Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hint for doing family history online: leave a lot of clues around.

Sometimes looking up family history and doing genealogy research online seems to take a lot of time and get nowhere. Other times you find so much information you can barely handle it. But sometimes, when you are really lucky, you get amazing results.

The latest happened to me just this week, but it's because of something I posted online about four or five (?) years ago.

One of my ancestors was the landlord of a London pub. It's no longer a pub; it's been converted to flats.

I posted some notes about my family history related to that pub, on a website about the history of London pubs. Of course, I included my email address.

Lo and behold, from out of the blue comes an email bringing me news of a fairly close relative I never thought I would find. I won't put their full names here but Norman and Anne, I am so glad you took the time to get in touch. Now we can compare notes about our family from both sides of the Atlantic.

The lesson is, plant seeds and one day you may harvest the fruit.

Good luck with your own family history research.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tracing ancestors when two people have the same name

It happens all the time. You go searching merrily along and find your ancestor in every census, in the BMD (birth, marriage, and death) index, and you feel pretty proud of yourself. Then, wham! Suddenly SKS (Some Kind Soul in Internet-language) tells you the John SMITH you're so happy about is their relative, not yours at all. And then you scratch your head and wonder how it all went so wrong.

How to track two people who are about the same age

This advice uses an English example, but like most of my examples, I hope the lessons might be just as good for other countries.

It's not usually a big problem trying to distinguish between people with the same name but from different generations. The age difference makes it pretty easy to know if you've got the right ones.

But when there are two (or even more) people about the same age, with the same name, you have to unravel them carefully. If you want to do it without buying any birth, marriage or death certificates, you're probably going to have to work a little harder.

John CORKER, b. 1862 in Manchester, Lancashire, and his namesake born around the same time

The John CORKER I'm interested in was the son of William CORKER and Mary Ann (nee KNOWLES).

One problem I'm having is that I cannot find him in the 1871 census. This is important because he was young and the facts – his age, name, date and place of birth – are more likely to be correct because those events have a very good chance of being fresh within the memory of the person who gives the information to the census-taker.

Because it's proving difficult to find the family in 1871, I am going to have to look at 1881. I want to find "my" John CORKER and the one with the same name and similar place and date of birth, so I can start making notes of the points where they differ, and where they are the same. I want to build up a little checklist for telling them apart.

Friday, July 2, 2010

1911 England census for Mary Ann BUNTING, formerly ROYLE, formerly BROWN, formerly CORKER, nee KNOWLES

This is about a lady who outlived her four husbands. I can only imagine her grief and maybe some kind of inevitable acceptance of the transience of life by the time the third one died. Did she scream and cry and fall down weeping when husband number four died? She was about 75 at the time. Did it feel the same as when she lost her first husband, at age 34, after having four children with him?

I don't know but it's very sad.

Family relationships shown in the census return

The census for every decade operates pretty much the same way: each household is a unit. There is a head of the household, and every other person there is named and described by their relationship to the head.

Sometimes, this isn't quite right, especially when two generations live together, but it's a starting point.

The Richard BROWN family of Salford, Lancashire, in 1911

From the address page, we get the house address: 52 Stowell Street, Salford.

Today, on Google Earth, that address looks like a fairly new housing estate. It would be interesting to find out when and why the old houses were replaced. Could have been bombed, could have been "urban renewal", who knows? But with a little digging, I could find out. I would want to know the reason if it happened to have taken place during or not long after my ancestors lived there.

From the census return page that the head of the household filled out:

Richard BROWN, Head, age 32, Married. The marriage has lasted 10 years, Occupation: Warehouseman, Industry: Ship Canal Co., a Worker (not an Employer), born in Manchester, Lancashire.

Emma BROWN, Wife, age 31, Married 10 years. For the wife in a married couple, there is added information: 3 children born alive to the present Marriage; 3 children still living. The Occupation is left blank. Birthplace: Salford, Lancashire.

Frank BROWN, Son, age 9, Occupation: School. Birthplace: Salford, Lancashire.

Edna BROWN, Daughter, age 7, Occupation: School. Birthplace: Salford, Lancashire.

Arthur BROWN, Son, age 3, Occupation blank (too young). Birthplace: Salford, Lancashire.

Mary Ann BUNTING, Mother, age 72, Widow. Birthplace: Oldham, Lancashire.

How reliable is this census information?

Every piece of information comes from somewhere. You have to figure out whether the person providing the information knew the truth, and if so, whether that person also told the truth.

Here there is an intact family, and all the children have the same parents. The family is still living in Salford, where the children were born. Because the children are so young, we have a very good chance of seeing the correct ages and birthplaces on this return. When you see a census for an older person, and especially when that person isn't giving the information about themselves, there is room for doubt.

The census is not an official record like a birth certificate is, but it is a very good indicator of where to look for more information.

Questions this census return suggests to me:

1. What was the neighbourhood like? (And when and why was the house taken down?)

2. What was it like working at the Manchester Ship Canal in 1911?

3. Did any other family members (Mary Ann had four children older than Richard) live nearby?

This is a bit of a cheat, but I know that Richard, Emma, and the children emigrated from England to Canada before the First World War, probably not long after this census date in fact. Mary Ann, Richard's mother, didn't go with them. She died in 1919. Who looked after her during those eight years, which included the whole period of the War? This poor woman had lost four husbands and then had to see her son and his family leave, perhaps never to be seen again.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

1911 England census

Today I'm going to leave the VERNELLs and SANDERS briefly and sniff around in the 1911 census for various families. Some are in my family, some aren't. I'm interested in them all, but the reasons vary.

Finding the 1911 UK census online

The website I'm using is

You can search for free, but to see the results you need to pay.

Another site I haven't tried yet is offering subscriptions to the 1911 census, in fact, they have every census from 1841 to 1911. It's

I've already purchased some credits and done a few searches in the site and it worked very well.

A 1911 census search for Mary BUNTING nee KNOWLES formerly CORKER formerly BROWN formerly ROYLE

Yes, married four times and apparently outlived them all! This lady's name was Mary Ann KNOWLES until the first marriage, as indicated by the word "nee" (French for "born"). She married men whose surnames were, in order, CORKER, BROWN, ROYLE, and BUNTING. It's been quite the wild goose chase trying to track her down, because I had no idea she had any husbands after BROWN.

Without too much trouble, using her name and a birth date with not "Exact" but plus or minus 5 years for the date, there she is, in Salford.

Finding the address in the 1911 census

It's really easy to use the 1911 census site to get both the census form for the household and the cover page showing the address. There are clear boxes to check.

Although it's a little cheaper to see a transcript, I always go look at the original. Too many mistakes crop up in transcribing records. I want to see them for myself.

The cost: transcripts are 10 credits each, originals are 30 credits for the set of images (the household return, and the address page for the household, and the cover page showing the enumeration district details.

Credits: 6.95 pounds for 60 credits (12 pence per credit, good for 90 days) or
24.95 pounds for 280 credits (9 pence per credit, good for a year)

I paid for and downloaded the records I wanted to see for Mary Ann BUNTING and then I looked at them closely.

The census address page shows Mr. BROWN as head of the household, and the address as 52 Stowell Street, Salford.

I didn't know anything about England when I first started researching and had no clue where Salford was. It's part of Greater Manchester. If you live there, you will probably make a finer distinction than that, but the bottom line is, if you're looking for Salford, find Manchester city centre, and then look across the River Irwell to the west.

View Larger Map

Links to some interesting titles


Haven't read it but it was the same year as the census. Must find out more about this strike.

In Search of Your British and Irish Roots: A Complete Guide to Tracing Your English, Welsh, Scottish, & Irish Ancestors

One of the first family history books I bought was by Angus Baxter and I found his advice very useful. I wonder if I still have his books. I should go back to basics and read what he had to say about conducting research.

More resources for Manchester and Salford history, from Amazon's catalogue

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