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Beautifully illustrated family history books with a difference by a frequent contributor to the UK family history press. I write for Family Tree Magazine UK; Discover Your Ancestors Online Periodical and Bookazine; Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine. The publishers of my family history books are Pen and Sword Books and The History Press. I tweet (and retweet) thought-provoking content designed to help you tweak your approach to (your family) history at @RuthaSymes . Do follow me.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Hidden Mothers in Victorian Photographs

Great-Aunt Alice's Family History Website of the Week

Hidden Mothers in Victorian Photographs

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Great-Aunt Alice's Family History Website of the Week

Historic Hospital Admissions Record Project
View Your Ancestors' Hospital Records

Thursday, 11 October 2012


Great-Aunt Alice's Family History Website of the Week

Mugshots of Criminals from the Tyne and Wear area in the 1930s

Friday, 21 September 2012

Great-Aunt Alice's Family History Website of the Week

Two centuries of women's costume history and women's fashion history.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Vision of Britain

My Ancestor Came from Scotland 1891-1900

Edinburgh  Diary 1891-1900

Edinburgh in 1891 from the road known as ‘Rest and Be Thankful’. From Scottish Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil by Samuel G. Green, The Religious Tract Society, 1891.

1891  The first sod of the Barnton railway (providing a service from Barnton and Craigleith into Edinburgh is cut on 29 October.


1892 On November 26, the premises of Messrs. Charles Jenner and Company, silk mercers and drapers (and forerunner of today’s famous department store), are completely destroyed by fire. The damage is estimated at £250,000.


1893 Royal visitors, the Duke and Duchess of York, visit Edinburgh in October and receive their wedding gift from the town - a service of glass for the table and some books. The Duke receives the freedom of the city and opens a new wing of the Longmore hospital.


1894 During May and over the summer, there is an outbreak of smallpox in the city. A temporary wooden hospital has to be erected in Queen’s Park to deal with the high number of cases.


1895 On 11 April, Mrs M’Donald, wife of the Lord Provost, turns on the electric lighting in the city. This has been installed at a cost of about £120,000.


1896  A new observatory, which has taken four years to erect, is opened on Blackford Hill.


1897 Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee is celebrated all over the city on 22 June. Bonfires are lit on many hills during the evening.


1898 On 9 December the 1st Gordon Highlanders arrive home from India and meet with a splendid reception to celebrate their triumph over Afridi tribesmen in the Dargai Heights the previous year.


1899 The Scots Greys and the Gordon Highlanders leave in early November to fight in the Boer war in South Africa. More than 50,000 people turn out to see them off.


1900  Motor cars arrive in Edinburgh after the first half of a thousand mile run  (to London and back) and are exhibited on May 3. They are very much a novelty - only 10,000 vehicles (most of them made abroad) exist in Britain at the time.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Great-Aunt Alice's Family History Website of the Week

www.visionofbritain.org.uk  A vision of Britain between 1801 and 2001. Including maps, statistical trends and historical descriptions.


My Ancestor came from Edinburgh 1881 - 1890

Edinburgh Diary, 1881-1890

The Game of Golf. Braid Hills is opened to the public as a park and golfing ground in 1889. From Black’s Picturesque Tourist of Scotland, Adam and Charles Black, 1856.

1881 For three months, Princes Street and the North Bridge are lit by electricity in an experiment by the Anglo-American Brush Electric Light Company in an arrangement with the Town Council.

1882 On 7 August, the Black Watch (42nd Highlanders) depart for the Egyptian War. Their leavetaking is witnessed by large and enthusiastic crowds.

1883 The Cathedral of St Giles’ is reopened after extensive restoration work which has lasted more than a decade.

1884  The tercentenary of Edinburgh University is celebrated during the week beginning April 15.

1885 A City Hospital for the treatment of infectious diseases is established at the old Infirmary.

1886 Plans are passed for the restoration of the Old Parliament House, the Argyle Tower and other buildings at the Castle. The costs will be met by Mr William Nelson, publisher.

1887 Edinburgh is illuminated during the festivities to celebrate the Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee from the 17-21 June.

1888 The Flying Scotsman completes the journey to London in 7 hours and 32 minutes in a ‘railway race’ between the East and West Coast lines.

1889 A number of impressive dignitaries visit the city including Mr Parnell, Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party (who is given the freedom of the city) on 19 July, the Shah of Persia on July 22, the Earl of Hopetoun on his acceptance of office as governor of Victoria on October 4, and Mr A. J. Balfour (Irish Secretary) on December 4.

1890  The Prince of Wales puts the last rivet into the Forth Bridge and declares it open on 4 March.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

My Ancestor Came from Edinburgh 1871-1880

Edinburgh Diary, 1871-1880

Dress 1870 and 1880. By the 1870s, crinolines have largely disappeared, the ladies of Edinburgh preferring the newer, closer-fitting styles including the ‘pin back’ in which the front and sides of the skirt were drawn tightly over the legs and all the fullness of the dress was at the back. From W. M. Gilbert ed, Edinburgh in the Nineteenth Century, J & R Allan Ltd, 1901.


1871  A bill for the introduction of street tramways is passed and tramways are opened between The Bridges and Haymarket on 6 November.

1872 On the 10 June, restoration work on St Giles’ Cathedral begins. The high-backed chairs in the Corporation pews are removed to the City Chambers. Many interesting relics are discovered during the renovation.

1873 After Lord Young’s Education Act of the previous year, the first Edinburgh School Board is elected.  Two years later, sixteen schools in Edinburgh are under its management with 7,142 children on the roll.

1874 The Princess of Wales arrives in the city on 14 July and stays at the Douglas Hotel. Her father, the King of Denmark, arrives two days later. They remain in the city for several days doing the sights and visiting the theatre before sailing to Copenhagen on 20 July.

1875  Edinburgh’s entertainment facilities are changing. The Theatre Royal on Broughton Street burns to the ground in February whilst the Southminster Theatre is gutted by fire in March. In July, the Gaiety Music Hall opens in Chambers Street and this is followed in December by the new Edinburgh Theatre on Castle Terrace.

1876  In January, many historical houses in the areas of Bristo and Potterrow are demolished. These include Leechman’s School which was attended by Sir Walter Scott.

1877  The memorial stone of the Livingstone Medical Missionary Memorial Training Institution is laid in Cowgate by the veteran African missionary, the Rev. Dr Robert Moffat.

1878  French teacher Eugene Chantrelle is executed within Calton Jail for poisoning his young wife, probably with opium administered in a glass of lemonade. He is the first prisoner to be hanged within rather than outside the jail and the large crowd that appears to witness the event must return home disappointed.

1879 Former Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone arrives in Edinburgh in November to commence his first Midlothian political campaign. Great demonstrations occur both in Edinburgh and elsewhere in Scotland wherever the ‘Grand Old Man’ appears. He becomes Prime Minister again the following year.

1880 The telephone is introduced into Edinburgh in February.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

My Ancestor Came from Edinburgh 1861-1870

Edinburgh Diary 1861-1870

John Knox’s House. John Knox’s House and Museum at Netherbow, From: Black’s Picturesque Tourist of Scotland, Adam and Charles Black, 1856.

1861 There is a great outburst of sadness in the city at the death of the 42 year old Prince Albert from typhoid fever on December 14.

1862 Dr Littlejohn is elected as Officer of Health for Edinburgh on September 30.

1863 There are great rejoicings in the city on March 10 when the Prince of Wales marries Princess Alexandra of Denmark. The couple visit the city on August 6 on their way to Abergeldie and again on the 1 October as they travel south. The Princess is presented with a gold casket from the ladies of Edinburgh at Holyrood Palace.

1864 The last public execution in Edinburgh takes place on 21 June. George Bryce from the village of Ratho has been convicted of slashing the throat of Jane Seaton, a nurse’s maid. He is hanged from gallows at the top of Libberton’s Wynd.

1865 Dr Pritchard – known as ‘The Glasgow Poisoner’ - is found guilty of the murder of his wife and mother-in-law at the High Court in Edinburgh. He is executed in Glasgow on 5 July.

1866 A great demonstration is held in Queen’s Park in favour of Parliamentary Reform on 17 November. Between eleven and twelve thousand people actually march, whilst another thirty to forty thousand are spectators. Resolutions are passed demanding Manhood Suffrage and the Ballot.

1867 On 10 October, a huge explosion takes place in Chessel’s Court, 240 Canongate at the shop of Mr Hammond, maker of fireworks. Five women are killed and twelve others injured.

1868 As part of the restoration of Parliament Square, a bronze plaque bearing the inscription ‘ I.K. 1572’ is placed in the causeway to mark the burial place of John Knox, Scottish clergyman and leader of the Protestant Reformation.

1869 Two distinguished Americans pay visits to the city: Mr Jefferson Davis, former President of the Confederate States on 25 July and the poet Longfelllow on 7 August.

1870 A huge fire destroys The Britannia Flour Mills at the Water of Leith. The damage is estimated at £10,000.

This article was first published in the now obsolete Discover My Past Scotland.

Keywords: Europe, European, ancestors, ancestry, family history, genealogy

Thursday, 7 June 2012

My Ancestor Came from Edinburgh 1851-1861

Edinburgh Diary 1851-1860


    The Castle from Greyfriars’ Churchyard from Black’s Picturesque Tourist of Scotland, Adam and Charles Black, 1856

1851 On April 28, the Assembly Hall is struck by lightening and set on fire during a severe thunderstorm. The damage is not extensive.

1852  The Victoria Dock is opened at Leith for the admission of vessels on 14 June.

1853  The Adelphi Theatre in Broughton Street is burnt to the ground on May 24.

1854  Part of the Old City Wall collapses on February 22. The wall, which is 20 feet high and three to four feet thick, together with the embankment against which it is built, falls into Leith Wynd, a narrow street with high tenement houses. Several people who are in the wynd at the time are killed.

1855  A mob marches to the Meadows where it destroys the stone pillars which have been erected to deter traffic. The mob is led by Mr R. F. Gourlay – a would-be politician – who has dramatic plans for the improvement of the city.

1856  In July, the 92nd (Gordon) Highlanders and the 5th Dragoon Guards return to the city from the war in the Crimea. They are greeted enthusiastically and are entertained to a banquet in the Corn Exchange on  31 October.

1857  In June and July, a sensational trial is held at the High Court. Architect’s daughter Madeleine Smith is accused of murdering her French boyfriend Pierre Emile L’Angelier by arsenic poisoning. A Not Proven verdict is returned.

1858 On January 25, a banquet is held at Parliament House in honour of the marriage of Queen Victoria’s daughter, the Princess Royal (Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise) to Frederick of Prussia.

1859 The National Gallery is opened to the public on 22 March.

1860 The 78th Highlanders return from India having taken part in the relief of Lucknow. They are entertained to a banquet in the Corn Exchange on April 24.

Keywords: ancestors, ancestry, genealogy, family history, Europe, European, Caledonian, Scotland, Scottish

[This article first appeared in the now obsolete Discover My Past Scotland 2010]

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

My Ancestor Came from Edinburgh 1841-1851

Edinburgh Diary 1841-1850

     Edinburgh University – site of the discovery of chloroform in 1847. Scottish Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil by Samuel G. Green, The Religious Tract Society, 1891.

1841 Famous author Charles Dickens is entertained to a public dinner in the city 25 June.

1842 The Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway is opened on 18 February. The line has taken three years to complete and has cost one and a quarter million pounds. Trains carrying dignitaries pass both ways during the course of the day.

1843 Disruption of the Church of Scotland and the Foundation of the Free Church. Twenty-nine ministers in Edinburgh secede from the Church of Scotland on 18 May and hold the first Assembly of the Free Church in Tanfield Hall.

1844 A huge statue of Queen Victoria, carved in stone by Mr John Steell R. S. A. is erected on the top of the Royal Institution on 24 January.

1845 On Sunday 19 January, the Old Greyfriars’ Church is totally destroyed by fire. The New Greyfriars’ Church, which is under the same roof, is also substantially damaged.

1846 The Memorial to Sir Walter Scott on Princes Street (200 feet six inches high, and ascended from within by 287 steps) is finished this year.

1847 On the 17 November, Edinburgh University’s Professor J.Y. Simpson announces his discovery of chloroform. This will be used as a substitute for ether in surgical operations.

1848 Serious riots connected with Chartist agitation take place on 7 and 8 March. Seven hundred special constables are sworn in.

1849 On the 5 December, the new Corn Market is opened in the Grassmarket. It has cost £20,000.

1850 In late August, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert spend two nights at Holyrood on their way to Balmoral. The prince lays the foundation stone of the National Gallery of Art. In October, the couple again stay at Holyrood for a night on their way back from Balmoral.

Keywords: Europe, European ancestry, ancestors, genealogy, family history, Scotland, Caledonian, Scottish, Edinburgh

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Family History and Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee

Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee

Read articles on Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee by Ruth A. Symes in June 2012's edition of Family Tree Magazine (UK); the special Jubilee edition of Scotland Magazine and June 2012's edition of Scottish Heritage Magazine.

Keywords: Europe, European ancestry, ancestors, Scotland, Scottish, English, British, genealogy, Diamond Jubilee

My Ancestor Came from Edinburgh 1831-1840

Edinburgh Diary 1831-1840

If your ancestors lived in Scotland’s capital city, these are the events through which they lived, in which they might have participated, and which – at the very least - would have informed their everyday conversation.

Sir James Spittal Sir James Spittal Lord Provost, 1833-1837. From: Edinburgh in the Nineteenth Century, edited by W. M. Gilbert, J. & R. Allan, 1901

1831 The Burns monument  - to the memory of Scottish poet Robbie Burns (1759-1796) - is completed at Calton Hill.

1832 Cholera hits the city on January 27th. On February 9th, a local day of humiliation and prayer is observed. This is followed by a national day of prayer on March 22nd. Thousands die of the dreadful disease over the course of the year.

1833  The Dean Bridge, designed by Thomas Telford,  is opened. The Queensferry roadway, mounted on four huge sandstone arches 120 feet above the Water of Leith, gives much better access to the North of the City.

1834 Earl Grey (former Whig Prime Minister) is given the freedom of the city on September 15th and is entertained at a magnificent banquet attended by 3,000 people on Calton Hill.

1835 During the course of lowering the High Street, workmen discover the foundations of an old jail (part of the 15th century Tolbooth of Edinburgh which was demolished in 1817). It is here that many criminals were executed in former years.

1836  A great deal of excitement is generated on Sunday May 15th by an eclipse of the sun. Many church services are postponed so people can watch. Venus can be seen shining brightly.

1837 Queen Victoria is proclaimed sovereign at the Cross, the Castle and Holyrood House on June 24th.

1838 A committee accepts the beautiful Gothic design of a monument to Sir Walter Scott to be erected on Princes Street.

1839  The building of three new churches is underway. The foundation stone for Buccleuch church is laid on April 3rd, and of St John’s Parish Church, Victoria Street on April 17th. Greenside Parish Church on Calton Hill is opened on October 6th.

1840 New Bridge is erected over the Water of Leith at Canonmills.

[This article first appeared in the now obsolete Discover My Past Scotland 2010]

Keywords: Europe, European, ancestors, ancestry, family history, genealogy, Caledonian, Scotland

Thursday, 24 May 2012

My Ancestor Came From Edinburgh 1821-1830

Edinburgh Diary 1821-1830

Click here for more on books by Ruth A. Symes

If your ancestors lived in Scotland’s capital city, these are the events through which they lived, in which they might have participated, and which – at the very least - would have informed their everyday conversation.

1821 Steam packets are introduced between Leith and London. The Mountaineer can do the journey in 60 hours. The City of Edinburgh, is the largest steam vessel of its time and has beds for 100 people.

1822  King George IV visits Edinburgh 14th August – 29th August. He stays at Dalkeith palace but the main ceremonial business of the visit takes place at Holyrood House. After a fortnight of processions, banquets and balls, the King declares his stay in Scotland to have been one of ‘unalloyed satisfaction.’

1823  On 30th June, the foundation stone of the Edinburgh Academy (a boys’ boarding school set up to promote classical learning, especially Greek) is laid on the North side of the town.

1824 A great fire occurs on the night of 15th November in the city centre. It starts at about 10pm in a seven-storey house at the head of the Old Assembly Close and destroys many buildings in the vicinity of Parliament Square. After burning fiercely all night, the fire finally begins to abate at 9am the next morning but not before causing £200,000 of damage, rendering four hundred families homeless and killing eight people.

1825 The foundation stone of the new Royal High School on Calton Hill is laid on 28th July. The school, whose origins go back to 1128 has relocated several times. The Calton Hill building is now New Parliament House.

1826 The New Town Markets for the sale of fresh fish and poultry are opened. They are said to be the best of their kind in Great Britain.

1827 Edinburgh suffers great snowstorms on March 7th and 8th and again on April 21st.  Roads are blocked for several days and some drifts are as high as the outside passengers on the mail coaches.

1828 One of the Edinburgh newspapers reports that the city now has (amongst other things): 70 churches, 2 theatres,  13 courts of justice, 7 libraries, 11 public hospitals, 80 royal mail and stage coaches, 86 hackney coaches, 400 carriers (sedan chairmen) and 80 public houses.

1829 On 28th January, a large crowd gathers to watch the execution of William Burke, a serial murderer who, along with William Hare, has sold the bodies of his victims for dissecting purposes. Later 24,000 people go to see Burke’s body as it lies on a dissecting table at the Surgeon’s Hall.

1830 King George IV dies on June 26th. The new king William IV is proclaimed at the Cross by the Lord Provost and other officials.

Keywords: Europe, European, ancestry, ancestors, family history, genealogy, Caledonian, Scotland, Scottish

[This article first appeared in the now obsolete Discover My Past Scotland 2010]

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

My Ancestor Came from Edinburgh 1811-1820

Edinburgh Diary 1811-1820

If your ancestors lived in Scotland’s capital city, these are the events through which they lived, in which they might have participated, and which – at the very least -  would have informed their everyday conversation.

Holyrood Palace. Holyrood Palace – one of the sites at which George IV is proclaimed King in 1820, From Scottish Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil by Samuel G. Green, The Religious Tract Society, 1891.

1811 The foundation stone for the middle wet dock at Leith is laid on 14th March. The work will be finished in 1817.

1812  On 18th August,  there is a meal mob riot in the city. Poor inhabitants assemble in the Cowgate and Grassmarket, seize farmers’ carts and attack food shops in Nicolson Street in protest against their hunger.

1813 The freedom of the city is given to Sir Walter Scott in recognition of his literary talents on 22nd December.

1814  Edinburgh is ‘splendidly illuminated’ on the night of April 15th in recognition of the Allied Armies’ entrance into Paris. There is a grand triumphal arch over South Bridge Street.

1815 News of the decisive victory at Waterloo on 18th June is brought to Edinburgh from London on June 24th at 11m by the Lord Provost Sir John Marjoribanks.

1816 The first public celebration in Edinburgh of the birthday of the poet Robbie Burns takes place in MacEwan’s Rooms on 25th January.

1817 The first copy of The Scotsman newspaper is published on 25th January.

1818 On 5th February, the Regalia of Scotland (the Crown, Sceptre and Sword of State) is confirmed to be in a large oblong wooden chest in the Crown Room at Edinburgh castle. The Royal Standard is hoisted, soldiers cheer and a crowd on Castle Hill shows its appreciation.

1819 The Russian, Prince Leopold (later King of the Belgians) visits Edinburgh on 22nd September. He is the husband of Princess of Charlotte of Wales (currently second in line to the British throne after her father the future George IV).

1820 After the death of his father, George IV is proclaimed King on 3rd February at the Cross of Edinburgh. Similar proclamations are made as a procession makes its way to the Castle Esplanade, the palace of Holyrood and the pier and shore of Leith.

Keywords: Europe, European, ancestry, Caledonian, ancestors, family history, genealogy, Scotland, Scottish

[This article first appeared in the now obsolete Discover My Past Scotland 2010]

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

My Ancestor Came from Edinburgh 1800-1810

Edinburgh Diary 1800-1810

Click here for more on books by Ruth A. Symes

If your nineteenth-century ancestors lived in Scotland’s capital city, these are the events through which they lived, in which they might have participated, and which – at the very least -  would have informed their everyday conversation.

    Edinburgh Castle from the Grassmarket. Edinburgh Castle – scene of many celebrations in the first decade of the nineteenth century. From Black’s Picturesque Tourist of Scotland, Adam and Charles Black, 1856

1800 The Napoleonic wars together with a poor oat harvest all over Europe cause food shortages in the city. On April 25th, the Lord Provost and Magistrates issue an address suggesting that people eat as little oatmeal as possible and make wheat and barley-meal the staple of their diets.

1801 An earthquake shocks the new town on September 7th. Strangely it is not felt in the old town. No one is killed at the moment of impact but a few days later a barn to the west of the city collapses killing two shearers who were sleeping inside it.

1802 On June 4th, the sixty fifth birthday of the King George III is celebrated with a salute of guns from Edinburgh castle and from the battery at Leith

1803 A new, more secure, arrangement is made for the mail from Edinburgh to Glasgow to be taken by mail cart with a driver armed with a cutlass and pistols.

1804 Many city improvements are underway. The Bank of Scotland building is finished; the Cathedral of St Giles is opened to public view and a large number of beautiful houses and shops are being built on the north and south sides of the city.

1805 Lord Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar is celebrated in the city. On 5th November many people go to church wearing mourning in respect of Nelson’s memory and it is decided to erect a monument to commemorate his achievements.

1806 On 9th August a thunderstorm starts at 2pm and lasts, without intermission, until 8pm. A great deal of damage is done in Edinburgh and Scotland generally by the incessant rain.

1807 A tunnel under the Firth of Forth at Queensferry is proposed by James Miller M.D. and William Vazie – one of many schemes over the years to enable better communications from one side of the firth to the other.

1808 The foundation stone for the new Gaol of Edinburgh is laid on September 3rd. Large crowds turn up to watch the ceremony.

1809 The Golden Jubilee of the accession of George III is celebrated on 25th October (this being the first day of the fiftieth year of his reign). The day’s festivities are punctuated by the ringing of bells and the salute of guns. The foundation stone of a series of military buildings (to be known as ‘King George III’s Bastion and Military Works’) are laid at Leith.

1810 A chest which has lain for some thirty years in an old church at Leith is opened and found to contain a bronze life-size statue of George III. It is placed in Edinburgh City Chambers.

Keywords: Europe, European, ancestors, ancestry, Caledonian, Scotland, Scottish, nineteenth century, genealogy, family history 

[This article first appeared in the now obsolete Discover My Past Scotland]

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Our Ancestors and the Diamond Jubilee

How They Celebrated the Diamond Jubilee

In 1897, our ancestors up and down Britain celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria with a burst of patriotic fervour. Schoolchildren marched through the streets, bands played, races and parades were held, the poor received food and bonfires and fireworks lit up the night sky.

To find out exactly what your family got up to locally on Tuesday 22nd June 1897 (or possibly on the previous Sunday, 20th June) take a look at the British Newspaper Archive now online at www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk. This includes scanned searchable copies of newspapers from many localities and can be searched under date and topic.  If your ancestors decorated their business premises, hosted parties or attended banquets, you may find that they are actually mentioned by name in the papers!

For more on how your ancestors may have celebrated Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee see my article 'God Save the Queen' in this month (June 12)'s Family Tree Magazine.

TheRoyal Number’ of a popular magazine issued to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The lead article  features a photograph of her great-grandchildren (the future kings Edward VIII and George VI) and the words of a specially written patriotic song.
Home Words for Heart and Hearth, ed by Rev. Charles Bullock, Home Words Publishing Office, 1897

Keywords: Europe, European, ancestors, ancestry, genealogy, family history. Diamond Jubilee, Queen Victoria

Monday, 14 May 2012

Manchester School Records

School Log Books Online

It’s becoming quicker and easier to search for the school records of our ancestors online. ‘The Manchester Collection’ at www.findmypast.co.uk is an exciting new resource. Admission registers of the city’s elementary schools (from 1870 to 1916) and its industrial schools (1866-1912) are now searchable simply by entering your ancestor’s name and (if known) his or her likely dates of attendance.

Keywords: European, Europe, genealogy, family history, ancestors, ancestry, education

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Ancestors Literate or Not?

He Couldn't Sign His Name

The likelihood that some of your nineteenth-century working-class ancestors couldn’t sign the marriage registers because they were illiterate is pretty high. Although literacy rates for both men and women rose throughout the eighteenth century, by the 1780s, it is estimated that only 68 % of men and 39 % of women in England could sign their names.

Industrialisation (1780-1850) did not necessarily bring greater degrees of literacy. Most of the manual jobs in a textile factory did not require the ability to read or write, for example. Before 1830, it is generally believed that the literacy rates for both men and women fell in many industrialising areas, particularly Lancashire. Indeed, between 1810 and 1820 literacy rates for women in Manchester may have been as low as 19 per cent.

Key words: European, Europe, ancestors, ancestry, genealogy, family history, England

Friday, 11 May 2012

Emails about Search My Ancestry

If you wish to receive emails about new posts on Search My Ancestry please click on  'Submit'  under  'Follow by Email' in the right hand tool bar.

Miner Ancestors

Some Resources on Mining Ancestors

David Tonks, My Ancestor was a Coalminer, Society of Genealogists’ Enterprises Ltd, 2003 ISBN: 1903462711

Coal Mining Records in the National Archives http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue/RdLeaflet.asp?sLeafletID=97&j=1

Among other matters, this includes records of Mines Inspectorates, Labour Relations and Disputes, Health and Safety, Accidents, and Miners’ Welfare. Information about individual collieries and mining companies are more likely to be found in Local Record offices than the National Archives

National Coal Mining Museum for England, Caphouse Colliery, New Road, Overton, Wakefield, WF4  4RH Website: www.ncm.org.uk. Click on ‘Museum Collection’ and then ‘Library.’ Over 5,000 books on mining history are collected here.

British Mining Database, www.shropshiremines.org.uk/bmd/index/htm. Among other facilities this lists mining societies, mining museums and ‘where to look for documents’. There is also a Mining History Noticeboard where you can post queries about mines.

Scottish Mining Museum,  Lady Victoria Colliery, Newtongrange, Midlothian, EH22 4QN www.scottishminingmuseum.com

Big Pit: National Mining Museum of Wales, Blaenafon, Torfaen, Newport, NP4 9XP

Durham Mining Museum, www.dmm.org.uk, This provides some general information for family historians wishing to trace ancestors who were miners.

Coal Mining History Resource Centre, www.cmhrc.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk. This includes the National Database of Mining Deaths and Injuries

Search My Ancestry Translated

If you would find it easier to read Search My Ancestry in another language, simply choose a language from the Translate menu in the right hand margin and click on the word 'Translate' beneath it.

Keywords: Europe, European, ancestry, genealogy, family history, ancestors, French, German, Polish, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Norwegian, Swedish, Russian, Welsh, Yiddish, Icelandic, Danish, Japanese

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Become a Follower

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Postmortem photographs

Deathly Looks

If you notice something particularly odd about the eyes of an ancestor in a photograph – either the eyes being closed or a vacant expression -  consider that this might be because it was taken after he or she had died!

The Victorians were fond of post-mortem photographs (an example of ‘momento mori’) as reminders or memories of the dead. In these pictures, the recently deceased were often propped up and dressed as if alive. Their eyes might be artificially held open, or, even more bizarrely, painted in (on the eyelid) after the photograph was printed.

Long exposure times meant that images of the living (and moving) were often blurred. So, if the image of one person in a photograph is unusually clear (whilst those around him are blurred), it’s a possibility that this is, in fact, a corpse!

Keywords: Europe, European, ancestors, ancestry, genealogy, family history, England

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

How to conduct an oral history interview

Ten Top Tips for Interviewing Relatives

[This article first appeared in the now obsolete Discover My Past Scotland 2008]

Chatting to as many relatives as possible – and as many times as possible - when you are doing family history research really can pay off. Remember that in an oral interview, only 10% of the talking time should be taken up by you, the interviewer; the other 90% should be time for the interviewee to talk.

At ease. Make sure your interviewee is as relaxed as possible and use prompts to jog his or her memory.

There is always the chance that an odd detail will emerge from an oral interview that could lead you into new realms of investigation in the archives, or by way of censuses and certificates. But remember also, that family history is not simply about coming up with a list of dates and facts to add to your family tree diagram. It is also about getting a feel for the way in which your family lived in the past, and finding out about the kind of people they were. Once you know your characters, their setting, their education and places of work you will more easily be able to understand why they made the life decisions they did.

To put your interviewee at ease and to maximise the likelihood of new information emerging, try the ten strategies below:

1. Prepare your questions in advance. Don’t read a list of questions from a card or paper as this can be offputting to the interviewee, but do have some idea of what you want to find out.
      2. Use prompts – items that you can hold and examine such as commemorative tankards and photographs can provide great talking points.

    1. Always ask single questions. Don’t confuse the interviewee by asking two questions at once.

    1. Don’t ask leading questions (i..e. questions that make assumptions). Don’t say ‘He must have felt terribly poor growing up in such a small house,’ Say ‘How do you think he felt growing up in that house?’

    1. Ask open rather than closed questions. A closed question might be ‘Was Uncle Charlie happy about the birth of so many children?’ This might elicit a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ type answer. Ask instead, ‘How do you think Uncle Charlie felt about the birth of so many children?’ Such open questions allow people to talk freely and this is when unexpected information may slip out. Also, put the questions in different ways on different occasions. For example, to ascertain when certain events happened, rather than asking for specific information with a question such as ‘Which year was that?’ ask for the same information in a roundabout way with a question such as ‘Was Aunty Grace born at that time?’

    1. But don’t make your questions too open. Asking an interviewee what they remember about work in a particular factory or shipyard, for example, might throw them into a panic. Ask instead what they remember about their first day in the job, or how they spent their first pay packet.

    1. Look out for the silences. There may be significant reasons why your interviewees don’t mention particular relatives or particular times. Illegitimacy, divorce and periods in prison are just some of the secrets that members of the older generation may be unwilling to discuss. Be sensitive to these awkward moments and make a mental note to check up on them later.

    1. Make sure you double check when accounts given by relations seem to be contradicting each other. Incorrect memories can be as interesting as correct ones. There may be a significant reason for them.

    1. Always ask – on the off chance – whether there is anything in print (or written down) about the story you are discussing. Relatives often have newspaper clippings, diaries, old school magazines, autograph books (and many other items that they assume will not be of any interest to anyone) tucked away. You can nearly always learn something from these.

    Is it in writing? This diary that my father kept as a boy during the Second World War substantiates his oral account of the same period.
    10. Think about how you will record the answers to your questions. You could get the interviewee to write their own responses, or tape what they are saying. The best way is probably to jot down rough notes as they are talking and write these up as soon as possible after the interview.

    Keywords: family history, European ancestors, oral history, interviews, England

    Saturday, 5 May 2012

    Dates of Easter in the Past

    When Was Easter in the Past?

    All kinds of family history records may state 'Easter' as a date in the pastwithout being more specific. One family history researcher knew (from oral history) that her grandparents arrived in Britain from Germany on ‘Easter Sunday’ 1909, for example. Family photographs and even letters can sometimes be dated ‘Easter’ and the year without any more specific details.

    If you are faced with such a family history puzzle, it may help you to know that Easter is always celebrated between March 22nd and April 25th. But to find out the exact date of Easter in any specific year visit http://www.searchforancestors.com/utility/easter.html The website http://www.assa.org.au/edm.html also gives the dates of Easter Sunday all the way back to the sixteenth century and gives you a method for working out the date of Easter in any given year.  The site http://www.gmarts.org/index.php?go=413 gives the dates of Easter in the Western and Orthodox calendars for recent years and also provides a calculator for working out the dates of any Easter in the past.

    Keywords: family history, European ancestors, Easter

    Wednesday, 18 April 2012

    Tatties and Neeps - Scottish ancestors and their food

    Tatties and Neeps

    Click here for more on books by Ruth A. Symes

    What Scottish recipes can tell you about your family history

    [This article was first published in the now obsolete Discover My Past Scotland 2008] 

    If your family hails from Scotland, you may have inherited a taste for Scotch eggs, haggis, broth, scotch pancakes or shortbread. Even when other ‘more important’ clues to family history such as wills, family bibles, and birth and death certificates are lost, family recipes have often been passed down unchanged from generation to generation and they can tell us quite a lot about our families in the past.  

    Dishes inherited from your Scottish forebears may tell you something about what foodstuffs were available in their locality in the past - their proximity to the sea, and their access to fresh (as opposed to preserved) food. More importantly, they may provide you with more exact information about where your family came from, their income level and class status, the size and composition of their families, the way they celebrated important events and even their religious beliefs.  

    Many traditional Scottish dishes include seafood from the country’s extensive coastline – a natural larder.

    In general, Scottish food over the centuries had a homely and ‘cold weather’ feel. Oats and barley were the main staple and could soon be made into porridge or oatcakes. Spices - expensive to import - do not feature much.  Some foodstuffs, of course, originated in particular regions and towns in Scotland and may provide evidence as to where exactly your family came from. Arran potato salad, for example, comes from the Firth of Clyde; Haddock Skink is a thick fishy soup from Cullen in Morayshire;  Clapshot – a vegetable dish consisting mainly of potatoes and turnip and often eaten with haggis - comes from the Orkneys, and brown trout bake, as well as many dishes based on oily fish such as herring and mackerel were favourites with the Highlanders.

    Particular methods of food preparation may also help you pinpoint your family origins. In Aberdeenshire, for example, it was common to prepare grouse by wiping it inside and out with a damp cloth and removing the kidneys. The bird would then be stuffed with mushrooms, fried in butter and covered in cream. To find out more about the provenance of your family recipes take a look at a specialist book on Scottish cookery such as Catherine Brown, Scottish Regional Recipes (Chambers 1993). See also list below. A useful website showing where different Scottish foodstuffs originate is http://recipes.wikia.com/wiki/File:Map_of_Scotland.jpg. Alternatively, just google the name of your dish and discover its geographical history.

    There were variations in the Scottish diet according to class status and economic circumstances and, from your family fare, you should be able to hazard a guess as to whether your ancestors lived at subsistence level or at a level of luxury. For many Scots in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, meat was too expensive to eat regularly. Game, dairy produce, fish, fruit and vegetables were all more common on the Scottish table than animal flesh and main meals tended to centre on soup. There were many variations including Scotch broth, Partan bree (made from crab and chicken stock and a favourite in North-Eastern Scotland) , Cullen Skink, Cock-a-Leekie, and Hairst Bree (sometimes known as Hotchpotch). These soups were generally prepared using a potage of vegetables, herbs and roots with perhaps a little meat stock.

    In a frugal economy, it was customary to make sure that no part of an animal went to waste. For those in the middle of the social scale there was Howtowdie (roast chicken stuffed with oats), Potted hough (a kind of paste made using the gelatine from animal bones) and mince.  Also popular were black, red and white puddings (made from animal blood). Offal, or low-quality meat could easily be carried in a pig’s stomach – hence the genesis of the dish that has become a national symbol - haggis. Your wealthier Scottish relatives, on the other hand, may have feasted on grouse, haunch of venison or roast Aberdeen Angus beef with side dishes of curly kail, neeps and tatties (swede and potatoes) and colcannon or rumbledethumps (mashed potato).

    More popular than meat on many a Scottish table in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was seafood particularly shellfish including lobster, crab and many varieties of fish much of which was preserved by smoking.  The presence of some dishes in your family tradition may tell a sorry story. A dish called ‘Crappit heid,’ for example,  was eaten by poor fishermen in North Eastern Scotland. Having sold the body of the cod they caught, they would keep the head and stuff it with oats, onions, beef fat and white pepper.  Other typical Scottish fish dishes are Arbroath Smokies, Cabbie Claw (or Cabelew), Ceann Cropaig, Eyemouth Pales, Finnan Haddie and kippers.

    The Language of Scottish Food

    Your family today may use words to describe certain foodstuffs which betray your Scottish heritage. A ‘cloutie’ or ‘clootie dumpling,’for example, was named after the cloth or cloutie in which it was wrapped. Some culinary terms have been inherited from the Scotland’s cultural exchange with France (especially during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots). These include ‘collop’ from ‘escalope,’ gigot for a leg of mutton and ‘howtowdie’ derived from ‘Hetoudeau’ for a boiling fowl.

    Whilst savoury food in nineteenth and early twentieth century Scotland tended to be plain, baking was traditionally more adventurous. You may have inherited recipes for dumplings, pastries, shortbreads, scones, pancakes and small fancies. Such delights were consumed by the better off in the famous tearooms of the Scottish cities. Indeed, the very notion of ‘high tea’ derives in part from Scotland. There are a whole range of traditional Scotch puddings with fantastic names such as ‘Burnt Cream,’ ‘Apple Frushie,’ ‘Blaeberry Pie’, ‘Carrageen Moss,’ ‘Cranachan,’ ‘Stapag’ and ‘Tipsy Laird.’  Sweets were also popular and included Edinburgh rock, macaroons, Moffat toffee and a kind of fudge known as ‘tablet’.

    Food and Health

    You may have noticed some odd causes of death on your family certificates. These can attest to a lack of food or food of poor quality in your family household in the past. ‘Marasmus’ – a wasting of the flesh - was commonly cited in the deaths of young children who were deprived of calories and protein. ‘Teething’ – an odd but commonly given cause of death – may suggest a contamination of milk or other foodstuffs, and the dreaded ‘cholera’ was spread by infected water and food.

    Cookery Books

    Family cookery books can give a useful insight into your ancestors’ probable diet. If you have inherited a published Scottish cookery book, you can assume that whichever of your ancestors first used it had a reasonable income and a certain level of literacy. Scotland had her own range of cookery writers before Mrs Beeton appeared on the scene in the nineteenth century. These included, Mrs Dalgain  (The Practice of Cookery Edinburgh, 1734), and Mrs Maciver (Cookery and Pastry as Taught and Practised by Mrs Maciver, teacher of those arts in Edinburgh, 1789). But, be careful not to make too many assumptions from these published books about the way your family ate in the past. They will probably tell you more about how your ancestors aspired to eat rather than what they actually ate. Andrew Stewart’s The Scottish Cookery Book Containing Guid plain Rules for Makin’ Guid Plain Meats; Suitable for Sma’ Purses, Big Families and Scotch Stamachs, (J. Menzie’s, 1878) might offer a more representative picture.

    Handwritten cookery books are also probably a more accurate record of what actually appeared on your ancestors’ plates. Look out for memorandum written down the side of recipes which can tell you how different generations of mothers and daughters adapted dishes to suit their own tastes, budgets and family size. But remember that even those recipes written down in cookery books do not necessarily reflect what your ancestors ate every day. Rather, they probably record the dishes eaten on special occasions such as Christmas, Easter, Hogmanay and Burns night. Recipes for shortbread, which tended to be eaten as a treat at weddings, Christmas and New Year, are a case in point. In Shetland it was customary to break shortbread over the bride’s head as she entered her new home. Likewise, ale-crowdie (consisting of ale, treacle and whisky) would only be served at Scottish weddings. Whoever found the ring inside it would, supposedly, be the next to marry.

    If you do come across a handwritten cookery book, it is worth having a go at sourcing the ingredients and making some of the dishes. There is nothing quite like the sense of connection with your ancestors that you feel when taking your first mouthful of food from a recipe once cooked by your great-grandmother. And if you haven’t inherited any recipes, don’t despair. Take a look at some of your more colourful family anecdotes. These often involve information about food and its preparation. That story about Great-Uncle Stuart being kicked by a cow may well have occurred as he milked it in order to make ‘Hatted Kit’ – a sweet dish favoured by crofters that depended on fresh warm milk.

    Of course, you must be careful not to read too much about family history into your eating habits. In recent years, we have all become much more wide-ranging in our  food tastes as food from all over the country and all over the world has become available to us at relatively cheap prices. Nevertheless, there is still something to be learned from certain family recipes, and it is certainly important to continue the traditions for our own children.

    Keywords: Food, European Ancestors

    Useful Books

    Brown, Catherine, Scottish Regional Recipes, Chambers, 1993.

    Dickson-Wright, Clarissa and Crichton-Stuart, Henry,  Hieland Foodie: A Scottish Culinary Voyage with Clarissa, NMSE 1999

    Fenton, Alexander, The Food of the Scots: A Compendium of Scottish Ethnology Vol 5, John Donald, 2007.

    Lawrence, Sue  A Cook’s Tour of Scotland: From Barra to Brora in 120 recipes, Headline, 2008.

    Mabey, David. Traditional Eating and Drinking in Britain, A Feast of Regional Foods. Macdonald and James, 1978.

    Richardson, Paul. Cornucopia: A Gastronomic Tour of Britain. Abacus 2002.

    Tannahill, Reay. Food in History, Eyre Methuen, 1973.

    Wilson, Carol and Trotter, Christopher, Scottish Traditional Recipes: A Celebration of the Authentic Food and Cooking of Scotland, Southwater, 2009

    Useful Websites

    www.foodmuseum.com Food history, news, features and temporary exhibits.

    www.greatbritishkitchen.co.uk Sections on regional cooking and eating history.

    http://recipes.wikia.com/wiki/File:Map_of_Scotland.jpg Site showing where different Scottish recipes originate from.

    http://www.visitscotland.com/guide/inspirational/features/very-scottish/trad-food Information on food from the official site of Scotland’s official tourism organisation

    http://www.recipes4us.co.uk/Cooking%20by%20Country/Scotland%20Recipes%20Culinary%20History%20and%20Information.htm Scottish food and cuisine

    http://scotland.org/homecoming2009/food-and-drink/ Site celebrating homecoming year.