Archive for the ‘Research guides’ Category

Following on from my previous article, it appears that records of property development may be held at the National Archives in Kew as well as in local county and city record offices.  Today, while researching a REDFERN family who lived in 33 and 35 Nun’s Street in Derby in the mid-19th century, I searched for “Nun’s Street” + Derby in the National Archives Discovery Catalogue and this result emerged:

Nuns Street, etc. Improvement scheme No. 1
Local Government Board and Successors: Housing and Town Planning Dept and successors: Housing Orders, Registered Files.  LOCAL AUTHORITIES IN ENGLAND.  Derby County Borough Council (1040).  Nuns Street, etc.  Improvement scheme No. 1.
Collection: Records created or inherited by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and of successor and related bodies Date range: Dates unknown Reference: HLG 47/330 Subjects: Housing, Local Government, Planning

It’s disappointing no date is given, but clearly, if you want to hunt down slum clearance or redevelopment records for your ancestors’ lost homes, a search of the Discovery Catalogue could be worthwhile.


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One of the best moments in family research is to discover an address where ancestors  lived, perhaps from census entries or a Will.  It can be fun to make a pilgrimage there – but also very disappointing if we find that the old place has been cleared away during the intervening years, with only modern roads or buildings to see now.

But, as I’ve discovered in Newcastle-Gateshead, there can still be hope of priceless, detailed information, even when the home itself has gone.

The majority of us in the UK are descendants of industrial and agricultural workers who had little choice in where they lived – usually somewhere cheap and small, in walking distance of work.  As a result most were crowded into the jerry-built back-to-backs and tenements of Victorian cities or equally unsanitary cottages and hovels in the countryside.  As well as overcrowding, levels of pollution and dirt were appalling.  For many working people this remained the only choice of housing well into the 20th century.  However, as that century progressed, so too did efforts around the country to clear slums and improve amenities.  As a result, detailed official records do exist including maps, plans and photographs, of the houses and streets that were cleared away.

It’s entirely possible that, if you can identify the specific location of your ancestors’ lost home in the first half of the 20th century, you can find precious details about it in slum clearance and redevelopment records of the local authority, usually held at the relevant record office.  I discovered this when looking for information about Oakwellgate and Cannon Street in Gateshead where my Corbett and Clavering ancestors lived in the 19th century.

Cannon street date unknown

On the left is a view of Cannon Street, taken from the churchyard  of neighbouring St Mary’s.   Below is how it looks today.

Cannon Street 2013

Turn 180 degrees from where the second photo was taken and you’ll see
the view in the third photo – the dramatic Sage Centre has been built where
the gas works, railway lines and factory works once dominated the area
my folks lived in.
Sage Centre & Millennium Bridge 2013

But these are only the most recent of the redevelopments in Gateshead.  From the 1910s, overcrowding surveys were undertaken and as late as 1936 it was found that Gateshead was the second most overcrowded county borough in the country.  Conditions were notoriously awful, but it wasn’t until the 1930s that slum clearance began in earnest with further waves in the 1950s/60s, as well as recent years.

To give you an idea of records you might find in clearance and redevelopment records, the following details come from a page in Gateshead Council’s Register of houses declared unfit 1910-35, for a tenement in Oakwellgate (Tyne & Wear Archives ref. CB.GA/PH/4/2/1):

