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18 Dec 2017

Hidden Roots: Behind the Marriage

All I really wanted was to find out something, anything!, about the couple in this marriage entry - which is for 1791 in Chesterfield, north Midlands.
Most of the marriages that made me were mature couples solemnly throwing their lot in with another, having had something of a life already. I didn't think this one was.

What lay behind the marriage was my biggest discovery of 2017.

I knew the only child of the marriage very well: Hannah. She founded a dynasty of hardworking, short-lived women, all working-class business women who took their plenty of nothing, and made plenty of something.

But her parents were one big closed door. And when you burst open a door, you don't get to control what you see.

Nathaniel Gee and Ann married for love, of that I'm sure. Their first and only child was already on the way. When Ann died the very next year, Nathaniel's next daughter (by a new wife) was given her name. He only reached 37 himself. So by 1810 the couple were both dead and their love folded up and gone like dry leaves.

Finding the story

You didn't tune in to watch me clang open filing cabinets, and scroll through microfilm for the right baptism. But tippie-toing along the path, DID lead to the right baptism, for both Nathaniel, and Ann. Bear in mind please I knew NOTHING about them. Not even their real ages.

Reality struck. There was nothing I liked about possible baptisms for Nathaniel in London fringes, the east coast or urban Manchester. Bearing in mind he died 1805, I like the look of this family unit, based in Derbyshire, but with a Nathaniel in the mix. Something needed exploring here.
I really thought there was a vacant position here for Nat, maybe the son of Jonathan and Sarah? To my amazement, the door clicked open and there were plenty of riches to behold. Turns out I was right.

The groom

Nathaniel Gee was baptised 1767 in West Bromwich, just outside Birmingham, our second city, some years before his parents came to Derbyshire. Jonathan and Sarah Gee married the previous Christmas (1766) in Dudley, administratively in Worcestershire, clear the other side of Britain's second city.

Wheesh!! The pages kept turning and turning. I scribbled 5 pages of trees no problem. I checked out 2 wills and there are at least two more to check at some point. The family kept rabbits, wine and something to do with hot metal. They were interesting and an eight-year old girl got a pet sow as a gift to bring piglets in to the family equation. And that's just the mother Sarah.

The father Jonathan - well he turns out to have been a formidable builder of canals. You name a big stretch of man-made waterway from the 1700s and this man Jonathan Gee had his finger in whatever pie there happened to be going. Let's just say I have a barge trip around the UK booked as a some-day project, and that is going to be all about Jonathan with almost no down-time to see all he did.

Nathaniel has the blood of 3 counties whirling in his veins, and that's great, but what about Ann?

The bride

Ann the bride was probably 17 years of age and definitely not 'from Chesterfield' as the marriage entry implies. I know now that Nathaniel was a bold young buck of 22 and capable of relabelling 'black' as 'white' if he chose to do so. He had his father's big ideas and all his talking shook his later children right up the ladder. A hundred years later, one of his granddaughters would hold court in Nottingham, giving the only published account available of life in that city across the 1800s. Effortless and faultless, she was a rich woman at the castle alright, and stuff the poor woman at her gate.

Ann was from a poor family with an ambitious and clever mother who died. She was probably baptised at Wirksworth, Derbyshire, right in the heart of John Palmer's famous project, in 1776. (John is researching the family of the ambitious and clever woman, and appears in Dave Gorman's Googlewhack with his website apparently managing to host the words 'baptise' and 'slurry' on the same page.)

I would like to tell you that the ambitious and clever woman lived a long and happy life and that her influence lasted. Well no and yes, in that order. Every single woman in the family since Ann's mother downward (on our line) had the ability to read and write. There were a couple of wobbles along the way.

I would never have believed that Ann from Wirksworth could be the lady marrying at Chesterfield, if it wasn't for the go-getting Nathaniel. Look at his bold signature. Can you believe he wooed a girl 20 miles away (under 18) got her pregnant and convinced the vicar at Chesterfield that she was of a majority age and also living locally, for three consecutive weeks? Of course he could! The two towns are marked on the above map.

The landscape west of Wirksworth, where Ann's less-than-spectacular father scrabbled a living from the lead mines, is quietly stunning. Although she shot her bow before attaining 20, she left a sister. Aha! I didn't mention her. The sister has descendants in the female line, who if they can shake their cheeks loose of genetic material will have the same uterine line as my father and other relatives.

Do you remember Hannah, only child of these remarkable parents? She's a remarkable lady also, in her own right. And do you think you might tell the name of her ambitious and clever grandmother, who whiled her short life away up in the hills of Wirksworth. That's right she was Hannah too.

My Hannah is locked securely into her own landscape, her patient and determined ambition a family inheritance. She did not die her mother's death at 20, she did not reach for the stars and get smashed on the rocks like her father. She was not extraordinary like her grandfather the canal-builder. She has a whole other family just like her somewhere about. We will find if the DNA matches, but even if not, the synthesised back-story of her parents remains my fondest discovery of 2017.

Read more in Love on the Canal the story of Nathaniel and Ann's romance.

Story penned for Elizabeth O'Neal's December blog party Holiday Twofer.

25 Nov 2017

Love on the Cromford Canal ❤

Did my 5xgreat-grandmother, Ann, meet her husband on the canal? Believe it or not, probably only a DNA test can reveal the answer.

Ann Shaw was born in the 1770s In Derbyshire, and until recently I was having a hard time picking out which one of the many local girls of this name was my forebear.

Then I pushed and pulled all the records, shoving filing cabinets and index cards out of the way. If Ann was literate, which she was, then her sisters should be too. Looking again at the box of her signature, there's a lot of space around her name. I'd say she was young, like maybe only 18.
Ok, that's good, and that brings me to an Ann baptised 1774 in Wirksworth parish church, who actually lived her childhood both sides of the valley west of the church called Via Gelli. A stunning ravine, wooded, just right for the scene our DNA test hopes to peek in on.

We jot down the few facts we have about Ann scratched up from the register: She was young, 18, on her marriage, she could write her name and maybe more, and she landed up on the north side of the Via Gellia right by a certain canal at Cromford...

Whoa. That is of interest. The Ann we're looking for married Nathaniel Gee a young buck of 22 who:
...owned a boat on a canal in the 1790s (a few years later)!
Have we got a case of Love on the Canal?

Options ahead 
To test our hypothesis we have two apparent options:

1) Wait for the Minute Books of Cromford Canal 1789-96 to hit inter-library loan.
They might show Nat Gee bidding to construct a portion of the canal east of Cromford. I suspect and hope they do, but in the absence of documentation of the Love from the 1700s, we have Option Two.

2) Get folk tested.
Ann was 18 it seems, pregnant with her only child, and died of likely complications from the birth barely a year into our story. Yet my late father, and others come down from the child through the daughter's line. Including my cousin Nick.

If, if if, Ann was the girl from Middleton-by-Wirksworth who by happenstance acquired the ability to write, then we need to look at her elder sister Hannah, who also showed she signed her name (rather than making a mark). This ability did not extend, interestingly, to their much younger half-sister, suggesting the older girls' mother (a Doxey) was the guiding force in the family, even as it hovered perilously on the bread-line.

Hannah has family too: the fabled other side of the looking-glass. They started out with few means, living off the lead lying locally, and not drifting far along the social scale, many remaining in a setting overlooking that Via Gellia for as long as time allowed.

If Nick (from Ann) and a.n.other (from Hannah) could reach across the centuries and compare their diverging DNA.....

Nick would have a perfect copy of Ann's mitochondrial DNA, while a.n.other bears a rock-solid version of Hannah's. Could they be identical?

Identical DNA would tell us that Ann did indeed fall fatefully for her boat-owning lover and make 20 an impossible age that she would never reach, from their Love on the Cromford Canal ❤

4 Nov 2017

The Three Counties Challenge

Come on then folks! Which of your forebears do you reckon qualifies for the Three Counties Challenge? Entrance qualifications are simple: they need to have exactly three counties of origin! Here are my four contenders who had a massive impact on my tree.

