Sunday, 20 September 2015

The history behind your surname

Here's an interesting thing to try...

On the Ancestry website, type in your family surname and find out all kinds of facts and available records related to it.

Found a few things searching my own family name of Kilminster from Wilshire and Gloucester including emigration records and passenger lists.

Do your search HERE

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Broadening your census horizons

My guest, Lynne Black tells us how broadening her census searches helped her keep track of her family's whereabouts, which led to further interesting findings.

Mary Sarah Young was born in 1867, the fourth daughter, and fifth child of seven of Hannah Halliday and George Shields Young.

Although born in Gateshead in County Durham, her family moved to Yorkshire when she was young and she grew up in Shipley.

Mary came from a well-educated family. Several of her older sisters had been governesses or worked in schools, and at the age of 24 in 1891 Mary herself was working in Shipley as a School Assistant Mistress.

However she had vanished from Yorkshire in the 1901 census and by broadening my search I found her living down in Okehampton, Devon with her mother Hannah and two sisters Marion and Edith. Mary was single and her family all widows; Mary was the only one in the household working, and by this time she’d had a promotion to Schoolmistress.

It can’t have been too long after that before she and mother Hannah had moved on again, to Pembrokeshire. Her youngest sister Edith accompanied them but didn’t stay that long; she had fallen for a surveyor from Okehampton and they married in Pembrokeshire in 1905 before moving back down to Devon.

Her sister Dora came up from her home in Essex to visit in October 1908, but shockingly died during her visit, leaving a husband and 3 young children.

By 1911 Mary had been appointed as a Head Teacher of an elementary school owned by Pembrokeshire County Education Authority. She and her mother were living in Rhydberth, Tenby.
 Mary S Young's 1911 census entry

The Tenby Junior School website tells me: “Tenby Council School was built in 1915 while the First World War was at its height. It was officially opened in June 1916 by Mr S.B. Sketch, J.P., C.C., Chairman of the Education Committee. The school was situated in Greenhill Road and pupils came from the School which had previously been held beneath the Methodist Chapel in Warren Street, which was subsequently demolished in the 1980s. The Headmaster at this time was Mr J Howells.” Given Mary’s religious background, I’m wondering whether she taught at the Warren Street Chapel. Pembrokeshire Record Office website has some potential for archive material if I want to follow it up at a later date.

Mary with her siblings
Her sister Marion remarried at the start of the war, a John Ogden, a widower, back in Yorkshire in Keighley.

Eight years later in 1919, after the first world war which took her nephew George Shields Young, Mary is also found back up in Yorkshire, listed on the electoral roll in the School House in Oldfield, where she was still living in 1926.

I googled ‘Oldfield School West Yorkshire’ and it came up with the website of the Oldfield Primary School which has a lovely image of an old school building on the home page.  It’s been taken on a frosty morning and I can just picture Mary wrapped up well walking up the path to the door.  I rang the school and the secretary said that she was actually speaking from the School House, which I really loved.

By 1929, aged 62, she has moved to Harrogate, Yorkshire, where she lived for the rest of her life.
She died, aged 75, in the midst of the second world war, on Christmas Day 1942.  In her will left effects of £871 5s 1d [£25K in 2005 money] to her brother and her nephew.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Summer Sale

Trace your Roots is in Crooked Cat's Summer Sale for a bargain price of just 99p. That's even cheaper than chips (and far more useful).

Buy it HERE

This is what a recent Amazon reviewer had to say:

"Whether or not you're tracing your family tree, this is an interesting read by Maureen Vincent Northam. It is laid out in stages and makes it look easy if you decide that it's something you may do one day. If you're already wanting to follow your family heritage, then this is a book for you."


Thursday, 9 July 2015

Was Beer the end of Mother’s Ruin?

Welcome to my guest Roland Clarke who tells us about his famous family, researching on Wikipedia - and gin!

When I was growing up, I was often told that my Quaker ancestors had helped bring an end to the repercussions of ‘Mother’s Ruin’ by promoting beer.

This made some sense as the family had been involved with the brewing firm of Truman Hanbury & Buxton.

So when Maureen Vincent-Northam asked me to write about those ancestors, I began wondering whether that was just a family legend, whether that would be an interesting starting-point. Was there was some truth behind the story?

