News and Blog

The latest news and information from the Achievements team.

  1. Oral Wills

    It was perfectly valid for a will to be made orally until 1837, when the right was restricted to soldiers on active service or sailors away at sea. Indeed it has been estimated that around a third of wills were oral or nuncupative as they are known. So these wills are invaluable for family history research.

    Many wills were spoken verbally because they were made on the deathbed of the testator. The Statute of Frauds of 1678 specified that they had to be made in the testator’s own home in their last illness. Three witnesses were also required to be present who had to write down the words within six days and after fourteen days, present the will at a probate court. Genealogist can find these wills in local archives

    Many of those in their final days would have been incapable of handwriting their will (holographic) or organising a lawyer to write out a will on their behalf for them to sign. Many could not read and write and women, particularly widows, made a high proportion of nuncupative wills.

    Not surprisingly, many of these wills were the subject of dispute in the ecclesiastical courts. Relatives who received nothing would argue that the will was not valid, for if an administration was ordered, they could receive part of the estate. Records of these disputes often contain information that is of genealogical value. and give us a clue to the the thoughts and feelings of our ancestors

  2. More unusual occupational terms

    Finding out the meaning of an ancestors occupation can give you an insight into how they lived and lead to other sources for your genealogical research. Many occupations simply no longer exists. For example, a Higgler was an itinerant trader who bought and sold goods such as butter, cheese, poultry eggs and fish. Higglers and other travelling salesmen, such as peddlers and badgers (those who sold corn and grain), needed a licence. Licences were issued by the Justices of the Peace at the Quarter Sessions and the surviving records are held in local archives. Searching these records can add detail to your family tree and enhance your understanding of your ancestry.

  3. Discovery of Archbishop’s Tomb at Lambeth.

    Many of use struggle to find the burial place of all our ancestors but you would expect that this would not be true for those in positions of power and influence. The front page of the Sunday Telegraph has a story on the accidental discovery of tombs belonging to five former archbishops of Canterbury by builders carrying out refurbishment work near Lambeth Palace.

    A hidden chamber at St Mary-at-Lambeth church contained 30 lead coffins piled on top of each other, with an archbishop’s mitre resting on one of them. Closer inspection revealed metal plates bearing the names of five former archbishops of Canterbury, dating back to the early 17th Century.

  4. Family Reunions

    Many family historians like to plan large family reunions, getting together people descended from different branches of the same family.  Yesterday the BBC reported on a gathering of over 500 people who got together for the Ren family reunion in Shishe, China. A photograph can be seen on the BBC website of all 500 taken by Zhang Liangzong. He told the BBC that the Ren family, which originates from the village, can be traced back 851 years, but their family tree had not been updated for more than eight decades. Village elders recently began updating the family tree records and managed to track down at least 2,000 living descendants spanning seven generations. More on this story can be found on the BBC’s website.

  5. Rugby Union 6 Nations

    The 6 Nations championship kicks off on Saturday. The origins date back to 1871, when teams from England and Scotland played in the first-ever rugby union international match. In 1879, the Calcutta Cup was created as a prize for the winner of occasional matches played between teams from these two countries. In 1883 the Home International Championship, with teams from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, was created.

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    France officially joined in 1910 and it became known as the 5 Nations, although they were dropped between 1932-1946. with Italy joining in 2000 it became the 6 nations. So aside from a break caused by the First and Second World Wars, the championship in some form has been played for over a 134 years.

    Whilst your ancestors may have played Rugby Union it was not until 1995 that it turned professional, so none could have made their living from playing. However, mention of your ancestors sporting life might be found in University alumni, school registers and of course newspapers.

  6. Burial in Woollen

    Family history research can often raise questions, not just who was our ancestor! Searching in parish registers we can find terms we are unfamiliar with. For example, have you ever seen the word affidavit in a burial register and wondered what it meant?

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    Following the Restoration, Britain’s sheep farmers were producing more wool than was being used and so to address the problem and boost the wool trade, in 1666 the first Act ordering that all bodies had to be buried in a shroud made of woollen cloth was passed.  In 1678 a second Act was passed with more stringent regulations, ordering an affidavit signed by a magistrate to be produced to confirm that a burial had met the necessary requirements. In 1680 a concession was made allowing the affidavit to be signed by a minister. Richer people often chose to flaunt their wealth by ignoring the regulation and choosing to pay the fine for non-compliance.  The fine was in the sum of £5, of which 50% was paid to the informant and the balance to the poor.

    So even the word affidavit in a parish register reveals another detail of how our ancestors lived.

  7. Bank Holidays

    We are all now back at work after the New Year’s bank holiday (those of us who were lucky enough not to have to work them that is!). However, our ancestors did not enjoy the same break from work. It was not until 1974 that New Year’s day became a bank holiday in England. It had been recognised in Scotland since 1871.  Regarding set holidays more generally, before 1834 the Bank of England observed 33 saints’ days and religious festivals as holidays. In 1834 the number of bank holidays was set by the Bank of England at only four being May Day, 1st November (All Saints’ Day), Good Friday and Christmas Day.  In 1871 the first parliamentary legislation was introduced which made them official and it settled on Easter Monday, Whit Sunday, the first Monday in  August, and Boxing Day as official bank holidays. This was alongside Good Friday and Christmas Day which were common law holidays. In 1978 the first Monday in May in the rest of the UK, and the final Monday of May in Scotland was also included with the bank holidays.

  8. A 17th Century Mince Pie Recipe

    Mince pies were once quite different from those we know of today. Originally filled with meat, such as lamb, goose or beef, they were larger than today’s and were  oval in shape to represent the manger that Jesus slept in. A tradition has it that if you eat a mince pie on every day of the twelve days of Christmas, you will have twelve months of happiness. Here’s a recipe for you to try, that your ancestor might once have used.a

  9. Was your ancestor a star baker?

    Baking competitions have always been popular, especially as part of a village’s annual flower and produce show. Your ancestors may have been renowned for the quality of their bakes. Newspapers are a great source to find out if your family had a history of collecting prizes, as these examples show.

    Widow Stebbings was a formidable force at the Watton Annual Show “The competition for the best loaf of bread was keen….Widdow Stebbings again carried off first prize, her bread being all you could have wished for” [Norwich Mercury 23rd September 1899].

    Whereas at the Hendon Horticultural Society’s show in 1929 the vicar and his family had the competition all sewn up! [Hendon & Finchley Times 8th November 1929.

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  10. Victorian Medical Advances

    Vaccinations have been around longer than you may think. The small pox vaccination, which had been available freely since 1841, was made compulsory in 1853 for children in their first three months of life. The local registrars gave blank vaccination certificates to parents of newly born children, who had to return them within the specified time, signed by a medical man to indicate a successful vaccination, or face a fine. Poor Law guardians set up the public vaccination service and the vaccinations were usually performed by the Poor Law medical officers.  Surviving vaccination certificates can be found in county record offices and can help in family history research. The records show the name and age of the child, the name of a parent (usually the father), the address, parish and name of person issuing the certificate.

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