2013 Reflection

Happy New Year.

The New Year is a time to reflect upon the past year and to look forward to the new. In this post I am going to reflect upon 2013, and I will make a new posting for what is planned or hoped for in 2014.

2013 has been a great year in many ways.

Blog and Writing– One obvious genealogical activity has been the creation of this blog. I started it in January 2013 in preparation for the trip to Australia. My focus has been to review and highlight new resources for British Isles research. I have occasionally shared research about my own ancestors along the way.

My Genealogy at a Glance: English Research, published by Genealogical Publishing Company late in 2012 has been selling well throughout the year. I have written the manuscript for Discover English Parish Records which will be published by UnLockthePast publishing early in 2014. I will let you know when it is released.

I continue to write book reviews for The FORUM, the quarterly newsletter of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, and the bi-monthly newsletter of the British Interest Group of Wisconsin and Illinois. This activity is a large part of my personal learning process.

Genealogical Speaking – This has been a bumper year with 80 presentations given to audiences on three continents, in three countries – United States of America, Australia and England. Let me give a few more details.

The first overseas trip to Australia started with an UnlockthePast cruise conference from Sydney to Noumea and Fiji, though our cruise never made it to Fiji (electrical trouble!). This was followed by lectures in six cities: Sydney; Brisbane; Perth; Adelaide; Canberra and Melbourne. The trip included 39 lectures covering a wide variety of English, Scottish and Irish research. There was also lots of interaction with enthusiastic and knowledgeable British Isles researchers.

The second overseas trip was to the Exodus: Movement of the People international conference in Hinckley, Leicestershire, England where I gave two presentations on Irish and Scottish Migration to North America.

In the United States I taught a week of classes on Scottish Research at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Birmingham, Alabama. This along with lectures given at the Federation of Genealogical Societies national conference, regional and local events has made it a great year.

Personal Research – this has focused primarily on my Milner line. I learned about my Australian convict James Milner and got to visit the area of Tasmania where he lived. I wrote about this visit in my blog earlier this year. On the trip to England I spent three wonderful days visiting churches and communities where my ancestors come from in Kent. I also got to photograph parish registers still held by two Roman Catholic Parishes, looking for my Finnegan and Doran ancestors in west Cumbria. Nevertheless, with all the speaking and writing there is never enough time to do the personal research that I would love to be doing.

Book Review: Genealogy – Essential Research Methods by Helen Osborn

Genealogy: Essential Research Methods by Helen Osborn
Genealogy: Essential Research Methods by Helen Osborn

Genealogy: Essential Research Methods. By Helen Osborn. Published by Robert Hale, Clerkenwell House, Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0HT, UK. 2012. 272 pp. Hardcover. ₤14.99

Finally, here is a research methodology book written from a British perspective. Yes, there have been a few in the distant past but this one is the first to appear in many years and it is catching up with genealogical scholarship. The book openly acknowledges that in the British Isles the emphasis is on explaining and describing the records, not how to pull everything together is one tight thoroughly researched process.

The book provides advice and inspiration on methods and problem solving skills to help the family historian understand what successful professionals do to get results and why they should be copied. The book is divided into ten chapters: (1) provides an overview of the common challenges we all encounter; (2) explores the search process and examines an effective search actually consists of; (3) and (4) look at how you can go about finding the right source and start to understand their context; (5) asks you to consider whether someone else has already solved your problem for you, and where you can look to find out; (6) shows you how to analyze a document to make sure you really are making the most of your sources once you find them; (7) looks at problem-solving using analysis and a research plan; (8) is about recording your information correctly; (9) is all about organization and presenting your results; (10) discusses the important question of how to prove family connections by using good proof standards in your research.

The book does an excellent job of getting the reader to think about what the research process is and how it can be improved and understood better to get good results.

I liked the book, it gets the reader thinking about how to improve what they do, but in some ways it lets the researcher off the hook. Let me explain. The one part of the book I found myself reacting negatively to deals with documentation and citing sources. Ms. Osborn gives three examples of the same family group sheet: undocumented; documented; and what she calls hyper-documented. The implication to the beginner by the choice of these titles is that the documented is satisfactory, when in reality it is not. The so called hyper-documented is what would be regarded as well or properly documented and would leave a good trail for researchers to follow. The text suggests the hyper-documentation is an extra step encouraged for those planning to publish, not a standard to be encouraged for all good researchers.

Book Review: Marriage Law and Practice in the Long Eighteenth Century – A Reassessment by Rebecca Probert

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Marriage Law and Practice in the Long Eighteenth Century - A Reassessment by Rebecca Probert
Marriage Law and Practice in the Long Eighteenth Century – A Reassessment by Rebecca Probert

Marriage Law and Practice in the Long Eighteenth Century: A Reassessment. By Rebecca Probert. Published by Cambridge University Press, The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK. www.cambridge.org. 2009. xii, 358 pp. Index. Hardcover. $113.