Thomas Fowell Buxton
My fourth great-grandfather was Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, 1st Baronet (1 April 1786–19 February 1845) and he married Hannah Gurney, the sister of Joseph Gurney and Elizabeth Fry – yes, the prison reformer that was on the old British £5 note.

Although Thomas Fowell wasn’t a Quaker, as they were, he was a committed social reformer and in the forefront of the abolitionist movement, succeeding William Wilberforce as its parliamentary leader in the House of Commons, having been elected an MP in 1818.

And as Wikipedia says, ‘In 1808, Buxton's Hanbury family connections led to an appointment to work at the brewery of Truman, Hanbury & Company, in Brick Lane, Spitalfieds, London. In 1811 he was made a partner in the business, renamed Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co. Later he became sole owner.’

Although I am always wary of treating Wikipedia as gospel, I find it is a useful starting point for any research, and from there I can corroborate the facts using other sources. In this case, my late mother had a lot of Buxton books that she was given by my paternal grandmother, who was born Rebekah Mary Buxton in 1900 – a direct descendent of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton. Among these was “Buxton the Liberator” by R H. Mottram in 1883, which confirms almost all the facts, as do some of the other sources that I found – referenced in this article or at the end.

There were no direct references to Mother’s Ruin in any of these initial sources, but on Historic UK I found an article on Mother’s Ruin, and in it the following sentences:

“Gin had become the poor man's drink as it was cheap, and some workers were given gin as part of their wages. Duty paid on gin was 2 pence a gallon, as opposed to 4 shillings and nine pence on strong beer.”

“Gin was the opium of the people, it led them to the debtors' prison or the gallows, ruined them, drove them to madness, suicide and death, but it kept them warm in winter, and allayed the terrible hunger pangs of the poorest.”


“In 1830 the Duke of Wellington's administration passed the Sale of Beer Act, which removed all taxes on beer, and permitted anyone to open a Beer Shop on payment of a two-guinea fee.
This Bill virtually ended the traffic in gin smuggling.

By the end of 1830 there were 24,000 beer shops in England and Wales, and six years later there were 46,000 and 56,000 Public Houses.”

In the same year, there was, according to Wikipedia, the Beerhouse Act, which would have had the
same effect.

Did Thomas Fowell Buxton vote in favour of either Act? Would a brewer vote to enable anyone to brew and sell beer on payment of a licence costing two guineas?

The Duke of Wellington’s administration were Tories, while Buxton was nominally a Whig. On his election in 1818, his friend and future brother-in-law, Joseph Gurney, wrote to him arguing: “Do not let thy independence of all party be the means of leading thee away from sound Whiggism. Let us take special care to avoid the spirit of Toryism. I mean that spirit which bears the worst things with endless apathy, because they are old.”

The Hansard record of the passage of the Beer Act in 1830 include an interesting record on Mr F Buxton’s opinion.

“Mr F Buxton, while admitting that the fears entertained of this measure, as far as the brewers were concerned, had been greatly exaggerated, contended that the loss to the publicans would be as great, if not greater, than was anticipated. There had only been one or two instances of petitions being presented in favour of the clause under the consideration of the House, while hundreds had been presented against it. He did not mean to say that the measure would be positively bad; but it would at any rate, be questionable. By it public-houses might be opened during all hours of the night, and in any places, and no security was given for their being properly conducted, for the fine or penalty proposed by the Bill was no security at all. At present there was some difficulty found in keeping public-houses in good order, though the publican was liable to have his license taken away, which was equal to a fine of 500l. What then would be the state of the case where the fine was only 2l.10s. He conceived that the other parts of the Bill contained innovations, sufficient to satisfy the advocates of free-trade, and he hoped the House would refuse to accede to the introduction of any more. If at a future period it should be found necessary to make any fresh innovations, then let them be done, but he thought some consideration ought at present to be extended to the publicans. He should support the Amendment of the hon. Member, which was exactly in accordance with a clause introduced into the bill of an hon. and learned Gentleman some years back.”

At this stage of my investigations, I sense that Buxton voted for the Bill, once the amendment under discussion was defeated, and that the large breweries went on to benefit from the growth in outlets. And Mother’s Ruin met its demise – for a while.

