Tuesday, 13 December 2016

What can you find out from a will? – Part 3

The Elusive Charles Pearson …

In the last two posts I described the beneficiaries named in the will of my great-grandaunt, Emma Jane Wray. At the time of writing of those posts, I had been able to find all of them through various records and indexes except for one person – her nephew Charles Pearson. We could correctly surmise he was the son of one of Emma’s brothers.

Tied up with that problem was identifying Emma Jane’s brother, also named Charles Pearson. I know he was alive in 1896 because his name is on an account for his grandmother’s property which was settled after the death of his mother, Susannah, that year. I assumed he also lived in England.

My great-granduncle Charles (noted here as senior Charles, just to keep things straight) is shown on the 1871 England Census, aged 15, living with his parents and siblings and born in Australia. At the time he was a labourer in an ironworks. No birth record from Australia has been found for Charles but there seems little doubt from ship passenger records listing his family and the 1871 England census that he was born there.

I had found a series of records that offered a strong possibility for identifying the man but could not confirm he was my relative. There is a Charles Pearson, with various occupations, shown on several England censuses as being born in Australia. On every list his wife is named Annie. There is a possible marriage record for Charles Pearson and Annie Merry in 1877 in Leicester. I found all of the children that are shown on the censuses, Lily, Annie and Emma, with their mother's maiden name of Merry on the GRO index seemingly solidifying the relationships. As I have said before one can find the maiden names of mothers on the GRO index that do not appear on other databases such as FreeBMD, Ancestry or FindMyPast.

Details for Charles on the censuses are:
Great Jetten spinning
Range Fitter
Heating Engineer
“Eninger” (Engineer?)

Annie's birth place is shown as Leicester on all censuses except for 1911 where it is listed as Scotland. In spite of the differences in Charles ages, I believe they are the same family. Childrens’ names and ages are consistent throughout. I think the reference to Scotland in 1911 is wrong but I have no explanation of why that place would have written when Charles signed the form. It is possible, of course, that Annie, nee Merry, died and Charles married another woman named Annie before 1911. But then the number of children shown on the record would not fit for a second wife.

In 1881 a Mary A. Pearson, mother (presumably of Charles, the head of the household) is shown living with the family. I believe this was actually Annie's mother. On the same census it appears her father, William Merry, was an inmate in a workhouse in Leicester, indicating the family had fallen on hard times. Until I can confirm who this Mary A. Pearson is, there will be a question. But some other data, while indirect, gives me confidence I have the right people.

In 1901 a nephew named Charles Pearson was living with Charles, Annie and their daughters. He was nine years old and his place of birth was Leamington, Warwickshire. I thought, “Aha, this may be Emma’s missing nephew, but he was not the son of her brother, Charles.”

I looked further to see if I could find him on other records. A Charles Pearson, aged 19 and born in Leamington, was living with Joseph and Emmie Taylor in London in 1911. Charles was indicated to be Emmie’s brother which meant her maiden name would have been Pearson. OK, maybe “Emmie” was, in fact Emma Pearson, and Charles was not her brother but her cousin, the same person who lived with her family in Coventry in 1901. Both Joseph and Emmie were born in Coventry according to the 1911 census. It was also recorded they had been married for three years. A marriage for the couple took place in 1908 in Coventry, so we had that regional connection established on a few records.

I looked for young Charles on FreeBMD and found a birth possibility in the March quarter of 1892 in Warwick. It had a note attached to it, though, that said it was a late entry with the birth actually recorded in the March quarter of 1895. That was curious but I felt I was on the right track and pursued some other lines. I went back to search the GRO Index and found the birth of Charles Pearson registered in the March quarter of 1895, just like FreeBMD said. This one gave me the mother’s maiden name – Atkinson.

I had an Atkinson in the Pearson family. Isabella Atkinson married James Pearson, one of Emma Jane’s brothers, in 1883. Through census and other records I had seven children born to this couple, including a Thomas Alfred Pearson born in 1892. Now I potentially had another son, born the same year. The 1911 census had recorded that Isabella had had eight children with seven still living at the time.

On FindMyPast I found two military records for Charles Pearson, one for service in the Royal Navy and one for the Royal Air Force. They were for the same man, though, as both gave his birth date as 15 January 1892, birth place as Leamington, occupation as automobile mechanic and a physical description of him that matched exactly on both records. The navy record indicated he had been transferred to the air force, probably due to his mechanical experience.

