That Ole Devil Called Love

A chance find of a 1914 postcard of mystery elderly newly-weds leads me to unravel their happy day, and a likely link back to me.

Whilst helping my father to clear out my uncle’s house in Little Downham last year, i found absolutely tons of photos, but amongst them were many that had belonged to their neighbour (and my grandmother’s best friend) Mrs Vera Buttress, who wrote her name on the reverse of each one – including this one.

Elderly couple Mr Robert Symonds and Mrs Mary Howlett on their wedding day in 1914.
Mr and Mrs “Symons”, proving that you’re never too old to fall in love, or get married. Photo: Starr & RIgnall, Ely.

I love this photo – an elderly couple getting married in 1914 – and so I kept hold of it.

Today I finally decided that I would spend a few minutes to see if I could identify ‘Mr and Mrs Symons’ in records. No. No such marriage.

This frustrated me somewhat, as having a photograph, turning it into a postcard, and printing these would not have been ever-so cheap in 1914. So it felt unlikely to have been staged for the April Fool Day date written on the front.

The photographer clue

The photo is a postcard by Starr and Rignall – well known photographers of Ely, so i checked for a marriage on 1st April 1914 in Cambridgeshire, with a load of variants.

It was FindMyPast that turned up the answer, and unsurprisingly I found them in Little Downham, hence why Mrs Buttress had it. I turned to my transcription of the parish records.

The bridegroom is given as Robert Symonds, 75yrs, widower, otp, son of Robert Symonds, lab. The bride is named as Mary Howlett, 84yrs, widower, daughter of George Bonnett, labourer. The witnesses were George Lythell and Eliza Ann Lythell.

Now, this became much more interesting – the Lythell surname is a local surname (and I have many in my family tree), but more tantalising is that I have two Howlett to Bonnett marriages in my tree already.

I then tried to find Mary on the 1911 census from 3yrs earlier. There was nothing that stood out as even mildly correct.

I decided to turn to the other end of their lives and see when the couple died – and so I checked Downham’s cemetery records. This gave me Robert as being buried in grave L20 on 6th April 1918, aged 80, just days after their 4th Wedding Anniversary.

I couldn’t find a Mary (apart from one in 1908, presumably Robert’s previous wife). Instead, there’s an Elizabeth Symonds buried there on 10th Dec 1920 in grave L77.

This was both puzzling and exciting – in that whilst it’s not the Mary I was expecting, if this means she was really Elizabeth, then that would very likely place her in my tree as the Elizabeth Bonnett, daughter of George Bonnett (and also matching the wedding register) who married my relative James Howlett at Mildenhall, Suffolk in 1859.

Scene at Little Downham

With this being a wedding of a couple of older people, I wondered whether the newspapers might have picked up on it, and sure enough they had:

Newspaper report of the marriage of Robert Symonds and Mary Howlett Bonnett, 1914.
Scene at Little Downham: The marriage story in The Cambridge Independent Press, 3rd April 1914, page 11.

The article confirms the Lythells, the studio photograph, but once again refers to the bride as ‘Mary’.

Amusingly it also refers to their first ride in a motorcar.

The Honeymoon

Out of curiosity, I wondered whether this grand occasion might have appeared in any of the Cambridgeshire photographic books I’ve bought over the years. A quick flick-through the first one I grabbed from my collection, led me to this:

Newly-wed elderly couple Robert Symonds and Mary Howlett in a car in Ely, 1914.
“Mr and Mrs Lythell”, as the book caption wrongly notes, parked up outside the Minster Restaurant and Cafe, Ely, 1st April 1914.

This shows the couple again – clearly matched by their faces, and in a car as corroborated by the newspaper article, but here in The Archive Photographs Series: Ely (Chalford, 1997) they’re erroneously captioned with “A Little Downham couple outside the Minster Restaurant and Cafe on 1 April 1914. This photograph was taken after their wedding, a second one in each case; Mr Lythell was eighty-four and his wife seventy-eight“.

The ages and surname are incorrect (with Lythell interestingly being borrowed from the witnesses and best-man), but the rest of the detail matches, and even the style of ‘On the honeymoon’ writing matches that of the other photograph from my collection. I don’t have the original photograph of this, but I bet it too is a Starr & Rignall postcard.

So, the final piece of this jigsaw will be finding ‘Elizabeth’/’Mary’ in her first marriage to my relative James Howlett, and seeing whether between 1859 and his death (a date I don’t yet know), she uses one or either names, and that he has died by 1914.

Even if she proves to be someone different all together, I’ve enjoyed unravelling the clues, and sharing the happy couple’s day, more than 104yrs later.

My grandmother is highly unlikely to have borrowed this from her friend Vera because she knew that it was a relative – the ‘Mary’ shown in the photo would have been her great grandfather’s sister-in-law. I think it’s purely coincidence.

The reason I got this photograph out today was to collect up all these old photos that once belonged to Vera Buttress, and to organise a ‘handing over’ of them to their village history society… but it pays to just have a thorough look through such things because you don’t know what you might unravel with a little bit of research.

 

The Maharajah and me

New BBC programme looks at the life of the last Maharajah, as I recall my childhood living with a piece of his legacy.

When I was a young child from about the age of 1 through to 10yrs, I lived on a country estate. Sounds rather posh, right?

Actually, it was (and still is) a large working farming and forestry estate called Elveden, right on the Norfolk and Suffolk border.

red brick gatehouse at Elveden
My childhood home at Elveden for most of the 1980s. Photo: Andrew Martin

Today, it’s well known for its Christmas trees, Centre Parcs, and finally getting its sweeping A11 bypass on the way to Norwich, but back then, it was my world. We lived in a red brick former gatehouse on the East side of the village, and my playground was acres of swaying cornfields and pine forests. We’d take long bike rides to see our neighbours, and what seems unbelievable today, we’d run across the A11 to go to primary school each day.

