Ten days to go!

Just ten days to go until WDYTYA 2014 at Olympia! It seems to have come round evening more quickly than usual and already the excitement is building. For genealogists (or genies as we often call ourselves) it is a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues. Our job, by its nature, can be a lonely one and its lovely to meet new people and learn face to face about new releases of books, databases and forthcoming genealogy projects.

This year the show has a military theme in commemoration of the beginning of WW1 100 years ago but  as usual almost all family history topics will be covered in one way or another either as part of the Society of Genealogists’ excellent workshop programme or in the multitude of family history stands representing family history societies and commercial organisations.

If you are free between 20th and 22nd February and love family history Olympia is the place to be! Further details can be found at http://www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.com/

Apart from my schedule of talks I will now also be doing two book signing sessions – one on Friday at 2 pm and one on Saturday at 4 pm.Both will last half an hour. For further details of my events see the WDYTYA  2014 tab.

Talks at WDYTYA 2014

The Who Do You Think You Are? Live family history show at Olympia is just under a month away. Now’s a good time to make sure you have bought your tickets, not just for the show as a whole, but also to reserve a place in any Society of Genealogist talks you especially wish to attend – places sell out fast so its worth spending a couple of pounds reserving a place!

Each day at 10.30 and 12.45 I will be giving talks at The Genealogist’s stand  (number 910) – there are no ticket reservations for these talks so turn up early to get a seat! I will be talking about a variety of exciting different sources and how you can use them to advance your research. On Thursday afternoon at 4.45 pm I am in the SOG Celebrity Theatre/SOG 1 to talk about Newspapers in Family History and on Saturday at 2.45, again in the same place, I will be giving my new talk entitled ‘Wills: not just a source for your better off ancestor’.

Further details of the show are at http://www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.com/

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 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

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

The Author, the Book and its Background

And so, at last, my first book Tracing Your Ancestors Through Death Records is due to be published by Pen and Sword Books on 21 February 2013. It is culmination of seven months hard work and much research and also of an idea that came to me back in 2005 when I first started running my family history classes.

I began tracing my own family history when I was fifteen, my curiosity having been sparked by stories related to me by my Mum. She in turn had got many of them from her great uncle George Dickinson …… but more of that another time! And so began my passion for family history! After a fumbling start I soon learnt that my primary sources were the General Register Office index of births, marriage and deaths and the census returns. And thus my pedigree grew, on my Mother’s side at least. Dad’s side had to wait another few years until I plucked up courage to ask him. He was traditionally silent on any aspect relating to his family! After school I chose to study history at university and one of the primary reasons for choosing to go to college in London was easy access to both family history records (St Catherine’s House, Somerset House and the Society of Genealogists) and also the Royal Opera House! My two loves were equally shared at that time between family history and opera.

Shoot forward to 2005, by this time I had spent some sixteen years working as a Civil Servant (something as a child I always swore I would never be!). I now had an extensive family history and with it had come the realisation that, although I knew a lot about the subject, there was much more to know. Therefore I had begun the Higher Certificate in Genealogy course courtesy of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies a few years earlier – purely to improve my own knowledge. At this stage I certainly had no thoughts of genealogy as a career. Then one day Josie, one of my colleagues, came to me and asked me if I would start up some family history courses for those colleagues that were interested. Family history by this time was at the start of its tremendous rise in popularity partly due to the showing of the first series of Who Do You Think You Are? the previous year and, of course, the increasing amount of data becoming available via the internet.

I can remember my initial reply to Josie was something along the lines of ‘I don’t know that much really’ and her typically direct reaction was, ‘’Don’t be ridiculous! You know far more than we do!’ And so it began: by the following year I had opened my classes to the general public and was inundated with students and the same year I answered a job advert to work at the Institute for Heraldic and Genealogical Studies in Canterbury and to my surprise I was successful!

But it was while I was writing classes for my very first set of students at work that I decided instead of writing a traditional lesson about wills and probate records to follow on from sessions on BMDs, census records and parish registers, I would write a module that encompassed a much wider range of records – those records that were all either created at death or, like wills, activated at death.

A few years before I had had a wake-up call which showed me the importance of all types of death records. Quite by chance I had discovered that my great great grandfather Edwin Barnes had died unexpectedly and very suddenly in his thirties and that his death had had a devastating effect on his family.

I had not actively sought out his death record, having made the presumption that he and his wife had almost certainly carried on living the typical lives of the working-class Londoners of this time, probably dying some time in their 50s or 60s! If I had not stumbled across their young daughter in an orphanage in the 1891 census I would no doubt have carried on in my erroneous presumption and missed out on a wonderful pile of data about my family!

As I pondered more on my ‘lucky find’ I realised that it is death records that often tell us far more about our family than any of the record actually created during their lifetimes. It also struck me that if we don’t seek out our ancestor’s death records, in many cases we will fail to realise what their lives were like in their later days. An ancestor’s circumstances could change rapidly at any point in his or her life (for better or worse) but even more so in their later years as their ability to earn a living waned. There could be a very great difference between someone’s life at the time they were at their peak, working and raising a family, compared to life after the family had fled the nest. Failing to locate death records means you know nothing about an important section of their lives.

The most important death record in Edwin’s case was an inquest record. From it I learnt not only about how his tragic death occurred, but gained an understanding of the family’s life and the consequences that Edwin’s early death had for them; especially for his youngest child Mary Ann who was only six when he died. You can read the full story in Chapter 4 of the book.

For those ancestors who did not die a tragic and or sudden death and for whom, therefore, there will be no inquest records, there is still a rich seam of other death records which will tell you plenty about them and I will explore some of these in later blog posts.