Now I have to say that I had already found another son of James and Isabella, Thomas Alfred Pearson, on the 1939 register and it showed his birth date as 15 January 1892. Wow! Could they have been twins? But why would one registration have been done so late? Was the original registration for Samuel messed up and no one caught it for a few years? I intend to purchase both records and see if I can determine what the problem was.

The air force record showed Charles had a wife, Cecily, who lived at 51 Aklam Road, North Kensington, London. I looked for marriage information for a Charles Pearson and a lady named Cecily and found one on FreeBMD for Cecily Hefferman. They were married in 1916 in Kensington. That fit the time and place as Charles had been living in London in 1911. To my delight, a copy of the actual marriage entry was on Ancestry and showed Charles’s father was James Pearson (deceased) a coach body builder. Indeed that is what Emma’s brother was on the 1891 census that I already had.

James Pearson died in 1897, leaving Isabella with eight children, the youngest possibly being the five-year old twins. Perhaps she felt overwhelmed and jumped at an offer from her brother-in-law, Charles to take the boy in. Through his uncle, young Charles may have developed his interest in automobiles that were just arriving on the scene.

The circle seemed to be closing, notwithstanding a few questionable entries on some censuses, such as young Charles shown as a brother to Emmie Taylor in 1911, or Mary A. Pearson shown as mother to the senior Charles in 1881. I believe I will be able to show these were mistakes when I have obtained other BMD records. I am now quite sure that the senior Charles Pearson I have found on censuses who was born in Australia is my great-granduncle.

One thing that still needs to be determined is who the eight children were that the 1911 census shows the couple had. I have the names of the three that were indicated as living then but not all of the five who had died. I did find three boys whose mother’s maiden name was Merry on the GRO index but who died as infants. One was born in Leicester and two in Coventry, and dovetail with the three girls named on the censuses.

In unravelling the relationships, I relied on databases from Ancestry, FindMyPast and FreeBMD. I used the search option for the General Register Office indexes to narrow down births and deaths. I compared BMD, census (including the 1939 Register), military, probate calendar and ships passenger records for many family members. The new research path all started this time with the information in Great-Grandaunt Emma Jane’s will.

There are still many certificates that I need to order but everything seems to be coming together, filling in holes on the family tree.

1909 note on postcard to Emma Jane Pearson from her nephew, James Henry (Jim) Pearson and brother to young Charles Pearson; Jim was killed in France in 1915 before Emma Jane's wedding which may be the event referenced in his message. 
The close relationships of the Pearson siblings and their children are demonstrated, first in Emma Jane’s will but also in how they seemed to come together when they needed each other’s support. It appears there are some very interesting and poignant stories behind the data I have assembled. Hopefully I will be able to learn about a few of them.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. He has also served as an editor of two such publications. Wayne provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

What can you find out from a will? – Part 2

In my last post I summarized some information I found about my Pearson ancestors after analyzing the original will of my Great-Grandaunt Emma Jane (Pearson) Wray (1861-1951). In this post I will set out some interesting discoveries I made about others named as beneficiaries.

Emma Jane kept in contact with her siblings and many nieces and nephews. I have copies of a few letters and cards from which I have been able to extract information about several family members. The will added to this library of data.
Photos taken at 23 Priory Terrace: left -1909; right - present day, from Google street view
Note on the back of the snapshot, later sent to my grandfather, James Pearson Shepheard, says - "My house where I lived when you came to visit me before you went to Canada"; Emma is standing in front of the residence; photo was taken by James Henry (Jim) Pearson, one of Emma's nephews, who was killed in action in WWI
I stated before that several family members were remembered with cash bequests. There was another group named who were to receive the residue of Emma’s estate:
  • ·         niece Annie Overton
  • ·         Winifred, the widow of her late nephew Thomas
  • ·         two daughters of her late nephew Thomas – Pamela and Joyce

For the second group, named in the original will:

Annie Overton was Annie Louise (Slinn) Overton, a daughter of Sarah Ann Pearson and George Albert Slinn. She married Walter John Overton in 1910. They had three children between 1911 and 1915. In the first codicil to Emma’s will, signed in 1947, she left a house in Leamington Spa to Annie and her husband. One might conclude that Annie and her family had been very supportive of Emma in order to receive that kind of bequest. The will showed Annie’s address at the time – Bishops Itchington in Warwickshire – which allowed me to easily find her and Walter on the 1939 Register living in the same place.

