FindMyPast have unveiled a new look in a bid to make family history researching feel more personal to their users.
The popular family history website FindMyPast has rebranded itself, switching from the familiar blue, green, and white colouring to a dark blue, dark cream and orange instead.
Gone are the leafy greens reminiscent of most family tree sites, and the focus really does seem to be tuned up to the personal and human level. The ‘my’ is emphasised here in an orange handwriting (and there’s a ‘you’ on some screens too), and there’s new hand-drawn logos to help build on that personal, less corporate feel.
I guess with their expansion into building trees, sharing tree-to-tree info, and their recent venture into the highly competitive DNA testing, they need their audience to feel like their site is about personal information – ‘your’ family history.
Change is always hard to embrace, and maybe you’re outraged. Maybe you don’t really mind. I’m in the latter camp. If this change helps shift the emphasis towards encouraging users to build trees, then I think that’s great.
Another popular family history website has a lot of ’empty’ users that have no trees, and seemingly no interest in researching – having been brought on board by a DNA test. If these changes by FindMyPast can help turn that tide for them, then I hope it does.
In their own press release (issued today), FindMyPast reveal that through research they’ve conducted, 12% of Brits can’t trace their family tree beyond their own parents, and 38% can only trace it as far as their grandparents!
I think I was lucky, as I’d already got beyond those % by the time I was about 7yrs old.
Here’s the new look site in desktop (logged in)
And here’s the site on mobile (logged out). Note the ‘my’ changes to a different handwriting for some views.
For those of you like me who have been following this site for a long time, you might remember how their homepage looked back in 2009.
For those of you with longer memories, you might remember FindMyPast arriving as a brand in 2003, having previously been 1837online.
When Sarah Brightwell’s curiosity got the better of her, it would lead her to an untimely end.
Sarah Brightwell was just 15 years old, when on 9th January 1844 in the village of Mepal, Cambridgeshire, and whilst in the employment of Mr William Brown (probably her maternal uncle or grandfather), she stumbled across a pile of firewood ready for burning.
This wasn’t just any old firewood though, it was the remains of an old wooden bureau that hadn’t been used for years. It was broken up and ready for burning to keep those cold fenland draughts at bay.
Amongst the debris though, was a small packet that caught Sarah’s eye. She picked it up – it’s contents much like a sugar. Sarah’s curiosity overcame her, and she tried it. It was arsenic.
Arsenic in the home
Arsenic was common in the home, and sometimes turns up in old wallpaper or wood preservatives. It may also have had a use as a poison for pests – so buying it was fairly commonplace. It is lethal if ingested.
If taken in large amounts, it can kill within hours. Numerous criminal cases have been recorded, but when in the home it could sit in its clearly marked container – there was even a market for ornately labelled containers – much like coffee and sugar jars today.
In this case though, we have to assume that Sarah did not check the packet for writing, or that she could not read. Upon it was written “Arsenic – Poison”. She took about a teaspoonful, experiencing “violent retching and pain” shortly afterwards, and “died in a few hours”.
Her death certificate, which was fairly common in that it was written for a child during the 1840s, has a full ’cause of death’ column, reading:
“Died from the affects of arsenic inadvertently taken by the deceased without any motive or knowledge of the effect”
Hugh Robert Evans Jnr, Coroner.
Sarah’s death hit the news, with the inquest appearing along two other terrible tragedies from the same Coroner’s session.
The jury, after a long investigation, were:
“fully satisfied that the poor girl, who was of very simple character, took the poison without any motive, and without any knowledge of its nature and effects, and returned a verdict to that purport”.
Inquisitions in the Isle, The Cambridgeshire Independent Press, 1844.
The newspaper inquest story ends with the line “The bureau had not been used for 30 years at least”. I hope it was swiftly burnt.
As for the other two cases in the inquest, both were for people who had burnt to death, one a 76 year old Elizabeth Kimpton of Ely, and the other happens to be another one of my relatives, Mary Hawkins, aged 10 years. Her story will save for another time.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Littleport Society Open Day takes place at The Barn, Littleport, Cambridgeshire, on Saturday 19th September 2015, 10am – 4pm, with FREE ENTRY.
