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

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017

What have the first 2/3rds of Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017 been like? Here’s my findings..

This year I decided that I would visit the annual Who Do You Think You Are? Live show for just two days, rather than three. For the last few years I’ve done the full show, but with lots of other things competing for my time at the moment – packing up my house, and moving in 2 weeks time, and a load of pots and trays of seedlings in need of my attention (see my gardening blog), I’m pre-occupied.

It was great to get to meet up with some familiar faces – friends who i’ve made from my previous visits, or who I’ve got to know via Twitter conversations and the likes of  #AncestryHour. It’s also great to meet with some new faces too, and that includes companies.

As soon as you step into WDYTYA? Live, you can see exactly who the big sponsor is – Ancestry. Their stand seems to get larger each year, in floorspace and height. Still, it’s packed with information-hungry researchers all looking to smash through a brick wall with the help of their research team.

Ancestry show stand at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017
Ancestry with their three-pitch stand. Just how much bigger can they get?

Ancestry’s big sell here is obviously their AncestryDNA kit, and even if you somehow missed this whopping great big stand, you’d soon be looking for them as their tests are a hot topic of the many talks in the orbiting theatres.

Once again they had their own mini theatre to help curious family historians to learn more about autowotzits and mitre comicals or something like that.  If only more test-takers would add family trees to Ancestry!!

AncestryDNA talk at WDYTYALive 2017
AncestryDNA’s stand includes a mini theatre where you can learn how the test works, and how to crunch the data.

I swung by the FamilySearch stand, which like previous years seemed very busy, and also like last year, was running series of small demos and tutorials. I managed to join the back of a group of people watching a demo of researching my beloved 1851 census.

FamilySearch research tutorials.
FamilySearch’s tutorials are free and on their stands.

My favourite talk by far on the 2 days was Debbie Kennett‘s talk ‘Autosomal DNA demystified‘. I’ve keenly followed Debbie’s articles and advice on DNA over the year, and so I knew that I’d be a fool to miss this. Her talk clearly lead us into the topic of DNA, the types of tests that are out there – including their benefits and shortfalls – and then led us through how to analyse the data.

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.

She also reminded us that whilst DNA is the ‘in’ thing right now (and her stage was surrounded by DNA testing companies), that you should go into it and prepare for the unexpected.

I always find Debbie’s advice to be very clear, even when it’s technical, and her approach to advice always feels impartial. There’s so many companies out there vying for your DNA test money, but it’s hard to pick out what each one can give and how they compare. Debbie seems to be the voice who talks about this.

DNA test price war?

Stand of the show clearly goes to LivingDNA – which really stood out with a big screen and swish stand.

Living DNA at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017
Living DNA had a huge screen stand, and they really stood out as the fresh, new, sparkly attraction.

Living DNA are currently running a test for me, so I hope to report back on this in the near future.

There was definitely what seemed like a price war on this year, with AncestryDNA having slashed their usual price of £79 (excluding that annoying £20 P&P) to £49 (i bought 3 more), and with FamilyTreeDNA pitching at £40, and with newbies LivingDNA pitching at £99. Other tests were also available, but I didn’t spot the prices.

I wondered whether the DNA Test ‘price war’ simply indicates that the main players have finally recouped their product development and marketing budgets, meaning they can now discount their tests, mixed with the surge of competitors making the price more volatile. It feels a bit like it’s a race to the bottom (so to speak), but I think there’s also a need to be clearer about the differences between the tests.

I was really pleased to see that Dr Turi King was back at the show, talking about the Richard III case. I first saw her (as a VIP!!) back in 2013 when it had only recently been revealed who the mystery skeleton was. It was great to hear some of that story again, and also pick up the factoid that poor Richard is missing his feet still. Maybe he had good boots on that day, and someone took an easy way of getting them!

I mentioned this revelation on Twitter, which annoyed Richard III, who despite being somewhat lifeless of late, seemed to get a bit annoyed at Dr King for revealing it. I guess we should all tread caref…. Oh.