Results from 1837 onward come up with the mother’s maiden name. Thus I thought I might be able to match the wives of Emma’s married brothers. The birth dates of the nieces and nephews I knew about began in the 1880s and extended into the early 1900s, so that gave me a range of years for the searches.

The will gave me a lot of information about Thomas Pearson’s family from which I could track them down. He was born in 1892 and had obviously died before 1946 and his daughter would have been born before that year. I figured he would not have married before 1910, at the age of 18. So I did a search of FreeBMD for the births of Joyce and Pamela Pearson between 1910 and 1946, looking for people with mothers with the same maiden name. You can do that for births from 1911 onward on FreeBMD. You can also now search the entire GRO index from 1837 using a maiden name of a mother which really helps in deciding which person might be the best fit for your family.

Anyway, between 1910 and 1946 I found 285 girls named Joyce Pearson and 83 named Pamela Pearson. A computer search narrowed down several on both lists with the same maiden names for the mother. But only one resulted in girls born within a few years and a few miles of each other. Their mother’s name was Jenkinson: Joyce in 1920 and Pamela in 1924 and both in London. A FreeBMD search of marriages for Thomas Pearson and a lady named Winifred resulted in only one with a surname of Jenkinson and it was also close in time and proximity to the birth places of the children – in London, in 1918. I was now very sure I was on the right track. A search of the death index resulted in deaths for both in the same locality, Thomas in 1942 and Winifred in 1955, both in Wallington, London. That was also where I found the couple on the 1939 Register. Starting with names listed on a will, facts about a whole family emerged.

In 1949, Emma’s codicil to her will took away the bequest to Annie Walton and divided it among my grandfather, my grandmother and their three children, all living in Canada.

Emma Jane’s will was only 2 ½ pages long and each of the codicils were less than a page each. But they were crammed with information about many individuals and allowed me to add significant details about my Pearson family ancestors. The information also left me with several unanswered questions and some new trails to follow.

Family historians would be well-advised to obtain copies of wills of any and all ancestors. Some may come up short but others will be rich with information about people you may not have even thought about.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. He has also served as an editor of two such publications. Wayne provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

What can you find out from a will? – Part 1

My Great-Aunt Emma Jane Wray (nee Pearson) left a will when she died in 1951. Actually her original will was signed in 1946. She added two codicils, one in 1947 and another in 1949. She left property and sums of money to several nieces and nephews as well as to some of their children.

I think Emma had favourites among her siblings, nephews and nieces. She singled out only a few of them for bequests, generally the younger ones and many of them unmarried.

For this time period, mid-20th century, it is often difficult to specifically identify people. There is no census data. The 1939 Register has names redacted if they are still possibly alive. BMD records can be confusing especially when names are common. The will was very helpful in confirming some people and even in adding some names to the family tree. I will describe how I was able to sort out some of the people and their relationships in successive posts rather than try to tell the whole story at once.

Emma Jane was an older sister to my great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Pearson who married James Shepheard in Devon, in 1890. Emma did not marry until 1916, at the age of 55. She did not have any children so much of her family life appears to have centred on her siblings and their children. I have a copy of a wonderful coloured photograph taken of Emma and her new husband, Stephen Wray that was given to my grandfather. He kept in touch with her for many years after he immigrated to Canada in 1907. She also sent him letters and photos which I have as well.
1916 Wedding photo of Stephen Wray and Emma Jane Pearson
Emma was very community-minded. She turned to two friends, one a solicitor, to manage the affairs of her estate. She was generous and supportive of institutions important to her during her life. In her original will, Emma provided funds for: the Vicar and Churchwardens to assist them in the maintenance of the graves of her grandparents, parents and a brother buried in the Leamington Spa Cemetery and of a chapel in the cemetery (£300); the churchwardens of two churches for general expenses (£25 each); a convalescent Home for Consumptives (£25; her sister, my great-grandmother had died of the same disease); the local British Legion for the benefit of ex-servicemen (£25); a Home for Incurables (£25); her doctor (£25) and a local minister (£25).

