Saturday, 30 October 2010

Researching Family History in Ireland

Any genealogist who has tried to research their ancestry in Ireland will realise it is not always easy and often encounter many problems in finding online information.

A free and useful searchable site for Ireland for the 1901 and 1911 census with access to the original returns can be found here:

Another very useful free online site to visit is the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland based in Belfast. The PRONI website has online digitised archives fully searchable.

When you find an entry you are interested in, you can then view a digital image of the original document. The following are currently available:
A project is nearly complete to index and digitise 1858 - c1900 wills from the District Probate Registries of Armagh, Belfast and Londonderry.

PRONI can be found here:

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Research using Inquest Records

Research using Inquest Records

Whenever you visit a record office it is always worth checking if they hold any old surviving inquest records. The parish where your ancestors lived can hold valuable information on inquests not just from the deceased but also details of the jurymen, innkeepers (where often the inquest was held) or proprietors of other establishments.

There may also be witness statements recorded in the inquest record. So as you can see your ancestor could possibly turn up in an inquest – not necessarily the corpse!

When an inquest verdict results in the case being taken to trial due to a possible criminal act then follow this up with criminal records too. Although all the information recorded at the inquest will be repeated often additional information comes to light. Another important point to make is although the jury at the inquest may deliver a verdict this could be completely different at the criminal hearing.

A number of common Inquest Verdict Terms

  • Visitation of God – sudden deaths often unexplained or possibly heart attacks and strokes.
  • Mishap/Casual/Misfortune – usually used for an accidental death
  • Natural Causes/ Natural Death – a long standing illness such as cholera, TB, smallpox etc
  • Murder or Manslaughter
  • Justifiable Homicide- generally a self defence verdict
  • Suicide *see note below
  • Inclemency of the weather – exposure to the elements
  • Want of the Necessities of Life – usually referring to a death by starvation

When the jurors were unable to determine the cause of death at an inquest they passed an open verdict with terms like “Found Dead” or “Died from a fall from a Horse.

*Suicide – interesting facts
If a suicide verdict was returned the jury had to decide if the person was deemed sane at the time. Persons committing suicide who were classified as a lunatic strangely enough were allowed a full church rites burial in consecrated ground.

If they were deemed to have “all their faculties” however they were given the verdict of felo de se (self murder).

A felo de se until 1823 was buried at a crossroads and usually had a wooden stake driven into the body! Better to be insane!!
After 1823 they allowed a felo de se to be buried in a churchyard but only between the hours of 9pm and midnight and with no burial service conducted. Also until 1871 the Crown laid claim to all the suicide’s property which had to be forfeit.    

Monday, 25 October 2010

Information from Family Photographs

We will all have a box of old family photographs handed down or left by our ancestors. It is unfortunately rare to find our ancestors have written any details on the photographs with the date, where it was taken and the names of the people on it.

This is a lesson we all need to learn for our current photograph collection. However ensure you write the details using an acid free pen as this ink will not fade or damage the photographs. You can also buy an acid free pen that can be used safely on the front as well as the back.

However all is not lost. Even if you can identify the people on the photograph estimating the date can still be undertaken by clues:

·       The approximate ages of any children in the photograph (far easier to estimate than adults)
·       Clothes or uniforms the people are wearing
·       Buildings or location landmarks
·       Cars or other transport can offer approximate years
·       Really useful if the photograph has details of the photographer stamped on the back
·       The type of paper and process used to develop the photograph

For close examination of photographs use a Photo Magnifier.

The following site is useful for helping to indentify Victorian and Edwardian photographs

Finally Street Trade Directories will help you locate photographers who have stamped the photographs. By looking through the years you can see what years they were in business.

See my blog article below with a link to Trade Directories.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Trade Directories with searchable database

Trade Directories can be another really useful source of information for tracing our ancestors and their occupations and trades.

The first London directory appeared as early as 1677, Birmingham was 1763, Glasgow 1783. Many individuals across the UK started to compile and put into print Trade Directories including some of the better known ones – Slater, Pigot and Kelly. These often came out more than once a year during their popular period. One problem however being by the time they were compiled and printed they were often already out of date.

For example in a 1859 directory your ancestor listed at an address probably meant he was there in 1857/8. Often some of the information can be a bit suspect so tread with caution on what you may find.

To view a number of these directories free of charge and also the ability to print and download the original pages you can visit the University of Leicester who ran a project digitising these.

They have English and Welsh directories for the years 1750 to 1919.

Friday, 22 October 2010

The 8 Bastardy Documents for Family History

In the mid 18th century with the Industrial Revolution illegitimacy began to rise sharply with around 3 in every 100 births in 1750. By the early 19th century this had risen to nearly 7 in every 100 births. Changes in social attitudes reversed this trend in the early 20th century when illegitimacy fell to around 4 in every 100.