 

This book radically changes our understanding of English marriage law, destroying most of what has been taught by historians and genealogists regarding marriage law in the past. This book is one volume in a series entitled Cambridge Studies in English Legal History and is therefore not a light read, but is certainly worth the effort. If you want an overview of Ms. Proberts’ arguments then read her Marriage Law for Genealogists: The Definitive Guide that I reviewed earlier. If you want more details including the specifics on the case law read this volume.

 

Ms. Probert is a genealogist and Professor of Family Law at Warwick University, a leading authority of the history of marriage laws of England and Wales and it clearly shows here. Her arguments in this book for her case are through and backed up by legal, historical and genealogical research which makes the book fascinating to read.

 

A very strong case is made that the 1753 Lord Hardwicke’s Act did not constitute a radical break with the past, but rather it was a transition from canon law to English law. In many ways the new Act focused on enforcing what was already supposed to be happening and as the formal title suggests “Act for Preventing Clandestine Marriages” it was primarily aimed at one particular practice – ending Clandestine Marriages.

 

The book focusses on the decades before and after the Act and how the contemporary people, church and legal establishment viewed marriage. It is vitally important to use contemporary sources for it is the legal establishments in both England and America that have really muddied the waters and led many historians astray.

 

The book examines in detail the misunderstandings around contract per verba de praesenti, clearly defining in the process what constituted a marriage in the eyes of the church and the law. It addresses other perceived marriages practices, tracing the origins of each into the historical literature and destroying each along the way. Ms. Probert moves on to explain what a clandestine marriage is and why it was such a problem for the establishment, and for the people involved. Once defined the book looks at the passage of the Act, what the law said and what effect it had on practice. Examined are the terms of Act; contracts to be unenforceable; preliminaries to the marriage; parental control; the ceremony; registration; penalties; exemptions. It would have been a nice addition if a full copy of the Act had been included in the book.

 

The book concludes by examining the success of the Act, how it was interpreted afterwards by the judicial system and what the response was at the time by the non-Anglicans.

 

For the genealogist three sets of records are used to support her case regarding marriage practices: specific cohorts of couples drawn from baptismal registers in a variety of locations around England and Wales; settlement examinations (Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire); and a rare parish listing (1782 Cardington, Bedfordshire).  

 

The book is heavily footnoted throughout citing numerous legal, historical, genealogical and social texts and studies. These provide lots of alternative viewpoints. However, this reviewer thinks the arguments have been made soundly, are strongly supported, and all genealogists should rethink what they have been taught about English marriage laws and practices in the eighteenth century. This is a good read

 

Letters of 1916: Creating History

Letters of 1916: Creating History Project from Trinity College Dublin
Letters of 1916: Creating History Project from Trinity College Dublin

Letters of 1916: Creating History

Do you have letters to or from anyone in Ireland written in 1916. Then you may want to share them with the Letters of 1916: Creating History project at http://dh.tcd.ie/letters1916/

Quoting from the website’s home page – “The Letters of 1916 project is the first public humanities project in Ireland. Its goal is to create a crowd-sourced digital collection of letters written around the time of the Easter Rising (1 November 1915-31 October 1916).”  In the first two months of the project over 500 letters were uploaded from both national institutions and private collections. The Letters 1916 team is identifying, digitizing and preparing hundreds more for uploading.

The project is being coordinated by researchers at Trinity College Dublin and they are calling upon members of the public to upload old family letters and photographs to the new digital archive. It is intended that all the letters, transcripts and images will be launched in 2016 for the centenary of the East Rising.

Even if you don’t personally have letters to share, you can get involved by volunteering and transcribing some of the letters. You can even choose which types of letters or topics interest you. The letters are arranged by categories – Easter Rising Ireland 1916; Art and literature; Business; Children; City and town life; Country life; Crime; Faith; Family life; Irish question; Last letters before death; Love letters; Official documents; patronage; Politics; World War I – 1914-1918. Some of the letters are very short and easy to transcribe. One letter I looked at from the World War one category was a simple thank you for bread received, so even the apparently mundane letters are included if they fall within the desired time period.

One of the keys to this project is that it will highlight the thoughts, ideas, and feelings of the ordinary Irish man and woman, along with what was happening officially.

The project was officially launched 27 September 2013, at Trinity College Dublin. If you would like to read the full press release you can do so at http://dh.tcd.ie/letters1916/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/1916-Letters-Press-Release-27-September-20131.pdf

Book Review: The Irish: A Photohistory 1840-1940 by Sean Sexton and Christine Kinealy

The Irish: A Photohistory 1840-1940 by Sean Sexton and Christine Kinealy
The Irish: A Photohistory 1840-1940 by Sean Sexton and Christine Kinealy

The Irish: A Photohistory 1840-1940. By Sean Sexton and Christine Kinealy. Published by Thames & Hudson, 500 Fifth Ave., New York NY 10110. www.thamesandhudsonusa.com . 2002 Hardback $40, 2013 Softcover $21.95. 224 pp. Illustrations, index.

