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4 Nov 2017

The Three Counties Challenge

Come on then folks! Which of your forebears do you reckon qualifies for the Three Counties Challenge? Entrance qualifications are simple: they need to have exactly three counties of origin! Here are my four contenders who had a massive impact on my tree.

(1) My first forebear was my grandmother Mary, born 1921 in Cheshire. She has ancestry in Somerset, Cornwall and Norfolk, which impressed me very much at the time.
Q. What brings these genes together?
A. Methodist ministers marrying girls from 'out-of-county' two generations in a row.

(2) Then we go back nearly a century to Dad's great-grandma Annie Gibson, born 1836 in Allendale, near the geographical centre of mainland Britain, but far north of anything I'd heard of before. She brought three new counties to the yard: Cumberland, Northumberland and some part of lowland Scotland, most likely Dumfriesshire. I can't help thinking of John Peel with his coat so gay, out hunting in the Cumberland countryside when I think of this line.
Q. What brings these genes together?
A. The uber-meddling Christopher Bird, vicar of Chollerton, who pulled my relatives across the Pennines. Then a certain knee injury on the railway in 1844, which proved fatal, and which spat poor Annie back the other side of the Pennines again.

(3) We reverse another 25 years to the birth of Blanche Morton, my Grandpa's great-grandmother, born about 1811 in Newport, south Wales. She brings Monmouthshire, Glamorganshire and, much earlier, Carmarthenshire to the table. This is an impressive haul, and without her, I'd really have no proper Welsh ancestry at all, so big thanks go to Blanche on this one. As a bonus we have her photo too.
Q. What brings these genes together?
A. Water and boats. The boatbuilder moved along the coast and up the rivers, marrying and moving as he went.

(4) It's now time to put the time-machine back in fast rewind, to get back another whole 43 years before this. That's right folks, we need to whoosh past Trafalgar, the French revolution and even American independence, back to 1768. I'm sorry it's a little cold out here, with the mini ice-age just having left and we're only halfway through the hundred years of Georges.

It's time to introduce Nathaniel Gee, born in West Bromwich in 1768. His birthplace is not somewhere I expected to find on my tree - ever. My family have managed to avoid the Midlands, carefully skirting around it, but Nathaniel is born slap-bang in the middle, just as the industrial revolution is hitting. Exciting times, no doubt. Nathaniel provides yet another three new counties: Cheshire, Staffordshire and the much earlier Shropshire.
Q. What brings these genes together?
A. The magnetic pull of Wolverhampton and its satellites, sweeping ironworkers into town. And more importantly, water and boats. The boatbuilder moved around the canal network, marrying and moving.

The final list of counties hauled in by these individuals is impressive: Somerset, Cornwall, Norfolk, Cumberland, Northumberland, Dumfriesshire (probably), Monmouthshire, Glamorganshire, Carmarthenshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire and Shropshire. And the causes were Methodism,  a meddling vicar, a trapped knee, and plenty of boats on the water.

Can any of your ancestors pass the three counties challenge? I'd be interested to hear about them.

17 Oct 2017

A Canal's Gonna Come

Sooner or later a blog is gonna come. A big old splash concerning the most recent news from the 1700s. Just like my Taylors who kept me going for blog after blog (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 , 8, 9, 10, 11, 12). I know the titles of the pages will be: A Christmas in Dudley, Gee Whizz, A Walk along the Canal. But I'm not ready to post: not yet.

23 Jun 2017

Two Sides of Town

Picture the scene, a pretty town where a river runs through it.  Much bevisited by Americans keen to note down their heritage whilst swans and fresh cygnets queue up to enter.  A park, a castle, a group of youth; a theatre, some pubs, an ugly dual carriageway.  A reality star popping in to try some baby yoga.

In one corner of the town, up on the hill, is an ugly pub.  Squat, flat, squeezed into the estate, with cheap doubles whenever you want and locals escaping the grime for an hour or two's oblivion.  Karaoke blasts out across the estate as the bladdered locals slash up against the wall.  Gerald Phipps (not his real name) scratches a tattoo as he greets the new arrivals from behind the bar.