This rise in illegitimacy called for a wealth of records to be created mostly by the local parish and stored in the County Record Offices. The Old Poor Law instructed the local parish churchwarden and the overseer of the poor to force a pregnant unmarried mother to identify the father. This was due to the increased burden that could fall onto the parish.

This was known as the Bastardy Examination but there are eight documents which can help to find the father of an illegitimate child.

·       Bastardy Examination – the mothers information on the identity of the father
·       Notice of Application for a Bastardy Order – sent to the accused father ordering him to appear before the Quarter Sessions
·       Bastardy Recognizance – like a bail bond instructing the believed father to appear at the Quarter Sessions
·       Bastardy Warrant – orders for the apprehension of the believed father of the child
·       Bastardy Summons – instructs the local constable to bring the man in front of the court
·       Bastardy Order – this highlights who is to pay what
·       Bastardy Certificate – this certifies that the father has paid what was due and releases him from the Bastardy Recognizance
·       Bastardy Bond – this is a promise by a bondsman to pay the parish any costs incurred by the father.

A good place to search is the National Archives

By entering ‘bastardy’ in the search as the key word if will produce a list of all the relevant records held by various archives in some counties.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

York County Gaol with searchable database

Opened in 1705 York County Gaol was classed as the most stately prison ever built, both internally as well as the wonderful magnificent architectural exterior. It closed at the end of the 19th century and is now York Castle Museum.

Fully searchable database free for thousands of prisoners incarcerated there during the 18th and 19th centuries. A great resource for family historians to help track down their convict ancestors and victims of crime.

The most famous prisoner imprisoned there was the highwayman Dick Turpin. He spent his last 6 months in York prison before being hanged in 1739 for horse stealing.

Gives details including dates and places of birth, occupations and detail of crimes and debts – both for perpetrators and their victims of:

Criminals transported to America between 1704 and 1775.

Criminals executed between 1710 and 1889

Insolvent debtors between 1710 and 1813

Monday, 18 October 2010

A list of treasured possessions for Family History research

I always promote the safe preservation and use of archival products for family memorabilia passed down having seen so many instances of poor storage and presentation. Ensure you do this correctly using acid free products.

However this posting is to highlight what memorabilia could be useful to further your research. Often these only come to light after a family death or a house move and can either be the starting point of your research or fill in a lot of gaps.

·       Certificates (birth, marriage, death, adoption, baptism and confirmation)
·       Memorial cards
·       Photographs and drawings
·       Correspondence (letters, postcards)
·       Scrapbooks
·       Family bibles/prayer books, diaries
·       House or business account books (invoices, receipts)
·       Passports, identity cards
·       Ration books, war letters, medals, badges
·       Membership books (clubs and organisations)
·       Examination or school leaving certificates and school reports
·       Old newspapers/cuttings
·       Insurance policies
·       Wills and legal documents

For more information on correct storage and preservation products visit

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Have you placed your valuable research in clear PVC sleeves? Oh No!

Widely found and used to store documents and other memorabilia, PVC clear plastic pockets are a definite NO to any family historian. The number of people who approach me at Family History Fairs with old and fragile original family documents (certificates, wills etc) in PVC pockets is astonishing. What is more surprising is they are not aware of the long term damage PVC can cause to their precious documents.

PVC has plasticisers added that make the PVC soft and pliable. These plasticisers over time migrate into the document and destroy the print and also eat into the paper. You will have seen examples of this when you try to remove a long term stored document and the PVC pocket is sticky and has some of the print transferred from the paper onto the plastic.

The archival way of storing your documents is to use acid free inert clear PP (Polypropylene) or PET (Polyester) pockets. These two are widely used by professional archivists to ensure safe storage of valuable documents and memorabilia. PP is by far the most common type used mainly because of availability and the lower price. The benefit of using PET (used by more professional bodies) is the ultra clarity and generally more lightweight gauge of pocket.

If you want more information on archival pockets see

Writing out your family history research

In this age of technology we all store our information and records on various media. Long gone the days of the “floppy disk” and even current media storage will and is becoming outdated. We all have stored our family history research of many years hard work on CD’s, DVD’s, Memory Sticks, Hard Drive back up’s etc. Even places on the internet such as Dropbox where we can “safely” store our hard sought research.

However bringing family history to life is not just about having everything backed up. It is about presenting it in written hard copy format with information, photographs, BMD certificates, census copies etc. This done on archival acid free safe materials and presented in a binder to future generations (remember how many family bibles were passed down through the family).

I was approached by a lady today who wanted to handwrite her research on acid free paper but wanted to use acid free ink with a fountain pen! Admiration for this wonderful initiative from a family historian who wants to present her findings in this way. Family Tree folk sell a range of acid free papers and pens but have never been asked for a bottle of acid free ink.

What are other views out in the genealogy world? How do you write up your research? More importantly are you using archival safe products to ensure long term preservation?