Encouraging children to take an interest in their genealogy

What motivates children to take an interest in genealogy?

I remember being about 11 or 12 and sitting in the front rooms of both sets of maternal Great Grandparents and being completely bored by tails of the war years. Whilst one Gt Grandfather saw action in Egypt and other places, whilst the other was with the Home Guard, yet to my child ears, they were so utterly boring.

As a child, I didn’t want to know about ‘The War’. It meant nothing to me, and I couldn’t comprehend the date, why people would want to fight each other, and certainly not the scale of what actually took place. My mother was the same – she too had spent many hours listening to the very same stories as a child, and had not been interested either.

Now, as an adult, with those Great Grandparents all deceased, I’m left with a gap. An unrecorded gap in oral history, in personal history, and with only a few pay-to-view scanned documents sitting in sites like Ancestry or FindMyPast.

I was in Cambridge earlier today, picking up a few last minute Christmas presents when I spotted the following book from the Who Do You Think You Are? brand. I generally don’t buy genealogy books, as I rely on online information, but this one was different – it was aimed at children.

Be A Family Tree Detective book
Be A Family Tree Detective

I picked it up and flicked through, to find that it was full of colourful pictures, flaps to reveal information, and more along the lines of a pop-up book (without the pop-up bit).

inside the Be A Family Detective book
Inside the book – open the envelope to look at Census, lift the magnifying glass to reveal a tip. 

I wondered what it was that inspired me to start (although admittedly i was 16/17yrs old) – knowing that it wasn’t anything like this. Had it have been, i would most likely have been hooked and written down the stories (or at least listened and perhaps remembered some of them) at a much younger age.

I also got home to find that Who Do You Think You Are? magazine had also landed on my doormat – the January edition – and inside was a great tree chart from FindMyPast – encouraging people to fill in their ancestors. What a great way to help inspire kids to think about the past lives of their family?

The free FindMyPast tree chart with the January 2013 edition of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine.
The free FindMyPast tree chart with the January 2013 edition of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine.

What was it that motivated you, and at what age?

WANTED: Dead Or Alive

Killing off your relatives is a crucial part of your work…. as a genealogist, not as a marauding tyrant.

I’m hoping that aside from in genealogy, that there’s nowhere else where the mark of a successful day is one where you’ve killed off a load of your relatives.

Anyone tracing their family tree is sure to stumbled across at least one elusive relative at some point in their research. That relative will cause them to spend many hours following potential leads and plenty of head scratching and brow creasing before either solving or putting it off until a rainier day.

This is a routine I know well.

Help! My Grandmother was a zombie

William Yarrow and his wife Elizabeth
Elizabeth Yarrow (née Wright) seems to have died and been buried more than once.

I’ve recently struggled to kill off a maternal 4x Great Grandmother called Elizabeth Yarrow (née Wright), who appears to have died twice (about 2yrs apart) and been buried – in neighbouring parishes (!). Her death(s) fall right at the start of Death Certification in England and Wales. One of them is even noted as being in London and that her body was carried back on the train.

However, there’s seemingly no death certificate for her (the only one that matched in name turned out to be a baby), and parish records and the gravestone all contradict eachother.

The hidden Grandparents and Uncle

I’m currently struggling to find a my paternal Gtx4 Grandparents John Levitt with Elizabeth (née Skeel), and one of their sons Richard Skeel Levitt, during the 1871 census. I can find the rest of their children, but for some reason in 1871 they vanish.

I have them living in the same parish in all the censuses before and after this particular one. So, did they elude the enumerator? Were they away somewhere? – and if so, why don’t they appear somewhere else?

The surname has many variants but having done some pretty vague searches and very specific ones too, they remain elusive. Richard never married and seems to stick with his parents until their death, after which he goes to live with his other unmarried brother. It’s odd that all three seem to be missing.

The Serial Bride

Mary Watlington (formerly Martin, formerly Crisp, née Tingey)
Mary Watlington (formerly Martin, formerly Crisp, née Tingey)

Okay, to be fair, three marriages is probably nothing compared to some, but Mary Tingey surprised me. Born in 1820, she married to John Crisp in 1846. He died soon after their son was born. Within 4 years she had remarried to widower James Martin (my Gtx3 Grandfather) in 1850 and the following year they started their own family. After 5 children – with seemingly just one surviving (my ancestor) tuberculosis and scarlet fever, and then the tragic train accident that claimed her husband, Mary lived alone as a widow.  I’d hunted for her death for some time, but the searches were unsuccessful.

