Friday, 29 January 2021

Time machine

Okay so I know there theoretical, but if time machines existed which time period would you go to? Would it be a particular period of history or would it be 2019 when things were so much better?

My thoughts on this began years ago when I read Timeline by Michael Crichton. In this book a group of historians go back in time to the middle ages in France. It made me think which events and times of history I would like to go.

First off I’d love to go back millions of years to see the dinosaurs. I have to confess to having read/watched Jurassic Park far too many times. I’d love to tell the T Rex to stop being so grump (although if my arms were that short I’d be grumpy. Think about all the things you couldn’t do) and tell the Velociraptor’s to calm down and lighten up.

What other periods would I like to go to? Perhaps to when the Roman’s first landed in Britain in 55BC.  Or maybe to the 14th October 1066 to see what really happened at the Battle of Hastings (at Battle). Or perhaps the 100 year war (which was 116 years long from 1337 to 1453) and was between the English and the French. You could choose the Battle of Crecy on the 26th August 1346 or even the Battle of Agincourt on the 25th October 1415. You could watch the archers in action to see how formable they were and see if the famous gesture did come from them. Or would you go to a time more relevant to your ancestors?

There are so many times I would like to go back to that relate to my ancestors. I’d love to go to all my however many back grandparents weddings to see them on their big day and see which family members were there so I could put faces to names. Also to anytime when my Grandma was alive so I could meet her. I’d also love to have seen the house I grew up in being built in the late 1880’s so I could see what my bedroom looked like new before I painted it yellow and purple and what the original feature were before everything was taken out in the 1950’s. Or how about the day the first teddy bear was made.

Just think about what you could learn. If your ancestor was a mason working on a great Cathedral or a castle you could see which parts they built and perhaps some beautiful carvings they did. If your family were farmers you can see what life was really like for them and how that compares to how we believe it was.

You could also be present for the great events in your ancestor’s life. If you have gaps in your family tree you could go back to the time to try and find out what happened, and just imagine the blanks you could fill in by solving the illegitimacy questions. You could share the good times and the bad times with your ancestors. Be there for births and deaths, new jobs and new adventures.

But would it have to have been a personal date to your ancestors or an event that shaped their lives? What about the signing of the Magna Carter in 1215 or the peasants revolt of 1381? A coronation of a monarch or how about the opening of a building where you live.

I suppose it’s all pie in the sky as I don’t think you’ll ever be able to do it, but as a historian you can dream. Or perhaps it already exists and we don’t know. Perhaps Michael Crichton new something we didn’t and Timeline was true all along. If it is though I’m not going in one as knowing my luck I’d get stuck somewhere nasty or end up in the middle of the sea!

Friday, 1 January 2021

New Year’s Day

 Happy New Year!

Now genealogists will have come across dates in their research that appear to make no sense. How many of us have seen this 2nd January 1700/1701. But what does this really mean. Well a bit of a history lesson is required.

The exact date of New Year’s Day has moved throughout the years, and it was not the same in different countries. For example now the west celebrates on a different date from China, but in the Tudor era the protestant countries celebrated on a different day from the catholic countries.

At some periods in history the New Year was celebrated on the 25th of December to celebrate the birth of Christ were as others celebrated this day but because they felt it was the winter solstice.

Up until the 6th century New Year was celebrated on the 1st January but the catholic church deemed it should be moved to the 25th March each year. This was because it was Lady Day or the feast of the annunciation. In other words the day Gabriel was supposed to have told Mary she was with child in the bible. So the church decided the New Year should begin on this day to honour this.

New Year was still celebrated on the 1st January despite the actual date being the 25th March. There is evidence of King Henry VIII exchanging New Year gifts on the 1st January in 1534.

In the 1580’s the Pope declared that the Gregorian calendar to be the correct one and declared the New Year was to be January 1st. This was because of changes made to the calendar to set dates rather than them moving with the changing date of the equinox. So 10 days were removed from the calendar and dates were standardised. It’s just in Britain we didn’t go with that as the Pope had no influence over us as Queen Elizabeth was the head of the church. We did use the Gregorian calendar though but we would continue to celebrate New Year in March until 1752 when we adopted the changes to the calendar and set the New Year as January 1st.

