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.

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

A Trip to the Graveyard

As a teenager my Mum and I spent many happy hours feverishly exploring churchyards, frequently in very cold or wet conditions. We were driven on by a determination, not just to find our ancestors’ resting place, but also the inevitable genealogical clues we knew their gravestones would contain if we could but find them; the age at death would help locate the baptism; details might be given of previously unknown family members; references might be found to where our family had actually lived – and the last would in turn give us houses to try and track down!

I can vividly remember the thrill I felt when we found the stone for John and Margaret Bowness. It was just outside the main door of the tiny church at Cartmel Fell. And after reading the stone I suddenly found myself regarding them as real people rather than just names on my family tree.

The gravestone of John and Margaret Bowness

The gravestone of John and Margaret Bowness

Two of their children, Barbara and James (whose baptisms I had found) had died as young adults while, although I knew that the  family lived at Poolgarth in Cartmel Fell, I had no idea that they later moved away to Hood Ridding at Old Hutton some fifteen miles away, returning to be buried at Cartmel Fell several years later. This led us on a trip to Old Hutton where we found another family grave and where it turned out my great great grandmother (their daughter) had worked as a servant in her late teens.

In those days there was nothing online and our successful finds were relatively few in proportion to the number of hours we spent in churchyards! These days you can make a much more ordered and thorough search to see if your ancestors’ gravestones survive and to learn what is written on them – all  without stirring out of your house. One of the things I stress in my book is the importance of using your various death records in tandem and making the most of all online databases. Today there are numerous websites offering transcriptions of monumental inscriptions and burials while some websites also offer images of gravestones. And, although I still wholeheartedly exhort you to get out and visit your ancestor’s parish and hopefully experience the thrill of finding their grave too, doing your homework before you go can save you many man hours on the ground and will give you extra time to explore the rest of the town or village too.

Family historians and antiquarians have been transcribing the information on gravestones for many years and these are often a useful short cut for locating the stones you want or finding out what was written on those that no longer survive. Many churchyard transcriptions carried out in the nineteenth century are now more precious than ever, including as they do so many stones that no longer survive. Such a transcription led me to discover vital information about my great great grandmother Elizabeth Heritage that would otherwise have been lost, while a surprising number of stones give information about causes of death and occupations and, if you actually get to see the gravestone itself, frequently the artwork is symbolic and of interest too.

A gravestone is not just a tablet upon which vital genealogical information is written however. A gravestone tells a story, whether it be the simple dates of a person unmarried and childless, or an epitaph to a loved one written by a spouse or children. Don’t forget to think about the effect your ancestor’s death would have had on any remaining family members. It’s very important to put your family history data into its ‘real life’ situation.

So next time you walk round a burial ground try to imagine the mourners for each burial clustered around each grave. If you do so the burial ground will suddenly become a very crowded place. Remember, too, that many graves will be unmarked by any stone. Then think about how the death of each person may have affected all those close family members and friends stood there before you. A death, no matter at what age, could have had repercussions for the rest of the family and sometimes serious ones. And now consider your ancestor’s grave. Who would have stood around it and how would do you think they have felt? Who did your ancestor leave to mourn and who would have been most affected? This is all food for thought and an important part of understanding your family history and getting under the skins of your ancestors.

I look at all aspects of gravestones and monumental inscriptions in Chapter 3 of the book, while in Chapter 8 I consider the repercussions of a death on the surviving family members.

Cartmel Fell church

Cartmel Fell church