Where Do You Think They Were? Live

I was really pleased to bump into Paul Carter and Pam Smith – two more of my regular show chums – and I was really interested to hear about their new Name&Place project which I’m really looking forward to seeing at next year’s show (no pressure!!).

Speaking of ‘where’, I think that this year was the first year ever that Genes Reunited’s stand has been absent. Obviously, as a company, they have been passed from pillar to post, but seeing as they’re now part of the same product family as FindMyPast, then I guess they’re slowly being absorbed out of existence.

Twile and FindMyPast at their WDYTYALive stand in the middle of the show.
Twile and FindMyPast at their WDYTYALive stand in the middle of the show.

It was great to see Twile on the FindMyPast stand, and their infographic idea really strikes a chord. I think infographics are great at giving bitesized pieces of information in a memorable and eye-catching way. Family history needs this, because I’m all to familiar with just how exciting it can be… but not to the person I’m telling it to. Their eyes glaze over as they get confused by the distant cousins and multiple greats.

Once again, I caved in at the Pen & Sword stand following what is probably now my annual papping of it. I love books, and I’ve got loads of them. I tried to resist, remembering that I’ve got to pack all of mine up into boxes and move them in a couple of weeks… but I was finally lured back to the stand and bought just one more – the final copy of Stuart A Raymond’s ‘Tracing Your Nonconformist Ancestors‘.

I also popped along to see the team from MacFamilyTree, not because I’m really thinking about replacing my Reunion software, but I wanted to see what theirs was like, and whether I could finally hunt down a family history software that doesn’t have printable charts that look like they were last designed in 1997. I find that a lot of these modern on-device software releases (as opposed to online subscription websites) are great, but the printable chart options really let them down. I’m not 100% sure I’ve found what I’m looking for still. Maybe I just need to begin a start-up company.

Anyway, that’s it for my two days at the 2017 WDYTYALive show. What did you make of it?

I think this year I went with little expectation or preparation, aiming only to get 2 more DNA kits, to sit in on some more DNA talks, and to catch up with those familiar faces. I did all that, and enjoyed the show.

As I look at my show purchases, I’m trying not to think about how much money I spent – more of how much money I saved on waiting for the show to get the show discounts, and how many more relatives this will enable me to connect with.

Swag from WDYTYALive 2017
Some of my WDYTYA? Live 2017 show swag.

I don’t think my feet or my bank could handle a third day, so I’m glad to be at home with my feet up and a cuppa in my hand.

Enjoy Day 3 of the show, and as ever, happy history hunting!

Andrew

Finding Uncle Malcolm

A newly-discovered uncle reveals a sad premature infant death, and a quest to locate his unmarked burial plot.

Six months ago, as I walked with my mother from the freshly dug grave of my paternal uncle, and the funeral party began to disperse, my mother told me that this was not the first uncle buried in that particular cemetery.

I was confused.

Lawn Lane Cemetery, Little Downham
Little Downham Cemetery has seen burials since the 1870s, and lots of my family are here.

She went on to tell me that my aunt (her sister-in-law) had been on the phone from the US, and had talked about how there was another sibling, a little boy called Malcolm, who died when he was young, and she was just a teenager.

This was the first time I’d ever heard of such a person, and I’d researched for years to find generations of relatives, and didn’t really know how to feel about having one so close, yet so ‘lost’.

The following day I checked for baby Malcolm in the GRO indexes, which handily now include the mother’s maiden name. Sure enough, there he was – Malcolm Paul Martin, born 5th April 1958. I realised that without this maiden name, I’d never have spotted him.

Unlike the rest of the siblings, I’d never have independently spotted him without that maiden name, which in turn led me to see that Malcolm was born in a different district – rather than in Ely, he was born in Newmarket. An odd choice for a family living within 5 miles of Ely.

Whilst there’s little else of interest on the birth certificate, the death certificate reveals much more.

Again, I would never have spotted him, as this time he’s registered as having died in Cambridge… and not just that.. Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge.

