Writing your Family History by Jackie Depelle

Zoom Meeting Thursday 17 November

Notes by Susanne Young

A lively and enjoyable talk by Jackie on the subject of turning your family history research into a published narrative.

First of all, decide what kind of publication you want to produce and who you are producing it for – this is a useful starting point for getting yourself organised. Remember to link each chapter, family or individual to yourself as author by inserting pedigree charts etc. Try to write creatively if possible and imagine what your ancestors’ lives were like. You may wish to produce a book, a website or a Blog.

Starting with family pedigree charts we can create information sheets for individuals and embroider these with interesting detail such as occupation, where they lived and any other useful facts. Remember to include details of your sources.

Internet sites or books about places where your ancestors lived can provide useful historical detail and illustrations to help build up a picture of where they were. Look for the churches where they were baptised, married and buried and the schools they attended.

Old maps are interesting to look up the places your ancestors lived and it may be useful to plot migration routes too if they re-located to new places. There are various ways to find old maps on the internet including Google roll-back, National Library of Scotland Map Images and Old Maps Online.

Research their occupations: Shire history books are particularly useful for this and general internet research can build an understanding of the work your ancestors did. If you don’t have photographs of your ancestors look for images on the internet or in books that portray what they may have looked like (take care with copyright permissions if re-publishing).

Place ancestors in historical context – both local, national and international using internet research: who was on the throne? look up relevant legislation which may have affected your ancestors’ lives.

Population studies, modes of travel and unusual weather conditions (Met Office website) can be interesting subjects to investigate and build into descriptions of your ancestors’ lives. If they have a military connection then look at the kinds of uniform they may have worn – are there pictures of medals they were awarded? Can you find war diaries that describe the activities of their regiment, or an individual service record?

There are lots of useful publications providing guidance on writing your family history by authors such as Gill Blanchard and Christine Lightfoot and there are many different ways to self-publish. So go on, have a go – it can help bring ancestors to life and provide a permanent record for yourself, your family and future generations.

Making the Most of a Will

Zoom Talk by John Titterton Thursday 20th October

Notes by Susanne Young

An interesting talk by John outlining the main features of wills and using a case study from his own ancestry to illustrate how helpful they can be.

Prior to 1500 a will and a testament were two separate documents. A will covered freehold or copyhold property such as a house, barn or grazing land and a testament covered leasehold property, chattels, furniture, animals and money. These two documents were gradually merged into one, becoming a will & testament. 

Until 1858 all wills were proved by the Church in ecclesiastical courts and disputes over wills were dealt with in the King’s court (Chancery). Executors applied to the local Bishop’s court for probate, providing an inventory and entering into a bond to complete probate within one year. The court then filed all the relevant papers. Where there was no will the Administrators similarly applied for administration of the deceased’s estate. So, the main documents that may be available for research are the will, an inventory and a grant of probate (or administration). Inventories can be very interesting as they provide clues about a person’s wealth and lifestyle.

However, wills proved by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury were instead entered into a ledger so the original papers will not be available – only the ledger entry.

Wills begin with a preamble concerning the deceased including name, occupation and place of abode. Then the deceased’s bequests are set out, followed by details of executors, signatures and witnesses. References to relations can be interpreted in different ways eg a sister in law may be referred to as a sister or a brother in law may be a step brother. The nature of bequests or lack of them can also be very revealing.

John’s Titterton ancestors were farmers at Deepdale in Grindon, North Staffs and by studying various Titterton C18th wills of both known and unknown relatives he was able to expand the family tree created from parish register information and ascertain the family link between generations. It can be useful to examine wills of ‘unknown’ relatives with the same surname to look for possible connections to the family you already know about. One of the wills he examined was ‘nuncupative’ which means not signed, where the testator had been so ill that he was unable to sign (this would not be legally acceptable today). Where a person has made their X mark on a document, we should not assume that the person was illiterate, they may simply have been too poorly to sign. It was possible to identify where beneficiaries had previously been provided for and were consequently left a nominal shilling by the deceased. Family links were also identified from the names of witnesses and signatures were compared to establish who was who.

The study of wills in the course of family history research can be most rewarding and informative. A vote of thanks was given by Linda Balmforth.

Errors, Lies & Misinformation

Zoom Meeting Thursday 16 June

By David Cufley

Notes by Susanne Young

David of North West Kent Family History Society shared with us numerous pitfalls associated with official family history records and genealogical internet research and what to look out for. Ideally primary sources (original records) should always be consulted.

