Progress of a sort

This is a post by Pharos co-founder Sherry Irvine.

It is with some embarrassment that I confess that so many months have passed since my first article on getting back to my family history – to making a start at writing. Not much has happened in the way of writing, but I have not been idle: I have taken the time to think about the project and stumbled upon things that help me conjure up ideas.

The time available has been limited. I should have expected that now that moving closer to grandchildren would have an impact on allocating time.  Those hours I have found have been devoted to what can only be called preliminaries. It took several months settle into our new home, but we have progressed to the point where just about everything is either out of boxes or in readily accessible clearly labelled boxes. Fortunately there are not many of the latter and I have put all the family albums and loose photographs into one cabinet and part of another. I know what is where. Also, I know that I can spread things out and leave them should that be necessary. Mind you, it can be only one project at a time. Right now I am doing some sewing, so the machine stays where  it is for another week or two.

I went through the photo album for my father’s early years, 1918 to 1925. The pictures tell only part of the story, numerous though they may be. My notes, or those by my father, lack certain essential details: where did they live once the family, with my infant father, moved back to Toronto from Winnipeg in 1918? Obviously, some modern family history has been neglected.

The photo albums show one thing I know from my own childhood. He was surrounded by women. Most of the pictures were taken by one or more of my grandmothers sisters, whom we called collectively “The Aunts”. They were younger than my grandmother, only one of them married but had no children, and my father was an only child. His father and mother were over 40 when he was born.

 He was the centre of attention not only for his mother and her sisters, but for his grandmother and his one and only cousin, a girl ten years older.

He had a happy childhood, at least until he was a teenager in the hard years of the Depression. His father, an architect, was a man of many practical talents, and the summers at a cottage offered opportunities to mess about in boats, learn some mechanics, and mix with a wide range of people.

How do I show all that and more in an interesting manner that somehow is just the right length for young and old? And, most difficult of all how do I do next? (To encourage myself, I have decided that the organizing of photos and albums, the creation of a work space, and the review of the first album of my father’s life, are legitimate progress.)

Happenstance has come to my aid – I have found something that undertakes to explain scrap-booking in 60 illustrated pages. It seems quite out of character for me to be reading something like this, but I do see the relationship. Some of the advice makes good sense: for example, sort photographs by themes and then by logical groups. My theme is obvious, my father’s life, my groups of photos can be stages of his life: the number of groups does not matter as much as getting things sorted. This exercise turns the pictures into a means of creating an outline that will help me judge what to use, how much to write, and how to make it all look interesting. I can return to the easy-read scrap-booking guide to help me plan. At that point I am on familiar ground, as I have done a lot of planning as a genealogist. After all it is fundamental to good research, to writing a book, or preparing a lecture.

I am heading for firm ground.

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Rejected Apprentices – a little known source

This is a guest post by Stuart A. Raymond

What did you have to do in order to have your application to become a freeman of the City of Exeter to be rejected? For the period 1780-1802, the answer is to be found in a small alphabetical notebook held amongst Exeter City Archives in Devon Heritage Centre[1]. One applicant, Captain John Tren, claimed the freedom by paternity, but could not prove that his brother, who had inherited the right to claim, was actually dead. Apart from him, all of those whose rejections were recorded claimed by right of apprenticeship. Apprenticeship (as those who have completed Pharos’s apprenticeship course will know) imposed numerous requirements on the apprentice. They had to be totally obedient to their master, and had to serve their full term of seven years under his instruction. Marriage was forbidden, as was any absence.

Several of those rejected were described as ‘disorderly apprentices’. In addition to being ‘disorderly’, Richard Milford ‘married before his time was out’. Others ran away; John Gray was accused of ‘entering on board a man of war’. Problems might be caused by a master going out of business; Philip Gove’s master ‘gave up trade and went abroad 2 years and upwards’; he therefore could not serve out his term. Indentures had to be indented; William Baker’s indentures were not, so he suffered rejection.

The freedom in Exeter at this date was important primarily because it conferred the right to vote. It may be suspected that, in some cases, the mayoral court actively looked for a reason to reject applicants whose politics were not their liking. Was William Baker one of their victims?

