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17 Aug 2016

You can run but you can't Hyde

I promise my account of ancestorliness in this pretty market town won't reference a certain notorious doctor - all that much. Except that, ahem, the first relative I find in the town, Mrs Kathleen Dyson, was minding her own business when she glimpsed Dr Shipman murdering someone out of the corner of her eye. I couldn't help but notice this clip out of the corner of my eye, myself... so, sorry about that.

Hyde is an old settlement of 40,000 folk nestled around an old market cross and mostly ignoring the more built-up neighbourhoods of Dukinfield and Audenshaw nearby. It's sited between Stockport and the hills of Derbyshire.

Arriving here in the 1870s was carpenter John Carr from up on the hills. His family was to experience war death, 2 murders, chosen solitude, informal adoption, fleeing justice and honest striving for a good future. Fear not, none of my relatives perished in the crimes mentioned.

100 years later was another arrival! Fresh from a learning establishment and looking for a new start, she has been 'parked' on the family tree for a while. Being recently inspired in this area, I remembered about ten minutes ago that...

Electoral rolls can be ordered. Electoral rolls better than sausage rolls.

I can pore over the entire township for free at the British Library next week. The puzzling question is why this idea never crossed my path before? Rest assured though, Lady H: you may run, but you can't Hyde.

5 Aug 2016

Bike Me Up Scotty

Regular readers of this blog may be aware of a recent indiscretion. Owing to a sense of haste I decided to ignore the instructions of my bike manufacturer to proceed with caution on wet and slippy weather. I'm sure that wasn't in the instructions last time I looked!

On closer examination the bicycle concerned, Bike #1, has had a hard and unrewarding life, similar to a mine donkey. Five minutes of TLC showed me getting nowhere in making improvements, so I today acquired Bike #2. (I will now consider ethical methods for the disposal of its predecessor.)

Reserving it online the night before was super easy. I packed absolutely everything this morning in my Decathlon Wünderbag/ rucksack: Contact lenses, glasses case, laptop phone with chargers, screwdriver, Allen key, spanner, toenail clippers (a scissor equivalent), water, wallet, torch, spare socks, helmet, bike lock and key.

Half an hour in the park and it is assembled ready for the journey home. How lucky I am to live in a throwaway society!

27 Jul 2016

Smiths Saga: Let's don't hide let's seek

What a year! I have to look back and think, did I just do all that? I'm referring to my Smiths, George, William, Arthur, Ellen and all the others. They've all been sewn up.

That's right. All the Smiths coming down from Robert Smith, born 1790 in Wymondham, Norfolk are gathered up, spotted on the map and thoroughly accounted for. James Robert, present sir! Mabel Flo, here mister! William. William? Speak up I can't hear you very well across the Atlantic.

There's Tel who works for Virgin Media, George the gardener in Carshalton, George the coachman in Islington, George the labourer in rural Norfolk. Edward who saw the war through, bombs and all, in Bethnal Green.

How is this even possible? Isn't Smith supposed to be *the* most ornery name to research. Folk shudder at the work involved, I'm told. It's not a good name, say others.

Well I think Smith is a fantastic name. Not only were their crisps good in the 80s, square and crunchy, but the genealogical challenge has nearly been maxxed. One wrong turn and you're heading for the wall. A brick wall. Oh.

There is just one of those: Laura. Laura, Laura. Have you not heard us calling? Why are you still playing hide and seek in the woods 140 years later. Dinner is definitely ready. You've totally got the best hiding place, so congrats. Now come out!

I absolutely love when people say, oh that's now become so long ago that you'll never solve that one. Errrr. I'm not going to lie, I enjoy proving that's false. I loved finding William Smith born in England, 1851. Easy! And Charlotte Smith born in 1880, harder! But Laura needs to appear, or we'll just cheat and use DNA to sort her out. Yes your story is obviously *too boring*, I'm turning you over to the science guys.

Charlotte rocks. Ok, turns out she wasn't exactly a nice person, but her family are just so delightful. I met up with them earlier this month for a barbie, after one last effort to find them proved successful.

I have to say that thanks to all these cousins (except one!), I'm proud to be a Smith researcher and I'd consider printing this on a t-shirt for all to see.

25 Jul 2016

Solving a Smith puzzle... using the worst English census!

