Just over a year ago the 1940 census of the United States was released, causing much excitement and activity in the genealogical community there. Unlike recent census releases in the UK, it did not arrive fully indexed, but as soon as the census images were made public a massive crowd-sourcing project got underway to create name indexes. This is no mean feat since that census contains over 132 million names. The project was jointly undertaken by FamilySearch and by two commercial companies, findmypast.com and Archives.com with batches being allocated to volunteer transcribers and moderators using FamilySearch indexing software. The enthusiasm of the volunteers exceeded expectations, and the whole project was completed ahead of schedule within a few months. Quite independently of this, two other companies, Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com, also compiled their own indexes.
I indexed a few batches myself, because I thought it was a worthwhile project, but also because I have an interest in American records. My own ancestry is all Scottish and Irish so far, but learning about American records is useful to me because I keep finding distant relatives whose families migrated there in the 19th and 20th centuries, and I have an American daughter-in-law. It’s also relevant to the day job, since many Americans have British or Irish roots, and when I am answering their research enquiries on British records it helps to know a little about the kind of records they are used to.
Nationwide or federal censuses have been taken in the USA every ten years since 1790. In Great Britain there has been a census every ten years since 1801, with the exception of 1941, and in Ireland every ten years from 1821 to 1911. There was no Irish census in 1921 because of the Troubles, but a census was taken in 1926 in both the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. There is a lot more US census to look at, and not just because it is a much bigger country. There are lists of names all the way back to 1790, albeit names of heads of households only before 1850, while in Great Britain no name lists at all were collected centrally until 1841 (although some lists from 1801 to 1831 do survive in local archives). But there is also a great deal of extra census material in the USA, including state censuses, often taken half-way between the federal censuses. There are also ‘Non-population’ returns for some years, recording details about agriculture and manufacturing.
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Ernest Butterworth (photo from private collection)
Ernest Butterworth was my maternal great-grandfather, born in 1877, the son of John Butterworth and Susan Butterworth, nee Jackson. He was the second youngest of seven children and born in Wardle, a village near Rochdale in east Lancashire, in the Rossendale Valley. His parents, like many in the area, worked in the cotton mills, his father was a cotton loom jobber and his mother a cotton weaver.
Rossendale towns, with a ready supply of fast flowing water, were ideal for cotton spinning and local mills by river banks were a common feature in the 19th century. At its peak, the area was producing some 68 million pounds of yarn and 210 million yards of cloth each year. Ernest was himself a Cotton Operator by the age of 13. By 1901, he was a Stone Quarry Man, and the family had moved to Whitworth, a small town situated between Bacup and Rochdale. Ten years later, the 1911 Census records him as returning to the occupation of Cotton Weaver, living in accommodation with only two rooms in the nearby village of Shawforth with a wife, Isabella, and five children. They would go on to have eight in total children, born between 1904 and 1915. Continue reading »
I was discussing the First World War with a friend and we were talking about what was important to us personally about the upcoming centenary. We agreed that, with so few people from the period still with us, that some stories may be lost forever. This struck a chord with me as I prepared to write my blog post.
Last year, I inherited the war medals of a Mr Brown, the father of my great-aunt Betty’s best friend, Jenny. Until I started my research all I knew about Mr Brown was his surname so I was curious to know more about the man whose medals I now owned. Mr Brown died in 1967 and his daughter Jenny died in 2002, leaving behind notes on her own research into her family history. Mr. Brown has no living descendants – his story could be lost – and I decided that this blog would be a good place to celebrate his life.
I’ve been researching Mr Brown for only a short while so I know there is still a lot more for me to discover, but I’d like to take this opportunity to share his story so far.
A young Mr Brown (far left) There is no information on the back of the photo but we assume that he is with his father, mother, sisters Jean and Peggy and older brother Adam.
Joseph Vincent Willie Brown was born on 15 March 1898 in San Vicente, Torello, Barcelona. He was the son of Adam Brown and Jeanie Paton who were originally from Paisley, Scotland. His father was employed by J&P Coats, the Paisley thread manufacturers who had factories worldwide. Mr Brown’s birth certificate gives his father’s occupation as a dyer and bleacher but, according to notes made by Jenny, he was a manager in the Torello factory.
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I am going to start this blog post by asking a few questions. If faced with compulsory military service today, what would be the impact on our own individual lives? Would we need time to settle our domestic responsibilities before being able to serve? Would it be in the national interest for us to stay in the employment, training or social role which we currently hold? And what personnel would businesses and industries require to ensure the continued support to our local communities, especially the young and elderly?
Fortunately for us in Britain today these questions are purely hypothetical but 97 years ago (give or take a few days), on 27 January 1916, the British Government passed the first Military Service Act, meaning compulsory military service for every British male aged between 18 and 41 who was either unmarried or a widower without children. Exemption could be granted from this conscription into the military forces with a Tribunal system established to hear applications and appeals at local district or borough level, County appeal and a final Central appeal level in London.
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Researchers spend a lot of time looking for documents. In fact, they may spend more time on this than on reading what they have found. It took me more than 20 years to find my great-grandfather’s birth certificate, but only a few minutes to read it once I had tracked it down. Not that I spent every waking minute of those 20 years in hot pursuit, but I did devote many hours to the problem during that time. It took quite a bit of creative thinking and the use of some less than obvious record sources to get there, but I made it in the end, and felt very pleased with myself as a result. The fact that the answer to one question presented me with another bigger, and so far unresolved, problem is neither here nor there.
