Tuesday 29 December 2015

Do “Informants” really know everything they should?

Information on many formal documents of birth, marriage or death is given to authorities by “informants” many of whom may not always be members of the concerned individual’s immediate family. The people who are relied on to provide important individual and family information can and often do make mistakes in spelling of names, dates, places of birth, etc. Even people who should or might know better can have lapses.

I was reminded of this subject by friend whose son phoned her recently for information he needed to put on a passport application concerning her birth place, her husband’s birth place, the location of their marriage, etc. As a dedicated family historian she was quite appalled by his lack of knowledge; his brother was apparently not much better informed. Then, on Christmas Eve, a cousin phoned to ask her what his own mother’s maiden name was exactly. She hoped he was not the informant for her death record information.

Having set her son straight, she did what many of us should probably do – she went to a local funeral director and picked up forms they use to record all personal information of the deceased. She has filled them in for herself and her husband and lodged them with the funeral directors so that no one makes any simple mistakes on her or her husband’s formal death records. Now she just has to make sure her children know where the information is.

I have seen many errors when poring over many old church records for my family and for others in the Devon parishes I look after as an OPC. But I have also come across instances in more recent civil records where the information was not accurate, this information supposedly given to authorities by knowledgeable informants.

My own father signed the Registration of Death for my mother on which her second name of Mabel was misspelled as Mable. It was just a small thing and I suspect he knew better but he was probably distracted at the time and did not read it all as closely as he should have. I have since had the information corrected in the government records.

Information on birth records can usually be relied on as it is most often provided by one of the parents. I do not have a formal birth certificate for any member of my family that contains an error but that does not mean there may not be some out there that do.

Marriage certificates are generally expected to be correct, at least in terms of who the bride and groom were and what were the names of their parents. People do make mistakes, though, even when writing out names of people they know. My parents’ marriage certificate shows his father’s middle name as Pierson instead of Pearson. The marriage record for my wife’s parents incorrectly shows his mother as Mary Mill instead of Mary Milne.

Most documents with my maternal grandmother’s name show her as Mattie, which she went by, rather than her formal name of Martha Alwilda Jane. The official records, in my view, are not entirely complete then. Interestingly, on Grandma’s own marriage record in 1895 the name of her mother was recorded as “unknown”. I suspect she never saw this document so the omission went undetected.

When the 1914 marriage of my paternal grandparents was registered in Calgary, the day after the ceremony, his mother’s maiden name was typed as Mary Reasson instead of Mary Pearson (a big mistake in my mind) and her mother was recorded as Marguerite instead of Margaret.

My mother’s death record was not the only one I found a mistake on. On the Alberta Registration of Death of my maternal grandmother, my mother, who signed the form, named her as just Mattie, again, rather than with her full name.  She also indicated her maternal grandmother was “unknown Deburko”. The last name should actually have been Debusk, which she may not have known or possibly did not remember at the time. Her grandfather was recorded on the same record as Asa McDaniels instead of McDaniel. On the Alberta Registration of Death for my maternal grandfather, signed by my uncle, my great-grandfather’s name appears to have been typed as Hiller rather than correctly as Miller. The name of my great-grandmother was hand-written in as “not known”. It is curious that neither of my mother’s grandmothers’ names were known when these forms were completed.

The 1965 British Columbia Registration of Death for my paternal grandfather showed his mother as Elizabeth Pearson. Her name was, in fact, Mary Elizabeth Pearson so forms showing either forename are technically although not completely correct. The inevitable mistake happened on my paternal grandmother’s 1959 British Columbia Registration of Death: her last name was recorded as Shepherd – as was her husband’s! The Certificate of Death, from the Department of Health and Welfare, Division of Vital Statistics has the same misspelling. I have not yet been able to decipher the signature of who signed the registration document so cannot accuse a family member.

I have probably seen more mistakes in information given by people about themselves on government documents, many likely intentionally done. Censuses are something where many people lied about their ages to start with. Birth places can also be suspect as whoever was giving the enumerator the data often did not know the correct details, or in England at least put down names of towns instead of parishes. Sometimes I think that they just did not always feel like sharing everything about their personal lives with the government.