Now this is where the confusion comes for genealogist. Before 1752 your ancestors could very well have been born in between New Year and Lady Day. This would mean that they had their birth registered in 2 years thus leading to the year being given as 1700/1701 as in the example above. So if they were born on the 2nd January 1701 under the current calendar then this was their date of birth but because it hadn’t been adopted yet then their date of birth was 2nd January 1700. So to avoid confusion genealogists and transcribers have to write the date as the 2nd January 1700/1701. This way the person viewing the record knows their ancestor was technically born in 1700 but under the modern calendar it was 1701.

Life became much easier in 1752 when we adopted the current system as a result of the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750. It was done to bring us in line with the rest of Europe under the rule of King George II. The year 1751 ran from the 25th March to the 31st of December and days were removed. Also in 1752 the year was shortened as well. So if you birthday was between Wednesday 2 September 1752 and Thursday 14 September then you didn’t age that year as you had no birthday.

It should be noted that in Scottish genealogy they had set the 1st January as the start of the New Year in the 1600’s but it became official in 1752 in line with the rest of Britain.

So New Year has moved but the result is the same. You ancestors were born and lived and thus we do to.

Happy New Year to you all.

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Christmas Traditions

 Many families have traditions in their families that they do year on year. They can range from things they do to presents they give. This year things may be different for all of us but that doesn’t mean that all the traditions have to stop.

A lot of family’s probably have similar traditions. I always got a little orange and a bag of chocolate money (except Father Christmas forgot my chocolate money last year!) and a pillow case with my presents in. My parents always got a new pair of slippers. Some may always have visited the same people on the same day. For us my grandparents always came for Christmas day Other traditions for us include a real Christmas tree every year and Lilly the fairy going on top of the tree. Lilly was made by my Great Grandma Weeds in the early 1950. She’s had a refurbishment this year and a bath but she is still the same girl just tidied up.

But how many of these traditions stem from necessity. Yes it was great that your ancestor’s got a new pair of slippers every Christmas, but if you think about it they probably needed them, so they got what they needed as a present. I can remember getting a new winter coat which makes a great present and is something I needed.

The further back you go through your ancestor’s the more this probably happened. Children probably just got the new clothes they needed and little else, or if they did they were most likely homemade and it would have been rare that the adults got a present, unless they were from a wealthy family that could afford to buy them.

Another form the traditions may take could relate to Christmas food. Tradition today for Christmas dinner is a full roast with turkey. In the Victorian era and before it would more likely have been goose. I’ve had a variety of strange foods for Christmas dinner. I’ve had a BBQ, a fry up and even pizza. Just because it’s Christmas day doesn’t mean it has to be turkey and Christmas pudding. Going back through your ancestor’s it may be that the family scrimped and saved just to have a small piece of meat for Christmas Day (think of the Cratchit’s in a Christmas Carol). If they were farmers like many of my ancestors were they may have had a better dinner as they had the land to grow their own veg and raise animals just for themselves.

Traditions could be things the family did. Pre WW1 it’s most likely that your ancestors would have attended church on Christmas morning before going home for the day. Many a time the man of the house may have gone to the pub after church before going home for lunch. Other traditions could be that on Boxing Day the family went for a long walk or went carolling in the days coming up to Christmas Day.

We need to remember though that the further you go back through your ancestors the less likely it would be that that had any kind of Christmas. Tradition for them could have been that Christmas was a non-event as any kind of celebration would have been beyond their means. Those in the workhouse could have had a better day as even they got a little more food on Christmas day.

Each new generation probably has a new a new set of traditions. Some may combine the traditions of their parents along with new traditions. Each generation will have access to new ideas, beliefs and material things which will mean they can have new traditions that your ancestor’s could never have imagined. Can you imagine your Georgian ancestor’s ever thinking that you can put electric lights on a tree in your house or even covering their houses in them?

So why not start a new Christmas tradition this year so that in the future your descendants can wonder where the Christmas traditions they do come from.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all from Family History Research England.

Friday, 6 November 2020

Remembrance Day 2020

On the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour the UK will come to a standstill in the remembrance of all the men and women who have died in the service of this country. This year things will be a lot different. The march past the Cenotaph in London is not happening an no doubt most organised events will be cancelled in England. But we can still remember with the 2 minute silence and thinking of family member who fought or may have fallen as well as thanking those who have fought to protect us and keep us safe and may have made the ultimate sacrifice.

The wearing of poppies was started by the Royal British Legion in 1921, but the idea of the poppy came from Dr Lt Col John McCrae of the Canadian army after seeing the poppies growing at Ypes, Belgium. He had just lost a close friend to the war and it inspired him to write the poem In Flanders Fields.

