from Wellington only to open fire on an enemy advance. The Commander of the 5th Division, Sir Thomas Picton, stationed himself next to Rogers' artillery to direct their fire on the mass of French infantry.

A present day member of Rogers' Company has described the scene:

Calmly the gunners waited with lighted portfires until the head of the French column appeared over the crest in front of the guns. At the word “fire” a tremendous salvo of grape shattered the enemy and before they could recover the British infantry charged them. A melee ensued which the gunners joined in, armed only with rammers, until the French resolve weakened and they gave way in confusion. So critical was the situation at this time that one of Rogers's guns was spiked by its Number 1 to prevent it being used by the enemy who seemed bound to capture it.

Sir Thomas Picton was killed close by the Company at this time. They then changed position twice before, down to only three guns, they took part in the final decisive action of the battle, the repulse of Napoleon's famed Imperial Guard, cutting down whole ranks with their murderous artillery fire.


Waterloo Medal


Rogers' Company won a battle honour for their actions at Quatre Bras and Waterloo. Like all those who had fought in either action, George Stables received the Waterloo Medal and had 2 years added to his reckonable service for pension purposes. By 1816 he was back in Britain and stationed at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich. On 26 October 1816 George married a Suffolk girl, Rebecca Dawson, at St Nicholas, Plumstead.

George was discharged from the 5th Battalion of the Royal Artillery on 31 January 1819. The discharge papers contain a physical description. He was 5 foot 7.5 inches, with dark brown hair, blue eyes and a dark complexion. The official reason for his discharge was "ague and debility". Ague was the old term for malaria, a disease which devastated the British forces during the Peninsular War. This reinforces the likelihood that George Stables had seen service there.

George wasted no time in returning to Scotland after his discharge, settling at Cults, near Kennethmont in Aberdeenshire, about 12 miles from his birthplace. His first known child, also George, was baptised at Kennethmont on 11 March 1819, so poor Rebecca must have travelled nearly 600 miles whilst heavily pregnant. Despite his "debility", George went on to live for another 40 years, drawing a pension of 9d a day from the army (about £30 in today's money). He also fathered eight more children with Rebecca. He died at Cults, of dropsy, on 20 December 1859, aged 77, and was buried in the kirkyard at Kennethmont.

Monday, 6 June 2011

This is the Face of Genealogy




Without genealogy I would never have known that James Hudson Taylor, 1832-1905, the famous missionary to China, was my second cousin, three times removed.


Relationship Chart


This post is published in response to a request from Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Surname Saturday: Nippard

This is the rarest surname in my family tree - so rare that it doesn't appear in the surname books and I can't find a surname website which has any information about its derivation.

I have found it spelled in a wide variety of ways - Nepard, Neppard, Neppred, Nepprod, Nipard, Niperd, Niperhed, Nippards, Nipperd, Nippered, Nippierd, Nippred, Nipprid, Nipred, Niprid, Niprod and Nypred - but Nippard seems to be the most common form.

Having searched for the surname derivation for years, I stumbled across the answer whilst doing a Google search on these variants. The name comes from a lost medieval settlement called Nypred in the parish of Tisbury, Wiltshire, the earliest reference to which dates from 1240. It was located somewhere in the area now known as Fonthill Old Park.




The earliest occurrence of the surname I have found is John de Nipred, who was one of the jurors at an Inquisition Post Mortem held in Tisbury on 16 July 1290. The earliest mention in a parish register is the burial of Katherin, daughter of Thomas Nypred, at Salisbury, Wiltshire on 20 November 1561. Salisbury is some 12 miles from Tisbury. The surname continued to be very localised to this area, being found almost exclusively in Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire right up until the 19th century. 

My own link to the family is my 7x great grandmother, Mary Nipperd, who married John Coles at Damerham, Wiltshire, on 20 April 1703. I have no information about her baptism or parents, so she is one of my end-of-line brick walls. However, Damerham is less than 20 miles from Tisbury, so I think there is no doubt as to where Mary's - and my - Nippard ancestors originated.