Inspected: 7 Mar 1912
Dwelling-house: 47 & 49 (Easton Bank), Oakwellgate
Description: Tenements.  No. 47 down.  No. 49 upstairs
Owner: Miss Eleanor Pearson, 40 Bewick Road, Gateshead (now 9 LynnholmeGardens)
Name of occupier: Four [note that names of occupiers are given on most of the survey cards, but not this one]
Number of rooms: 6, on ground floor 3, on first floor 3 (two empty)
Number of inhabitants: 8 Adults and 5 children under 13 years (in 4 rooms)
Water-supply: Town supply.  Tap in entrance to 47.
Closet accommodation: None.  Fallen down.  Using Public accommodation opposite.
Drainage: One gully
Light: Bad.  None at back & building shut in at front
Free circulation of air: Moderate
Dampness: Walls & ceilings damp
Cleanliness: Fair to bad
Paving, Draining & Sanitary condition of any yard or outhouses: No yard or outhouses
Arrangements for refuse & ashes: Tenants own pails, removed daily
Other matters: This house is one of most ancient in Oakwellgate, reputed to be the former town residence of the Bishop, & known as “BishopsPalace”.  Stone built, dilapidated & porous joints.  Roof tiled & very dilapidated.  Spouting very defective.  Internal walls, ceilings, stairs very defective & broken.  Wood floors defective & one bricked & in very bad order.
Remedies suggested: To close & demolish.
Demolished: 8 Jan 1930 [18 years after the survey!]

1934 Plan Dun Cow Yard area  It’s hard to believe people were living in these conditions as late as the 1930s.

Once you get into Slum Clearance and Compulsory Purchase files, you may also be lucky enough to find photographs and detailed plans,like the one on the left for Oakwellgate and Dun Cow Yard drawn in 1934 (Tyne & Wear Archives ref. CB.GA/PH/5/2).  A 1930 photo of the view also exists:

Duncow Yard between high street and oakwellgate 1930

It may be sad and disappointing to be unable to see the actual place where our ancestors lived, but slum clearance and redevelopment records can be a gift of detailed descriptions and photographs, maybe taking us closer to the truth of our ancestors’ living conditions than a still-standing but modernised and transformed building can do.

With thanks to staff of Tyne & Wear Archives for help with research into the Gateshead slum clearance and overcrowding files.  Old photos of Gateshead have been supplied by Gateshead Central Library and reproduced with the kind permission of Gateshead Council.  Modern photos taken by myself in June 2013.

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The Harpur-Crewe family who, amongst other things, were Baronets of Calke Abbey near Melbourne in Derbyshire do not speedily jump to mind as one of the county’s great families, but at one time they were second only to the Cavendishes, Dukes of Devonshire, in quantity of lands owned, spread mainly across Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Leicestershire.

I have to admit I have only just discovered the vast Harpur-Crewe archive collection at Derbyshire Record Office, and I suspect I am not alone.  Investigation of this collection, DRO ref. D2375, tells a story that is all too common in archives around the country.

Firstly, despite its size and importance to family and historical research, you won’t find any details of the D2375 collection online.  We await the arrival of a fresh clean copy of the existing catalogue currently being typed into spreadsheet by volunteers for the National Trust, which runs Calke Abbey, after which it will be put online.  Until then, the only way to access any information about D2375 is to consult the printed, on-the-shelf catalogue while visiting DRO, or to ask staff to do that for you.

Secondly, even when you can lay eyes on the print catalogue, you’ll be very lucky indeed if the details provided help you much in your research.  DRO staff generously provided me with a pdf copy of the printed catalogue : it is 570 pages long.  When you consider that, for most of the collection’s contents, only the barest minimum of catalogue description has been given, you start to get a picture of how huge this archive is.  The catalogue introduction explains how the collection arrived at DRO:

“The surviving Harpur Crewe papers comprise… estate, family and personal documents from the 16th to mid-20th centuries, with some medieval deeds.  On their transfer to DRO at various dates from 1988, many early documents were found to be irretrievably damaged by neglect and damp and a number of series were substantially fragmentary or discontinuous…  In 1996, these papers were… officially allocated to DRO.”

This acquisition of the collection created a formidable cataloguing and conservation task for DRO’s hard-pressed resources.  Consequently, only basic listings of most of the deposits have been possible since they arrived at DRO, and the print catalogue is full of entries like this:

D2375/27/1 : Breadsall Court Rolls about 14 items (but too frail to examine closely) incl. early 17th c. rentals and one court roll 1761.

