Sunday, 13 March 2011

Oddities at the PRO (written April 2000)

This week I thought I would be perverse and talk about sources at the Public Record Office (PRO) [Ed. Now of course The National Archives or TNA]. It is partly because somebody's just sent me the reference for the 1881 census for the Island of Heligoland (CO 122/37) which I've been looking for - though heaven knows why as I have no Heligoland ancestry.
The main reason however is that I've found a notebook of references to PRO material mainly relating to officers in the Army and Navy which is full of some interesting oddities. It seems to have been compiled by a Miss E.H. FAIRBROTHER at about the time of the Second World War. The notes have been typed up and placed in the SoGs Armed Forces tracts box.
PRO references have been included in brackets just in case you want to check out the material for yourself. Most of the material seems to come from the Colonial Office (CO) lettercode which confirms my long held belief that these records contain much of interest to family historians but are impenetrable to all but the most dedicated researcher.
Do you suffer from Asthma? Well this might help: 'Get some blotting paper and saturate it well in strong solution of saltpetre take out and dry it then take a piece [the] size of your hand. On going to bed light and lay it upon a plate in your lodging room, however badly afflicted persons will find that they can sleep almost as well almost as ever they did in their lives.' (CO 199/12 27 Nov 1844). Are you deaf? - CO 153/8 may offer a cure.
Did you know that George WASHINGTON apparently 'drew his last breath in the last hour of the last day of the last century' that is 31 December 1799 (CO 258/2), that NELSON and WELLINGTON were descended from Edward I (CO 53/34), or that Rev John WRAY the first Christian missionary to British Guiana was born at Skirlaugh near Hull on 1 December 1779 (CO 116/5), or that in 1798 'Lord' John Machon DERWENTWATER a sergeant in the 31st Foot claimed to be the only lawful protestant heir to the throne through his mother (T 1/813/266)[but see below], and lastly that in 1831 Mrs MCKENDRICK was aged 102 she emigrated to Prince Edward Island sixty seven years ago from 'Argarlshire' (CO 231/1).
Details of the marriage of Peter THOMISON and Mary SULLIVAN who were married on board HMS AMERICA in San Francisco Bay on 7 August 1845 is in ADM 8/1946. Indeed the whole of piece CO 53/11 is apparently full of 'facts for the curious' perhaps rather like this column!
 During the Irish Famine of the 1840s 'Amidst the din of battles and the wild hurrahs of victory the wail of distress from his native land reached the Irish soldier on the remote banks by the Sutley [India]... Within a few days the Irish soldier subscribed no less than 840 to the relief of their suffering fellow countrymen...' (CO 115/2) A most remarkable action considering how extremely poorly paid the ordinary soldier was at the time.
 For anybody interested in the Battle of the Somme the following words of the Duke of Wellington will particularly apposite: 'I have found that raw troops however inferior to the old ones in the manoeuvring are far superior to men in down right hard fighting with the enemy: at Waterloo the young Ensigns and Lieutenants who had never before seen a battle rushed to meet death as if they had been playing at cricket.' (CO 53/12) Nothing seems to have changed in a hundred years except on 1 July 1916 young officers substituted soccer balls for cricket bats.
The First World War also enters into the last extract. CO 116/3 describes a prophecy which predicted the fall of the Ottoman Empire for 13 June 1844 'It appears that the downfall of the Empire will be the signal for universal war and will prepare the way for the return of the Jews to their own land.' The Great War, in part at least, was caused by instability in the Balkans resulting from the break-up of the Turkish Empire in Europe. The war led to the Balfour Declaration in 1918 which established a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Spooky, eh!
Incidentally John Machon DERWENTWATER seems to have had no claim to his title let alone to the throne of Britain. According to the 'Complete Peerage' the third and last Earl of Derwentwater was found guilty of high treason and executed on Tower Hill on 24 February 1715/6 having sided with the Old Pretender during the 1715 rebellion. In a footnote the editor 'GEC' writes 'Even at this distance of time it is difficult to read without emotion his touching and chivalrous speech from the scaffold.’ 

Heartfelt letters (written March 2000)

For many years there was a large metal box in the basement of the Society. As my shins will testify the box was very easy to fall over when one went into the store room. One day I said I'll look inside. And when I did the contents proved to be a treasure trove of items, mainly relating to the PESCOD family. So far I've got as far as cataloguing a fascinating series of letters relating to the Taylor family of Wiltshire, Jamaica, Portugal and Canada. Some of the most interesting correspondence is from Phillpotts Wright TAYLOR to his spinster sister, Anna, that covers a thirty-five year period between 1829 and 1864.
The correspondence begins promisingly with passions of the heart. Taylor writes to Anna on 25 April 1829: 'You are aware that I was partial to Miss Selena HALE, for the last sixth months we have regularly corresponded and nothing was known of it though we used to see one another almost every week. About a month ago her Mamma caught her writing to me and nothing more was done by her parents than threatening to punish her. Last Monday week at 7 in the evening I heard that she had been sent out of the house, bag and baggage. No one knew where but those that [did] would not tell me... The other day in going into Bath I saw a girl's school in my path and low and behold Selena... Mr WILLIAMS the master took me up to his lodgings. He said that it was not on my account she was sent out of the house, but he refused to tell me where she was living... I wish I could get your clothes that I put on at Easter then I would go as a Miss somebody... [PS] I love her better than myself.'
The affair seems to have been mere teenage infatuation and was soon forgotten. Subsequent letters a few weeks later make no mention of Miss Hale. He writes however on 21 May 'I am a most awkward creature in company, always blushing and making mistakes...' An experience we must have felt when in our teens.
Wright choose the Army as a career, buying a commission in the 96th Regiment of Foot. He subsequently served in Ireland, Bristol, Nova Scotia and eventually spent many years in Canada. Eventually Taylor rose to become Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Canadian Rifles, retiring on half pay in 1854. The choice of these unfashionable regiments may well have been dictated by relative poverty.
Taylor was incurably romantic for he eloped with a young lady called Charlotte. This caused a massive family row. As a result in January 1836 he was ejected from his uncle's house (after whom he was named) at Clapton 'near London'. 'I should have never believed it possible' he wrote to Anna, 'had I not learnt it by experience.' A note by Uncle Philpotts on a subsequent letter says 'The answer to a strong remonstrance against Wright's marrying to a girl without a penny when he was an ensign in a foot regiment and with little more than his pay to keep him - I only begged him to wait until he became Captain and then promised to receive his wife as a sister.' A few days later Taylor protested to his sister 'I will not allow myself to think that anything but your affection for me had dictated to you the course that you are pursuing to wound me and one who is still dearer to me than myself. Till you can cease to write in that very virulent style may I beg that you not address me again...'
Fortunately subsequent letters suggest that the family made up. Indeed he writes excitedly to Anna on 31 May 1841 about the birth of his second son 'On my arrival in Chatham this afternoon I found my family increased a little boy lying by the side of my darling Lotty', but his concerned that his eldest son 'Georgy' who has whopping cough might infect the baby.
At about this time Taylor is posted to Canada. His family follow him there. By July 1843 is stationed at Chippawa where is 'ensconced with wife and chicks, but where you must not go out of doors at certain hours if you do not wished the serenity of your mind disturbed for at the hour of 11AM the Yankee steamer of 30 tons and 2.5 horsepower disgorges her cargo of buffalo's beauty and fashion at a wharf 6 feet by 8.' A couple of years later, in February 1845, the family (by now there are three sons George, Arthur and Colin) are based at Amherstburg. He declines to attend a wedding: 'The groom was a jolly ensign of our regiment who took his bride home to barracks within an hour of the ceremony... he is however a Canadian and knows no feeling of delicacy.' Indeed he does not seem overly impressed by the natives, in another letter of 1848 he complains that 'the youth of Canada are indeed brought up badly.'
Phillpotts Wright Taylor comes across in his letters as a devoted family man, but also somebody who was rather naive. This innocence was to lead him into trouble after he left the Army, as a stiff letter from Anna to his wife, Charlotte, in January 1864 suggests. This is incidentally the only letter from Anna to survive. Evidently Taylor was at this time in some financial difficulties. Some o16,000 left to him by the will of an uncle had been squandered, possibly by unwisely investing in Canadian companies. Anna, not mincing her words, wrote 'I hope this crisis will rouse him from the indolent selfish life he has been leading for ten years at least - if he has a spark of masculine self-respect he will exert himself and support his wife...' Wright and Charlotte had expectations of receiving sums from his sisters Anna and Georgina MAYNE, but Anna made it clear that it was not coming from her. 'Both you and Wright have exaggerated ideas of my income - It is carefully portioned out and I live up to it. I do not hoard. Certainly at my age I have a right to a house and two maids...' She urges that Charlotte lets her house 'to PAYING, not to only fashionable tenants... have the rent paid quarterly.' and suggests that George and Colin resign their commissions in the Army where they were officers (no mention is made of Arthur, perhaps he died as a child) 'two healthy young men with no money MUST earn their bread, and ought, if need be to support their mother.' Whether Wright and Charlotte heeded this sisterly advice is not known, but some how I doubt it.
The letters offer an fascinating glimpse into a mid-Victorian family and their concerns and worries. At times there are hints of the novels of Thackery and Dickens. It would of course be interesting to know more about the family. Perhaps there are other papers in the metal box which will shed light on them; and of course there should be records at the PRO about Wright and his two sons' military careers. 