The death certificate goes on to say that he died aged 2 weeks, and gives the cause of death as “1(a) Pneumonia, 11. Prematurity congenital abnormalities Hair Lip.”

Cause of death of premature baby in 1958
Malcolm’s death certificate reveals he stood little chance at life.

This was my grandparents’ final child. They were now in her early 40s, and their oldest child had been born almost 21 years previously. With his prematurity, his cleft lip (as it’s now called), and the striking blow of pneumonia, it meant that poor little Malcolm stood no chance. Being born prematurely in 1950s would have been hard enough, but not being able to take in those vital early nutrients due to problems with his cleft lip would have made him weaker, and he’d be weakened enough to stand no chance against pneumonia.

Premature baby care has advanced dramatically since, as has cleft lip surgery, and I know that the NHS deal with cases like Malcolm’s over and over again, and I’m sure that the outcome is more favourable these days. Malcolm never came home, and so my father’s memory of him is missing. I find that very saddening.

My aunt’s phone call, which is ahead of her visit in June, prompted me to try to locate his burial. She thought she remembered that he was buried in Little Downham cemetery, and so I decided to find out.

I made contact with the team at St. Leonard’s Church (the cemetery is attached to the church), and they were able to put me in contact with the Clerk of the cemetery records. I’ve been in this cemetery a lot. There’s loads of my relatives there, many with headstones, and many without. I knew I’d not seen a headstone for a Malcolm Martin, as I’d have noted it down – and at that time, the attitude to infant deaths was different even then, and the cost to erect a headstone would have been a chunk of the family’s much-needed income.

On Saturday I met with the Clerk and he, with the burial book in hand, led me to where he thought the grave site was. Whilst the cemetery had originally started recording burials in the 1870s with a nice plot map and clear notes (like Ely cemetery a few miles away), apparently they soon gave up, and reverted to a list. This means some detective work was needed in order to work out the most likely location.

After looking at the burials listed before and after Malcolm’s, we felt that we’d found the plot, particularly as the burial immediately before his had a headstone still standing.

Child gravestones at Little Downham
The most likely location of Malcolm’s grave – to the right of the low-lying middle grave by the path.

So, as today would have been the 59th birthday of my Uncle Malcolm (still feels weird saying that), I feel that I can put him in my thoughts and welcome him into my family where he belongs, and kind of wish him a Happy Birthday too.

My Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017 tickets arrive

The postman brings a reminder that some serious genealogy indulgence is right around the corner. Well, 83 miles West.

I’ve been so busy lately – for the last five months I’ve been helping my parents to clear my late uncle’s house, whilst also going through a house sale myself, and preparing to move in about 5 weeks time… but amidst all that chaos comes a treat, and I was reminded of this this morning when my postman made my letterbox rattle.

My Who Do You Think You Are? Live tickets have arrived.

One of my two Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017 tickets.
One of my two Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017 tickets.

This year I’ve opted to just attend 2 days – Thursday 6th and Friday 7th April. For the last few years I’ve done all 3 days, but as I need to be packing up, and paying solicitor bills(!!), I’ve opted for just 2.

The show is once again at NEC Birmingham, which I’ve found has continued to be just as enjoyable as when the show used to be in London.

Maurice Gleeson explains how to identify which bits of your tree give you your X and Y matches.
Maurice Gleeson explains how to identify which bits of your tree give you your X and Y matches at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2016.

I’m not sure which talks I want to attend yet, but I’ll be browsing the timetable real soon – suspecting that I’ll be magnetised for my usual nerdfest over the latest DNA innovations in genealogy, and insights into newspaper archives.

I’ll be keeping an eye on twitter for more of the now traditional ‘tweetup’ flash events (that’s a meet up arranged via Twitter, usually involving a photo of the attendees – like the one below, which I’m probably going to get in trouble for digging up once again! 😀 ).

Are you going to WDYTYA? Live this year? What are you looking forward to seeing?

