As I explain in my previous posting it took me a little while to settle on the combination of software programs I used to develop my family tree. I eventually decided to use Ancestry as my main tool as at its basic subscription level it gave me access to most of the British records that at that time I thought I would need. At that time I had know idea that my research would take me to Australia, NewZealand, USA, and Canada leading to me have to change subscription levels. I also purchased a copy of Family Tree Maker and loaded this on my Windows PC. The FTM software allowed me to have two way communications with my Ancestry tree allowing me to link a tree on Ancestry to a FTM tree and keep them aligned. In addition it allowed me to use all the records on Ancestry from within the FTM software. The current release of FTM even talks to the Family Search software where I have now also placed a copy of my tree. Ancestry also has an iOS app which I use on my iPad. The app writes to the same internet database as the main Ancestry program and offers access to all the records available at the chosen subscription level.
At this point I should point out that the British records available digitally are fairly comprehensive but do have certain limitations. UK civil registration, for all practical purposes, began in 1837 when the registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages became mandatory in England and Wales. Initially it was the responsibility of the registrar to search out and record the events and parents were only obliged to give information when requested. It wasn’t until 1875 when new legislation put the responsibility on those present at a birth or death to have it recorded. Similar legislation was passed in Ireland and Scotland. In England and Wales a Birth currently has to be registered within 42 days and a Death within 5 days (unless there is an inquest or a Post Mortem) while marriages are recorded at the time. These records tend to go up to about 1992 but later ones are being added all the time. Before 1837 BMD records are usually Parish records and the digital versions range from comprehensive to none existent where they have been lost or not yet transcribed. In addition not everyone was a church goer. You may be lucky or you may not. Ancestry does have some digitised Parish records, but you may need to visit a family history centre local to where you are researching. Many of these are maintained by Local Authorities and located in Libraries. Local Family History Societies are another good source. More about them later.
Another extremely useful set of records are the census returns. The U.K. census act was passed in 1800 and the first census was taken in 1801 but it was not comprehensive and is not online. It is available at the National Archive but is not much use as it only counted numbers of people, occupations and houses by Parish, as did the censuses of 1811, 1821 and 1831. The 1841 census is generally considered the first proper census and lists people’s names, ages, sex, occupation and whether they were born in or out of the county they were living in. One oddity of this particular census is that only those aged 15 or under had their actual ages recorded, everyone over 15 had their age rounded down to the nearest 5, so someone of 28 would be recorded as 25 and someone of 34 would be recorded as 30. A census has been taken every 10 years since then, except during the Second World War, and are available online up to and including the 1911 census. Later censuses will be available when they are over 100 years old, i.e. the 1921 census will be made available in 2022. There is one other point to note here, as a preparation for war a national registration was taken in early 1939 and this is available online with those living people aged under 100 at the time it was published redacted. My mother who is 99 at the time of writing has been redacted (Fig 2.1 Redacted Records). This document formed the basis for the issue of wartime ration books and ID cards. Many people who failed to register, because they correctly suspected it would be used as a the list of people eligible War Service, had to register late or starve. It was also used for the NHS to issue Health Service numbers when the NHS started after the war and its safe keeping was entrusted into the custody of the fledgling NHS.
To start my Ancestry tree I downloaded a GEDCOM file from Genes Reunited and uploaded it to Ancestry. This gave me a skeleton to start building my tree on. Ancestry has a system of “hints” that pop up on people in the tree offering things like possible birth, christening, marriage and death indexes that can be linked to the person, ignored or marked “maybe” if your not sure and wish to come back to them later. I then downloaded the resulting Ancestry tree to FTM and archived a copy.
In family history research the more unusual your surname generally the easier the research gets. I must admit that I have been fairly lucky with the surnames I have been researching in that I have several unusual name in my tree such as Furr, Zinzan, Brocklesby and Petherbridge. I do have some Smith and Clark relatives but not too many, just enough to set me a few puzzles. Even my own surname is reasonably uncommon especially in the south of England thanks to my Father being posted to London during WW2 where he met my Mother. However it surprised me to just how regional surnames tend to be. The Furr branch originated from Bedfordshire/Hertfordshire boarder, the Zinzan branch originally came from London but spread to Reading (where there is a Zinzan Street) and even New Zealand where I found a link to Zinzan Brooke the rugby international. Brocklesby is found around North Lincolnshire and across the Humber in the Hull area. While Petherbridge appears to have come from the Brixton area of Devon. Of course with the industrial revolution and as travel got easier, many people move from the rural life and moved to towns and cities or emigrated for a better life.
The first branch I investigated was the Furr line as it was my maternal grandfathers surname and my mother could help with some of the information that gave me a head start. I knew my grandfather had been a regular soldier and had served in pre partition India as my mother had been born there as an army child. Having enter what I knew about him, full name, dates of birth and death and birth location, Ancestry offer me a number of hints and I was away. I was presented with census records for 1881,1891 and 1901, marriage index, death index, probate records and best of all his army records for pension purposes. The censuses gave me my grandfathers parents and siblings names, birthplaces and rough ages. The census is notorious for the inaccuracies for ages as only whole years are given and in early days many people had no idea how old they were and just guessed! The Probate record told me little I did not already know, except that he left an estate valued at £288 5s 0d, which was about a year wages when he died.
My grandfather’s army record was a real find, it showed he signed up for the Royal Artillery 1898 when he was just over 19. (Fig. 2.2 Army Enlistment). The year after he joined up the RA split into 3 groups, The Royal Field Artillery and the Royal Garrison Artillery and the Royal Artillery, who were in charge of admin, supplies and the like. My Grandfather was posted to a mountain battery of the RGA. The RGA was tasked with mountain warfare and static defence such as coastal batteries. On finishing his training, in true Army logic, he was posted to that well known mountainous area the Isle of Wight where he met and married my grandmother. However, in 1901 he was posted to India leaving a wife and new baby daughter on the IoW.
The records show that by 1904 he had been promoted to a junior NCO and was entitled to be joined by his wife and young daughter. He served in India all through the First World War where three more daughters were born and the one born on the IoW died, before returning to the U.K. in 1920 as the Battery Quarter Master Sargent and to see out his final few months in the Army at the base depot having served for 22 years over 18 of which where in India.
I am lucky to have found this record as many of the old Military records were destroyed when the warehouse they were stored in was bombed during the London Blitz of WWII. It is not unusual to look for an old Army record only to find a badly singed document that is virtually unreadable.
If you are particularly interested in military records there are a couple of specialist sites that it might be worth considering subscribing to. Forces War Records is a British Site that appears to have a lot of British records and Fold 3 which is associated with Ancestry and is an sold as an extra integrated with Ancestry. I have not used either as I have found that Ancestry has many of the military records I want.
In the next part I will share some of my discoveries.
© WorthingGooner 2018