A few years ago, I discovered that my paternal Brightwell family had also been resident at Elveden almost 200 years earlier, when my 4x Great Grandfather John Brightwell was born and baptised there with his siblings during the 1780s. A fantastic coincidence!

Another coincidence happened earlier today when I received an email telling me about a new BBC Four documentary, and it’s piqued my interest because it’s all about one of Elveden’s most famous residents.

The programme is titled ‘The Stolen Maharajah: Britain’s Indian Royal’ that’s on BBC Four this Sunday 12th August 2018. Depending on your territory and licence, some of you may be able to watch it online.

The Maharajah

Born in Lahore in the Sikh Empire (now Punjab, Pakistan) in 1838, Prince Duleep Singh became Maharajah at the tender age of just 5 years old after the death of his father. He would turn out to be the last Maharajah of the Punjab, who was taken into the care of an official of the British Empire. He even had Queen Victoria as his godmother.

The Maharajah Duleep Singh
The Maharajah Duleep Singh

He surrendered his Sikh religion and signed away his ancient kingdom to the British – a decision he would come to regret. Instead, he would become a wealthy English country gentleman and part of the social elite, with his own country estate at Elveden.

His estate drew large shooting parties, where the social elite including the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), Duke of Leicester, Duke of Athol, and numerous others during the 1870s. He really was in with the heights of British society.

Elveden Hall and pond in 1980s.
Elveden Hall is, as it was in this 1980s photograph, obscured by trees, hiding it’s Italian-styled exterior and its Indian-styled décor inside. Photo: Andrew Martin

However, eventually his relationship with Britain turned sour, and he would eventually leave for Paris.

I haven’t seen the documentary yet myself, but I look forward to it. The promo blurb I’ve been sent reads:

This is a documentary about the last Maharajah of the Punjab, Duleep Singh, who was wrenched from his mother’s arms as a child in the 1840s and put into the care of an official of the British Empire. Growing up in a colonial enclave in India, the boy king abandoned his Sikh religion and signed away his ancient kingdom to the British – decisions he would come to bitterly regret. He moved as a teenager to Britain, where Queen Victoria became his godmother. Duleep Singh lived most of his adult life here as a supremely wealthy English country gentleman, part of the British social elite. But, in time, his relationship with Britain turned sour. This documentary retraces the journeys of Duleep Singh and his family: from the royal palaces of the Punjab, to royal palaces in Britain, to his own English country estate, Elveden in Suffolk, to bohemian Paris. The programme uses recently re-discovered letters by Singh, letters and diaries written by those whose knew him, extraordinary photographs and surviving artefacts. We interview historians to get at the motives and inner life of Duleep Singh as he set out to recover his Sikh heritage and turn his back on his colonial past. This is a story from the age of Empire about someone whose life was defined by those historic forces.

The Maharajah’s legacy in Elveden

Whilst my lifetime did not overlap with the Maharajah (he died in 1893, in Paris, and I arrived 80 years later), the impact of his time in Elveden surely did. When he arrived, the Georgian house was vastly upgraded to become a huge hall dressed in Italian styled exterior and complete with some intricately marbled Indian-styled rooms. Staff were installed and with them came their families all needing to be housed in houses like my childhood one.

I was really fortunate to tour the inside of Elveden Hall just days prior to the Christie’s Auction of the house contents in 1984, along with my fellow primary schoolmates. I remember it being huge, and beautiful, even though he had not lived there for decades.

Christie's Elveden Hall auction catalogue, 1984.
Christie’s Elveden Hall auction catalogue, 1984.

I also remember being dared to ring the doorbell by my sister once on a walk past the front door (it was a daily route to school, right by the front door). I pressed it, heard it ring inside, and then some clunking sounds. I ran for cover behind my mother, and a bewildered caretaker and his daughter emerged.

The Maharajah also helped to upgrade the parish church in 1869 to cater for all the extra residents and staff in the village (it was further extended in 1904). The church sits just across from the hall, and it’s here where he is buried with some of his family.

I returned there in 2012 for my second cousin’s christening.

The Church of St. Andrew and St. Patrick, Elveden during the 1980s. Photo: Andrew Martin
The Church of St. Andrew and St. Patrick, Elveden during the 1980s. Photo: Andrew Martin

Whilst I can’t see any of my Brightwell ancestors still resident in Elveden around the time that the Mahrajah was resident, it’s clear that this Sikh Prince went on to have a huge impact on the place they once knew; the place I knew and loved; the British Empire; and the Sikh community.

I’ll definitely be watching.

Visits to see Granny Farby at Cambridge Market

Maude recalls her travels with her sister Jessie to see ‘Granny Farby’, who sells butter on Cambridge Market in pre-War England.

My grandmother died when my mother was twelve, and the family was looked after by my mother’s aunt, Sarah Farby, who was known as ‘Granny Farby’.

She had a stall on Cambridge market, and my sister Jessie and I used to go there on the train. She used to make butter, and she would roll it into lengths of a yard [0.9144 metres]. She would then put it into white cloths and baskets.

Cambridge market place, including Hobson's Conduit in it's original position, 1913
Cambridge market place, including Hobson’s Conduit in it’s original position, 1913. Photo: Valentine’s Postcard Series.

The cloths were always washed first and were snow-white. She would then sell the butter for 1d (1 penny) per inch to the students.

Our lunch on these visits was usually a meat pie, and it was ordered from The Temperance Hotel and delivered to us at the market stall. Granny Farby would up-turn one of the baskets and put a cloth over it so that me and Jessie could sit and have our dinner.

We used to go to Cambridge by train, and would sometimes have lunch at the Dorothy Café on Sidney Street, which would consist of a pork pie, chips, and a cup of tea for 1 shilling [5 pence]. We would also often go to the sales in London by train.

