WWI – Finding the Dead – Commonwealth War Graves Commission part 1

Home Page fro Commonwealth War Grave Commission Website with simple search box in upper right.
Home Page for Commonwealth War Grave Commission Website with simple search box in upper right.

I said in an earlier posting that this year I was going to have a special focus on World War One research. I have had a couple of postings mentioning new resources, but now I want to start explaining how to use the existing resources to trace your World War One ancestors and to put them into context.

Let’s assume your ancestor did not survive the war. The place to start is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website at www.cwgc.org.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission ensures that the 1.7 million people who died in the two world wars will never be forgotten. The Commission is responsible for marking and maintaining the graves of those members of the Commonwealth forces who died. It therefore cares for cemeteries and memorials in 23,000 locations, in 153 countries. One of the sad parts of these numbers is that for many the person in the grave is unknown, and for many on the memorials no identifiable remains have been recovered.

Don’t lose hope though. For the family historian the important resource provided is the index to the 1.7 million who have died in the two wars. There are 1,059,642 names from the WWI and 649,489 names from WWII.

Let’s start here by defining for this database what period is being searched when WWI is selected. The first day deaths are recorded is the 4 August 1914 with four deaths, while the last day for recording WWI deaths is 31 August 1921 when 24 deaths were recorded in England, India and South Africa. Remember that the war began on 28 July 1914 with Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war with Serbia. England declared war with Germany on 4 August 1914 and so four members of the British Armed Services lost their lives on the first day of the war. England declared war later against Austria-Hungary on 12 August 1914; against Turkey on 5 November 1914; and against Bulgaria on 15 October 1915.

Let’s jump right in and do a search, partially because that is what most people are going to do. From the home page you can do a simple search using: surname; initials; service; and war. For this illustration I am doing a search on the name Croudace, and I choose WWI. I have seven results listed, and this is definitely one of the benefits of an unusual surname. In this case I can examine all seven results by selecting the surname on each line in turn.

John Croudace - Northumberland Fusiliers son of Andrew John Croudcae and  Jane Croudace
Search results for surname Croudace on Commonwealth War Grave Commission Website

The soldier I actually need is John Croudace.  The results shown are in a standardized format. What you hope and pray for is data in the Additional Information field for without it you may or may not be able to positively identify your serviceman or woman. In this case we learn that John Croudace is the son of John and Jane Croudace, of 14 Bentinck Street in Newcastle-on-Tyne. I have John with his parents (A.J. – Andrew John and Jane Croudace) and siblings at this address in the 1911 census. I have my serviceman.

Details for John Croudace of the Northumberland Fusiliers, son of John and Jane Croudace
Details for John Croudace of the Northumberland Fusiliers, son of John and Jane Croudace

The standardized data fields are: name; rank; service number; date of death; age; regiment/service; grave reference, and the cemetery where buried or the memorial where his name is inscribed. There may also be the valuable additional information. The additional information was drawn from the soldiers paperwork where they often, but not always, named parents, or wives. This is especially valuable as many of those documents were destroyed by fire during World War II. I will come back to what has survived of these records in a later post. There can also be extensive information with photographs on the cemetery where the person in buried.

Presentation Memorial  Certificate  for John Croudace.
Presentation Memorial Certificate for John Croudace.

In the upper right corner of the casualty details box is a button for – view certificate. This is a very nice certificate to print to remember your serviceman or woman, and to insert into your research files. Please note that one key piece of information is missing from the certificate which would be vital if you are planning on visiting the cemetery or monument. What is missing is the grave reference number, or the panel number of the memorial.

We will take a closer look at this website in the next blog posting.

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: The Big Houses and Landed Estates of Ireland – A Research Guide by Terence Dooley

The Big Houses and Landed Estates of Ireland: A Research Guide by Terence Dooley
The Big Houses and Landed Estates of Ireland: A Research Guide by Terence Dooley

A question about the records associated with Landed Estates in Ireland was raised in a casual conversation in the exhibit hall at last week’s FGS conference in Ft. Wayne, IN. I hope you find this review helpful.

The Big Houses and Landed Estates of Ireland: A Research Guide. Maynooth Research Guides for Irish Local History: Number 11. By Terence Dooley. Published by Four Courts Press, 7 Malpas Street, Dublin 8, Eire. US Distributor: International Specialized Book Services, 920 NE 58th Avenue, Suite 300, Portland OR 97213. www.isbs.com. 2007. 192 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover. $24.95.

This new book is a valuable tool for those with Irish connections for the majority lived on the landed estates, whether they were the landed magnates owning tens of thousands of acres; middlemen leasing large tracts of land from head landlords and renting them in turn in smaller parcels of various sizes to tenant farmers; cottiers who exchanged their labor for half an acre or so of potato ground; landless laborers who worked on estates or farms; or the big house or demesne servants. The estates themselves varied greatly in size from the smallest of around 500 acres to those such as the Marquis Conyngham who owned 160,000 acres. The smaller estates were generally in one county but the larger ones could have parts in many counties, making the locating of records more problematic.

