Book Review: Tracing Your Ancestors’ Parish Records by Stuart A. Raymond

Tracing Your Ancestors' Parish Records A Guide for Family and Local Historians by Stuart Raymond
Tracing Your Ancestors’ Parish Records A Guide for Family and Local Historians by Stuart Raymond

Tracing Your Ancestors’ Parish Records: A Guide for Family and Local Historians. By Stuart A. Raymond. 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: CasemateIPM 908 Darby Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. $24.95. In Australia from www.gould.com.au. $30.25.  2015. 148 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.

This is a subject I know something about having written two recent books on English parish registers and the Parish Chest records. Yet, this book was a delight to read adding details and expanding upon what I already knew about the subject.

For many family historians it is the baptism, marriage and burials registers that are first and often only records used to identify an ancestor and put them into a specific time and place. These registers are covered in this book, but in one short chapter in the middle of the book. It is the other records created by the parish that will make our ancestors come alive. Their level in society is irrelevant as they will either be conducting the business of the parish, working for the parish in one of many capacities, or receiving assistance from the parish and its officers. In other words everyone can and should be found in these records, assuming they have survived for your parish of interest.

So what is here? The English parish was an integral part of English life for at least a thousand years, certainly up through the early twentieth century. Order within the country was maintained through the parish its officers and institutions, including: clergy; guilds; vestry; churchwardens; overseers; constables; highway surveyors; parish and vestry clerks; beadsmen; beadles; organists and singers; dog-whippers; and sidesmen all of whom are put into context and all of whom generated records and accounts. The parish itself is governed by the vestry so it is the vestry minutes and account books of the different officers that are often the most voluminous and detailed records within the parish, and unfortunately the least indexed or published. Until the mid-nineteenth century the parish was responsible for the poor and the book explains how and what shape that care took, how it changed over time, and what records were generated along the way. Care needs to be taken of the church buildings and its contents so we find: inventories of church goods; bede rolls; glebe terriers; Easter books; faculties; seating plans; magazines; sermons; registers of services and preachers. The church and its members were often involved in litigation as witnesses, petitioners, or as accused in the church courts, all leaving records. To put ancestors physically on the ground and understand their worth within the hierarchy of the parish look for the tithe records; the enclosure awards and maps; or the details on the parish charities.

Throughout the book the emphasis is on understanding the history of the records, their context and what they provide or tell a researcher. The researcher is pointed towards more in depth resources through annotated recommendations often history books that have used a specific record set to describe a specific place or time period. These histories are extremely valuable in putting ancestors and the places in which they live into a correct detailed historical context, for no parish is an island unto itself. The contents of specific document types are often extracts from published sources, only a few original documents are illustrated or extracted. The reader needs to look at both the citation endnotes and the recommended reading lists within each chapter for rarely will a source be in both lists.

I agree with the descriptive text on the cover, at least for English researchers, that this “is a book that all family and local historians should have on their shelves.” You will not be disappointed as this is a big subject and this book will start you off well.

Side note – my books Discover English Parish Registers and Buried Treasures: what’s in the English parish chest by Unlock The Past focus more on how to find, use and interpret the records,, and provide lots of practical advice. The above book adds more context and history.

Book Review: A Decade of Centenaries – Researching Ireland 1912-1923 by Chris Paton

A Decade of Centenaries - Researching Ireland 1912-1923 by Chris Paton
A Decade of Centenaries – Researching Ireland 1912-1923 by Chris Paton

A Decade of Centenaries – Researching Ireland 1912-1923. By Chris Paton. Published by UnlockThePast Publications, PO Box 119, St Agnes SA 5097, Australia. www.gould.com.au/Unlock-the-Past-guides-s/2576.htm. AUS $15.00.  Available as an e-book from http://www.gen-ebooks.com, AUS $9.95. Available in North America from www.globalgenealogy.com CAN$17.00. Available in the UK from www.myhistory.co.uk. £7.50. 2016. 52 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.

If there is the remotest chance that you know of, or suspect you have, 20th century family connections in Ireland this book is going to be a must buy for it is the only book dealing specifically with this complicated period from a genealogical perspective.

The book begins with an overview of the genealogical landscape, highlighting the commonly used resources for 20th century Irish research. It covers: vital records; burials; census, probate; newspapers; archives and libraries; family and local history societies; plus online record vendors all of which is information you can find in any good research guide.

