Past blogs

  • Why the workhouse? 05 July 2013 |

Watching ITV’s programme ‘Secrets from the workhouse’ made me think about my past relatives who spent time in the workhouse.

George Tobbell was the brother of my great great grandfather John Tobbell. He married in 1866 when he was only 16 and he and his wife Sophia had 5 girls and 3 boys. Sophia died in 1878 when she was 33 and George was 28. By the 1881 census seven of their children were in Stow Union Workhouse whilst their 8th child was with her grandparents. There was no sign of George. In fact George does not appear on any public records after the 1871 census until his death in 1921. He appears to have gone missing for 50 years except for a possible mention in the Bury and Norwich Post in 1879 regarding the theft of some fowls by another man.

Unfortunately the admissions books for the period the children were in Stow workhouse have not been retained so, unlike the people in ITV’s show, I may never know why the children were in there or where George went. I have searched military, emigration, convict and ship records but he is not shown on any of them. It is a complete mystery. Due to information provided in the television programme I looked on the lunatic asylum census returns for the area but the records only show initials for the inmates instead of names.

What I do know from census returns and other records is that George’s parents, William and Rachel Tobbell, took in their grandchildren when they could. Sadly one of the little girls died whilst in the workhouse aged only 12. One of the boys married and joined the army and showed his next of kin as his grandfather William Tobbell, again raising the question “where was George?” The eldest son immigated to New Zealand with his wife and family and the third son married and became a fisherman. Two of the girls went on to marry but there is no trace of the other two girls.

I now need to buy George’s death certificate to see if it can shed any light onto the mystery.

Another workhouse mystery I have to solve involves my great great granddad James Bromley. According to his death certificate he died in Newcastle’s workhouse but was recorded as “an army pensioner of 20 Liverpool Street” suggesting this was his usual abode. The workhouse master notified the death and after further research I found out that he also ordered James’ burial even though his widow was still alive. Unfortunately the administration books for the relevant period are missing from the Newcastle workhouse too.

It would be reasonable to assume that James went into the workhouse temporarily due to ill health, as he died of cancer, and maybe the workhouse master has to process the relevant paperwork if someone dies in their care. This is something I can look into. At least he was buried and his body not given to the medical students as was seen in ITV’s programme. My next research step will be to look at the paperwork regarding deaths in Newcastle’s workhouse as those papers are available and hopefully I will find some answers. It is a shame that so many of the workhouse records aound the country are no longer available to aid in family research and I think the programme should have highlighted this rather than give the impression it was all readily available.

  • What’s in a name? 11 June 2013 |

Family historians make use of the fact that traditional naming patterns can help locate the children of a family and confirm you are on the right track. The name Edward Collingwood Ross has now been used by my family for many generations. As the name seemed to be so important in the family we always assumed it was from a direct ancestor rather than simply the result of a family naming pattern and infact, when I looked into it, there appeared to be more to the story.

I traced the name back to 1847 when the first Edward Collingwood Ross was born. He was actually the half brother of my great great grandfather Francis Ross and his story is quite a tragic one. His mother died when he was a small boy and he himself was killed in a work accident when he was only 22 years old. He was helping to demolish a building when one of the walls fell onto him and despite being taken to the Newcastle Infirmary he died 2 hours later from his injuries.

According to the naming pattern used by my Ross family, Francis’ son, born in 1877, should have been named Thomas rather than Edward Collingwood but they changed the naming pattern slightly by swopping around the use of the names of Francis’ elder brothers. Maybe this was because this particular son was born when Francis was 22, the same age his brother was when he died and the birth was only 12 days after what would have been his namesakes 30th birthday.

I may be reading too much into it or being a bit over sentimental here but if you were only 15 when your older brother died at a young age and in such a terrible way you would want to remember him in some way wouldn’t you?

As part of my research into your family I could uncover your family’s naming pattern and discover why they might have deviated from it.

  • No stone unturned 31 May 2013 |

When researching ancestry it is important to use every resource at your disposal to get a fuller picture. Newspapers can provide useful insights into the lives of our ancestors. I have used them numerous times to add detail to my family tree. Here are some of my success stories:

My great great great grandfather William Tobbell was in the British Army between 1825 and 1846 and I acquired his army records which detailed his army career. I thought this would be all I would find out about his time in the army so was delighted to find a newspaper article written after his death in 1894 providing further information about his travels.

My 5x great grandmother Sarah Goodman died in 1824 and I was lucky to find a newspaper article detailing the sale of the family home and household goods. The list of possessions was amazing and gave me a further insight into her life.

Edward Rowell is my great great grandfather and according to a notice in the Morpeth Herald on 2 Sep 1871 he went ‘missing’ and “His family will be thankful if he will return…” He had married the previous year and had a child 6 months after that. Oops I think he may have been a little overwhelmed by it all! Fortunately he came back because he went on to father a further 11 children!

My research packages include any information on your direct ancestors found in newspapers.