Genealogical Ponderings

the Professional Family History Blog

Professional Family History Blog
  1. Why did you trace your family tree? A personal perspective.

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    Erdington Abbey (Church of St Thomas of Canterbury), near Birmingham

    The last few weeks have been an introspective time for me: 8th February marked the fifteenth anniversary of the death of my mother, Joyce Winifred Young formerly Jenkins, and last month I went to visit her grave at Erdington Abbey near Birmingham.

    As I was standing there I reflected upon the fact that the first time I had been there was with Mum in the 1980s when she had taken me to visit my Grandma (Winifred Hearn late Jenkins formerly Hopkins)’s resting place for the first time. I remembered standing there as she explained to me who all the other names were. She’d always told me stories about the Hopkins and I’d always been interested in “one day” finding out more but it was only when my own Mum died that I began any research in earnest.

    Hopkins family grave, Erdington Abbey

    Now as you can see, I was particularly lucky when I began my research: I have four generations of Hopkins in one place. In fact, this one grave is only part of the story. There are a number of Hopkins buried here and the images below all include my direct ancestors:

    Hopkins of Erdington Hopkins of Erdington 2

    I can go back five generations before I’ve even left the graveyard! I was born in the Midlands and assumed that all my family was born from there. Little did I know when I began my searches that I would find ancestors in Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire, the area in which I now live and research professionally.

    The start of my family history journey is one I hear over and over as a professional genealogist. So many people write asking if I can research their family tree not long after a parent or grandparent dies. Sometimes it is because it’s something “Dad was interested in”, other times they have an overwhelming desire to find out “where they come from”. Another moment so often connected to the start of a search is the impending birth of a child. In both cases a change to the family tree is the common theme.

     

    Why did you start yours?

     

     

  2. Killing off your ancestors

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    I recently blogged about Monumental Inscriptions as an underused source of information for genealogists. There are other intrinsically linked records relating to the deaths of our ancestors that are also often overlooked, even the death certificates themselves. Many of us conducting our own research leave death certificates as a luxury item to buy at a later date. Indeed if you search for a “professional” genealogist offering family tree “packages” many consider death certificates an add on item, not included as standard.

    I have to say that I find this immensely frustrating. More than once I have solved a problem using the informant details on a death certificate. Personally I always include a death certificate where possible when compiling a client’s family tree.

    Tracing Your Ancestors Through Death Records

    Tracing Your Ancestors Through Death Records

    This is why I was so interested in +Celia Heritage’s book, Tracing Your Ancestors Through Death Records. Yesterday I had the opportunity for some “reading for pleasure” and I have to say I was so engrossed that I read the whole book from cover to cover in one day.

    Celia’s writing style is very easy to read. She talks about the major record groups but introduces examples from her own research to bring the records to life. Death certificates are covered in detail as are burial records, death duty records, coroner’s inquests, newspapers, wills and other probate records and, of course, monumental inscriptions.

    There are many genealogy books on the market that take you through the various records, often separating beginners’ records from more advanced research. There are two main differences in Celia’s style to many of these works. Firstly the records are put into social context. What did this mean to the rest of the family? Did others in the village die from the same disease indicating an epidemic of some kind? Secondly there are many hints for good quality sound research. Not only will you learn about what you may find in different record sources that can add to the breadth of information you have for your ancestors; you will also learn why your ancestors may not be found, where record survival is patchy and what alternative searches to try.

    The research techniques employed and advice presented relate to any genealogical research and are not limited to death records. Furthermore, in her fabulously detailed chapters on death certificates and burial records there is much to be learned that can be applied to birth and marriage certificates and parish registers in general.

    This is a book that provides essential reading for both the beginner to family history and the more experienced researcher who is, perhaps, looking for some alternative strategies to solve research problems.

    If you take one message, please reconsider the thought that death certificates are not required and kill off those ancestors!

