Past blogs

  • Oh what a tangled web we weave 10 February 2014 |

Fortunately, most major life events; birth, baptism, marriage, death and burial are recorded either in parish records or national registration records, making it easier to trace your family tree. Unfortunately, they can often be difficult to track down and when found can sometimes raise more questions than answers. In my own family history research I have had to unravel the information found on a number of occasions. Over the years I have found it is not always wise to accept what I find as fact. A little bit of digging is often required and the stories can be quite intriguing and sometimes a little sad.

One such story starts with the information provided on the marriage record of my great great grandfather Edward Rowell:

Edward’s marriage certificate showed that his father was a farm labourer called William Rowell and that he was deceased at the time of his son’s marriage. This didn’t ring true as I already knew that Edward’s mother was Isabella Rowell and she had declared on census returns that she was single and living with her children. It seemed unlikely she would do that if she was in fact married. Also Isabella was the only parent shown on Edward’s baptism record. So who was Edward’s father and would the birth certificate provide more information?

Edward’s birth certificate showed he was born at Widdrington, North Steads which is where Isabella lived with her parents on the 1841 census, just a few months prior to Edward’s birth. Isabella notified the birth and his father was shown as William Mavin, a husbandman so he obviously worked on a farm. The fact his name was on the certificate led me to believe he intended to marry Isabella but for some reason he didn’t. Did he die before he had the chance or was there more to the story?

I found William Mavin’s death certificate. He died two years after Edward was born and it was Isabella Mavin who notified his death. Was Isabella Rowell assuming the role of wife? The story could have ended there but before I could be certain that this was my Isabella, I had to check the census returns to see if I could find an Isabella Mavin. Unfortunately I did, she was shown as a widow living with her son and her brother. Some more digging into the records found the marriage of William Mavin to Isabella Bone and the baptism of their son John.

William had married Isabella Bone only nine months after Edward Rowell’s birth. William’s second son John was born about 11 months after his marriage and William died a mere seven months after that. As I had only found one William Mavin on the records it looks like it’s the same one and the occupation on his death certificate was husbandman, the same as on Edward’s birth. Hmmmmm, I wonder what happened? Why didn’t William marry Isabella Rowell?  Was he already set to marry the other Isabella and simply did the ‘right thing’ by allowing his name to be on Edward’s birth certificate? I guess I can never know the whole story but what I have found is interesting.

It certainly looks like the registration of every event tells a story. You just have to try to unravel it.

  • It wasn’t me your honour 27 January 2014 |

Some of my Bromley ancestors appear to have had the occasional brush with the law. It is always worth checking the criminal registers as they can be very informative and can add colourful detail to your ancestor’s life. If you find an entry you should also check the local newspapers around the time of the event to add even more detail.

Thomas Bromley, my 3 x great grandfather, was born in St Owens, Hereford. When he was 17 he was accused with three other men of assaulting and robbing a man named George Ashley on 2nd October 1833.

The local newspaper reported that the robbery took place on a Saturday night when 5 or 6 men dragged George Ashley out of the house he lodged in and out onto the street where they beat him up and robbed him. When two other men from the same house came out to help George the men set about them too and then fled. The police quickly apprehended six men, including Thomas Bromley who they found on a roof of a nearby property. Five of the six men were identified as the assailants and kept for questioning. Only four of them went on to be charged and committed to the county gaol on 9th October 1833 to await trial.

The trial was held in March 1834 and all four men were acquitted. I was surprised by this verdict and am trying to track down the court papers to find out more. Seven months after the trial Thomas settled down to married life with Margaret Parry although it looks like he didn’t have much choice as he got her pregnant within a month of leaving gaol. He seems to have stayed out of trouble with the law once he was married. Maybe he was too busy fathering eight kids.

Thomas and Margaret’s youngest son, also called Thomas, was seven when he had to appear in court. He and his friend, Henry Beavan, were accused of breaking a cast iron wheel from a chaff machine owned by the local butcher and kept in his yard.

No-one saw the boys damage the wheel but they were seen in the yard earlier by the local baker when he employed them to do a couple of jobs for him. The magistrate didn’t think there was enough evidence against the boys to convict them and in fact he warned the complainant not to allow “those of such tender years as the two little defendants” to play about his premises. I doubt he liked being told off when he was the one who suffered a financial loss with no recompense!

Another one of Thomas and Margaret’s sons, James Bromley my great great grandfather, was in the local militia from the age of 15. He then went on to join the British Army when he was 18. Recently I found his army records and had to laugh when I saw how many times he spent a day or two in the garrison cells for some infringement or other. He was also in the cells awaiting trial on three occasions and they all ended up with him being imprisoned. Oops! His army records don’t say what he did but the longest time he served was six months. He also had to forfeit his pay a few times. I think he must have been a bit of a naughty boy, although his conduct was recorded as ‘good’ when he was discharged from the army so maybe he never did anything serious or unusual for a soldier to do to end up in the cells. Then again the number of days he served overall in the garrison cells wasn’t a lot when compared to his 21 years of service in the army.