Many kinds of research lend themselves to the use of standard sources which provide the essential information in most cases. Genealogists in particular use various birth, marriage and death records, census returns and probate records to work their way back through the generations. This works fairly well much of the time, but when you can’t find the marriage or the census entry you want then you become stuck. But when the direct approach doesn’t work there may be another way. Think about it; when you say that you need to find a death certificate, or a census entry, what you really mean is that you need the information that you would expect to find in that document, rather than the piece of paper itself. So if your search is unsuccessful, think about the specific information you want, and then consider whether you might be able to find it from another source. Sometimes you will find that there is more information in the alternative source than you would have found in your first choice.
PCC Will of Colin McKenzie 1808, en route from Jamaica to England
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My introduction to First World War research didn’t initially come through looking into my own family. One of my hobbies is bellringing: like so many clubs and social groups the Central Council for Church Bell Ringers created its own roll of honour after the First World War. Much work has been done in recent years to link the names on the roll with Commonwealth War Grave Commission records, but some names were proving stubborn, and there didn’t seem to be any obvious candidate. I realised that I was in a position to help since I could easily look at the available records.
It soon became clear that at least some of the men had been overlooked at the time, their health had broken under the strain of army service and had been discharged as a result, and subsequently died from the same condition. While they qualify for recognition under the terms of CWGC’s royal charter, their names had never been put forward for inclusion on the debt of honour register. I wrote up as much detail as I could find on these men on our old Your Archives wiki (see for example Gilbert Victor Drew) and with help from members of the Great War Forum and the In From the Cold Project I was able to get a few men added to the CWGC register.
Fred Holbrook (from the family photo album)
So, having already honed my research skills to some extent, I then received an email via my Dad from his cousin Jane who had been working on the family history. In particular she was looking for help with her great-uncle (my great-great-uncle), Frederick John Holbrook. She had already found his entry in the CWGC database and his medal index card (WO 372/9/241037). This showed that he had served in 2nd Battalion, Welsh Regiment as Private 30649.
They also reveal one slight discrepancy, with CWGC showing his date of death as 26 July 1916 and the medal card as 23 July. Another discrepancy is that CWGC record his age as 19, but Births, Marriages and Deaths records show that he was born on 5 May 1898, meaning he was just 18 when he died: and since the medal card also shows that he was posted to France on 12 May 1915 he must have been underage when he joined up. Certainly he looks very young in the surviving photo of him, and rather swamped by his uniform.
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My First World War Tommy was not in the army, or any of the armed services, but he was called Tommy, and he died for his country. His name was Thomas Cross, and I know a great deal about his death, but very little about his life, except that he was my great-great grandfather. He has no birth certificate, because he was born in Ireland before the start of civil registration there, and although the birth certificates of his children give the date and place of his marriage to my great-great-grandmother, there is no trace of that in Irish civil registration either. He only appears in one census, 1911, because he was a merchant seaman, and was away at sea for all the others.
Medal card BT 351/1
Like many other merchant seamen he was caught up in the war, and when he died in 1917 he was around 52 years old, older than most men in the fighting forces. His ship, the Ermine, had been commandeered by the Royal Navy as a Fleet Messenger, and sank in August 1917. Continue reading »
As we are nearing the end of preparing the Middlesex County Appeal tribunal papers for digitisation, we are beginning to get an appreciation of the type of people who were appealing their conscription and their reasons for doing so.
We have papers of former German nationals, Russian Jews, Socialists, Quakers, Christadelphians and large employers appealing on behalf of their workers.
Edward's appeal form
However, since this is a festive themed post I thought I would blog about the story of a man we have discovered called Edward Christmas Church.
Our ‘Mr Christmas’ is a great example of what you will typically find in the MH 47 records, as well as how you can link into other record series here at The National Archives.
Edward was born in 1878 in Edmonton and married Martha in July of 1912. His initial form submitted to his local tribunal tells us that he is appealing on ground ‘D’, serious hardship, explaining that he is father to three young children (two girls and a boy, all under the age of three). Continue reading »
All family historians use the census, and most of us find most of what we want, most of the time. This is of course due to the fact that every census for England and Wales has been indexed; sometimes you even have a number of versions to choose from, so if you don’t find a person on one website, you might find them on another. Where the handwriting is hard to read, it all comes down to interpretation.
But sometimes, despite your best efforts, a person or a family stubbornly refuses to be found. You might even have tried searching for them ‘the old-fashioned way’. That is, searching by address, assuming you have some indication of where they were living at the time of the census, and that they either lived in a village or there is a street index for their town. That was the usual way of finding someone in the census until just over a decade ago.
If you have exhausted all the possibilities of using name indexes, including possible mis-spellings and mis-transcriptions, you are left with a dwindling number of possibilities, which fall into three catagories:
- They are there, you just can’t see them
- They are missing from the census altogether
- They are, or rather were, in the census but in a part of it that has since gone missing Continue reading »
12th (Prince of Wales's) Lancers Group - Photograph from private collection
At The National Archives we are busy planning our programme of activities to commemorate the centenary of the First World War in 2014.
With our unique and extensive collection of First World War records, from the official unit war diaries to medal cards and records of the men and women who served, we hold an invaluable resource for genealogists, historians, scholars and anyone interested in researching the history of this conflict or the people involved.
In this blog series, we will follow a group of volunteers from our staff as they embark on a voyage of discovery to trace their First World War ancestors using records held by The National Archives. At regular intervals over the next two years, each will write a blog to explain what records they have consulted, what they found about their ancestor and how they intend to continue their research in this and other archives. They will also share hints and tips to help others conduct their own research.
We hope you will come with us on the journey to discover our ancestors. With the approaching centenary, at no time has it been more fitting to discover the people behind those old photographs and medals.
As the person overseeing this series, I thought it only fair to be the first to post. Read on to see what I found out about my Tommy…
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