My wife’s grandfather, Alexander Cooper, was married twice, in both instances misnaming his parents. On the record of his first marriage he gave his father’s name as William Cooper and his mother’s as Elizabeth Cooper, nee Spence. On his second marriage he gave his father’s name again as William Cooper but this time his mother’s maiden name was shown as Lawrence. Alexander was actually illegitimate, so we do not know who his father was. He quite possibly did not either. His mother’s maiden name was, of course, Cooper.

Alexander’s death record also shows his father’s name as Cooper and mother’s maiden name as Lawrence. That one was signed by one of his daughters who apparently was never told the entire truth about his circumstances. On his military service record he indicated his father was John. No last name was shown so we are led to assume it was Cooper. He did have a step-father by the name of John Blackburn. The address given for his father on the attestation record is not consistent with that of either Blackburn or his mother at the time Alexander went into the army, though, so we cannot be sure of its accuracy or what Alexander intended when he filled out the form.

We rely on many formal documents in assembling our family history. All of them are produced by people using information they got from other people, so mistakes are bound to happen.

One lesson here may be to never believe everything you read about people, unless you see it recorded in several different documents. Even then there could be problems, of course, but the more documents that can be found where the same information is recorded, the more reliability there can be for it. Most of the examples I have given here are quite modern ones which I might have expected would have been more accurate. Many of them illustrate that, as in my friend’s experience, children do not always know everything about their parents that you might think they should.

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 and is the Editor of Relatively Speaking, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday 22 December 2015

The Stockings Were Hung . . .

Most blogs this week have great Christmas themes, from pictures of decorated trees of the past to names of ancestors some family historians would like to have as guests for dinner, to ideas about getting all that information from family members assembled together to celebrate the season.

OK, I won’t disappoint. This one is about Christmas stockings, hung with care in hopes of. . . (with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore).

In the hundreds of photographs in my dozens of family albums, I thought I had many pictures of stockings hung on a fireplace or a reasonable facsimile from past Christmases. I was wrong. There were many trees, all decked out, most with presents scattered under them following Santa’s visits and before children got to them. But there were only a few showing stockings. The earliest I could find – 1974 and 1975 – were taken after all three of our children had arrived. The stockings were pretty basic models to start with but they got more elaborate as the years went on.


By 1983 we all had personalized stockings made by my wife, Linda, each with bright Christmas-print fabrics.


When our children were married, Linda made additional stockings for the new members of the family.


I was curious, as many others are, about how this tradition got started. I don’t recall ever looking into the history before. It never seemed to be important. Only the happy faces of children (and many adults) when they came upon them Christmas morning was what counted. So, like all modern researchers, I looked it up on the Internet.

A 2012 article written by Emily Spivak for the Smithsonian caught my attention, highlighting the story and showing pictures of stockings going back many decades. She related the common story about the origin as being St. Nicolas (the Bishop of Myra at the time) sneaking into the home of a widower with three daughters and putting gold coins in their stockings, which had been hung by the fireplace to dry. The gift meant they then had the wherewithal to attract husbands. I know dowries used to be important but were men so shallow back then that they needed their brides to bring a little cash with them? 

Anyway, versions of this story have been told for generations now. If it is even close to the truth, then the beginning of Christmas stockings would have begun early in the 4th century, in a little village in what is now Turkey – long before there were genealogists.

There are many side stories about other traditions concerning what was or is put into stockings, too:

·         Oranges are, or were common gifts (Don’t you remember getting those juicy little Mandarin treats?). One explanation is that they are supposedly symbols of St. Nicholas as they are gold in colour.
·         Some regions use boots or shoes instead of stockings. Prior to the introduction of Christianity, Germanic children, celebrating the Yuletide period, would apparently fill them with carrots, straw or sugar for the flying horse of the Norse god, Odin. Odin in return would return the favour by leaving gifts or candy. This old, white-bearded god may have been the model for the Santa Clause we know. The horse’s name was Sleipnir, and it had eight legs!
·         A story grew up in Western Culture that bad children would be given coal in their stockings. There are no reports of it actually happening as it is a cruel thing to do and not, in any way, fitting for Christmas. Perhaps the idea was just used as an enticement to children to be good, just as we tell them today that Santa Claus is always watching to see who is naughty or nice. Or maybe it comes from the use of an Italian candy called Carbone Dolce, which looks like coal. You can find a recipe to make it yourself here.