Let me begin by confirming this was a real puzzle. I had *no* clue where Catherine Smith (born 1785) originated, and judging by her early death, she'd perished long before Victoria had even looked at a throne.

I needed to explain her origins, as it looked dangerously possible that one of my Welsh fisher-widows could be responsible, or some other woman in England, Wales or Scotland.

The 1841 census is the worst of the UK censuses, as the image shows, with hardly any detail at all. More often it creates even more questions, that can perhaps never be answered. But I would have been glad for its help today. Sadly, Catherine's early death rules her out from even this most basic of lists.

Little did I know that there was a nice little trail, a useful path, which if I found it, would take me right to the place and time of her baptism. This Smith had a definite point of origin.

The beginnings of the path lay with her daughter Elizabeth Hogg who seemingly married a Cornishman, Thomas Quick. Thomas and Elizabeth Quick are living together in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in that most terrible of censuses, the 1841.

I would never have found them there except for a quaint forum concerning Cornish matters, of the name Azazella. My paths first crossed with Azazella some 20 years ago in the dawn of the internet.

Azazella's elves had no clue about the Smiths, but they're sure sewn up poor Thomas Quick. His life was an open book. Although they didn't have the crucial 1841 reference in Newcastle, their notes helped me find it.

Listed with the Quicks at Newcastle was plain William Smith with a rough age, useless occupation and no hint of marital status. What it did offer was the initial 'S' standing for Scottish-born.

The path next led me to the very next census where searching for Smith born in Scotland showed only one William still in the town, who had very helpfully just married, a lady who helped him run a pub. The marriage record for the 1840s gives his father's name (Ralph Smith) and so I was arrived at births of all the Smith siblings in Pitlivie, County Angus, including our original Catherine (1785).

Probably the most frustrating Smith enquiry I've dealt with solved with compelling circumstantial evidence from several British port towns, linked by a seemingly boring entry from the worst British census.

23 Jul 2016

Genealogist's Rage Against The Machine

Contrary to the above snapshot, it has been a very unhappy week here at Family History Exploration. The work horse that is laptop number #3 decided to put up some opposition to the heat. Despite opening all available doors and windows, Number Three voiced its concerns in no uncertain terms. The fan reached an impressive crescendo, George Solti would have been impressed with, before the screen dramatically flickered on and off.

To add insult to injury, just as my workhorse was lighting up the town with its own special show, the mouse froze. Predictably, the Excel spreadsheet I was 'using' flashed one last time before everything shut down.

This was not good. I enjoyed spending Sundays moving boxes around in Excel. Now I had to convey a very sick laptop rapidly to some kind of life support.

I regained some composure as I chatted to the Ideal PC experts. Most stuff should be recoverable, they said, as long as you've got it backed up. Errr... This wasn't very helpful. We'll need to run some diagnostics, they said. They could run a bath as far as I was concerned. As long as I got Employee Number #3 back.

Do you remember the nineties? Let me tell you, friends, I've just been back, and it wasn't pretty. Leaving aside the joys of 'Rhythm of the Night', a little known fact is that Corona nearly lost the lyrics to this anthem, due to a lack of memory on their nineties pc.

With Number Three out of commission, Number One (which shared a charging cable) was also unavailable. Number Four was a prize in a raffle and Number Two was as good as its name implies.

This just left a very ancient house pc with Microsoft Works 2.0 (1996). I also realised I had 110 school reports to write that very day. Who said you can't turn back time? Cher, I've found the secret.

Did you know folks, that documents with more than 17000 entries won't fit. Or with more than one sheet. Inconvenient as well as unhygienic. Want to fill in, say, 110 rows, with 'could try harder'? Not possible. You're copying and pasting that manually, fella.

Fast forward back to 2016 with a song written by a duck at the top of the charts, and I'm told the reason for my bedroom sound-and-light show. Dust.

Having been reunited with laptop #3, it has a serious amount of work to catch up on.

Here ends the account of Genealogist's Rage Against The Machine. For now, at least.

22 Jul 2016

Aggravating Ancestor: The Butler's Daughter

The July Blog Party entry for Elizabeth O'Neal's aggravating ancestors blog party:

Ok, I do have the world's worst logic problem in the shape of three couples in the same village with identical names, all producing children at the same time. (Crowan, 1800s). But... that was easy.