(1) My first forebear was my grandmother Mary, born 1921 in Cheshire. She has ancestry in Somerset, Cornwall and Norfolk, which impressed me very much at the time.
Q. What brings these genes together?
A. Methodist ministers marrying girls from 'out-of-county' two generations in a row.

(2) Then we go back nearly a century to Dad's great-grandma Annie Gibson, born 1836 in Allendale, near the geographical centre of mainland Britain, but far north of anything I'd heard of before. She brought three new counties to the yard: Cumberland, Northumberland and some part of lowland Scotland, most likely Dumfriesshire. I can't help thinking of John Peel with his coat so gay, out hunting in the Cumberland countryside when I think of this line.
Q. What brings these genes together?
A. The uber-meddling Christopher Bird, vicar of Chollerton, who pulled my relatives across the Pennines. Then a certain knee injury on the railway in 1844, which proved fatal, and which spat poor Annie back the other side of the Pennines again.

(3) We reverse another 25 years to the birth of Blanche Morton, my Grandpa's great-grandmother, born about 1811 in Newport, south Wales. She brings Monmouthshire, Glamorganshire and, much earlier, Carmarthenshire to the table. This is an impressive haul, and without her, I'd really have no proper Welsh ancestry at all, so big thanks go to Blanche on this one. As a bonus we have her photo too.
Q. What brings these genes together?
A. Water and boats. The boatbuilder moved along the coast and up the rivers, marrying and moving as he went.

(4) It's now time to put the time-machine back in fast rewind, to get back another whole 43 years before this. That's right folks, we need to whoosh past Trafalgar, the French revolution and even American independence, back to 1768. I'm sorry it's a little cold out here, with the mini ice-age just having left and we're only halfway through the hundred years of Georges.

It's time to introduce Nathaniel Gee, born in West Bromwich in 1768. His birthplace is not somewhere I expected to find on my tree - ever. My family have managed to avoid the Midlands, carefully skirting around it, but Nathaniel is born slap-bang in the middle, just as the industrial revolution is hitting. Exciting times, no doubt. Nathaniel provides yet another three new counties: Cheshire, Staffordshire and the much earlier Shropshire.
Q. What brings these genes together?
A. The magnetic pull of Wolverhampton and its satellites, sweeping ironworkers into town. And more importantly, water and boats. The boatbuilder moved around the canal network, marrying and moving.

The final list of counties hauled in by these individuals is impressive: Somerset, Cornwall, Norfolk, Cumberland, Northumberland, Dumfriesshire (probably), Monmouthshire, Glamorganshire, Carmarthenshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire and Shropshire. And the causes were Methodism,  a meddling vicar, a trapped knee, and plenty of boats on the water.

Can any of your ancestors pass the three counties challenge? I'd be interested to hear about them.

17 Oct 2017

A Canal's Gonna Come

Sooner or later a blog is gonna come. A big old splash concerning the most recent news from the 1700s. Just like my Taylors who kept me going for blog after blog (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 , 8, 9, 10, 11, 12). I know the titles of the pages will be: A Christmas in Dudley, Gee Whizz, A Walk along the Canal. But I'm not ready to post: not yet.

23 Jun 2017

Two Sides of Town

Picture the scene, a pretty town where a river runs through it.  Much bevisited by Americans keen to note down their heritage whilst swans and fresh cygnets queue up to enter.  A park, a castle, a group of youth; a theatre, some pubs, an ugly dual carriageway.  A reality star popping in to try some baby yoga.

In one corner of the town, up on the hill, is an ugly pub.  Squat, flat, squeezed into the estate, with cheap doubles whenever you want and locals escaping the grime for an hour or two's oblivion.  Karaoke blasts out across the estate as the bladdered locals slash up against the wall.  Gerald Phipps (not his real name) scratches a tattoo as he greets the new arrivals from behind the bar.

Let's go back down to the centre of town, and steeply ascend a hill facing the other way.  Broad open fields greet us and a happy cow winks approvingly at the cut of our jib.  Surprisingly quickly open country hits, and then a very posh school - fields and yawning tennis courts roll out in front of us.  Cynthia Claydon (almost her real name) rolls down her starched white tennis pleats and adjusts her ponytail as her friend Charlie's Merc peels off into the distance.  She finished her sixth-form here a few years ago, and is back, purely for artistic licence, and doesn't have anything to actually do, except look great.

As you've guessed, Gerald and Cynthia are cousins.  Well not exactly, Gerald just got one of Cynthia's 4th cousins pregnant, and is the babyfather.  The point is Cynthia descends from Miss Sophy Smith of South Lopham, Norfolk; whilst Gerald's pregnant ex-missus descends from Arthur Smith of South Lopham, Norfolk. They are both siblings of Miss Ellen Smith of South Lopham, Norfolk, who is my Granny's fearsome granny, Granny Smith.

Sophy quickly married in the upward direction, selecting a young accountant who rapidly turned his family into drapers, and the daughter was soon engaged to an auctioneer, and the next generation were farmers in Sussex and before you know it, it's time for a posh school for the daughter.

Arthur decides to head down the social ladder,  starting having a lot of children before he is really ready, and the wedding bells ring midway through a pregnancy, and then he turns 21 as the next one arrives and then it's time to quit his job and act as a blackleg and remarry (not in that order) before finally at 50 he wraps it up and heads to Australia.  Leaving 3 generations in straightened circumstances.  His grandson kicks cans around the place in WW2 digging up scrap age 12 to help the family get by.  To be fair, the family did good, but they did end up on the other side of town in this case.  No question.

I'll stay in the middle.  I'm not climbing a hill to sing karaoke, and I have no idea what a tennis pleat is, or if it even exists.

Thank you Ellen for weaving a happy medium between Arthur's chaos and Sophy's money.  I'll take your side of town on this occasion.

22 Jun 2017

1940s Google Map

Introducing a Google Map to show where people lived at the time of their death in the 1930s and 40s - based on the probate index of England/Wales from this time period.  It does include addresses worldwide and is well worth a browse.

Questions, comments, via the homepage...

2 Jun 2017

Love is...

Love is... A Powerful Text Editor! When you have, as I do, 508 million wonderfully tender pieces of data, the laptop is going to cough and splutter a bit.

After a frustrating 24hrs where I couldn't get the data sorted at all, came salvation.

EditPadPro. This handy gadget was hastily downloaded at Swindon station before the WiFi conked out. It can insert carriage returns wherever you'd like in a long line of data. I wished this to occur every 30,000 characters in order to be re-imported into Excel cells, which have a maximum capacity.

Until I demo'd EditPad I'd not considered that my problem was essentially one of word wrapping. Word wrapping is fiendishly complex, similar to those bucket measuring or optimal grain storage problems from Egypt and Greece. Once you have too much text for a line, we automatically go on to the next line, making decisions about where the words should break. I needed the same approach for my string of values.

The data all lined itself up to be processed like innocent lambs through a sheep wash. It all trotted through and is back sitting pretty in my spreadsheet.

Very hairy moment successfully navigated. Will I finally get the wretched project up and running this weekend? We'll see.

19 Apr 2017

Filthy Lucre

Strolling around Clerkenwell last week, I tsskd at the lack of bike lanes. Somewhere I still have the letter from Aviva Buses sharing their heartache at the way their driver knocked me off my bike there back in 2002. They also shared the driver's private address which was such a thoughtful touch.

Just cross the road and you can reprint yourself at the 3D printing shop (featured), so perhaps I was being fussy making a complaint.

When we hunt for Filthy Lucre, we are conducting a Lucre Search, and my cousin of this name lived at the gorgeous Redman Buildings on Clerkenwell Road. Well he was called Lucas Urch but he's known, by me at least, as Filthy Lucre.

It's entirely appropriate, that over a Dirty Burger and pint this evening, that I should have resolved my Lucre Search.