Some 52 applicants are listed in this notebook, which throws an interesting side light on life in Exeter at this time. The Society of Genealogists’ Genealogists’ magazine (vol. 32(2), 2016) has just published my transcript of this volume under the title ‘Rejected Applicants for the Freedom in Exeter, 1780-1802’.

[1] Book 227.

 

[Pharos adds:  As well as Stuart’s article, this quarter’s Genealogists’ Magazine also has a very interesting article about Rose’s Act.  If you are a member of the Society of Genealogists you can now opt to read the magazine online at their website, and all past editions as well.]

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A Love Match or Simply Good Business?

Like anyone else, I have a lot of puzzles to work on in my family tree. One that had been nagging at me for some time was the precise blood relationship between a Joseph Beachcroft who married a Mary Beachcroft.

Mary’s father was Samuel Beachcroft, and in his will of 1732 he mentions his ‘son in law’ Joseph Beachcroft. But nowhere was there a Joseph of Mary’s generation in the immediate family. I have never found any baptisms for any of Samuel’s children, so I didn’t know how old Mary was in 1732, although her parents were married in 1701, which was a starting point and I knew she was under 21 in 1729 as her mother’s will states.

Meanwhile, there was a Joseph Beachcroft who was a first cousin of Mary’s father. On Joseph’s memorial inscription, there was a second wife called Mary Fuller mentioned. I had assumed Fuller to be her maiden name.

My spur to getting this sorted out finally as I searched back and forth on the internet, was the discovery of the marriage entry between a Joseph Beachcroft and Mary Beachcroft in Bermondsey in 1731. I had scoured the LMA collections on Ancestry for some time in relation to anything Beachcroft, but I hadn’t found this marriage before because it was indexed as Beackcroft.

The entry read; “Joseph Beachcroft of Battersea in the County of Surrey, Widower and Mary Beachcroft of Wandsworth, Licence first being obtained.”

This was intriguing.

It seemed to be Mary daughter of Samuel – they lived in Wandsworth. But why would she get married down the river away from friends and neighbours? Was this an entirely new couple, previously unknown to me, or was something else going on?

I needed to revisit everything and gather all the evidence to finally prove who Mary and Joseph were. I focused on the Joseph who was first cousin to Samuel. The son of a London Citizen and Haberdasher Joseph was christened 31 May 1678 at St Mary le Bow. He was apprenticed to his own father and became free of the Haberdashers in 1701 at the age of 23. He married Frances Pooley in 1705, aged 26, when she was aged around 20. No children seem to have been born to this couple and she died aged only 27 in 1711.

Between 1705 and 1721 he owned premises at Cheapside and traded as a Goldsmith. Although never a member of the Goldsmith’s company he was mentioned in their court minutes in 1705, 1707 and 1712 in connection with the selling of sub-standard goods and also in 1708 when he took on an apprentice of the Goldsmith’s company. Crucially, among the papers I had accumulated on Joseph there was evidence that he had indeed lived in York Place, Battersea in 1729, (not a very long walk away from Wandsworth). I had not put these two bits of geographical evidence together before and thought about how these first cousins Joseph and Samuel, lived so near to each other.

Finding the marriage bond or allegation would give the final corroborating information. Yet despite the London & Surrey Marriage Bonds and Allegations collection from the London Metropolitan Archives, being available on Ancestry, I could find nothing there. I later tracked it down in the Vicar General Marriage Allegations. This collection is at the Society of Genealogists (indexed at Findmypast just by surname), on microfilm, so I recently went to look at what the original said. It confirmed that Mary was just 19 and from Wandsworth, the daughter of Samuel. Therefore, as Joseph was 53 there was a 34 year age gap between them. In those days of shorter life-expectancy, Joseph must have seemed an old man to the young Mary.