Using various case studies, errors, lies and misinformation were demonstrated in the following:

Census records – names incorrectly recorded either due to enumerator error or misinformation provided by families. It is fairly common to come across errors on the main family history sites where information has been transcribed incorrectly from the original returns. Always refer to the original records and cross-check information with other records/sources.

Criminal Records – original records can be accessed at National Archives, an example of an indexing error in Old Bailey online was demonstrated. Newspaper reports can often provide missing detail/information in such cases.

Baronetage Records – an example of the transposition of information where two women were recorded with the wrong spouses.

Visitations (of London and of Hertfordshire) original 17th century records were contemporaneously described as ‘useless’ due to errors but whilst information should be regarded with suspicion, it may also be of value.

Old fashioned handwriting – can easily be misread. Practice and use available resources to help.

 ‘A Comedy of Errors or Marriage Records of England & Wales’ by Michael Whitfield Foster 1998 highlights a flawed system of record keeping lacking in verification processes with errors and omissions at all levels. However, we should not be too discouraged as these records still provide significant advantages for research.

During the early years of Registration of births, deaths and marriages many fraudulent registrations have been uncovered due to registrars who falsified events to increase their income.

Beware of ‘auto-complete’ misinformation on sites such as Ancestry. One example given was Prince of Wales Island (Asia) recorded as Prince of Wales, Ireland. Family trees on family history sites should always be treated with scepticism – it is highly unlikely that someone married at the age of 120 as shown in one example.

Unfortunately, a number of fraudulent family histories are also around to mislead. Gustav Anjou 1863 – 1942 falsified many family trees for financial gain in the US – and these are often still retained by reference libraries.

We should not be too disheartened by the above – as family history researchers (detectives) we just need to question information and check references and original records wherever possible.

The Mourning Brooch by Jean Renwick

Zoom Meeting 21 April

Notes by Susanne Young

Last year Jean published her book The Mourning Brooch, the first of a planned series, following years of diligent family history research. Without giving too much of the story away, for those who have not yet read the book, Jean described how she researched and wrote her family history novel.

The mourning brooch in question (black enamel & gold surrounding a lattice work pattern of grey and dark hair) was bequeathed to Jean by her late God mother Dorothy Walker (1920 – 1989) together with some old photos and a canteen of cutlery. The inscription upon the back of the brooch reads ‘Obit. Mrs Addy 3 Jan 1849 age 39’ but Jean had no idea to whom this referred. Her curiosity piqued Jean initially located Elizabeth Addy (nee Hall) in the 1841 census in Bentley near Doncaster. Elizabeth was married to farmer Joseph Addy and the couple subsequently had two daughters Mary Ann b.1843 and Frances b.1848.

The cutlery was inscribed as presented to Mr (Edward) Walker on the occasion of his marriage 6 August 1903. Edward, Dorothy’s father was Butler at Knowsley Hall (country seat of the Earl of Derby near Liverpool) and he and his wife Lily (nee Mellows) rented a cottage on the outskirts of the Estate. Their marriage certificate gave Lily’s father as farmer Joseph Mellows who was related to the Addy family and hence the link between Elizabeth Addy and Jean’s God mother was established.

By this time however, Jean realised there was so much more to this family story and she formed the idea of writing a family saga. With the aid of meticulous and detailed real-life character time-lines and a general time-line of relevant historical events Jean constructed her narrative and wrote her first chapter in 2016 beginning her story in 1839. In the absence of family photographs, Jean selected various portrait images to help her imagine the people she was writing about.

Elizabeth’s two daughters led quite different lives and Jean’s research uncovered a scandalous divorce case in newspaper archives concerning Mr & Mrs Willey of Dudley Hill near East Bierley (Mary Ann married into the Willey family – wealthy Bradford wool merchants). Jean’s internet research put her in touch with a fellow researcher based in the US who helped with information regarding the Willey and Edwards families (Samuel Edwards married Hannah Mary Willey). Jean also visited numerous locations associated with her research and was delighted to eventually identify the Addy’s farm in Bentley. She visited Moor House Farm, East Bierley once owned by John Willey and was invited by the current occupant to look around the house in Manningham where Mary Ann once lived. At All Saints, Arksey Jean experienced where the Addy family worshipped and located the graves of Joseph & Elizabeth. All these experiences helped enrich her writing.