There is an interesting article from the New York Times published in 1883 about how in the 19th century the Christmas Stocking had been supplanted by the use of the Christmas Tree – “a rootless and lifeless corpse” according to the editorial writer. The article celebrated the introduction of a new type of decorated stocking, much more in keeping with the holiday season.

Hanging Christmas stockings is a neat tradition to observe now. You don’t have to belong to any particular religion or have any specific familial origin to enjoy it and bring smiles to all family members. They are decorative as well as fun things. You can find hundreds of ideas online now about how to fill a stocking (Is that really necessary?) or what to put in them (Again, this is not rocket science!).

Linda, has made many stockings over the years – for our children, for brothers and sisters, for nieces and nephews and for friends, some of which are shown above. In 2007 our whole family was invited to spend the holiday with our son and daughter-in-law in Florida. While there we were also going to spend some time at Disney World. So she made a stocking for everyone who was going to be there, all with a Disney Theme – 17 of them! They are works of art as well as useful repositories for gifts. Don’t you think?


Our children still have and hang theirs each Christmas. Grandma’s stockings have become favourite additions to their seasonal décor and maybe will be family memorabilia one day, too. 

These will be filled by Santa when he makes his stop in Vancouver, Canada.

 These four are now waiting for Santa to arrive in Beijing, China.

We still have ours, now hanging on the fireplace of our new condo. I am not sure Santa will have time to come here this year, though, especially with no kids around! We’ll enjoy the season in other ways. And yes, mine is that loveable character Grumpy!

To all of my readers here, please have a very . . .

And to all a good night!

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 and is the Editor of Relatively Speaking, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday 15 December 2015

What do your children want to know about your family history?

Many genealogists I know are starting to think about how they can interest and involve younger members of their family in their activities. Most societies are wondering where their future members will come from to continue their programs. Is that because we are all getting older and are worried about what will happen to all those years of work and the tons of information we have collected?

Whatever the reason, it’s not a bad idea to engage young family members in the pursuit of knowledge about their ancestors. They might learn something about themselves as well as about their history.

As the Editor of Relatively Speaking, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society, I just helped publish a whole issue dedicated to Youth and Genealogy. We had a variety of papers about how to get children started, what benefits there are to introducing them to genealogy and an outline of a new program initiated by our Society. There were even stories written by children themselves about their own backgrounds. The contributions were both interesting and informative. A list of the feature articles is at the bottom of this post.

In the process of sourcing and assembling material I learned quite a bit about what is out there for parents, teachers and others who want to show children what they do and how they do it, with respect to family history. Three genealogical societies in Canada now have programs on their websites that are helpful:

·         Alberta Genealogical Societyhttp://www.abgenealogy.ca/genealogy-for-youth The AGS Genealogical Project for Children and Youth. The first resource within this project (intended for children aged 6 to 9 years of age) has just been released on-line. Enjoy exploring!
·         Ontario Genealogical Socitey https://www.ogs.on.ca/lessonplans.php The OGS Family History Lesson Plans Project for elementary and secondary students began this past summer with the intention of connecting OGS with students by providing educational resources to educators.
·         Victoria Genealogical Societyhttp://www.victoriags.org/school/ The VGS Genealogy in the Classroom webpages provide lesson plans with resources such as printable genealogy forms and free online genealogy games.

I would be interested in hearing about other groups around the world that have similar genealogical programs for children and youth.

Anyway, back to the question I posed as the title of this post – perhaps the best way to get children started in looking at family history is to ask them what they would like to know.

How many people have you come across who have told you they wished they had asked their parents and grandparents about their experiences and personal histories? Have you muttered that to yourself as well on occasion? Now most of us spend countless hours and funds trying to find many of the answers that people we knew and grew up with might have been able to provide.

Don’t let your descendants make the same mistakes. Go ask your children and grandchildren what they would like to know about your/their family. They might surprise you by showing an interest in what you have done and learned and want to know more. Do it right now!

Here are the Feature Articles that are in the latest issue of Relatively Speaking (Volume 43, Number 4, November 2015). Let me know what other, similar papers are out there and I will help spread the word on this blog.