How to easily mess-up your family tree with Ancestry

Building your tree online is easy with just a few clicks… and therein lies the problem.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love Ancestry, and have been a happy member for many years now, but as a seasoned user, I do know that there’s danger at every turn.

A good family historian will consider every scrap of evidence, not just in its own right, or its contributing source, but also in the wider context of the family.

I’m very lucky that I have paternal and maternal families where 90% have lived within the county of Cambridgeshire, England for almost 430 years. The luckiness comes in the ease at which I can research these two (and occasionally intertwined) trees simultaneously, often with both sides appearing alongside each other in census returns and parish register entries.

This means I understand probability, the likeliness of the location of a marriage, baptism or burial for example. I have of course made mistakes, but those have made my detective skills better.

For those few branches that have crossed the border into foreign lands (ie: Suffolk and whatever lies beyond), I join the ranks of millions of other family historians – using online tools because it’s more convenient than chasing archives, and having to be a little more open to extra checking of records and taking unexpected turns.

However, I’ve spotted a few things that confuse, and that might be a ‘risk’ to your family tree if you don’t just stop for a second and consider what you’re seeing.

Those Member Family Trees

Okay, no-one knows your 4th Cousin 2x Removed like your 4th Cousin 3x Removed does, but if you’ve ever clicked on that ‘Member’s Tree’ hint you’ll know what I mean – instant ‘tree’.

Let’s take a look at my 6x Great Grandmother, Mary Cropley in Ancestry.co.uk:

The hints for Mary Cropley in Ancestry.co.uk
The hints for Mary Cropley in Ancestry.co.uk

Wow! 10 Member Trees – this sounds great!

Mary Cropley's details match
Mary Cropley’s details match

As the hint suggests, “This hint compiles information from 10 other Public Ancestry Trees”. Great – look at that, all of those details in the summary match mine, this must be right! Building this tree is going to be nice and easy…

Mary Cropley Ancestry mis-matches
Where did the matches go?

Now, it’s dead easy to just click a few times on those tick boxes and magic happens, and you’ve got your tree updated nicely.

But…Err… where did those matches go? Suddenly, Mary Cropley is Mary Collis, and she’s married someone else, had different children, and has moved to the wilds of Oxfordshire.

Am i wrong?

No, because I’ve seen the Ely Parish Registers, and know that the details I have are correct. From that “hint [that] compiles information from 10 other Public Ancestry Trees”, not one of them was correct.

false matches
Dream on, buster – you wrote this!

The information you see in the summary is actually the information that you have entered/added, not a summary of the matches from the members trees that you’re about to see – so it’s kind of leading you towards a false hope of success.

Of course you want to find matches, but what I’m actually finding is none when I read through the summary. This is kind of a poor user experience.

Baptism records

The other record that really frustrates me is the Select and Christening indexes. It takes too many clicks to actually discover that you’ve almost added a load of incorrect data to your tree.

Here’s my 6x Great Grandfather (and Mary’s husband) William Beasley…

William Beasley baptism matches!
William Beasley Select Births and Christening Index matches! Woohoo!

In his hints are these two matches, and it’s exciting to see William Beasley named here…

This Christening summary all looks in order..
This Christening summary all looks in order..

..hmm, this seems okay, but now there’s some more info, which actually seems to match anyway, so let’s click ‘Yes’ to the ‘Does the William Beasley in this record match the person in your tree?’ question….

Except that as the eye glances down, it starts to go wrong…

Not just William Beasley..
Not just William Beasley..
Oh! The match mis-matched..
Oh! The match mis-matched..

This is a Mary Ann Beasley match, not William (he’s the father), so the date is wrong, and in fact, the person, place, and county is wrong too.

I could easily have tapped on the Save button, and added this wrong information to my tree, rather than scrolling down to the bottom to find the wrong information.

What Ancestry need to do here, is give some more information in that summary box – state that the match is because William is noted as a ‘Father’, and perhaps give the child name and date, or at least the location name, therefore saving me 2 more clicks before I find the mismatch information.

The correct information for Mary Beasley, is that she remained in Ely, Cambridgeshire, for her entire life – baptism, marriage, and burial.

I’m wondering how many other users bother to check this over before just accepting it?

Where the Hell is that?

Whilst I don’t have an example to illustrate it here, if you’re an Ancestry user, i’m sure that you’ll be familiar with numerical place names (e.g. “110910345, East Sussex, England” or completely nonsensical place names that Ancestry appears to have merrily absorbed (like “Haddenham, Cambridgeshire, Utah, Russian Federation, USA”).

UPDATE: Time-travellers

After about half an hour of posting this particular blog post, I found another glowing example: those pesky time-traveller ancestors.

In this example, my 5x Great Aunt Ann Pavett (née Yarrow) appears to have some extraordinary genes that I’m not sure I’ve been handed.

She travels through time.

Here’s some more delightful Member’s Trees matches, and this time, the fault has spread (I’ve obfuscated the tree owners simply to stop Matthew Hopkins II from being unleashed).

Member Tree matches for Ann Yarrow
Ann Pavett (née Yarrow) born c.1813 in Cambridgeshire…

But what’s this… I’ve discovered a child I didn’t know that she and her husband had…. 60 years before she was born.

Ann Yarrow, time traveller
Forget Doctor Who, Ann Yarrow was the first female timelord.

And so the rot spreads. I look forward to meeting Ursula Pavett’s mother to check my family tree notes against.

Some simple date checking here would help to stop nonsense like this from appearing, and more importantly from spreading.

Keep Ancestry Tidy

User added and imported data is going to be hard to clean, fix, or even verify as it goes in – because yes, that 4th Cousin 2x Removed’s child, will know more about them than me.

You’ve got so many files, softwares, record sources with varying levels of granularity and data fields, and users with independent approaches, that the whole thing must be an ugly tangled bowl of spaghetti behind the scenes at Ancestry.