Let's go back down to the centre of town, and steeply ascend a hill facing the other way.  Broad open fields greet us and a happy cow winks approvingly at the cut of our jib.  Surprisingly quickly open country hits, and then a very posh school - fields and yawning tennis courts roll out in front of us.  Cynthia Claydon (almost her real name) rolls down her starched white tennis pleats and adjusts her ponytail as her friend Charlie's Merc peels off into the distance.  She finished her sixth-form here a few years ago, and is back, purely for artistic licence, and doesn't have anything to actually do, except look great.

As you've guessed, Gerald and Cynthia are cousins.  Well not exactly, Gerald just got one of Cynthia's 4th cousins pregnant, and is the babyfather.  The point is Cynthia descends from Miss Sophy Smith of South Lopham, Norfolk; whilst Gerald's pregnant ex-missus descends from Arthur Smith of South Lopham, Norfolk. They are both siblings of Miss Ellen Smith of South Lopham, Norfolk, who is my Granny's fearsome granny, Granny Smith.

Sophy quickly married in the upward direction, selecting a young accountant who rapidly turned his family into drapers, and the daughter was soon engaged to an auctioneer, and the next generation were farmers in Sussex and before you know it, it's time for a posh school for the daughter.

Arthur decides to head down the social ladder,  starting having a lot of children before he is really ready, and the wedding bells ring midway through a pregnancy, and then he turns 21 as the next one arrives and then it's time to quit his job and act as a blackleg and remarry (not in that order) before finally at 50 he wraps it up and heads to Australia.  Leaving 3 generations in straightened circumstances.  His grandson kicks cans around the place in WW2 digging up scrap age 12 to help the family get by.  To be fair, the family did good, but they did end up on the other side of town in this case.  No question.

I'll stay in the middle.  I'm not climbing a hill to sing karaoke, and I have no idea what a tennis pleat is, or if it even exists.

Thank you Ellen for weaving a happy medium between Arthur's chaos and Sophy's money.  I'll take your side of town on this occasion.

22 Jun 2017

1940s Google Map

Introducing a Google Map to show where people lived at the time of their death in the 1930s and 40s - based on the probate index of England/Wales from this time period.  It does include addresses worldwide and is well worth a browse.

http://www.haine.org.uk/toms_wills/1940s_Google_Map.php

Questions, comments, via the homepage...

2 Jun 2017

Love is...

Love is... A Powerful Text Editor! When you have, as I do, 508 million wonderfully tender pieces of data, the laptop is going to cough and splutter a bit.

After a frustrating 24hrs where I couldn't get the data sorted at all, came salvation.

EditPadPro. This handy gadget was hastily downloaded at Swindon station before the WiFi conked out. It can insert carriage returns wherever you'd like in a long line of data. I wished this to occur every 30,000 characters in order to be re-imported into Excel cells, which have a maximum capacity.

Until I demo'd EditPad I'd not considered that my problem was essentially one of word wrapping. Word wrapping is fiendishly complex, similar to those bucket measuring or optimal grain storage problems from Egypt and Greece. Once you have too much text for a line, we automatically go on to the next line, making decisions about where the words should break. I needed the same approach for my string of values.

The data all lined itself up to be processed like innocent lambs through a sheep wash. It all trotted through and is back sitting pretty in my spreadsheet.

Very hairy moment successfully navigated. Will I finally get the wretched project up and running this weekend? We'll see.

19 Apr 2017

Filthy Lucre

Strolling around Clerkenwell last week, I tsskd at the lack of bike lanes. Somewhere I still have the letter from Aviva Buses sharing their heartache at the way their driver knocked me off my bike there back in 2002. They also shared the driver's private address which was such a thoughtful touch.

Just cross the road and you can reprint yourself at the 3D printing shop (featured), so perhaps I was being fussy making a complaint.

When we hunt for Filthy Lucre, we are conducting a Lucre Search, and my cousin of this name lived at the gorgeous Redman Buildings on Clerkenwell Road. Well he was called Lucas Urch but he's known, by me at least, as Filthy Lucre.

It's entirely appropriate, that over a Dirty Burger and pint this evening, that I should have resolved my Lucre Search.

Eagle-eyed readers will recall that Miss Sophia Urch is to be found lingering around the premises of Mr J Lucas in the 1841 census for Cossington, Somerset.