·         Sowing Winter Wheat: Introducing genealogy and family history to children and youth by John Althouse
John comments on the value of introducing children to the exciting adventure of family history research and introduces the new AGS project, Genealogy for Youth, which offers many resources to help teach children about their current and extended family.
·         Family Adhesive: The value of family history for children by Janet Hovorka
In this article we are shown how involving children in family history pursuits actually helps to teach them discipline, foster self-esteem and create strong relationships within the family.
·         The Search for Captain Roy Brown by John J. N. Chalmers
John relates his search for information, in particular the grave site of WWI war hero Roy Brown. At the same time a young student, Nadine Carter, was also in pursuit of the same information, and uncovered important facts about Captain Brown. This story is about her achievements as well.
·         Is Family History for Children and Youth? by Helen Gwilliam
Helen offers commentary and advice in having children participate in genealogical activities in which they can gain experiences and practice valuable skills that will help them in the future.
·         Mystery by Anne Baines
Anne’s grandson was invited to help research an ancestor and ended up finding new information that helped answer questions about the relationship between two branches of their family.
·         Immigrants to Canada: A family history project in Grade 5 Social Studies by Marion Rex
Marion introduces several student authors who put together stories of their own families for a Grade 5 class project. Their contributions are as follows:
o   Our Acker Family’s Journey to Canada by Colin Acker and Allison Martens
o   Escape From Czechoslovakia: The Bouz Journey by Leah Kinahan and John Bouz
o   Isley Family Descendants by Andrew Kennedy
·         Let Them Contribute: How today’s youth are engaging in the genealogy space by Amanda Terry and Devin Ashby
Amanda and Devin describe many programs and activities available to children and youth that help them learn about genealogical research. They also offer advice to parents and others about directly involving young people in genealogy.

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 and is the Editor of Relatively Speaking, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Trends in Ages of Death in Cornwood Parish, Devon

In a previous post I mused on how old, on average, people were when they died in Cornwood Parish, Devon, in particular those members of my own family. Devon is where my paternal line came from, or at least lived for over 300 years. Cornwood is a rural area in southwest Devon – no big towns, no industry. It has always been a relatively quiet place, with most people occupied on the land. In recent, post WWII years it has become somewhat of a bedroom community with residents commuting to Plymouth to work. Notwithstanding all that, the population has not changed much since the early 1800s.

The main cemetery is located at St. Michael and All Angels church and here people of many denominations were buried. Whether the age at death trends are similar to other areas I don’t know yet. I will probably do a similar summary of adjacent parishes, some more urban in character, to see.

Figure 1 shows the total burials in the parish since 1811. Ages at death were rarely recorded prior to them so no trend can be seen. Burials more than doubled during the first few decades likely as a result of growth in population. Baptisms also grew over four-fold from the early 1700s before peaking out about 1820. From around 1850 both baptisms and burials declined, at least as far as the church records go. That may be partly due to people moving away from the church in their daily lives. We do know that, as of 1837, birth, marriage and death records had to be recorded in civil records so parish church registers lost some of their usefulness except for active parishioners. We also know that the population of the parish did not diminish into the 20th century. But that’s another story. What I think we can deduce is that the general statistics and ratios in the church burial records represent those of the overall community.
The two things we might have expected are that death among children would have declined and the average age at death might have climbed over the last two hundred years. The graphs do not disappoint in that regard.

What did surprise me, although I should have realized this before since I have worked with the parish BMDs for so long, is that over 50% of the deaths in the decade 1821-1830 were children under the age of eleven, most under five years old. Even 30% by 1841-1850 seems high but unchecked diseases such as measles, typhus or tuberculosis, took their toll in those years, especially on the young. Similar trends exist for older age groups: the ratio for those 11 to 20 dropped from 10% in 1851-1860 to less than 1% in 1981-1990; for those 21 to 30, it drops from 14% to near zero; for those 31 to 40, from 10% also to less than 1%.

Judging by the trends shown for other age groups, there is no doubt that people lived considerably longer in the later decades. By 1981-1990, 35% of burials were of people who had reached their 80s. Another 5% were 90 or over, an age rarely seen in the early 19th century. The main working class ages, 41 to 60, stayed about the same across the years but the proportions of people aged 61 to 80 buried in the 1980s more than doubled between 1830 and 1990, as might be expected.