Was this a love match or a simple piece of family ‘engineering’ cooked up by Samuel and Joseph in an arrangement going back years? A last ditch attempt by Joseph for a son before he died, and for Samuel to marry off his daughter to a rich cousin whom he liked or did business with?  Or did Joseph and Mary have genuine feelings for each other? What did Mary really feel about marrying a much older man, albeit a rich one? Unfortunately for Joseph there were to be no children, but his marriage to his young first cousin once-removed, lasted for 26 years until his death in 1757, age 79. Mary remarried in 1760, to a Mr Fuller, (hence the name on the memorial stone) but died herself just 18 months aged around 48.

I do so hope that Joseph was kind to his young bride, but I can’t help wondering what her life was really like.

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My Family History – What Now?

This post is by Pharos co-founder, Sherry Irvine.

We moved three months ago. We have done what many do at some point in retirement, moved to a much smaller home, one that is closer to family. The change precipitated lots of decisions about what would come with us on this next stage of our lives.

Furniture was the easiest decision – take only what fits. We were fortunate in having access to our house in advance of the move. It was painted, but it was also carefully measured and we planned what would go where.

Gardening things were also easy to deal with – not much to take when there are just two tiny areas to look after. Kitchen, no problem. This one is bigger. The major difficulty has been books and papers, (and knick knacks not far behind). I began with what I thought was ruthless weeding of my office bookshelves. Not ruthless enough. By moving day I had doubled the number of books that needed new homes. Papers were weeded, but not completely. We ran out of sorting time and we imagined we could live contentedly with a few stacks of file boxes for quite some time. That was a mistake. After about 6 weeks we were ready to take drastic action to get rid of the pyramid of boxes in the middle of the dining room. Well, we did it, but anyone challenged to find a dozen or more unpacked boxes would find most of them quite quickly.

So much of my family history material is on paper. I started a system of binders 35 years ago and that remains. Yes, I have digital files, text and photos and scans and downloads, but much of my work was done before the development of good software. I am not sorry about that. Sorting paper is something I know how to do.

I set to work sorting, tidying and tackled the problem of too little space and too many boxes. Hard work, however, being did was not clearing my head of a nagging thought. What am I sorting this stuff for?

I had no clear idea of how I would deal with it all, whether writing it up, giving it away or … that other fate of family history stuff I could not think about. The lack of storage space came to my rescue: as I concentrated on a logical arrangement of the binders and boxes my mind actually began generating a few ideas. I just let that happen as I set about figuring out shelf space for three-ring binders and went shopping for the right size of cabinet to fit in a 20 inch deep alcove. The cabinet turned up in a used furniture store, and I came up with my first project.

I will tell the story of my father’s life in words and pictures. This is familiar territory yet something special. I had a close relationship with my father, especially in the last several years of his life and I want to convey to our children and grandchildren what sort of a person he was. I want to take time to reflect on all my memories and to find out things I never knew. I want to talk about him with my siblings – I am the middle child and have an older and a younger brother – and discover the view from their perspectives.

All genealogists come up against this dilemma. There must be hundreds of ways out of it. I have decided to chronicle mine here in the Pharos blog. What about you? How have you tackled the challenge of what to do with your family history stuff?

About the author:   Sherry is the author of Your English Ancestry (2nd ed. 1998) and Scottish Ancestry: Research Methods for Family Historians (2003) and co-author of Finding Your Canadian Ancestors (2007). From the start of her career she has been involved in local and professional organizations. In 2005, the Association of Professional Genealogists presented her with the Smallwood Award of Merit for services to the organization and to genealogy. In September 2015 Sherry retired from regular teaching but she has not left Pharos. She will return from time to time helping in the FHSS program or as a substitute teacher. Meanwhile all that free time, will be filled with her own research and seeing much more of her grandchildren.

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Time to improve online coverage details

This is cross-posted from Celia Heritage’s blog.  Celia is a Tutor with Pharos, a member of AGRA and runs a family history research and teaching business in Kent.

 

Celia says:

It is my opinion that genealogy websites should provide full source details and coverage dates for each of their databases. They should also clearly state where a database is not yet complete.

While there is a wealth of genealogical and historical data now available online courtesy of websites such as Findmypast, Ancestry, TheGenealogist and FamilySearch it is becoming increasingly difficult to accurately determine what exactly the various databases include and, in some cases where they came from, thanks to the inadequate or inconsistent detailing of their sources.