Eagle-eyed readers will recall that Miss Sophia Urch is to be found lingering around the premises of Mr J Lucas in the 1841 census for Cossington, Somerset.

I have today determined that coincidences like this don't really happen. I'm double the age I was when Lucre first emerged, alongside Sophia, and there's not a cat's chance that one of them 'just happens' to be living with a Lucas, when this was their mother's maiden name.

So, welcome to our fold, Miss Sarah Urch, star-crossed lover of Galway Town's most vociferous Catholic policeman. And your grandson who edited the Telegraph. And your niece Wilhelmina Margarina and nephew what had the big house outside of Dublin.

And of course 'filthy Lucre' himself, Lucas Urch of Clerkenwell.

14 Apr 2017

Determination in Family History

In this piece, we get determined.
Sorting the Surname soup
Something with the way the Cornish bred meant surnames ebbed and flowed in popularity, and my eager young self stumbled right into the mire.  Rodda - rare as hen's teeth, but back then, the most common name in the parish.  Jennings - not that numerous, but I faced multiple couples of the same name.  Three William Roddas with wife Elizabeth and two Ann Jennings with husband John.  I saw red and decided to log every single Rodda in Crowan here, which will now need an update from the excellent GRO site. The Jennings did not need such a blunderbuss, but finesse.  The tree all hinged on two Elizabeths.  To determine who they married, I squinted deeply at the age given on their death records. Ah, you belong to him and you to him, I said, firmly.  I could now parcel out their siblings. I felt I was picking sides at a school football match.

Taking the Path of least resistance
I wasn't that determined to find Eliza Ainsworth's family after 1900; I just followed the paths available at the time.  BMD records were laborious whereas finding Eliza's obituary (via CheshireBMD online, the probate index and then the newspaper library at Colindale) was a lot more informative. I then had to look for her granddaughter Miss S. Fox, who I happily found, and who was extremely informative about all the Ainsworths.

Pushing for the clinch
I've made headway with a number of Welsh lines thanks to this approach.  Elimination is a highly unsatisfactory method of identification as you never really know who the other eligible candidates are.  Keep going! And hope to find a clinching fact, one which locks in your supposition and confounds your suspicion.

Exhaust the avenues available
James Carline's missing baptism has had me routinely cussing him out, as the predecessors were sure to be of interest if we only knew who they were. His father was slapdash brother James Carline, while his wife's father was organised brother Joseph Carline. There is absolutely a gap in both the naming pattern and the chronology of James Carline's infants.  Other evidence, such as trades, familial locations, bears this out. What's lovely is to arrive after a hot afternoon's research, digging away, at Mary Ann Bird's cottage in Darley and realise she was both the sister of James and his immediate neighbour in 1851, a fact which had been long hid.

Make a nice diagonal itch
The area has been scratched from every direction, except diagonally.  Maybe that will solve things? For some reason I wasn't about to go plunging into guesswork to establish whose parents Ann Morgan, born 1762, might have been. It's tantalising to wonder how far I might have got without the death duty hint, Ann's sister and her will, and even whether I'd have got to see the will anyway, regardless of my lucky hit.  The diagonal direction was to look for something at the National Archives to bolster up a very soggy will.  Quite what good I thought a glance at the death duty registers could possibly do, we'll never know.  By rolling with the fresh direction, this time the scratch was successful: the writer, Elizabeth Morton, had a childless aunt from 40 years earlier who emerged in the paperwork.  Where she got her money, name, genes and executive habits were all laid out in the doc.  That area no longer itches but there's plenty new places in the body of research which would benefit from a scratch in a different direction.

See: faith in family history, luck in family history, persuasion in family history, inspiration in family history  

12 Apr 2017

More Persuasion in Family History

My biggest act of persuasion of all demands you to believe in the power of Stone Age Fiction's anthropologist, Jean Auel and her creations.  They see deep into their past through an extended part of their brain.  How else can I explain how my grandfather reached far back inside his memory and found me a gem from the 1850s, right before he died? Amid those Christmas teatime tables, I too found the room leaving us, hurtling us back to the pub in Camborne.  My grandfather was still opposite me, but in front of us was the table he was describing.  Sadly no-one else was there.  That was the closest I could ever come to the 1851 census of Camborne, which had so absorbed me that lately.  It shows gt-gt-gt-grandpa Hunter with his new wife and widowed sister Eliza caught like butterflies on the page.  Eliza had pushed aside four oceans to be there.  I tried to share my close encounter with Brad, Eliza's 4xgreat-grandson storming in from Australia via business class.  He couldn't see it. But sometimes I revisit that stolen glimpse of the 1850s kitchen and hope that Eliza will reveal something more of her own stay there, than just her name and place.  I'd need a good deal more #persuasion, for sure.

This story describes: Eliza Hunter born 1827 at Redruth, Cornwall.  Dies 1913 Victoria, Australia.  A hundred years after, her great-great-nephew remembers something which skewers the whole family to the page around the time the 1851 census hit Tuckingmill.  He dies weeks later.

10 Apr 2017

Hands across the Bristol channel

Entropy is the enemy.  If you don't rise up, there'll be tumbleweed growing all over your tree.  Grandpa had given me a shopping list of relatives to find - well they were part of his past, but I intended to resuscitate them and find their living corporeal forms, if possible.

I knew that doing nothing was not going to get me to Elaine Harris (b. 1916), quite the opposite. Hers and Grandpa's lives had moved in opposite directions aside of the Bristol Channel since the 1940s, so if I wanted to find her we'd need to retrace our steps to that time.  Grandpa went on to tell me a little more: Elaine's aunt had married a W. J. Hockey, who had earlier boarded with our family, and one of their girls was Gertie. I quickly found W. J. H.'s death in 1962 with his daughter named as executrix, and because 1962 is the equivalent of 1985 now, it wasn't hard to leap those few years forward and arrive at a current phone book entry for Gertie, still in Barry, Wales.  She was great on the phone and soon sorted me with her cousin Elaine's address in Morriston, from which so many wonderful fruit grew.

Imagine a world where the internet has gone down, permanently.  That was how I had to carry out my research as a boy in the 1990s.  Years later, doing my first acrobatics class in the old Shoreditch electricity station, with its fifty-foot high brick walls and gasp of space, I could hear the trapeze instructions 'backwards to go forwards, forwards to go backwards'.  I'd gone way back to the closeness of the 1940s, only two generations I suppose, no time but a long time, to emerge forwards again by the sunny streets of my 4th cousins' homes, in Wales, by letter.  So thanks Gertie and others for the hands across the Bristol channel all those years ago.

Postscript: Little did I know, I wasn't the first in the family to arrive in Barry looking for family.  My great-grandmother lived there in the 1960s and who should arrive windswept and sunbeat by ferry across the channel but her beautiful cousin Bea, and young granddaughter - who told me this anecdote only last month.

Kidderminster calling: stamp of approval

I'm in the middle of an emotional trip. Tumbling back, arms asplay to 1995, pre 9/11, pre-Blair, pre-Diana, I'd not sent a single email. Awkwardly arriving here with swollen rucksack and moaning joints, it's peculiar I raced through here at age 18 with barely a glance.  I'd been driving for a year and sure got some use out of the car. My mood, the crispy spring mornings, bouncy downs and the tunes of those eternal teenagers, Brown, Prince and Jackson (J), were sending me to an unforgettable experience, lambing in the Herefordshire hills, which then mutated into a slide through the Brecon Beacons finally in the footsteps of those letters to the front rooms of my new relatives in south Wales.  I had ignored Kidderminster at my peril. Today, 22 years later, I'm back.  I've spun Church Street around all 3 axes to wring every drip of history from it and accidentally seeing Rowland Hill's statue says it all, for he invented the postage stamp.  I never do there-and-back road trips, but without Rowland, my journey would have seen me retrace my steps at Kington, not qualified to pass the Welsh border posts.  The reason I'm back today is another letter, just one this time, posted with care in February 2016. Bearing in mind Kidderminster is 4 counties away from Swansea, I was a little shocked to run one of her daughters to ground in this town in the 1939 register. Success at last. I immediately got in touch, and contact was quickly established. Again from Kidderminster, came the call I thought might come, with a challenge I relished to take on. I'm back now in 2017 to reminisce on our successful challenge resolved and to go over the many exciting things which happened as a result. Thanks anew to Rowland Hill, his stamp and his home town.  You get my stamp of approval.