Since then the poppies have been sold every year to help support those who suffered as a result of the war. Last year the legion was able to spend over £146 million helping veteran service personnel and their families.

 But what does Remembrance Day mean for genealogists. Well for some it may just be researching someone, for others it may be their main focus, for me it means remembering my fallen ancestors.

This is 2 of the faces of the war memorial in Thorpe St Andrew, Norfolk. 3 members of my family are listed on there. 2 were brothers and the other was their cousin. I wish I had pictures of them, but alas I have no idea what they looked like.

The first to die was Corporal James Weeds on the 15 October 1914. He was in the light marine regiment serving on board HMS Hawke. The ship was off Aberdeen along with the rest of her cruiser squadron when she was struck by a torpedo fired by U-9 (U-boat 9). The ship capsized and of the nearly 600 men on board only 70 survived. His name is on the naval memorial at Chatham Naval Dock Yard as his body was never recovered. James was the cousin of my Great Grandfather George.

The next to die was Private Frederick Weeds the brother of the above James Weeds and thus my Great Grandfathers George’s cousin. Frederick was in the 7th battalion of the Norfolk regiment. He died on the 12 October 1916 on the Somme in Northern France. He is remembered on the Commonwealth War Grave Memorial at Thiepval, France along with over 72,000 other casualties. Again his body was never recovered.

The last to die was Private James Daniel Briggs and he was the cousin of James and Frederick Weeds and the brother of my Great Grandfather George. He was in the 1st Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment and he died on the 10 July 1917 during a battle with the German Marine-Korps Flandern alongside the river Yser near Nieuport in Belgium. 260 men died during this battle and they are remembered on the memorial in Nieuport as their bodies were never recovered.

What makes these deaths even worse is the closeness of these men. On the 1891 census James and Frederick were living with their grandmother, my 3 times great grandmother along with their cousin George, my great Grandfather and their Aunt Julia my Great, Great Grandmother. I just can’t imagine what the family went through losing 3 of their own. James and Frederick had 9 living siblings and their father when they died. James Briggs left behind his parents, 4 siblings and a nephew (my Grandpa). Of the 26 grandchildren of my 3 times great Grandparents 3 died, that’s 11%. What makes it even worse is what happened in 1942. When he died in 1916 Frederick Weeds was married with 4 children. His youngest son Bertie was a member of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps. He died on the 25th October 1942 during the second battle of El Alamein in Egypt. He is remembered on the Alamein Memorial as his body was never recovered. On that day the 1st Royal Tank Regiment fought the German 15th Panzer Division and Italian Littorio Division. Over 100 tanks were involved and by the end of the day over half were destroyed, including Bertie’s tank.

Since I first wrote this blog in 2018 I have discovered more death for this family. James Daniel Briggs had a brother named Edward Robert Briggs who was born on the 29th August 1893. I knew he died in 1919 and always assumed it was as a result of WW1 but looking on the war records I discovered the truth. Edward was in the Gloustershire regiment where he was a Lance Corporal. What fate befell him I don’t know but I found a dependents pension card which showed the amount paid to families after their love ones died. The recipient’s name was Julia Briggs (my great, great Grandma). The card showed pensions for the loss of James Daniel Briggs and also Edward Robert Briggs. Edward had died as a result of the war.

Julia lost 2 sons as well as 2 nephews to combat. She must have been devastated. She had already lost a son as a baby. In 1904 she had 6 sons. By 1919 she had 3. War had taken the first 2 sons born to her husband and damaged for life her eldest son.

This year we might not be out and about so we might not be wearing our poppies but we can still do our bit. Why not download a poppy image and colour it in and display it in a window. The British Legion has one at . We can make a donation online so the British Legion can carry on with their vital work helps those who have both physical and mental scares as a result of the conflicts they served in. If we don’t then the deaths of the millions who have died in war defending our country and suffered as a result of what they have seen will have been in vain. Whatever you do we will remember them no matter what else is going on in the world at the moment.

I’ll leave you with part of a poem by Laurence Binyon written in 1914.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.”

Friday, 23 October 2020

The bombings of London in WW2

 On the 26th October 1944 a V2 bomb landed in Illford, Essex. Now you may not find this surprising as bombs fell all over London during the war. No it interests me as my ancestors were living in Seven Kings near Illford.