Andrew

A page-turning genealogy crime mystery

Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s ‘The America Ground’ is a satisfying genealogical puzzle, that I enjoyed untangling as I turned each page.

I’m a fair-weather reader. Slow, and driven by the habit of only reading in bed just before I doze off. Some years I will read as little as 1 or 2 books, others will see that closer to 6 a year. Still not a great number, but the time that I’d spend reading, I could spend researching my family tree.

So when author Nathan Dylan Goodwin asked me if he could send me a copy of his book ‘The America Ground‘ – a book about a genealogy puzzle – I agreed, warning him of my tardiness.

The book is the third adventure for Nathan’s ‘Forensic Genealogist’ character, Morton Farrier. I’ve not read the others, but I didn’t feel like this book relied on prior knowledge of him, or his earlier adventures.

Morton’s character is a professional family history researcher, and we find him enjoying the chance to research his own unclear ancestry, with him trying to locate his biological parents’ movements in 1970’s Sussex, England. This is soon interrupted by a painting and a mystery related to the Lovekin family that takes him back to the early 19th century and land disputes over a strip of land known as ‘The America Ground’.

This piece of land, which really does exist, anchors the historical characters, and Nathan writes a truly grimy and poverty-stricken existence for them as they cling to their livelihoods. The menace of the sea is as much of a menace as the authorities are in this story, and I could almost hear the unforgiving waves crashing as I read this at night.

I found the chapters alternating between modern and historical, not a new invention, but a welcome one that really helped to lure me through this story, as I too became tangled in the mysterious branches of the Lovekin tree, and Morton’s own mystery.

There’s plenty of familiar nods here for family historians – alongside the social history depictions there’s plenty of revelation BMD certificates, legal inheritance hurdles, puzzling parish register appearances, and an abrasive archives keeper in the form of Miss. Deidre Latimer (we’ve all known one).

angrylibrarian

There’s also plenty here for crime fans too, although as the historical and modern mystery boundaries began to blur towards the finale, I found the series of events that occur to Morton became a little bit too dramatic. The clever drawing together between the modern and historical characters to form the resolve really tied those time-scattered stories together perfectly.

The last few lines of the book deliver a completely unexpected cliff-hanger, which must surely be the opening point for the next book in the Morton Farrier series, and the next era for his own puzzling ancestry.

My 2017 Genealogy Resolutions

Happy New Year! What better time to set yourself a new challenge than the start of a new year. Here’s my 5 Genealogy Resolutions for 2017…

Having gone back and checked on the progress of my 2016 Genealogy Resolutions, it’s now time to set myself a new set for 2017.

The aim of these are to encourage me to complete a particular genealogy puzzle that has maybe been baffling me for a while, or to achieve something new. I’m sure you’ll be surprised to learn (!) that sometimes I get side-tracked by other branches of the family and end up researching those instead. This post acts as a reminder, as well as a way for me to set myself some challenges, so here goes:

1. Kill Mary Clarke

In the last few weeks I spent my 37th £1 on another certificate in a bid to kill off my 4x Great Grandmother, Mary Clarke, later Mary Bailey, but it was another miss. She’s out there still and I need to find her, in order to bring her life story – which includes prison and hard-labour for neglecting and abusing step-children, and numerous stints in workhouses, to a close. Last known address: Hartismere Workhouse, Suffolk in April 1881.

I’ve attempted to kill her off in previous genealogy resolution lists, but her invincibility irritates me.

2. Scan my BMD certificates

At the moment these are all carefully filed in date order in plastic sleeves in a lever-arch folder. There’s a lot. To better preserve these, and to make it easier for me to access them when I want to (if only to stop me accidentally buying the same ones twice), I want to scan them. As there’s a lot, I’m aiming to scan 50%.

3. Finish reading published family histories

For ages now, I’ve had Richard Benson‘s ‘The Valley‘ and Deborah Cohen‘s ‘Family Secrets‘ books on my to-read pile. The events of 2016 consumed me, and caused me not to really have time or the inclination to sit down and read much.

