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, March 27, 2013

Wisdom Wednesday: Research in the Fens

Fans of Dorothy Sayers' fictional detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, know about England’s fens. Her book, The Nine Tailors, was set there, and Lord Peter’s brother had a home there. Long ago, the land was covered with water, and the high points, such as the Isle of Ely, were accessible only by boat.

The fens are a naturally marshy region in southeast England which is part of four counties - Lincoln, Cambridge, Norfolk and a small part of Suffolk. The whole occupies nearly 1,500 square miles.

Most of the fens were drained several centuries ago and continue to be protected from floods by drainage banks and pumps. The result of this engineering is a flat, damp, low-lying agricultural region which contains a large percentage of England’s best farmland. You can still see windmills a la The Netherlands dotting the landscape.

This pretty, rural part of the country is challenging to a genealogist because of the county borders and the need to consult all the County Records Offices. For example, some parishes in Western Norfolk were in the Diocese of Ely, and their records are in the Cambridge Records Office.

Two sources that cover the entire Fenlands are:

Wisbech and Fenlands Museum, Museum Square, Wisbech – www.wisbechmuseum.org.uk

"Wisbech & Fenland Museum is one of the oldest museums in the United Kingdom. Not only containing local artifacts from the surrounding Fens...The Museum also houses two historic libraries and a substantial archive, holding diocesan and borough items. The collections were initiated by the town's Literary and Museum Societies which were formed in 1781 and 1835 respectively. Since the Museum opened in 1847, the collections have continued to grow, but the essence of the Museum remains virtually unchanged."  From www.wisbechmuseum.blogspot.com  

Fenland Family History Society – www.fenlandfhs.org.uk

The Fenland Family History Society was founded in 2001 to promote and encourage the study of family, local and social history with particular reference to persons who lived in or were associated with the historical area now known as Fenland.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wisdom Wednesday: UK Jurisdictions

If you use www.maps.familysearch.org , you can see an English village’s 1851 jurisdictions or in other words, the areas where a level of government or the church has authority. The first lesson in a series called ‘England Beginning Research’ at www.familysearch.org explains the meanings. Access this video by clicking the ‘Learn’ button on the home page, click ‘England’ in the left column and find the fifteen minute lesson.

The presenter, Margo McKinstry helpfully divides the possible jurisdictions into two groups, civil and church. In the example above the town of Swaffham is in the county of Norfolk. A county is a civil jurisdiction. England was divided into 40 counties until a major realignment in 1974. After 1837, births, marriages and deaths were recorded by the government and not the Church of England so each parish in the country was assigned to a ‘civil registration district.’ Swaffham is a medium sized market town and was grouped together with several of its smaller neighbors into the Swaffham Registration District.
The Civil Parish is the smallest form of local government and the center of English community life. In some cases, it has little relation to an ecclesiastical parish. A civil parish can consist of part of, one entire, or more than one ecclesiastical parish. There can also be villages or hamlets within a parish.

The Church of England provided leadership in religious and civic matters for centuries. Some of the divisions of the COE directly impact genealogy so here are the church jurisdictions. The country is divided into two provinces – Canterbury and Kent, each overseen by an Archbishop. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the head of the Anglican Church. 
A diocese was the next smallest division of a province and was headed by a bishop. It was made up of several smaller areas called archdeaconries. An archdeacon headed this union of several rural deaneries which each contained a number of ecclesiastical parishes. The parish clerks sent copies of their registers to both the head of the diocese and the archdeaconry, thus creating Bishop’s Transcripts (BTs) and Archdeacon’s Transcripts (ATs).

The ecclesiastical parish of Swaffham, Norfolk is in the province of Canterbury, in the diocese of Norwich, in the archdeaconry of Norfolk in the rural deanery of Cranwich.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wisdom Wednesday: Land Records Online

While preparing for a talk called ‘Accessing Land Records Online,’ I‘m anticipating that listeners might wonder why land records offices digitize their collections from the present and work back in time. After all, don’t they want to preserve the oldest, most fragile records from deteriorating?
Remember preservation is only one goal of the offices. Another is giving access to the documents most in demand by land records users - think real estate professionals, not genealogists.  They, like us, want the convenience of accessing the documents from their offices without a trip to the records office. However, the real estate community has need for the most recent deeds for two reasons.
First, before a closing the records are searched for clear title. Then the new deed and closing papers are prepared. It is inevitable that some time passes. On the day of the closing, the lawyer or title professional must search all recent documents to see if the owner has sold the property to someone besides today’s buyer during this time gap. Thus an urgent need to access recent documents quickly and efficiently is created.
Title insurance is a policy that protects against a defect in the title abstract prepared for a real estate closing. There is a one-time premium payment made at the closing table. In order to issue a policy, insurance companies that sell this product demand clear title for the past 50-75 years, depending on which insurer is used.  Again the most recent land records need to be searched. You might notice that, in these tough economic times, record offices with tight budgets may have online records going back this length of time and have now reallocated funds elsewhere.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Wisdom Wednesday: Geni Travel Alerts

I begin thinking about library and archive opening hours as the ‘travel’ months approach. It’s not too early to plan.

On the domestic front, Dick Eastman alerted us that the Family History Library in Salt Lake City will change its Saturday hours to 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. beginning 13 Apr 2013, Previously, it was open from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. I guess this proves that even genealogists have other things to do on Saturday night. Who knew?
If you are planning a research trip to England or Wales, you may want to subscribe to the FFHS news feed at www.ffhs.org.uk. On the home page, there are three buttons on the right. Click on the middle one to subscribe to FFHS News which is almost always about openings and closings of various repositories.
For example last week, they reported that the Hillingdon Local Studies, Archives and Museum Service will be closing to the public on 28 March as the Uxbridge (Middlesex) Library where it is housed is closing for renovation. They will be in temporary accommodation with no public access for at least 9 months. The staff hopes to be able to run a limited enquiry service. Contact them by email at archives@hillingdon.gov.uk or phone 01895 250702.
Also, the Herefordshire Record Office is preparing to move to their new premises in 2014, as a result it is only going to be open ONE week in every month, beginning on 8 April 2013. The start dates of the weeks that they will be open are:

Monday April 8th
*Tuesday* May 7th (Bank Holiday on Monday)
Monday June 3rd
Monday July 8th
Monday August 5th
Monday September 9th
Monday October 7th
Monday November 4th
Monday December 9th

Due to anticipated demand it is advised that you book a place in advance of your visit to the
Herefordshire Archive Service/Herefordshire Record Office, Hereford HR1 2QX.
Phone: +44 (0)1432 260750 Email: archives@herefordshire.gov.uk