Faith in Family History

No faith.  It's sad when people write to say they've no idea who their grandparents were, particularly if I felt they should.  But I've got faith we'll find out more.

'I never knew anything about my mother Jean's family (1933-2000).  She died a number of years ago, and there aren't any photographs.'

If you're born at the tail end of a decade, like me, it's not that hard to look back.  We've been talking about the family pub in Cornwall forever and that was actually the 1850s.  Here we look at different times we've employed faith in family history.

Postal faith.  I made sure to tap the friendly red postbox on the head as I rounded the bend this morning.  When I finally put a letter in this box to find Eva Walker, I knew I'd get a phone call from her family in a day or two.  I did, and I'll see them again tomorrow as a direct consequence of this.

Finding Faith.  I waited 8 years from spying Louisa Smith's marriage in Castle Cary, Somerset, to finding her daughter, born 12000 miles away: her name, Faith.  So they did have children! And I went on to have elevenses with Faith's niece, in London, some years after that.

Exquisite faith.  Very rarely in my own family history is the hunt ever seriously 'on'.  From the moment I learnt about this baby girl born 1921 (no name given), I knew I was going to find her.

Undeniable faith. You have a woman born 1751, with 8 children or so, and one of them had a youngest child who continues her line until 1992.  It's implausible to deny that the original female will have family, somewhere.  Again, it's an eight-year wait, till I reach them in Knighton, East Wales.

Solid faith.  I have always adopted an indefatigable attitude regarding my Smiths.  Although there were 12 Ellen Smiths born in Norfolk 1853, I can spot mine a mile off.  Let's not even begin to think how many shared her brother's name, born two years earlier.  We needed another tactic. I tailed his movements in Norfolk closely, finding a marriage in Garboldisham, which fitted securely.  And my solid faith he would rejoin us brooked no doubts.  I would select and eliminate William Smiths in the USA, knowing he had a wife Anna.  Blind faith or cupidity took me straight to his door, always-open, in Jamestown, Western N.Y.  I was the only family member to visit him in 130 years.  No longer just a name: I had stayed solid, to find the man.

Hungry faith.  My appetite was unassuaged.  Three Dibben girls born 1790-1796 needed finding.  I focussed my attention on Rebecca. Whatever persuaded me to search for her marrying at age 40, I cannot now recall.  Ridiculous to imagine that having failed to find a first marriage, I'd lumber straight into a second.

In fact, this lucky find was Rebecca's fourth marriage!  The bridal marriages of all three Dibben girls are entirely missing and you can really only locate them in the census.   Once one had shown amid the undergrowth, my hunger spread to find the others.  So I ravenously entered all the Gunville, Dorset folk with 1790s births into Ancestry's census index and so chomped my way through to all the sisters and their seven marriages.

Family faith.  From the moment Mary Jenkins arrived in Tonypandy in 1881, she was somebody's sister, daughter and niece.  But who's to say she was our Mary? Ah, but we're reckoning without the family, who knew about the Williams and Price marriages in subsequent generations.  While Ennis and I sat waiting for Mary's birth record to finally arrive, we both already knew the outcome: Mary was ours, 100%.

Fearless faith.  With every year which passes, somebody dies.  Nowhere was that more true than with my father's Irish cousins.  We stutter from the pre-arithmetic progression of his 'one' first cousin, straight to 18 Irish second cousins, and that's just on his father's side.  Of the 18, eight were in America and at least half unaccounted for.  We had a bit of time as you can't hide three red-head Irish cop brothers well, and a great-uncle had made 92, so perhaps others might too?  I never thought for a second that I mightn't find them.  Reading cousin Babs's will and the names of her 8 children, who'd all left Ireland, I've harassed, stalked, jogged round peninsulas, got on planes and swam upstream to find them, and I'd say 17 out of the 18 have responded well.  I need to decide if the 18th has changed gender before writing my final letter.  I'm gonna reach them. I have faith.

See: luck in family history, persuasion in family history, determination in family history, inspiration in family history  

26 Mar 2017

Luck in Family History

I'll always remember the G. Ewart Evans quote to "let the horse have its head" when conducting oral history interviews. With family history who knows where the enquiry will end up. The researcher has his or her ideas, but they are not in overall control.  I have no problem with this. I'm hoping for an interesting journey, after all.

In the opener of an Albert Campion mystery the author drops many handwritten addresses around a lunchtime park. Albert just has to pick up one for the game to start, as it inevitably does.  It makes me wonder how many clues I spot versus how many I miss.  I consider myself fairly observant, who's kidding who here?

In this article, we'll see luck dished out by the census, the cousins,  and other miscellaneous sources.

The 1841 census has served up a few treats in its time. An entire world of Protestant Dubliners, Irish country houses, oyster farmers, Surrey drawing rooms and cross-partisan love springs from little Miss Sophia Urch sitting pretty at her grandfather's farmhouse in Cossington, Somerset, 1841 age 4.  Had I ignored her, not only would she have been angry and not sat on her tuffet, but she wouldn't have offered me the delicious Urches and whey above outlined.

Ten years later, the 1841 census struck again. This time she flagged up that my missing aunt, Betty, was very definitely Mrs Whitehead, an ostler's wife in Kendal, with 179 descendants to boot. All thanks to young niece Betty Barton, subject of the two-coffee problem, who happens to be visiting on census night.

Digging around another 1841 entry revealed who moved in months later, Miss Rebecca Cox. She simply had to be child of Miss R. Dibben whose first marriage to Mr Cox was missing. Proof comes in her fourth marriage when the clerk lists the bride's father.

I was very lucky when uncle William Smith elects to marry, in the anticipated registration district of Guiltcross, just months before he emigrates for good. He was guilty, but I wasn't cross.

I was similarly blessed with fortune when cousin G., just before his death, summons me to visit. We see the farm, the game birds, have a chat about silage, and then: "Would you like to take all my family photos off my hands, David? The children just aren't interested and won't keep them. I'd like you to have them." I think you can predict my answer to that question!

Relatives and goodly folk so often came to my rescue when I had the genealogical equivalent of a burst tyre. Malcolm patched up my Boyce tree and sent me on to the specialist, Celia. Mary pushed me back on the road and on to The Pines, Holcombe where I could receive more treatment (facts!). Sue F. flashed through her rolodex to Sue J. a third cousin who gave my Harris module a completely new engine with several extra gears (generations!). The postman deserves credit too for delivering letters to people who shouldn't have been so easy to find. Epic saleswoman Elizabeth who filled the dense brieze block she published (annually!) with so many names and addresses, it felt every page housed a relative. Occasionally I got through by accident to bleached-out Gold coasters who squinted at my aerogrammes and waved them on, but that was ok.

Other things I'm grateful for:
* that the journalist at the Derbyshire Telegraph printed a mangled version of Ranongga, the island in the Solomons where emigré Harold Beck had his cupra plantation (1920s)
* that a clued-up Robinson researcher from Sheffield came forward to firmly refute our 1808 Bagshaw - Robinson marriage, sending us forward into a Bagshaw - Gee marriage and to the peculiar territory there
* that the sisterly feud between Catherine and Florence Jones somehow held off exploding before 1939, meaning we could finally identify Catherine in the page of the 1939 register...

And enjoy the fruits of her labours, including great great grandson Joe Gill who I'm reliably informed is on the box as Emmerdale's Finn Barton.

Luck, you've been fairly even-handed, but right now it feels you're playing along nicely in the merry game of family history.