Miscellanea (written February 2000)

During closed week staff and volunteers do all the tasks and chores they can't do when the Society is normally open. I have been sorting out the Society's own archives as well the Topographical Collection which, thanks to a team of dedicated volunteers, is looking better than it has for many years. Closed week throws up all sorts of minor problems and a great pile has landed on my desk to sort out. Well, that's what I'm here for. I thought I'd share a few of the more amusing discoveries with you.
Many of these items come from newspaper clippings that the Society has acquired over the years and for which no obvious home could be found.
On the top of the pile is a review of Anthony Wagner's 'English Genealogy' from the 'Sunday Times' for 1960. In it the reviewer, Cyril Connolly, sums up genealogy as: 'This harmless foible can become an obsession of the elderly who seek to cheat death and decay by receding ever further and further into the recesses of their pedigree; as if salvation depended on an examination in family history.' So now you know.
The next is a pedigree which was worked out from a newspaper advertisement published in July 1921 seeking relatives of Mary DAINS who died on 20 February 1913 at Trimley St Mary, SFK. According to the newspaper she 'belonged to the Eastern Counties and were Nonconformists and the most part Independent.' The Pedigree goes back to 1737 and includes families BRETT, DAINS, FISON, HARWOOD, KERSEY, NEWSON, OLIVER, PRENTICE, and TOKELOVE. If you think you have a claim on the money: forget it. Claims had to be submitted by 18 January 1922.
Another, sadly, undated press cutting concerns the age when children have been fathered. The subject has a resonance in the week when it was announced that a Star Trek actor is to become a father at the age of 79. The cutting began by saying that Mr JACKSON ' a north country farmer' was to become a father at age 82 and then describes other notable elderly fathers, such as Sir William NICHOLSON of Glenbervy who became a father at 92. 'Sir Stephen FOX's last child was cradled when her father was within a few months of completing his hundredth year. Sir Stephen was born in 1627, and had by his first a daughter who died in infancy in 1655. The child of his old age survived to the year 1828 and was thus able to say 'I had a sister who was buried 173 years ago!''
Other notable elderly fathers mentioned were William PREST of Ripon, William BEATTY of Drumcondra, Co Dublin 'who celebrated his one hundred and second birthday on the very day on which his youngest born entered the world' and Thomas PARR who married for the second time at the age of 122. How accurate these ages are of course is a matter of conjecture.
One of the librarians found this poem in a box of books he was sorting out. Titled 'Fellows' Interests' the poem originally appeared in 'The Pedigree Register' in June 1913. It is too long to reproduce in its entirety but a couple of stanzas may give a flavour of the whole.  'First, what became of grandpa's son - the eldest - and his history/has always been to dad and me an unabated mystery./ He might have fought a duel, or gone to sea, or bet/Nay done some things for which the courts incarcerate for debt./ His name? I have a sheet in front, at top, the prefix "Jo..."/But (how very aggravating!) a blot's behind the o.'  'The ivory knob herewith is borrowed from the bones/ (remaining in our family vault) of auntie's Cousin Jones/ Will you leave it on the table for the members' kind inspection?/The send it back to use who view the relic with affection.'  The author remains unknown, but signed himself 'John Montmorency Brown' On the whole the poem suggests that nothing in the world of genealogy nothing changes... 
Newspapers are a fine genealogical source. But one place where family historians may not look are the personal columns where solicitors put appeals for information about missing people. They could be a useful source for ancestors who suddenly disappear. Notices such as these have largely died out, but at the turn of the last century they were an important way of getting in touch with people 'who might hear something to their advantage' as the phrase went. Thousands of such notices appeared each year.
They were well known enough for Arthur Conan Doyle to use newspaper appeals as a plot device in a number of Sherlock Holmes stories.  The Society has a clipping from an unidentified newspaper dated 1912 listing 'curious next of kin jottings' for 1911. 'Many of these notices, apart from their monetary value, possess a curious air of romance' noted the paper. Perhaps seventy stories are contained in the article.  They include 'Walter Crosskill who died in Canada and whose wife was reported to have been killed at a railway crossing has left unclaimed property.... the heirs of James Davies, stonecutter, who left Cardiff for America in 1874 are wanted to claim a large estate... particulars are wanted for Lt R.A. Cammell who was accidentally killed whilst flying at Hendon... money is due to William Holding who left for New Zealand in 1881... Any inquiries as to the estate of Miss Isabel O. Newton who was brutally murdered by her native servants in South Africa will be answered by the solicitors to her executor... news is sought of Constance Goodrich, last heard of in Manchester, when she applied at a convent for employment.'  Lastly I am able to report a triumph for the Internet. Y
I have had an enquiry from Lloyd Lewis, editor of 'Cronicl Powys' published by the Powys FHS. He had been contacted about Thomas 'Old' PARR (1483?- 1635) who is buried in Westminster Abbey reputedly aged 152. I sent Lloyd details from the Concise Dictionary of National Biography, which was distinctly sniffy about his longevity, and suggested he e-mailed my colleagues at Westminster Abbey for further information.  They e-mailed Lloyd an entertaining short note about Thomas Parr. Old Parr's tomb is probably a favourite at the Abbey and the archives there must get a large number of enquiries about him.
The information is taken largely from John Taylor's pamphlet 'The Old, Old, Very Old of Man or the Age and Long Life of Thomas Parr' (1635).  Thomas Parr was apparently an agricultural labourer the son of John Parr of Willington near Shrewsbury. He married at the age of eighty, but his children died in infancy. At the age of 100 he did penance by standing draped in a white sheet in the parish church for being unfaithful to his wife and having an illegitimate child by Katherine Milton.  Parr's fame spread and eventually reached the court. In 1635 he was summoned to the court of Charles I. By then blind the journey was made in easy stages and the king provided a jester for his entertainment on the long trip to London.
But the bright lights and fast life was too much for him. Old Parr died within a few weeks of his arrival in the capital. His portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.  What was the secret of his longevity? A diet of green cheese, onions, coarse bread, buttermilk or mild ale (cider on special occasions) and no smoking kept Thomas healthy. His recipe for long life was reputed to be 'Keep your head cool by temperance and your feet warm by exercise. Rise early, go soon to bed and if you want to grow fat [i.e. prosperous] keep your eyes open and your mouth shut.'
I am sure readers already follow this sound advice. 

