Welcome, fellow genealogists! My blog will teach you about U.S. land records and United Kingdom research. My family has roots in Niagara County, New York; Norfolk, England; and northeast Germany.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wisdom Wednesday: 2015 UK Military Anniversaries

The latest Federation of Family History Societies (FFHS) ezine reminded me that there are three significant military anniversaries during the next ninety days! As genealogists we saw that last year’s commemoration of the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the First World War gave us new databases to search. I am thinking of soldiers wills and war diaries put online for the first time in 2014. We still have three years before these commemorations end, presumably on 11 November 1918.

FFHS tells us that the first two events happened in 1915, and the third will be the two hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, famous in history as well as language and song. You can subscribe to this free online magazine here.  This issue highlighted these events:
  1.        The Gallipoli Landings (April 1915)
  2.        The Sinking of the Lusitania ( 7 May 1915)
  3.        The Battle of Waterloo (18 Jun 1815)
The Gallipoli Landings

While all countries involved will recognize this centennial, it will be significant for Australians and New Zealanders as they join together to remember the Gallipoli campaign, which marks the first major military action fought by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) during World War I. The battle involved more than 550,000 Allied troops on land and in ships off the coast of Turkey and lasted more than eight months. Troops first landed on April 25, known in Australia and New Zealand as ANZAC Day. This year there will be a Commonwealth and Ireland ceremony at the Helles Memorial in Turkey, the site of the largest ANZAC commemoration outside of Australia and New Zealand.

“In London, there will be three separate events taking place on the 25 April. For details please visit the Australian High Commission (UK)website.  Please visit the Australian Memorial website for details of ceremonies taking place, exhibitions and links to ‘The Anzac Collections Project’ where you can read stories of ordinary people caught up in the extraordinary events of the war. For details of ANZAC commemorations in New Zealand, please visit the New Zealand Government website which includes a useful and informative ‘Guide to Gallipoli’. “ (FFHS)

Note: The only North American unit in this battle was from Newfoundland, then a British dominion and not part of Canada. Information about the role of the Newfoundland Regiment can be found at www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/first-world-war/fact_sheets/gallipoli

The Sinking of the Lusitania
“The sinking of RMS Lusitania occurred on 7 May 1915; an event regarded as having been a turning point of the First World War. The ship was torpedoed by the German U-boat U20 and is reported to have gone down in 18 minutes off the coast of Ireland. The sinking was a contributory factor to the American entry into World War One. Of the known 1,960 people on board, 768 survived and 1,192 perished in the disaster…The Lusitania Resource website contains much information on its history, Passenger & Crew Biographies, and Lusitania Facts..."  (FFHS)

To read some very poignant biographies, please visit www.rmslusitania.info.” This website seems to be the best on the subject. On the home page, the menu on the left lets you choose passenger list, crew list, survivors, victims, stowaways…plus a few more categories.

Note: A new book about the Lusitania is topping the non-fiction charts even though it has not been released, as I write this. It is Dark Wake by Erik Larsson, the very successful author of The Devil in the White City and In the Garden of Beasts.

The Battle of Waterloo
The phrase 'meet your Waterloo' has been with us since the fateful day in June 1815. In commemoration of the bicentenary of Waterloo, the 2015 issue of FFHSs ‘really useful information leaflet’ contains an article by military historian, Simon Fowler, which will assist you in researching those who fought in the Napoleonic Wars. Download the leaflet here www.ffhs.org.uk/rul-2015-03.pdf.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Tuesday's Tip: The Domesday Book

A person asked me at last month’s meeting of my UK Gen Research group, “What is the Domesday Book?” To my surprise, I remembered the basics: it’s a list of landholders recorded during the reign of William, the Conqueror which began in 1066. Not bad, but here are more details: 

What is the Domesday Book?
It is a listing of landholders and values in England in 1086 ordered by William the Conqueror, which contains information for that year and 1066, the year of the conquest.   

Why is it important to history and genealogy?
It is “the oldest survey of land, owners and occupiers in Britain.” (Herber)

What information is included?
Technically the land was all owned by the sovereign until he/she granted ownership or tenancy to a major tenant. In return the tenant could lease land to a subtenant who could further subdivide it. Everyone in the chain owed the king or queen soldiers in time of war and/or other payment or service. This is the essence of the feudal system.

The Domesday Book is a listing of more than 13,000 land holders at the major tenant and sub-tenant level. There are few, if any, ordinary people.
What area is covered?

