A Spooky Tale

Christmas is traditionally a time for the telling of a good ghost story and so here I set down details of something that happened to me a few years ago. You may not consider it to be sensational in nature but I believe it shows that we should all keep an open mind about ghostly matters, especially those relating to our family!

If you read my first post on this blog a year ago you may remember I recounted details of the stories my Mum used to tell me about my family and how it was these that initiated my love of family history.  My Mum and I were very close and it was a tragedy for me that she died when I was in my late 20s. We had often debated whether or not there was life after death and I had half-jokingly suggested that if there were she should return to let me know!

On several occasions for  six months or so after she died I experienced a strange but comforting feeling  that she was inside me looking out of my eyes and I have always felt that she is close, but never did she actually ‘return’ in the way I had asked.

You may have noticed a passing reference to my love of opera in my first blog post. As a teenager I had discovered  an old 45 RPM record of the famous tenor  Beniamino  Gigli in my parents’ attic and this sparked my love of singing and opera, leading me to take up singing lessons (yet another tale). Mum shared my love of music and especially Italian opera. When I was 20 we spent a wonderful holiday in Italy culminating in a trip to the opera at Verona while one of our favourite songs was Gigli’s rendition of ‘Mamma’ by the Italian songwriter Cesare Bixio .

One evening many years after Mum had died my husband and I were watching television. We were watching ‘Francesco’s Italy’ in which native Italian Francesca da Mosta travels the length and breadth of Italy exploring the countryside and meeting its people. It was the last program in the series and in it Francesco finishes by meeting up with his family – including his  beloved ‘Mamma’. As he does so music starts playing and that music was none other than Bixio’s  ‘Mamma’  and it was sung by  Beniamino Gigli!

As the music began to play I thought ‘This is our song’. No sooner did I think that than my old musical sewing box that sat in the corner of the room suddenly began to play. My husband and I both looked at each other and froze. The box had not been wound for years!

‘It’s my Mum’ I said half-jokingly. ‘She wants me to open the box’. I moved over to the music box and opened it.  My sewing threads and needles rested as usual on the velvet covered insert inside the box. I knew I had to lift out the insert and as I did so staring up at me was a photograph of Gigli the same man who was still singing away on the TV.

There may be scientific reasons why the music box suddenly started playing of its accord and I remember that I placed that picture there together with other operatic mementos years before but I had forgotten all about them.

What no one can explain is why the music box started playing at that particular moment in time. It has never played before or since of its own accord.

The incident left me with a warm and euphoric feeling that I have never forgotten. My Mum had managed to reach out to me even after all those years.

Talks and book signings in October

I will be giving the following talks as listed below in October. All are welcome to attend. I will be selling and signing copies of my book after each.

Date: Friday 4th October 2013
Subject: Tracing Your Ancestors Through Death Records
Venue: Bedfordshire Family History Society, The Drama Theatre, Mark Rutherford Upper School, Wentworth Drive, Bedford, MK41 8PX
Time: 7.45 pm

Date: Tuesday 8th October 2013
Subject: Tracing Your Ancestors Through Death Records
Venue: Fair Oak Genealogical Society, St Thomas’ Church, Mortimer’s Lane, Fair Oak, Hants SO50 7BG
Time: 7.30 pm

Date: Monday 14th October 2013
Subject: Exploring the Parish Church
Venue: Uckfield Family History Group, Luxford Day Centre, Library Way, Uckfield, Sussex TN22 1AR
Time: 7.30 pm

Talks and Book Signings in August

I shall be giving the following talks in August and which I shall be selling and signing copies of my book after both. All are welcome to attend.

Thursday 1st August 2013

Subject: Newspapers for Family History

Venue: Family Roots Family History Society, Ocklynge Junior School , Victoria Drive, Eastbourne BN20 8XN

Time 7.30 pm

Date: Tuesday 13th August 2013

Subject: Land Records

Venue: Kent Family History Society, Deal Branch, Wesley Hall in Trinity Church, Union Road, Deal, Kent CT14 6EA.

Time: 7.30 pm

Talks and book signings week beginning 16th June

This coming week I am giving two talks on the workhouse after which I will be selling and signing copies of my book. All are welcome to attend and further details are as follows:
Tuesday 18th June: The Workhouse and its Records. 8 pm. Surrey Family History Society, United Reformed Church Hall, Addiscombe Grove, Croydon, Surrey, CR0 5LP. Non members welcome

Thursday 20th June: My Workhouse Ancestor, 3.30 pm. The Florence Nightingale Museum, Southbank, London (located in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital). Booking is required and tickets cost £8. For tickets ring 020 7620 0374

Using Newspapers in Family History

The digitization of newspapers is rapidly changing the lives of many researchers today and the most useful database is without doubt the British Library’s British Newspaper Archive (BNA) at www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk   As digitization progresses I am finding out a variety of interesting facts about my ancestors. Some are fascinating tit bits which help flesh out what I already know about them. Such is the entry in the deaths column of the Worcester Herald for 18 July 1857 which I discovered today for my great great grandfather William Clement Heritage. I already knew that William had died aged 41 of  a kidney related disease but this short yet simple entry gives me a little bit more, stating that his death was ‘ deeply regretted his family and friends, and  [that he was] much respected.’