She left personal cash bequests to only a few family members including:
  • ·         niece Elsie Pearson, in the form of an annuity (£26/an)
  • ·         nephew Alfred Pearson (£100)
  • ·         nephew James Pearson Shepheard (£100)
  • ·         nephew Charles Pearson (£25)
  • ·         niece Evelyn Pearson (£100)
  • ·         niece Annie Walton (£100)

The residue of Emma’s estate was then to be divided among:
  • ·         niece Annie Overton
  • ·         Winifred, the widow of her late nephew Thomas
  • ·         two daughters of her late nephew Thomas – Pamela and Joyce

Details about the first group, shown in the original will are as follows:

Elsie Pearson was Elsie Norris Pearson, a daughter of Emma’s brother, Henry Thomas Pearson (or Thomas Henry as many documents have his forenames in a different order). The address given for Elsie in the will, #16 Adelaide Square, Windsor, was his family’s residence in 1911 and which also helped me find them on the 1939 Register on FindMyPast. I had to just the address as the FMP database had the surname spelled as Perrson. You cannot read Elsie’s name on the register, though, because of an inkblot over most of it. The fact that funds were set up as an annuity suggested she may have been institutionalized at some point or incapacitated in some manner. That led me back to the 1911 census where I found her living at the Royal Deaf & Dumb Asylum, Victoria Road, in Margate, Kent, with 349 other students. The story of this school is very interesting and I will write about it in a later post.

Alfred Pearson was undoubtedly Alfred Christopher Pearson, the son of Emma’s brother, James and his wife, Isabella (Atkinson) Pearson. Isabella and her children had moved to Rhyl, Wales, shortly after the death of her husband in 1897. James is the sibling buried in Leamington Spa Cemetery whose monument Emma provided funds for maintenance. Alfred was living at home in Rhyl, Wales, on both the 1901 and 1911 censuses. I also found him on the 1939 Register, still living in Rhyl, then with a wife, Mary J. They were married in 1923.

James Pearson Shepheard was my grandfather. He had always been a favourite of his aunt Emma after his mother died when he was only an infant. He came to live with his grandparents in Leamington Spa for a time where Emma likely saw him often. They stayed in touch until her death, well after he had immigrated to Canada.

I have not found nephew Charles Pearson. In an attempt to locate him on various records I did several searches of the GRO Online Index. There are 518 names on the birth list between 1880 and 1904, the date range for the births of most of Emma’s nieces and nephews. One of them could/should be him. I am looking first to see if any of the mothers’ maiden names match up with those who married any of Emma’s brothers. There a few possibilities but I have not confirmed which one is the right Charles. What the will did tell me is that one of her brothers did have a son of that name, so that is a start.

Evelyn was probably another daughter of Henry Thomas. We can infer from her name in the will that she was still unmarried in 1946. There are several women on the 1939 Register that could be her. Perhaps when I obtain a birth certificate and learn her actual birth date, I may be able to narrow down which one is the most likely to be my ancestor.

Annie Walton would have been Annie Isabella (Pearson) Walton, a daughter of James and Isabella (Atkinson) Pearson. She married Jack Walton in 1944. In a codicil signed in 1949, Emma revoked the bequest to Annie. I wonder what the story was for that change. The will did at least tell me that Annie had married and that her husband’s name was Walton, so that helped to find the marriage date and place. I have not yet confirmed her or Jack’s residence on the 1939 Register.

The contents of the will led me to important documents and information about many Pearson family members. As a result of additional searches I even found some others who were not named as beneficiaries.

In my next post I will describe some of the other information I discovered from an analysis of Emma Jane’s will and codicils.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. He has also served as an editor of two such publications. Wayne provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

A Ghoulish Surprise in a Parish Register

I was searching for burial information for members of one branch of my family recently and came across a disturbing note in the burial register for St Paul, Shadwell parish, tower Hamlets borough, in Middlesex.

The entry read: 1781 Septr 18 – Mary Parker a Child twelve days old kept by her Parents in a Closet 2 years unburied and would not then have buried her, but as they were moving from ye House in King David Lane.

I have looked at thousands of pages of entries in parish registers, and found some sad cases, particularly dealing with children, but I had never seen such a record as this one.

