Cracking Calendar Confusion

Converting the Julian/Gregorian calendars often left me feeling a little bewildered. I could never quite remember the significant dates that enable you to work out which ‘year’ an event took place. I needed something to help me make sense of it all, so I came up with this little poem. I hope it may be of use to you too sometime.

Pope Gregory XIII Calendar Reform; Granger Collection; FineArtAmerica.com
In 1582, we saw the debut
of a new calendar style.
Pope Gregory decreed, and the Catholics agreed
but global belief took a while.

The loss of 10 days, aligned the moon’s phase
with ecclesiastical dates.
Fifteenth followed fourth, October thenceforth
set the diary that now dominates.

In 1752, adoption ensued
of England’s Gregorian reform.
New Year was reversed to January the first, 
and our calendar year was transformed.
OS or NS, I must now confess,
often leave me rather befuddled.
March 1604, could be therefore,
‘05 or ’03 (now I’m puzzled!).

It all depends, beginning or end,
just when in the month the day be.
Post or before, you must not ignore,
Lady Day (25th) this is key.

So let’s work this out, and eradicate doubt
of dates from Julian years.
Below is a table, which I hope will enable
to allay your conversion fears.

“Since the discrepancy between the Julian calendar year and the astronomical seasons kept growing over time in the centuries that followed, more days had to be skipped in countries that switched to the Gregorian calendar in later years.......The UK dropped 11 days when it converted in 1752.”
www.timeanddate.com/calendar/julian-gregorian-switch
Give Us Our Eleven Days; William Hogarth; Historic-uk.com

Why should you study genealogy courses?

So, you’ve been working on your family tree for years, you’re an expert on Ancestry, a frequent user of FindMyPast, and can easily navigate the database of FamilySearch.  Why should you take a genealogy course?  Well, I’m about to tell you.

In 2016, I had been researching my family history for well over 15 years.  I’d helped numerous friends build their family trees, and felt rather confident around genealogical websites and record collections.  Then, I encountered something in my research that was unfamiliar to me.  I was aware that a certain set of records existed, but up until that point I had never needed to examine them.   I wanted to do the job well, and the only way I could ensure I was interpreting the documents correctly, was to learn more about them.  I had a choice: read lots of books or take a course.  I’d actually been toying with the idea of returning to studying, so that option won – now I had the task of choosing what, where and when.

I had recently attended the Who Do You Think You Are? exhibition in Birmingham, and had spotted some representatives from universities and institutes, so I knew the courses existed, but which one was right for me?

I’m not going to go into detail of the pros and cons of Dundee versus Strathclyde, or Pharos v IHGS, this blog is to share with you what you can gain from enrolling on a course.  You can investigate the different providers yourself and choose which one best suits your own personal situation.

It had been a very long time since my brain had had any academic exercise, so I was rather nervous as to whether I could handle it – but I needed to do this.  I always like to perform a job well, and I realised my knowledge wasn’t as deep as I thought it was.

I chose to enrol with Pharos Tutors.  Their Distance Learning Intermediate Certificate Course Family History Skills & Strategies is tutor-led, can be started at any time of the year, and seemed to suit me perfectly. You can pick and choose which modules you take when; and as long as you complete (and pass) all ten assessed units within a three year period, you receive the Intermediate Certificate.  The fact that I could pay for each module as I took it, suited my pocket too.

Each unit taught a different subject within the field of genealogy.  They ranged from Nonconformity to Wills and Administrations, Employment Records to Poor Laws.

Yes I had lots of experience with many of the collections discussed, but studying these modules allowed me to delve deeper into why the records were created, the change in legislation that caused them to be, who should appear within them, but also who might be excluded.  I soon began to recognise that my knowledge of the documents I had been exploring for years was actually rather superficial.