I have today determined that coincidences like this don't really happen. I'm double the age I was when Lucre first emerged, alongside Sophia, and there's not a cat's chance that one of them 'just happens' to be living with a Lucas, when this was their mother's maiden name.

So, welcome to our fold, Miss Sarah Urch, star-crossed lover of Galway Town's most vociferous Catholic policeman. And your grandson who edited the Telegraph. And your niece Wilhelmina Margarina and nephew what had the big house outside of Dublin.

And of course 'filthy Lucre' himself, Lucas Urch of Clerkenwell.

14 Apr 2017

Determination in Family History

In this piece, we get determined.
Sorting the Surname soup
Something with the way the Cornish bred meant surnames ebbed and flowed in popularity, and my eager young self stumbled right into the mire.  Rodda - rare as hen's teeth, but back then, the most common name in the parish.  Jennings - not that numerous, but I faced multiple couples of the same name.  Three William Roddas with wife Elizabeth and two Ann Jennings with husband John.  I saw red and decided to log every single Rodda in Crowan here, which will now need an update from the excellent GRO site. The Jennings did not need such a blunderbuss, but finesse.  The tree all hinged on two Elizabeths.  To determine who they married, I squinted deeply at the age given on their death records. Ah, you belong to him and you to him, I said, firmly.  I could now parcel out their siblings. I felt I was picking sides at a school football match.

Taking the Path of least resistance
I wasn't that determined to find Eliza Ainsworth's family after 1900; I just followed the paths available at the time.  BMD records were laborious whereas finding Eliza's obituary (via CheshireBMD online, the probate index and then the newspaper library at Colindale) was a lot more informative. I then had to look for her granddaughter Miss S. Fox, who I happily found, and who was extremely informative about all the Ainsworths.

Pushing for the clinch
I've made headway with a number of Welsh lines thanks to this approach.  Elimination is a highly unsatisfactory method of identification as you never really know who the other eligible candidates are.  Keep going! And hope to find a clinching fact, one which locks in your supposition and confounds your suspicion.

Exhaust the avenues available
James Carline's missing baptism has had me routinely cussing him out, as the predecessors were sure to be of interest if we only knew who they were. His father was slapdash brother James Carline, while his wife's father was organised brother Joseph Carline. There is absolutely a gap in both the naming pattern and the chronology of James Carline's infants.  Other evidence, such as trades, familial locations, bears this out. What's lovely is to arrive after a hot afternoon's research, digging away, at Mary Ann Bird's cottage in Darley and realise she was both the sister of James and his immediate neighbour in 1851, a fact which had been long hid.

Make a nice diagonal itch
The area has been scratched from every direction, except diagonally.  Maybe that will solve things? For some reason I wasn't about to go plunging into guesswork to establish whose parents Ann Morgan, born 1762, might have been. It's tantalising to wonder how far I might have got without the death duty hint, Ann's sister and her will, and even whether I'd have got to see the will anyway, regardless of my lucky hit.  The diagonal direction was to look for something at the National Archives to bolster up a very soggy will.  Quite what good I thought a glance at the death duty registers could possibly do, we'll never know.  By rolling with the fresh direction, this time the scratch was successful: the writer, Elizabeth Morton, had a childless aunt from 40 years earlier who emerged in the paperwork.  Where she got her money, name, genes and executive habits were all laid out in the doc.  That area no longer itches but there's plenty new places in the body of research which would benefit from a scratch in a different direction.

See: faith in family history, luck in family history, persuasion in family history, inspiration in family history  

12 Apr 2017

More Persuasion in Family History

My biggest act of persuasion of all demands you to believe in the power of Stone Age Fiction's anthropologist, Jean Auel and her creations.  They see deep into their past through an extended part of their brain.  How else can I explain how my grandfather reached far back inside his memory and found me a gem from the 1850s, right before he died? Amid those Christmas teatime tables, I too found the room leaving us, hurtling us back to the pub in Camborne.  My grandfather was still opposite me, but in front of us was the table he was describing.  Sadly no-one else was there.  That was the closest I could ever come to the 1851 census of Camborne, which had so absorbed me that lately.  It shows gt-gt-gt-grandpa Hunter with his new wife and widowed sister Eliza caught like butterflies on the page.  Eliza had pushed aside four oceans to be there.  I tried to share my close encounter with Brad, Eliza's 4xgreat-grandson storming in from Australia via business class.  He couldn't see it. But sometimes I revisit that stolen glimpse of the 1850s kitchen and hope that Eliza will reveal something more of her own stay there, than just her name and place.  I'd need a good deal more #persuasion, for sure.