See: faith in family history, persuasion in family history, determination in family history, inspiration in family history 

25 Mar 2017

Persuasion in Family History

Probably my shining achievement in family history is when my Dad told me exactly how auntie E. answered the door in Salford in the 1950s.

Put into perspective, there were a tonne of family secrets which slipped out eventually, but this one was actually volunteered!

I also, at the age of 10, gave the floor to my elderly grandfather, hovering uncertainly on his stick in the centre of the room. He was given the opportunity to divulge his grandmother's name, and exactly how and why his uncle Philip ranaway to sea in the 1890s. Unfortunately, this gentleman failed to oblige and he never visited us ever again.

A few years ago I was pulled from my job as PA and put on stakeholder management duties. The reason? I was just too persuasive. The project manager's diary was being filled from early in the morning to late in the afternoon - only right and proper as they were on £xxx per day of taxpayers' money. To make matters worse, those at the venue assumed they would be meeting me, not my erstwhile boss. "I pulled people in", I learnt.

Not my grandfather, apparently.

We hear so much about how suspicious the British people are, with many poised at the net curtains, enjoying nimbyism, telling people not to park cycle or play ball and withholding internships to everyone except their tennis partner's son.

Oh no, friends, the British people are not suspicious, they are inordinately trusting. How else did they sleepwalk their way into zero-hours contracts, politician's charms and (for some) the cutesy notion that the govinmant has money to pay for everyone to be on benefits? Aaaah!

In truth we tend to trust people whose faces or identities we understand.

In the last ten years I have not snuck a single letter past an American, but the Brits love a letter. It's my most powerful tool, a warm sheet of introduction that just slips its way into a centrally heated home, and is safe enough to place with the breakfast papers while being slowly and pleasantly digested.

I was an awful letter writer, boring people with facts and questions. Exactly what they wanted to hear! A chance to talk. In 2005 or so everyone was still in love with their BlackBerry, and hated getting 'snailmail'. But with online shopping back, paper bills, statements and junk mail all easing off (reduced carbon initiatives and consumer watchdogs helping here) - your letter is now really welcome again just as in the days of Postman Pat.

"Knock. Ring. Letters through your door!"

I've sent out hundreds of these warm pieces of propaganda and they're a great way to learn more about your own puzzling family, if you're brave enough.

For the less pushy, you can still use persuasion to meet your archival needs. (For a bonus point, where is archiving on Maslow's hierarchy of needs? It's there, believe me.)

Setting up a web presence or tree on Ancestry, and subtly seizing the vacant position of family expert helps you claim more territory. When aunt Grenda dies, her children will ensure those nasty old photos (covered in dust) come naturally to you, rather than setting off everyone's asthma and clogging up the family's Feng shui.

I get a lot of eyeballs on my site and it's informative to get a handle on their research interests. Last month I pounced on Timmy in Canada who had submitted a query about my grandpa's third cousin Denis.  And soon I was enjoying a nice chat online with Denis's son across the water. (Yes the Canadians are much more open to persuasion.)

But not exclusively so. This week I was so delighted to finally make contact with the granddaughters of Auntie Bea, both in southern USA. It's the right time for everybody. I knew I had to share the stunning Twenties photograph of their mothers (sisters) bathing in the sea, and of course they responded well. So privileged to be in touch. I first saw that photo 20 years ago and knew I would one day share it.

I pulled a really fast move on my Irish cop cousins. I needed to meet them and laid a trail of cookies to get their undivided attention. Sure enough, screeching around the corner of my home-from-home, Boston youth hostel, was cousin Gerry in his police wagon. Out I stepped ready to glad-hand him as we greeted reach other warmly.

Behind the smiles and superb choreography lay a string of careful plans. The meat of the encounter, the bait, was the letter Gerry's grandfather wrote from wartime Ireland, six to ten pages, which they got to keep. I bet that was all he ever wrote in his life, at least in English. Assisting with the meet-up was tough substitute teacher Kimberly, Gerry's niece. She got him to check his phone, accept the message request, and bring a smile.

With more front than Selfridges, I treated myself to an afternoon at the Boston Athletics Club for a complimentary tour, stating that I was in fact, a resident, if just for one day. #Persuasion

See: faith in family history, luck in family history, determination in family history, inspiration in family history

19 Mar 2017

Travails of the great great greats

As a child you accept even the extraordinary as the ordinary. Stumbling on a letter from great great great Henry Lowry written in Jamaica, 1853, just felt like any other wet Sunday afternoon at the grandparents.

I was angry with H.L. as he didn't say more about all his relatives like the gospel according to Matthew. I glowered at his face as I crossed the landing to haul out my other childhood favourite, the black Imperial typewriter much favoured by lady Bond villains. Ripping the skin around your nails if you mistyped, it sure improved your typing speed. (I now have 112wpm and tough cuticles.)

Owing to the very unNewtonian way genealogy discoveries operate, where a new memory does not equally and oppositely destroy an existing memory, the learnings as an adult have only grown.

It is the generation of great great great grandparents where human memory begins to run out of road. Father Time's dark shadow wipes out a generation's loves, feelings, laughs and absurdity, leaving just one or two whose biographical detail survives intact.

In about 1960 it was the turn of my great great greats. Their grandchildren were dying and people who featured big were going to be obliterated by a long permanent shadow.

But not all... Here are a few who survived the chop, with my thoughts as to why:

1) Miriam Creed, born 1814. Last useful grandchild died 1982. Crossed the Atlantic as a young girl (source parish registers), experienced wild ocean weather (my conjecture), had a place reserved for her under the stairs at her youngest son's house in Dorset. Source here was the triple whammy of my nosiness, an older cousin's careful notes and Miriam's attentive young grandchild living to extreme old age (where she was interviewed by cousin Jimmy).

2) John and Jane Gibson, also born 1814. Last grandchild dies 1964. Looking at Jane, her life fell into two epochs, squeezed into a terrace house near the docks of South Shields with John, and after his early death, she becomes a farmer's wife with her childhood sweetheart in the heart of Northumberland at Allendale Old Town. For John we rely on a newspaper clipping from the 1840s, while for Jane we have two sources. Her great-granddaughter Cathie, who died in 1974 and remembered visiting 'Granny from Old Town', telling her daughters about it, who told their son, who told me. Secondly, the farmers at the property who knew that Jane's second husband was in actuality her true childhood sweetheart. Thirdly, this great photo: don't you think it has to be them? (copy to be inserted)

3) Blanch and Elizabeth Morton, the twins born 1811. By comparing their narratives, ages at death and in the census, their parents' marriage date, the pre-existence of twins, the family bible entry and by detailing their infant children, I conclude that my great great great Blanch and her sister are themselves twins. There have been no twins since! See the blog Twin of my Valley for more.

4) The Cornish lot. My grandfather's grandparents were Cornish cousins who married in Wales, 1879. There are plenty of uncles and aunts and these were the first generation to leave Cornwall during the tin and copper slump of the 1840s. Matthew Bowden was born 1814 and his exploits in Mexico are well documented by his descendant Gwen Broad. Next brother Edward worked on the Wheel at Laxey, according to his descendant Lylie. Jabez Hunter went out to Bogota, Colombia, according to family stories while his brother John is confirmed as dying there from the probate indexes. Eliza Hunter went out to Australia TWICE, and John Shugg, the deaf carpenter, also journeyed that way.

5) Benjamin Padfield, born 1808, was said to have been much kinder towards his grandchildren than his goodly wife Susannah. She disapproved of their receiving apples from the orchard. Not surprising it is Benjamin whose photo we have, with a grandchild on his knee, and no photo at all for matriarch Susannah despite her 50 grandchildren! That's 50 youngsters who didn't get an apple, the last of whom died 1979. Source: My madcap visit to Miss Nora James in Holcombe, 1994, and the unexpected gift in 2001, shortly before the owner's death, of all the Padfield family photographs.