Newspapers can be one of our most informative sources

Newspapers can be one of our most informative sources

Other finds are more significant – feeding me important facts that will help me break down some of my family history brick walls or providing me with graphic details of how a relative died. I have had two such important finds recently. The first concerned  another  William Heritage. This William had baptised all but one of his children in Ettington south of Stratford upon Avon and was last recorded there in 1798 when he contributed £5 towards the building of the new church. I had also found the draft for a lease on a mill at Whichford some 12 miles away dated 1799 that William was planning to take out jointly with his father-in-law Charles Chapman. Charles had died the same year, however, and there was no evidence that William had gone ahead and taken out the lease. The next known record for William was not until 1818 when he was buried in Haselor a village just north of Stratford.

The British Newspaper Archive revealed that William had indeed taken out the lease at Whichford but that he had not stayed there long, for in 1802 an auction notice  shows him putting the contents of his mill business at Whichford Mill up for sale on account of his leaving  the area. So another three years of his life have been accounted for but I still some way to go to finding out why and when he ended up at Haselor!

Secondly and more dramatically I found out more about my  Westwood family who are one of the case studies in my book (see page 25). I already knew that one of Joseph and Margaret Westwood’s three sons to die in his youth was Joseph aged 21  but up to now I only had the details on his death certificate. This  told me that he had been killed by lightning in fields near Cark-in-Cartmel in Lancashire in 1912.  A search on his name and the year of death across all newspapers in the BNA brought up two items of news concerning his death. As is often the case these were to be found in local newspapers based many miles from where he lived and died and goes to show that tragic deaths like this are newsworthy no matter where the newspaper is based – so it is wise to search across the whole database rather than restrict it to newspapers in the vicinity of the event.

Newspaper entry concerning Joseph's tragic death

Newspaper entry concerning Joseph’s tragic death

Both the Hull Daily Mail and The Lichfield Mercury gave details of how Joseph died and using both articles together I was able to get a good idea of what happened that day.  The thunderstorm had been brief but severe and had struck Joseph and two other men as they were cutting bracken.   What was very revealing for me was that Joseph’s younger brother Thomas aged 14 had been one of the other two men but had survived. The Lichfield Mercury describes how Joseph’s body was ‘burned from the right shoulder to the right foot’ while the Hull paper gave the following account:

Evidence at the inquest at Cark North Lancashire on Monday showed that after the lightning had struck the 3 men engaged in Bracken cutting at Holker Bank on Saturday afternoon Joseph Westwood Junior was left a dead in a sitting position with his eyes open. Only about six inches of his coat was torn but his body was badly marked by lightning. Thomas Westwood 14 was found in a delirious condition looking over a gate with his clothes badly torn and Thomas Sargent the other injured man had wanted some distance before collapsing.

New data is constantly being added to the BNA so don’t forget to re-run your searches at regular intervals. When the Westmorland Gazette and Lancaster Gazettes  for 1912 are added no doubt I will find further details about Joseph’s death.

You can find out more about Newspapers and Magazines and how to use them as sources for  family history in Chapter 5 of my book.

 

 

Just How Much a Will Can Tell You

When my 3x great grandfather Charles Chapman Heritage wrote his will in 1857  he  provided a clear picture of  life in the Heritage family for future generations to peruse.

Charles was a publican and grocer who lived in the village of Aston Cantlow near Stratford upon Avon in Warwickshire and his will details not only all the land and property he owned and leased, but also provides an insight into what it would have been like to step into the Heritage family home at this time. I also feel that it gives an indication of his character  too, as you shall see.

If you look on page 133 of Tracing Your Ancestors Through Death Records you will see an image of the entry that relates to his will in the National Probate Calendar. Here it refers to ‘The will as contained in Writings marked A and B of Charles Chapman Heritage’ and the ‘B’ referred to is an inventory of goods to be left to his widow. He was obviously a man who thought ahead and wanted to head off any problems before they occurred.