The decade of 1911-1920 saw a jump in the number of deaths of people from infant age to the early twenties. A number of young adults died in 1918, many of them women, so the spike might partly represent deaths from the Spanish Flu pandemic. Certainly some of the burials might also have been of servicemen who died during WWI. Most of the children died in 1911, although not all in a short time period, so that may rule out an epidemic. The sample is just too small to really know what was going on but it’s worth looking at further.

One can read a lot of things into trends of births and deaths. Analyses like this are worth doing for family historians as it may give them another perspective of life in the communities in which their ancestors lived. In Cornwood, we can say that the burial numbers reflect a growing improvement in the health of residents with small peaks generally representative of epidemics which occasionally attacked the community. Such events were rare after the discovery of vaccinations and improvements in water and waste treatment.

It was in interesting little exercise. Most of my ancestors fit right in with the averages which is why I wanted to look at the numbers to start with. Next I will review some nearby parishes that contain more urban settings, to see if similar trends exist.

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 and is the Editor of Relatively Speaking, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Perils of Using Family Trees in Old (or any) Publications

I have encountered family trees published in various documents over the years. Initially I relied on these histories to flesh out my own tree. As I did more research myself and dug into actual records, though, I began to realize many of these stories often had the wrong people in the wrong places. That was especially true for people who were not directly part of the ancestral line of the authors.

For example, there are three family summaries published and available, online as it turns out, for the Bullock/Bulloch family who emigrated from Scotland to Canada with later lines moving to various parts of the United States.

Two Anderson siblings, James (1822-1892), a 2nd great-granduncle of mine, and Janet (1827-1892), my 2nd great-grandaunt, married Bullock siblings, both marriages taking place in Lanark County, Ontario. Their father, Gilbert Anderson, had brought his family to Canada in 1832. I wrote about him in a post on 15 October 2013 and about his wife, Margaret Maitland on 22 Oct 2013.

I suspect that errors creep into the family histories as a result of undocumented stories passed down verbally through the generations. Descendants don’t always have the inclination to check out information written in the books they have been given, particularly, as I said, for people to whom they are not directly related. The mistakes, unfortunately, get attached to other family trees as more family historians copy the data, but also do not go to the trouble of checking and verifying it.

There are three publications available – that I know of – that described the history of the Bullock or Bullock family and, incidentally the Anderson family: 
·         Genealogy of the Bulloch, Anderson, Coleman and Knobbs Families (1910) by Hellen Knobbs Bulloch;
·         History of Hancock County, Illinois (1880) by Thomas Gregg; and
·         A Genealogy of James Bullock and Mary Hill, Latter Day Saint Pioneers by Kenneth C. Bullock, 1964.

The main problem in all of the publications is that there are no citations indicating where information was sourced.

Genealogy of the Bulloch, Anderson, Coleman and Knobbs Families – In this book, the author indicated the parents of Gilbert Anderson, my 3rd great grandfather, were John Anderson and Margaret Wilson, Gilbert’s birth year as 1794 and his birth place as Glasgow (Scotland). His death was reported by the author as 18 July 1872 (according to Ontario records it was actually 22 July 1871). I accepted the family names for a while as have many other researchers. They appear in many published family trees. The problem was that I could not find any birth, marriage or death information in Scottish records that would confirm the relationship. The write-up lists six siblings of Gilbert so that should have been helpful in finding the family. After an exhaustive search of Scottish records on ScotlandsPeople I finally found his birth entry which showed his parents as James Anderson and Janet Finlay, his baptism date as 12 October 1792 and birth place as Campsie, Stirlingshire, Scotland. Gilbert was baptized as Gabriel but his actual birth date was not recorded in the church register. From that information I did find the other five children as well, all records having the same parents’ names. So the author had the children’s names mostly right – there was one child missing from her list – but the parents wrong. Because the information had come from so far back (late 1700s) and the parents had never left Scotland, the truth had been lost in the stories that were handed down.

History of Hancock County – The write-up on John Bullock, now with a ‘k’ in his name, says he married Jennet (Janet) Anderson in 1834 but gives no details of her family. The account also says he was born in Western Canada although it should actually have said Canada West, which was later to become the province of Ontario. The marriage was actually in 1844 as Jennet or Janet would only have been seven years old in 1834.