6) Those Francis siblings from Marloes, south west Wales. I've not been here yet, and we know frustratingly little about their forebears, but this tribe of fisherman's children had more than the usual smarts. Somewhere I saw that their father was no ordinary labourer, but I'll need to examine this evidence again. He made the move to Merthyr Tydfil as the children hit their teens and twenties, and most worked with metal in the town. The family bible records that David and Martha left for New York. It also shows that John went up to county Durham, where his skills in iron would be valued. It makes no mention of sister Mary marrying a soldier and leaving for Australia, nor of William (born 1810) my ancestor joining his brother up in Durham county. Their were two more sisters who stayed in Merthyr. Source: family bible, rare write-up of Martha's brood in Brooklyn, New York (complete with photo).

7) Francis Harris, born 1818 in Cornwall. I had no idea where he went til a lucky hunt took me to Wisconsin, home of many a Cornish miner, where a Francis Harris of the right age 'born England' was living. That's not all, the newspapers of the 1950s show his grandson talking of that time and how Francis pushed his chances by heading overland through Nicaragua to and from the gold fields of California. He made it back as far as the big lake there drowning among his friends. One friend made sure his gold made its way back to the widow, Philippi, in Wisconsin. His niece, my grandfather's grandmother, would be sleeping safely in her bed in Wales when the news of wild uncle Francis's death reached home.

14 Mar 2017

Welcome to the world, baby Boyce!

Back in ???? 1995, I had never heard of Boyce.  (I would like to give you the exact date, but owing to lack of records on my part, see previous blog, I can't.)

I was getting somewhere with my two main names in Somerset, Creed and Haine, and was investigating a lead from Miss Pat Cotton at the old Somerset record office of Obridge, Taunton.  Pat had mentioned there were two James Scotts who died within days of each other at West Pennard in 1809 at around the same age.

I would rather catch a python bare-handed than drive up the M5 from Exeter, but curiosity got the better of me.  I wanted to know if either James Scott left a will, and if one of them might be the father of my Betty Scott (later Haine) or my Martha Scott (later Creed), two forebears of mine with unknown antecedents.  Somerset record office here we come.

The beige Fiesta pulled into the parking lot and out I stepped - at least I imagine I did.  Without records confirming this, it's hard to be sure.  You know it has to be either late December 1994, or April (Easter) 1995.  December was pretty action-packed as I'll get round to telling another time.  Although I was 17 and full of bounce, I imagine I stayed close to home that Christmas, so I'm going with April.

And here's what I found:
 James Scott left a will alright and there's Betty Haine listed as a daughter, yippee yippee yippee.  But who were those other women? (oh gosh those women's descendants could fill a book)  Martha Crud.  Brain not computing.  Forty seconds later, duh!!! That's my forebear Martha, the one who became Creed, what kind of historian was I?  At least I dang hope she is as I've made that assumption for the last 22 years and it's the only proof.  Maybe I should have been following the Crud line all this time....

OK, so that just really left Sarah Boyce as the only true fresh meat, already unpicked-over by that vulture of a historian, erm, me!   What's more, she had pushed herself to the front of the queue ahead of her erstwhile sisters by Naming the Baby after the Grandfather.  Works a charm and most tired old scrotes with constant gout and ulcers can turn that frown upside-down with this tactic.

It worked - and kerching kerching, pennies came raining in on the Boyces, or were they Royces, as we had a baby's name to play with, James Scott Boyce.
Whenever I next got back to the probate registry above the Next store in Exeter's attractive high street, I would be able to find this:
I was pretty excited: these were my first London relatives.  It was still 1995.  When the chance came for us agrics to go to London on a coach in June (??), we jumped at it.  Me particularly, as I did my homework and found I would have an hour to leave the Haymarket area and get to Chancery Lane, leg it to Guildhall library find a trade directory and leg it back.  Unbelievably I came away with an address for J. S. B., which was 20 Offord Road, Islington, with occupation given as meat salesman.  (Basing his whole adult life I would find, around Smithfield Meat Market.)

Time passes: I move to Berkshire.  Pretty sure, the autumn of 1995 got me to the Public Records Office in Chancery Lane.  Armed with the two addresses for J. S. B., I consult the heavy plastic books of addresses and up comes the following entry for Boyce in Offord Road.  Hurrah!  The feeling of exhilaration at having beaten the demons of time, space, forgetfulness, paper deterioration, entropy, malign forces, gravity.... would be even better if I had my original pencil notes.  Still, here's the record which saw me go up a level in Family Historian the Ultimate Challenge.

A longhand scrawl which hides a lot of facts.  You can see chancer James Westcott Broad the plasterer doing well and up from Torquay from a fishing family, settled in a very nice street with his wife's family.  It was obvious to me even then that 'visitor' meant family.  Richard J, by the way, ends up as a fireman in Shanghai, being someone's favourite great-uncle that they never knew.  Louisa E marries in Fleet in Hampshire in her thirties to a red-headed six-foot architect from Dorset, one of the Men of Marnhull, and I'll be meeting their granddaughter later on, in 1998.  It was lovely picking my way through Victorian London and its records to step out into a brand new play area.

The Broad family went on and on.  One of the girls married a gas lamp lighter.  The ones I can remember were Nellie, Sarah, Louisa, Alice, sisters of the Chinese fireman.  And here is a lovely entry to round it all off.  It's the wedding day for Nellie's daughter Ethel, off to Australia with her soldier husband and family putting brave face on it.  The church must be St Silas, Pentonville.

The Jenkins, Connor and Manley folk belong to the other sisters.  It's now 1919.

We've seen a hundred years roll around from that chance document of 1809 to pre-modern Britain.  The Boyces (not Royces) definitely made it through and out the other side.  Welcome to the world, baby Boyce!

Why why why, Delilah!

All I wanted to do was tell a simple coherent story of how I slipped away from my college trip to London age 18 and saw a copy of an 1868 directory for London in the Guildhall Library and made it back in time to buy a tawdry fake-chamois leather jacket from somewhere in Covent Garden, before getting the coach with the boys from Devon back home.

But nothing is dated!  I am desperately searching my hard-drive for material from 1995.  There is absolutely nothing.  I found this:
which I can tell by the handwriting has got to be 1995.  I was still doing greek E's in 1995.  It is notes taken from the old record office at Obridge, Taunton, written up the same evening or the next day.  I remembered that it had to be before the basement of the old PRO in Chancery Lane closed which was 1996.  It had to be after I passed my test, and I know that in December 1994, the furthest I had driven was Clayhidon and that was scary enough.  And I moved to Mortimer, Berkshire in late August 1995, so it must have been between the two.  I have found this snippet which tells me the letters I received in late 1995, so I can sort of piece more together.

It was definitely August 1996 that I first heard from the Boyce (not Royce) descendant Celia, as I have two pieces of documentary evidence for that - later than I thought.  She sadly died about a year ago after a battle with COPD.

Brainwave - bank statements!  But I had an infuriating habit of getting out £100 cash out at a time, and never using cashpoints, mostly because there weren't any.  So this bank statement doesn't help matters.  There's also a massive gap for the whole of March when I was in the Herefordshire hills in a caravan, lambing.

I still cannot remember what us Devon agricultural students were doing in London in (?) June of 1995.  Yes, I know that I was itching to escape to the Guildhall Library for half an hour, with its very profitable results (next blog post), but we weren't looking at the Smithfield meat markets despite the near perfect syllogies if we were.  As the Boyces I was hunting lived and breathed at Smithfield as meat salesmen and the records at Guildhall are just a sniff away.  Can't remember a thing about it, can't search my hard-drive for it.  It's 1995 for goodness' sake; and I can't remember when I visited the record office at Taunton (July 1995 would make sense).

Why didn't I put the wretched date on the documents that I was filling up with long-ago dates?  Why why why, delilah!

26 Feb 2017

How an English town gave our two Welsh heroes an opportunity. Or, The Pub in Cwmneath

Oh for the opportunity of the early 1800s. According to Prof Hans Rosling, world population had just made the click into one billion. Daily wages would rise, and eventually life expectancy, children born per women would move to our current global values.