I’m sure their UX team and data teams are peddling as fast as they can , but as fiction easily slides seamlessly in to eat up the facts without remorse, I’d love to see some kind of partnership to do data verification for places, or even just a few more interface improvements.

keep site tidy sign

Outside of family history (yes, there is such a place!), in the land called ‘work’, I spend a bit of my time tidying up Google Maps – demolishing spammy and incorrect locations, and getting fake and paid reviews removed. It’s slow, but it’s damn cathartic. An affectionate term of ‘Stop Crap On The Map’ has emerged for this, so I feel we need one for Ancestry’s rubbish info.

How about ‘Stop Debris On The Tree’?

I’d love to hear your stories of crappy data, accidental boughs, and alternative slogans in the comments!

As ever, thanks for reading, and happy tree surgery,

Andrew

IWM’s Lives Of The First World War website enters final year for submissions

The countdown begins for the closure of submissions to the IWM and FindMyPast’s digital WW1 memorial project.

Back in 2014, at the Who Do You Think You Are? Live show, I was excited to hear about a new project from the Imperial War Museum and FindMyPast.

The project, to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of The Great War, would breathe life back into all those brave men and women who served in the First World War by allowing the public to add details to their records.

Lives of WW1 talk at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2014
Lives of WW1 talk at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2014, at Olympia, London.

This enabled those long lists of rank, surnames, and service number to start seeing information about their births, their photographs, and their life stories being added.

I have added photographs and information to several of my relatives, and one relative (a distant cousin) Frederick Vernon Cross even made it as one of the people on the home page.

Frederick Vernon Cross on home page of livesofthefirstworldwar website
Frederick Vernon Cross (left) features on the home page. He survived, and went on to found what eventually became Ely Museum.

This week, an email came through to announce that the project is entering the final year of the first phase, and that there is just one year left to add more valuable accompanying information, with submissions ending on 18th March 2019.

After this date, the site will become a permanent digital memorial to those brave people who served in a terrible war, for us to remember and research for the future.

Lives of the First World War screenshot
I’ve added my great grandfather to Lives Of The First World War.

I still have a few relatives to find on the site, but this reminder will set me on the path to correct that. I suggest you do the same.

Happy Researching,

Andrew

 

 

My 2018 New Year Genealogy Resolutions

With 2017 safely filed away, it’s time to set myself some Genealogy Resolutions for 2018. I might even still remember what they are by June.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I’ve been giving myself Genealogy Resolutions for some years now.

Having scored a reasonable 3/5 score for 2017, it’s time to declare my 2018 ones… so here goes:

1. Scan BMD Certificates

With the recent digitisation pilots from the General Register Office, in theory, the number of digital certificates that I hold will not increase rapidy, unless I order more marriage certs as these are not included so far in their pilot.

I’d like to get that 50% of my certificates scanned.

This has been more prevalent in the last few weeks, as I’m busily tidying up data and citations, having migrated from Reunion11 to Mac Family Tree.

2. Find Simpson Bishop’s death

Having discovered a few months back, that Simpson Bishop, my 4x Great Grandfather became an American citizen in 1886, having emigrated at the end of the 1870s, and seemingly ‘abandoning’ his 3rd wife and their children back in Lancashire, UK.

James S. Bishop naturalization card for Woodford County, Illinois, USA.
James S. Bishop naturalization card for Woodford County, Illinois, USA. I’ve read the associated paperwork, but it doesn’t give much away.

I’d like to find his death in the USA.

He died between 1886, and presumably before the 1901 census, when his abandoned wife finally states she’s a widow. The whole emigration and naturalisation came as a surprise – as I had assumed for a long time that he’d died like generations before and after him, just a few miles from where he was born in Cambridgeshire, England. How wrong I was.

3. Source more family photographs

2017 saw me acquire and source a vast number of ‘new’ photographs. Many of these were because of the death of my uncle at the end of 2016, and the subsequent mammoth task for my parents and I to clear his house.

However, January 2017 also brought me in contact with a distant cousin, who actually lives within 3 miles of my house, and right next to my gym. She very kindly sent me copies of a couple of ‘new’ photos of my 2x Great Grandparents, which are very much appreciated.

October and November also saw me visit my late-Grandfather’s cousin, whose mother had amassed a lot of Victorian and Edwardian photographs. I’d had a few copies in the late 1990s when I was starting my research, but at this time, it was costly and risky (a home scanner wasn’t an option, and you had to send them away via a photo lab to get them done). Now though, I was able to visit and scan each with my iPad.

I’d like to make contact with my Moden and Gilbert families again, to make scans of new photos, including getting a scan of the 1909 wedding photograph of my paternal Great Grandparents wedding, which I only currently only have as a bad photocopy of a bad photocopy!

1909 Newman Gilbert wedding group
My Great Grandparents’ wedding on 2nd June 1909 – the only photo I have or have seen (of at least a 2nd generation photocopy) is on the wish list.

4. Run 2 more AncestryDNA tests

I’ve got 2 AncestryDNA test kits sitting on a shelf in my office. They’re right in front of me right now. But that’s no good…

I’d like to ask my sister, and my paternal grandfather’s cousin to take the AncestryDNA test too.

My sister won’t really be interested in the results much, and certainly not the genealogy, but my grandfather’s cousin (see 3) is very interested in family history. I just want to pick my timing/method of asking her and explaining what it is.

Running these 2 tests will take my test tally up to 7, and so far there’s been some amusing results.

If one of them says ‘no’, that’d be a shame, but it’s something I have to respect. If I do get a ‘no’, then my next option may be my maternal grandfather’s cousin. However, I don’t really know her, but the fascinating thing with her, is that whilst her mother is a blood-relative to me, her father carries a surname that sits in my father’s tree – Tingey. It’s not that common, and considering he was from the same area, I’d be curious of whether I have a paternal AND maternal match!