I hadn’t considered that instead of being buried somewhere out of step with the rest of her family or that she had been recorded for some reason under an earlier name, that she had remarried. One evening I stumbled across the marriage in 1877 with 57yr old widow Mary Martin, formerly Crisp (née Tingey) becoming the second Mrs Matthew Watlington. To add to the confusion, the new surname occasionally appears as Watling.

Check, check, check and then cross-check…. again…

These are just three of several situations where I’ve struggled to solve a puzzle. Whilst I know that checking and cross-checking is absolutely crucial to accurately recording your genealogy, it can be all too easy to accept even documentation and gravestones of the time as being accurate.

I’d like to say that I’ve learnt my lesson the hard way… but I say that every time it happens.

POLL: At what age were you when you started your family tree/genealogy research?

POLL: At what age were you when you started your family tree/genealogy research?

I fall outside of the reader demographic for most genealogy magazines, as well as the demographic of genealogy websites. So, I was wondering at what age you first started your family tree/genealogical research?

Could the dead help you grow your family tree?

Hallowe’en Special: Could the dead help you grow your family tree by contacting you from beyond the grave?

So, as nights draw in on Hallowe’en, people will be telling ghost stories by candlelight in a bid to frighten others, but perhaps the spirit world may have much more to offer to family historians?

Dr-Mabuse-the-Gambler
A group of people performing a séance.

Ghostly figures of Anne Boleyn and Mary, Queen of Scots are almost common sights through-out the country, appearing in all manner of stately homes and castles. These women must be busier in death than they were in life.

However, amongst all these claims of other-worldly connections with those from beyond the grave, it makes me wonder – has anyone ever managed to further their family tree by participating in a séance or by enlisting the help of a Medium?

Perhaps that sounds like a stupid question? But when there’s so many claims that spirits communicate with the living in various ways, why shouldn’t some of these encounters involve a topic of conversation?

‘Reuniting’

Pat Peacock
Pat Peacock - Spiritualist Medium and Genealogist

As a Spiritualist Medium for more than 30 years, and a Genealogist for over 20 years, Pat Peacock from West Sussex has found that the two areas have often complimented each other.

“Sometimes I think I should call myself a ‘Reunionist’ as I am able to connect people with their loved ones in the Spirit World and reunite them with family members on the Earth.” – Pat Peacock

Pat who is President at Chichester Christian Spiritualist Church, explains that she has been contacted by many people who are trying to research their family tree or to find a family member who has disappeared;

“…[They] tell me that they have consulted a Medium or Psychic who has given them some information. They usually say that I may find them strange asking me to check information obtained in this way and I respond by saying I am a Medium myself.”

Pat, as an experienced genealogist knows that consulting vital records is crucial, but does go on to say that “The information they have been given is mostly accurate and has resulted in further information being found through genealogy research.”

Perhaps this suggests that a medium or séance could be on par with oral interviews – scattered with truths and opinions, but useful for leading the researcher towards vital clues?

A Familiar Visitor

Sally Holmes, a Spiritual Sensitive from Cambridgeshire, recalls an encounter that briefly re-connected some of her family members:

“Many years ago one of my cousins ran to her mum telling her to get ‘the man with the dark eyes and the hat’ away from her. She never knew my mum’s grandad, but it was him that she was describing. He was blind and wore dark glasses, and he used to sit in the very same chair. We can only conclude that he was there watching over her.. just as he would have done if he was alive.” – Sally Holmes

This encounter was shocking at first for the youngster, but the feeling that a late relative was present in their lives became somewhat comforting in hindsight.

Was it really who they thought it was, or did luck simply turn up a description that stirred up a match for an identity and associated memories of a long-gone relative?

Walking through brick walls.

Raynham Hall ghost
The 'brown lady' of Raynham Hall, Norfolk.