I did manage to read some of Deborah’s book, and I also read ‘The America Ground‘ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin, but I want to read more, so that I can get a good feeling about how to approach writing my own family history book.

4. Find my uncle’s grave

In October 2016, as I walked from away from the huddle of mourners at my uncle’s open grave, my mother tells me that he was not the first uncle to be buried there. This confused me, as I’ve always known all of my aunts and uncles. They watched me grow up, and I’ve watched them grow older. But no.

There was another, which my aunt remembers (because she was a young teenager) but my father doesn’t (because he was only very little). Certificates swiftly revealed Malcolm’s short life of 6 weeks. His cleft lip and pneumonia made it impossible for him to thrive, and he died in hospital in 1958. With my aunt visiting the UK in June, we’ll be back to visit my uncle’s grave, and I want to be able to take them all to the spot where their little baby brother was buried.

5. Run a 4th AncestryDNA test

In my first conflict of conferences, in which I was going to feast on my twice yearly nerdfest in Brighton, i switched my mind and decided to return for just 2 days of WDYTYA? Live in 2017 (the Thursday and Friday). I even managed to bag a complete bargain on my usual hotel (£25 a night!). In recent years I’ve stuck around for 3 days, but in 2016, I found this stretched my enthusiasm a bit, and as someone who is a family historian and therefore doesn’t have a stand, have books to sign, nor do I run a series of talks/record videos or podcasts (hmm… maybe that’s 2018’s resolution list right there!), then 2 was best.

During this time I aim to acquire a 4th AncestryDNA kit – avoiding the stupid P&P fees again (honestly, Ancestry, also let these be sold through someone like Amazon – expanding your audience and getting them delivered for free!!), and hopefully at another show discount rate.

This 4th kit may go to my visiting Aunt in June (if she’s interested), or to my mother’s sister (my maternal aunt), my own sister, or if I’ve hit a dead end, then I may try to locate a descendant from one of my 2x Great Grandmother’s first husband’s siblings. My Great Grandfather was illegitimate, but my grandmother tells me that he WAS the first child. DNA is going to be the only way to check, so I need to find a match with someone who contains only his family’s DNA, and not my 2x Great Grandmother’s DNA, in a bid to prove or disprove once and for all.

 

So, there we go. I can think of a load more things I already want to do in 2017, but I like to stick to 5.

Do you ever set yourself Genealogy Resolutions? How have you got on with those? Or what might you set yourself a challenge for in 2017? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy New Year to you all – may your 2017 be happy and healthy throughout. Thanks once again for reading my blog.

Andrew

 

Those 2016 New Year Genealogy Resolutions

How did I do at keeping my 2016 New Year Genealogy Resolutions?

It’s time to take a look back at my 5 New Year Genealogy Resolutions, and to see how I fared at keeping/completing them.

1. Kill Simpson Bishop

If anything, 2016 has a reputation as being a year full of death – the news is rarely empty of celebrity deaths, terror deaths, and as some readers may know, the last year has been one which has seen me attend 4 family funerals, out of 6 family deaths.

Despite this, Simpson Bishop has continued ‘to live’ on. The challenge for me is to identify where he may have gone to in order to find the death. Having established that he left the area after his oldest children (including my 3x Great Grandfather) had grown up and married, he heads north to Lancashire and re-marries in 1868. He’s alive at least until the early part of 1873, as his last known child John James Bishop is born in the December quarter of 1873. Simpson gets mentions in later records, but he doesn’t get hinted as being dead until his final wife says she’s a widow in 1901, although he’s not been living with her since at least 1881. His name also has numerous variations, including being preceded by the name James (mirroring his son, my ancestor, James Simpson Bishop).

There’s a Bishop emigration after the 1871 census to New York, with a feasible estimated birth date, although he’s noted as a Clergyman on the ship.. which I find a little unlikely, despite some of his children also heading overseas too.

Sadly, I failed this resolution in 2016. Nil points!