In addition, I’d also be curious of using AncestryDNA testing to help prove parentage by testing the descendants of my Great Grandfather’s step-father’s siblings.

My Great Grandfather in this branch was illegitimate, but my 2x Gt Grandmother swiftly married and had further children. My grandmother, in the last few years of her life, kept telling me that this step-father, Flanders Hopkin was really the father (he was a lot older, and I don’t think her parents approved).

Therefore, I’d like to test the step-father’s sibling descendants to see if there’s a match. It’d be reasonably easy to have a match elsewhere in their tree, and it should be relatively easy to find a modern-day descendant, but the gamble is picking a person who has inherited enough of that family’s DNA to match.

5. Start that book!

Yes, i know, i know, I KNOW. For years now, I’ve been talking about writing, and briefly I did start, but the format of it has really eluded me – fact, fiction, pictorial reference? I’m still not 100% sure which method I’d go for, so I’ve decided that just starting will help me decide.

I won’t have a book finished, but I want to be knee deep in writing by December 31st 2018.

Anything else?

Well, I’m finishing off migrating my Family Tree UK website over to a new responsive device friendly design – I’m 83% of the way through it, which gives me a chance to re-write, re-check research, and add bits to each person profile. This will also be it’s 20th year online (b. 28/11/1998), so I’m going to make a massive cake… and .. er.. eat that all myself. 😀

I also want to print a lot of family photos and frame a load on a wall in my office. I need to fill and paint that wall at the moment, but it’ll be inspiring once i’ve finished.

I also want to sort my files out – do some deep cleaning of my research notes. There’s lots of newspaper cuttings, letters, really old printed emails etc.. and I think they deserve going through, scanning etc, and referencing details in my Mac Family Tree database.

Obviously, writing up interesting research twists and turns here for you too!

Anyway, let me know in the comments below if you have any New Year Genealogy Resolutions for 2018 (feel free to throw in a link to them!), and how you did in 2017.

Thanks for reading, have a healthy and happy New Year, and another 12 months of productive family tree surgery!

Andrew

How did my 2017 Genealogy Resolutions go?

You might remember, that each year since 2013 I’ve set myself some Genealogy New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t bother setting myself any other kind (seems fair enough, right?), but how did I fare with them in 2017?

Here’s how my 5 Genealogy Resolutions went:

1. Kill Mary Clarke

This is the Nth year that I’ve tried to kill off my child-abusing gaol-bird of a 4x Great Grandmother, but sadly, she survives for another year. Instead, I finally unpicked the puzzle that led me to kill off my time-travelling  5x Great Grandmother (different branch of tree), Mrs. Elizabeth Yarrow (née Wright), after finding her disguised as ‘Elizabeth Yerroll’.

FAIL 😦

2. Scan my BMD certificates

I have made some progress in this in the last few months. Partly because of the wonderful ‘trials’ that the General Register Office have been doing to explore digital delivery of birth and death certificates, but also as am adding them in as digitised image sources to my hop from Reunion11 to Mac Family Tree 8. It’s being a great opportunity to read them again for those minute details – love examining those marriage witnesses for cousins. I am nowhere near 50% though, which was my target… probably 10%.

PARTIAL PASS 😐

3. Finish reading published family histories

The books I gave in my example didn’t get anywhere near my eyes this year, but I did find a page-turned queue jumper in the guise of Stephen McGann’s book Flesh and Blood – no, not just another sleb-turned-genealogy-expert, but a famous family of which he has been the quiet observant researcher for years. It’s an enjoyable read, and I am within the final third of the book. I’m a slow reader. and quite frankly, I’ve got this history hobby that keeps distracting me 😉

PARTIAL PASS 😐

4. Find my uncle’s grave

In October 2016, at an uncle’s funeral, I learned that I was missing an uncle completely – right there, right under my nose! I was sad that I’d missed him, and sad that no-one had talked about him until after my other uncle’s death. Suddenly my Uncle Malcolm existed in my world, and I felt that I needed to bring a little life back to his name once more. With the help of the parish church, and an afternoon searching a cemetery with the burial notebook to hand, I found the spot.

PASS 🙂

5. Run a 4th AncestryDNA test

I had no trouble achieving this one – partly aided by a price war at the Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017 show, and the visit of my paternal aunt. In fact, I was able to take my DNA test tally up to 5… with both a paternal and maternal aunt both giving me some spit in exchange for info, cousins, and silent tree-less non-responding genetic tourists ;). You can read about my family’s first three DNA tests here.

PASS 🙂

Conclusion:

So, I think I’ve scored 3/5 in 2017 – a good year for progress.

There’s been plenty of other things going on too – I completed and moved into a new (well, 1955) house which involved creating gardens and decorating etc, I adopted a cat, and I changed my job.

In genealogy, I also got to know my late-Grandfather’s (79yr old) cousin and her husband much better – and made a few visits to see her late-mother’s Victorian photograph collection where I made copies, and shared trees with her. I hope to return to coax a little spit for a test soon 😉

I also made progress on my wandering Simpson Bishop puzzle – he too needs killing off, but it seems that he became an American citizen in his 60s in the 1880s, and never returned home to his 3rd wife and his older children.

As I type this, I’m tidying up data in Mac Family Tree – i’ve been doing it since 26th December…. and I’m enjoying it, will no doubt be doing it tomorrow, and it will no doubt keep me busy!

I’ll be compiling my 5 Genealogy Resolutions for 2018 shortly, but let me know in the comments below if you have any, or how your 2017 ones fared.

As ever, happy tree surgery, thanks for reading, and have a very happy and healthy 2018.

Happy New Year.

Andrew

From Fens to Mills to Illinois

The hunt for my 4x Great Grandfather, Simpson Bishop, takes a tiny step forward but also thousands of miles forward, back through time via ‘Spain’ to the USA.

I’ve had a partial breakthrough this week on my Bishop family history, specifically around the mystery of the whereabouts of my Great x4 Grandfather Simpson Bishop (b.c. 1819).