The tutors were super supportive, and so were my fellow students.  The format of the course was to receive a lesson (via email) for each week of a module.  We would need to complete exercises and post our answers in an online forum; which often prompted questions, and the subsequent discussions frequently highlighted recommendations for books or websites.  The collaboration continued with a weekly online text chat where we would discuss what we had learnt that lesson. Each unit concluded with two assignments which would be assessed by the tutor.

As the months rolled by, I was becoming more and more motivated to study further.  I had caught the studying bug! I was growing ever confident with my research skills, and making friends with the students. 

A feeling of camaraderie was developing, and those who lived near each other made plans to meet up in person.

We shared details of other courses we had seen advertised, and I enrolled onto some short classes. IHGS were offering some one day tutorials, and I signed up to Civil Registration, Palaeography and How To Draw a Pedigree Chart on Powerpoint – which were all great. Then I spotted Family Tree Magazine were hosting a DNA Bootcamp course led by the brilliant Michelle Leonard. I was really keen to expand my understanding of DNA in family history, so I went for it. It was fantastic. Weekly lessons held via Zoom, with handouts of what we were taught being emailed to us.

Before I knew it, the Pharos Intermediate Course was coming to an end, and I’m happy to report I passed with flying colours. This qualified me to be accepted onto their Advanced Course, which I did not have to think twice about. I’m currently two-thirds through the first year and I am still loving it. Several of my fellow students from the Intermediate Course are with me, and we communicate regularly outside of the course’s forums to help and encourage each other.

So, in answer to the question ‘Why should you study genealogy courses?’ I have three things to say:

How My Parents Met

Tomorrow is my mum and dad’s 45th wedding anniversary, and as I’ve previously concentrated on ancestors further back in my family tree, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to tell a more recent story – How My Parents Met.

Wendy Perry was born in Wanstead Hospital in 1955. The family moved from Forest Gate to the East Ham Estate in Brentwood, Essex in the early ’60s. Just a few years later they took part in a council house exchange to a property a mile up the road in Ingrave.

Mum with her grandparents Alfred and Ellen Bush (née Bennett)

George Ernest Gray was born in 1951 in the East End Maternity Hospital, Stepney; this being the closest maternity hospital to the family home – a flat in Frances Gardens, South Ockendon, Essex. When George was 18 months old, the Gray family moved to a house just a few hundred yards away.

Dad, circa 1952

Following his apprenticeship, Dad worked in the New Model Programme Control department, planning office refits at the nearby Ford Motor Company in Arisdale Avenue. In 1974, Mum (who was working as a temp), was posted to the same office in the role of Punch Card Operator.

This is the type of IBM keypunch machine used in the 1960s and 1970s. Operators by the tens of thousands would spend a full shift keypunching orders, time cards and a host of other transactions. https://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia/term/keypunch-machine

One day, Mum went to buy a cup of tea from the machine, but found she was 5p short.  She asked Dad if he would be kind enough to lend her 5p and that was it – the start of the romance. Their first date was at a pub, not far from work. Mum being the modern woman she was, insisted on buying Dad a drink.  Expecting him to ask for half a pint of beer or something similar, when he replied with “I’ll have a Bacardi and Coke please.”  she was embarrassed to say she couldn’t afford it. We joke that Dad should have realised then that Mum was only after his money!

For two years, their courtship consisted of driving around in Dad’s purple Mini and meeting up with friends. Mum recollects many an afternoon spent in my grandparents’ lounge with a couple of friends called Fid and Diane (Fid was a nickname for Steve, although my dad can’t remember how that nickname came about). Fid and Dad would play their guitars and sing songs – their favourite being The House of The Rising Sun. Dad soon upgraded the purple Mini to a metallic green Cortina with a stereo that played tape cassettes. They would listen to the likes of Bread, Status Quo, Yes, 10CC, Styx, and the Beatles.

There was no romantic proposal. My parents tell me they were looking in a jewellery shop window one day, both spotted rings they rather liked, so decided to buy them.

