Past blogs

Here are some of my past blogs about my own family history research.

  • Cast the net wide 05 July 2018 |

To fully research your family history you need to make sure you have accurate evidence to prove all of the information found. The most likely sources can be from civil registration certificates (birth, marriage & death), parish registers giving baptism, marriage or burial information and sometimes family wills. However, it is not always straightforward and sometimes the information on your ancestors can be found in a roundabout way. Often a surname can be very common and lead to difficulties tracing the correct family.

I had already traced that my 4x great grandfather, Francis Ross, who was born in Aberdeen in 1770, had moved to the north east of England where he married Isabella Collingwood in Gateshead and then moved a few miles to Newcastle upon Tyne to raise a family.  The baptisms of his children gave me the fact he was a native of Aberdeen and his occupation was Cordwainer (boot & shoe maker).

Whilst trying to find as much detail as I could about Francis’ family in Newcastle I came across a baptism record that proved his sister Janet, born in 1773, had also moved to Newcastle where she married and raised a family of her own. Further investigation into Janet’s children traced a baptism record suggesting that their father, also called Francis Ross, had also moved to Newcastle at some point. This may explain why I couldn’t find their father’s death in Aberdeen.

Another family of mine was proving difficult to trace. I had found the baptism of John Nuttall in 1783 in Wallsend and it appeared he was the only child of John & Christianna Nuttall, who had married in 1780. I could not find any other children baptised to this couple.  However, the death certificate of Christianna revealed more. Her death was notified by her daughter Elizabeth Scott and I was able to trace her and her family.

Searching through the baptism records in Wallsend I also discovered another child to John & Christianna, named Margaret. Margaret married George Laws and on one of the baptisms for their children it stated Margaret’s father was John Nuttall of Wallsend.

Despite not having located the baptism records for Elizabeth & Margaret I feel I have sufficient evidence to prove they are the children of John & Christianna. Having said that, I am still open to further information should it arise, it may turn out that whilst John is the father of Margaret, Christianna may not be her mother. John married Christianna in1780 and it appears Margaret was been circa 1781 and this year is not certain.  With regards to Elizabeth It is more likely that both John & Christianna are her parents as she appears to have been born about 1788 and her maiden name was Nuttall on her marriage record. However, whilst I know from Christianna’s death certificate she was a widow I cannot trace when John actually died.

I still have a lot of researching to do on both the Ross and Nuttall families. Never give up!

  • Death and Taxes 17 June 2015 |

Nothing is more certain to occur in this world than death and taxes. Fortunately for the family historian both of these events can help trace your family history and complete your ancestor’s story.

Some research sites such as Ancestry now have tax information and there are tithe records on The Genealogist site. These records can help provide further addresses where your ancestor lived and tell you more about their lives, such as what land they owned or farmed and whether they owned property. One of my Tobbell ancestors lived in a house which was also a shop where he carried out his business. The tax records revealed the address and that he was the occupier of the property but not the owner. The tithe records showed the type of land my Goodman family owned in Hepworth, Suffolk in 1845. They had arable, pasture and a mill with a yard as well as a house. I even know that my 5x great grandfather, Samuel Goodman paid £1, 4 shillings and 8d in tax in 1798. He was the owner and occupier of the land where he carried out his business as a miller.

Whilst tracing the burial record can help end your ancestor’s story some burial records can never be found.

The sad truth is people simply disappeared from records. We know they must die at some point but not all burials can be attributed to someone’s ancestor. For example the Lowick burial register records many burials of strangers. In 1767 there were three such burials. One entry simply said ‘A Stranger’, at least the other two noted the stranger’s place of origin, not that that is likely to help a researcher. One entry recorded the death of ‘a child from Bowsden’. I can’t understand why the parents’ names weren’t noted. The sad truth is that these are just four of the possible hundreds of people in England who were buried without anyone probably knowing their names.

In 1800 the Widdrington parish register recorded the burial of a widow but her first name is not shown only her surname. Maybe she was simply known as widow Cornfoot but you’d think someone would know her first name. No age was given but that is not unusual. Some records illustrate the sad reality of life. In 1788 Robert Dixon of Lowick buried his wife Jane and then two days later he buried his son George. The parish burial registers can reveal many such stories of loss.