A bit of background first. My Great Grandparents George and Elizabeth Weeds were residents of St Albans Road in Seven Kings during WW2. They lived there throughout the war. They already knew the dangers of war. George was a solider during WW1 and was injured on the Somme. He also lost 2 of his brothers and 2 cousins during the first conflict.  Also their only child had been bombed out of his lodgings in Yorkshire in 1940.

© Family History Research England
Elizabeth and George Weeds c.1940. © Family History Research England

Now throughout the war it is believed in the Illford area around 100 people died as a result of the bombings and around 450 were seriously injured. Indeed in the streets surrounding my Great Grandparents home 8 bombs fell according to which means they were living in danger all the time.

Can you imagine the terror them and the rest of London felt each night. Would they see the following day? Did they risk sleeping in their beds in the house or did they go to the shelter in the garden if they had one or to one of the large communal ones. Then there was the worry that if they went to the shelters what would have happened if the house was hit. Would you have been able to salvage anything from the wreckage? If you had a shelter in the garden at least you could keep your valuables in the shelter with you.

So what were the V rockets?

The V weapons as they were known were actually called Vergeltungswaffen or Vengeance Weapons. The V1 was also known as the doodlebug. They are sometimes regarded as the original cruise missiles. They were launch at Britain from 1943 to 1945 as well as much of Europe. The beauty of them was they were pointed in the right direction and launched. They was no need for planes and the potential for the loss of pilots and crews. From the Germans point of view they were the perfect weapon. What made these bombs worse for the residents of London was the fact that the V2 rockets were one of the worse as you couldn’t hear them coming.

But they came with a massive cost to human life. The sites were built by slave labourers. Prisoners of war were used on the construction. Many men were taken from the concentration camps to be part of the build. They worked 12 hours a day with little food and water. Death from exhaustion and malnourishment was common. If you didn’t work hard enough you were sent back to the concentration camps and your death.

If you find yourself in Northern France than you can visit the site of a V2 bunker at Blockhaus d'Éperlecques. I went in the 1990’s and I have to say it was a place I never want to go to again. The place has an eerie feel to it. It was a hot day when I went but it felt so cold. Once you are inside the bunker they briefly turn the lights off and I had the feeling of eye’s watching me and people all around me. They are sacks of cement that were to be used in the just left and they have become solid cement bag shaped lumps.

When I went to the Blockhaus I had no idea that the V2 had exploded near where my Great Grandparents lived. In truth I knew they were in London but little else. So to find out some 20-30 years later that for want of a few hundred metres the V2 could have landed on my ancestors. Just another way genealogy research and history can merge together and give an insight into your ancestor’s lives.

Friday, 11 September 2020

The Thorpe St Andrew Rail Crash

 So this is probably at train crash you have never heard of and why would you unless you know the history of the area. Well I do know the area as my family lived there and on that fateful night they may well have rushed to the scene of devastation to assist.

The river Yare at Thorpe St Andrew. Photo © Helen Steed
The river Yare at Thorpe St Andrew. Photo © Helen Steed

The accident happened on the night of the 10th September 1874 in the town of Thorpe St Andrew. A peaceful place on the side of the river Yare east of Norwich in Norfolk. At the time the population was between 4000 and 5000. It was an extremely wet night and due to the time it happened it was also dark. The crash happened on the single track line at about 21.45 when the 20.40 mail train from Yarmouth collided head on with the 17.00 London to Yarmouth passenger train. Both trains were running late that night and had both received written confirmation that they could proceed onto the single track line. But unfortunately mistakes were made with a misunderstanding about which train was to be given permission to enter the line. The station master at Thorpe meant for the passenger train to enter the line but the duty inspector thought he meant the mail train. With both travelling at speed they stood no chance of stopping when they each caught sight of the other. There was nothing the drivers could do to prevent disaster. It was said that when the engines hit they pushed each other up into the air and the carriages were destroyed. In the accident the drivers and firemen of the trains died instantly and 17 passengers died at the scene and more died from their injuries. A further 75 people were seriously injured.

Now at the time of the accident my ancestors were living on Thunder Lane in the town. My great great grandma was 8 years old and living with her mother and stepfather. Her eldest brother Edward was 21 and newly married with his first child. It is fair to say when the accident happened Edward and his stepfather along with other members of the family would have rushed to the scene to see what had happened and they then probably stayed to help the rescue of those trapped and the transportation of the injured to the nearby pub for treatment. The young men of the town would have been pressed into service to help in the rescue efforts. There were no heavy rescue units to call upon. It would have been all hands on deck to get the injured out and to safety.