A Genealogy of James Bullock and Mary Hill – There is a write-up for Janet Bullock, who married James Anderson in 1848. It notes he was born “abt. 1826, of Lanark, Ontario, Canada” and was the son of Gilbert Anderson and Margaret Maitland. The parents’ names are right but he would have been born in Scotland since the family did not arrive in Canada until 1832. While there was a Lanark County, there was not a Canada or a province of Ontario until 1867.

In the same book the write-up for John Bullock indicates he married Janet Anderson who was born “15 May 1827, Kirkintillock, Dumbartonshire, Scotland [sic]” and was the daughter of Gilbert and Margaret. One problem is that no birth/baptism records can be found for Janet in Kirkintilloch, Dunbartonshire, or for two of her brothers, John (b. 1829) and Robert (b. 1832). While the family may well have been there from 1827 to 1832, I have not found any register of the births anywhere. One daughter was born in Kirkintilloch in 1826; we have that record. We know they arrived in Canada in 1832 from a number of sources (US censuses, obituaries, death records, etc.). John Bullock was shown to have been born in Campsie, Stirlingshire, Scotland. The Anderson family lived in the Campsie area as well where their first two children were born suggesting the families may have been acquainted before they came to Canada, although it was reported the Bullocks emigrated in 1819. Janet’s birth date must come from family lore. It is recorded on her grave stone and may be in a family bible but I have not yet seen any formal document confirming the date.

Books like these can be useful as they may point a family historian in the right direction initially but they can also be very misleading as they very often do not have references or citations that will allow a reader to check dates, places and names. The summaries often come down through the generations verbally as well and mistakes can certainly be made in final transpositions of the stories.

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 and is the Editor of Relatively Speaking, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated

Tuesday 24 November 2015

An Essay on Turning 70

I reached a milestone birthday on the weekend by turning 70. Although not life-altering by any means, it was, to me at least, a significant event.

Many people reading this will already have passed this threshold and no longer be all that impressed. But those of us who get this far still only reach the day once. I have two sisters who went passed the age some time back. Our parents never made it, so for us it is a bit more eventful.

I have to say this one snuck up on me. It seems like it was only a short time ago that my wife and I were in our thirties, busy renovating a home, raising a family, attending kids’ hockey games and parent-teacher meetings, and generally doing all the things younger people do and enjoy. Now I have grandchildren the same ages as our children were those many decades ago and their parents doing what we did.

There is a very old saying, the origins of which apparently lost in history: Time and tide wait for no man. A similar phrase appeared in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales – The Clerk’s Tale – in 1478: Ay fleeth the tyme; it nyl no man abyde (Ever flees the time; it will wait for no man). In that passage it had to do with a man considering marriage, though, not turning 70! Seventy, for goodness sake!

Time does seem to go exceedingly faster these days. As I said, this particular birthday seemed to come on very quickly. Did we not just celebrate my 60th? And 50th? And what about that big party we had for my 40th? For this birthday we had a quiet dinner out: just my wife, two of my sisters, a brother-in-law and my daughter who flew in especially for the occasion – and me, of course. Our dogs helped marked the day by not getting me up at five in the morning for their first constitutional walk; they waited until 5:30!

Being 70 offers a different perspective on life. We are certainly slower of foot, stiffer of joint and less patient with things like shovelling snow or mowing grass. We are no longer saving for retirement. We are there! Although I am busy every day, doing such activities as this – writing a blog post – I am no longer employed (or “employable” as I like to joke). These days I am engaged mostly in genealogical pursuits: ancestral research, writing, editing and assisting others. Older people like to have hobbies to keep busy. This more than qualifies.

Travel just got a little more complicated as insurance companies will now want to be more assured about my health than they would have demanded last week. Apparently they are more concerned, in just one day, that I am not going to collapse on a trip outside the country and they will have to cough up for medical expenses. (Isn’t it funny that they are the ones who now want more insurance?) I am quite confident that none of my ancestors ever had to think about this aspect when they picked up and moved from England, Scotland and Germany to faraway places in North America .