This is caused by several factors but the main two are as follows.

• A lack of information as to where the information came from and the coverage dates and any gaps within the coverage. Source data should be clearly visible for anyone using the database or at least for anyone who wishes to make the effort to check the details.

• Inaccurate or unhelpful title names indicating complete coverage where coverage is not in fact complete are misleading.

Let us take parish registers as an example. Neither Ancestry nor Findmypast has a complete county-by-county listing of what they hold. If I am searching for a missing baptism, burial or marriage I need to know exactly which parishes for a certain county or counties are available online and for which dates. Once I know this I can work out which are not and will potentially have to be searched in the record office. However, since neither company provides a county-by-county listing of which parish registers they hold it’s not easy to check this.

I emailed Findmypast to ask if they had such a listing on their website as I know that they do sometimes issue such lists when new databases are released. This is the reply I received:

‘We are sorry but the website does not have a full list of coverage for the parish registers. You would have to check the search form for the parish and then carry out a blank search. Once you have done this you can change the results page by clicking the sort order at the top right – relevance. If you change this to ascending/descending you will see the years covered.’

This seems a very long-winded way of established county coverage, especially when they must have such listings in existence! Ancestry collections are better detailed but they still have no means of checking county coverage in one go. Similarly, the Family Search Wiki is a quite good way of determining which parishes have online coverage, but I don’t believe this is entirely up-to-date and this is again not as useful as a county-by county- listing, as each parish has to be searched individually to determine online coverage.

To my knowledge the only major commercial website to offer a county-by-county listing for parish registers is TheGenealogist which has its ‘List of all datasets’ at the bottom of its home and search pages. This provides a full list of which parish registers it offers and the coverage dates for each type of event and, for logged in users, this can also be accessed from the ‘Search’ tab, entitled ‘What’s included in my subscription?’ The list naturally covers all its other datasets too, not just parish registers, although some of the other categories are not as detailed as they should be.

In order to prevent the online world of genealogical sources descending into chaos, I call upon the major genealogy companies to make it quite clear what information their datasets do and do not include. Surely this is not too much to ask?

If you would like to join me in my campaign to encourage companies to improve the quality of their sourcing details and a new openness about which records they do and do not offer, please spread the word and encourage those interested in family history to email the companies concerned as well with this simple request. Let’s start with a request for full county-by-county parish register listings. Please share my blog with the genealogy world  and you can also follow my posts on the subject on Twitter @CeliaHeritage and Facebook. Your examples of inadequate source detailing and coverage are most welcome.

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Please let’s help Celia achieve her aim!

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When is DNA not important to family history?

This post is by Wayne Shepheard

I have quite an old copy (dated 1984) of the Concise Oxford Dictionary on my bookshelf. I don’t think much has changed over the years since it was published so it remains a reliable reference for me. Certainly the definitions provided in current online editions are much the same as those published in decades past (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/family). In my edition family is defined as: “1. members of a household, parents, children, servants, etc.; set of parents and children, or of relations, living together or not . . .; person’s children. 2. all descendants of a common ancestor, house, lineage . . . “ The word, genealogy is defined as: “account of descent from ancestor by enumeration of intermediate persons, pedigree . . .”

So, are studies of family history or genealogy the same thing?

Real families do not always consist of people who are all related by blood. The dictionary’s primary definition seems to be silent in that regard in describing a family as consisting of members of a household. Too often we ‘genealogists’ or ‘family historians’ talk in terms of pedigrees defined in terms of bloodlines – that is, sharing DNA. Perhaps we should differentiate the two and consider that family historians are really looking at the relationships of people, whether or not connected by blood, while genealogists deal only with those people biologically linked.

In many generations of my own family, there were family members who shared only one parent with their siblings or, in some cases, were not even related by blood to their “parents”. One of my great-grandmothers had a daughter from her first marriage, before she married my great-grandfather. My father considered her his aunt in the same way he thought of her half-siblings, the natural daughters of both of his grandparents.