My elderly great- aunt sent me a letter in 1985 which I still cringe at "Dear David, I'm sorry I sent you a book you already had. You asked about the family [ even though you are barely toilet-trained ]. Well, my grandmother was Annie Gibson, a Northumberland farmer's daughter. Bye!!"

Seven years later I had the toilet cracked, but my 150 year-old forebear was fast retreating into history. I ordered her marriage certificate via an intermediary. Document said her father was John Gibson butler. Butler, oh dear. I wondered if this was auntie giving me the middle finger.

From Country Club Drive NW in Olympia, USA, came a letter from third cousin Roger. I was now 16. "Contact my family again and I'll properly sort you." I took his lead and he did as he promised.

Annie, our forebear, was indeed some kind of orphan. She arrives into town for the 1851 census with a birthplace in Northumberland being the niece of one James Atkinson, coal agent.

She was of course born a beat before civil registration (1837), which puts her parents' marriage also in that category. There's no baptism but two vital clues hung out, which I ignored.

It's 2008 and really time to sort Annie. For the first time in a while I was not the person to do this. Credit goes to Roger and his second (my third) cousin, R.G.

I'd got as far as her having an aunt Miss Dodd and then backed off. What a fool. Roger had followed a green leaf hint on Ancestry and spied Annie and her kids visiting her unknown mother in 1861.

Annie was unlucky. Her dad, a putter not butler, died in a knee injury in 1844 in Westoe, South Shields age 33. She was then sent off to the Lakes where she released her genetic potential, having ten kids. Her grandfathers both worked for Rev'd Christopher Bird of Chollerton, near Hadrian's Wall. Her earlier forebears had been wealthy farmers (as was her stepfather) and one had married Bird's brother.

I spent a whole weekend glued to the computer, with jelly legs finally emerging for a kebab late on Sunday night.

Annie's tribe is massive, with loads of hidden corners and rock pools to explore. The internet made it quite easy. I'm still hoping we'll find her photo, though.

And the butler? This was Annie telling the poor priest 'putter' in her Tyneside accent.

10 Jul 2016

Come on, give yer Granny £1

A pound was a lot of money in those days. Wealthy Henry Rauthmell, Old Hutton, the brawn behind the lord of the manor, was thirty in 1876 and doing well. Thousands of pounds were at his disposal. But his life was actually about to end and he made his will, which is not yet in my hands.

Twenty or thirty miles south in a popular mill town was Mrs Betsy Whitehead, a smiling toothless lady in her early seventies, just getting on with life. She still had a few more miles on the clock, but not much money. Nothing, in fact.

The death of wealthy Henry could change all that, as he might or might not be her grandson.

It all hinges on the bastard Barton baby's birth at Brook in 1851. If baby born at Brook, Betsy becomes granny. If baby not born at Brook, genealogist is thwarted, Betsy may not be granny.

I hate leaving this conundrum to a throw of the dice in this way. So, come on Henry, prove it for me and leave yer Granny a pound!

2 Jul 2016

Who's the daddy

Betty Airey born 1821 apparently at Lindeth, Westmorland, was a bit of a mystery. Illegitimate, she seems the only contender to marry way over at Old Hutton, near Kendal, to seasoned farmer who we shall call 'J. R.'

He had a pretty rare name which I don't really want his descendants to see, for reasons I'm about to explain.

The marriage certificate doesn't give fathers for either party as a matter of local policy. Not helpful! I rule out Betsy daughter of Benjamin as she's still at home in Preston, Lancashire age 28.

Although J.R. was clearly wealthy, this was at definite odds with Betty, illegitimate as she was. Plus she declared she was born in Kendal, AND her mother went on to have another Elizabeth by a new partner, her husband.

Hmmm!

I'd like you to remember the name Farleton and I'll quiz you at the end of this article. Distinctive, isn't it?

The tiny village concerned popped up in the midst of this. You see, Betty's cousin Isabella got herself into hot water and gave birth to an illegitimate child here in 1851. You might ask, well if she was in service, why didn't she just come home (to Windermere) and have the baby there? Well, she just didn't! And reason is starting to dawn...

Fast forward to 2016 and time for another look. There's no fresh censuses to mull over but there are key bits of background.