At the heart of the approximately 7,000 landed estates in nineteenth-century Ireland is the “big house” built to announce the economic and social strength of their owners in the locality and in the class as a whole, and to inspire awe in social equals and possibly encourage deference in the lower classes. Even the houses on the smaller estates were big in comparison to any house inhabited by the tenant farmers, cottiers or laborers. The term “big house” also captures some of the historical resentment that was felt towards the people in these houses by nationalist Ireland, especially after the land wars of the 1880s.

This is a practical book, opening with a broad outline of the history of landed estates in Ireland from their growth in the sixteenth century to their break up in the twentieth, with particular attention given to outside influences affecting life on the estate. Researchers are directed towards the important published sources. The third chapter provides a historiography of the big house describing the growth, consolidation and decline over four centuries. The author highlights the need to be aware of local anomalies not always identified in broad national generalizations. Doing the background reading in these two chapters will provide the wider social, economical and political historical contexts for family historians and provide an understanding into whether what occurred on a particular estate was typical or peculiar to that estate.

Chapters two and four describe the important primary sources available for the study of the estates and their houses, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each which is very valuable if as a researcher you are accessing them for the first time. They do point out that not all records discussed survive for all estates. Many of the records will be familiar like Griffith’s Valuation, Tithe Applotment books, directories, gazetteers, and deeds. But the less familiar sources might include: estate records; parliamentary papers; records of the Irish Land Commission and Congested Districts Board; encumbered estates; memoirs; travelers guides; newspapers; architectural archives; maps; paintings and topographical drawings; even contemporary fiction. The references to publications and websites are useful and current. The index is good, but a comprehensive bibliography would have been a nice way to pull together the many citations in the footnotes. This is an excellent book, highly recommended, for researchers wanting to go beyond the basics and those seeking to put their ancestors into context.

Book Review: Maps and Map-Making in Local History

Maps and Map-Making in Local History by Jacinta Prunty
Maps and Map-Making in Local History by Jacinta Prunty

I am in the process of updating a lecture on Irish Maps to be given at the 2013 Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. This process reminded me of what is probably my favorite book about maps and I thought readers may also want to know about it.

Maps and Map-Making in Local History. Maynooth Research Guides for Irish Local History. By Jacinta Prunty. Published by Four Courts Press, 7 Malpas Street, Dublin 8, Eire. US Distributor: ISBS, 920 N.E. 58th Avenue, Suite 300, Portland OR 97213. www.isbs.com. 2004. 344 pp. Illustrations, index, maps. Softcover. $30

This book opens with the quote: “Maps are graphic representations that facilitate a spatial understanding of things, concepts, conditions, processes or events in the human world” (p.15). The rest of the book expands upon that theme, successfully introducing the reader to the use of maps in research, writing and presenting local history. The illustrations are all from Ireland, so it is especially valuable for those researching in Ireland, but the concepts and ideas introduced are applicable for anyone working with maps. In fact two of the appendices are worth the price of the book alone, simply because they do apply to any location —  “Questions to be asked of maps” and “Questions to ask of your place in the search for maps”.

This is essentially a practical guide, including notes on the map series that are immediately useful for local history, and thus family history in Ireland, plus information on the major repositories, catalogs and finding aids, ways to use the maps in research, and the ways the maps themselves were made. Maps provide the context in which family historians place families within a community. In local history, researchers examine how that community operated in relationship to its neighbors, what resources were shared, how the interactions and development was affected by the landscape, all of which can be seen with maps.

The book is divided into four sections. The first, and largest, provides a historical overview of map-making in Ireland. The watershed here is the six-inch to one mile Ordnance Survey maps. Their production, content and legal standing are described in detail. The maps created before and after this significant series are also thoroughly described. This section is well illustrated and provides researchers with a glimpse of what is available. The author suggests, in the process, that the researcher should obtain any and all maps for the relevant geographic area, regardless of the time period or the maps focus (e.g. railways, canals, roads, military, plantation, geology, antiquities, estates, or bogs).

A very practical chapter on map-reading skills discusses scales, projections, orientations, national grid, grid references, sheet numbering, height, contours, boundaries, measurements, dates, and symbols. Ms. Punty explains where to locate maps, how to get started, and how to use guides to local and major archives or library collections, some of which are online. The book concludes with some case studies on how maps can be used by historians, local and family. This last section of the book also addresses the issues of copyright ownership, and provides guidelines for making your own maps, with or without computers. Many references to published and online materials provide further guidance throughout the text for researchers wanting to explore Irish maps and map-making further.

There is no doubt that this will become the standard guide for anyone working with Irish maps. It is highly recommended for personal and society collections.

