Day Three: Who Do You Think You Are? 2014

Day Three – the final day of the 2014 Who Do You Think You Are? Live show at London’s Olympia.

I’m writing this at the end of the third and final day of Who Do You Think You Are? Live. I’m home, and can honestly say that I throughly enjoyed myself.

The Family History Society stands on Day 3 of WDYTYA? Live 2014
Some of the Family History Society stands at lunchtime on Day 3 of WDYTYA? Live 2014

I arrived at about 9:45 this morning, after yet another wonderful walk through Hyde Park in the sunshine (still definitely Winter mode). Whilst there was no queue outside Olympia, I managed to get in just before the mass of visitors who were walking over from Olympia station arrived at the doors.

After disposing of coat and case, I then went up to the workshop ticketing team, where there were also no queues, and picked up my two free tickets – one on ‘Finding Your London Ancestors‘ with Michael Gandy, and the other for ‘Wills: not just a source for our better-off ancestors‘ with Celia Heritage.

I must confess that I didn’t make it to Michael Gandy’s talk – I chose it as I briefly have a family that lived in London for about 10 years, and occasionally through history a marriage turns up in its parishes. The queue was long, and so I decided to bail, and regret missing it based on the comments I’ve since heard and seen on twitter.

However, I am very glad that I finally caught a Celia Heritage talk though, as her talks and work has always come with such positive praise. Plus, I’ve really been enjoying reading Wills and even the Probate Calendars that I’ve found on

I’ve got copies of Wills that hint at family feuds, and ones that detail every spoon and bowl. Those latter ones don’t seem like much now, but as Celia’s talk suggested, it wasn’t just the better-off people that wrote them.

Through case studies from her own tree, Celia was able to show how it is important to view the full Will, as they carry so much information about relationships (not just siblings, spouses, and children, but cousins can turn up too), and locations. She also highlighted the importance of looking around at the same surname in roughly the right area, and seeing whether you can find some potential connections in Wills – in a hope that their Wills will mention your branch and help link it all together.

The Babbage Breakthrough

It was my first venture to Who Do You Think You Are? Live (2011), when I dragged along a selection of my handwritten notes, expecting to find a whole new swathe of ancestors in some monumental research breakthrough.

I soon found it wasn’t really that kind of event, and that I should use the show to learn about new techniques, new technology, and discover about new resources that can help my  breakthroughs, and for the years since, I’ve stuck to this notion.

Devon Family History Society stand at WDYTYA? Live 2014
Devon Family History Society stand at WDYTYA? Live 2014

So it was a surprise to find myself sitting alongside the very helpful Terry Leaman – Vice-Chairman of the Devon Family History Society looking at a baptism list of my Babbage relatives.

Thankfully, my iPad has Reunion 10 (Mac only genealogy software) on it, so I was able to jump straight into the right tree and check my current research against the results – it matched – and with a few extra children in their records, and a completely new set of baptism dates for all of them to add to my research. A quick print-out and donation later, and I was off to sit down and add the data to my files.

#WDYTYAlive #tweetup

There were a few tweet-ups this year, and I managed to get in on one of them, and serendipitously right in the foreground of the commemorative photo. As ever, it was great to meet new people, finally meet some not-so-new Twitter/blogging chums, and to once again see friends made at previous shows.

Here’s one tweet-up photo from genealogist Luke Mouland..

and here’s another, from Geoff and Di Swinfield, starring yours truly (yes Sue, I’m REAL!):

If you’re intrigued as to quite what a ‘tweet-up’ is, or concerned about what people do at a ‘tweet-up’, then essentially it’s an impromptu small-scale flashmob, organised via Twitter, where people turn up to meet those sometimes anonymous/faceless Twitter users, or to meet up with Twitter users that you’ve got to know well. Tea, coffee, or alcohol is usually consumed.

Bonding over genealogy (and a hotdog)

Just prior to the tweet-up, I sat upstairs reading emails, when a retired man asked if he could sit at my table to eat (as there were no other free tables). Of course I didn’t refuse, and so we got chatting. He said that he’d travelled from Essex and that this was the second day for him, but his first ever visit to a show like this. He said he’d been meaning to come to something like this for ’20 years or more’, but just hadn’t found the right show.

He said he’d been enjoying the talks on day one, and was going to spend his second day looking around the stands.

We talked for about 15 minutes in all, about the WDYTYA? TV show (he isn’t a fan of celebrity culture, and we both kind of nodded in agreement), and we talked about all the great innovations, and how we’d both done our stints sifting through microfiche, film, registers, and transcripts for hours looking for names that were never there.

I’ve no idea who he was, but just for those 15 minutes, the world got a little bit smaller, and that wonderful ability of genealogy to bond people together, proved once again to have worked at ease without boundaries. I left him finishing off his hotdog, and made my way over to the IWM demo I’d booked….

Seeing new online genealogy tools

I arrived for my demo session of the new Lives Of The First World War website from the Imperial War Museum and DC Thomson Family History partnership. I’d already had my interest piqued on Day Two, thanks to Melanie Donnelly and Luke Smith’s keynote session, but this was great to finally see the new site up-close and have it explained to me, and to bounce questions.