It has struck me that birthdays themselves are a big part of family history. We look for specific dates on which our ancestors came into the world and, of course, those dates as well, when they departed. We often consider, and compare the ages that people reached in the past, perhaps in some morbid fashion wondering how close we might be to the end ourselves. Yes, I have gone back into my files recently to see how many of my direct ancestors made it this far. The news is good; a large number of them lived well into their 80s. Maybe I’ll analyze that in another blog post.

I am happy to have made it this far. I will celebrate it, not just for myself, but also for those family members who did not achieve this age but who would have been pleased that I did: my mother, my father, my little brother, all of whom I have written about here before (Mother’s Day, My Mother’s Scrapbook, A Special 100th Birthday, My Parents’ Wedding, My Brother Jimmy). And I will particularly hope that my descendants all enjoy at least 70 years of life – in good health and with as happy experiences behind them as I have had.
Wayne, 65 years ago!

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 and is the Editor of Relatively Speaking, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated

Tuesday 17 November 2015

What can you tell from just the index of the 1939 National Register?

As I wrote in the last post, I have been looking at the 1939 National Register for England and Wales on FindMyPast.com. In trying to limit my financial exposure I searched for just names of people I thought might help in finding particular family members.

I mentioned last time that I had found families of two first cousins (2X removed): the wife and daughter of Wilfrid Jack Shepheard; and Wilfrid’s sister Margery Teresa (Shepheard) Russell.

Wilfrid and Margery had another brother, Alfred Harry – or just Harry, as he was called. He has been very elusive. I have not found him on many records and true to form I did not find him on the 1939 register. I believe he was married in 1924 to a Florence E. Taylor and that they separated and later divorced without having children. That was mentioned as well by a niece of his. We also think he remarried some years later but I have not confirmed that. Part of the reason why there are still some unconfirmed names and dates is that I have not yet been willing to spend the money to purchase marriage and death certificates for him – but that’s another story.
Clockwise from top left: Alfred Harry, Frances, Wilfrid Jack and Pauline Shepheard, ca 1935 (Frances and Pauline were the wife and daughter of Wilfrid)
Harry's first wife also remarried. There is a marriage for a Florence E. (nee Taylor) Shepheard to a George S. Lewis in 1947 that I believe is her. The index from FreeBMD actually shows both surnames which makes a strong argument that this was the wife of Harry.

On the 1939 census there is an entry for a Florence Lewis (Shepheard), born in 1900, living in Dagenham M.B., Essex. I found that when searching for Florence Shepheard. The coincidence of the two names suggests this is the same person. And here is where using just the index seems to work. The entry indicated there were two other people living at the same address in 1939, both of which could be viewed. Out of curiosity I did a search for George S. Lewis to see if he might have lived close to Florence.

The surprise was that a George S. Lewis, born 1906, is not only listed in the same area but, according to the TNA reference number, was living in the same household as Florence. I thought, if this works maybe I can find who the third person living with Florence was. So I did an advanced search for just the reference number.

Several people popped up on a search for piece number 1083F, item number 015. I looked for one whose individual number was before or after Florence and George and found Emily E. Taylor born in 1861. Given her name and age, I have to assume she was Florence’s mother. If true, that would give me some additional data that might help find the family on other records. Using this information I did find a family on both the 1901 and 1911 censuses: Florence born in late 1900 with a mother Emily, born about 1861-62. Florence’s birth place is given as West Ham, Essex, which just happens to be where Alfred Harry was born as well.

An important note in the 1939 entry is that Florence apparently was recorded with both names – Lewis and Shepheard. That made her easier to find. It is curious, of course, that they would be living together several years before the actual marriage. Maybe it just took that long for the divorce to come through and they could not wait. I have found a marriage for an Alfred H. Shepheard to an Elsie H. Peach, in the March quarter of 1947. That just happens to be the same quarter that the marriage between Florence Taylor-Shepheard and George S. Lewis took place, although in different parts of the country. Might that give us a clue as to when the divorce was finally granted?

Using just the index data, and not spending any more money, I think I found a family related to my cousin. The data did lead me to a probable family on the censuses. I could – and might – unlock the 1939 entry just to get some additional data, like birth dates and occupation, but I don’t really need to at this point if I can use the data for other searches for Harry.