2. Read other written family histories

I’m a fair-weather reader – in that I can go the best part of a year without picking up a book, and sometimes I just can’t put one down.

'The Valley' by Richard Benson, and 'Family Secrets' by Deborah Cohen.
‘The Valley’ by Richard Benson, and ‘Family Secrets’ by Deborah Cohen.

I began reading Deborah Cohen’s Family Secrets (2013) book, but ended up being side-tracked by research, work, and other family issues. I hope to return to it soon, having realised it was one of my resolutions (oops).

I waded in to this resolution, and although life swept me away from these books, I think I can take a half point for this resolution.

3. Finish the website site-relaunch

I greatly underestimated the size of my familytreeuk.co.uk website when I wrote my resolution – estimating that there were about 130 hand-crafted profiles to reconfigure to a new design that was mobile-friendly (and therefore more favourable to users and search engines).

In reality, there are actually 82 surname ‘hubs’ and 378 individual profile pages to re-engineer.

I’ve plodded my way through these steadily, and have been able to re-launch 214 (57%) profiles, with only 168 to go. Whilst re-writing these profiles, I’ve often been re-scanning images, adding in extra information and references to other records that help to add flesh to the lives of these people. Obviously, that has flung me down research ‘rabbit holes’, and seen me add a few more profiles or go off on tangents.

I’m happy with this progress, so i’d like to think that I’ve half completed this resolution – so another half point.

4. Run another AncestryDNA test

I’m pleased to say that it took little effort to persuade my father to take an autosomal test, so I picked up a third test at 2016’s Who Do You Think You Are? Live show, and we ran the test in the May.

By July, we’d got the results – revealing that he isn’t very Great Briton after all and that he’s almost a quarter Irish, and a lot of Scandinavian. This amused and pleased him a lot – as he really is fascinated with the Vikings and their impact on the UK and Europe.

My Father's AncestryDNA Ethnicity result in Lego
My Father’s AncestryDNA Ethnicity result.

Resolution completed, so there’s a full-earned point!

5. Meet more relatives

Events as described in Resolution 1, meant that this turned out to be somewhat easy, despite the sad occasions that led to it happening.

I was so pleased to see some relatives again – like my father’s cousins, and also to meet (and in part, reunite) some of them too. I’m now in regular contact with some of them, which is a great feeling, and a nice ending to a sad year.

I was also really pleased to get to properly talk to my 1st Cousin, Twice Removed – the daughter of my Great Grandfather’s youngest sister. Despite this making her my Grandfather’s cousin, due to the large family above, she’s actually a year younger than my now-late uncle.

She was fascinated in family history, and talked to some length about a branch of our family tree. I know that her mother was a great source of photographs in the early years of my research (via my uncle), so I hope that I can talk to her more, and share the stories about our Martin and Giddings families in the new year.

I can safely say I completed this resolution, and earn another point.

The over-all score

So, all in all, I managed to score 3/5 for my 2016 Genealogy Resolutions.

To be honest, I forgot what some of these resolutions were, because I got carried away with research or website re-launching, or just life events that needed my attention. I like having these resolutions though, as it reminds me of challenges to do, and also gives me something to look back on – helping me to notice my own achievements.

Other things I managed to achieve in 2016 include:

  1. Re-joining The Newman Name Society
  2. Helping The Littleport Society by digitally cataloging hundreds of items in their archive…and digitise their audio interview archive that was stored on deteriorating cassette tape.
  3. Helping them to run two 200th Anniversary Riots events
  4. Rescued hundreds and scanned many family photographs – I now have 341 different relatives in my photo archive, across 565 photos, with a few hundred photos boxed up yet to scan, and many yet to identify people in.
  5. Used the General Register Office new searchable indexes to discover a terrible family tragedy that saw the infant deaths of 11 of the 12 children, and the first wife, of my 3x Great Grandfather, James Martin.

Did you have any genealogy resolutions for 2016? If so, how did you do? Let me know in the comments below.