The rainmakers were our Industrial forebears. Would they seize new opportunities or die tryin'? To raise a family of hungry talent or live for Friday evenings - 500 gleaming pint glasses full of beer laid out ready for the end of the shift.

Jenkin and Jennet Price were at the apogee of industrial Welsh greatness, from its early beginnings of the homely zinc speltermen, tenders of the smokeless anthracite seam bordering the Beacons, and the canny forward-thinkers who knew it would very shortly be the time for industrial-scale coal-mining, iron smelting and associated haulage via cart, boat, canal.

Jennet's father had upskilled from humble joiner to the more valuable pattern maker at Neath Abbey's ironworks, puddlers pouring the melt into the wooden surrounds he'd made - for gates, poles, sheets, bolts, tools, and huge heaving sections.

Sleepy farming valleys were transformed with an influx of miners from north Somerset and a few from Ireland,  engineers and know-how from the Cornish.  Great structures and works would visit upon the valleys some extremely testing conditions under which the protestant workers thrived.

Jenkin Price, he of the fair hand, would not be working in the mines. Like his wife there would be a cottage or more of land, that was no longer profitable to merely farm.

So, with his wife, in 1806, his cottage opened its doors to the many passing workers as a hostelry. The Lamb and Flag at Glynneath was thus born. It was situate in the parish of Cadoxton and the area was then called Cwm-Neath or Vale of Neath, and this is where his daughters would give as their birthplace. I imagine it had some limited provision for horses, but being at the valley end, passing trade was limited.

I say his wife, not Jennet. The wife was Mary and Jennet was the youngest sister. I'm not sure what view the nascent independent chapels had, but for the Church in Wales, it allied itself firmly with Canterbury and when Mary died, in 1808, moving forward with Jennet would be impossible via the local churches.

Happily for our team, and for the goodly customers that the Lamb and Flag possessed, the Prices had a solution: a marriage, in Bristol, by Licence.

During those three days between a visit to the archdeacon and the church ceremony, a lot can happen. Enquiries could have been made in Neath, well if you can get a horse and rider away and returned in time; in Return of the Native, a young girl is ruined forever in those three days.

Now standing with the Prices on the wedding steps were in fact two Welshmen, Thomas and George Jones who I'm sure knew every little bit of the truth behind this border-skipped marriage. But they would certainly be keeping schtumm; and in any case may just have been cousins of Jennet that lived in Bristol.

We have compared the groom, Jenkin's, signature across the two marriages and even allowing for the stress of defying the English on alien soil, they're pretty identical.

It hadn't bothered me that the bride was recorded under her Anglicised name of Jane Reece. Jenkin's place of residence, however, did concern me: Glynhawye, Brecknockshire. Cousins have clarified that this was probably Glyntawye, i.e. Glyntawe, in the next valley, rather than Glenhenwye all the way East into Herefordshire.

On looking at my pencil transcription, I think they're right: it is Glyntawye. My options here are two: Jenkin panicked and made a deliberate error to throw any busybody from Bristol off the scent. It looks like an innocent scribal doo-doo, but was almost guaranteed to keep his family safe. Travelers who flitted between Glynneath and Glyntawe: er, likely, zero despite apparent proximity.

The other option is our over-zealous clerk, who had smugly "corrected" the name of Jennet Rees, extended himself still further by finding Glyntawe on his map, near Neath and thus concluding the ignorant couple had provided a (wrong) colloquial name for that place, which it was his humble duty to again correct.

The poor church took another battering from the same marriage laws in 1838 when some others of my relatives, goodtime money-to-spend Somerset yeomanry arrived at its steps. If we ignore the bride (who died six years later), you're left with her sister, Ann Feltham, and the groom whose signatures we see. Guess which illegal couple took to the altar not long after?

The Prices, you'll be relieved to hear, settled well into the Flagged Lamb on their return and were blessed with many babies whose names honour earlier family members (and were a real help in getting this far). Jennet's skills as hostess were even recorded in the local paper, before they both move on to bigger things in 1834, with the modern city of Swansea calling.

I wonder if they ever looked back on their escapade up to Bristol and whether they drank some of its sherry of-an-evening as an acknowledgement of the city's helping hand in their journey through Wales's most adventurous era.

18 Feb 2017

Twin of my Valley: Decisions in Iron, 1840s Wales

Women in my family were no strangers to long journeys. In the 1790s, my ancestress Ann Morgan left Cadoxton by Neath for the large town of Newport where her husband worked on the building of ships.

In around 1830-33, perhaps after she had died, her granddaughters made the same journey all the way back. They were the 20 year-old twins Blanche and Elizabeth Morton. They were coming, with their parents and siblings, to begin a connection with Abercanaid and more importantly, its canal.

It was only while having an Italian cappuccino with my mother yesterday that some extra pieces of the puzzle tumbled into place. And only the previous week that I'd realised the women were twins...

In 1834, the stronger twin, Blanche, probably in town no more than a year was courted by William Francis an ambitious puddler living with his parents in Picton Street, Caedraw. Somehow he petitioned the Lords of Cyfarthfa Castle and was successful, that he and Blanche should marry in their church, Vaynor, up in the hills. I have been there, in 1995, as I descended into the valley towns after a spring lambing the border country.

Four years later, the weaker twin, Elizabeth, married in Merthyr parish church to James Jenkins and settled near the Cyfarthfa lords's Iron Bridge, Ynysgau, central Merthyr. James was a nailer in the iron works.

In 1841 both women are in Merthyr, age given as 25, meaning 25-29.

As the 1840s rolled around, opportunity was springing up around south Wales. Blanche and William seized the moment and in 1848 arrived in the sulphurous fog of Briton Ferry, in the navigable lower reaches of the Neath, to work again as a puddler in the iron furnaces there. They were midway through the births of their seven children.

In 1851 both women give their age as 39 and as neither could have been any older, nor would they likely to be aggrandising their years, I suspect these are true and both are born therefore in December of 1811, by comparison with William's family bible entry for Blanche.  At this point Blanche is in Briton Ferry and Elizabeth still in Ynsygau.

Elizabeth and James made their decision to leave later, after they had finished having children, and watched 7 die. Merthyr had been horrendous for them and in the late 1850s they came to the ironworks of Aberdare where their family still have connections to this day.  No more children arrived, but equally, none died.

The twins' family would not remain in Briton Ferry, nor in Aberdare. After seven years, Blanche and William move to Morriston ironworks. Their only son was 17 and they probably wanted to get him apprenticed in the tinplate works there, rather than continue in the scorching hell of the ironworks. This would fit William's ambitious nature.

In 1875 we assess the roll of the twins' dice. Because in 1875 in Morriston, the Dyffryn tinplate and steel works would open providing lifelong employment to Blanche's only son and grandson (who didn't take it). We have the desk presented to us from that works 35 years later.

But in 1875 in Aberdare, that was the year the iron works shut, having been good for Elizabeth's husband and son for a 20-year period.

As for the twins, Elizabeth had survived her only daughter dying in childbirth and died age 55 in Aberdare, 1867 two years later, while Blanche lasted another year in Morriston. Her portrait is painted in Swansea (by Chenhall) and survived. She had refused a final move from her persuasive husband, to join family up in Bishop Auckland. William finds work as a "forge agent" within the year up there taking his only daughter with him. Perhaps he finally escapes the furnaces?

Elizabeth's husband James has the misfortune to survive beyond 1875 he is nearly seventy and unable to join the rush for the Rhondda coal mines. He has no choice but to return to the hated iron works of Merthyr and their tyrannical masters where he ends his days alone, still working at 75, lodging in the town.

A word on infant mortality. Elizabeth has 8 children over a dozen years against Blanche's six, and both have a final child after a gap, Blanche having the longer gap. So perhaps Elizabeth was the stronger twin after all? Neither was as strong as their mother (who attained 70 and bore live twins twice) nor grandmother (age 101).