Murder in Northamtonshire (written February 2000)

In recent weeks I have been sorting out the papers of Ralph Hall, a long standing member of the Society of Genealogists who died in 1998. He was particularly interested in Cornwall, Devon and Northamptonshire.
But Mr Hall was best known for his work in indexing the 'London Gazette' - the British government's official daily newspaper. The Society has his index to Devonian names in the Gazette. His papers contain further lists of Cornish people and Londoners, as well as London coffeehouses.
His work suggest that the Gazette is a seriously under used resource for family historians, particularly for the first fifty or so years of the journal's establishment in 1665 when it contained many news items, such details of runaway apprentices, bankrupts and the arrival of ships in port, which would eventually find their way into more conventional newspapers. A set of the London Gazette is held by the Public Record Office (class ZJ 1) and the British Library. I am sure sets are also held elsewhere.
Ralph Hall was particularly interested in the small town of Raunds and its neighbouring villages on the Northamptonshire/Bedfordshire border. This is where his HALL ancestors came from and, as a result, he undertook a detailed study of the town and the people who lived there from the medieval times up to the 1930s. Unfortunately his work has never been published, which is a pity because there is some very useful material here.
Probably the most exciting thing ever to happen to the neighbouring parish of Ringstead was the discovery of the body of Lydia ATLEY (sometimes called ASTLEY or ATLEE in the newspapers)in 1864. The unsolved murder is still remembered today. Murders then, as now, sell newspapers and the unusual circumstances received considerable coverage. A verbatim account of the examination by magistrates appeared in the local 'Northampton Mercury' and the story also appeared in 'The Times' and other national papers.
A body was discovered in a ditch in February 1864, which was supposed to be that of Atley who had disappeared thirteen years previously. At the time of her disappearance she had been co- habiting with the married village butcher, Weekly BALL. Indeed she was pregnant by him at the time of her disappearance and was close to confinement.
On the evening of 22 July 1850 at about 9.45pm Ball's neighbours heard them argue in his orchard. Joseph Groom, Atley's brother in law, who lived opposite remembered her screaming 'Get off me for I believe you mean killing me tonight, Weekly Ball... The Lord have mercy upon me if I'm to die in the state I'm in.' But Groom being a complacent fellow did not investigate further. Next day she had disappeared.
A few weeks later one of the villagers received a letter from a son in Northampton 'I write a few lines to inform you that I saw L. Atley in Northampton.... There was a man with her with a long smock frock on and a cape' The examination cast doubt about the truth of the letter for Ball had apparently asked the writer to send it.
The local police soon began to investigate the disappearance. Notices were put into the 'Police Gazette' and hand-bills were circulated locally offering a reward of œ50 for information about her. She was described as being 'a young woman, middle size, very fair skin, very light hair and eyes; her face is quite red from scorbutic eruption. She was badly dressed at the time she left home, and had an old bonnet and shawl on...' But no information was received.
Certainly Atley was no saint. One of the doctors had mentioned that she had had another child in Thrapston Workhouse a few years previously. She clearly spread her favours widely amongst the local men. Under examination her own brother in law, Joseph Groom, had to deny the rumour saying that 'There never was any ground that I had been improperly familiar with Lydia Atley.'
The 1851 census indicates that BALL, a butcher, (age 33) was living with his wife and niece both called Hannah. Incidentally Ringstead was the home to Margaret Thatcher's great-grandfather John ROBERTS, although he was not involved in the case at all. Although not prosecuted at the time, Ball felt compelled to leave the village for good in the summer of 1851.
Because of the primitive state of forensic science at that time it was not possible to prove the body was that of Lydia. The doctors who testified before the magistrates thought it was not her's, because they could find no evidence of her having given birth. Indeed she was found in a place which tradition said was a gypsy burying place.
The village however was more certain. After the trial in 1864 song about the murder soon circulated in the district, which made clear the feelings of local people. The chorus went 'O cruel butcher he hung should be/for killing of Lydia Atley.'
Was Ball guilty? We shall never know, but from the newspaper reports it is clear that he had a strong case to answer. Had forensics been more advanced he might well have been found guilty and eventually hung.
Perhaps this miscarriage of justice why the ghost of Lydia Atley was supposed to have haunted the village for many years after the tragedy. According to Christina Hole's 'Haunted England' her ghost was often seen to be walking from the orchard sometimes towards the place where the body was found and sometimes towards the church.
Even in the 1990s the case was not dead. According to Paul Roberts, a local historian who corresponded with Ralph Hall: 'Even today if bones are found the story resurfaces... As a child when out for my parents for the Sunday evening was and we passed the spot where the map marks the supposed burial spot father would say that this was where the ghost of Lydia Attlee haunted, and being a lonely place on the road we never really believed in the ghost, but we always kept close to Mother and Father until well cleared of the place.' 