I’m really keen to get using this site, and was also keen to find out about tagging people in a photo (which could be a war memorial), and also about the educational programme that I hope is sitting behind this site, and the opportunity for it to become a key resource in classrooms and universities.

I also met up with Steve Bardouille and Ola Dada from the team at Famberry – a relatively new, but fairly well established in the US company, that is specialising in creating secure spaces and tools for people to privately build family trees in collaboration with a closed or invite-only audience.

They’d been talking to a few different people at the show, and wanted to meet with me to find out what thoughts I had about what I’d want to see from their product as a family history researcher, as they are keen to grow their UK audience.

2015 at Olympia, London?

As the show had moved forward a weekday, there was no opportunity for Sunday visitors. This had let me to wondered whether the would-be Sunday visitors would turn up today, and it certainly seemed to be the case. It was much busier than Thursday and Friday, and at a guess, it was a busier Saturday than last year.

Day 3 of Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2014
Day 3 of Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2014

Day One’s (Thursday) visitors seemed to be on par with this year’s (and previous) Friday visitors, so I’m not entirely sure that the change has done the show any favours (last year saw 13,941 visitors). Couple this with the end of the District Line rail service from Earls Court to Olympia during the week (it only ran today), and it feels like it’s getting difficult for the 3 day show to stay at Olympia.

After speaking with a couple of reliable sources on stands, I realised that there was no mention of next year’s show. Usually by now, we’ve heard that the following year’s show dates, and last year I remember seeing a stand selling tickets to this year’s show. But nothing.

Thrown into the mix, is the first Who Do You Think You Are? Live show in Glasgow in Scotland – running for a few days in August 2014.

Is there something going on? Is the show to end? Or are we to shift location? Hopefully not London Excel (I find it dreadful to get to – another show I go to, has just switched to there, so I’m no longer attending). Maybe, as rumour rumbles, Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2015 will be in Birmingham? We’ll just have to wait and see.

I thought i’d try to get the answer myself from the WDYTYALive team’s twitter account, but maybe they can’t confirm anything just yet. I’ll let you know if I get a reply.

In better news (well, for me at least), I found Olympia’s wifi was finally flawless. I can only hope that it’s the same quality/system at Earls Court 2, where I’m visiting on Tuesday.

So, in conclusion, I really enjoyed the show. I really enjoyed all three days. I enjoyed my hotel stay and beautiful Hyde Park ‘commute’. As ever the SOG workshop speakers were brilliant, and the mixture of stands really helped to fuel my time in-between the talks.

Thank you, to the team at Who Do You Think You Are? Live, to the team at the Society of Genealogists, and to the team at Olympia.

I hope 2015 brings us together again.

Patriarchal terms and conditions – Wills that bridge family politics or the restrictions of law

Two 18th century Wills cast light on either sibling rivalry or on a way to avoid the restrictions of the inheritance laws.

Only a short while before their deaths, two 18th Century Barber ancestors who were generations apart, wrote their Last Will and Testaments. Were they trying to bridge family politics, or to cleverly work around inheritance laws?

reeds, peat, river bank
Rich and fertile fenland close to Witcham, with the 100 Foot River bank in the distance.                       © jsomerville8973

The Will of Thomas Barber, carpenter of Witcham, 1706

On April 4th 1705, carpenter Thomas Barber of Witcham, Cambridgeshire, wrote his Will. One year later he was dead, aged 71 years.

The Will reveals that Thomas owned five acres at ‘The Dams Heads’ (now appears to be called ‘Dams Head Drove‘). This piece of land forms the centre of his Will and he lays out strict instructions to his children:

‘… I give and bequeath unto Wenham Barber my son and his heirs forever all that my 5 acres of fenn ground be the same more or less lying and being in a  drain venn belonging to Witcham aforesaid called ‘The Dams Heads’, provided he and his heirs admit my daughter Winifred ye now wife of Paul Gawthorne and her heirs peaceably and quietly to have hold and enjoy all such fenn grounds as I shall by this my last will and testament give…’

So whilst Thomas leaves his land to his son, he leaves the right to enjoy to his married daughter Winifred Gawthorne (Thomas’ half-sister). However, he may have foreseen some half-sibling rivalry, so adds..

‘…but if he or they any ways disturb or molest her or her heirs, then I give the aforesaid 5 acres hereby before given to my said son Wenham Barber unto Winifred Gawthorne my said daughter and her heirs forever.’

By adding this, he is clearly issuing his son Wenham with an ultimatum that allows his half-sister to enjoy the inheritance too.

Thomas goes on to leave his tenement, and 2 acres of land (‘ye Cow Crofts‘ – now Cowcroft Drove) to his other son John Barber – also making him the executor of the Will. John was a son from Thomas’ 2nd marriage – whilst Wenham and Winifred were children of his 1st and 3rd marriages respectively. Was John being trusted to play the diplomat here?

What happened next?

After Thomas’ death, the arrangement must have been in place but just 5 years later, Winifred died aged 36.

