Those top 5 genealogy resolutions of 2013

Catching a time-travelling grandmother? Killing off a child-abusing step-mother in 1841? Writing a book? …..Take a look back at how I’ve fared with my 2013 Genealogy Resolutions.

Last year, I made a list.

I’m not normally a resolutions type of guy, but I thought that it would be fun to do to try to help me focus on my research. It worked a little, but not as much as I would have liked, as I find it easy to go scrambling off on a tangent and chasing branches through different records. Before long, you find yourself about 7 surnames away from where you started.

However, it was overly productive, so I plan to have another 5 resolutions for 2014.

Before I reveal what I plan to do, I’ll just recap on the 5 resolutions from 2013

1. The Missing Bowers

I planned to crack my mystery Bowers connection. With my Gt Gt Gt Gt Grandfather Henry Bowers seemingly appearing out of nowhere, as a teenage groom at Wicken, I wanted to find his family. His subsequent Bowers family clearly have a Burwell connection, but whilst there are plenty of Bowers in both villages, and they seem to mingle, I’ve yet to find a mention of Henry.

In a bid to get further with this, I’ve looked at the parish records for Wicken and Burwell, alongside the census records, to try to see if there are any cross overs that would suggest that the Wicken Bowers family were living with Burwell Bowers on census nights, or appearing as witnesses etc at church events. This is a long, slow, arduous task, but one that I’m determined to complete. – INCOMPLETE

2. My time-travelling Great Great Great Great Great Grandmother

Elizabeth’s headstone in Stretham churchyard, suggests that she was buried alive when compared to dates in burial registers.

My Great x5 Grandmother, Elizabeth Yarrow (née Wright) seems to defy time by dying and being buried on a range of dates within a couple of years – thanks to a lack of death certificate (it was 1837, the year the certification was compulsory, but she seems to be missing), a headstone, and two differing parish burial registers. Her demise remains a mystery, with the only lead for her London death, turning out to be a small child of the same name. – INCOMPLETE

3. Writing that book

Writing a book when you’ve been researching an entire family tree for so long, can be hard. Sure, there’s plenty of material – heartbreaking stories, funny instances, and wonderful photographs and sources, but where do you stop and focus?

That conundrum aside, I’ve continued to collect material for this and hope to use 2014 to flesh out the ideas and the stories. – IN PROGRESS

4. Visiting places familiar to my ancestors.

With the benefit of living amongst the villages that my family have lived and worked in over at least the last 430 years, it means that I’m always visiting places that they would have known, and seeing the landscapes they would have worked.

I managed to make several trips to places they would have known, including one to try to find the location of my Great Grandmother’s (Daisy Burnell) birth in The Stables, Abercorn Lodge, Abercorn Place, London. No obvious sign of the Lodge itself, or the stables (even though they might have been absorbed by something else), so I assume that they have since been redeveloped into something else, but I enjoyed a sunny afternoon visiting the area, and imagining what it might have been like back in the 1880s when she was born. – ACHIEVED

Abercorn Place sign

5. Killing off my wicked Great x4 Grandmother

My step-child-abusing wicked Great x4 Grandmother, Mary Bailey (née Clarke) went to prison for her crimes in 1841. After serving her time and living a short family life, she ended up back in the workhouse twice, which is where I last saw her, as a widow. She continues to roam, and I won’t rest until i’ve bumped her off. – INCOMPLETE

As you’ll see from above, there’s quite a few incomplete ones there… so to help sort that out, I’ve just borrowed a friend’s research tool to help speed things up…

Andrew Martin makes genealogy easier by flying the TARDIS into research brick walls.
I’ve found that genealogy is easier when you fly a TARDIS into research brick walls, although I my Great x11 Grandmother loves my iPad Air.

2014’s resolutions…

Tune in tomorrow for my top 5 genealogy resolutions for 2014.

If you like this idea, then leave me a comment and/or link below to your resolutions blog post.

Have a wonderful end to 2013. And I wish you a prosperous, family filled, 2014!


Tombstone Tuesday: Anne Brontë and her grave error

Author Anne Brontë’s headstone has been given an erratum plaque by the Brontë Society. Should headstones be corrected or left as a historical object?

Have you ever seen a headstone that carries incorrect information? Should it be corrected? Left as a historical object? Or should a correction be added?

I have just read this BBC article relating to the correction of an error on author Anne Brontë’s grave in Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

The error, her age at death, which should have been 29 rather than 28 years, has stood in the churchyard since 1849, but now the Brontë Society has made the corrections by adding a plaque alongside the original standing stone.

This is not the first time her headstone has been corrected – her sister Charlotte arranged the correction of five earlier errors.

Elizabeth Yarrow’s headstone doesn’t match burial records on several counts.

This reminds me of my own Great x 5 Grandmother, Elizabeth Yarrow (née Wright), whose own age, date, and year of death differs by two years depending on whether you’re reading the headstone, or one of the two parish registers that record her burial.

Dates range from 1837 to 1839, and her death seems to not to be covered by certification.

What do you think? Is it right to correct a headstone, preserve it with its error, or add an ‘erratum’?

My Top 5 Genealogy ‘to-dos’ for 2013

My top 5 genealogy things I hope to achieve in 2013 – a mixture of visits, writing and demolishing those research brick walls.