Blanche lost 5 children out of 7 (all age 1 or over) while Elizabeth lost 7 children out of 9 (most known to be under 1). So perhaps Blanche's milk was stronger or just the air in Merthyr worse.  Both girls used the name Margaret for daughters but not each other's names.

My mother asks why the birth of twins in the family stopped? Perhaps the way the gene worked you had to be born a twin to have twins, and the industrial era killed off infant twins either in the womb or in early life. Not sure. Blanche and Elizabeth's mother was a twin.

Many more questions to be asked about these valleys seen through the prism of the two twins.

11 Feb 2017

Clues for those who know

Back in 2015 I wrote a posting about the 1939 Wife Swap couple which blew up the internet.

I had found that identity of Richard Bowman's second wife Louisa May, who had taken the name of his first wife, the real Louisa May.

Louisa May not have been who she said she was.  In fact she certainly wasn't.  The fact that she's described as somebody called Millie on her probate record was very helpful.

Millie's three full names meant there was only one birth that fitted, a Miss Millie Moucher born Kent 1901.  But what was her story and how did the years enable her to become Louisa Bowman by the 1930s?

We needed to press pause on that enquiry until the GRO indexes of November 2016 revealed her mother's maiden name, she was the only surviving child of Mrs Mildred Moucher by her husband.  And what should the census records reveal, that Millie senior had taken on a new man, Mr Stockton, by 1911 and was living with him without benefit of clergy.

Both women disappear entirely from the records, and who knows if Mr Stockton, with the relatively senior role of Chief Stoker in the Navy, stuck around.

Except he does.  Buried in the transcription of Millie (sorry 'Louisa') and her family in the 1939 register is her step-dad, Mr Stockton, still going strong and described as a widower.

I had birth records for all Millie's children except the eldest, presumably born before her liaison with Mr Bowman, namely Dorothy P Bowman.  I find her birth as Dorothy P Stockton in the late 1920s with mother's name Stockton.  Last piece of jigsaw fitted.

7 Feb 2017

You've Got No Chance

Want to pin down Mary Francis born 1848 in Briton Ferry.  Well, good luck.
She's at home in 1851 and again in 1861, but not so's you'd know as she's down as Margaret (the name of her deceased sister).
In 1871, she's with her father up in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, but they are both listed as born Glamorganshire, making her one of 11 born in about the right period.
After she marries (1875) her age is listed wrongly in all censuses up until the end.  I only found the marriage as we had a garbled version of her married name from the family bible.  And no mention in either record of the fact she'd been married before up in Durham.

Want to find this lady, another one of my Grandpa's fearsome great-aunties, in the records?  Sorry: you've got no chance!

3 Jan 2017

I Aberdare you to find Eleanor Jenkins

Little did I know when gathering the marriage certificate for Eleanor to my relative James Jenkins that I would shortly be conducting a wholesale enquiry into her character and history.

A fairly boring marriage in a Welsh chapel in 1866, with no real feeling that this was my cousin James Jenkins.

Eleanor has been located, thanks to online troubadours, across five censuses in Aberdare. The last of these gives a clue that something has been tricky for her along the way. A widow, she is 73 (at last giving her real age) with 3 children living out of 12 born.

By the time she is 22 her first relationship has broken down and she is described as 'married' while living with her parents and taking their name. She still has five years to go before marrying my relative, J. Jenkins.

What's not clear is who is the father of her baby Gwenllian born some months before the wedding, at the infant's wedding twenty years later we're told her was John Thomas. John appears to witness the marriage.

Eleanor was describing herself as Mrs Thomas, widow, at the time she 'linked' with Jenkins. The answer or a clue to this conundrum must lie on Gwenllian's birth certificate.  (It won't as father's name not given.)

Odd that the child born out of wedlock survives while 9 others (likely legitimate) do not.

Gwenllian's marriage was not listed as Gwenllian or as Jenkins, my expected ideas. She was listed as Gwenilian (note this is a subtle mis-reading) Thomas (due to the illegitimacy). Further, her husband T. Howells was given the wrong reference number by the freeBMD transcriber when he got married.

Eleanor's daughter Mary's marriage was much easier to find despite the common name. She married Richard Williams and they are living round the corner from Eleanor in the 1911 census.

Eleanor's only son became a miner's choir conductor at the head of the valleys and thanks to a helpful 1926 newspaper cutting I'm in touch with his family, still musical, some of whom live in Italy.

The online chatters solved why I'd missed the family in 1881. They are recorded as Thomas and Elender Jenkins with even more mangled ages than usual.

It would be interesting to know more of those nine children who died. With the GRO index, I plan to see if I can figure some of them out, born around the town in the 1870s I suspect.

It seems Eleanor lived on until the 1920s and that her family stayed close.

A good coffee shop

Shop #1
Keep your voice down I was told in a cwtchy coffee shop somewhere in the Principality of Wales. My correspondent proceeded to tell me plenty of gossip they'd felt unable to do in the comfort of their own home. Ok, so the names of grandkids were a little hazy, but that was ok. Who cared about them!

Shop #2
Two scalding cuppas wobbled on the table as the underground train rumbled through. Thank goodness the family photos were still in their orange supermarket bag waiting to be shown. Here's uncle Harry, in southern [Zimbabwe] in 1913. Wow, I said, dodging the table's wet patches as the photo was carefully placed on a dry area.

Shop #3
My phone camera is at the ready as I capture the photo of Granny's grandpa's uncle Thomas at the EasiNet i Edgware Road with the cousin standing by. I cannot recall the coffee but boy do I remember running through in my head the things I wouldn't do to get a snap of this photo. I'm afraid there weren't very many.

Today my old friend Excel is chomping through a million addresses, getting fed a new line of code every few minutes while I pen this blog. I have clocked up ten pounds of cash spent here, but the view is good with plenty of daylight. On a note of safety, it would be impossible for a truck or lorry to accelerate into the property.

I usually choose a hot chocolate and a doughy sticky mixture guaranteed to press pause in my bowels. I'm confident my kidneys would struggle to squeeze even a drop of moisture from the cheese toastie lately consumed. This has held back a trip to the bathroom by a good while. Chocolate too seems to contain hardly any fluid.

This particular favoured place gets very busy indeed at the counter. One can occupy a prime position on the laptop without preventing others from dining. To top up with food (which is only polite), one must look out for gaps in the queue and seize the moment.  Judiciously dropping down a coat on the way in helps to ensure you get the right seat. Be warned these establishments are known for taking unscheduled badly-spelled days off:

Kitchen be closed I am on holiday from you, customer!

Enjoy the moment while you can, as it changes from 'no laptops at weekend', 'byo alcohol licence applied for', to trendy family friendly hipster tapas carvery retro bar.

You'll need a good coffee after all of that.

The Power of Handwriting for Family History

I justifiably had my wrist slapped for submitting a handwritten family tree to an online forum recently. "We just can't read a single thing!" "How much better would your enquiry be if all the inter-connections were shown through paragraphed text rather than your naughty diagram!" So wrote the helpful chatty folk.

(Not one of whom could solve the puzzle.)

Well the lovely picture above is just a purchase today consolidating my view that handwriting is best.

I've earlier shown how handwritten letters do better on the whole than the typewritten variety when contacting new cousins.

Last week I photographed the beautiful linked trees I'd drawn some years back, which had enabled me to reflect on recent discoveries and present the data in a clear way for a new audience.

The problem was the balance between completeness and a crowding of facts. How could the tree remain readable without editing out half the people? Also, how can I include enough of the story without overwhelming the reader?

There are clever circular charts which can reduce everything you know to half a page, stripping in my opinion lots of the mystique away and rendering your research worthy of just a casual glance.

The glance that Maggie Smith's character would have given in Downton Abbey as she viewed your seize-quartiers (genealogical credentials) before passing them to a junior nephew and declaring "he fits".

How much more valuable a scruffy pen-portrait laying out the real truths of the family, incorporating insights of wise family members.

Valuable, but unreadable, so I send you this blog instead. Utterly readable but lacking any human touch whatsoever.