It is difficult to imagine why the body of an infant would be kept at all, let alone for such a time period.

We do know that there had been a law that required that the dead be wrapped in wool shrouds from 1666 onward. That had to more to do with supporting the national wool industry than any religious reason. These are evidenced by the word “affidavit” in the burial registers indicating such a wrap had been used. By the late 18th century many parishes were not enforcing the act although for paupers it had generally been ignored anyway. This burial register did note that the burials were all with Affidavits.

Many parishes charged fees for burials that, while not necessarily excessive might have been more than poor families could afford. Could this family not been able to afford a burial? Could they have forgotten about it after several months? That’s hard to imagine.

Could the child have been conceived and born out of wedlock? And then its death hidden?

It is interesting that the child had a name but not a coffin.

I have not tracked down the family after this burial date. The parents’ names were not recorded so we don’t know whether they had other children or even whether this child had been baptized. And since they moved away, we don’t know where their new residence was. There was a 17 January 1781 baptism for a five-month old Samuel Parker whose parents were Samuel and Mary Parker, and who lived on King David Lane. They seem to be the most likely family of little Mary. Since they are also not part of my family, I won’t likely pursue a search for them.

Some interesting and surprising things turn up in parish registers. This is among the strangest I have seen, though. And just a bit ghoulish, too!

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. He has also served as an editor of two such publications. Wayne provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Helpful Hints to Write Anything

This post does not have anything to do with a specific genealogical discovery but with the telling of the stories of such things. It may be of interest to any family historian who wants to write about their ancestors but may not know where or how to start.

I write a lot! Having this blog means getting some ideas organized and a short article composed weekly. I have also written many family history articles for publication. And right now I am working on a book.

As the former editor of two genealogical society journals, I was often writing something for each issue as well as editing many other pieces. Over the years I have tried to convince many family historians to set down their stories and send them in to be published in one of the journals. More than a few said they did not know how or were not very good. Our editorial committees were able to provide many of these reluctant authors with the help they needed to tell their stories in print.

I even wrote one editorial on the subject, titled Advice to Authors (Relatively Speaking, November 2015, volume 43, number 4). Blogger John Reid was sufficiently impressed with my ideas that he reproduced them in one of his posts on his Canadian Anglo-Celtic Connections blog. You can read them here.

I like to think I am reasonably accomplished at putting words to paper until I have them reviewed by others. Then my shortcomings become apparent.

I was lucky in one editor’s position in working with an expert writer and proof-reader. Diane could and did pick up on almost everything that went against basic composition, including: spelling, punctuation, grammar, structure, word choice, etc. I have since had her look at stuff I am currently putting together. And she has not failed to make very valuable suggestions.

Not everyone has someone like Diane to help out, though. Recently, while reviewing my own book manuscript and looking for some ways to help it sound as good as I would like it to be, I came across a reference to a small book called, The Elements of Style (fourth edition). The book was originally published in 1920 as part of a way to help students in an English course.

I found this version on Amazon.ca. A copy was available for just $0.01, plus shipping, and I thought, “How can I not benefit by reading it?” The book was described the author himself, William Strunk Jr., as “the little book” as it was just 43 pages in length in its first form. It has been revised since, by one of Professor Strunk’s students, E. B. White.

The latest edition is 85 pages (plus a glossary) and can be read in a couple of hours. It contains a wonderful and very complete summary of simple and easy-to-understand suggestions about the basic principles of good writing. As the new co-author says, “Even after I got through tampering with it, it was still a tiny thing, a barely tarnished gem. Seven rules of usage, eleven principles of composition, a few matters of form, and a list of words and expressions commonly misused – that was the sum and substance of Professor Strunk’s work.” White added a chapter to Strunk’s material labelled An Approach to Style which “is addressed particularly to those who feel that English prose composition is not only a necessary skill but a sensible pursuit as well – a way to spend one’s days.”

To writers of all kinds who want to make your compositions clear, forceful and entertaining, I highly recommend you read The Elements of Style. It has style!