For many years, I’d assumed that like the many generations before and since, my 4x Great Grandfather Simpson Bishop had been born and died in the fenlands of Cambridgeshire – that’s certainly the case for the majority of both my maternal and paternal family during the 18-20th Century.

A few years back, I discovered that he’d married twice, and then thrice, and headed up to Lancashire in the latter half of the 1800s to a place named Higher Booths, where the cotton mills were a powerhouse of manufacturing and employment.

Along with wife number three, I found all his extra children – growing my Bishop family tree significantly, but this is where it got complicated.

He married his third wife, widow Sarah Washington (née Brown) in 1868, and in 1871 the couple are living in separate households in the same parish – each as the ‘head’ on the census, and each with their respective children.

Then Simpson goes missing.

I’m used to him going missing by now, and looked for him under his usual other names – Sampson Bishop, James Bishop, James Simpson Bishop, Simson Bishop.. but no.

Whilst wandering through digitized records on Ancestry almost a year ago, I spotted a photograph of his second eldest daughter, Ann Elizabeth Bishop, who’d married a George Eve. I messaged the source of the photo, who was able to tell me that it was their ancestor, and that they’d moved to the USA, but had little other information as they were new to researching their family.

This week I resumed my research on this part of the tree, and found myself on FindMyPast looking at the record hints for Ann Elizabeth – this led me to the US Censuses – a set I rarely have to consult.

Down the cousin research rabbit-hole

Following Ann’s family with George Eve is beginning to stray somewhat away from my own tree, but when it comes to first cousins to an ancestor, I like to find them despite their different surname, as they usually turn up in marriage witness records, death certificates, census visitors/neighbours, obituary mourners, and sometimes photos.

I looked at their family on 1900, then 1910, and then I looked at 1880. In all three instances they were living in Minonk, Woodford County, Illinois, USA, and the censuses explained they’d been there since 1879.

Right there, on the US 1880 census scan was Simpson Bishop!

Simpson Bishop on the US 1880 Census with his married daughter Ann Elizabeth Eve, at Minonk, Woodford County, Illinois.
Simpson Bishop on the US 1880 Census with his married daughter Ann Elizabeth Eve, at Minonk, Woodford County, Illinois.

The transcription unhelpfully reads as ‘Simpson Biskof’ – and looks obviously like ‘Bishop’.

For a tiny moment I had read it as Ann having called a child after her father, but then realised he should be Simpson Eve, not Bishop, and that he also shouldn’t be ’56’. It was my 4x Great Grandfather after all!

Tracking back a year, I was able to find Simpson Bishop entering the USA via Castle Garden Immigration Centre on 8th July 1879, having departed the UK from Liverpool.

Castle Garden Immigration Centre in New York, circa 1880.
Castle Garden Immigration Centre in New York, circa 1880.

He had arrived onboard a steamship named SS Spain…. and with him was Ann, George, and their oldest children.

They’d emigrated together.

The steamship SS Spain - regularly sailed from Liverpool to New York until it was scrapped in 1896.
The steamship SS Spain – regularly sailed from Liverpool to New York until it was scrapped in 1896.

Those left behind

I’d previously found it frustratingly odd that back home in Lancashire, Simpson’s third wife Sarah was alive and well, and continued to note herself on censuses as ‘married’, not switching to ‘widow’ until 1901. This gave me a gap of up to 30 years to look for him in census records and for a death – and of course – I haven’t found him.

My last evidence of him in the UK had been the birth of John James Bishop in 1873, and with the death of three of his children – some in infancy, and some older ones due to illness (perhaps brought on by their mill work), I wondered whether he’d died too, or he’d ended up in an asylum, or prison, or was just obscured by yet more pseudonyms/misspellings.

It might appear that he deserted his third wife, but I’m unlikely to ever know this for sure, unless I find some modern day Bishop descendants from his younger children who might have kept any evidence of letters etc.

What happened next?

The remainder of Simpson’s life is still a mystery. This appearance on the 1880 US census gives me his whereabouts in June 1880, and that’s the last confirmed record I have for him.

There is one possible other record for him, turning up in the County Court of Woodford County, Illinois (the area which contains Minonk) in 1886 – a naturalization record index card for ‘James S. Bishop’ (remember, he’s used that name before!).

James S. Bishop naturalization card for Woodford County, Illinois, USA.
James S. Bishop naturalization card for Woodford County, Illinois, USA. I really want to read the associated paperwork to see if it’s him!

I’ll see what more I can find out about this person. At this period, you had to be resident in the US for 5 years, and 1 year in the state to apply for naturalization – all of which Simpson could have easily ticked if that was him, due to his 1879 arrival.

So, any Woodford County or Naturalization experts reading this – I’d love to hear from you, but otherwise, I feel i’ve done some more satisfying detective work this week.

In the meantime, thanks for reading, happy ancestor hunting. It’s time for a cuppa!

Andrew

Killing Off Elizabeth

Since collating a set of contradictory evidence, I finally believe I’ve killed off my 5x Great Grandmother, Elizabeth Wright.

Since at least 2011, I’ve been trying on and off to confirm the death of my 5x Great Grandmother Elizabeth Yarrow (née Wright).

Elizabeth Wright was born in about 1779, and was baptised at Mepal, a riverside fenland village in Cambridgeshire.

She went on to marry farmer William Yarrow in 1800 at his native hamlet Little Thetford – just a few miles south of Ely, again in Cambridgeshire. The couple became parents at least 11 times, with 2 children dying in infancy, and their final child, Susan, in 1821 being noted throughout her life as ‘handicapped’ and ‘suffering from fits’ (which I assume may have been epilepsy, or maybe even asthma).

The Yarrow family life would have been hard on the flat bleak unforgiving fenland, but their family grew as their children married, brought grandchildren into the family, and some moved away.

