News and Blog

The latest news and information from the Achievements team.

  1. Place of birth . . . . “on the sea”

    Census returns are crucial when undertaking nineteenth century family history research, particularly as they can provide detailed information regarding place of birth.  A town or parish in any given county can then lead to parish registers of that place to help research a family back in time.

    One of our researchers this week was researching a family where the place of birth of “on the sea” was given.

    Fair enough, we thought, perhaps the wife of a military ancestor was caught out by an untimely birth whilst crossing the Channel, or similar. However, it turns out his father was a publican, so who knows what the family were doing at sea – further research is clearly required!

  2. Libeahthe . . . is this Elizabeth or Liberty?

    Whilst undertaking some family history research in Somerset this week, one of our genealogists chanced across a baptism with a very unusual forename. Spelling variants are by no means unusual within parish registers, particularly when so many people were illiterate and would not have been able to correct the clergyman recording the information, although in this case it was a little unclear what name was meant.

    The baptism of one child, in 1785, seems to have foxed the person the recording the information and “Libeahthe” was recorded.

    Was this the minister’s spelling of the unusual forename Liberty, which he wasn’t sure how to spell? Or was the name Elizabeth being attempted but he was having an off day? Was he interrupted whilst recording the baptism, or were the parents clear that this was the name they meant?  For now, clearly more research is required in the parish register to ascertain her forename!


  3. 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?


    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.

  4. The misdemeanours of the Kerry family of Suffolk

    Family history research in the nineteenth century is usually based on General Registration certificates of birth, marriage and death, together with the decennial census returns enumerated from 1841 onwards.  But newspaper records can help fill in fascinating details about our ancestors’ lives, bringing them alive in a way that few other records can.

    One such example is with the Kerry family of Suffolk.  Genealogical sources had revealed them in census returns, GRO records and parish registers.  Dennis Kerry was baptised in Wattisfield in 1796, and lived most of his life in the village of Badwell Ash, in North Suffolk.  He and his sons were consistently recorded as agricultural labourers, as was the majority of the rural population at the time.  They did not leave wills, and it is often difficult to find out more about our normal, working ancestors.

    However, here we were aided by the digitised newspaper collection, which included the Suffolk publications The Bury and Norwich Post as well as The Suffolk Chronicle.  These newspapers included information on family notices of birth, marriage and death, local tradesmen’s adverts, as well as records of the local petty and quarter sessions.

    The reports in the local newspaper made for intriguing reading.  Dennis Kerry married his wife Ann Makins in 1820, but in 1830 he was charged with abandoning her.  Dennis was recorded in The Suffolk Chronicle of 23rd October 1830 as being committed to the Bury St Edmunds Gaol, for leaving his wife and family, thus making her chargeable to the parish.


    Parish registers indicate that Dennis quickly returned to his wife, and they continued baptising children at Badwell Ash until the year 1839.

    Dennis and his family appear in later newspapers, for a variety of reasons.  The Suffolk Chronicle of 12th January 1861, showed that he was convicted to ten days hard labour at the Ixworth Petty Sessions for steeling turnips.

    2In 1873 Dennis and his wife Ann were called as witnesses to a theft of money, as recorded in the Bury and Norwich Post.  Two years later, in 1875, their son James, and grandson John Kerry, were convicted together of stealing “two ash poles”.  This was again recorded in the Bury and Norwich Post.3

    This newspaper record gives valuable information about who the Kerrys were working for, in a way that few other records do.  It is interesting to find that the son was let off, and the father given 14 days hard labour.  Young John would have been 17 at this time, and the court clearly felt that his father had led him astray.

    Newspaper entries relating to the Kerry family covered many decades and several generations of the same family, finding reference to them from the 1830s onwards.  Whilst Dennis was convicted of leaving his wife, he clearly returned to the parish of Badwell Ash, where he and Ann were witnesses to a theft in later decades.  Dennis himself stole some turnips in the 1860s, perhaps to help feed his family, whilst his son and grandson later stole wooden poles from their employer.  An interesting investigation indeed.