Genealogical reasons (written January 2000)

This week we are looking at reasons why people undertake genealogical research. As some of you may know I am doing a PhD thesis on the Great War [Ed – this had to be abandoned in 2002]. Last week I visited the Birmingham University Library where I looked at the papers of Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940). From his diary it seems that Neville was in his spare time a bit of a genealogist. Was he the only family historian ever to become prime minister?
At the time of the outbreak of the First World War he seems to have been actively tracing his family roots. This may possibly be as the result of a feeling of inferiority resulting from mixing amongst the aristocratic politicians of the day.
The family background was in trade. His father, the statesman Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914), although of impeccable middle class background, made his fortune as a screw manufacturer in Birmingham. Joseph's entry in the Dictionary of National Biography notes that his father 'was the master of the Cordwainers' Company with which his family had been connected with for four generations, carrying on the business of wholesale boot and show manufacturers in the same house and under the same name for 125 years.'
Neville himself became a successful businessman in Birmingham before turning to politics. His diary for the winter of 1914/15 records a family visit to Bradford-upon-Avon, where the family originated in the sixteenth century, to look for the ancestral home.
They knock on the door of the cottage which is opened by one Daniel Chamberlain, who Neville notes was a typical 'rustic' wearing a smock. A few minutes stiff conversation before the visitors from Birmingham depart. Neville reflects that his ancestor three hundred years previously must have looked the same.
If the Chamberlain family were on the way up the next Victorian genealogist I want to write about, the Lucas', were on their way down. Perhaps the most attractive collection held by the Society are two beautifully illustrated albums compiled by Miss Louise Cecilia Bazalgette Lucas Lucas. She deposited them with the Society in July 1945, together with related paperwork. The albums however were compiled sixty years earlier.
The genealogy in the albums is by modern standards undoubtedly dubious. Any doubt however about the quality of the research however is immediately overwhelmed by the visual feast: page after page of hand-coloured coats of arms or gold leaf marginalia take the breath away.
The whole point of the album however was to commemorate a family however which Miss Lucas felt had suffered generations of decline. In the introduction she wrote 'We used to be big people once, but have gone done in the world. People at who a hundred years ago we turned up our noses, now turn up their noses at us... We had married heiresses had gone mounting up to the top of fortune's wheel, and it had been well with us - But alack, in these later days we had been too well known at Epsom and Newmarket. We had been very much at home at Crockford's [gambling club]... [and] had generally misbehaved ourselves, and in consequences, our many acres had passed into the hands of Manchester gents, with fat snug faces, who wage war of extermination against the letter h and use big words when little ones would have done better.'
Men, in fact, like the Chamberlains. 

18th century gossip

A member recently drew my attention to a small collection of eighteenth century letters he came across in the Document Collection. He forgot to mention however that the box also included a lock of Mrs Annesley's Hair. She was a blond, although discolouration of the paper in which the hair has been kept for perhaps 250 years suggest that Mrs A's hair may have been dyed.
The earliest item is an account of the 'my father's christening' dated 13 October 1701. Unfortunately it is n in pieces, but carefully put together offers a vivid portrait of a family occasion. The writer, a family friend Richard Harrison, talks loving of the christening cake, but it was the drink in the gossop (?) cup that was much on Harrison's mind 'because I love liquid it [was] upmost in my thought.' The cake was so large however that even though only half the cake was divided up 'my share served my family a week as bread.'
The next document is a draft petition for divorce presented to the parliament by Francis Annesley the younger of the Inner Temple. It is a most unusually item for divorces was almost impossible until the 1850s. He married one Elizabeth Gretton on 26 September 1724. In the petition she is accused of 'unlawful familiarity and adulterous conversation with 'Don Rodrigo a person of foreign birth.' Although couched in legalise Annesley's bitterness comes through when he declares all children 'born of the body of the said Elizabeth' are bastards.
On 10 January 1726 Francis Annesley, of Lincoln's Inn Fields wrote to his son Martin offering advice on his behaviour as a priest and which commentaries of the bible should be consulted in his studies. One piece of advice should be heeded by all family history lecturers: 'As to your preaching... provided it be in clear and proper language, as you can possibly contrive... And depend upon it, the more intelligible you are to the meanest the more acceptable you will be to the best and most judicious of your hearers.'
Ten years later, on 4 November 1736, Martin now at Bucklebury writes to his father about some family gossip which is means nothing today, although he notes his wife had been very ill 'tho is much better.'
The Library is lucky to have a history of Bucklebury (Arthur L. Humphries, 'Bucklebury: a Berkshire parish' (1932)), which includes biographical notes of the incumbents of the parish. Martin was the vicar between 1726 and his death in 1749 and family historians can be reassured that he 'kept the parish registers with great care and wrote the entries in beautiful handwriting'. As Martin was aged 25 when presented to the vicarage which suggests that the christening described above was his. He married in 1732 Mary Hanbury and their son, Francis, became MP for Reading in 1774.
The last dated letter was to 'dear nephew Annesley' from Francis Barrell written on 3 October 1761. Again it is letter of advice, encouraging the recipient to work hard. It includes a full description of the coronation of George III 'which [has] taken up our whole conversation for some time past' and with which the writer was 'much pleased with the sight' He belonged to 'an agreeable party who resolved to... stayed up all night and played Quadrille and were all in good humour and the time passed on very pleasantly.'
The rest of the letter however is full of family news who is visiting whom and who is ill. The collection also contains two undated letters. The first is a letter presumably sent to Martin by his brother Francis in the early 1720s as it congratulates him on his choice of career and gives very full advice (four pages worth) about his studies.
As with genealogy, in his theological studies Martin must 'carry on his studies to the end of his days.' Lastly there is a note from 'Mr Harrison' [Richard?] to a friend of the Annesley family, recalling: 'There was formerly very great intimacy between his family and ours. His grandfather and my father constantly corresponded till their death, travelled together through Scotland and often visited with much friendship.' There is reference to Uncle Francis marrying 'indiscretely' and to being at Eton and Cambridge with 'your friend's father.'  

Error and enumerators (written December 1999)

While idly flicking through the latest issue of the 'Journal of One-Name Studies' recently (it was either this or do some real work) I came across a report of a ghost entry in the 1881 census which a reader had picked up. It refers to an 'international playboy' Robert GOODMAN (age 52) living at 16 Acacia Gardens, Paddington, with his wife Cicely (aged 97) (ref REG 11/20 f126). According to Roy Stockdill this is a fake. Roy suggests that perhaps it was added to the census enumerators' book (CEB) by a bored clerk at the GRO in the 1950s or 1960s, before the records were transferred to the PRO. The entry seems an obvious fabrication, although it fooled the 1881 indexing project.
The chance are however that one or two entries in the CEBs are ghosts which have yet to be spotted. I thought I had found one the other week when a subscriber to the mailing list, asked me about a William NOBODY (age 41), a farmer labourer in Frankly, WOR in 1881 (RG 11/2941 f145). My excitement mounted as I checked the IGI and the GRO indexes. William does not appear in either place. Surprisingly there are a few NOBODYs listed in Family Search. The entry looks genuine however, even though no other NOBODYs are shown in the index.
Marie here at the Society suggested a possible answer. He may have been a foundling and given that name on adoption. If so it must have been a cruel thing to do.
Why do I think that there may be other ghosts in the census? Human nature is the answer. Certainly if I had been a census enumerator I would be very tempted to leave something for posterity. Enumerators were the people who went round collecting census forms, completing them if necessary and then send the results neatly written up in books to London.
The General Register Office expected an enumerator to 'be a person of intelligence and activity... He must be temperate, orderly and respectable, and be such a person as is likely to conduct himself with strict propriety, and to deserve the goodwill of the inhabitants...' Considering the arduous and precise work they had to undertake they were extremely poorly paid. In 1817 enumerators were given a fixed fee of 1 guinea (1.05); 2s 6d for every 100 persons in their district above the first 400 enumerated; and 6d per mile for every mile above the first five miles covered in collecting schedules.
As Edward Higgs, the historian of the census wrote in 'Making Sense of the Census' (HMSO, 1989) 'It was almost universally agreed that these rates of pay were insufficient in themselves to attract high quality staff, or to encourage the greatest diligence.'
Occasionally on the comments section at the beginning of the enumerator's books you may come across grumbling from aggrieved enumerators about the hard work and poor pay.
In 'Making use of the Census' (PRO Publications, 1997) Sue Lumas quotes remarks made by the enumerator of All Hallows, Barking (HO 107/1531 f193) 'I was not aware' he wrote, 'that all the particulars were to be entered by the enumerator in a book, the work without that, being ample for the sum paid, nor had I any idea of the unreasonable amount of labour imposed. The distribution collection etc of the schedules together with the copying of the same occupied from two to three hours for every sixty persons enumerated and for that - the equivalent is - ONE SHILLING!!'
Is it any wonder that the occasional 'mistake' must have crept in. Perhaps we have spent years trying to follow up one of these fabrications. What a horrible thought...