There are two volumes. The first, called Little Domesday, covers the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. Great Domesday, covers the rest of England, except London and Winchester and the counties in the north; Northumberland, Cumberland, Durham, and northern Westmoreland.
What would an entry for a parish contain?

Thanks to Mark Herber’s book, Ancestral Trails, page 673, we know that the entry for Dunsford, Devon translates from the original Latin:
Saewulf holds DUNFORD. He held it himself before 1066. It paid tax for 1 virgate of land. Land for 1 plough. 3 smallhoolders, pasture, 20 acres. Value 40d

             For more information go to the website www.domesdaybook.co.uk
                It has the list of names from the book. 

What do the experts say? How can genealogists use the information?
“You are most unlikely to trace your ancestry to persons named in Domesday, unless you find a link to nobility, but it is fun to read entries, over 900 years old, about places in which your ancestors lived.” (Herber)

“Information about ordinary people's lives does exist, but it often occurs in records created for other purposes. In general, archival records contain information about wealthier landowning members of society, so most ordinary people are less well documented. Before 1538, when parish registers began, births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials were not officially recorded, though some notes may have been kept by the priest. However, many other records which contain genealogical information start well before 1538, and continue long after.”  (The National Archives)

I am not an expert but…the earliest English ancestors who I can document are a man and woman married about 1575. I would need to trace back another 500 years +/- to get to 1066. It seems like a daunting task, going well before Henry the VIII required records be kept. I would need a miracle or a connection to nobility, both highly unlikely.

For more optimistic information about genealogy at the turn of the last millennium, check the websites for medieval genealogy and the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy listed below.

Herber, Mark. Ancestral Trails. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2006.




www.fmg.ac  - Foundation for Medieval Genealogy

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday: London in 1700

Waller, Maureen. 1700:  Scenes from London Life. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2000.

Most of my English ancestors are from rural areas. What I know about London life I learned from Oliver Twist and Tim Cratchit.  I needed a book to fill in some details and found the one above at a used book sale. The first five chapter headings were intriguing and should catch the eye of all genealogists: marriage, childbirth, childhood, disease and death.
I am not surprised to find that the author wrote an entire book about marriage after reading the first few pages of this book’s ‘Marriage’ chapter. She points out the constraints put on marrying couples by the church, including the costs. People were put off by the reading of the banns, seeing them as an invasion of privacy. Since this practice continued into my lifetime in my childhood church, I never really gave it any thought. Waller describes the clandestine marriage mills in London where about one-third of the ceremonies in 1700 were performed, in order to avoid the church requirements.
Waller later wrote a book that used all the information she gathered about London in 1700 called Ungrateful Daughters: The Stuart Princesses Who Stole Their Father’s Crown. This book is about the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Mary II and Queen Anne whose reign ended in 1714.

            Other books by Maureen Waller:
The English Marriage: Tales of Love, Money and Adultery
London 1945: Life in the Debris of War
A Family in Wartime: How the Second World War Shaped the Lives of a Generation
Ungrateful Daughters: The Stuart Princesses Who Stole Their Father’s Crown
Sovereign Ladies: Sex, Sacrifice and Power – The Six Reigning Queens of England

All of the books are available on amazon.com.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday: Welsh Surnames

Rowlands, John and Sheila. The Surnames of Wales. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2014. (New Edition) $39.95 www.genealogical.com

First published in 1996 and recently revised in a new edition, The Surnames of Wales has been considered the go-to guide on this subject. The publisher promises a new updated and expanded resource seeking to dispel many of the myths that surround names in Wales. It is illustrated by evidence taken from a survey involving more than 270,000 surnames found in parish records throughout the country.

There are four new chapters including a groundbreaking survey and glossary of Welsh given games, an important addition to the text because the geographical distribution of given names can provide clues to the origins of early patronymic surnames.

From the publisher: The first chapters “give a historical overview of Welsh names, dealing in particular with the patronymic naming system and the gradual adoption of surnames. The central chapters include a comprehensive survey of Welsh surnames and an all-important glossary of surnames…also show[ing] the distribution and incidence of surnames throughout Wales. The final chapters cover the distribution of surnames derived from the ‘ap’ prefix, the incidence of surnames derived from Old Testament names, and surname evidence for the presence of people of Welsh origin in populations outside Wales.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday: Colonial UK Immigrants

In the Spring, I wrote four blog posts that described distinct immigrant groups that settled in various parts of the original thirteen colonies. These posts were based on a book by genealogist, William Dollarhide. He felt that if you knew where your ancestor settled in the colonies, you could narrow the range of places he could have come from in the UK.