This story describes: Eliza Hunter born 1827 at Redruth, Cornwall.  Dies 1913 Victoria, Australia.  A hundred years after, her great-great-nephew remembers something which skewers the whole family to the page around the time the 1851 census hit Tuckingmill.  He dies weeks later.

10 Apr 2017

Hands across the Bristol channel

Entropy is the enemy.  If you don't rise up, there'll be tumbleweed growing all over your tree.  Grandpa had given me a shopping list of relatives to find - well they were part of his past, but I intended to resuscitate them and find their living corporeal forms, if possible.

I knew that doing nothing was not going to get me to Elaine Harris (b. 1916), quite the opposite. Hers and Grandpa's lives had moved in opposite directions aside of the Bristol Channel since the 1940s, so if I wanted to find her we'd need to retrace our steps to that time.  Grandpa went on to tell me a little more: Elaine's aunt had married a W. J. Hockey, who had earlier boarded with our family, and one of their girls was Gertie. I quickly found W. J. H.'s death in 1962 with his daughter named as executrix, and because 1962 is the equivalent of 1985 now, it wasn't hard to leap those few years forward and arrive at a current phone book entry for Gertie, still in Barry, Wales.  She was great on the phone and soon sorted me with her cousin Elaine's address in Morriston, from which so many wonderful fruit grew.

Imagine a world where the internet has gone down, permanently.  That was how I had to carry out my research as a boy in the 1990s.  Years later, doing my first acrobatics class in the old Shoreditch electricity station, with its fifty-foot high brick walls and gasp of space, I could hear the trapeze instructions 'backwards to go forwards, forwards to go backwards'.  I'd gone way back to the closeness of the 1940s, only two generations I suppose, no time but a long time, to emerge forwards again by the sunny streets of my 4th cousins' homes, in Wales, by letter.  So thanks Gertie and others for the hands across the Bristol channel all those years ago.

Postscript: Little did I know, I wasn't the first in the family to arrive in Barry looking for family.  My great-grandmother lived there in the 1960s and who should arrive windswept and sunbeat by ferry across the channel but her beautiful cousin Bea, and young granddaughter - who told me this anecdote only last month.

Kidderminster calling: stamp of approval

I'm in the middle of an emotional trip. Tumbling back, arms asplay to 1995, pre 9/11, pre-Blair, pre-Diana, I'd not sent a single email. Awkwardly arriving here with swollen rucksack and moaning joints, it's peculiar I raced through here at age 18 with barely a glance.  I'd been driving for a year and sure got some use out of the car. My mood, the crispy spring mornings, bouncy downs and the tunes of those eternal teenagers, Brown, Prince and Jackson (J), were sending me to an unforgettable experience, lambing in the Herefordshire hills, which then mutated into a slide through the Brecon Beacons finally in the footsteps of those letters to the front rooms of my new relatives in south Wales.  I had ignored Kidderminster at my peril. Today, 22 years later, I'm back.  I've spun Church Street around all 3 axes to wring every drip of history from it and accidentally seeing Rowland Hill's statue says it all, for he invented the postage stamp.  I never do there-and-back road trips, but without Rowland, my journey would have seen me retrace my steps at Kington, not qualified to pass the Welsh border posts.  The reason I'm back today is another letter, just one this time, posted with care in February 2016. Bearing in mind Kidderminster is 4 counties away from Swansea, I was a little shocked to run one of her daughters to ground in this town in the 1939 register. Success at last. I immediately got in touch, and contact was quickly established. Again from Kidderminster, came the call I thought might come, with a challenge I relished to take on. I'm back now in 2017 to reminisce on our successful challenge resolved and to go over the many exciting things which happened as a result. Thanks anew to Rowland Hill, his stamp and his home town.  You get my stamp of approval.