News and Blog

The latest news and information from the Achievements team.

  1. Causes of death in genealogical records

    Until General Registration began in 1837, it was up the clergyman recording a burial as to whether a cause of death was provided (it rarely was noted in the register, and never after 1813 when pre-printed burial registers were introduced). One of our genealogists working on a case this week came across a parish register where causes of death were being recorded however, and they make fascinating reading.

    The most common causes of death given were: fever, decay, and decline,  Other causes of death given on just two parish registers pages included: convulsions, abscess, inflammation, whooping cough, jaundice, dropsy, as well as being burnt, drowned and killed by a fall from a horse.  Some of these were specific, recognisable conditions (or accidents) to us today, although some were a little more unspecific, including the cause of death shown here of a “stoppage”.

    This poor lady died aged forty-four, of a “stoppage”, and modern minds can only wince at what this might have meant for her. Genealogy is a fascinating pursuit, but it can also highlight the benefits of living in the twenty-first century!

  2. Hepzibah . . . or Hepperabath?

    We all know that our ancestors could not spell.  Anyone who has looked at a parish register will have found variants of even the, to us, easiest of names to spell. One of our genealogists today was researching a family in Somerset, with the mother named Hepzibah.  On one of her childrens’ baptisms, in 1751, the clergyman recording the event clearly had trouble with the spelling of Hepzibah’s forename, and recorded it as “Hepperabath”.

    It was unlikely that Hepzibah was able to correct the clergyman when he recorded this in the parish register, if she was illiterate, which was one reason that some many spelling variants appear.

  3. A stranger in the parish

    If you see the term “stranger” in a parish register this might refer to a Huguenot. Huguenots began arriving in England from the Spanish Netherlands during the reign of Elizabeth I, seeking refuge from persecution. Many settled in Norwich, where they had been invited by the city authorities. Indeed at one time they accounted for a third of the city’s population. Their earliest church was established in 1550 at Threadneedle Street. After the Revoking of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 by Louis XIV of France, their numbers increased and it is thought that about 50,000 Huguenots arrived in England. So many of us may have Huguenots in our family trees. They brought with them new skills, especially in weaving (particularly silk), gold and silversmithing, clockmaking, furniture making, printing bookbinding and papermaking. Whilst the term strangers fell out of use as they established themselves in England, the legacy of the term “stranger” can still be seen in street signs and buildings. For example there is a Stranger’s Lane in Canterbury and the Mayors house Norwich is called Stranger’s Hall.

  4. It’s snowing in Canterbury today!

    Today is the 26th April.  Next week it is May. And yet East Kent (and much of the rest of the East coast) is on its second snow shower of the day.

    Unusual and freak weather is always a topic of conversation, and this was no different for our ancestors.  Without social media outlets to discuss and share pictures and information, other ways were found to record odd weather or other natural events.  One of these was the parish register, where the local incumbent sometimes included events of local importance, such as a freak storm, snow in the warmer months, or a devastating flood.

    As genealogists and historians, look out for such information.  It might be that death occurred seemingly as a result of such an event, or a marriage or baptism took place during a period of intense heat, or a severe winter.  Such information records in parish registers can add to the context of our ancestors lives!

  5. Always check the original . . .

    Whilst carrying out family history research, indexes are undoubtedly extremely useful, not to mention time and cost saving.  A search of a parish register can take just a few minutes, or even seconds, to cover several hundred years looking for all occasions of a particular surname.

    But it is always essential to check the indexed entry against the original.  It could be that details have been transcribed incorrectly, such as a name or a date, but as well as this it could be that additional information is included in the register that has  been omitted by the transcriber.  Such information could be an occupation, the circumstances in which the event took place, information about bad weather or other local events.  This can add to our knowledge of our ancestors lives, and bring alive events which otherwise could be just a list of names.

    One example is that of John Duncalfe, who was buried in St Mary, Kingswinford, Staffordshire, in 1677.  His burial entry is included within the National Burial Index with simply his name and date of burial.

    But when the original parish register entry is examined, a fascinating story emerges.  In fact, he had recently stolen a bible and as a result, his hands and legs had rotted, causing his death.  The story is elaborated on at length by the parish incumbent, beginning “John Duncalfe the man that did rott both hands and leggs was buried who confessed hee stole a bible . . . .”

    Often these additional details can lead to further research in other sources to find out more about the particular incident.  In the case of John Duncalfe, it appears that his bible stealing became famous both locally and nationally, after his story was the subject of a sermon by a local preacher, which was subsequently published.

    Without looking at the original register, the death of John Duncalfe could have been recorded as simply another name and date.

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