Sometimes burial records can include the cause of death. This is how I discovered that three of the children of my Austin family died of measles so I didn’t need to purchase their death certificates. Family history research can be an expensive business, especially when buying certificates. It is bad enough we all have to pay our taxes!

  • Have you got room for a little one? 18 March 2015 |

With the British economy as it is currently many young people are finding it difficult to get onto the property ladder.  Lots of them are finding they have to stay with their parents well into their thirties and find that living with their parents as an adult can be quite challenging. This is something our ancestors were well used to and I have found many branches of my family had their adult offspring living with them, often in cramped conditions, for many years. They would often be restricted to one or two rooms to the property. This would exclude the scullery and bathroom – if indeed they had an indoor bathroom which was quite rare in a lot of properties in the north east of England.

The 1901 census return shows that my widowed great great grandfather Edward Povey was 62 and living with three of his adult sons aged 23, 21 and 20. Edward’s 24 year old daughter, her 26 year old husband and their 2 year old child also lived there. As if that wasn’t enough Edward’s niece, who was 28, was also living in the same house. The property only had four rooms! Hopefully they had a kitchen as all of those adults trying to use a small scullery would be impossible. The scullery was often used to wash in as well as do laundry and to make food. Excluding a kitchen this would leave them with two bedrooms and one general living room. I very much doubt there would be a bathroom. I cannot comprehend how they all lived there together but that is what they did. Seven adults and one small child in four rooms we don’t know we are born these days.

I suppose if all of the adults worked it would help with the food and rent although they certainly couldn’t be classed as rich. Living so close together they would have no space to call their own. At least adults in modern times usually have their own bedroom.

My great grandfather John James White started his married life to Mary Isabella (nee Rowell) by living with his in-laws. Not only were they living with Mary Isabella’s parents but also some of her siblings aged 20, 15, 13, 11, nine and seven. They were living in four rooms. Oh, I nearly forgot there was also a cousin aged 45 living with them! Can you imagine that these days?

By the 1911 census John James and Mary Isabella White were renting their own property and lived there with their 4 children, the eldest of which was 8. They also had a live in domestic servant aged 18. But they only had three rooms. If this property had a kitchen that only left two rooms to live in. Where did they all sleep? Did the maid sleep in the kitchen and the children sleep with their parents leaving one general living room? It defies belief but it happened and our ancestors just got on with it.

I’m not quite sure we are ready to fully emulate the living conditions of our ancestors, let’s hope the economy picks up soon and our young adults can afford to move out of their parents’ property whether that is to rent or to buy their own.

  • In search of a better life 17 June 2014 |

Whilst family history research can uncover the facts about where our ancestors lived, what jobs they had and who they married, those facts are usually not enough to provide the back story to their lives. This is something we have to add ourselves based on the information we find and why we think they did what they did. The way we embellish a story is usually based on our own expectations of life and what we would do ourselves. We are their descendants after all so is would seem sensible. Their history is a part of our history.

When a family moves to a new town it can often be for work but sometimes it can be a welcome retreat from the past. Two of my families, the Austins and the Poveys moved from Wolverhampton to Northumberland in the mid 1800s. The men in both of these families were miners and the mines in Wolverhampton started to close down in the 1860’s so it would seem sensible to move to find more stable work. I know that Eliza Austin married Edward Povey in Newcastle upon Tyne  in 1869 and that they had both lived in Monmore Green, Wolverhampton in the late 1850’s but I don’t know whether they knew each other back then and if they made the move north together.

What I do know is that both families were last recorded in Wolverhampton on the 1861 census and the Austins were in Newcastle by 1867. This was the year when Margaret Austin married her second husband, Thomas York, and her daughter Eliza had a child out of wedlock before marrying Edward Povey two years later.

Back in 1839 John Austin had married Margaret Homer in Wolverhampton and like many people they started a family. Things seemed fine until 1854. That was a very bad year for the Austin family as three of their children died in the space of a month. Two of the deaths were due to measles. Less than two years later another of their children died from Measles. Then, in 1857, Margaret lost both her husband and her mother and a year later she also lost her father-in-law. She must have desperately wanted to move away after all of the tragedy and with the mines closing down her sons would have been worried about how they would take care of the family. Margaret probably felt she didn’t have much reason to stay in Wolverhampton so took the remainder of her children north to find a better life.