My puzzle began with William and Elizabeth’s headstone, which still stands in Stretham churchyard today.

The headstone of William and Elizabeth Yarrow at Stretham.
The headstone of William and Elizabeth Yarrow at Stretham. Photo: Andrew Martin, 2010.

The headstone information for Elizabeth reads:

“Also Eliz his wife who died Nov 25th 1839, aged 58 years” 

Close-up of Elizabeth Yarrow's headstone inscription.
Close-up of Elizabeth Yarrow’s headstone inscription – that ‘1839’ looks a bit like ‘1859’ but on close inspection, it is definitely a 3.

I checked the burial register for around that date. Nothing. No Yarrow burials at Stretham in 1839.

The family lived in the nearby hamlet Little Thetford, classed as a ‘parish of’ Stretham, so I checked there too, despite the headstone being in Stretham.

Again, no Yarrow burials listed in their home parish register. However, head backwards in time through the burials transcript and you find that on 23rd November 1837, there is this entry:

“Nov 23 1837 – Yarrow Elizabeth otp 50 wife of William farmer died in London was carried home and buried at Stretham”

So, this solves the lack of note in Stretham’s own register – it was recorded at Little Thetford instead.

But….

How can someone be buried 2 days and 2 years before they died?

And how did she decrease in age by 8 years?

Okay, I can understand that an age might be wrong in a parish register – I’ve seen it so many times in marriage registers, but 2 years out on burial? As a family historian, I can’t resist a puzzle, and so I soon decided to make killing Elizabeth off as one of my New Year Genealogy Resolutions. Little did I realise that she’d take me several years before solving it.

Looking at the facts, I was left with this:

  1. Married to William Yarrow at time of death.
  2. Buried with him at Stretham, Cambridgeshire.
  3. Died some time between late-1837 and late-1839.
  4. Aged in her 50s.

Spotting the late-1837, I took to FreeBMD, and at this time in 2011, this was THE index I could consult easily. The final quarter of 1837 is the first period in which certification was compulsory, but there was nothing.

Maybe it just hadn’t been so widely adopted, or faced opposition?

I searched wider, just in case it had been slow to register. There was a result. It was in London too.

Elizabeth Yarrow, died in St. Pancras, registered in June Quarter of 1838.
Elizabeth Yarrow, died in St. Pancras, registered in June Quarter of 1838.

I paid my £9.25 and waited a few days, and opened the envelope. It wasn’t her.

This Elizabeth Yarrow was just 11 months old, and was the daughter of Charles and Charlotte Elizabeth Yarrow of Tottenham.

I then turned to the archive of newspapers that are included in on my FindMyPast membership, but sadly there was nothing there – not for London, nor for Cambridgeshire. It was a long-shot, but I reasoned that maybe her body being brought home by carriage might have got some column inches – a few words to mark her passing – but no. Nothing.

I put her to the back of my mind for a while, casually searching the growing newspaper archives now and then, but still seeing nothing of interest.

Then…

The General Register Office put their birth and death indexes online, and made them wonderfully searchable. Again, I saw the little 11mth old Elizabeth, and that was about it.

Earlier this week I decided to do a broader search. I picked 1838, put in her first name, the letter ‘y’ for her surname, chose ‘female’ and allowed a 2 year search range, covering that headstone date. Clicked search and saw a ton of surnames.

There were plenty of Yeo deaths and other surnames, and so I began a quick scan down the list.

Then I saw an unusual name.

Elizabeth Yerroll's death listed in the GRO index.
‘Elizabeth Yerroll’ died in London in the right year, at the right age.
  • Elizabeth (tick!)
  • 58yrs (tick – matching the headstone),
  • December Qtr (tick – matching the Stretham headstone, and the Little Thetford burial entry!)
  • London (tick! – matching the note in Little Thetford register)

But ‘Yerroll’? I’d never heard of that surname before. But then i figured, that if Elizabeth was away from home, then was she alone? Obviously, if my Elizabeth had died, then she could hardly correct someone’s spelling, so anyone who acted as the informant might have been a stranger… or might have reported the death to someone who wasn’t familiar with the Yarrow surname, or wouldn’t have understood the surname being spoken with a potentially fenland accent from her travelling companion.

I decided that Yarrow could be Yerroll if you squinted and had waxy ears! Either way, £9.25 made its way to the GRO again, along with an order for another gamble certificate (a blog post for another time), and I waited.

4 days later – today – I received the certificate.

I am 99% sure it’s her.

23 Nov, Allhallows Barking, Elizabeth Yerroll, female, 58yrs
23 Nov, Allhallows Barking, Elizabeth Yerroll, female, 58yrs

Married Woman, Diseased kidneys and bladder, Ann [illegible] 23 Beer Lane, Nurse, Present at death, 28th Nov.
Married Woman, Diseased kidneys and bladder, Ann [illegible] 23 Beer Lane, Nurse, Present at death, 28th Nov.
I stared at the certificate. Was Elizabeth all alone? Why would she do that? What was she doing in London? It took me a while to see that it read ‘Nurse’ in the informant’s details column, but I don’t recognise the name. It seems that she was taken ill away from home.

I wondered where Allhallows Barking was in London, so I looked it up on the map.

She died somewhere within earshot of the Tower Of London, right near the River Thames.

The Thames.

And there I hit upon the answer after just two or three clicks into my research database.

William and Elizabeth Yarrow’s second oldest child was Mary Yarrow. In 1841, Mary was married to an Owen Owen, and they were running an ‘Eating House’. The family held it for many years and it was on Lower Thames Street.

The same Lower Thames Street that was now staring back at me while I became misty-eyed about the Tower of London next to it.

Elizabeth must have been visiting her daughter at Lower Thames Street, become ill (even though she clearly was quite unwell, perhaps obliviously), and died in the company of a nurse – who didn’t know how to spell her name.