If there really are visitations from the spirit world, why do they rarely help to solve our family puzzles? Couldn’t they just give a hint where someone was born or where that great aunt moved to?

Maybe as Pat suggests, they do sometimes provide some pieces of information that can be corroborated with historical documents, leading a genealogist into new lines of research.

So, when you next hit that genealogical ‘brick wall’ and can’t find that elusive relative, just take a look over your shoulder.

Perhaps there is someone who could help you after all?

Elveden and the Brightwells

One of the family trees that I am currently climbing has a bit of an evolutionary name. The most recent incarnations in the late-19th century are ‘Brightle’, ‘Brightley’ and ‘Brightly’ as found in Littleport and Little Downham fenland, Cambridgeshire.

The latter two are clearly pronounced ‘bright-lee’ as in, ‘well lit’, but the first version seems a little odd. Perhaps it still is ‘Bright-lee’ but with just one ‘e’. However, after stumbling across a note that my ancestor John Brightly was born in ‘Elden, Suffolk’, I decided to see what I could find. Not only did he have this changing surname that I wanted to follow, he was also from outside the county – which in my genealogy is quite rare.

I already had a hunch of where ‘Elden’ was but checked it out on Genuki, which confirmed my suspicions.

Much to my delight, my ancestors appeared to be from the same Suffolk village that I had grown up in, gone to school in, and enjoyed living immensely – Elveden, on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. I havent’ lived there for more than 20 years now but this chance coincidence feels like a full circle! Do you ever get that sense of pride or excitement when you visit a place that your ancestor would have known well?

Fortunately, the village is in Suffolk and also classed as West Suffolk, which means that the parish records are deposited at the record office in Bury St Edmunds, so I knew I could easily pay them a visit to check up on the claim of John Brightly’s birthplace.

I found ‘Brightwell’ to be the chosen spelling, and several family members were listed in the births, marriages, and burials – including a Robert Brightwell noted as being a farmer in 1785. ‘Brightwell’ fits with the ‘Brightle’ spelling – if you think of it being pronounced as ‘Bright-all’ – not far from ‘Brightwell’ which with an accent could easily sound like ‘Bright-wall’.

The parish records are copied onto microfiche and it was easy to claim a reader for use. Unfortunately, the mid-late 1700’s registers were subject to some fading (or bad microfiching!) and some dreadfully wafty and artistic handwriting from George Burton the Rector. The earlier entries from the 1600s were immaculate though – clearly written, well organised, and the spelling was perfect.

After collecting up a few Brightwell entries that I could glean from the microfiche I departed, pleased to think that my Brightwell ancestors had lived in a place that I enjoyed living so much, and that I had re-trod their steps quite literally and obliviously by chance, some 200 years after them.

I was also interested to see in the 1700s, that the village was home to three family names that were there when I was a child and I think are still present there today: Harper, Turner and Gathercole – That’s more than 300 years of their family history!

There’s something about Mary…

A few weeks ago I wrote about my Clarke/Bailey family at Hartismere Union Workhouse. In that posting, I mentioned that whilst I had located the Bailey/Clarke family group, the wife (my gtx4 grandmother – Mary Bailey née Clarke) was missing from the group.

Well, thanks to a combination of help from Ann Berwick, who commented on that posting and gave me the first hint of her whereabouts, the good people at RootsChat.com, and the very helpful Steve at Ipswich Record Office, I have been able to locate Mary Bailey and an additional Bailey child called Emily.

Mary was in prison.

This is the first time that I have uncovered a relative in prison, let alone them being an ancestor. Naturally I wanted to know why they were serving time in Ipswich County Gaol.

After hearing from Ann that Mary may have been serving time for a crime, I checked the 1841 census and sure enough found Mary and a 6mth old Emily Bailey listed at Ipswich County Gaol and House of Correction. Ipswich Record Office was my next point of call to see what kind of records were available for the gaol. Shortly after emailing, I receive a reply from Searchroom Assistant, Steve, who provided me with the following information which not only proved that she was the correct Mary Bailey, but gave a hint at the crime she committed.

Age: 29
Father: William Clarke
Crime: Ill-using Children
Abode: Botesdale
Sentence: 6 calendar months
Year 1841

Further details can be found in the Gaol Book. Reference 609/31 page 277. A copy of this is held on microfiche.