Joseph Povey was a butty miner in Wolverhampton which meant he worked closely with the mine owners and arranged work for the miners. This occupation could be an unpopular one as the butty miner would often earn a lot more than his fellow workers. As it seems likely he could have secured work for his sons it seems odd they left. Their mother died in 1859 and maybe they didn’t like what their father did for a living. Whatever the reason the three young Povey men left Wolverhampton and were working in the mines of Northumberland by 1871. Their father stayed behind and died in the Wolverhampton workhouse in 1870.

When Eliza Austin and Edward Povey married it was in Newcastle’s registry office and they didn’t have any family members as witnesses. I have a feeling Eliza’s mother disapproved of the marriage. Edward was eleven years older than Eliza and they lived together before they married. They lied about their ages on their marriage certificate making the age gap seem a bit more respectable. It’s unclear who the father of Eliza’s first child was. He might have been Edward’s or he might not but Edward brought him up as his own.

Eliza’s sister Margaret married Thomas Straker. He was from South Shields and also a miner. I would imagine the sisters were close as Thomas notified Eliza’s death when she tragically died in childbirth at the age of 35.  I assume Edward was too upset to do it himself. I don’t know whether the child Eliza had survived the birth. Edward was suddenly a single parent of nine children so if there was a new baby I would imagine someone else in the family took it in.

Life was hard in the 1800’s but people just got on with it much the same as we would do today. We all do whatever we can in order to have a better life. The Poveys and Austins went on to have big families and no doubt they felt the move to Northumberland was the right one no matter why they chose to move.

  • Being of sound mind……. 09 May 2014 |

If you are fortunate enough to come across the will of an ancestor you will find it can provide a wealth of information which helps further your research. A lot can be revealed by a will. As well as naming relatives, it can list property and personal goods, all adding detail to your family history.

Anyone could make a will, except for those deemed as lunatics, convicted traitors, slaves, heretics or young children. Between 1540 and 1837, boys as young as 14 and girls as young as 12 could make a will with the age limit being raised to 21 in 1837. Okay, so……………. almost anyone could make a will…………… Actually before the Married Women’s Act of 1882, married women could only make a will with their husbands consent………………. Alright there were quite a few exceptions, but the point is you don’t have to have money or lots of properties in order to make a will. So don’t assume your ancestors did not make one simply because they were not ‘rich’.

Unfortunately only a small percentage of people leave wills but it is still worth checking to see if your ancestor was one of them. It is complex and time consuming to find wills but the search can be rewarding.

Luckily for me a family member sent me a copy of the will of my 5 x great grandmother, Sarah Goodman. Her husband Samuel had died 5 years earlier and as a widow Sarah was allowed to write her will. Although I don’t know the date of Sarah’s death I do know she was buried on 10th May 1824 and wrote her will only 9 days earlier, so we can assume she was ill and knew she didn’t have long left. Despite that her will was well constructed, with the instructions being complex but clear, giving the impression she was a woman who knew what she wanted her will to achieve.

I already had a list of children for Sarah and Samuel but the will helped confirm the list was correct. It also helped find the marriages of two of their daughters as they were listed under their married names and one granddaughter was also recorded.

The will brought into question two people I had listed as their children, especially one, Kezia who I knew was still alive in 1824 but was not named. Maybe she fell out of favour with the family or was in fact a niece rather than a daughter. Even negative results help in family history research. It now makes more sense that Kezia did not use the expected family names for her own children; this always made me doubt she was direct family. She must have been quite close to the family though as one of Sarah and Samuel’s daughters was a witness at Kezia’s marriage.

Sarah’s will not only stipulated that my 4 x great grandfather Samuel could keep the house he resided in and her youngest son David could live in the main house, but that after 3 years the main house and the household goods had to be sold, along with some more property and land, and the money divided between the family members listed. Due to this I was able to check the local newspapers around the relevant time and found full details of the property and land she had owned and a list of all of her personal household goods to be sold by auction. It made fascinating reading and helped me imagine the style in which she had lived.

I can never meet my ancestors but it’s good to find out small details about their lives which let me see a bit more of who they were.