Once again, thank you for reading,

Andrew

I’m dreaming of an old Christmas – just like the ones they used to know

For those of you who do Christmas, you’re unlikely to have missed this weekend’s diary fixture.

I’ve seen a lot of new (to me) photos in the last few months, and yet there’s very few that cover Christmas. I was wondering whether my family is unusual in this, in that Christmas time hasn’t been a time of year that the camera comes out.

I’ve found a few photos that I wanted to share – all showing my paternal family, and most showing at least one of those Grandparents in about the 1960s.

The first three photos, all black and white, capture a more playful side of my Grandparents, a side that in the brief time I knew them, I’d not really knowingly experienced as I was probably just too little to realise.

Percy Martin wearing a Christmas hat
Percy Martin wearing a Christmas hat. Photo: Andrew Martin

I’m not sure whose house this photo was taken in, but there’s a tiny glimpse of the tree over on the right, and the obligatory bowl of nuts just over his shoulder. And that TV… wow! Might need a special adaptor for the Playstation.

I love this next photo – it’s clearly an act of two halves…

Edna drinking tea with her friend. Photo: Andrew Martin
My grandmother Edna (right) drinking tea with her friend. Photo: Andrew Martin

but then…

Teacups down, and the real drinks come out.
Teacups down, and the real drinks come out. Photo: Andrew Martin

Again, I’ve no idea whose house this is, or whether they’re from the same Christmas as the first photo above, but they capture a playful side of my grandparents wonderfully.

The next two photos show my now late uncle in the family home, and the other shows my aunt, and were taken at the same event just moments apart, and probably from the same spot.

My uncle Norman (seated right) and cousins, all wearing unusual Christmas hats. Photo: Andrew Martin
My uncle Norman (seated right) and cousins, all wearing unusual Christmas hats. Photo: Andrew Martin
My aunt Beryl (seated right) wearing a somewhat bag-like Christmas hat. Photo: Andrew Martin.
My aunt Beryl (seated right) wearing a somewhat bag-like Christmas hat. Photo: Andrew Martin.

Interestingly, I have all three of the framed photos seen on the walls in these two photos.

I love spotting photos within photos and always rush to get the magnifying glass out when I spot them on the wall, to see whether I have already found them.. or whether they are tantalising glimpses of photos that might be out there in the family somewhere.

In this instance, there’s two of my father when he was a small child (I’ve got them still in those frames) and the other is of my Great Grandfather Herbert Martin who was killed in a train accident France on his way home from WWI.

I love this window into late 50’s/60’s style, and it’s fun to see relatives in a more casual mood – those weird looking Christmas paper hats make me chuckle a lot.

Oh, here’s one more, this time of my other uncle, but whether he’s on the tea because this is the morning after, or whether it’s because he was a Policeman and had to go on duty.. I’ve no idea.

My uncle Barrie with tea and another stupid hat. Photo: Andrew Martin
My uncle Barrie with tea and another stupid hat. Photo: Andrew Martin

Speaking of style and weird hats, it brings me to the time for me to close this little blog post, with my own ‘style’ and stupid hat, via a photo taken just minutes ago.

Have a lovely Christmas time, and thanks so much for reading this blog through 2016, and for your support and kind words during what’s been a tough 12 months.

May your 2017 be full of broken brick walls, and lofty new branches that are easily climbed.

Andrew

Andrew Martin beside his Christmas tree. Photo: Andrew Martin
Have a great Christmas. Photo: Andrew Martin

 

My Grandmother’s Century

In the midst of the First World War, on 11th November 1916, my Great Grandparents Alfred Newman and his wife Clara (née Gilbert) became parents again for the fifth time. This time they welcomed another daughter – Edna – my Grandmother, to their little Ely family.

Today, in 2016, marks what would have been her 100th birthday.

2016 has been a hard year, although I’m sure that 1916 was harder. However, partly as a result of the four family funerals I’ve attended so far this year, I’ve found myself in what was once her family home, and for the first time seeing the mass of photographs, keep-sake tins of bits and bobs, letters, a passport, and other ephemera.