The introduction to the book points out that “photographs remain an undervalued and underused source by those who are interested in Ireland’s past. Too often they are treated as appendages to the written word rather than as pieces of evidence in their own right. Yet photographs provide a contemporary record which can complement and expand upon other sources, both written and oral. They can challenge or confirm our perceptions of Ireland between 1840 and 1940 by providing fuller and more nuanced information that many written records.” (p.22-23).

The 271 photographs used here are all high quality and clear, the best of the best. They all have clear extensive captions. Accompanying the photographs is clear text placing them into a descriptive historical context, which is in many ways a good summary of the major developments and changes occurring in nineteenth and early twentieth century Ireland. The book, after the introduction, is divided into four chapters: land, landlords and the big house (Anglo-Irish landowners, the Quarter Acre Clause, Congested Districts Board, Land Commission); poverty, famine and eviction (lack of famine photographic documentation, but strong eviction evidence and why, occupations); from union to partition (role or Irish in military, Home Rule Bill, Government of Ireland Act, Irish Constitution); towards a modern Ireland (effect of Union, development especially of Dublin and Belfast, rise and fall of major industries).

This book is a fascinating read on modern Irish history, and with the photographs and their captions it is easy to dip into and explore. The reader gets a much better image of what Ireland looked like during the period than could be obtained from just reading about it.

Book Review: Discover Scottish Civil Registration Records by Chris Paton.

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Discover Scottish Civil Registration Records by Chris Paton
Discover Scottish Civil Registration Records by Chris Paton

Discover Scottish Civil Registration Records. By Chris Paton. Published by Unlock the Past, P.O. Box 119, St. Agnes SA 5097, Australia.  www.unlockthepast.com.au. 2013. 52 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover. AU$17. Available as an e-book at www.gen-ebooks.com.  AUS$7.95

 

If you have literally any questions about the civil registration process in Scotland, then this book will probably have the answer. The book is well researched and thorough. It has been over a decade since I wrote about this subject in detail in my own book on Scottish research and I kept thinking as I read this – did I mention that, and in most cases the answer was yes for we had in fact used the same legal guide by Bisset-Smith for the details we wanted. This book is a lot simpler to read than the legal guide and gives the details you need to understand the process.

 

The book is divided into two parts. The first, much larger section, addresses civil registration in Scotland, while the second part explains registration in the other parts of the British Isles. For Scotland, the book explains how the process got established in 1855 (for comparison England started in 1837); it explains the registration processes and how they changed over the years for births, marriages and deaths. You might say that most books on Scottish research provide this information and my clear response is – not at this level of detail. For example, it explains who the preferred candidates were for registering a birth, who was responsible, how long they had to do it, and what the consequences were (legal and financial) if they did not do it in time. It explains how the rules changed when the child is illegitimate, even if the parents later married. The devil can be in the details and all the answers to these questions are different from the rules and procedures in the rest of the British Isles, so you can’t come to Scotland with experience from elsewhere and apply them here for they are not same.

 

In the marriage section there is a clear discussion on what the difference is between a regular and irregular marriage and the effect on registration. It also explains how and why things changed with the introduction of civil marriage and same sex marriages.

 

For each of the birth, marriage and death sections it also addresses the minor records that are applicable to Scotland, which are much more readily accessible now, such as: foreign returns; consular returns; foreign registers; events at sea or in the air; military returns, etc.  One unusual, but helpful addition is a section on vaccination records, how to locate them, and especially what happened when parents did not follow through with the compulsory vaccination.

 

The book acknowledges the use of ScotlandsPeople to access the records but does not go into depth on how to do so, as there is another book by this publisher on how to us ScotlandsPeople. This book does include information on how the records might be accessed, for specific time periods, on other websites such as FamilySearch.

 

There is a section addressing the principals of civil registration in: England and Wales; British overseas and military records; Ireland; and Crown dependencies. This section does not go into as much depth and the author is not on as firm a ground as he is with Scottish records, omitting how many days the parents had to register a birth, and the effect this has on index searching; or how a burial can occur when a death certificate is not issued. These weaknesses in the English section do not detract from the book overall for the focus is on the Scottish records. The book is current and hot off the press for it mentions the 17 July 2013 formal royal assent of the Marriage (Same Sex) Couples Act of 2013.

 

This highly recommended slim guide to Scotland’s civil registration records is packed full of the details that genealogists love. It will help you understand the rules and processes by which your ancestors registered the key events in their lives.