Surnames at the Society (written November 1999)

One of the things that have surprised me most since I started at the Society at the beginning of May has been the number and variety of British surnames. It's something that I hadn't given much thought to before. Having taught family history I was of course familiar with the theories behind the origins of surnames, that they originate in five ways (six if you include anglicised names of immigrants): by place (York), by nickname (Redman), by occupation (Fowler), by locality (Hill), and by patronymics (Richardson). The theory does not prepare one for the bewildering variety of surnames.
A quick survey of the index to surnames in the Document Collection suggests that the Society has material on about 7500 different surnames. And this is by no means complete.
Many surnames are of course variants, or start out as variants. There are supposed to be, for example, eighty variants of the surname Shakespeare. Incidentally did you know that William Shakespeare spelt his name three different ways in his will, none of which is how we know him today. The reason for this lies more in the fluidity in English spelling of the period, rather than in any uncertain in the dying Shakespeare as to his name.
Surprisingly some surnames appear to have died out: (DE) BRUGES, NETTERVILLE, KYME, for example. But it is always difficult to make generalisations. Some names are so odd that it makes you wonder how they occurred in the first place, or why the people whose names they are haven't changed them to avoid embarrassment. Some of my favourites, taken from the Document Collection index, for the letter F, are: FAIRSERVICE, FANJOY, FARKER, FARTHWAT, FEA, FEREBEE, FETTIPLACE, FIDGE, FIRMAGER, FRACKLETON, FRISBY, FROGBROOK, FUNGE, and not forgetting FUHRER.
FOWLER seems positively boring in company such as this! The seven thousand plus British surnames are of course both a boon and a curse to genealogy. It can makes it easier to trace a family with an unusual name.
Welsh family history is that much harder because there are so few surnames. In the census returns Llandrindod Wells, central Wales, for 1851 over three quarters of the town shared the same six surnames. Anybody attempting Korean genealogy may be put off by the fact that a great proportion of the population have the same surname -KIM. The very ease with which British surnames change is a curse.
In one's researches it is very easy to forget that the ancestor is probably there but under a different name. Sometimes it is easy to guess, but occasionally one is less scratching one's head at the change. 

The National Roll (written November 1999)

The Society of Genealogists has of course a considerable amount of information, especially for the First World War, which may be of use to researchers. In particular it has the excellent 'Soldiers died in the Great War' CD-ROM available in the Middle Library [Ed - Now online]. Here in the Upper Library can be found an incomplete set of 'National Roll of the Great War, which in the words of its editor claimed 'to supply a wonderful memorial of splendid services truly worthy of the thankful remembrance of a grateful Empire.' It was ambitious project, nearly six million men served in the British armed forces during the First World War, of whom roughly 700,000 lost their lives. And countless millions of other men and women were engaged in war work of one sort or another.
Unfortunately only fourteen or so volumes were ever published, although many more were planned. A complete set is held by the Imperial War Museum, but so far as I know the SoG is the only other place that has a set, although it is incomplete. The Society has volumes for men (and some women) from London, Leeds, Birmingham, Bedford and Northampton. Volumes 4, 9-11, 14 are missing. [Ed – the roll is now available both on Ancestry and Findmypast].
Each individual has an entry which briefly explains his or her war service and medals gained. Judging by how they are phrased these entries were completed by the individuals themselves or their families. Perhaps they also payed a few shillings to see their war service commemorated. When during the early 1920s people began to want to forget the war and their part in it, fewer and fewer people subscribed to the 'National Roll' so the project collapsed.
Opening a page of the first volume at random one comes across Mrs A.E. HANCOCK 'Special war worker'. 'During the war' here entry reads 'this lady rendered valuable service in the employ of the General Post Office and thereby released a man for military service. Her duties were carried manner, and she was commended for her patriotic work.'
Her husband Bombardier E.T. HANCOCK RGA [Royal Garrison Artillery] 'joined in October 1916 and was sent to the Western Front. He took part in many important engagements while in this theatre of war including those at Arras, Messines Ridge, Passchendaele and Vimy Ridge. In March 1918, during the German offensive he was wounded and invalided to England, and in June of the same year was discharged medically unfit for medical service owing to his wounds. He holds the General Service and Victory Medals.' They both lived at 94 Bronsart Road in Fulham.
The Society also has a number of other published rolls of honour, generally regimental rolls for officers and men of a particular regiment. There are also a few rolls for companies such as, English Electric and Refuge Assurance.
My favourite however is one published by the Croydon Library Committee in 1920 and can now be found on the Surrey shelves in the Middle Library. 'Croydon and the Great War' offers a history of the work of the council during the war, as well as a roll of honour for local men.
Some personal details are given. Frederick Thomas ALLEN of the Border Regiment, for example, was employed by Messrs Sainsbury in Purley. He enlisted in May 1915 and wound in 1916. Another ALLEN, Harry, was married with a son and had been employed by Croydon Tramways. He died of pneumonia while a prisoner of war in Germany on 29 June 1918. He served with the London Regiment.
The war service of the councillors themselves and their children are also marked. H. BISHOP, son of Councillor Samuel BISHOP, 'having only one eye, was refused by the Army and served as a Special Constable from December 1917, until demobilisation.'
Mrs Dorothy DICKINS, the daughter of Councillor John PELTON worked at Purley War Hospital between 1915-1917, before going to Le Havre to help in the YMCA canteen there. Her father himself served with the local volunteer battalion, although he may have been too old to see active service. 