Thorpe St Andrew rail crash site

Thorpe St Andrew showing the site of the crash and where my family lived

The eyewitness accounts of the accident said what a sight of devastation with the mangled trains and carriages with the cries of the injured. As it was night bonfires had to be lit so that the rescuers could see what they were doing. Bodies had been flung from the train and survivors landed in peoples gardens. Many had serious injuries that needed instant treatment and others had lost their clothing or what they had left was in tatters. One child had to have her leg amputated at the scene.

Of those who died there was a family. A mother, a father and a young child. A family outing that ended in tragedy.

What did my family see, what did they hear. How did it affect them at the time and in the future? I guess I will never know for sure, but I can’t see them not being troubled by it. Anyone who had to witness such an event must have been impacted by it. Did it impact them in their later lives? Did little Julia Weeds see any of the carnage or was she sheltered form it by her mother?

This rail disaster just goes to show that history and family history/genealogy go hand in hand. The history is the rail disaster but my family’s potential involvement is the family history and the genealogy. So the moral of this blog is do not ignore the history of the time your ancestors lived in. You can get an insight into their lives from it.

Friday, 28 August 2020

Genealogy Tips

So with everything that has been going on you may have decided this is the time you want to find out more about your ancestry. You could hire someone to do the research for you or you could do it yourself. Either way you need to take certain factors into account. So I’ve decided to list my top genealogy tips.

1. Decide what you want to know before you begin. Do you want to focus on one branch of your family or are you just going to set to and do all your family?

2. Ask you family questions before you begin, they may know what you want to find out or have some access to family records you don’t.

3. Go through your old photos as they could yield some answers to your questions as previous generations may have written on the back of them.

4. Be realistic in what you want to achieve. You can’t just decide you want to set aside a day to do your entire tree.

5. Start from yourself and work backwards. You need to make sure every fact is correct. Just because you think your 3 times great grandparents were call Burt and Connie doesn’t mean they really were, so you need to check the facts.

6. Don’t ignore any sources. You really need to use them all to make sure you get a complete picture of your ancestors. Also don’t ignore sources just because they don’t agree with what you think you know or other sources. You don’t know which is true, so consider everything. Remember to check, check and recheck your findings.

7. You will need to accept that you will hit brick walls in your research. You don’t have to get all the answers now. You can always come back later when you have new ideas and perhaps access to more records. You also need to remember that some people cannot be found in the records no matter how hard you search.

8. Don’t get side tracked. Stick to what you intended to research. Make a note of what you’ve found and come back to it later. I really should stick to this point!

9. Keep meticulous records so if you need to come back to a fact or source later you can find it. Also it will make keeping track of your ancestors easier. Consider using forms to keep track of your research. There are loads of them available free online, or make your own custom one.

10. Check your spellings. Many names can be spelt in different ways. It is not uncommon for those writing down the records to spell the person’s name as they heard it so accents can make a name sound completely different.

11. Explain your findings. Just because you know what something means doesn’t mean others will. It also helps you to future proof your research so your descendants can understand your work.

12. You may uncover things you didn’t expect. You need to accept what you found and try to understand, but remember it has no impact on you and does not need to be kept hidden. No matter what it is it is part of your family history.

13. Don’t forget your family history. What was happening in the world whilst your ancestors were alive would have impacted on their lives and would have been just as important to how they lived as what’s happening in the world today is to us.

14. You may not find you have really exciting ancestors. Unfortunately your family may not be as exciting as it appears on the TV programmes, but don’t be downhearted. You ancestors are just as important. But remember some celebrities families are deemed too dull for the TV.

15. You need to remember genealogy is addictive and you must remember life exists outside your research. Also it’s going to take time to research all your ancestors, so don’t expect to complete you research in months, it will probably be years.

16. If you are having difficulties or you don’t have the time to do the research yourself consider asking a professional genealogist for help, they may know where to find things you don’t. If you do ask them to carry out research for you remember they cannot do it overnight any more than you can, so give them plenty of time.

Do remember that whatever method you use to trace your ancestry remember the most important thing it to have fun and enjoy the process.

Time machine

Okay so I know there theoretical, but if time machines existed which time period would you go to? Would it be a particular period of history...