Jean’s account of her research for the writing of her book, based almost entirely on real people, events and places, was most interesting and well received by members – I have already ordered my own copy through Amazon.

Zoom Meeting Thursday 17 March

A Tale of Two Constantine Families from Coniston

By Sheila Harris

Notes by Susanne Young

A well-attended meeting including a number of members with Constantine ancestors.

Sheila’s interest in her own Constantine forbears began with a sampler inherited from her 2 x great grandmother which she followed up by reading a private publication of House of Constantine (1957) by L.G. Pine.

The Wharfedale Constantines were originally of Norman descent and the earliest record found in the area by Sheila is the death of Henry Constantine in 1520.

The first Constantine family discussed began with Henry second son of yeoman Robert (Sheila’s 8 x great grandfather & possibly a tenant of Francis Clifford). Henry was baptised 1614 in Coniston, attended Glasgow University and was ordained at Carlisle in 1639. He married Ann Heber in 1648 and they lived at Hebden Hall. Henry and Ann had 5 known children: Henry, Christopher, John, Ann & Samuel. Henry was ejected from the Rectory in 1662 and died 1667 (buried Ripley).

  • Henry junior also attended Glasgow University & was ordained as a rector, preaching at York Assises in 1683. He married Susannah Puddington of Devon and died 1709 leaving 6 daughters and £6000 of debt. His only son Heber Constantine died 1707. Henry’s daughter Jane married her cousin Richard Constantine and moved back to Yorkshire as did her sister Lydia who married William Stockdale.
  • Christopher also attended Glasgow University and became a barrister. He married widow Elizabeth Bellingham 1684 in Westminster and died 1713 leaving no children.
  • John also attended Glasgow University and eventually became a cleric too, although he was a school master in Burnsall in 1678. He married Phillippa Quantock and their only daughter Ann died young.
  • Daughter Ann married Reginald Bean and her will bequeathed her assets to their only son Reginald Bean.
  • Little is known of son Samuel who died 1679 in Gisburn.

The second Constantine family discussed began with another Henry Constantine (Sheila’s distant cousin), born 1686 in Coniston who married Isobel Brown. Their surviving children included John, William, Henry, Alice & Jonathan.

  • John born 1721 married Mary Paley in Giggleswick and moved to Settle. They had 13 children and John was buried 1802 in Giggleswick. Two sons Richard & William became successful silversmiths in Sheffield.
  • Henry born 1725 Coniston moved to London where he first married Ann Gass in 1754 and later Jane Macey. Henry was a publican and died 1795 in Bethnal Green.
  • Jonathan a mercer (draper) also moved to London where he married Margaret Pilon (of French Huguenot descent) in 1769. Jonathan became a Freeman of the City of London in 1765 and died 1799. Uncertainty over the contents of his will led to a court case in 1801.

Sheila’s research showed how the use of wills, Land Tax records, University Alumni and Old Bailey archives, to name but a few resources, can build an effective picture of two Wharfedale branches of a family, many of whom relocated far and wide.

Steve Miller gave a vote of thanks.

Website http://constantine.one-name.net/ (Constantine one name study).

Family Photographs by Stephen Gill

Zoom Meeting Thursday 17 February

Notes by Susanne Young

Another well attended zoom meeting last night which helpfully explained the potential gains to be had from old family photographs.

Stephen, a photographer & photo restorer, took us through a brief history of photography starting with the daguerreotype, an expensive image printed on copper in 1840s & 1850s in the UK. Later C19th ambrotypeimages were printed on glass and cheaper ferrotype images were printed on iron. Daguerreotype images can be identified by brush marks across the picture and ferrotype images can be identified by a missing corner. All of these images are printed back to front.

The carte de visite was invented in Paris c.1855 providing a number of low-cost images (these have square corners up to 1870 & rounded corners thereafter). Cabinet cards were similar to the carte de visite but larger. Seaside and street photographers were popular late C19th & early C20th. Studio photographs often included elaborate back drops and props. 

Film cameras with pre-loaded film were first available to the general public around 1888 so that people could take their own photographs.

As viewers we are often initially drawn to the faces of photographic images but by looking closer at the detail it may be possible to identify a date period from hairstyles and clothing. As family historians we might think about where & why the photograph was taken & who by – who might be missing from a family group? Looking for other clues can be interesting such as the name & address of the photographer & other printed detail. 