Wendy Perry and George Ernest Gray were married on 5th March 1977, at St Nicholas’ Church, Ingrave. The Best Man was my uncle Steve (Dad’s brother). As we have such a large family, rather than choosing and upsetting anyone, my parents decided against having any Bridesmaids or Page Boys. They couldn’t afford a honeymoon, but did spend the wedding night at Ye Olde Plough House in Bulphan.

St Nicholas’ Church, Ingrave
By Robert Edwards, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8205084

Happy Anniversary Mum and Dad. Here’s to many more happy years ahead.

If you would like to discover how my maternal and paternal grandparents’ love stories began, you can read all about them here. Please feel free to share how your parents or grandparents met in the comment box below.

My Genealogy Alphabet Part 3

So we have come to the third and final part of my Genealogy Alphabet. If you haven’t read the first instalments, you can catch part 1 here, and part 2 here. Q-Z has been rather challenging, but the rich and abundant genealogical resources have delivered.

Q is for Quit Rentals.  When manorial tenants owed services to their Lord, they could be released from the duty by paying a Quit Rent.  Quit Rentals are lists of the tenants commuting their service of labour to money.  The documents may also name the Lord of the Manor and the Steward collecting payments.  Sometimes a manorial tenant may wish to pay a quit rent to prevent other tenants executing their rights if it affected his land (such as hunting rights on farming land).  These entries may offer details of the land, it’s use and maybe even some customs of the manor.

R is for Recusant Rolls.  A Recusant was someone who was absent from the local parish church.  Throughout the 16th century, various levels of fines were enforced against Roman Catholics and other dissenters.  Around the turn of the 17th century, the penalties intensified and recusants forfeited all of their goods and much of their property.  Recusant Rolls list the names of the individuals, along with the fine/forfeit imposed and descriptions of seized goods and property – although the person’s religious denomination was not recorded.  If your ancestor appears in a Recusant Roll, it may lead you to investigate other Catholic/Nonconformist records.

S is for Settlement Examinations.  As I mentioned in Part 2, the parish was responsible for the relief of it’s poor.  Parishes were often keen to offload the financial burden to another parish; hence a Settlement Examination was undertaken to verify a pauper’s legal place of settlement (which decided whose problem they would be).  The 1662 Poor Relief Act stipulated the conditions to which a person could legally claim settlement.  Generally it was the parish you were born in (your husband’s parish, or your father’s parish if you were under 7), the parish in which you had worked/been apprenticed for a certain period of time, or the parish where you held property valued over £10 per annum.  When questioned (under oath) the pauper would answer, revealing all sorts of valuable information, leading you to explore countless records.

T is for Tithe Maps and Apportionments. There’s much to be said on the subject of tithes and the 1836 Commutation Act; but in short, a nationwide survey was conducted to value parcels of land according to it’s size and cultivation, in order for an annual charge to be calculated and levied in place of tithes. Apportionments list the name and description of the land, the landowner/occupier, the state of cultivation and the money payable in lieu of a tithe. A reference number next to each entry relates to the accompanying Tithe Map. These maps show field names, land-use, boundaries, and of course – the reference number to be cross-referenced back to the relevant Apportionment. These records are fantastic for providing details of the land our ancestors owned/worked; and can be especially useful when used in conjunction with the 1841 census, as you can plot exactly where your ancestor resided within the community.

U is for University Registers. The two oldest English universities, Oxford and Cambridge, have published their student registers, which offer excellent biographies. The Alumni Oxonienses and the Alumni Cantabrigiensis detail students’ names, fathers’ names, sometimes other family information, their age, degree, and often later careers. They really provide a wealth of information about your educated ancestors.

V is for Vestry Minutes. The Vestry were an early form of parish council, who would meet and discuss matters concerning the community. Everything from repairs to the church, sanitation, maintenance of roads, schools, even policing. They’re a great source for understanding the day-to-day activities of your ancestors’ community, creating a picture of the sort of life they led. You may even find reference to your ancestor as a churchwarden, parish constable, or tradesman contracted to carry out works. 

W is for Window Tax.  Unlike some other taxes, Window Tax was levied on the occupier of a property as opposed to the owner.  It was charged on a sliding scale according to how many windows a property had, which led to many people blocking-up openings in a bid to reduce their tax.  Individuals who were exempt from paying the poor rate, were excused from Window Tax.  Whilst the documents are basically a list of people’s names, addresses, number of windows and tax paid, they are a great tool for placing your ancestor in a certain location through a period of time.

X is for X marks the spot – on a map (oh come on, you have to let me have that surely?)  Maps are often an underutilised tool in genealogy, yet they can be such a rich addition.  Whether they are enclosure maps, manorial maps, tithe maps, or even maps of fire insurance plans, they can reveal exactly where our ancestors resided within a community, what their local environment was like, who their neighbours were, and how much land they owned/worked.

Y is for York, The Prerogative Court of.  The court of the Archbishop of York proved wills for testators who held property in more than one diocese within the province of York (covering: Cheshire, Cumberland, Durham, the Isle of Man, Lancashire, Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Westmorland and Yorkshire).  However, individuals may have chosen to escalate a will to a higher probate court just for the prestige, so evidence of PCY probate does not necessarily mean the deceased owned land across the county/counties.  If you cannot locate a pre-1858 will for an ancestor, it might be worth checking to see if it was proved at the prerogative court of York.  PCY wills are held at Borthwick Institute For Archives, but can be searched online in digitised indexes at FamilySearch.org and FindMyPast.co.uk. (Probate records at this level for the rest of the country were proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury)

Z is for Zingari (Latin for Gypsies).  Ok, so I know we are concentrating on English records in this blog, but we come across Latin in English documents don’t we?  Following a family rumour, I have long been searching for a connection to Romany Gypsies in my family tree, but am still to find evidence.  For those of you who do have Gypsy heritage, there are plenty of records for your travelling ancestors.  The best place to start is the Romany and Traveller Family History Society, who have some fantastic research guides, publications, and transcription projects.

And there we have it, my Genealogy A-Z. I hope you have enjoyed the blogs, and that they have encouraged you to check out some records you haven’t used before, or have reminded you of some you haven’t explored in a while. As I said in parts 1 and 2, I haven’t delved too deeply into how, why or when the documents discussed were created, this is simply a reminder of their existence.  The collections mentioned are scattered across the country, and can be found in national or local archives, museums, history centres, even private hands.  Of course, as with most records, there are exceptions to who or what the collections concerned, whether it be the dates covered, or exemptions for particular individuals/groups, so there is no guarantee you will discover your ancestors in every record set. However, I do wish you every success in your quest. Happy researching!

My Genealogy Alphabet Part 2

Here is the second instalment of my Genealogy Alphabet. Part 1 discussed genealogically valuable records from A-H. In part 2 of this blog, I look at collections from I-P. If you haven’t read Part 1, you can find it here. Now, let’s continue:

I is for Inventories.  As mentioned in Administration Act Books, Inventories are lists of a deceased’s movable goods.  They were created to help value an estate, and give us an excellent insight into the everyday life of our ancestors.  The inventory might include work tools, clothing, furniture, even animals.  They really do paint a picture of how prosperous (or poor) our family was at a certain time in history.  Inventories may also lead us to Accounts, which were submitted to the court by the administrators, detailing the deceased’s expenditure (including debts), revealing business activities and the social status of our ancestors.

J is for Jury Lists.  Sometimes called Freeholders Lists, because a man was only eligible to sit on a jury if he held property (of a certain value).  Being a Freeholder had its privileges, but also came with duties – such as the poor rate, and jury service.  Jury Lists will pinpoint our ancestors in a certain place at a certain time; and are particularly useful when researching before the 1841 census, as they record an individual’s place of residence.  If an ancestor is named on a Jury List, you are very likely to find evidence of them in Tax Records, Poll Books, Land Records, and Freemen Registers to name but a few.

K is for Kelly’s Directories.  Kelly’s series of volumes were a kind of Yellow Pages of their time, but even better.  There’s so much to discover in them, from topographical information of a town/village to postage times and prices; tidal times to population statistics.  They include lists of individuals, business owners and local establishments such as schools and places of worship; so you can really build an idea of the community in which your ancestor lived.  However, the data was often gathered up to a year before each edition was published, so we can’t assume that an entry was always accurate at the time of publication.  It’s also important to remember that directories are not a complete survey of a locality – you would have to pay to be included, so if an individual/business could not afford to advertise, or did not wish to, they simply wouldn’t appear in the directory.

L is for Lease and Release.  There are many types of land record, and this form of conveyance was very popular between the mid-17th century and the mid-19th century.  Lease and Release were two separate documents: the first involved the vendor leasing a piece of land to the purchaser, the second (dated the very next day) recorded the vendor relinquishing his right of reversion and releasing it to the purchaser (for a fee).  It was a legal loophole that negated the need to enrol the transfer of land, which saved time and money.  Lease and Release documents will detail the land and parties involved, and may lead you to investigate other records associated with owning property (as mentioned in Jury Lists).

M is for Missing Pieces (of censuses).  Ok, so not technically a record set, but ‘Missing Pieces’ lists can be extremely useful to a family historian.  Find My Past have a great article which you can view here, listing parishes that are missing from the England, Wales and Scotland censuses.  If you are expecting a family to be living in a certain place, but can’t find them in the census, a quick check of a Missing Pieces list will reveal whether the census of that parish has any gaps.  If it doesn’t, then you might investigate whether the names have been mistranscribed, or perhaps the family were away visiting on the night the census was taken.  If you discover there are missing pieces for that parish in that census, it might save you going out of your mind and wasting time searching for something that doesn’t exist.  You can explore further at TNA’s Discovery site to establish whether the parish is missing in full, or only part. In the Advanced Search, simply enter the relevant series (for example RG11 for the 1881 census) and the word “Missing” to see results.

N is for Newspapers.  Most family historians are accustomed to using newspapers to assist them in their research, but do you only search for the names of individuals you are interested in?  Have you tried searching for street names?  I am certainly guilty of focusing too much on a specific ancestor, but since discovering this tip recently (I believe it was from the brilliant Melanie Backe-Hansen), I learned about lots of local events I’d been previously unaware of, that would have impacted my ancestors’ lives.  So give it a try!

O is for Overseers’ Accounts.  Poor Law records are some of my favourite collections, mostly because the majority of my ancestors were poor!  From the mid-16th century, the care of the poor was the responsibility of the parish.  New legislation created new records, and when the office of Overseer of the Poor was introduced in 1572, along came Overseers’ Accounts.  The documents detail money coming in (from Poor Rates, bequests etc) and money going out.  The expenses could include all sorts from clothing poor children, to coroners’ inquests.  Your ancestors’ death may be mentioned, leading you to investigate burial registers; or families might be listed which can help identify parents/children.  Sometimes cases of illegitimacy are referred to, which can indicate the possible existence of court records/bastardy bonds.

P is for Petitions for Clemency.  Before Robert Peel reformed criminal law in the 1820s, there were well over 200 capital offences.  Prisoners, family and friends applied to the Home Office for mercy, pleading for a pardon or at least commutation of the sentence.  Some convicted of lesser crimes also appealed, and pardons were frequently granted.  These records can give an insight into the anguish families were suffering, and offer another view to the case we may have read in court records and newspapers.

That concludes Part 2 of this blog. As I mentioned before, I haven’t delved too deeply into how, why or when the documents were created, this is simply a reminder of their existence.  The collections mentioned above are scattered across the country, and can be found in national or local archives, museums, history centres, even private hands.  Of course, as with most records, there are exceptions to who or what the collections concerned, whether it be the dates covered, or exemptions for particular individuals/groups, so there is no guarantee you will discover your ancestors in every record set. However, I do wish you every success in your quest. Happy researching!