Charles had been married twice: by his first wife Elizabeth Clements, who died in 1822, he had had two surviving children William and Elizabeth and by Margaret (Elizabeth’s sister) he had had one son Charles. Although his son William had died intestate in 1857 (I wonder if this was what prompted Charles to write his own will) William had left five dependent children behind him and so potentially there were still four different parts of the family for Charles senior  to consider when dividing his estate – his widow, his daughter Elizabeth, his son Charles and the children of his son William.

His will is extremely detailed filling seven A4 pages s and in it he deals with every aspect of his estate and to whom it should be given. He was particularly concerned that Margaret should receive certain goods which, in the main, came from the family home. The wonderful thing for me is that he listed these items according to which room they were in, so not only do I learn discover just what Margaret and Charles had in their house but I also get a feel for the layout of the house. And the inventory, which I have transcribed below (updating some of the spelling where it is not obvious), is a good indicator of the comparative comfort in which this generation of the family lived. It also provides a useful picture of what was in a fairly typical middle class home at this time albeit bearing in mind that Charles  ran a pub with shops attached. I think the inventory makes fascinating reading and and, as usual, a document like this also produces further questions – not just as to what exactly some of the items were – but more importantly just where the ‘Famley Bible’ ,  went! If only I could trace that then I might be able to  confirm the identity Charles’ grandfather which has been my brick wall for twenty years now!

Extract from Charles' inventory

Extract from Charles’ inventory

Appendix B: The schedule of Household goods Furniture and Effects reffered to by my Will

2 small Barrells about 8 or 10 Gallons each

3 dozen sorted wines with bottles

1 brass Lock Tap

1 Plate Cover

2 small oval side covers

1 Copper Tun dish 6 cup  and jugs

6 small Goblett Glasses 6 Wine Glasses

1 pair small glass decanters

6 Julley cups and 6 Preserve Cups

1 Tea Tray and Waiter

2 small waiters

1 hand bell

1 oak round tea table

1 small Hand– to chose which she likes

1 pair brass candlesticks

1 pair iron Candlesticks

1 pair japanned chamber candlesticks

1 small mettle tea pot

half a dozen cups and saucers and slop basin

1 sugar basson [basin] cream jug and toasting fork

2 saucepans, 1 skimmer , 1 ladle

1 messelin kettle, 1 copper tea kettle

1 small Dutch oven, 1 dripping pan

1 toaster, 1 small cooking boiler, 1 small frying pan

2 basketts, 1 lantern, 2 good washing tubs

1 swilling tub, 1 bucket, 1 tin bucket

1 small hog tub, 1 coal riddle, 1 small spade

1 set of tea chainy,  the choice of all

1 pair British silver tablespoons

Half a dozen British silver teaspoons

1 set glass cruets and salts and spoons

2 egg cups, 3 common? Tablespoons

2 pairs of blue dishes, 2 dozen sorted blue plates

1 pair Butler Botes,  1 pair blue tureens

1 pair vegetable dishes, 1 pair desert dishes

Some common dishes and plates, basins etc

The Brasses in Quinton’s house to stand as a fixture therein

1 fender, the choice of all

1 set good fire irons

1 set common  irons

6 Windsor chairs, 1 elbow chair, hur [her] low chair

3 or 4 common chairs,

1 pair snuffers and tray

Half a dozen knives and forks, the middle quality

1 carving knife and fork and 1 steele

1 small close horse and 1 larger horse

4 flat irons, 1 attalion iron with 2 cutters

1 small mahogany

2 leaf Pemberock table

In my Bedroom

4 post bedsteads, Chinese furniture, mill flock mattress

1 feather bed, 2 bolsters, 2 pillows, 3 blankets, 1 quilt, 2 bedside carpets in the same room

1 small bedstead with the furniture

The feather bed mattress, blankets, sheets, bed quilt and all thereto belonging

1 night chair, 1 square wash hand stand

1 swing glass, 2 sets window curtains

1 linning [linen] chest, 2 chamber chairs

1 ovell Pear glass, 2 chambers vessels

Inn Room over Little Parlour

1chest of drawers

1 30 Hour clock bought at Jessons Sales

1 washhand hand jug and bassn

2 chamber vessels

The large Famley Bible with about half a dozen other books which she chooses

1 workbox, 1 umberella

1 tea chest that given to her by William Wheyham

1 yellow painted dressing table cloth and basin and jug

1 swing glass, bedside carpets

half a dozen napkins

2 small table cloths, 2 large tablecloths

2 white dimity curtains with the fringe

6 pairs Linning [linen] Sheets

2 bedquilts the choice of all

Also in the room over Little Parlour

1 tend bedstead and furniture, 1 feather bed and two bolster

2 pillow, 3 blankets one pair of sheets and a bed quilt

14th August 1857. Charles C Heritage

Witnesses John Newberry J.H. Whitaker