I was pleased to see William Clarke and Botesdale mentioned, as I had not revealed this to the archivist… but “Ill-using children”?

I really wasn’t expecting that – I was expecting to read about how she’d stolen a loaf of bread to feed her growing brood and narrowly escaped transportation. I had to know more. However, whilst I’m about to employ a researcher to dig deeper in the Ipswich Archives to get the real nitty-gritty gaol details, I moved over to the exceptionally and eternally helpful folks at RootsChat.com (who have smashed so many of my brickwalls in the past) to ask for their thoughts on this ambiguously named crime.

Not long later, forum user “suffolk*sue” joined in the thread and through her own research found a newspaper article in the Ipswich Journal, dated 13th March 1841 relating to the crime. She warned me it was long and harrowing. She was right.

When reading the news article, it turns out that William Bailey (Mary’s husband) was also charged with the same crime –

William Bailey, 35, labourer, Botesdale, was charged with not having provided sufficient food and raiment for his children, Louisa Bailey, 5 years of age; Ellen Bailey, 8 years of age; and Emma Bailey, 11 years of age; whereby they had become sick, and ill, and emaciated. There was another count, containing a charge of assault.

The report goes on to explain how both Emma and Louisa were found bruised, hardly clothed, dirty and hungry in Botesdale and Stanton respectively.

Louisa was brought back to the house [Hartismere Union Workhouse] , nearly naked, and very much beaten about the head and face – she was a complete skeleton. There were three or four severe bruises to her head and her right eye was black. She was placed under the care of a surgeon, but could not bear any food in her stomach, until she had been in the house three days. There were two children by the second wife [that’s Mary’s children with William], who were fat and well clothed – the prisoner [William] having five children in all.

Emma Bailey explains to the jury how she and her sister Louisa would sleep on a sack with straw in it, whilst the younger children (of William and Mary) would sleep in a bed. She also explains how these younger children would be fed well and that food would be taken away from her and her sister. The prosecution and the witnesses also detail the public flogging that William would enact upon his children with sticks and belt straps.

William was charged with assault on his daughter Emma Bailey and sentenced to two months in Ipswich County Gaol, with the second month in solitary confinement.

Now it was the turn of Mary.

Mary Bailey, 29, the prisoner’s wife, was then charged with having, on the 15th October last, assaulted Emma Bailey her daughter-in-law [mother-in-law and daughter-in-law are old terms for step-mother and step-daughter].

The Bailey’s neighbour Elizabeth, wife of John Smith was called as a witness and described how she had regularly heard cries from the house nextdoor and how in the previous July she had tried to intervene but was told by Mary that she should mind her own business. Mary responded:

“It is all wrong. I only boxed her ears because she told me I was a liar. Mrs. Smith said if I did not leave off she would call the police. I told her she had no right to knock at my window, and that if she knocked at mine, I would knock at hers.”

The jury found Mary guilty.

Mary was then indicted for an assault upon her daughter-in-law, Louisa Bailey, on the 26th October last.

Mr John Thornton , governor of the Hartismere Union House,  said that Louisa was brought to the Union House on the 27th January last, very much marked by violence, Her eye was very black, and there were two distinct wounds upon her head.

“Her sister did that by shoving her down against the door” – Mary Bailey

Mr W. Miller, assistant to the Union’s surgeon said that there were bruises to her face, neck and shoulders, and that these would have been caused by a beating rather than a fall.

Emma Bailey then stood in the witness box and spoke out against Mary, saying that the bruises were caused when Mary had shoved Louisa “down upon the bricks when she took a piece of bread from her father”. She also added that one day, whilst their father was at work, that Louisa had gone to the pantry for some water, when Mary had knocked her against a post.

“That is quite false. You did it yourself. You said you would murder her. You said if you went into the workhouse with her, you would cut her throat.” – Mary Bailey

“I always said my mother-in-law did it” – Emma Bailey

“Did you ever say that you would cut your sister’s throat?” – Mr Palmer (Prosecution)

“No Sir.” – Emma Bailey

The jury found the prisoner guilty and both were placed at the bar.