My grandmother would certainly know hard times too – witnessing her older brother Wilfred being sent home to die in 1929 after exhaustive treatment in hospital for septicemia and tuberculosis when he was just 16yrs old, and hearing the news that her little brother Owen had died on a Japanese hospital ship after it was struck by a torpedo off Singapore. There would be more.

In particular, these photographs are letting me see my grandmother for the first time in her younger years. So far, the youngest photo I have found of her is when she was bridesmaid for her older sister Phyllis, and she stands beside her, and their brother, in 1935. This is my grandmother at 18/19yrs old – just a teenager – but to me, she’s unmistakeable.

Phyllis Newman and Sidney Fitch wedding group in Ely, 1935.
Phyllis Newman and Sidney Fitch at their wedding in Ely, 1935. My grandmother is second from right, with their brother Leslie Newman on the far right. Photo: Andrew Martin.

Within two years she would walk down the aisle with my grandfather Percy Martin, although perhaps somewhat hurriedly, as my uncle was born just 6 months later.

Their family grew in Little Downham, a village near Ely, but it wasn’t without difficulties.

Until a fortnight ago, as I had watched her oldest son’s (my uncle’s) coffin be lowered into his grave, and eventually turned to walk away, my mother tells me that this uncle was not the first to be buried there. This confuses me, but she relays the snippets of information that my aunt has told her and my father over the phone just days beforehand. There was another sibling – Malcolm – who my aunt (being his sister) believes is buried somewhere there too.

Edna and Percy, my grandparents in happier times. Probably Hunstanton during the 1950s.
Edna and Percy, my grandparents in happier times. Probably Hunstanton during the 1950s. Photo: Andrew Martin.

It was a shock. I thought I knew all my aunts and uncles, how had I never known about this one, and how had I not just spotted it anyway in the records? So I’ve set myself the challenge of identifying his burial plot. That’s in progress, and will need my detective work to find the cemetery plot map.

The next day, I searched through the birth and death indexes at freebmd, and sure enough, baby Malcolm Paul Martin was there. His birth in a neighbouring county hospital, his death in the hospital at the city of Cambridge – away from where the family’s other children had been born, and far outside of where I’d suspect him – if I’d ever suspected there was another child to find!

The sadness of spring 1958 was revealed.

This must have been so very hard on my grandparents, with my grandmother, now in her early 40s, giving birth prematurely to her final child. He hardly stood a chance – not just because he was premature (there’s no indication of by how much), but he would have been struggling to feed and grow strong due to having a cleft lip, and his weakness meant he stood no chance against the pneumonia. He was just 2 weeks old. My father hardly recalls him (as he was only young himself), my aunt remembers only a little more. My uncles never said a thing.

After the breakdown of her marriage to my grandfather in the early 1970s, she remained living with my uncle, and was already a doting grandmother to my aunt’s children, but clearly missed them dearly as they were based in the USA. As my sister, my UK-based cousins, and I came along, she proved to be just as doting to us.

I remember staying with her and my uncle on a few school holidays and playing with the kids next-door. I remember where my grandmother kept the sweets (in plain paper bags on the tray on the sideboard) which caused me to develop my light-footedness in aid of the liberation of countless aniseed balls.

Edna with Claire and Andrew, circa 1984.
Edna with my sister and I, c.1984. Seems the Christmas excitement turned me into a demonic child that year. Photo: Andrew Martin

I remember (and still have) a couple of the Christmas toys she saved up to buy me in my childhood – and I found a letter just last week whilst clearing my uncle’s house, where my mother is explaining to her what the toy was that she’d paid for in 1983. That was quite a lovely little find.

My parting memory of her is sleeping in a hospital bed. The same hospital where she’d had Malcolm almost 40 years earlier. I didn’t understand what was happening as an 8yr old in 1986, but my memories can take me right back there in an instant.

I wish we’d known each other for so much longer, but I cherish the memories of the time we shared.

Happy 100th Birthday, Grandma.