            26 Feb 2014 British Origin of U.S. Colonists (New England Puritans)
            12 Mar UK Origins of Virginia Cavaliers
            26 Mar Quakers from the North Midlands
            9  Apr Scottish/English Borderlands to Rural America

-Dollarhide, William. British Origins of American Colonists, 1629-1775. Bountiful, Utah: Heritage Quest Genealogical Services, division of AGLL, Inc., 1998.

-A much expanded discussion of the four group's influence on American culture can be found in the following book:

Fischer, David Hackett. Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
I found this book which uses the same four colonial groups described by Dollarhide to illustrate the history of American culture as it has changed through time. It argues that our original British folkways underlie most of our ‘melting pot’ culture. Oxford press states, Americans “have assimilated regional cultures which were created by British colonists, even while preserving ethnic identities at the same time.”
-This Fall I was asked to speak on a topic where a summary of the above information would be helpful so I developed this chart:

New England
East Anglia (50%)
Chesapeake Bay
West Country & London
Delaware Valley
North Midlands (67%)
Rural Areas/ Borders
English/Scottish Border + N Ireland

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday: Eagle Lecterns in the Church of England

Unfortunately, I recently attended a funeral at an Episcopal church in New England, and I noticed the beautiful lectern with a shiny metal eagle holding the bible on its backs with its wings spread. Being Lutheran by birth, I had not noticed a similar one until a 1997 trip to England, where all the parishes I visited in Norfolk had a similar “bookstand.” I decided to find out about the history and symbolism.

According to Stephen Friar, there are three types of lecterns in use in the Church of England. The first is a two- to four-sided revolving stand supported by a pillar. The second is a modern version of the first – a one-sided desk made in the 19th or 20th century.
The third and most often found is an eagle with outstretched wings made of wood or brass, the symbol of St. John who used the words ‘soared up into the presence of Christ’ in the New Testament books attributed to him. The bird’s open wings are functional for holding the bible or other liturgical books, but also symbolize carrying forth the word of God. Its feet are often resting on a globe or orb. Rarely, the bird might be a pelican, the mythical symbol of Christ.  

Medieval eagles are rare but Victorian Eagles are plentiful. Because of my Norfolk roots, I was happy to note that there was a fifteenth century East Anglican ‘school’ of artists who exported eagles to other parts of Britain and the continent. Here is a wooden example from St. Lawrence's Church, Biddulph, Staffordshire:
Source: Friar, Stephen. The Companion to the English Parish Church. London: Chancellor Press, 2000.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday - Genealogy in a UK Graveyard

Genealogists are interested in cemeteries, in part, because of the information on the gravestones themselves and in any written records maintained by the graveyard owner. When looking for information from an English graveyard, I think North Americans have heard many rumors before they even begin the process. They bury people one atop the other…they remove the gravestones of the first burials…and so on. What is the real story?

Visiting a UK parish church is an experience like no other. In almost all rural settings the church appears to be in the center of a cemetery. The graveyard is not confined to the space behind the building, as in North America.
In the past, all of the church ground was not considered consecrated. Until the last century, there was a common practice to bury the ‘good’ people on the south side of the church and the others on the shadowy north side. Those who took their own lives or the lives of others were buried on the unconsecrated north side, which also was used for secular activities such as games, festivals, and fairs in the 1600s and 1700s. Less charming were the cockfights also held there.

Until the eighteenth century, corpses were usually buried in a fabric shroud. As bodies decomposed, they would take less space. Because more people qualified to be on the south side, the land there may be higher than on the north side. Both facts lend some credence to the belief that more than one body was placed in what we think of as one plot, perhaps one atop the other.  Overcrowding was and is an issue.  Today more than 70 percent of those who die in the UK are cremated.
Notes: In 1667 and confirmed again in 1678, the shroud needed to be made of pure wool. The Wool Acts were intended to promote and support the wool industry. Clergy and later, the family needed to certify that the shroud was woolen or a fine would be levied. These acts were repealed in 1814.  Some parishes owned a casket for the body that was used during the service.

Gravestones became popular in the seventeenth century. The earliest in today’s churchyards often date from the eighteenth century. The stones are considered the property of the person who erected it, and defacing a stone is considered trespass. Check with the parish clergy to see if there is a map or burial records for you to read and to see what the rules and regulations are.
Many local family history societies have recorded the inscriptions on the gravestones and these are available online at the society’s website. You may need to be a member to access the records online, but the dues are usually less than £20 per year.

Source: Friar, Stephen. The Companion to the English Parish Church. London: Chancellor Press, 2000.