Deaths (written October 1999)

I have been much preoccupied by death. Fortunately there hasn't been a family tragedy, but coincidentally a number of documents on the subject have come to light in the last few days that may be of interest.  
Let us start with an extraordinary letter from a condemned man at Newgate Jail which is being added to the Document Collection. William LONGMUIR writes from the 'condemned hold' to a Mrs COTTUM on 21 Oct 1725:  'I return you a thousand thanks for your favours as for my life I have no friend to stir about, so I have no dependence and I don't know that the death warrant may come down on Saturday night or on Sunday we expect it at farthest so I hope. If we die on Monday you will be so kind as to let me see you once more at chapel on Sunday. But if the warrant comes down when it will as soon as I know I will send [for] you directly as you shall know when it is. I should be glad to see you once more which is all at present from your most unfortunate servant. PS I should for ever be bound to pray for you. If you would give me a few papers into your church for me while only your prayers are desired for a young man [that] is under sentence of death.'   
Apart from the letter we know nothing more about this unfortunate man or the reason that he was languishing in Newgate. Can, as they say in the TV crime programmes, anybody help with this case? [See below]

Kingsley Ireland from Australia thinks that William LONGMUIR was actually William LONGMIRE and I misread the letter, which is quite possible. We have conducted a lively corresondence. He writes:

It was with interest that I saw your blog as a descendant of the William LONGMIRe from Holborn who emigrated to America via Newgate in 1725
I am a descendant of George LONGMIRE, Quaker, of Colthouse near Hawkshead, Lake Dirstrict, Cumbria who married Ann BRAITHWAITE in 1692. His descendant, Hiram LONGMIRE emigrated to South Australia in 1848 with his wife Ann and 5 children.  In 1972 I published a book "The Family History of Hiram LONGMIRE 1814-1880", consisting of   52pages.
You may view this book FREE nowadays as it has been put by a relative more adept at computers than I am, on the Facebook site that has been set up under Hiram LONGMIRE. You may need to trawl backwards until you see the 3 oval  busts and the title in gothic print, after which you may Forward the pages.
For many years I was in communication with Mrs Marie RICE of Tacoma, WA who wrote a book about the James LONGMIRE (ancestor of her husband, Robert) who crossed in a covered wagon along the Oregon Traill and established the Longmire Springs on Mt Rainier. We excahnged information about  the ancestry and history of the LONGMIRE family, and I was aware of James's descent from the emigrant William.
A number of years ago I saw in the accessions of the Society of Genealogists, London  library, a letter written from Newgate by William LONGMIRE dated 21 Oct. 1725  to his patroness, benefactress and friend, Mrs Cottum, who my well have been influential in having his sentence commuted to transportation. It begins "I return a thousand thanks for your favours"
I am an inept old fogey with computers and don't know how to scan and make attachments. I could send you a copy of the one-page hand-written letter by post if you shared a postal address with me. If you are not happy to do that, I could probably find a relative/friend who could email it.
It is a "copy of the copy" and is not very clear, but I would not say indecipherable. You may wish to obtain another copy direct from the Society of Genealogists, London.
I would like it to become freely available to ALL descendants of William LONGMIRE of Holborn-Newgate via sites on the Internet, but my only proviso is that I would like the annotation to state that the original letter is in the Library of the Society of Genealogists, London, and its existence was brought to the notice of William's descendants  by Kingsley IRELAND "Tregare"  128 Penrice Road    Angaston (Barossa Valley) South Australia  AUSTRALIA 5353      Skype: kingsley..ireland

Death at least since July 1837 has been accompanied by a death certificate. The certificates themselves are often not terribly informative, so are often ignored by family historians. Given below are two examples. They come from the Brooks Davies Collection, the first few boxes of which (it is a huge collection) is available in the Upper Library.   Firstly, the tragic death of a newborn baby:   Herbert Hatton Joseph COLLINS died aged 6 weeks dated 15 Jan 1896.  Place of death: 60 Prince Edward Road, Hackney. Reason congenital syphilis. Son of George Collins, gen labourer and Eliza (present at death)  I'm no expert, but I presume that one of the parents was carrying the disease and passed it on to their child. Was Eliza a (former) prostitute, or did George pick it up from a local whore? We shall probably never know. 
Secondly, the death of one of Edwardian England's most prominent showmen and aviation pioneer:   Samuel Franklin CODY died 7 August 1912, Cove, Aldershot age 52, aviator, died by accidental collapse of an aeroplane   CODY was born COWDREY in Texas in 1860 and took the surname in honour of Buffalo Bill Cody. He came to England with various shows during the 1880s and 1890s and settled here permanently at the turn of the century. Something of an enthusiastic for new inventions, especially aviation, he made the first powered flight at Aldershot in 1904.  
According to an article in the Sunday Telegraph Magazine for 21 January 1996 he had asked that 'When my time comes I hope it will be swift and sudden death from one of my own aeroplanes.'   
Wills and probate are often part of the ritual of death. Wills can, of course, tell us quite a lot about the will maker and his or her relationship to the rest of the family.
Another item destined for the document collection is the will for William BARWICH, a planter on Barbados who made his will in May 1752, and added various codicils as he outlived his family. He had obviously long ago fallen out with his son Samuel for he bequeathed him £100 with the comment: 'and since by an unparalleled conduct and turning a deaf ear to all [] he hath perversely [] himself of my blessing I bequeath him that of Esau, by his sword shall he live, and I do give him the said hundred pounds to buy himself a sword accordingly.'
He had also had problems with his daughters, Jane and Mary, for he left his estate to his (estranged?) wife, Elizabeth, who had returned to Europe. The reason for this is that his daughters 'who have made it their choice to depend on her which is the reason for me to leave them to their own election.' In fact his daughters died before him, for they are deleted from the will by a codicil of 1756.
On the other hand he is keen to ensure that his widowed mother is well looked after leaving her rooms in a house in his plantation with instructions that she shall have full use of the kitchens. And, as this was still the age of slavery, his mother was to have the 'use of Negro woman named Alley for the term of her natural life.'
If his family should die before him, always a possibility in tropic climates, the estate should go to Nathaniel CARPENTER, son of Nathaniel CARPENTER, of London merchant 'the man I loved best and received most kindness while living.' Carpenter however is excluded from the will by a later codicil, perhaps the two fell out or Carpenter died.
While sorting out material to be microfilmed for the document collection I came across this GRO death certificate dated 21 November 1837 for John Durdin, age 2, japan polisher of Aston, Birmingham. The information was supplied by the mother who perhaps got confused in her grief. If not they certainly started children working early in those days!

Victorian family history (written September 1999)