I have found similar circumstance in the many Devon families I have investigated as an Online Parish Clerk. Several reasons accounted for such mixed or blended families (def: a family that includes children of a previous marriage of one spouse or both). Most often, in centuries past, one or both parents may have died before children reached the age of majority. The surviving parent would generally have remarried, the man in order to have someone take care of his home and children, a woman in order to have someone earn income to support her and her children. If both parents died, another family member commonly stepped in as an adoptive parent. On rare occasions, an abandoned child was taken in by members of the community and raised as their own.

Until the 20th century adoption was not formally or legally recognized in many parts of the world. In the modern era, the first laws concerning adoption were passed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in the United States, in 1851, codifying what was considered to be in the “best interests of the child”. Other constituencies and countries followed over subsequent decades. England was one of the last major countries to enact laws concerning adoption with the passage of the Adoption of Children Act 1926 (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201213/ldselect/ldadopt/127/12705.htm).

I have come across many examples in searching censuses and parish records of children becoming part of new families and even taking on the surnames of their step-fathers. Many kept their new names before there were laws regulating adoption. A few kept their birth names but then reverted to the surname of their step-father, or at least that is what they appeared to do. I wrote about one possible example in my blog, Discover Genealogy. http://discovergenealogy.blogspot.ca/2014/02/another-case-of-changed-name-samuel-and.html Such changes in names can confound and confuse those researching the history of their family.

Which brings me back to the ideas of what the difference is between a genealogist and a family historian, and whether DNA is the most important thing to ultimately use in identifying a family connection. As stated above, most dictionaries define genealogy as the study and tracing of lines of descent which implies looking for a direct line of ancestors related by blood. The term “family history” is generally used interchangeably with genealogy but I think families are much more than just a relationship of consanguinity. They may also include members related by affinity (marriage) or nurture kinship (co-residence or shared consumption). The family is, primarily, the principal structure for the socialization of children (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family) and any study of a family should also include research into any individuals who may have joined the family through other than direct, biological means.

Have you found individuals that are not related to you by blood but who you consider family members?

About the Author

Wayne is a past student of Pharos, having attained a certificate (with distinction) in the Family History Skills & Strategies (intermediate) programme. He is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program (http://genuki.cs.ncl.ac.uk/DEV/OPCproject.html), handling four parishes in Devon, England (http://www.cornwood-opc.com/). He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne has his own blogsite, Discover Genealogy (http://discovergenealogy.blogspot.ca/), in which he relates his experiences as a family historian. He also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated (http://familyhistoryfacilitated.ca/).

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The next big thing?

The recent announcement that Findmypast and The National Archives http://www.findmypast.co.uk/1939register
are making available the National Registration Act 1939 ‘census’ is very exciting.  This Act led to the population of Britain being issued with identity cards as the second World War got underway. A little bird tells us that we could see some of it happen before the end of 2015, and make no mistake, it is going to be huge. There are 40 million entries and 7,000 volumes to digitize. Many 20th century research brickwalls will come tumbling down as a result.

As there was no census in 1941 due to the war, and the 1931 England & Wales census returns were sadly lost to fire, the 1939 Registration Act census will be the most recent year genealogists will be able to combine information from both census and civil registration in order to locate people for a long time to come. The 1921 UK census will be released in 2022 after 100 years as has been the normal practice, (another 7 years to wait) but then there might be no major record sets from the 20th century until the 1951 census is made available in 2052, unless (possibly, maybe) we get access to searchable civil registration certificates online. The 1939 data is being released earlier than 100 years as the legislation which brought it into being is different from that used to carry out the normal 10 year census, regulated by the 1920 Census Act.

We have all seen how quickly the big data websites have rushed to provide us online access to all the available England & Wales census returns, the surviving Ireland census returns, as well as transcriptions from the Scottish census. Many other records, most of them partial or parts of bigger series, have come online as well. But which types of records are going to keep the big data websites growing over the coming decades do you think?

What would provide the biggest break-through for your own research? Should there be a concerted effort to get all remaining parish registers indexed? How about all English probate material pre 1858 in one place? Military muster rolls?

What will be the next big thing?