D2375/189/6 : Bundle 1. Bundle of leases for Alstonfield, Quarnford, Warslow, Heathilee and Hollinsclough (not examined)

D2375/277/2 : Account book of Richard ROUGHLEY for rents collected and payments made… on behalf of the guardians of Sir John HARPUR incl. Arleston and Sinfin, Repton, Milton, Alvaston and Boulton, the manor of Alstonfield… (fragile & damaged), 1681-2.

Cataloguing and conservation have been ongoing at DRO but nowhere near the amount necessary to open up one of their biggest archive collections to all levels of research.

If you think there might be such a thing as a surname index, dream on.  At best, there is a  broad-brush subject and location index, currently only accessible on the shelf.  Once the new spreadsheet version of the old catalogue is uploaded online, it will be possible to search that, much better than nothing, but there are far more people mentioned in the documents than get noted in the catalogue entries.  I’m told that DRO hope to find  funding soon to properly catalogue the collection, but with so many uncatalogued archive collections around the country, competition is fierce, so there are no guarantees.

By now you may be bored into snooziness, wondering what interest the dry and dusty tale of a forgotten family’s papers can supply.  The fact is that the historical papers of the big landed families, who were the employers and landlords of most of our ancestors, are often the only available source of historical information about them, particularly in the centuries before civil registration and censuses.  The fact that our archives are traditionally starved of skilled and expensive cataloguing and indexing/digitisation resources makes us all the poorer, fenced out of our own history as much now as when their bailiffs and gamekeepers watched the boundaries.  The problem is not faced by DRO alone but by all archives nationally, whether state, county or private.  For example, the Devonshire collections still held at Chatsworth also lack complete catalogues and indexes.  They cannot even put online those they do have because, though their staff are immensely helpful, there are not enough of them to respond to higher levels of enquiries.

So, if you think an ancestor of yours might be hidden within D2375, what can you do?  At present, about the only option is to contact DRO and ask them to check the Harpur-Crewe subject index for any surname, topic or location you can provide.  If they locate anything of interest, it’s virtually certain you’ll need to visit personally to view original documents or pay for research to be done on your behalf.

You can also sign up to the DRO blog where information about progress on indexing and cataloguing D2375 is bound to be posted in future.

And never ever imagine that any archive’s online catalogue is “comprehensive” – it will be a very long time before that becomes universally true.  And vastly longer before  record office holdings round the country have been widely digitised and made available online.

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The Manor and its customs dictated the lives of our ancestors for centuries, yet we don’t often talk about this part of our national history in the online genealogy world.  It is only in the last year that I have started to explore “manorial documents” myself.  I have discovered that, though difficult in many ways, they can sometimes be goldmines of family information, particularly when looking for people in the 18th century and earlier, sometimes very much earlier.  Many manor records are Medieval in date.

As an example of an information goldmine I found recently, here is part of a record for the SOMERS family of Duffield in Derbyshire, taken from the Duffield Fee Court Books held at Derbys Record Office (the Fee was a number of manors in and around Duffield that were managed collectively like a single large manor):

At the Manor Court held on 21 May 1657, it was presented to the Court that a Robert SOMERS had died, who held a messuage and a couple of crofts in Duffield Manor “and that George SOMERS of the age of 16 yeares and upwards is the Kinsman and next heir of the said Robert SOMERS to witt the only Son of George SOMERS his father who was Sonn of Geo: his Grandfather who was Son of George his Great Grandfather who was Son of Thomas his Great Great Grandfather which Thomas was Eldest Brother of Bartholomew who was Father of Robert which Robert was Father of the said Robert SOMERS lately deceased, And the said George SOMERS the heir then being present in Court did then make choise of Henry NOTON his uncle to wit his Mother’s brother to be his Gardian dureing his minority”.  The entry goes on to say that a counter-claim to the holding was made by William SOMERS a brother of the lately deceased Robert by a different mother (his claim didn’t succeed).

 A record like that can suddenly take a family line back into Tudor or Medieval times.