Book Review: Tracing Your Huguenot Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Kathy Chater

I gave four lectures last weekend in Rochester, New York and got a number of questions about tracing Huguenots in England and Ireland, thus I thought appropriate to share this review.

Tracing Your Huguenot Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Kathy Chater
Tracing Your Huguenot Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Kathy Chater

Tracing Your Huguenot Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians. By Kathy Chater. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK. www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. £12.99. US Distributor: Casemate Publishing, 1016 Warrior Road, Drexel Hill, PA 19026. www.casemateathena.com. US$24.95. Australia sales from Gould Genealogy and History. www.gould.com.au. AUS$29.95. 2012. 152 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.

Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries many thousands of Protestants fled religious persecution in France and the Low Countries (modern day Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg). They settled in the German Protestant States and the British Isles, some permanently while others later migrated to North America, the West Indies, South Africa and Australia. The book opens with a very good summary of the wars and religious conflict that led to these migrations, reminding us just how important religion was in the lives of our ancestors.

The book focusses on the communities within Great Britain and Ireland. It clearly identifies and summarizes the history, development and decline, of the specific Huguenot and Walloon communities in London, Kent, East Anglia, the West Country, Ireland, Scotland and the Channel Islands. Ms. Chater continues by suggesting a research plan with issues to consider. This is not necessarily easy for the wealthy tended to choose to assimilate joining the Church of England, seeking business and education opportunities, while the poor needed the support of their own community. The Huguenot communities could easily be connected with the Church of England or the Dissenting Churches (Congregationalists, Baptists, English Presbyterians) and often with specific occupations so a broad research perspective is required. A nice research checklist is provided of both specific and general sources, with chapters for each. The chapter on specific resources is very valuable addressing: denizations and naturalisations; returns of strangers; Huguenot church records, going beyond the church registers; poor relief and charity records; schools; charity apprenticeships; friendly societies; wills; other foreign churches. What is nice is that these records are not usually high on the priority list for researchers and so their importance and specificity for this community is valuable. The chapter on general sources points to more commonly used records, but again highlights what to look for that might clearly identify people from this community.

The closing chapters address how to research Huguenot communities with individual European countries, and the rest of the world, including briefly North America. The bibliography includes a complete listing of all titles in the Huguenot Society Quarto Series and New Series, plus how the titles have been combined and reissued on CD-ROM, along with a select bibliography.  Compared with other volumes in this series the bibliography and guidance for further research is one of the weaknesses in this otherwise up to date research guide. For example, though the chapter on the religious wars and Edicts in Europe that created this migration is well summarized there is no guidance in the chapter or the bibliography for researchers who want to know more. It should also be pointed out that when discussing the European Huguenot churches mention is made when the records have been microfilmed by the Family History Library, while no mention is made of which British Huguenot church records have been filmed.

This is a useful, up to date, practical guide for anyone who has, or thinks they have, Huguenot ancestors in the British Isles. It provides social and contextual assistance along with guidance on what records have survived, where to find them and how to use them.

Book Review: Irish Family History Resources Online by Chris Paton

Irish Family History Resources Online by Chris Paton
Irish Family History Resources Online by Chris Paton

Irish Family History Resources Online. By Chris Paton. Published by Unlock the Past, P.O. Box 675, Modbury, SA 5092, Australia. www.unlockthepast.com.au. 2011. 75 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover. AUS$19.50.

Online access to indexes and images is growing rapidly for Irish research, often with the same sets of records being available in multiple locations. This book is an expanded adaption of a lecture Mr. Paton gives, it shows and I loved the format and writing style.

The book begins by discussing records to identify who the Irish were, specifically: civil registration; church records; burial records; wills and probate; biographical databases and heraldry. It moves on to examine where the Irish were: censuses; street directories; land records; maps and gazetteers. Further sections address the major archives and libraries, newspapers and books, and a final catchall section covering: gateway sites; military, police and law; emigration; and some miscellaneous sites. The book is not a listing of websites.

So what makes this book different and so useful? Unlike many Irish research books that describe what the records are and contain, this book clearly presents how to search and use the records. For example, in the section on Civil Registration the book clearly shows how to access the indexes using FamilySearch and Ancestry, what different information each provides. It continues by showing how to use the information provided to obtain a certificate or photocopy of the registered birth, marriage or death event through different avenues, with clear suggestions on cheaper alternatives. For the section on Church Records the book online identifies resource guides, commercial and free websites, often outlining their specific strengths, contents, limitations, costs and search techniques.

Throughout the book there are numerous clear color screen captures of numerous websites giving it a lot of visual appeal. All web addresses are in bold so they stand out in the text making them easy to locate and retype into your own browser. The book is also well indexed by subject and location.

This is a book that I intend to keep close and handy to my computer. It is a very practical guide to Irish online research with lots of good practical suggestions.