  • From beyond the grave 16 January 2014 |

As well as being the final resting place of our long lost loved ones graveyards can be a great source of information for those researching their family history. So, if you know where your ancestor is buried, go have a look at their gravestone. I find graveyards peaceful and calming and love roaming around reading the headstones and learning a little bit about the lives of those buried there, whether they are related to me or not.

Some gravestones have a witty or sad poem on them about the deceased, whilst others keep it simple with only the name, date of death and age shown. Some of the stones  can be quite detailed giving an insight into how people died, and sometimes how they lived. Tynemouth priory, for example, has gravestones which tell stories of shipwrecks and the lives lost.

Sadly you can find many headstones in graveyards which list the children who died in infancy or early childhood shedding light onto the tragedy of a family’s numerous losses. In many areas there is simply a section of grass where the poor were buried without even a simple marker to show where they lie or when they died. Over time, as families move away, they can be forgotten.

On my searches for my own ancestors I have found a mixture of the above. I’ve even paced out grave lengths across the grass to find my relatives and stood there thinking “Well, at least know you’re there.” I would love to erect a marker but there is confusion over whether the grave plot has already been purchased. By including them in my family history write-up however, they are no longer forgotten.

Family history research introduces you to your ancestors and the more you find out about them the better you get to know the story of their lives and death. Never ignore  the information on gravestones, if you are lucky enough to find one, as it shows your ancestors really can talk from beyond the grave.

  • A photo speaks a thousand words 10 September 2013 |

My family is lucky enough to have a few old family photographs but I wish we had more. We know that some were lost over the years through house moves and I would love to find them again. For me these old photos represent some of our family’s greatest treasures. Luckily we know who are in most of them and I love being able to see an ancestor who I have never met. The two oldest photos we have are ‘carte de visite’. This type of photo started to be used in England around 1858. I believe they are of my great great grandparents from the Tobbell side of the family. By using details from the photograph such as style of dress and hair as well as the studio background used and the way the subject is portrayed has allowed me to date them to around mid 1870’s – mid 1880’s. One has “me aged 21” written on the back. Whilst a name would have been more helpful this age does help prove the dates are correct so I am quite confident I know who they are.

I recently received a copy of a photograph from some newly found family members living in New Zealand. To them it was a ‘mystery photo’ but as soon as I saw it I recognised my great grandparents and three of their children! It must have been taken in 1907-1909 as my grandmother is about one to two years old. This is an amazing find as the connection to the family in New Zealand goes all the way back to my 5 times great grandparents and despite being second and third cousins to those who went to New Zealand my great grandparents may have given them or sent them the photo as a keepsake so they must have been quite close. Either that or the other three people in the photo are from the family who emigrated and they took it with them. This is the only photo we have of my grandmother as a child and thanks to the internet we now have a copy to add to our treasures.

A few weeks ago I saw Storage Hoarders on ITV and couldn’t believe how one of the people featured sold some old photos she had been left by an elderly relative without seeming to even wonder who they were. There was a full photo album and a large photo of a soldier. I couldn’t possibly throw away or sell such family treasures if they had been left to me, but then I love family history and not everyone feels the same way.

We have a photo of my Douthwaite great great grandparents with my great grandmother when she was a young girl. It’s a lovely family portrait taken in what looks like a cobbled back street showing they probably couldn’t afford the fee for a studio protrait. It’s a real snapshot of their lives. They look like they are wearing their Sunday Best and it was probably taken in the mid 1890’s.

If you have an unidentified photo in your collection, as part of my research into your family I could help date the photo to help identify the subject.

  • Taking coalminers to Newcastle 26 July 2013 |

My granddad James Povey was a coalminer, just like his dad, granddad, great granddad and great great granddad. He workind in the mines of Northumberland as a Hewer. A hewer is the person who cuts the coal, removing it from the coalface. The Povey family started off in Wolverhampton but the mines there started closing down in 1860. This resulted in them having to move to where the coalmines were still thriving and that meant north.

Joseph Povey was born in 1808 in Wolverhampton and is my great great great granddad. He was a coalminer and must have done well enough to be able to set himself up as a ‘Butty’ miner. The system used in Wolverhampton to work the mines was called the butty system and meant that a contractor, known as a butty, employed miners to provide coal to the owner or leasee of the mine at a set price. The ‘butty’ used his own horses and tools. After the 1872 Coal Mines Act the ‘Butty’ system disappeared. Joseph’s sons John, Edward and Joseph however, were not to have such a chance and had to move to Northumberland for work leaving their widower father on his own. Sadly Joseph died in the Wolverhampton workhouse in 1870.

Joseph’s sons were living in Newcastle by 1869. John never married whilst Edward and Joseph went on to have big families in Blyth, Northumberland. Edward is my great great granddad. His wife Eliza died in 1882 when she was only 35 and Edward went on to raise all nine of their children. He never remarried. He did however have lots of his extended family nearby.

The Povey family stayed in Northumberland and continued the mining tradition for two more generations. Quite often when tracing a family history I have found that families continued with an occupations for many generations, coal mining is just one example. It can be fascinating to see just how far back the tradition went.