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. He has also served as an editor of two such publications. Wayne provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Lest We Forget

By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
Composed at the battlefront on May 3, 1915
during the second battle of Ypres, Belgium

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

Listen as Canada's renowned poet and musician Leonard Cohen reads this famous war memorial poem, written by another famous Canadian over a century ago.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

New Information on a Lost Great-Granduncle

For many years I have been searching for information about my paternal great-grandfather’s brother, Alfred Shepheard. He was a great-granduncle if anyone is trying to calculate the relationship. The last record on which he appeared was the 1881 England census for Torquay, Devon. He was still living at home with his parents, grandmother and three siblings. He was 21 years of age and a “Gentleman Servant”.

Then he disappeared. I have a photo of his three brothers taken around 1900 and have always wondered where Alfred was and why he was not in the picture. By then the three men had married and were living in scattered locations around England. It appears they all travelled to Taunton, Somerset, the home of the eldest brother, to have their picture taken together.

I have assumed that Alfred was dead by then, which is why he was not there, but cannot find a death record for him.

Recently I was trolling through newspapers on FindMyPast, as I do from time-to-time. I entered his name and, lo-and-behold, up popped a short news item from Plymouth published April 15th, 1891 in The Western Morning News that said: “Alfred Shepheard was at Plymouth yesterday fined 10s. 6d. for being drunk and driving a hansom furiously through Claremont-street. P.C. Prowse proved the case.”

“Wow!” I thought, “This could be our Alfred.” Plymouth is not that far from Torquay or from Cornwood parish where he was born. As a single guy, Alfred might well have moved around. Mind you he would have been about 31 by that time and should have known better, but…

Quite excited now, I dug a little deeper into the FindMyPast database and came up with an entry in the Devon, Plymouth prison records 1832-1919 Transcription file. This one had more detail on the man. Although it had his name spelled as Shepherd (It always happens with us!), it also said he was a 30 years old, 5’ 4 ½” tall, a Coachman (which might explain the joy ride with the horses), his religion of Church of England and that he had been born in Ivybridge, Devon. All of this fit with our Alfred and I am very sure he is my long lost great-granduncle.

By the way, he was sentenced to 14 days in the slammer and released on April 27th. He also spent his 31st birthday there, on April 24th. I bet that was some party!

I still have not found him on the 1891 census (although one might think he would have been living in Plymouth then) or any further information as to a marriage or death. But at least I now have him 10 years further along that I had a month ago.

There are a surprising number of references to men of the same name and same spelling but I have found none that really match. So what happened to Alfred after April 1891 is still a mystery. Perhaps a search of the databases in another few months or years might turn up another lead.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. He has also served as an editor of two such publications. Wayne provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Was Great-Grandfather Thomas Mayfield Really a Doctor?

My 3rd great grandfather, Thomas Mayfield (1778-1859) was, from some accounts a Doctor of Medicine. At least a few documents say so.

The 1850 United States census for Jefferson County in Indiana show him as a Physician. I have a copy of a biography for one of his sons, Isaac, that also states his father was a doctor. Isaac had lived in Kansas for many years and his biography was published in Portrait and Biographical Album Washington, Clay and Riley Counties, Kansas in 1890. It’s available to read online at Archive.net. Isaac was also a medical doctor and in that bio there was a piece on his parents:

Dr. Mayfield is of English descent, his grandfather, William Mayfield, having been a watchmaker in London, carrying on a factory in that city. He was a man of considerable means, and prominent among the artisans of the world's metropolis. The father of our subject was Thomas Mayfield, who was born in London, and was graduated from London Medical College. He began practice in that city when thirty-two years old, but shortly afterward came to America, locating in Maryland, first in Harper's Ferry, and soon afterward in Baltimore. He had become so thoroughly identified with the interests of the United States that during the War of 1812 he took part on behalf of the country of his adoption. During this contest he was detailed on city duty. In 1834 he removed to Jefferson County, Indiana, and buying land near Madison, made himself a rural home, still continuing the practice of his profession. His death occurred there in 1869 [typo – probably 1859], he being eighty-four years old. His religious faith was that of the Universalist Church.

That, along with information discovered by my aunt and a cousin in Indiana gave me some names, dates and places. Thomas married a lady named Eleanor Tunstall at St Clement Danes church in London in 1804. Several years ago I had found that information, along with the baptisms of their first two children at St James church in Clerkenwell, London. The family immigrated to the United States, settling in the Baltimore area, around 1812, so Thomas had not practiced very long in London.