Betty Airey's mother definitely lived at Kendal during the 1820s (with her husband), and possibly before. Quite possibly she was a servant in the town from an early age. (A younger sister also married here.)

The Airey family were pretty 'tight'. Cousins occasionally married and were certainly in each other's houses at census time. My own great-grandfather had letters from cousins from the Lakes at his death pre-war.

In fact, when Isabella died in 1880, one cousin stepped in and took on the widower. How's that for family loyalty?

Thirty years earlier and it's obvious to me she came to J.R.'s farm as a maid or nursery nurse, age 20, for the young children of her cousin Betty.

Note the years of birth of these children: 1845, 1848, erm..., er, 1855! Something seems to have happened at Farleton around the year 1851. What could that be?

Betty was clearly a forgiving lady judging by the resumption of marital relations, and I am sure that she provided a home for her young cousin, under the same roof as her straying husband, to make sure she and the baby were ok.

Her troubled cousin was as important as her husband, if not possibly more so.

Thus we have a picture of the character of this lady, for whom we really only have a baptismal record. Illegitimate, likely traded at the Kendal Hiring Fair, displaced by another Elizabeth by her mother, did she really make it to become chatelaine of Brook House? It seems she did.

Now for the final thought. Why did Betty's mother call her youngest child Elizabeth. I believe Betty had already left home, and this girl, always known as Betsy (1840) was 'young Betty' in her honour.

If naming is important, note that the baby born in 1851 was named Mary after maternal grandmother (despite having likely half sister of this name!) and Elizabeth most likely after our heroine.

Two questions. Was this at Farlingdale or Farleton, and... Who's the daddy?

18 Jun 2016

Great-aunt Mary in Wales: the gift that keeps on giving


Shaking the family grapevine in 1991 caused a whole load of rich fruit to come tumbling down.  I had to run to avoid getting splattered on the head.

One particular branch must not have been ripe, as no amount of shaking the tree was getting me the reward.

It was my Grandpa's Great Aunt Mary.  Such a straight-forward relationship, but born in 1839, she has great-grandchildren who are already great-great-grandparents.  It's my job to keep up with *all* of them, even though they are running three generations deeper than our side.  I needed family history dynamite to get me through the barriers.

Her grandson Tom Jones went to Canada and it took plenty of work for me to find that family. A granddaughter married three counties away from Swansea at the age of 40, and left me several surprises to investigate as well. I knew that another granddaughter lived in North Wales, but it wasn't until 2011 that I met up with this family, even seeing some photos.

One of the branches married a Davies and then an Evans. Only today did I get word I had passed through those choppy waters successfully.  Of the many gurus I met along the way, one was sure she'd had cousins Dolly and Molly, but I can't find trace of them anywhere!

At this point we have had two big reunions on this side of the family - and that's barely scratched the surface!  For sure, Grandpa's Great Aunt Mary and her tricky-to-find brood are truly the gift that keeps on giving!

If you wannabe my cousin

...you've got to know my Grandad.

The baby of the family, with cousins many years older, my Grandpa's infancy was enfolded with lots of skirts.  My Grandpa positioned himself as knowing very little about his family.  He even demonstrated this by writing two and a half sides of A4 of social history, with a couple of snippets about basic relatives, claiming that was all the knowledge he had.  This account mentions grandparents, one aunt, one uncle and his own parents.  Full stop.

However, in conversation there was his dad's cousins, May and Tom.  Then there was aunty Taylor, and there might have been a Rodda, and what about Tom Davies, and Tom Taylor, and Tom's daughter or niece who had the farm at Gorseinon.  All from growing up in 1920s Morriston, south Wales.

That wasn't even the half of it.  Photos clearly showed there was a Great Aunt Maggie, with flashing black eyes, who was grandma of two little girls.  There was Cyril the Methodist minister, a Lily who sent blankets during the war, and 20 years later a recollection about the youngest Taylor boy alongside a vignette from the time of the mid-Victorian goldrush.

Grandpa may have been too young to have everyone on a card index, but for an analytical man he was in fact the perfect vector of that wonderful virus - oral history.  His second cousin Cyril was in touch, it emerged, with their third cousin Ben, who I was able to phone way back in 1994.  Which was two years before Wannabe: that's practically pre-historic.