  3. The Power of Monumental Inscriptions

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    Cornwell and Price graves in Kedington, Suffolk

    Cornwell and Price graves in Kedington, Suffolk

    Lofthouse Parish Church

    Lofthouse Parish Church

    Monumental inscriptions are a terribly underused source of family history information. We manage to find a death, maybe even a burial for our ancestor and then we move on to the next person on our list. The search for the grave and any surviving monument and inscription is firmly assigned to the “to do sometime in the future” pile.

    I managed a brief visit to the parish church of Lofthouse, Yorkshire on a weekend away. My Jenkins ancestors were coal miners. They moved from Flintshire in North Wales to the Lofthouse area in the mid 1800s and continued as coal miners for four generations.

    My ambition on arrival at the graveyard was to locate the resting place of my great x 3 grandparents, John Jenkins and Sarah Jenkins née Foulks. Armed with camera, notebook, husband and daughter we began to search the graveyard stone by stone for any reference to the Jenkins family.

    John and Sarah’s grave is shown on the right and on the front left of the photograph of the parish church. The inscription reads:

    Jenkins grave Lofthouse, Yorkshire John & Sarah Jenkins

    John & Sarah Jenkins

    “Of Sarah
    The Beloved
    Wife of
    John Jenkins
    of Rothwell Haigh
    Who Died December 8th
    1874 aged 52 years
    Our home is not this
    mortal clime
    Our life knows not its bounds…..
    And death is but the line that lies
    Between the soul and Paradise.
    Also Sarah Jane daughter of the
    above who died October 25th 1856
    aged 4 months
    Also of Francis son of the
    above who died August 28th 1863,
    aged 1 year and 4 months
    The Lord gave and the Lord taketh
    away Blessed be the name of the
    Lord
    Also of John Jenkins,
    who died April 26th 1891
    Aged 68 years”

    and it is seen that two children who died in infancy are also remembered here. What is most useful about the information on the inscription is that Sarah Jane and Francis were both born and buried between census returns. As it happens the parish registers for West Yorkshire are now available and indexed online but at the time two new members of the Jenkins family were found on this gravestone that would not have been discovered until local research had been conducted.

    An even more remarkable find was yet to come. A second Jenkins grave was found only a few feet from John and Sarah. The inscription reads:

    Jenkins grave - Lofthouse, Yorkshire The children of Sam & Ann Jenkins

    The children of Sam & Ann Jenkins

    “In Loving Memory of
    Seven Children
    of Sam and Ann Jenkins
    of Australia, late of Lofthouse
    Sarah Elizabeth, died May 1st 1872
    Aged 15 months
    Ada, died December 17th 1873
    Aged 9 months
    Sarah, died October 9th 1882
    Aged 7 years
    Martha Ellen, died Oct 10th 1882
    Aged 8 years
    Anne, died November 5th 1882
    Aged 5 years
    Wilfred died November 10th 1883
    Aged 3 months
    Minnie died at sea May 24th 1884
    Aged 9 months
    Not Dead but Sleepeth
    Also of Richard Humphrey Jenkins
    Son of the Above
    Died April 30th 1910
    Aged 28 years
    N. S. W. Australia”

    It is not clear which family members are interred in this grave and further research is warranted at a later date. Sam Jenkins was John and Sarah Jenkins’ son. Sam, also a coal miner, had married Ann Watson in the neighboring parish of Rothwell in 1870. At the time of the 1881 census they had four children. They had not been found in the 1891 census but it was known that three of their children had died in 1882.

    This inscription reveals that the family emigrated to Australia. It also provides information regarding more children and the fact that one child died “at sea” provides the year of emigration to Australia. Sadly, of Sam and Ann’s nine children, only two survived to reach Australia.

    These are only two examples of the type of information that may be obtained from monumental inscriptions.

    Sadly, many graveyards are now being cleared for development or “ease of maintenance” and the gravestones are being lost. The inscriptions also deteriorate with time and it is only thanks to the efforts of volunteers, such as the family history societies, that records of these inscriptions are being preserved.

    I urge you not to overlook this incredibly rich source of family history information, you never know what you may find…

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