There are some other problems with the biographical information. It said Thamas was 84 when he died. I am very confident I have the right baptism record for him, placing his birth date in 1778. If he died in 1859 (the probable date, rather than 1869 which may be a typo error) he would only have been 81. A death year of 1869 would have made him 91. Neither seems right although one may be loath to think that his son did not know the details. No one has yet found a death record or a gravestone for Thomas so we are at a loss to really know when and where he died. Most dates quoted on published family trees just quote other family trees as their source, but none reference an actual record.

Anyway, to get back to the search for information about his medical training. From the census, biography and vital data, it seemed he had trained in London. Now, there are many sources of data about the medical profession, but details about graduates and even working physicians in the early part of the 19th century are sparse. I have not yet found the information I want but the sources listed here might help others with a similar quest.

One of my recent queries was sent to the archivist of The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London. It’s been around for 400 years and apparently is a group to which many medical doctors belonged. Dr. Mayfield has not yet been found in their records but the archivist is still looking.

I sent a note to the archives office of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) hoping Thomas might have joined that group following his training and accreditation. Training in the late 18th century was not as rigorous as it is today and many physicians. Not all doctors had received a university education although that was improving toward the beginning of the 1800s. Registration was not universal either. The RCP archivist searched their biographical database – Munk’s Roll – but did not find Thomas Mayfield listed. Her comments included, “I also searched our archive catalogue but that was fruitless. That’s not to say that he definitely did not come through the RCP at some point, but it doesn’t look as if we hold any information on him here.”

Another source was the London Hospital Medical College (now part of Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry). One can search student records going back to 1740 at Barts Health NHS. The name Mayfield did not turn up at all! The archivist for the Royal London Hospital Archives & Museum informed me they had no record of Thomas. They did suggest other hospitals that he might have attended. I have sent emails to those other hospitals. Hopefully one of them might have Thomas listed as a student or a practicing physician.

The biography also said Thomas’s father was named William and that he was a watchmaker in London. I found a publication named: Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World originally compiled by G. H. Baillie and revised by Brian Loomes. It can be searched on Ancestry. On page 215 he shows two men named Mayfield: John, apprenticed in 1768 in London; and Edward, in the Little Minories of London, apprenticed in 1784, member of Clockmakers Company in 1798 and died in 1812. But there was no person named William. I am sure that the biography is wrong and that Thomas’s father was actually John as shown on the baptism records. It just fits better with other information about the Mayfield family.

Many pieces of the family history are gradually coming together except I still cannot confirm when Thomas graduated as a doctor and whether he practiced in London.

I am doing an exhaustive compilation of all of the Mayfields I can find in Middlesex and Surrey and trying to relate all the families together in hopes of being able to find the direct ancestral line of great-grandfather Thomas. A few of them appeared to have trained as clock or watch makers. I’ll report later on aspects of that occupation, particularly as it pertains to my Mayfield family.

I also intend to consult with a professional genealogist in Maryland, where the Mayfiled family landed and see if there is information there as to Thomas’s background and occupation.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. He has also served as an editor of two such publications. Wayne provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

(My) Future in Genealogy – Part 2

In my last post I commented on the general direction of genealogical research and people involved in those pursuits, as well as on the state of family history societies, as I have observed and participated with them.

I often wonder how many “professional genealogists” actually earn a decent living doing such work. Are they like realtors, where 10% do most of the business and are successfully engaged in supporting themselves and their families, while the rest work sparingly and just make “pin money.” It might be useful for the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) to do a “salary” survey of its members in order to find out what their careers are actually worth. True professional organizations, of working engineers for example, do this annually which serves as a guide to both employees and employers.

What might also be of interest is learning how many people are actively engaged in genealogical work full time as professionals and how many do it as a hobby, for personal interest only.

With regard to family history societies, my experience has shown me that they tend to work well on a local basis and mainly as social groups. People can gather regularly to hear a speaker or discuss aspects of research among themselves or just use their involvement as an excuse to get out of the house and talk with others who have similar interests. Occasionally, much less so now that they use to do, members can take on projects to compile and publish information about their local areas that will be of use to current and future generations of family historians.