  • The family knows best 22 April 2014 |

You should never ignore family stories about your ancestors. You will find there is usually more than a grain of truth to them. My mam has a great memory and has lots of family stories told to her by my nana which she has passed on to me. There are some stories, however, that we were not sure about and only had a couple of facts to go on. Over the years I have managed to track down a few and found some secrets along the way.

My first mystery to unravel was to find out who was ‘blind Frank’. All we knew was that he was from the Ross family. It took the release of the 1911 census to discover this one. My great great grandfather Francis Ross was blinded in an accident and this was recorded on the census return. This would explain why he went from being an engine fitter to a bottle coverer in a basket making factory. The accident happened in 1901/2 and I wish I could find a newspaper report covering the incident to find out what actually happened or maybe find a family member who knows the story.

Someone in the Ross family was supposed to have been a butcher but I couldn’t find out who it was and thought I never would. It was the discovery of the army records of my great grandfather, Edward Collingwood Ross that revealed he had been a butcher before he joined up. Every other record shows him as being a corporation labourer, so this was a surprise. I guess we’ll never know why he changed occupation though.

My granda had a brother Frankie, who died as a child. Their father reared wire haired terriers and there was a cage beneath the table for them to sleep in. The story was that Frankie was swinging on the cage door of the dogs’ kennel when he got over excited and had a fit and died. I found Frankie’s death certificate which recorded that he had epileptic convulsions for 14 days before passing away. He was only 18 months old. No wonder granda remembered it, without the family memory though we would not have the whole story.

Whilst looking for Frankie’s death record I discovered that granda also had a little sister. She died aged two and had the same name as my mam, but she had been told she was called after her cousin who died as a young child and the family never mentioned a little sister. My granda was five when she died and her death was a lot less dramatic than the death of Frankie, so maybe he was too young to remember her.

From my dad and his sister there are three stories to track down but they are proving difficult. It seems someone wanted to take my grandmother to South Africa when she was a small child but I cannot find that any of the family emigrated there. There was some family who went to New Zealand so maybe it was them but I doubt I’ll ever figure that one out.

The second story is about the inheritance of Mortlake Castle. It seems our ancestor didn’t want it. Hmmmm how do I figure this one out? I did find a potential family connection to Mortlake but there doesn’t appear to have been a castle there. Without a copy will or knowledge of who owned the castle I seem to be a bit stuck…… for now. As a girl who loves castles I’ll guess I’ll just have to keep researching until I find it.

The third story is that someone was an orphan and was taken in by a family in the north east. I keep thinking I’m getting somewhere with that story but then disprove my own theory! It would help if I was sure which ancestor it actually was but that is the nature of family stories, no-one remembers the same details as other family members and when you were told something as a child it fades as you get older and can take on a few extra bits and pieces or lose some essential facts.

I have a feeling the castle and orphan story are linked I just need a bit more to go on but I’m sure I’ll get there in the end. After all I do have a castle to find!

  • The war to end all wars 07 April 2014 |

The forthcoming centenary of WW1 got me thinking about the role my ancestors played in the war. Two of my great grandfathers, Edward Povey and John James White, were in a ‘reserved’ occupation as they were coalminers. Reserved occupations were those deemed ‘vitally important at the present time for war work or other essential requirement’. Lists of the relevant occupations were published by The Times on Monday November 22nd 1915 and coalmining is the sole occupation on list B. I believe some miners were recruited to dig trenches and tunnels at the front although my ancestors were not among them. Conscription, or compulsory active service, was introduced in 1916 by The Military Service Act. Initially for single men aged 18-41 it was soon extended to include married men. Both Edward and John James however, were too old to be conscripted being 44 and 42 respectively.

My other two great grandfathers, Edward Collingwood Ross and Joseph Tobbell, both signed up for the war but their stories are very different. Edward Collingwood Ross was nearly 40 when he enlisted on 30 November 1915 in the Durham Light Infantry labour corp Reserves. He was called for duty on 8 August 1916 and it looks like he spent the duration of the war in England although his service records are hard to read. He started his army life as a private then acting Corporal before demobilisation on 13 March 1919. I have yet to find out what he actually did in the unit but family memory tells us he worked with horses, breaking them in and training them for use during the war.