It is the following chapters that are unique addressing the many different events that are being remembered in the “Decade of Centenaries” (2012 to 2023). There are separate chapters for: Home Rule, women’s suffrage, worker’s rights; the First World War; the Easter Rising; and towards independence.  In each chapter the key players, often with similar sounding names, are clearly explained in terms of what they wanted to accomplish, what they did accomplish, and on what side of the issue they were on.  So for example in the chapter on Women’s Suffrage we learn about the key leaders and the differences between the Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association (IWSLGA); Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU); Irish Women’s Franchise League (IWFL); Irish Women’s Suffrage Society (IWSS); Irish Women’s Suffrage Foundation (IWSF). We learn about how their campaign escalates over time but comes to a close with the declaration of War in 1914, with the women being encouraged to support the war effort. The chapter continues highlighting online resources that provide context but also enables researchers to find their ancestors who were involved. Looking at the Easter Rising we learn to understand the differences between the: Irish Volunteers; Irish Citizen Army; Cumann na mBan; Fianna Éireann (Na Fianna hÉireann); Hibernian Rifles all of whom fought against the British.

Throughout the book mini-case studies and resources highlight the Irish who were on both sides of the issues either against the British or against each other. Mr. Paton does an excellent job of simplifying the complex history of Ireland in this time period and pointing you toward the records, many of which are already online or are coming online, and of course indicating where the originals are for those not yet online. This book is highly recommended for anyone with 20th Century Irish research even if you think, like the author did, that your ancestors were not involved in the troubles or movements in any way.

Remembering those who died on the First Day of the Battle of the Somme – 1 July 1916

Private John Finnigan, Private John Finnegan buried 10 July 1916 in Elswick Cemetery Newcastle-Upon-Tyne
Private John Finnigan [Finnegan] of the 11th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers wounded 1 July 1916 at the Battle of the Somme.
100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme

Today I want to remember two of my great-uncles Corporal Robert Finnegan and Private John Finnegan. Robert Finnegan died 100 years ago today on 1 July 1916, during the first day of the Battle of the Somme. He is remembered on the Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval, the largest of such memorials on the Western Front, with over 72,000 names. His brother John Finnegan was wounded on 1 July 1916 and died on the hospital ship returning to England and was buried on 10 July 1916 in Elswick Cemetery in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Northumberland.

For readers who know little about the first day of the Battle of the Somme, it is regarded as the worst day in British military history.  At the end of one day the British Army suffered nearly 57,000 casualties, with nearly 20,000 killed, the rest were wounded or captured.

The British were attacking along an eighteen mile front stretching south from Gommecourt, where sections of the Third Army were to make a diversionary attack, south to Maricourt where the British joined the French army. The main effort was made by the Fourth Army under the command of Sir Henry Rawlinson. At 7:30 a.m. on July 1, 100,000 soldiers went over the top to be followed shortly afterwards by a second wave of men.

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing built by Edwin Lutyens.
Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, the largest of such memorials with over 72,000 names of British soldiers dead and missing

Both Finnegan brothers were in the 11th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, part of the 36th (Ulster) Division. They were part of the second wave, coming out of the trenches following the 9th and 10th Battalion’s Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. By then the Germans knew the attack was underway and the machine guns were working hard. The result was very high casualty rates which included the Finnegan brothers.

The image with this blog is a newspaper photograph of John Finnegan from the Illustrated Chronicle, a newspaper from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.  I am still searching for a photograph of Robert Finnegan.

There is a lot of material online, in print and in film about the Battle of the Somme. If you would like information about some good documentary films and original footage from the Battle have a look at Genealogy a la carte for June 29, 2016 for an excellent blog posting by Gail Dever, a Montreal based researcher.

English Research Course and Upcoming Institutes

2016 IGHR Course 6 - English Research students with Paul Milner
2016 IGHR Course 6 – English Research students with instructor Paul Milner

English Research Course

20 Students gathered during the week of June 13-17 for the English research course, one of ten courses, at Samford University in Birmingham Alabama for the 51st gathering of the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research. There was 25 hours of learning both in the classroom and computer labs. What a great group of adult learners with a very wide range of experience both in genealogy and in English research specifically. All were challenged with their knowledge base expanding during the week; with the majority leaving feeling they could do this research for their family lines. Some made progress on their research during the week itself.