In general, manor records don’t give as much detail for a family as this but even small nuggets can help when tracking people in early centuries.  In Duffield Fee, it certainly seems that some people used the ‘Surrender-Admission’ system of the manors for passing on property as a substitute for Wills and probate.

The biggest problems with manor records, and the reasons why they haven’t gone to the top of the hit parade of genealogical resources, are:

  • They can be hard to locate.  Manor records were private documents held by the Lord of the Manor, passed on (if we’re lucky) when manors were sold and inherited.  Many have not survived; many that do exist are held a long way from the manor itself, and may still be in private hands, unavailable to general researchers
  • Until 1733, like all other legal documents, they were written in Latin (except briefly between 1652 and 1660 when we had a Republic and English was its legal language)
  • The further back in date the records go, the harder they are to read.  They were often written, not just in Latin, but in heavily abbreviated Latin and, of course, old handwriting
  • Manors are a lost world to us now – for more than 1000 years they had their own customs and vocabulary which can be hard to understand today

However, I’ve found it worthwhile tackling these difficulties and great fun learning about the everyday lives of our ancestors recorded in these documents.  Here are some tips for making a start:

  • To locate manorial records, start with the National Archives’ Manorial Documents Register: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/mdr.  This register is nowhere near complete but TNA are funding projects in additional counties to update and digitise their records, including one for Derbyshire that should start up in the summer 2013.  The next best port of call for locating manorial documents is the county record office
  • Check county library catalogues for published transcripts of manor records.  In Derbyshire, those available include Staveley and Eckington (http://www.thamesweb.co.uk/books/eckington.html).
  • To help you tackle the Latin, there is “A Latin Glossary for Family & Local Historians” by Janet Morris, and “Latin for Local History, An Introduction, 2nd ed” by Eileen A Gooder.  A Latin grammar/dictionary from the library or bookshop will also help.  If you begin research into manor records by reading (and copying out) entries after 1733 that are in English, you will have verbatim ‘cribs’ for how the earlier Latin entries were written.
  • Search about online for introductions to manorial history and customs.  Examples are at NottinghamUniversity: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/ManuscriptsandSpecialCollections/ResearchGuidance/Manorial/Introduction.aspx and the National Archives: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/looking-for-place/manors.htm.  Eve McLoughlin’s introductory booklet “Manorial Records” is also an easy, informative and amusing read.  You will soon be able to impress others with your knowledge of essoins, amercements etc.

Life under the manors has largely been lost and so has our knowledge of its records, but I think it is worth tackling the difficulties in finding and reading the documents that do exist, often full of fascinating detail about the lives of our ordinary ancestors that we won’t find anywhere else.


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It helps when looking for your ancestors’ baptisms, marriages and burials, to know which parish they lived in and which registers to check.  That said, it ought to be easy to find out which parish was where – shouldn’t it?  I thought so until I tried to locate the parish of Osmaston by Derby.

It has that awkward name because there is another Osmaston in Derbyshire which is by (or near) Ashbourne, so that’s the first difficulty to overcome : making sure you’re looking at the right Osmaston.  Geographically, the Osmaston I’m interested in (for research into BARNES and PARKER families) is now a heavily residential suburb of Derby but before the industrial revolution was a quiet rural area with a small village and a big house – Osmaston Hall – first built by the Wilmot family in 1696.

To find its parish, I first checked my trusty booklet, the Society of Genealogist’s National Index of Parish Registers for Derbyshire which told me the parish was Osmaston St James and its registers start in 1743, having previously been part of Derby St Werburgh’s parish.  It also said St James’s later became St Osmund’s.  At Derbyshire Archives in Matlock, the file of parish reference sheets, which tell you which microfilm to look at, have no sheet for Osmaston St James, only one headed Derby St Osmund (Osmaston by Derby), with registers starting 1743.  That’s confusing especially as it turns out a second church was built in Osmaston by Derby, called St Osmund’s, in 1905 – that information came from the church database website, which quotes a source saying the church of St James was also known as All Saints, and that the later St Osmund’s got moved around between parishes, ending up in Derby St Andrew’s.