Modern digital cameras and smart phones are ideal for photographing, copying & enlarging images which can then be looked at in greater detail, otherwise using a magnifying glass can reveal more detail.

PEL (Preservation Equipment Ltd) provide reasonably priced solutions for storing old photographs which ideally should be kept in acid free bags. We should also label & carefully store our own photographs for future generations.

A number of interesting questions & answers followed & a warm vote of thanks was given by Lynda Balmforth.

Wives & Widows: Women did make wills

Zoom talk by Anna Watson Thursday 3 June 2021

Notes by Susanne Young

Retired archivist Anna Watson presented her talk based on her long experience of probate records at Lancashire Archives. Her information is drawn from the Diocese of Chester from C17th to C19th. Whilst women made wills as early as C14th, historically, married women were only allowed to make a will if their husband gave permission.

Coverture is the condition of being a married woman. A feme covert (married woman) could not own property in her own name nor enter into a contract. A feme sole (unmarried/divorced woman) did have the right to own property and enter into contracts. Neither could a married woman be sued or sue. She was not permitted to obtain an education or keep any salary for herself without her husband’s permission. Her legal status was on a par with minors, criminals and the insane. An important clause in any will is a declaration of sound mind.

In a study of the Archdeaconry of Richmond (which takes up roughly one half of the Diocese of Chester) only 7.5 % of wills were made by women. The majority (5274) are made by widows, followed by 1190 by spinsters. A spinster could be either an unmarried woman or a widow who remained unmarried.

It was not until the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882 that married women were permitted to hold property in their own names. Some women entered into pre-marriage settlements whereby they might retain some power of ownership over their assets including the power to make bequests in a will.

Wills made by women can be most enlightening for the family historian with information regarding bequests to individuals and charitable donations, details of debtors to whom the women had loaned money and frequently their maiden names. Many women acted as witnesses to wills and some made Renunciations if they were unable to carry out their duties as Executors.

Anna rounded up her talk with the story of seamstress Sarah Hare who died in 1744 and included in her will her wish for a wax effigy to be made following her death, ‘I desire to have my face and hands made in wax with a piece of crimson satin thrown like a garment in a picture hair upon my head and put in a case of Mahogany with a glass before and fix’d up so near the place were my corps lyes as it can be with my name and time of Death put upon the case in any manner most desirable’.  This can still be seen today in Holy Trinity Church, Stowe Bardolph.

Recommended reading: Women and Property in Early Modern England by Amy Louise Erickson.

Liverpool Cow Keepers

Zoom talk by Dave Joy Thursday 4 March 2021

Notes by Susanne Young

A rare treat featuring a fascinating account of social history delivered by a most entertaining speaker.

The early C19th Industrial Revolution led to a massive removal of people from the countryside into Britain’s towns and cities. Amongst these were a number of farming families who relocated from Yorkshire to Liverpool. This was in response to prevailing economic circumstances as milk producers found their market for fresh milk shifted from rural to urban areas. Mid C19th introduction of the rail network provided some solution to the problems of transporting milk from the countryside to towns and cities. Despite this city cow keepers prospered as milk did not travel well by train and by providing fresh milk locally these businesses were also able to cut out the ‘middle man’. 

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Lady Arbella Stuart – The Queen that never was

Zoom talk by David Templeman Thursday 4 Feb 2021

Notes by Susanne Young

David entertained a good number of members yesterday evening with his illustrated presentation about Lady Arbella (the name she was known by, rather than Arabella as she was later referred to).

Arbella was the granddaughter of Bess of Hardwick and her story has largely been forgotten until recently. She had a greater claim to the throne of England than James 1 as she was born here but was most likely passed over by the Privy Councillors at Elizabeth I’s death simply because she was a woman. After two Queens, the Privy Council opted for a King rather than a third Queen.

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Getting Started with Parish Records

Zoom presentation by Sue Steel 7 January 2021

Notes by Susanne Young

A good number of members joined Chairman of Bradford Family History Society Sue Steel for her introduction to the eclectic sources of information available amongst Parish records.

Apart from the expected Parish registers containing births, marriages and deaths, some collections may provide insight into historical community activities and offer valuable information about our ancestors.

Parish records of births, marriages and deaths began in 1538 under the direction of Thomas Cromwell and until 1753 were all recorded in a single book. A separate book was then introduced for marriages followed by three separate books for baptisms, marriages and deaths in 1812. Not all life events were recorded as there was a tax to pay, although paupers were exempt from payment.

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