These types of volunteer-run organizations do not appear to work well on a more regional basis. Regular meetings of the entire membership are not feasible. For individual members, the needs and desires of the local groups still trump those of the larger, or “Mother” society, as these people tend to identify first with their own branches. Individuals tend to spend most of their time with local branch activities leaving many of the parent group’s functions and activities to founder or fail because of a lack of available help (volunteers).

Generally the only people from across the large organization who get to know each other are those involved as Directors who can and do meet regularly. Just as often as not, though, they bring to these meetings their own local concerns rather than paying attention to the needs of the regional group.

Every one of these local and regional groups I have come across, been a member of or talked with others about have problems with sustainability. Few are growing; most are declining – as reported by many people in recent blogs and articles. Membership is aging and younger people (pre-pensioners for the most part) are engaged in different forms of research mainly relating to the Internet. Projects, especially those of a large scale, are going wanting for people to oversee or work on them. Conferences are more difficult to organize for the same reason. Financial worries are commonplace, with the ever-increase in costs of maintaining an office and printing of journals combined with fewer dues-paying members.

More messages from society Presidents contain an entreaty for members to step up to take on leadership roles – or even just participate on a limited basis. Often when volunteers do step up with new ideas and plans, though, they are met with resistance from those who harken to the past with comments like, “We have always done it this way.” As the President of the Alberta Genealogical Society recently put it, “Unfortunately, those who pick up the gauntlet and agree to lead are quickly damned by those who are resistant to change and feel their comfort threatened, and are just as quickly cursed by those who feel their suggestions for the future are not being heeded.” 

At this point I cannot see myself volunteering in a group again. The workload for a journal Editor can be daunting, but without full acceptance and support of membership and an organization’s leaders it can quickly become a most frustrating experience. Perhaps due to the time commitment of individuals and costs of production, these types of publications, that contain serious articles on methodology and valuable case studies, may not have a future. I know I spent hundreds of hours getting each issue prepared for publication, time taken away from my own research and personal activities.

Many commercially-produced and professionally done magazines, as well as journals of large organizations are taking up quality submissions and being managed by committees of people who have the ability, time and competence to manage them. The local publications are mostly becoming just newsletters that highlight society activities but often do not contain much in the way of substantive material.

I have no interest in maintaining specific credentials in proficiency to stay as a member of the APG. I would be sorry to lose contacts in that organization and the valuable information contained in their journal, but I am not, at my age now, about to embark on a new career that entails living with stringent rules or spend a lot of money on courses or conventions just to keep a membership intact.

I will keep researching my own family, as a hobby and for personal interest. I will also keep writing about subjects and ideas I have come across that might entertain others or be of value to them. I won’t likely do any more consulting for fees but will continue to assist people with specific questions based on my knowledge and experience if the opportunities arise. I might even give the odd presentation about subjects I have direct expertise with.

I believe that family history societies will have to evolve in order to survive, whether their members like it or not. The successful groups today appear to be those that can focus on their own geographic areas and engage in projects close to home in terms of geography and data availability. Societies do play a role in expanding general knowledge but do so mostly through interpersonal communication at meetings and newsletters. Umbrella groups might profitably use funds from regional memberships to facilitate sourcing and providing speakers to attend branch meetings.

If a regionally-based society has value it will be to compile the projects taken on by their branches rather than to engage in wide-ranging studies or regular publishing of journals. Articles and case histories are readily available in publications of large, national and international groups as well as in commercial magazines. Having said that, though, independent, non-commercial journals that focus on large regions and serve many societies may be of value. The availability of such publications would save each local group from having to find volunteers to serve as Editors and not limit the exposure of important articles and stories that is a consequence of their inclusion only in local newsletters.

Perhaps I’ll get involved in another publication, although probably not one directly related to any particular organization. I’ll be giving more thought to this idea.

I will keep my Devon Family History Society membership for sure because a lot of my family research and volunteer activities as an Online Parish Clerk are associated with that region. I have done my part with local groups and don’t have the energy to go down those paths again, trying to convince people that change is good.

I do know one thing about this family history thing – there are still lots of people from the past I want to find out more about. I have a bit more time these days to do just that and I am finding out once more that it can be fun!

If you would not be forgotten
as soon as you are dead and rotten
either write things worthy of reading
or do things worthy of writing.
~ Benjamin Franklin, May 1738

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. He has also served as an editor of two such publications. Wayne provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.