Head spinning?  Mine was, and it got worse when a couple of reference sources online stated that Osmaston by Derby (variously called All Saints or St James) was in Derby St Peter’s parish, not St Werburgh’s, before 1743.  There was even some confusion about this starting date – was it 1733 or 1743?  To top it all off, the Derbyshire Marriage Index includes marriages at Osmaston by Derby before 1743, back to the 1660s, taken from Bishop’s Transcripts (BTs) held at Lichfield Record Office.

I had made the assumption that a definitive, factual, parish history of Osmaston by Derby would have been written a very long time ago and that I could find it, if only I knew where to look.  Seems not, and none of the available experts – human or textual – have so far been able to tell me the full truth of it.  So, for the sake of anyone else trying to find ancestors in Osmaston by Derby before 1905, this seems to be the situation (with thanks to Becky at DRO for providing new, clarifying details):

  • A chapel or chantry was first built in Osmaston by Derby about 1127, modified over the centuries, and at some point dedicated to St James [the Less(er)].  It served as the only parish church through to 1905, when a second church, St Osmund’s, was built.  At that point, St Osmunds became the parish church for Osmaston by Derby, taking over and continuing the old registers previously kept at St James’s.  Meanwhile, St James’s church was still standing and occasional services were held there after 1905.
  • Osmaston St James was a chapelry in the parish of Derby St Peter until either 1733 or 1743.  However, it seems to have had its own incumbent (probably a curate under Derby St Peter’s administration) and to have kept its own separate registers, which have now been lost.  The only copy of them still available is the BTs held at Lichfield Record Office, dating from 1662 (to 1860 for baps and burials; to 1837 for marriages).  In other words, there is no extant parish register information for Osmaston St James before 1662.
  • In either 1733 or 1743, Osmaston St James became a parish in its own right and the registers it kept from that date are available on film at Derbyshire Archives in Matlock (original registers are also held there).
  • When the WILMOTs built Osmaston Hall in 1696-1703, they built it up against the old chapel so that it was perceived by some to have started as the family’s private chapel and integral to the Hall, but that is not the case – the chapel, though dinky in size, was Osmaston by Derby’s parish church until 1905.  The Hall was demolished in 1938 but the chapel survived until 1952.

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The history of religious dissent in the UK is complex, and many ancestors are lost from official records (especially those in the 17th century) because of their dissenting beliefs, so I thought a simplified summary and definition of terms might help family researchers. 

Puritans were members of the Church of England (CofE) who wanted it to be purified, ie. made less Popish, less like the Roman Catholic church.  They were, and wanted to remain, members of the established church, so until the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, the family events of most Puritans would still be recorded in the CofE registers, even if the mode of faith they wanted for the established church was Presbyterian (this already being the form of the established church in Scotland).  The main exceptions to this were (a) during the Civil War up to 1652 when many CofE registers were barely kept or lost entirely, and (b) people of any faith who didn’t believe in infant baptism choosing not to baptise their infants at all.

‘Dissenters’ and ‘non-conformists’ were either people who disagreed with the Church of England all along and always wanted to meet separately (eg. the Baptists) or people who didn’t ‘conform’ to the CofE after the Restoration in 1660 (which included a lot of Puritans).

In summary, the main terms used to describe dissenters in England up to the 1750s were:  Presbyterians, Independents, Congregationalists, Ana/Baptists and Quakers but there were also less well-known ones like Shakers, Levellers, Fifth Monarchists and more.  There were also Moravians whose faith started in central Europe, and Huguenots (French Protestants), many of whom fled to England as well as other parts of Europe at various dates, especially in the late 17th century.  In addition of course there were Jewish people and Roman Catholics, though Catholics were more commonly called ‘recusants’.  Methodism evolved later, initially within the established church, later as an independent movement that also split and regrouped into different types of Methodists.  In more recent years, most of the English dissenting faiths, other than Methodism, have joined forces as the United Reformed Church (URC).