The Chairman (E. Godfrey Esq) concluded:

William Bailey, you and your wife have been found guilty of this abominable offence of half-starving and mal-treating, those children of your first marriage. There is no doubt in the world that the offence has been mainly committed by your wife; but you could have in some respects, controlled her, and indeed, in some respects, it appears that your conduct was better than hers, for you did give them bread. This cruelty and mal-treatment took place occasionally whilst you were at work; and it is considered in your favour that, until your second marriage you treated your children kindly, and that you were a respectable man.

The sentence of the Court us, that you, William Bailey be imprisoned for two calendar months, the last month solitary, and then discharged; and that your wife be imprisoned and kept to hard labour, as far as she is capable, for six months, first and last months solitary confinement.

This is just a selection of pieces from the article, which is very long and detailed, but it really shows Mary Bailey to be a ‘wicked step-mother’. I’ve always had pride in my ancestors so it was a shock to find that actually I really don’t like this person at all.

Her prison sentence certainly explains why she was absent from the family in 1841, with William having already served his sentence by the time of the census in June 1841. Mary was only half way through her sentence.

I am hoping that the Prison Gaol Book will give me further information about her time in prison, and perhaps also give me information that is hard to find elsewhere – like her hair colour, height, health….

As sources go, this newspaper report is very well written and highly details. It includes quotes from the children, both William and Mary, their neighbours, descriptions of their income, their clothing, their home set-up and really gives an insight into how the family lived and struggled. It’s a shame that it is such a harrowing account and I am unable to feel any respect for Mary or William for what they did.

I am only pleased that Mary’s eldest child Caroline Clarke escaped the family and started afresh.

Family x2 x2 x2 x2 and so on…

I like to think that I can pop back many generations on both sides of my tree and name all the surnames that I’ve been able to ‘collect’ – apart from those where there’s illegitimacy.

I’m going to type out my ancestral surnames now as far as i can remember them off the top of my head. The first line is always my own – Martin and the next line is whoever the bride was. On the second generation i list (a generation back), I start again with Martin and add that generation’s bride’s name. Then move on to the ancestors of the bride in generation 1. Still with me?

Oh… well, take a look at my list of the first few from the top of my head… hopefully that’ll make it clearer.

  • Martin
  • Dewey
  • Martin
  • Newman
  • Dewey
  • Barber
  • Martin
  • Burnell
  • Newman
  • Gilbert
  • Dewey
  • Moden
  • Barber
  • Yarrow

This gives me eight surnames (those of my Great Grandparents – 4 of whom i was lucky to know) before i hit the first illegitimacy blocker…

  • Martin
  • Giddings
  • Burnell
  • Barker
  • Newman
  • Cooper
  • Gilbert
  • Howlett
  • Dewey
  • Boulter
  • Moden
  • Cross
  • illegitimate line (with Barber)
  • Barber
  • Yarrow
  • Bishop

Had there have been no illegitimacy, that would have given me a complete set of 16 Great Great Grandparent surnames.. but we’re down to 15 now, due to illegitimacy in the Barber camp.

The next generation of 32 Great Great Great Grandparents not only stretches my memory a bit, but also brings in a few more illegitimacy lines, taking it down to 28 surnames due to 2 new illegitimate children and the line from the previous generation.

  • Martin
  • Tingey
  • illegitimate line (with Giddings)
  • Giddings
  • Burnell
  • Babbage
  • Barker
  • Head
  • Newman
  • Levitt
  • Cooper
  • Fyson
  • Gilbert
  • Brightley
  • Howlett
  • Clarke
  • illegitimate line (with Dewey)
  • Dewey
  • Boulter
  • Moden
  • Moden
  • Freeman
  • Cross
  • Taylor
  • illegitimate line (the paternal line from the Barber one from the previous generation)
  • illegitimate line (the maternal line from the Barber one from the previous generation)
  • Barber
  • Dewsbury
  • Yarrow
  • Gothard
  • Bishop
  • Bowers

I’m going to stop there, but can you name this far back? I do know further back, in fact, i’ve got about 13 generations of the Barber family up my sleeve and almost the same number of Cross too… but how do you fare?