Of course the fascination with my ancestors doesn’t end there. Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton’s greatest achievement was as an abolitionist, helping to end the slave trade in the British Empire. And then there are the social and criminal justice achievements of his Quaker in-laws the Gurneys, who continued their connection with the Buxton family down the generations. Maybe I will talk about them another time.

For now, thanks Maureen for letting me ramble.

Further links:

Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton

Trumans, brewing and gin


Sunday, 28 June 2015

Stranger than fiction

My guest, Sue Barnard tells us her story.

Ten years ago, I received, out of the blue, a letter which went on to change my life. It was to spark off a chain of events which led, a few months later, to my meeting up with the family that I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined that I would ever know.

It is a long and complicated story and would probably fill an entire book, but the piece that follows is just one small part of it. During the past ten years I have shared it with family and a few close friends, but now perhaps the time is right for it to have a wider audience.

Tissues at the ready?


I’ve always been bizarrely fascinated by the kind of stories in which long-lost relatives are finally reunited, and their relationship is ultimately proved, by means of a pair of long-separated objects. But these stories belong in the realm of fairy tales with unexpected happy endings, not in the real world.  Or so I’d always thought...

As a product of the post-war baby-boom, I was born at a time when money was scarce and luxuries were even scarcer. For much of my childhood the family didn’t even own a camera, so photographs of my early years are very few and far between. Hence, the ones which do exist (mostly taken on borrowed Box Brownies) have become all the more valuable. Which might explain why I’ve kept them all – including one particular picture which, for my whole life, I’ve never really liked.

The photograph is a grainy black-and-white 3” x 2” enprint. It was taken at my first Christmas, when I was four months old, and shows me (dressed in my best but still baby-bald) sitting propped up on cushions on a dark velvet-upholstered sofa. I appear to be waving at the camera and half-smiling. The photo could have been quite pleasing, if it had been a simple above-the-waist shot:

But it isn’t.  It’s a full-frontal. And thanks to the low angle of the camera and a very unfortunate pose, the picture is dominated by a most unflattering expanse of terry-towelling nappy.

Many a time, when I’ve come across my baby photos during a periodic clear-out, I’ve glared at this pre-pubescent knicker-flasher and reached for the waste paper basket. But somehow (by divine intervention?) she has always found her way back into the photo box…


For as long as I could remember, one of my favourite childhood bedtime stories was the one about how "we chose you to be our very special little girl." Brought up as an only child, and with little or no knowledge of the facts of life (That Sort Of Thing was just not talked about), I accepted this at face value and had no idea that it was in any way out of the ordinary. It was only during my first year at secondary school, when adoption was being discussed in a biology lesson, that I finally twigged what that bedtime story actually meant.

The rest of that school day passed in a blur, then back at home I plucked up the courage to ask. In a way, I suppose I had always known (my adoptive parents were wonderfully frank; they had never attempted, or intended, to conceal it from me), but the inescapable truth still came as a shock. I was shown the birth and adoption certificates which were issued when my adoption was finalised. They showed the date of my birth (which I already knew), and that I had been born in Wales (which I didn't know), but contained no other information to suggest that I had ever been called by any name other than the one I had always known. And for many years after that, it never crossed my mind that I might have had a different name at birth. Nor did I imagine, at that stage, that being an adoptee might make any significant difference to my life. I was, and had always been, part of the only family I had known – and in any case, adoption was a one-way ticket.

Or at least, it was – until a change in the law in 1975 made it possible to open doors which had previously remained firmly closed.

And so it was that some time after my adoptive parents died, I made a few tentative enquiries – and eventually obtained a copy of my original birth certificate. This was when I discovered, for the first time, that my name had not always been Susan. I had begun life, and had spent the six months before my adoption was legalised, as Edwina.

Further enquiries revealed that my birth parents had subsequently married – and I later discovered that they had even tried, at that point, to get me back. They went on to have two more children, both boys, and had emigrated to Australia in the 1960s, where my father had died in 1982 and where my brothers (both married and with families of their own) and my mother (who has since remarried) are still living.