The Littleport Society are opening their doors on Saturday 19th September 2015 – with free entry to a range of specially built displays.
I’ve known the Society for many years, having helped them with their first web presence back in 1998.
Earlier this year I was co-opted onto their Committee, and this is allowing me to help them with digitally cataloguing their huge archive of items which ranges from dinosaur fossils, right through to Manorial Records, wartime documents, and the latest community leaflets and photos from 2015!
The Open Day will give you the chance to learn more about your Littleport ancestors, find out what your ancestors may have done, and how The Great War affected the lives of those in Littleport.
Entry and parking is FREE, and the doors open at The Barn(off Main Street) from 10am until 4pm.
When their youngest child was no more than 2 years old, my Gtx4 Grandmother Avis Martin (née Tall) lost her husband Robert Martin at the age of 41 in the March of 1826. With his death prior to certification, any efforts to find the cause would likely be zero. The burial register of the fenland village of Little Downham, Cambridgeshire, England, gives no clue.
The couple had become parents six times since their marriage in 1812, but life had dealt them a cruel hand in these bleak fens – their first (William), fourth (Elizabeth) and fifth child (Robert), all failing to thrive. Elizabeth made it to 2, Robert less, and William died just 4 months after their father in July 1826. He was 13.
Avis was now a widow at 38 years in a remote fenland village with three remaining children (James, Sarah, and a second Robert). By August 1827, she re-married, this time to James Wisbey, and by 1830 the couple had their first son. For once, life was a bit ‘on the up’.
By 1834, her daughter Sarah Martin had married James Johnson at Little Downham, and their daughter Matilda Johnson entered the church for her baptism on 3rd January 1836.
Matilda and Avis
In my beloved 1851 census, I found Avis Wisbey as an ‘out door labourer‘ in what was to be her final census. I’d already killed her off in August 1858, but I noticed that she wasn’t alone. I didn’t know Matilda at this point, so was curious as to who this 17 year old Matilda Johnson was. My only clue was that she was noted as ‘granddaughter’.
I back tracked to the less reliable 1841 census – and there she was again – this time aged ‘5’ years, and again living with her grandmother.
Heading backwards through the records, I found her baptism in January 1836, and then found the Johnson/Martin marriage that belonged to her parents in 1834 – and proving her connection to Sarah Martin and Avis.
But where had her parents gone?
It didn’t take me long to find a burial register entry that hinted at a bigger story. On 5th February 1837, James (23yrs) and Sarah (20yrs) Johnson are buried with the register giving a clue of ‘husband and wife by suffocation‘.
Matilda in the headlines
That’s the first time that I’ve seen ‘suffocation’ given as a cause of death, and with both husband and wife dying together by the same cause, I sensed that there must be more information. Was it foul play? Or was there some terrible accident?
A search of newspapers provided me with the answer, and they made several different ones:
The Huntingdon, Bedford & Peterborough Gazette of the 18th February states:
“DEATH FROM SUFFOCATION – Inquests were held on Friday se’nnight in the parish of Downham, on the bodies of James Johnson and Sarah, his wife, who died from the effects of charcoal burning in the bed-room. Verdict accordingly”
The story unfolds a little further courtesy of a number of newspapers that including The Cambridge Chronicle, and The Morning Post, and this cutting from Jackson’s Oxford Journal also of 18th February 1837, which carries a long and detailed report on the whole incident.
Here it states that due to a pan of ashes being in the bedroom, the wife suffocated. The husband died of apoplexy having seemingly woken but dying shortly afterwards, and that the daughter (Matilda) survived only because she was tucked further down in the the bed and saved by the sheets. It notes that Matilda entered the care of her grandmother.
It seems that an innocent accident brought tragedy for the family. And that only by luck, through the action of neighbours, and the positioning of some bed sheets, that Matilda survived in bed – not even 2yrs old, laying amongst the bodies of her dead parents.
What became of Matilda?
In Avis’ care, orphaned Matilda Johnson grew up. Eight months after the 1851 UK census, Matilda married John Artingstall of Lancashire, in the Little Downham church where her parents had just 17 years earlier.