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It’s family history Jim, but not as we know it

This is a post by Simon Fowler, Author, Tutor and Professional Genealogist.  We thought this was an interesting follow-up to the general discussions about only doing genealogy online.  Family reunions may perpetuate those old family myths, but they are fun!

I recently moderated a family history reunion for a client. They wanted me to provide genealogical expertise and a guiding hand. But in fact I was hardly needed. The group was more interested in sharing details of second and third cousins and not listening to me. There was a real buzz about the afternoon.

But it was not family history as taught on Pharos courses. Tangential links were made without real evidence: someone claimed descent from the English poet Edmund Spenser. I haven’t checked but it seems unlikely. Family trees had been scribbled on envelopes. And notes came in a variety of forms – some were in impressive looking photograph albums with photos, documents and even a tram ticket.

The group had only the shakiest grasp of British history, based on hazily remembered history lessons from fifty years ago, television programmes and potboiler histories. There was even a debate about the relationship between the French and English lands owned by the Normans, although why I could not fathom, as nobody had traced their ancestors with any certainty much back before the 1850s.

Of course I should have intervened and insisted on proper evidence, effective record keeping and all the other things we teach and learn on Pharos courses. But I didn’t have the heart. They were having so much fun. And it would probably have been counter-productive.

This is genealogy as experienced by many people with all the joy of discovery and communication without any of the rigour. Like the Who Do You Think You Are? TV programme, but without the celebrities.

But does it really matter? Of course ultimately it does, but I think this is an ideal way into the hobby. With luck rigor will follow, as participants realise that it helps both their research and to learn about the generally unromantic lives that their ancestors really lived. And I had a blast learning how most people get started on their family history.

Simon Fowler is the author of many genealogy and family history books, and teaches the Pharos Tutors military courses.  He was previously the editor of The National Archives Ancestors magazine.  There is a full list of his books on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Fowler_%28author%29

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Five dangers of only doing genealogy online

Danger One: Health. Too much time at the computer or on your tablet can lead to eye strain, back problems, loss of fitness. In the past, we would walk to the archive, physically go to the filing cabinet and get the film, wind it on, go back to the cabinet for the next film, now we risk RSI from typing and mouse clicking. I used to be so fit from standing up all day and physically lifting the books at The Family Record Centre, now I am not.

Danger Two: Record Context. We become divorced from the context of the record. We no longer feel and smell the paper or parchment, no unwrapping of ancient string tying bundles of documents together. No more dirt on the hands either, and it is better for the documents not to be handled, but all the romance is lost. Not only this, but even if you have the images online in front of you, you don’t always have the front and end pieces, or even all the page, or know what could have been written on the back. You have probably not looked at a catalogue, so don’t understand how the record fits in with other records in the same series or set either.

Danger Three: Speed. It all happens so fast, we tend not to make notes or record what we do. Click, click I am here, click, click now I am somewhere else. Where did I just see that result? Click, click, now I have lost where I was, and I am looking at something totally different.

Danger Four: Descriptions confusion. There needs to be a new language for describing results found online; some of the old definitions are creaking under the strain, what do we really mean by source or record in an online context? Some of the citation advice is overly complex and off-putting to many, but we need a common and standardised way of telling others or reminding ourselves where we found things that is not overly complicated, yet takes into account the shifting, changing nature of online resources. The big data websites do not help by using different language to describe the same source, or by not being accurate in their description of what it contains. If we don’t describe things accurately then confusion reigns.

Danger Five: Too many results. As data websites get bigger and bigger and include more and more record sets from around the world, it becomes increasing difficult to drill down to find what you need to search. Blanket searches across all data sets bring in far too many results, yet knowing what indexes are available on any website and how reliable they are is becoming more and more important. I used to know what people had searched if they told me they had looked at the IGI or searched on findmypast, now I do not have a clue. Family historians are not educating themselves as to what a website actually contains and it therefore makes it really difficult to explain which databases are more trustworthy than others, if indeed any of them are. I am no longer sure. Perhaps we are going to come full circle and start teaching people that they will have to look only at original records in an archive office if they are to be sure of their research, because only then will they know what they have looked at.  I used to be such a big advocate of online genealogy, but if it is starting to frustrate me, I don’t know what it must be doing to those who don’t have a sound background in the original records.  It could be putting them off completely.