After 1660, the Parliaments of Charles II re-enforced the Church of England with an iron hand and introduced a range of harsh, oppressive measures against dissenters of all kinds.  This forced the more determined sects to meet separately and in secret while others re-conformed to the Church of England, or appeared to do so by turning up at church.  Ministers who wouldn’t swear to use the Book of Common Prayer under the Act of Uniformity were evicted from their parishes – they often became leaders of the separate, secret meetings.

Oppression mostly ended in 1689 after William and Mary had come to the throne and the Act of Toleration arrived.  Within certain constraints, this allowed dissenters (not including Roman Catholics) to have their own meeting houses and meetings.  Most dissenter records only begin at this time or later, though a few are earlier, usually Quaker and Baptist ones.  The records when they exist can be patchy and incomplete.  Many dissenters would still have their family events recorded in CofE registers because this gave them a stronger legal status.  For quite a while, most dissenters would still be buried in CofE churchyards because it took time to acquire their own burial grounds.

So the faith business was hugely complicated and upheaved in the UK for a long time, especially during the 17th century, making it very hard to track dissenting ancestors in that period.  This is why I include dissenters amongst Morganhold’s “lost” ancestors and plan to write more about them in future.

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It strikes me that genealogy is just like love.  At the start, there’s the all-consuming excitement of first discoveries, complete preoccupation with the newly-found ancestors and their lives, resentment towards anything that gets between you and the chase – work, partners, shopping, garden, sex, food, sleep – nothing else matters.  It feels like love, it’s as good as sex and it transforms your life in the same way.  Once the genealogy bug has bitten, nothing is the same again.  This relationship is set to run, and run, and run…

Later of course, as with any loved one, the clay feet, little annoyances and boring bits start to make themselves felt, the moments of sheer excitement become rare jewels.  You settle in to a steady companionship instead, valuable for its familiarity, a comfort blanket of research skills acquired and pedigree charts produced, much more than a roller-coaster ride.

These thoughts struck me today after helping a friend begin the hunt for her mother’s family, introducing her to free online resources such as Family Search and FreeBMD and subscription sites like Ancestry and Findmypast.  She didn’t know much about her mother’s roots and we quickly found a whole new batch of first cousins and a line back to previously unknown grandparents and great-grandparents.  My friend’s wide-eyed, bouncing excitement and cries of joy as stones turned to reveal new facts reminded me of my own start ten years ago.  I’m not ashamed to admit I envied the years of passionate exploration she has ahead and wished I could experience that myself all over again.

This also got me thinking about the guidance that’s available for newbies to genealogy and whether anyone, caught up in the new passion of the hunt, will ever sit down to study well-meaning books and articles as they start out.  I know I didn’t.  But ten years ago, there was nowhere near as much advice around and the internet had barely begun as a research tool.  For me, it was more experienced researchers online, in mailing lists and forums, and not reference books, who held my hand, answered my questions, steered me from danger and illuminated my uncertain path.

I know now that I was lucky.  It is clear that lots of newbies never have these benefits and many of the trees published online leave me weeping in despair.  We see children born after their parents are long dead, mothers giving birth in their 80s, people even born after their own death dates!  Families linked up simply because they have the same surname and no other reason.  Birth, marriage and death locations assigned to the wrong counties, or even countries.  Well, the moan and grump list would stretch to pages if I let it.  As a result, I have sometimes considered writing quick and easy guides to starting family research, but, after sharing the start of the journey with my friend, I’m inclined to feel there is no real substitute for just doing it, learning as you go, getting help from people who are further down the path.  Opinions on this from other genealogy ‘oldies’ will be very welcome, including links to any good start-out guides that exist.

Meanwhile I feel that the best I can do for UK researchers is to help them find those who are lost and gone astray, the ancestors who left their birthplaces, went away to marry, work or explore and left no forwarding address.  Keep calling back to Morganhold for more about lost ancestors and press the ‘subscribe’ to receive new articles when they are posted.

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