Next year’s Institute moves date and location. The Institute moves to the week of July 23-28, 2017 to be held at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. I will be teaching a track on Scottish research, which will be one of at least 10 intense learning opportunities. You will in the near future be able to find more information at http://ighr.gagensociety.org though the site is currently under construction.

For those who regret missing the English research track you have the opportunity to attend a modified version of the course entitled English Research: The Fundamentals and Beyond at the British Institute October 10-14, 2016 hosted by the International Society for British Genealogy and Family History (ISBGFH), meeting in Salt Lake City. Early registration for this event ends 14 September 2016. More information can be found at the ISBGFH website.

Come join us at one of these events and improve your English or Scottish research skills.

Book Review: Tracing Your Ancestors through Local History Records by Jonathan Oates

Review of Tracing Your Ancestors through Local History Records by Jonathan Oates
Tracing Your Ancestors Through Local History Records: A Guide for Family Historians by Jonathan Oates

Tracing Your Ancestors through Local History Records: A Guide for Family Historians.  By Jonathan Oates. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. £14.99. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 908 Darby Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. $29.95. 2016. xv, 148 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.

This book is not for the beginner who is looking for ideas on how to trace their ancestors. Rather it is the for the individual who has already been researching their ancestors, possibly for years, and has names, dates and places, but does not know a lot about their ancestors. This book is for those wanting to flesh out their ancestors, learning more about their lives and times by exploring local history, not just family history. The book encourages and guides the individual to study the history of the locality; whether that is a county, city, town or parish. All of our ancestors were influenced by the immediate society in which they lived, worked, played, traveled and worshipped and by the friends and neighbors who surrounded and supported them. This book is designed to guide you to learning more about the lives of our ancestors and the society in which they lived.

Interestingly, the book begins in a great place with a brief overview of English history, noting especially how the relationships between the crown, government, church, society and industry were changing over time. It is a good framework on which to add your own increasing knowledge about the locality on which you choose to focus. The next four chapters focus through broad categories on some of the types of record that will be encountered: books and journals; photographs and illustrations; maps and plans; and newspapers. These records are covered in broad strokes, but it is enough to get the reader thinking about where to look and what to be looking for in their locality. The next two chapters address where to be looking for these records – local archives and libraries, plus national and regional repositories. Here a researcher will find the expected suggestions, but it the less than obvious that adds value here, such as the records of the town clerks; parish vestries; parish councils; quarter sessions; county councils; committee minutes; civil defense; school records; clubs; businesses; property records; parliament; ecclesiastical organizations; and many more.

Not all local history can be found in books, libraries or archives. The researcher is encouraged to visit the area and see the place for one’s self. However, it is better to have gotten some of the guidebooks first so that you know what you are looking for and at when one finds the things that make the place unique or the same as other places. The following two chapters highlight the value of other sources such as oral history and ephemera, plus outline what may be found in museums, local and thematic.

The book concludes with an overview of the origins and development of local history, highlighting the movers and shakers over the centuries that have shaped this fascinating field.

The book does not deal with any group or type of record in depth, but does get you thinking about what might exist for your locality and provides guidance about how and where to go looking for the records. If you want more depth on a specific aspect of local history that resource is likely to be included in the good but select bibliography. This book does a good job of thinking how and where to go next, to get beyond the names, dates and places of family history.

Book Review: Tracing Your Merchant Navy Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Simon Wills.

Review of Tracing Your Merchant Navy Ancestors
Tracing Your Merchant Navy Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Simon Wills

Tracing Your Merchant Navy Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians. By Simon Wills. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 908 Darby Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. 2012. x, 180 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover $29.95

Pen & Sword continues its excellent Family History book series with this guide to researching your Merchant Navy ancestors, a common occupation for many British ancestors, yet they can be difficult to trace. This guide book puts your ancestors into social context and provides guidance on where to find specifics on the men, and the ships on which they sailed.

The book is divided into nine chapters: Britain’s Merchant Fleet; life in the Merchant Service; finding and following a ship; tracing seamen and non-officers; captains and other officers; disaster and bravery; Merchant Navy in wartime; places to visit; case histories.