  5. Unusual terms

    Somethings as you research your family tree you come across terms that have fallen out of use, such as a  “Knobstick” wedding. This was the marriage of a pregnant single women to the reputed father due to pressure from the parish officials. The couple would usually be married by licence obtained by the churchwardens or the overseers of the poor. They forced the couple to marry to prevent the child needing parish relief and so save the parish money. The name Knobstick referred to the churchwardens staves of office, which had a knob on the end. The churchwardens, overseers or parish constable attended the event to ensure the marriage went ahead and often acted as witnesses.


  6. An “exposed child”, of unknown parentage

    Parish registers and other genealogical records often show words and phrases which are alien to us today.  When looking at the parish registers at Felsted in Essex, one of our searches came across the baptism, on December 8th 1726, of one John Felsted, an “exposed child”.

    The term “exposed child” refers to one who is of unknown parentage, and who presumably has been abandoned by their parents.  In this case, the parish clearly took care for the child, baptising him in the local church with the surname of the parish in which he was found.  A sad situation, but hopefully the parish took good care of him!

  7. Weekend course in genealogy

    Interested in finding out more on fleshing our your family tree?  Not sure where to start?  Then the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies Beginners to Intermediate weekend course on genealogy might be for you.  It will cover topics including parish registers, parish record, wills and paleography.

    Taking place at our headquarters in historic Canterbury, this course is running from Friday 8th-Sunday 10th July.  To find out more, including booking information and accommodation provided, click here.

  8. Notes in parish registers “New vicar expected – unknown”

    Every genealogist looking in original parish registers will undoubtedly come across notes and jottings by the local incumbent.  Whether they relate to the weather, unusual longevity of a parishioner, or other event, they can provide a varied and interesting insight into the lives of our ancestors.

    Whilst examining the parish registers of the Essex village of Felsted, one of our searchers came across a note in the register in February 1769.  It simply read “A new vicar expected unknown”.

    New Vicar Expected Felsted

    This parish was clearly in the process of gaining a new vicar, although as yet one had not been appointed, or if he had, the writer of this note was as yet unaware.  Despite this, he chose to record this information in the register, showing how expectantly the parish was awaiting the new incumbent!


  9. A son named Faster?!

    Genealogists will always find odd names and variant spellings when examining parish registers and other records.  A slightly more unusual forename was found last week when one of our searches was examining the baptism records of Eggesford in Devon: Faster Mander was baptised there in 1708.

    Further investigation reveals that Faster is perhaps not as unique a forename as first appears.  Indeed, the 1911 census suggests that 54 people have this as a forename or middle name.  In fact, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it was usually given as a middle name, and presumably was used in commemoration of a maternal surname from the family tree.  Faster is by no means a rare surname.

    But some children were saddled with Faster as their only forename, and it begs the question whether they were known by this name, or a knickname?  Fast, perhaps.

  10. Local dialect surnames

    As all genealogists will have found, family surnames were often spelled in a variety of ways.  Spelling simply was not consistent, even into the twentieth century, and widespread illiteracy compounded this in earlier generations: normal working people would not have been able to confirm the spelling of their surnames to the authorities.

    Spellings may be so inconsistent, some imagination may be needed to connect them. Equally, saying the surname aloud in a local dialect may help matters.

    Whilst researching a Reynolds family from Norfolk, a baptism was found in the parish registers of one James “Rannells”.  It was exactly correct based on date and place when compared to census records.  But how to explain the spelling variant?  Indeed, saying “Reynolds” in a broad Norfolk accent renders it very similar to “Rannells”.  Perhaps the local clergyman had recently graduated from Oxford or Cambridge, and simply had not yet gotten used to the local accent.

    Having trouble with spelling variants?  Try saying the surnames in the local dialect, and see how many variants you can find!



December 2018
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