Have you ever thought what it must have been like tracing your ancestry a hundred years ago. Well this week I have been following one man's attempt to trace his ancestors one hundred and twenty years ago.
Robert Edwin Lyne (1828-c1890) was headmaster of the art school in Dublin from the 1870s. He came from a poor family who lived in London, but had come originally from the Cotswolds and border area of Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire.   His papers have been languishing at the Society since the 1950s when they donated by a Miss Bennett. Elisabeth MacDougall sorted a box last year, but the remainder of the material only came to light recently.
The collection consists of a mixture of letters relating to Mr Lyne's genealogical researches and more general family and financial matters. They date from c1840-1890, although the genealogical material largely falls within the period, 1879-1884.   Somehow Lyne became aware that a Mary Lyne of Reading had left £500 unclaimed on her death (the equivalent of perhaps £50,000 today) and he set too to see whether they were related. He believed that they were connected through his grandfather Thomas Lyne, who was supposed to have had sixteen children, although other members of the family thought it might have been just thirteen or fourteen. Thomas Lyne was born about 1765 probably in Syde, Gloucestershire.  He began by inserting advertisement asking for help in the personal columns.
These appeals attracted the odd fortune hunter, William Line of Banbury wrote: ' father and grandfather belonged to Littleburn, and other matters seem to answer to it. So hearing from you I hope that it may be that "I am the rightful owner". May I ask sir what it is, money, land or otherwise, and what quantity. Waiting a reply...' 
However these appeals did produce a number of long lost cousins who  fell over themselves to help Edwin Lyne in his researches. They visited former servants and possible relations in the hope of finding useful information. Sometimes of course potential informants had just died.
Richard Philips helpfully wrote in October 1881 'My cousin Mary David died... about a year since she could have told us almost everything you want to know.' 
Of particular interest is John Lyne of Cranbroook, Tasmania who emigrated in the 1840s and had become a prosperous farmer. As well as family gossip and reminiscences, his chatty letters talk about life on the island.
Another correspondent was Richard Philips, who ran a stationers and grocers shop in the pretty Cotswolds village of Bourton on the Water. Philips became an assiduous researcher filling letters with personal reminiscences. On one letter he added a postscript 'My daughter jokingly asks why you make these enquiries.' It is something we all must ask ourselves at times. 
Of course Edwin Lyne could not rely entirely on the memories of his relations. He had to find firm facts. So he turned to two of the key sources still employed today: parish registers and Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) wills.
Lyne doesn't appear to have used GRO certificates. Perhaps they were too new; for the national registration system had only been in place for forty years when he began his study.   
Parish registers then were still kept locally. Edwin Lyne had to write to each incumbent of parishes, where he thought there may have been Lynes, asking them to search the registers for him. In many parishes his enquiries roused a great deal of interest. In Bucknell, Oxfordshire, the Rev G.W. Pieritz enlisted the support of Col and Mrs Hibbert, the squire of the village, to pour over the registers.  Thomas Plumb, the sexton at Little Compton, Warwickshire, took his two daughters 'down to the church this evening and cannot find such a headstone as you state.' 
Even if there was nothing in the registers the incumbents often talked about Lynes in the village. Revd John Hodgson, Rector of Kinver wrote that 'There are no Lynes of any position here - the only man of the name is a higgler of coal (George Lines) has resided about 19 years in the parish...'   
In many parishes however Mr Lyne's enquiries were received with a great deal of grumbling about the work that they would involve. At Fredington, Warwickshire the Rev R.E. Williams complained: 'I find upon trial that the task of examining the register for Lynes is more than I have time for... the earlier entries are written in a most difficult handwriting and are faded through age.'   
In a few parishes incumbents seem to have been overwhelmed by requests by other researchers. In Hanslope, Buckinghamshire the Revd M.A. Nicholson replied 'You must really excuse me the troublesome work of register searching. I am almost daily devoured with parties searching the register for Christopher Wren... Duchess of Marlborough...etc etc. 
Another problem was the fee to be paid for the work undertaken. Incumbents could charge 1s for every search extending over a period of not more than one year, and 6d additional for every additional year, and 2s 7d for every single certificate. This was expensive: a search over several centuries might cost £5 or more (worth £500 today). Fees however could be waved for 'literary research' which included family history.   
A few incumbents were prepared to wave the fee altogether. In Bloxham, Oxfordshire, Rev J. Hodgson replied: 'As to fees I shall leave it to you. Were I not hard pressed in money matters, having a very large family of 11 children, I would make you a present of the certificates: but as it is I don't want to be extortionate and anything you think fair and right I shall be willing to accept.'   
Others were more hard-headed. The Rev W.H. Chamberlain,in Keevil, Wiltshire said 'I must mention to you that the custom of this parish is that the fee is 1s for a search and 2s 7d for extract should be first sent by those who apply from a distance.'
The clergy rarely charged the full amount for research undertaken, although most asked the legal fee for certificates. However as the extracts supplied were free, and gave as much information as a certificate, Edwin Lyne wisely bought few certificates.   
PCC wills were held by district probate registries. The records would in due course be transferred to Somerset House and eventually to the Public Record Office. They were a good source of names and could be used to identify parishes with Lynes in them. Searches however cost 7s each, so Lyne used them sparingly.
He did however get the registry in Northampton to provide a list of Lyne wills for the county, although he does not appear to order copies of any original wills.  Lyne's attempts to use archive holdings themselves were generally frustrated by the lack of finding aids. A local historian Cecil J. Davies, from Painswick, Gloucestershire wrote: 'I have not been able to spend a few hours in the Public Record Office and my progress there was very slow; so many of the [Lay Subsidy] rolls are not well indexed that much time is lost in searching for facts.'   
This may help to explain why many genealogists and antiquarians of the period spent considerable amount of time calendaring and indexing records. Lyne himself, amongst other publications, transcribed the lay subsidy rolls for Theddingworth, Leicestershire. 
Eventually of course he came across a genealogist who was tracing the family: Capt G.J.M. Glubb, late 38th Bengal Light Infantry, of Bedford (and father of Glubb Pasha). In particular, Glubb seems to have been conducting a one name study of Glubb, Gloub, Gubb, and Glub surnames 'for' as he told Edwin Lyne 'they are all the same'. His letters are full of references to medieval and Tudor Lynes scattered throughout the West Country, although what connection to Lyne's line remained unclear.   
Unfortunately the Lyne Collection is incomplete. We don't even know when Edwin died. There are no pedigrees to show the work completed or a final written account of his family history. What is clear however is that although he never managed to claim that £500, he derived a great of pleasure from his studies and added, if slightly, to the sum of human knowledge. What greater epitaph can a family historian have? 
The story last week about the papers of Edwin Lyne produced a great deal of response amongst subscribers to this list. What was even more surprising was that not one, but two, people e-mailed me claiming a relationship to him. The chances of this happening must be very remote.   
Edwin Lyne appears to have begun his researches with an appeal in the personnel column of The Times for 5 Janaury 1876. While at the PRO the other week I found it on the front page of the edition for 5 January 1876. It reads:  'To incumbents, parish clerks and others £5 will be given for the register of baptism of Thomas LYNE who lived and was buried at Syde, GLS in 1812 aged 87 and born about 1725. He had brothers: Robert Lyne, who was buried at Baisford, GLS aged 80 and Henry Lyne of Farcot. A reward is also offered for the register of marriage of Thomas LYNE and the register of baptism of Robert and Henry LYNE.  Address R.E. Lyne Esq, Theddingworth, Rugby.' 
Actually Edwin seems to have got his facts wrong. According to Richard Lyne, who kindly sent me his notes on that branch of the family, Thomas was born at Little Compton across the border in Warwickshire. Did Edwin ever realise his mistake?   
What struck me as interesting was that this was not the only advertisement of the type carried by the newspaper. There seemed to be one or two appeals in every issue, all couched in much the same way. It might be a useful exercise for somebody to comb through the personnel columns of The Times and extract this information. Who knows what use it might be to the genealogist of today.  