A lot of the service records for soldiers who served in the British army during the First World War were destroyed during bombing raids in WW2 and Joseph Tobbell’s records must have been amongst them. Despite this I have still managed to find out quite a bit of information about his service from medal cards and newspaper reports.

On 31 August 1914, just 27 days after Britain declared war on Germany, Joseph signed up with the Northumberland Fusiliers. He was 28 years old and became a stretcher bearer when his unit went abroad, an occupation it was reported that he carried out with “great keenness and courage”. As well as receiving the three British Campaign Medals: The 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and the Victory Medal, otherwise known as Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, he was awarded the Military Medal (MM) for gallantry in the field. Between 6th and 10th July 1916 “he displayed exceptional gallantry in attending to the wounded of several battalions under heavy shell fire.” This took place in the Scotts Redoubt at the Somme, France. He was wounded and brought home to recover in hospital. From family stories we knew he had had his bottom lip blown off and this must have been when it happened. Apparently his bottom lip used to turn purple when it was cold as it was false. This is something my nana told my mam who then spent her childhood waiting to see it happen.

I cannot believe the courage it must have taken to do what he did, especially if wounded.

The home page of this website shows the photo of Joseph when he came home to Darlington after receiving his Military Medal and the child’s face you can see in the window is that of my nana. The official end date of the war was Nov 11 1918 when Germany signed an armistice with the allies but war service continued for many. Private Joseph Tobbell was discharged from the army on 26 March 1919 as he was “no longer physically fit for war service”. He was given the silver war badge to wear on his civilian clothing to indicate that he had been discharged and he was not evading his duty to his country. Whether he had sustained further injury we don’t know. The war was not often discussed when men returned from the front and we can only imagine the horrors he might have seen.

A lot of the background information came from the Long, Long Trail website and the National Archives website

  • Love and marriage 24 March 2014 |

We all like to think that our ancestors were happy, with lots of friends and family around them and we probably have preconceived ideas about how they lived their lives. I know I did but not anymore. I imagined them to be quite traditional, getting married in their early twenties and having a big family, but it seems some of them had their own ideas about that, or as I’ve said before, life is never that simple.

For one shocking moment I thought I’d found a bigamist in the family! Fortunately I was wrong. On 15 August 1768 my 5 x great grandfather, Francis Ross was ‘contracted to marry’ Margaret McKiddy of Aberdeen. Less than two months later, on 3 October that same year he was ‘contracted to marry’ Barbara Law, also of Aberdeen.

What happened there?? Less than two months apart. Was he courting both of them?! Maybe he just wanted to get married but wasn’t sure who to.

Having “declared his purpose of marriage” to both women in his local church, the marriage to Margaret never went ahead. The parish register records that “he did proceed to the publication of their matrimonial banns” with Barbara and I fear the parish clerk was making a joke at the expense of Francis as this sentence only seems to appear in this one marriage record. All of the others are a set wording. After the banns were read his marriage to Barbara was ‘solemnized’ at Aberdeen on 26 October 1768. Hurray, decision made……he’s married!

Three generations later in 1895 another Francis Ross, my great great grandfather, married Isabella Wardle. The strange thing about this marriage is that they didn’t get married until she was expecting their 14th child! They lived together as man and wife for many years before finally tying the knot. Their first child was born in 1873.

I cannot find a reason why they didn’t marry sooner. Neither was already married. Maybe their families disapproved, she was five years older than him or maybe they weren’t too bothered about convention. Both fathers were dead by the time they married and Francis’ mother died a year after it. Was it to please her? She hadn’t been well for a couple of years before she died. It is one of those things you will probably never know and can make up many reasons for it. But whatever the reason, they were together a long time and I like to imagine they were happy.

In contrast to the above stories William Tobbell, my 3 x great grandfather was not so indecisive about marriage. Within seven months of leaving the army he met and married Rachael Goodman in 1846.  He obviously knew what he wanted in life. He joined the British Army at 17 and served 21 years. He was discharged due to ill health caused by serving many years in a tropical climate.

He was 9 years older than Rachael and must have seemed quite exotic to her having travelled the world and according to his discharge papers had a dark complexion, dark brown hair and grey eyes. Having survived many battles in Afghanistan and other places he probably found life in a small Suffolk village peaceful and calming. William died aged 85 and Rachael aged 80. They had six children and 35 grandchildren – there may be more I’ve yet to find. And yes, I think they were happy.