What do you think?

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Why genealogists love general elections

This post is by Stuart Raymond, Pharos Tutor and prolific genealogy author

As another general election approaches, it is time for genealogists to think about what is in it for them. Answer: a great deal of evidence! The records of elections include many lists of names, beloved of genealogists. Parliamentary elections in the counties were conducted by sheriffs in their county courts. Between 1696 and 1872, they had to compile lists of those who had voted, showing how they had cast their votes. Many of these poll-books survive, some in manuscript, some printed. From 1832, registers of those entitled to vote had to be compiled and published annually, a practice that continues to this day (although information may be withheld from the modern published registers due to privacy concerns). These lists of names are invaluable sources for tracing the homes of family names across wide areas.

Poll-books and electoral registers are valuable sources of information for family and local historians. In those constituencies where the franchise was wide they may list thousands of our ancestors, telling us where they lived, and perhaps their occupation or status. The Westminster poll-book of 1774, for example, lists over 7,000 voters, with their residences and occupations.

The arrangement of poll-books was not uniform. Some grouped voters by parish, ward, or even street; others provided a straightforward alphabetical listing; a few listed them by trade. I have even seen a poll-book arranged in the order in which the electors cast their votes! Electoral registers are more uniform; the Somerset Western Division volume for 1832 is arranged alphabetically by hundred and parish.

In county constituencies before 1832, the franchise was held by freeholders who held land valued at forty shillings per annum. That qualification dated from 1429. In the succeeding half a millennia, the value of forty shillings declined considerably, and the numbers of those eligible to vote consequently greatly increased.

In the boroughs, there was no uniform franchise. It was frequently restricted to freemen, with the result that borough court records are often full of admittances to the freedom immediately before elections took place. In the City of London, the franchise was held by liverymen who were also freemen of the City. The 1768 London poll-book has a peculiar semi-alphabetic arrangement, whereby surnames are listed alphabetically by livery company. Elsewhere the franchise might be restricted to the burgesses – those who held land in the borough. At Old Sarum only those who held a ploughed field by burgage tenure could vote. There were very few voters!

The widening of the franchise came in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as successive Representation of the People acts gradually extended the right to vote to all adults other than prisoners and peers. An interesting account of the ‘History of the Parliamentary Franchise’ is available for download at www.parliament.uk/topics/Electoral-franchise.htm.  London electoral registers, 1832-1965 can be searched at http://search.ancestry.co.uk/search/db.aspx?dbid=1795. They are also available on a number of other sites. Of particular interest are the ‘absent voters lists’, which record the names of servicemen at the Front during the First World War. The information provided included regiment, number, and rank. For the Leeds absent voters list of 1918, visit www.leeds.gov.uk/leisure/Pages/Absent-war-voters.aspx

Poll-books and electoral registers can generally be found in local studies libraries and record offices for the areas they cover. There are also good collections at the Institute of Historical Research at London University, the Guildhall Library, and the British Library. Full lists of surviving poll-books and electoral registers are given in:

• Gibson, Jeremy, & Rogers, Colin. Poll books 1696-1872: a directory to holdings in Great Britain. 4th ed. Family History Partnership, 2008.
• Gibson, Jeremy. Electoral Registers and Burgess Rolls 1832-1948; . Family History Partnership, 2008.

A number of poll-books and electoral registers for Norfolk, Somerset, Suffolk, and Yorkshire have been reprinted, and are available from the Internet Genealogical Bookshop at www.genfair.co.uk.

 

Stuart says:  I work as a genealogical bookman. That is, I am not only an author publisher, but I am also a trained librarian and a genealogical bookseller in a small way. My ambition is to ensure that local and family historians receive the guidance they need to undertake effective research. Principally, I do that through my writing, but I also lecture, and run on-line courses through Pharos. Most of my books are now published through the Family History Partnership www.thefamilyhistorypartnership.com of which I am a member.

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