How we finally made contact – and why my parents had not been able to keep me – is another story entirely. But during the early email exchanges which frequently flew between Manchester and Melbourne, one of my brothers told me that when our mother learned that I had been found, she had shown him a photograph of me as a baby.  I was very moved to learn that she had wanted to keep some small memento of the daughter she had been forced to give away – and even more moved to think that she should still have it, almost half a century later. He borrowed it from her, scanned it and emailed it to me. The attachment was labelled “edwina_baby.jpeg”:

Any doubts which I might have had about having finally found my birth family vanished the moment I opened the attachment. The very photograph which I had always hated had been the very one that my mother had always loved…
The Adoption, Search & Reunion site may be of help for those searching for adoption records.

Friday, 19 June 2015

I wanted Trace your Roots to be...

Another kind writer friend, Susan Jones, has agree to place a 'Launch Day' article her wonderful blog.

When I sat down to write Trace your Roots I had great plans. I wanted the book to be packed with loads of useful genealogical tips. More than that, I wanted to help those who found they’d reached an impasse – as so many do when drawing up their family tree.

Find the full post HERE

Broad Thoughts From A Home: TRACE YOUR ROOTS - a guest post by Maureen Vincent...

Hosted by Sue Barnard - fellow Crooked Cat author, and editor of TYR.

Broad Thoughts From A Home: TRACE YOUR ROOTS - a guest post by Maureen Vincent...: Today I'm delighted to welcome fellow Crooked Cat author Maureen Vincent-Northam, whose book Trace your Roots is published today by Cro...

The Writer's ABC Checklist: Trace Your Roots with @mvnortham

Thanks to Lorraine Mace for hosting me on her wonderful, and very useful, blog.

The Writer's ABC Checklist: Trace Your Roots with @mvnortham:   Today I am thrilled to host my old friend, Maureen Vincent-Northam, who is here to tell us about her excellent genealogy book,...

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Talking to Family and War Letters

Another story of Nicola Robinson’s came about from talking to family members.


I discovered I had a great uncle who lived locally and I met him for the first time in his home. He was a lovely chap. He showed me some photos of himself, his mother, his brothers etc.

He was one of four brothers who fought in the Second World War. Sadly the youngest died on Dec 5th 1944 and is buried in Forli, Italy.

My Great Uncle Sid had kept the letters, which had been sent to my Great Grandmother. The official letter stated that her son been killed in action. Then there was a letter sent by the squadron leader and later another that told the family the lads had done a collection and had sent some money.

This was followed by a short note explaining that some additional monies had been collected and would be sent on later and that he also had his medals in his possession. It was very poignant and touching reading through these.

Cemetery at Forli
Photo courtesy of New Zealand War Graves Project

There was a lovely photo of two of the brothers, meeting up abroad because one had swapped sections to surprise his brother! Being war heroes was in their blood as their father was a staff sergeant and when he died in 1927 he had a ceremonious funeral where the guard rode their horses backwards and the bugler played the last post. This was detailed in the Oldham Chronicle.

A very useful site to reseach those who died during the two world wars is The Commonwealth War Graves Commission.


Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Google and Genes Reunited

What can you uncover when digging into your family history? My guest, Nicola Robinson tells us what she found while researching one afternoon.

My favourite story comes from using Google. My grandma was born Norah Kenworthy Hilton. Kenworthy was her mother’s maiden name (Rebecca Kenworthy).

Rebecca was born in Oldham but her parents had moved from Rishworth.

I was fortunate to have a wealth of information about them already; they'd been farmers for a long time and up until the early 1900s had occupied many farms including ‘Stott Hall Farm’ - the one that sits within the M62.
Nora and her father Thomas

So one afternoon, a bit bored of census checking, I googled ‘Kenworthy Stott Hall Farm’ and found a terrible tragedy. On this website I scrolled down the page and discovered a transcript of an old diary  which also records their deaths. Read it HERE

I've visited the graves in the churchyard and showed them to one of their great,   great grandchildren, who I met through Genes Reunited another great resource for anyone trying to find out more about their past.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Book Launch Party

Excited much! Trace your Roots now has a new publisher

And to launch the new, fully revised and updated book, we are having an online party on Facebook.

Join me on 19th June 2015 where there'll be virtual food, music, gossip, fun and give-aways!

Full details HERE