After a sad start to their own parenthood (their first child, Elizabeth Artingstall died as an infant), they went on to become parents a further nine times in Gorton, Lancashire. The family appear at Far Lane (briefly at No. 10) and 56 Far Lane, Gorton.
John died in 1897 aged 69, and Matilda reached the ripe old age of 81, dying in 1917.
She survived tragedy by a stroke of luck, and lived a full life, becoming a grandmother herself, via her own daughter, who took here late mother’s name – Sarah.
A reproduced 1961 article on fruit picking at Dan Ward’s farm in Witchford, Cambridgeshire.
Highlighting my love of using newspapers in research, I found this article on fruit picking in the orchards of Dan Ward in Witchford, Cambridgeshire, England.
Whilst it contains a nice insight into village life and agriculture, it includes photos of, and quotes from, my Great Grandmother Louisa Pope, and her youngest daughter Audrey Giddens. So, here it is 54 years on, re-created for the web, with original headline. It was published in the Saturday Pictoral on July 29, 1961.
It’s a ‘plum’ job but you need a head for heights
In the last fortnight the fruit picking scene in the Fens has changed. Changed from the back aching grind of strawberry picking to the arm stretching task of plum picking.
So drastic has been the change, that in parts of the Fens growers were gathering in the first part of the plum harvest at the same time as Wisbech growers were finishing off ‘the straws’.
In the most southerly parts of the Isle, fruit growers have been picking plums earlier than ever before. Not only have they completed the programme of early varieties but they are well ahead of schedule with the Czars as well.
“This year is even early by our standards”, explained Mr Dan Ward of Witchford – certainly the ‘Little Kent’ of the Fens. “We have got all the Rivers Early and some of the Pershores off and now we are well on the way with the Czars – a later variety – and by Monday we should have a full gang of about 30 on the gardens”.
But although the plums have come early in the Witchford gardens – the locals use this term instead of orchard – the crops are not as heavy as they might be. Whereas, Mr. Ward has had 40 or more pickers in other years, he will be able to make do with far less this season.
But that does not take the shine off the crops for the pickers for plum picking is obviously a time of year that they look forward to very much. When we called in at the Ward farm this week we saw them busy at it and obviously enjoying every minute of it.
But it is only at Dan Ward’s that the Witchford people get the chance to do any amount of plum pulling. There is hardly another big orchard in the district – the next nearest centre being at Wilburton. I asked Mr. Ward how he came to be a fruit grower in such an area.
“As long as people can remember the Ward family have been growing fruit in Witchford”, he explained. “My grandfather and father before owned the gardens that I have now. I think that the industry must go back more than one hundred years in fact”. Despite the fact that the land has been in the Ward family all this time, most of the trees in the orchard are young. Mr. Ward went on to explain that he has replanted several acres – getting the trees from the Wisbech area.
Not only the trees but the end product as well have connections with Wisbech. Much of the fruit comes to Wisbech before being shipped off to various markets.
Having so many plum trees in an area where fruit growing is not regarded as a major industry could present problems to some people – but not to Mr. Ward. The organisation during the peak season at Witchford is equally as good as that at Wisbech and he has his own regular pickers who come each year to tackle the crop for him.
One of them is Mrs. L Pope – who has been working in the plum gardens for over 50 years. Mrs. Pope picked from the ladders at the tops of the swaying trees last year and quite expects to repeat the performance during the next few weeks. She claims that it is the outdoor life and plenty of work which keeps her looking fit and young – she is actually over 80.
One of her daughters, Mrs. A Giddens, is following in her footsteps. As Mrs. Pope was picking from the ground when we were there, Mrs Giddens was towering above her on one of the ladders.
Monday will see the season rise to its heights. Pickers, baskets and plums will pour in and out of Dan Ward’s gardens and Witchford produce will take its place beside fruit from all other parts of the country in the nation’s major markets. So keeping up a centry-long tradition in the Ward family.
Saturday Pictoral, July 29, 1961 – Denis Chamberlain
Pictures taken by staffman Harry Naylor.