Now, had Thomas bequeathed his land to Winifred and not her half-brother Wenham, the 5 acres would have technically been owned by her widower Paul Gawthorne by default due to restrictions on what women could inherit (unchanged until the Married Women’s Property Act of 1870). By Thomas giving the land to his son, but allowing Winifred to enjoy it, he was in essence providing for both of these children, and keeping the ownership within the family.

Thomas’ 1706 Will stated that Winifred’s heirs could enjoy the land forever – although the oldest was just 15 when Winifred died.

Whatever happened after Winifred’s death is unclear, but the land returns to the Barber family, as found in Winifred’s half-nephew’s Will of 1729…..

The Will of Wenham Barber of Witcham, 1729.

Thomas‘ grandson, Wenham Barber of Witcham, wrote his Will on 30th October 1727. A year later at 41, he was dead. His third and final wife, Mary, had just 6 years of life left herself, remarrying in her final year to John Scam of nearby Sutton.

In all, Wenham’s three marriages brought him seven children, but at least three of these died in infancy or childhood, although I suspect that it was actually all but two that were dead by the time he wrote his Will, as they’re the only ones to get a mention.

His children, Wenham Barber (born about 1712) and Robert Barber (born about 1727) are the only two children named in his Will, along with Wenham’s wife (their mother), Mary.

At the time of writing the Will, Wenham owned land in the fertile fens northwest of Witcham, alongside the One Hundred Foot River. The ‘Damhead’ (now appears to be called ‘Dams Head Drove‘) was his main land (although he doesn’t mention its size) and he is careful as to how this asset is handled.

..I give and bequeath unto my wife Mary Barber all thereunto and profits of my Damhead ground abutting upon the 100ft bank which theeshall occupy and enjoy without indistraction for the term of 9 years. Expiring after the date hereof under this condition and limitation that if she ploughs it up or digs any turf in it, she shall forfeit it to my son Wenham Barber to whom I give and bequeath the sum of 20 shillings to be paid to him by my executrix upon the day his time is out and upon default payment she shall resign the aforesaid ground to him. Item at the expiration of the said term of 9 years to be commenced from my decease I give and bequeath all the my said Damhead and ground for ever to my said son Wenham Barber and to his heirs but if he dies before the age of 21 years. Then I give to my younger son Robert Barber.

Wenham’s younger son Robert was baptised at Witcham on 29th October 1727 – just one day before Wenham wrote his Will. Whilst the above is just an excerpt, it is very precise and I wonder where he got the 9 years (not 10) from? Why would he stop his widow from using the land for agriculture?

His Will also notes that the rest of his estate (including 4 cows, 6 heifers, 1 mare, household goods and his purse) were to the value of £17 and 10 shillings.

Again, there seems to be some kind of plan here. No doubt the family had worked long and hard to buy their lands, and so giving them up was something they wouldn’t do easily even after the current holder’s death.

Wenham appears to be restricting his widow Mary – stating that she is not allowed to do anything to the land other than profit from it, otherwise she’d forfeit it to their son. However, it doesn’t state that during the oddly chosen nine years, that Wenham isn’t permitted to farm it. This would leave the farming decisions to his son and heir, and therefore give him an incentive to work and build it up until he himself inherited it for his family.

Wenham Jnr did live beyond the age of 21, married and had at least 4 children. I have not seen Wills of Wenham or his younger brother Robert to see what happened to the land.

Heir Hunters series goes prime-time

Heir Hunters is now prime-time on BBC 2 in the UK with presenter Lisa Faulkner.

Probate research show Heir Hunters arrives on prime-time BBC tv.

Lisa Faulkner with Neil Fraser
Presenter Lisa Faulkner with Probate Researcher Neil Fraser from Fraser & Fraser. Photo:@lisafaulkner1

For quite some time now, I’ve been addicted to the daytime television series Heir Hunters, which has screened in the UK for several series.

The premise of the show is to use genealogical research methods to uncover the relatives of people who have died intestate (ie without a Will or any known legally recognised family), leading them to making a claim of the deceased’s estate which would otherwise be absorbed by the government.

The show follows a handful of the companies (mainly Fraser & Fraser, and often Celtic Research) that work against the clock to beat rival companies, to work out family trees and connect real people to their legal entitlement.

This often unearths long-lost and incredible stories about the deceased, or brings memories flooding back to living relatives who lost touch, and in several cases, comes as a complete shock to receive notification that the deceased person even existed.

The series has now been given a prime-time 7pm slot over on BBC 2, where it is now given a much longer programme, and this gives it the chance to add a much more educational and genealogical context – with investigations into the society that the deceased lived in.

Actress and the show’s former narrator since 2008, Lisa Faulkner, now takes to the screen as presenter, bringing interesting and educational interviews with experts and even the to-camera pleas for information on individuals who have been languishing on the government Bona Vacantia list.

The current run of episodes essentially contain the stories used in the last series, but with  extra footage and interviews edited in. According to the Heir Hunters twitter feed, a brand new series is complete and ready for transmission.

What do you make of the show? Is the new format better? Did you prefer the shorter programme, or the time of day that it was on? Let me know in the comments below!

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