I don’t really go for New Year’s Resolutions, as I like to challenge myself on a daily basis, but I thought that I would put down 5 areas of my family tree research where I hope to make progress in 2013.

1. The Missing Bowers

If you use, you may have spotted me trying to unravel the Bowers family of Burwell, Cambridgeshire. There’s quite a lot of them there during the 19th century, and amongst them i am sure, *should be* my Great Great Great Great Grandfather, Henry Bowers – yet there’s no sign of him in an appropriate part of the baptism registers, and unhelpfully he was born in about 1812 (so, well before that helpful 1st July 1837 date) and there’s no parents noted on his 1832 marriage entry in nearby Wicken. Henry’s children’s Burwell connections are frequent, yet he himself has yet to appear.

I feel that I’m beginning to make progress though, by researching all the Bowers in Burwell by cross-referencing the registers to census returns. Annoyingly, my favourite census – the 1851 for Burwell – is missing, and so this leaves a hole in the data.

I am determined to crack this one. Somehow.

2. My Time-traveling Great Great Great Great Great Grandmother

Elizabeth Yarrow‘s birth, death and burial dates and place of death is open to discussion as none of the key sources corroborate. A death in London, a burial in Stretham, a date of burial in Stretham differing from the date of burial (randomly) noted in the register for neighbouring hamlet Little Thetford, date of death and age different between burial registers and gravestone.

It’s all a mess… and with her 1837 death year, there’s also no suitable certificate to help iron it all out (the one i did excitedly find was for a small child). My 5x Great Grandmother’s life and death might be impossible to unravel unless I get my hands on some newspapers and some railway records.

3. Writing that book

So, for quite a while now I’ve been toying with writing up research into a book, but then the genealogist’s work is never ever finished – so at what point do I start and end the book? What do i include and omit? Having several friends who are published authors themselves helps, but I hope to be able to work out how, and start, to turn my years of research into something that can be shared in print and in eBook.

If you’re a published genealogy author – drop me a message – i’d love to hear about your experiences.

4. Visiting places familiar to my ancestors

I’m quite good at this, mainly because few strayed from Cambridgeshire. Top of my list is to find the building (or site) of my Great Grandmother’s birthplace – The Stables, Abercorn Place, Kilburn. I’ve meandered the streets via Google Streetview, and I’ve been in the neighbouring streets (including the famous Abbey Road) where the family lived and worked… but this place remains unvisited.

5. Killing off my wicked Great x4 Grandmother

My Great x4 Grandmother, Mary Clarke ended up in court and eventually prison for neglecting, abusing and playing the role of wicked step-mother to her husband’s children during the mid-1800s. She’d already bore my Great x3 Grandmother and a brother outside of marriage and before becoming the wife of William Bailey of Botesdale, Suffolk. This was to be to their advantage, as they went on to escape the miserable family life that followed. No wonder my Great x3 Grandmother Caroline Clarke changed her name and hid her parentage. Meanwhile, after a couple of stints in the workhouse, and one in prison, Mary vanishes after 1881… but I’ve yet to kill her off.

Mary, i’m coming to get you!

What genealogy brick walls are you hoping to demolish in 2013? Is there something special you hope to achieve in the coming year?  Let me know in the comments below.

Alternatively, join in the conversation over on LinkedIn.

WANTED: Dead Or Alive

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

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

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

This is a routine I know well.

Help! My Grandmother was a zombie

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

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

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

The hidden Grandparents and Uncle

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

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

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

The Serial Bride

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mystery of Elizabeth Yarrow’s Gravestone

Elizabeth Yarrow’s death spans two years. Her age at death spans 8 years. Two churches registers, and a gravestone all give conflicting and some corresponding information. What’s the real answer?

I have a mystery to solve and hopefully the death certificate of an Elizabeth Yarrow, whose death is recorded in the June quarter of 1838 in St Pancras, will unravel it.

This gravestone stands in Stretham churchyard, Cambridgeshire, amongst many other Yarrow gravestones. There is something engraved near the foot of the stone but I can’t make it out now, and perhaps didn’t spot it at the time.

However, this stone appears to have some errors.

The Stretham burials transcript gives William Yarrow as being 71, and Elizabeth Yarrow (née Wright) as having been buried in 1837.

The Little Thetford burials transcript (Little Thetford being a hamlet of Stretham and it’s common for inhabitants to be buried at Stretham), gives a different story: “YARROW Elizabeth otp 50 wife of William farmer, died in London was carried home and buried at Stretham” (Nov 23 1837).

This gives two positive mentions of 1837, rather than the stone’s 1839. The Stretham transcript gives the right age for her, but not for him.

There’s no mention of William in the Little Thetford transcript.

Looking at FreeBMD, there’s only an Elizabeth Yarrow death (so far) available, and that’s the one registered in the June Quarter of 1838 at St. Pancras!

The GRO certificate is ordered… so lets see what it uncovers.

What do you think happened? Here’s a couple of my ideas…

  1. Maybe the stone was erected many years after William and Elizabeth deaths, and so family couldn’t quite remember?
  2. Elizabeth’s death was registered in the June 1838, because certification was new in late 1837 – perhaps they were resisting it (like some), or simply didn’t know that certificates had to be issued or how to go about it?