Her body would have then been returned home to her family, and buried in Stretham, but recorded in her home hamlet of Little Thetford.

This collection of coincidences had grown, and must surely suggest that I’m correct in my assumption.

I’m satisfied that I’ve finally killed off my 5x Great Grandmother, and that it’s a Genealogy Resolution that’s now kept, albeit 6 years late.

Have you unravelled any puzzles like this? Let me know how you tackled them in the comments below.

As ever, thanks for reading, I’m off for a celebratory cuppa.

Andrew

What Do You Think We’ll Do Now? Live 2018

With the 2018 Who Do You Think You Are? Live show dead and buried, have we hit a brickwall with large UK genealogy events?

Shortly after the 2017 Who Do You Think You Are? Live show ended at the Birmingham NEC, and the last genealogist was gently nudged out of the venue, the doors locked. Forever. Then the news began to trickle through saying that the much-loved live show would not be returning.

For me, this was sad news, having easily recovered from the shift from London’s Olympia just a few years before, I was sad to not be going to the next one. I’d attended several in it’s ten year history of shows.

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2018

I’m trying to think what a WDYTYA? Live 2018 show would look like in all but name.

Day One of Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2014
The two-floor Who Do You Think You Are? Live at London Olympia in 2014.

What makes me attend the show? What brings the thousands of attendees from across the country and the globe (yes, globe!) to tread the NEC’s bright blue carpets?

News of the cancellation has been missing from the Who Do You Think You Are? Live team themselves, almost as if one day they were working and suddenly all locked out.

Even the show’s official website still talks about how they’ll be returning for their 11th show, and that they “invite you to explore highlights from previous shows, browse our extensive photo galleries and get an idea of what is in store for 2018”.

You have to turn to the affiliated magazine to find out why the show has been cancelled – owners Immediate Media (who took over in 2011), have found the show has been making a loss.

What could replace WDYTYA? Live?

If there’s to be a replacement in 2018, then organisers are surely to already be working hard to plan it – and maybe they are. A huge show like Who Do You Think You Are? Live takes many months to organise – and even something half the size would be no mean feat.

Debbie Kennett about to demystify autosomal DNA at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017.
Debbie Kennett about to demystify autosomal DNA at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017.

In the Autumn edition of the Cambridgeshire Family History Society Journal, a tantalising note can be read: “We understand that there are proposals are being made for a new event format at a new location. … no firm details as yet we’ll keep you posted..“. Given that this Society also knew about the Birmingham switch ahead of the curve, maybe their inside information is something to get excited about?

So what would get me out of my house, travelling many miles, staying in a hotel, and spending 3 days walking around talking, thinking, watching, listening, and eating genealogy?

For me, the essential stuff (in no particular order) is:

  1. Venue – an easily accessible venue, with good facilities. I remember there being great concern from stand-holders and attendees alike when I seemingly broke the news online in April 2014.
  2. Brands – 2017 saw those DNA tests at their most competitively priced, and there was a fair range of brands – small and large. A few charities, and age-group-targeted-clothing had crept in (hopefully you know what I mean!), but if they’re in the minority and willing to pay for a stand, then okay.
  3. Experts – I’m not particularly worried about celebrity talks. I’d rather hear talks by reputable family history/genealogy/DNA/Archives experts, who have put the hours in, felt the pain, and achieved their own results.
  4. Social spaces – One of the biggest things that kept me coming back to the show was how it would draw a large number of people, and that included those I’d grown to know – initially via twitter or this blog – but then being able to call the friends too – even a slightly-convoluted relative was met there (hey, Amelia!). The Tweet-ups were also good fun.
  5. Societies – The Society of Genealogists helped ensure that the local history societies had a presence and a voice at the show. It was always a fantastic opportunity to get to talk from the experts on their stands – they could tell me about record sets, and all the kinds of things that only local historians know about the area they live and research.
  6. Wifi – As a family historian, and an event attendee, I need wifi. That might be to look things up, tweet a friend, or upload an image. Sometimes the availability has been scarce, leaving suspicious groups of family historians to gather in the corner of the hall. If you want to amplify an event to a wider audience who might then come along, or feel envious and come next time, then allow attendees to do it from within the event, rather than pushing them outside or to a cafe to do it – that gives them a reason not to return.

Without the 2018 show in my calendar, there’s a big gap that I feel I need to fill with something similar. I’ve no intention to head over to RootsTech in the US – as someone with paternal and maternal ancestors who rarely strayed from the same 30 mile radius for the best part of 450 years, heading over to the US to hear about American records, feels like it’s not a valid reason. I know a few people who have been, but I don’t think that it would be worth it for me.

One of my favourite bits from RootsTech though is definitely the video interview booth – and wished this had been mirrored at WDYTYA? Live, again helping the show to reach further. Or that someone like StoryCorps had made it into the show (or at least the UK).

Regardless of what we do or don’t get in 2018, I am going to miss not attending the show – the whole experience: from my hotel in Coventry and leisurely train ride to the NEC each day, through to the experts on the society stands, and the meeting of old friends.

My local county family history society, who normally run a genealogy event in September each year, are seemingly not doing so this year, and there’s no sign yet of next April’s ‘Big Family History Fair’ held by my district family history society.

One of the halls at The Big Family History Fair 2012, St Ives.
Even my local family history societies seem a bit quiet on the big event-front.

One of the most intriguing sounding events appearing in 2018 seems to be Secret Lives – a collaboration between Society of Genealogists, AGRA, GOONS, and The Halstead Trust.

The FindMyPast 1939 Tea Room
The FindMyPast 1939 Tea Room at Who Do You Think You Are? Live.

What do you think a Who Do You Think You Are? Live-like event should be like, or do you think they’ve run their last? What will you miss about the show? Are you going to any alternative genealogy events instead? Let me know in the comments below.

As ever, thanks for reading, and happy tree surgery!

Andrew