The book is full of fascinating helpful facts that put your ancestors and the research issues into context. For example, in 1899 there are 10,998 British-registered steam and sailing ships over 100 tons, dwarfing the closest rival the USA which had only 2,739 seagoing ships, while other countries went down from there. The ships are also not necessarily where you might expect them to be for in 1835 a list of the top ten ports where ships are registered includes, not surprisingly in the number one position London with 2,663 ships, Newcastle in number two with 987 ships, but how about Whitehaven, Cumbria in the number 7 slot with 496 ships, and Southampton a well- known port does not make the list.

One of the keys to Merchant Navy research is understanding where and when your ancestor was likely to have been as sea. The records, and thus where and how to search vary greatly by time period. In additional many of the record collections have been broken up and disseminated to archives scatted around the British Isles, with a large collection to the Maritime History Archive at the University of Newfoundland. Luckily the book does provide suggestions on when the records are centrally located, plus where and how to search when they are not.

The book is not just for those who served as ships masters, mates and seamen, but also includes all the other occupations you may find at sea such as carpenters, cooks, donkeymen, engineers, firemen, greasers, gunners, medical officers, pursers, stewards, storekeepers, telegraphers, and trimmers. The role of women is also highlighted.

Each chapter has numerous illustrations of ships, crew and the documents they used or those created by officials. There are numerous finding aids, and references suggested and where you may also find material online the web addresses are provided. I was actually surprised at how much may now be online, making the search process from outside the British Isles a little easier.

If you have Merchant Navy ancestors you will certainly want to have a look at this up to date research guide.

 

Book Review: The Family History Web Directory: The Genealogical Websites You Can’t Do Without by Jonathan Scott

The Family History Web Directory: The Genealogical Sites You Can't Do Without by Jonathan Scott
The Family History Web Directory: The Genealogical Sites You Can’t Do Without by Jonathan Scott

The Family History Web Directory: The Genealogical Websites You Can’t Do Without.  By Jonathan Scott. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. ₤14.99. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 908 Darby Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. 2015. viii, 245 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover $24.95

Mr. Scott comes to the task as a freelance writer, former deputy editor of Family History Monthly, and writer, since 2007 of the ‘Best websites’ column for the Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine. He is therefore used to finding and evaluating genealogy websites with the depth and breadth of experience clearly showing.

The introduction to the book explains the filing system at work in the book. “Each chapter lists websites broadly in order of importance, interest and usefulness. The idea being that for those just starting their research into a particular branch or topic, this will lead them quickly to the best of most interesting resources. Then in the index at the back all the websites appear again, often more than once, but listed this time alphabetically by title, content or subject.” (p.vii)

The book is divided into five sections. The first section identifies websites for getting started in genealogy addressing the fundamentals such as civil registration, census and parish registers. The second and longest section, entitled digging deeper, takes you into all sorts of record groups: burial records and monumental inscriptions; probate and wills; taxation; election records; crime and punishment; court records; coroner’s inquest; poor law and workhouses; schools; directories; newspapers; migration; overseas research; Wales; Ireland; Scotland; hospitals and medicine; catholic records; Jewish records; nonconformist records; photographs and films; Londoners; maps; estate records; seventeenth and eighteenth century sources; slavery; sports and pastimes. The third section examines websites for military and conflict, addressing each of the services, as well as examining specific conflicts and time periods. The fourth section addresses occupations with nineteen different categories with the last being a catch all for other occupations and apprentices. You will likely find multiple sites here for your occupation of interest. The final section covers miscellaneous sites identifying: resources by region; blogs and forums; house history; medieval ancestors; heraldry; nobility and gentry; sharing research; social networking; plus software and apps.

For each entry it provides a title; address and a brief description if warranted, and often one is needed, which just adds to the value of the listing.

While I was reading this book I found myself marking those sites that I had never heard of and wanted to go and check out, or ones that I had not visited in a while and I wanted to remind myself to have a fresh look. All the time I was thinking will this provide something new for my own research? The result was a book with a surprisingly large number of marks of sites I need to check out. I am working through the marks as time allows and finding all sorts of additional information.

Most people are unlikely to read this book from cover to cover. Rather it is a tool to aid you in your research. It is one to be dipped into to solve a problem or to specifically look for new websites. In that sense it is a goldmine of leads for British research. I can highly recommend it. Yes, some of the websites will become obsolete, so you can use the wayback machine at archive.org. You will also still need your favorite search engine as new websites will be created. In the meantime, get this book.