Packard's Pals (written September 1999)

Packard’s pals

During the past week I have been cataloguing the papers of Brigadier John Joseph Packard. Brig Packard took up genealogy on his retirement from the Army in 1961 and it remained one of his interests until he died in August 1993. The result of his researches appeared in a book published in 1987, a copy of which is to be found in the Library here.
During the years Brigadier Packard, and his wife Faith, established contacts with Packards around the world. The collection is full of family news. The Packards also welcomed distant cousins passing through England to their flat in the Barbican, a complex of apartments (and much else) near the Society in central London. 
From a genealogical point of view the collection is perhaps a tad disappointing Packard traced his Suffolk forebears back to the beginning of the seventeenth century when they lived at Stonham Aspall near Framlingham.
He seems to have given up doing much serious research when Packard and his family moved to London in the early 1970s. Thereafter he seems to have concentrated on building up links with Packards worldwide.
The collection however clearly shows the spread of the name. Most North American Packards are descended from a Samuel Packard who settled with his wife and child in Hingham, MA in August 1638. Australian Packards perhaps begin with the Revd Daniel Packard who arrived with his large family to be chaplain to Bishop Short in Adelaide in 1851.   
The collection however shows clearly the differences between the North American and British strands of genealogy. Americans seem to have become interested in their origins much earlier than the British. I have a clipping on my desk from the Daily Telegraph of 9 July 1890 which talks in the most patronising tones about the American 'characteristic trait ... [a] fondness for tracing their blood to old English families.' and concludes 'We believe American citizens are a little weary of the dead level of modern Yankee society.'
Certainly American genealogy was well organised. The Packard Memorial Association, for example, organised a large celebration at the Agricultural Grounds in Brockton, MA in August 1888 to mark the 250th anniversary of the arrival of Samuel Packard. A record of the event can be found in the collection. The introduction notes that 'Within the past few years a growing interest has been manifest in many sections to know something of the different branches of the family.' and remarks that 'A better type of American citizens are seldom gathered in one assembly than were present on this... festival.' 650 people, attended at $1.25 per head, consuming a large luncheon before settling back to enjoy a number of lengthy and probably rather soporific speeches from various worthy Packards. 
Few British families would have thought of organising a reunion of this sort at this time - and perhaps British reticence really prevents such events even now.
Late Victorian genealogists of the time were keen to avoid dealing with the broad masses. When the first volume of parish registers was published by the Harleian Society in the 1870s G.W.G. Leveson Gower wrote in the preface that the Society should not publish every register in its entirety, concluding 'I maintain that as a genealogical society we are not concerned to find ancestors for families which have risen to the ranks of gentry in later times; our business is only with the record of those who at the time the entry was made were persons of recognised social position.'
A number of other prominent genealogists of the period agreed believing that the history of the common man was at best irrelevent.   A further celebration of Samuel Packard's arrival in America was organised exactly a hundred years later in a motel in Eureka Springs, AK. This was a much more folksy affair, with a buffet, BBQ and old time dancing.
Such a good time was had that further reunions were organised in 1990 and 1992. The whole event was organised by the Packard and Allied Families Association who published (and perhaps still publishes - the SoG doesn't subscribe) an excellent, if to British eyes a little twee, quarterly newsletter full of news and histories of Packards in America. I particularly liked the romantic history of the Bad Lands Cow Boy published by Arthur T. Packard at Medora, Dakota Territory during the 1880s. Packard eventually ended up as the local chief of police, without a gun, but with the tricky task of getting rid of the local cattle rustlers and other low-lifes.  
If only all our ancestors lived such exciting lives... 

Professional researchers (written September 1999)

One of the surprising things about the special collections here at the Society is the amount of information they can tell you about the person who created the material. If you give your genealogical papers to the SoG you may never know what they might say about you. It may show in the way that the collections were kept.
The JONES B Collection was compiled by Dr Robert Jones, a retired schoolmaster from Croydon during the 1980s: a man seemingly of almost superhuman neatness and discipline which shone through very clearly in the neat and tidy way he kept and sorted the material acquired during the course of his researches into his JONES, HIGGENS, KEDDIE, REYNALDS, and THOMSON ancestors in England, Canada and New Zealand.
For other people their personality shines through in correspondence that survives in the collections. This is perhaps more true for record agents or professional researchers for they spend a lot of time writing to clients.
This week I have been spending much of my time sorting out what will become the DEVEY Collection. Gerald Devey, whose papers these are, was a record agent based in Exeter. The collection consists of his notes and correspondence relating to about 150 Cornish, and especially Devonian, families which he researched in the early 1970s. It includes a large number of letters to clients in which he talks, generally in passing, about what is going on in his life. Usually, it has to be admitted, these events are used to justify delays in undertaking research. All in all they build a picture of a busy, but perhaps rather a lonely man especially after the deaths of his wife and sister. He also becomes reluctant to drive to distant record offices as a result of problems with his eyes. On the other he manages to get to Gibraltar to go research in the archives there which he really enjoys.
Another surprisingly useful source is the scrap paper on which people use to scribble notes. Robert Jones tended to use old science exam papers which confirmed his status as a teacher. Gerald Devey's preferred choice was the headed notepaper of the South-West Special Circle of the Institute of Electrical Engineers of which he appears to have been secretary at some stage. It does not take much deduction to reason that Devey was an electrical engineer before he retired. There is further evidence in that Gerald Devey often used engineering drawings prepared for the Post Office for his notes, thus suggesting that he was a Post Office engineer at least for the latter part of his working life. 

Miss Norman (written August 1999)

Older members of the Society of the Genealogists may remember Miss Gwen Norman who was a member and a volunteer here during the 1980s. About ten years ago Miss Norman left us her exceptionally detailed genealogical research in which she managed to trace all thirty-two great-great-great-grandparents: a remarkable achievement. At long last we are tackling the hundred and twenty or so binders in which this material was originally stored.
Her papers are more than just genealogical jottings, for they contain her life story and notes about her parents and other members of her immediate family. It is also full of photographs of the places, mainly in BDF, CAM and HRT, where her ancestors lived.
Cat lovers will be pleased that the collection contains snaps of the various felines she and her family had over a fifty year period. In fact there are so many photographs, I have had to abandon work on the collection for the moment because we have run out of the polyester wallets in which to put the photos. Even so I hope that this material will be available by the end of September.   
Miss Norman's Collection is curiously moving for it illuminates the tragedies (the killing of a cat by a neighbour) and pleasures (her fun-loving father) of an ordinary family in an ordinary London street. It made me think that we should all leave such a life-story behind to give our descendants and others interested an idea of the times we lived in and the lives we lived. 

Society of Genealogists articles

For a year in 1999 and 2000 I was archivist at the Society of Genealogists in London and contributed to a weekly e-newsletter, which went to members, about the records held by the Society. I had thought that the newsletter had disappeared in the ether, but one of my clients pointed out that they can still be found on Rootsweb. I have rescued them and dusted them down and have posted them here.

I have hardly edited them at all, so when I talk about the Upper Library I am talking about the collections which are now in the Lower Library or basement. The Special Collections are specific collections generally of genealogical research which have been deposited by members or more often their executors. The Document Collection are odd items - generally loose sheets of paper or odd documents - which are arranged by surname.

Some of the non-SoG resources are now online and the Public Record Office is now The National Archives.

You can find out more about the Society of Genealogists at

I have to say I am pleased at how well the articles read after a period of nearly a dozen years.

The Society is now celebrating its centenary. Happy birthday!