  • A blessing and a curse 06 March 2014 |

Childbirth is one of the most natural things in our everyday life. The birth of a child can bring joy to a family but it can also bring despair when things go wrong. In today’s world we see death due to childbirth far less than our ancestors would have done and it can be hard to imagine the frequency with which it occurred. During my research into my family tree I have found a few instances of such tragedies.

Hilton Greathead was my 4x great grandmother. She was 19 when she married Joseph Firby in 1809. By the time she was 45 she was having her 12th child. Sadly after this birth she died. A month after her burial the baby, William, was baptised and I imagine this must have been a sad affair.

My great great grandmother, Eliza Povey, died following childbirth on 19th July 1882 when she was 35 years old. This was her 10th child and there is no record of whether the child survived. Eliza’s death certificate records the cause of her death as “childbirth 15 July, Puerperal Peritonitis 2 days”.  This cause of death was something which often occurred in the 19th century. It could be caused by the medical equipment used to assist in a difficult birth. The hygiene of medical equipment used in home births was not as good as it could have been. You can just imagine the doctor or mid wife going straight from one patient to another and using the same instruments time and time again. It doesn’t bear thinking about. I only hope she wasn’t in too much pain.

Nearer to the present day is the death of my great grandmother, Nellie Tobbell. I have two photos of her are on the home page of this website. Nellie died in 1911 due to a miscarriage. Her death certificate records the cause of death as “Accidental haemorrhage 10 days, Miscarriage, Heart Failure”. It sounds so cold and clinical. She was only 26. My nana had just turned two at the time and her brother was only 9 months old, their half brother John was only seven. All of them were far too young to lose their mother.

When war broke out a few years later my great grandfather, Joseph Tobbell, went off to war and my nana lived with an aunt whilst her little brother was temporary put into a children’s home. We don’t know who took in John.

Sometimes these sad stories make you hesitate in your research. This is your family and you feel the losses despite them having taken place years before you were born. You don’t know whether you should continue to purchase death certificates but it is all a part of your past. The whole story cannot be told without all of the information, no matter how sad.

  • What did you say your name was? 24 February 2014 |

Family history research isn’t easy and you need to be a bit of a detective at times. Our ancestors often unwittingly made it harder for us to find them by changing the information provided. I have managed to track down a few elusive family members over the years.

My great great grandfather, James Bromley, was always known as James Bromley. Every record he appeared on recorded him as James; the census returns, from when he was a small child to adulthood; his marriage certificate; his army records and; his death and burial records, but there is no trace of a birth record for a James Bromley born in Hereford in 1844/5. I found his siblings and traced other Bromley children, born around the same time in Hereford and surrounding areas, to their families. The only birth record I was left with was for a Francis Bromley born 1844 in Hereford and this turned out to be the correct one.

Why his parents named him Francis when registering his birth, then called him James is a mystery. However, there was a relative called James who lived with the family in 1841 and then appears to have died in 1842 so it could have been in honour of him but that still doesn’t explain why they registered him as Francis. Maybe there was a disagreement when it came to choosing his name or maybe he simply reminded them of the dead James and the name stuck. I will never know.

I wonder if James even knew his real name was Francis?

One of James’ sisters was registered as Jemima but called Mary throughout her childhood. This nickname makes some sense as Jemima could be shortened to Mima or Mary. When Mary was married she was once again recorded as Jemima but then seems to have switched between Mary and Jemima over the following years making it so confusing trying to find her on census returns.

Another one of my great great grandfathers was called George Clasper White. With this unusual middle name I was sure it would be easy to find him during my research, but I was wrong. This was not the name he was given at birth. He was registered as George White at birth but added the middle name Clasper when he got married and this was used on all subsequent records including his death. The name did however help me trace his grandparents and therefore his father’s birth. George’s grandparents were George White and Mary Clasper. People often used maternal maiden names as a middle name for a child to keep the name in the family.

Quite often marriage and death records will show the name someone was ‘known as’ rather than their ‘official’ birth name causing problems for many family historians. The same happened on census returns. You have to use other researched information to track them down but that is all part and parcel of family history research and adds to the fun.