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 and is the Editor of Relatively Speaking, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Searching the 1939 National Register of England and Wales

The whole genealogical world must know by now that the National Register of 1939 for Great Britain, actually just England and Wales, has now been released through FindMyPast. It is the only listing of people between 1921 and 1951 as the 1931 census was destroyed in an air raid on London and no census was taken in 1941. Every citizen, upon being added to the list as of September 29, 1939, was issued an identity card which was then needed to be shown for the purchase of essential items or to prove they were British residents. The extra security was a necessary consequence of a country at war.

For residents of Scotland, an extract of information can be ordered from the National Records of Scotland by filling out their form. You must prove the individuals are dead in order to get the data and, of course, send them £15.

Yes, I did some searching of the 1939 register, too, the worst part being that, in addition to my normal subscription, which is not cheap, it also cost me a substantial amount to “unlock” the information for each household I wanted to see.

In 1939 I did not have any members of my direct-line still left in England but I did have some great-grand-uncles and –aunts and several cousins living there. Those are the people that I went looking for. A few who were serving in the armed forces, of course, are not on the list, so that left a few blanks. Also not available is any information on people who are assumed to still be alive. Their names are not shown on the index and redacted on the scanned pages of the register.

One interesting sidelight of the searches is that you get to see a portion of maps showing where the family lived. FMP presents segments of a 1937-1961 Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 map, an 1888-1913 Ordnance Survey 6-inch map and a map of present day. You can zoom in or out of those to see the whole area. I always like to see maps as they give me perspective on where and how the families lived.

So what did I learn with the few families I found?

1.      I found most of the people I set out to find. I had to fiddle around with names and dates and locations somewhat on a couple of them. Emma Wary, a great-grand-aunt, was indexed as Emma Wwray. I did find her by her birth date finally. I did inform FMP of the error so we’ll see if they make the correction. I did not find some men who were likely in the armed services and away from home. Without good information about their families I could not confirm a usual residence for all of them. Information given on most of the family members I found, such as occupations, conformed to other data I already had on them.
2.      In a couple of instances I discovered that some of the spouses of my family members were living with a parent or parents. I had information before about who they probably were but this data confirmed the names. For example, Frances Shepheard, the wife of a 1st cousin, 2X removed, had her mother, Elizabeth Kuharzik, with her. Frances’ husband, Wilfrid Jack Shepheard, was not at home but away at sea. A redacted line on this entry was most certainly their daughter, Pauline, a delightful lady, still alive,who I finally found last year. I wrote about her in a blog post last January. Wilfrid’s sister, Margery Teresa Russell, was living with her husband, Leslie Russell and his parents, Ernest and Evelyn, interestingly at a place called Edge of Beyond, in Kent.
3.      I found another 1st cousin, 2X removed – Reginald Thomas Ellison. Until now I did not know he was married or that he had children. The information on the register confirmed it was him by his birth date, which I had previously known. One of the few things I knew about him was that he was an only child of John Thomas Ellison and Fanny Ann Shepheard, my great-grand-aunt. The register showed Reginald had a wife named Muriel. Her mother, Sarah Allison, was living with them. I confirmed (more or less) that Sarah was Reginald’s mother-in-law when I later found the index record of their marriage. I also found civil registration information that showed they had at least three sons in the 1920s – the list indicates both the father’s and mother’s surnames. So there are a few more people in my tree now to find out about.
Family of John Thomas and Fanny Ann (Shepheard) Ellison, with son Reginald Thomas Ellison (ca1906). On the 1939 National Register I found Fanny Ann and new information about the family of Reginald.
So was it worth it? I found information on nine families with 16 people. Names of four others were redacted but I think I figured out from my own data who some of them might have been. None of them are/were direct ancestors so the information is incidental to my personal ancestry. I did confirm a few names and dates and found a few new cousins. But overall, I would have to say it was very expensive information (just over Cdn$9 per family) and I doubt I will do much more with searches of this database. I have enough credits left to unlock only one more family so it will have to be of prime interest to my own line.

Searching the register did remind me that there are still several BMD documents and wills that I need to order. Funds will certainly be better spent on obtaining those documents in the future.

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 and is the Editor of Relatively Speaking, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated