Family History News Archives


Find your ancestors in the 17th century

The Society of Genealogists’ family history library has a large number of resources to help you find your 17th century ancestors.

The protestation oath returns of 1642 are one such type of record. The protestation was an oath of allegiance to the King and the established church. A bill was passed in Parliament in July 1641 requiring those over the age of 18 (normally only men) to sign the protestation, and no one was allowed to hold office in the church or the state unless they did so.

A letter was sent by the Speaker of the House of Commons to the Sheriffs of each county, instructing them and the Justices of the Peace to take the protestation. The incumbents of each parish then read it to their parishioners who were also asked to take the oath. This took place in February and March 1641/2, after which the returns were sent back to Parliament.

The 1642 Protestation Oath Return for the city of Coventry has recently been added to the Members’ Area of the Society’s website. The return (which also includes some hamlets and villages surrounding the city) lists 1451 men over the age of 18. At the end are the names of those who have not taken the oath, including two men identified as Papists.

The original returns are kept in the House of Lords Record Office and the Society would like to extend their thanks to Eben W Graves of Norwalk, Connecticut for allowing his transcript to be placed on the Members’ Area.

The Society’s library also contains returns for many other parts of the country.

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Was your ancestor poor?

If so the Society of Genealogists’ family history library may contain records relating to their life.

One particularly useful type of record for tracing poorer ancestors is the Settlement Examination. Under the laws of settlement which were introduced by the Poor Law Act of 1601, people were only entitled to claim poor relief in their legal place of settlement (ie. The parish where they had been living for at least one month).

After the Settlement Act of 1662, people could obtain a settlement in any parish through marriage, apprenticeship, domestic service for over a year or by occupying property worth more than £10 per annum. Anyone not fulfilling these criteria was liable to be removed to their original parish.

After 1697, poorer people had to carry a settlement certificate with them to show that their parish of legal settlement would take them back if necessary. If they requested poor relief, the parish they had moved to would examine them to see where their legal right of settlement lay. The resulting settlement examination books are a rich source for researchers.

The entries might include details of a person’s birthplace and working career as well as the names and ages of dependent children. They may also include details of their recent whereabouts and other incidental detail about their life.

Recently a name index to the Settlement examination books for 1708-1750 for St Martin in the Fields, a large parish in Westminster, has been added to the Members’ Area of the Society of Genealogists website. These books have been indexed by a group of dedicated volunteers at the Westminster Archives Centre, and Society of Genealogists’ volunteers have helped with the project by typing up some of the index cards.

Search the index for 1708-1731 or 1732-1750. If you find an entry relating to your ancestor you can order a photocopy of the original from Westminster Archives for £4.00 by clicking here (quoting full reference)

The Society is most grateful to Westminster Archives for permission to include this index on the Members’ Area.

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Genealogists will be delighted that Ancestry.co.uk  has just launched  the England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations),1861-1941 – an index to more than six million wills proven across the 19th and 20th centuries .

A free information leaflet for using wills as part of your family history can be found on the Society of Genealogists website

 ‘Probate’ refers to the court’s authority to administer a deceased estate, including granting representation to a person or persons to administer that estate.

In 1857, the Court of Probate Act saw the power to administer estates transfer from the church to the state and it is the probate calendar books, in which grants are summarised and collated annually by the state, that are now on Ancestry.co.uk. Note there are some gaps in the coverage of the calendars found on Ancestry’s site but they hope to add the missing volumes when they get the chance. Currenty the following  are not covered : 

“the books for the years 1858-1860 and there are some gaps for the years 1863, 1868, 1873, 1876, 1877, 1883, 1888, 1899-1903 and 1910-1911″
 

 

In addition to the material value of the estate, probate calendar books provide a rich source of information for family history enthusiasts as each entry may also include the name of the deceased, the date and place of death, the name of the executer and, in some cases, bequest recipients. The calendars lokk like this

Included in the index are numerous famous names such as once-rich polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who died in 1922 leaving an estate of just £556 (£20,000 today), having lost his fortune in failed money-making schemes while allegedly trying to recapture the adventure of his youth.

Fittingly, the anti-capitalist Karl Marx died in 1883 almost as poor as Shackleton, leaving just £250 (£23,000 today) to his youngest daughter Eleanor.

In contrast, Thomas Holloway, a man who made his fortune selling medicines and ointments, left one of the largest estates in the index, worth £600,000 in 1883 – the equivalent of £55 million today.

Anyone able to locate an ancestor in the England and Wales National Probate Calendar, 1861-1941 will be able to delve further into that person’s life, learning more about their social standing and worldly possessions.

As more than two million living Britons claim to know of a wealthy ancestor or a lost fortune in the family, for the first time many of us will now be able to go online and trace our own family’s missing millions.

Individual entries may also reveal details about the fate of the deceased. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that of Edward John Smith, captain of the ill-fated Titanic, reveals that he was ‘lost at sea’, as do the listings of first-class passengers Benjamin Guggenheim and John Astor, and ship’s builder Thomas Andrews.

Other notable names include:

  • Charles Darwin – the acclaimed naturalist Charles Robert Darwin is listed as having left a personal estate worth £146,911 (around £13 million today) when he died in 1882
  • John Cadbury – the ‘King of Chocolate’ John Cadbury died with a personal estate of £43,773 (around £4.2 million today) when he died in 1889
  • Charles Dickens – the famous Victorian author Charles John Huffham Dickens died leaving ‘effects under £80,000’ (around £7.1 million today) when he died in 1870

Also included are legendary cricketer W G Grace (in 1915 with £7,278 – £620,000 today), former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (in 1940 with £84,013 – £3.5 million today), scientist Michael Faraday (in 1867 with £6,000 – £500,000 today), and authors Lewis Carroll (in 1898 with £4,145 – £450,000 today) and Arthur Conan Doyle (in 1931 with £63,491 – £3,000,000 today).

Those using the England and Wales National Probate Calendar, 1861-1941 can obtain a full copy of the wills listed from the Probate Registry,  (address on the SoG information leaflet on Wills) which will help them to uncover further information such as details of the deceased’s family and additional detail about the estate.

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Members’ Area update – Coleman’s catalogues index

A  new family history resource has recently been added to the Members’ Area of the Society’s website. James Coleman was an heraldic and genealogical bookseller and publisher in London in the second half of the 19th century. As a second hand dealer he sold marriage settlements, wills, rent rolls, peerage claims, private and local Acts of Parliament, appeal cases, pedigrees, deeds, autograph letters, maps and so on as well as new and second hand books on heraldry, topography and biography.

His catalogues give brief details of the items for sale, and the Society has in its library bound copies of these catalogues from 1859-1911.

Colemans Catalogue1 234x300 Members’ Area update   Coleman’s catalogues index

A card index of nearly 50,000 names was compiled by Brigadier-General Alfred Cavendish (1859-1943) in 1936, giving the volume and catalogue number for the item where that person was mentioned. It was this index that was digitised, and additional information added from the catalogue entry regarding date, year and type of document. Mr L A Muriel typed up the original card index and additional detail.

Although the information given about a document is often sparse, it can in some cases (eg. Devon wills) provide reference to a document that no longer exists.

As the documents were sold on the open market, no information is available on their current whereabouts, if they have survived.

A free basic search of the Coleman’s catalogue index can be carried out on the Society’s Members Area. However to view the full entry you will need to be a member.

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Genealogists may find TNA’s Rediscovering the Record Project interesting

David Thomas, Director of Technology at The National Archives, has announced the concept behind The National Archives’ Rediscovering the Records project on his first TNA’s Labs blog

The Rediscovering the Record project takes in hand the redesign of TNA’s two major catalogues and some new search functions including geographic based searches making it possible to  link from maps to related to records.

The TNA’s labs project is similar to the  FamilySearch Labs projects that have been around for some time now. These labs projects include beta testing for developments within familiar sites such as the Familysearch.org, but without actually changing the main site. Putting the lab site up for a while means it can be thoroughly tested. I’ve been using the 1851 English jurisdictions date on labs.familysearch for some time now and it has a lot in common with TNA labs and had become more and more useful to me as it improved.

Comments can be fed back to the development team and these are open for others to see. Suggestions will lead to further tweeks and alterations. When I used the site there were obviously some teething problems – functions seemed to freeze but evidently I wasn’t the only one having problems. I got a good feel for some of the new possibilities within the proposed “person search” functions that should improve results when searching across name rich database and catalogue entries on the TNA website. The new person search makes it clear what sets of records with good name information exists at TNA and canny readers will have noted this  search is being integrated as a beta test within he main TNA website.

I didn’t have such a great experience with the other “new” test areas. The Valuation Office Map Finder and the UK History Photo Finder potentially sound really interesting. Photfinder allows you to search and view digitised historical photographs of the UK and Ireland, starting with the Dixon-Scott collection, which holds more than 14,000 photographs taken in the 1920s-1940s. However in order to discover what places are covered both seem to rely on a wizzy map link from interactive OS mapping or a dedicated place name list in drop down boxes. Sadly neither of those worked for me. But I’ve done my bit and reported this as feedback so I’ll see what they do to improve it. Other comments show people have successfully seen it working and have suggested interesting ways to present the information and to link to similar initiatives using similar mapping and historic photo information.

Collaboration on sites like The National Archives Labs  through its  comments and related wikis and forums, draw upon the greater collective experience and knowledge the users often have about specific records. As more people can test and comment about the site the more user-friendly it might become.

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