Visiting the tree of knowledge

In May this year, I return to education.

I’ve been toying with it for years but I finally sent off the paperwork (and cheque!), so I begin my way up the Undergraduate ladder.

At the moment, my first module of study could lead me to a BA in History, a BA in Humanities or even an Open Degree (that would enable me to study both History and Psychology and would award a BA or BSc depending on how many points in which type of study modules I am awarded most).

My first module is in Family History and will see me looking at things like deciphering photography, primary sources and secondary sources.

Crossing the Royal Standard

Taking a trip back in time to Mr Cross’ tea shop on Forehill.

Cross Advert 07-11-1930, originally uploaded by familytreeuk.

The other weekend, amidst the constant drizzle of a wet Sunday in Ely, I decided that it was about time that I went to The Royal Standard pub on Forehill.

I’m tee-total, but my reason for going in there was not so much to warm up over a nice cup of tea or their incredible sunday lunch (check it out)… it was actually to step back in time and visit the very location where my Cross relatives opened Ely’s first tea shop.

My mother has always wanted a tea shop herself, so when I discovered that the Cross family had kept one, she was excited by the news.

The shop, based in a 16th century building about halfway down Forehill (now the right hand side of The Royal Standard), was opened by Frederick Thompson Cross in about 1892. He originally intended the shop to be a picture framing business but after adding a side-business of a bakery, it was clear what Ely wanted most.

The bakery expanded, selling fine cakes and sweets and Mr Cross reaped the rewards.

In his spare time, with his son Frederick Vernon Cross (F. Vernon Cross), he would search places like Roswell Pits, in search of antiquities like fossils. His son, Vernon, was also a keen performer and he traveled the country performing magic tricks and ventriloquist acts (his father made the dummies – and they have been preserved in Ely Museum).

I went on to find a copy of F. Vernon Cross’ autobiography “Crosswords” on eBay (only to find further copies for sale at Ely Museum – but we’ll come to that bit in a moment)…

With the bakery taking off, and their collection of historic items growing too, Vernon began to blend the two together after his father’s death and combined a small museum and bakery.

Upon Vernon’s death, his collection was donated to the Ely Museum, where it forms an important part of their exhibitions. They have even named a function room after him.

I was pleased to recently find the above advert on the top right front page of the Ely Standard, dated 7th November 1930. It seems that Vernon ran several consecutive advertising campaigns on the newspaper header. The cake certainly sounds very appetising.

It was a nice feeling when I saw that The Royal Standard, although under new ownership, still had the “Frederick Thompson Cross” wooden shop sign and a framed photograph on the wall. I didn’t mention my connection but instead tucked into a huge Sunday roast on a plate that was almost too big for the table – another satisfied customer!

I have yet to establish where his Cambridge shop was located.

The Mystery and The Monkey

James Martin (1851-1934), originally uploaded by familytreeuk.


The December issue of the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine features my photograph in their ‘Over To You’ section (page 36).

I’m pleased to see it in print – it’s such an interesting/amusing photograph – showing a real mixture of characters. There appears to be four railwaymen (like my Great Great Grandfather, James Martin who appears at the top of the photo with the monkey on his shoulders), but also some sailors too (their hats read ‘Albert’).

I think that the photo was taken in 1887. My reasons for this are that this was the year of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee (hence ‘Albert’ on the hats) and the jumpers of the ‘sailors’ appear to have “RTYC” (Royal Thames Yacht Club?) embroidered on them and they raced in 1887…..

“Ocean races officially organised by clubs were unknown until 1887. That was the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, and a race ‘the like of which had never been known in the annals of yacht racing’ was announced by the Royal Thames Yacht Club over a course of 1,520 nautical miles round the British Isles. Later meetings at the Albemarle Street Club House refferred to this event as the Jubilee Yacht Race.” – Royal Thames Yacht Club history

I also think that my Gt Gt Grandfather looks like he’s in his thirties.

I’m amused by the ‘dwarves/smurfs’ at the front of the photo and also of the very scary looking ‘black beard’ pirate character lurking towards the back.

Who were they? What was going on? When was this? Where was it taken?

Hopefully the magazine will throw up some answers in the show’s web forums.