Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Growing Up with Fannie's Story

I grew up in an adoptive family with a long line of storytellers. They were multifaceted and skilled in Biblical storytelling, family history, and were community Griots.  They spanned several generations and could engage you in a way that made you feel like you were standing in the scene of the story.

My maternal great-grandmother was a country midwife who birthed most of the babies in Barbour County, Alabama during her era.  Her name was Fannie Herron and she was born circa 1876 in Barbour County, Alabama and she died 15 June 1946 in Barbour County, Alabama.  She had two children my grandmother Lucinie Walker born 28 November 1890 in Barbour County and she died 29 June 1966 in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois; and John Henry Roberson born 1 December 1893 in Barbour County, Alabama and he died 3 July 1922 in Barbour County, Alabama.

My grandmother always told me the following story about my great-grandmother (her mother) which left a colorful vivid impression.  A few years ago, I retold her story to a group of girlfriends and was encouraged by my friends to write it down.  I took their suggestion and wrote my memory of my grandmother's story in my journal.  As with any story that has been handed down through oral tradition and has endured the narrative of time there tends to be an element of creative non-fiction. However, the process of remembering and reliving the experience was more than I would have ever expected.  It reinforced the importance of storytelling both orally and in writing.  In the spirit of genealogy, I challenge you to take a family story that you have been told, write it down and share it in your Blog.  Here is my great-grandmother's story via three generations of storytelling.

"Her brown-skin belly was swollen like a vertical watermelon. This was her third time being with child.  She was having strong pains and could feel the discomfort way down in her back.  She had spent the last few hours like this so she knew it was almost time to give birth.  As she tried really hard not to push, she wondered if the midwife would get there before the baby arrived.  The midwife opened the door and walked quickly toward her bedside.  Aunt Fannie was a short stout dark-skin woman with gray eyes.  Eyes the color of hot coals and the kind you see on old folks.  You could see her thick gray hair peeking through her tattered head wrap and she wore an old discolored striped shift-dress that had its own history and traditions.

It was January 16, 1943, and Aunt Fannie was more than 60 years old now.  Her body was beginning to wear down but she loved her work and never missed a birthing.  She wasn’t classically trained. She had learned midwifery helping to deliver the babies of the sharecroppers.  She was known by the town’s people as the most trusted midwife in Barbour County, Alabama.  At a time when the races were segregated in the south, she had delivered all the black and white babies in the county since she was 18 years old.  Everyone knew she had a passion for bringing life into the world and that is why the town’s people called her God’s assistant.

Aunt Fannie’s first words to the mother were, “Are you ready honey?  We bout’ to bring this baby into the world.”  The mother looked up at Fannie with sweat pouring down her face and wishing that this was already over.  At that moment, she knew that they were equally matched contenders.  “Yes ma’am Aunt Fannie.  I’m ready,” she said as she scooted her bottom toward the end of the bed preparing to give birth."

Monday, 29 September 2014

I am a cousin

At the beginning of this year I read an opinion piece in the New York Times where the author, A J Jacobs, asked whether I, the reader, was the author's cousin. Jacobs, a journalist from New York, is well known for writing about lifestyle experiments. One that I had heard of before was The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to follow the Bible as Literally as Possible.

Jacobs has discovered genealogy and has decided to hold the world's largest family reunion in June 2015. As well as various newspaper articles he has given a TED talk on the subject.

You can discover whether you are a cousin of A J Jacobs, and many others, by contributing to Wikitree or the World Family Tree on Geni.com (which is a part of MyHeritage).

Jacobs believes that a large worldwide tree has several benefits.
  • Scientific value - for example data on how diseases are inherited, people's migration patterns
  • It brings history alive to realise you are connected to famous historical people
  • Understanding our interconnectedness. Perhaps our farthest cousin is our 50th cousin.
  • A kinder world if we realise we are all related.
  • A democratising effect. Sometimes genealogy can be elitist but in fact we are all related to famous people.
I decided to follow up on the challenge of determining if I was related by using Wikitree, a free collaborative family tree.

I chose not to upload a GEDCOM file of my existing research but to work slowly and use the opportunity to review my research and ensure I had sources for my links and birth, death and marriage dates. For me this is an great opportunity to follow through on Pauleen Cass's excellent advice in an earlier blog post to revisit, record and revise my family tree.

I wanted to establish a connection to A J Jacobs so I started on the branches of my tree that lead back to the USA as I felt that way I had a better chance of connection. I have connected in 29 steps, including two marriages, through my Dana forebears. My relationship to A J Jacobs defies normal cousin terminology but we are indeed distantly connected. I still have many forebears to add and perhaps there will be a closer connection.

For me it is a different way of thinking about genealogy. I am not interested in my connection to famous people. I am interested in the history experienced by my forebears as I find that brings history alive for me. However, I am happy to collaborate on our shared family history and genealogy. I think it is an interesting idea to acknowledge that we are all related and that we do not own our forebears and their history.

Anne Young

Saturday, 27 September 2014

One Lovely Blog Award to My Fellow Contributors

I hope I'm not breaking the rules of this collaboration too badly by writing two posts this month, but I wanted very much to nominate all of my fellow bloggers who participate in Worldwide Genealogy -- A Genealogical Collaboration. You have been so helpful to me over the course of this year. You've taught me better research techniques, how to research in countries other than the U.S., and other tools to which I had not been exposed to help me in my research, writing and to stay organized. But you were especially welcoming when I talked about my parents health issues. I lost my Mom earlier this month and knowing there are people I have never met who are supportive is incredibly helpful in getting through each day.

For those of you who would like to participate the rules are:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog
  2. Share seven things about yourself
  3. Nominate 15 you admire (or as many as you can think of)
  4. Contact your bloggers and let them know you've tagged them for the One Lovely Blog award.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Confusion and the Proof Standard

For years my grandmother, father, and I have had the same Riggin brick wall, which stopped at John C Riggin, my four times great grandfather. Family lore said he came to Illinois from Tennessee and that his father was a minister, who rode a circuit, preaching at several churches on rotating Sundays. What we could never figure out were the names of his parents or any siblings.

After researching John C Riggin's descendants more thoroughly, and definitively proving he settled in Madison County, soon after Illinois became a state, I purchased a used copy of the two-volume Centennial History of Madison County. I was hoping there would be profiles of prominent citizens of the county. The book did include those profiles, but my known ancestor was not among them. However, I did discover this lovely snippet in the section about Troy:

My "new" books, Centennial History of Madison County

I was still a rank amateur family historian and didn't realize the significance of finding out the names of two of his siblings. Instead, I kept banging my head against the brick wall that was John C Riggin. However, earlier this month, I started researching John's brothers -- Harry and James. I still haven't learned much about James, but Harry was a goldmine!

"Troy" from the Centennial History of Madison County

I found an article entitled Three Rs in Lincoln's Education: Rogers, Riggin, and Rankin, by James T. Hickey, which appeared on pages 195-207 in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Volume 52, Number 1, Lincoln Sesquicentennial (Spring 1959). Hickey was one of the foremost authorities on Lincoln, especially his time in Illinois. The article had this to say about Harry and James Riggin:

"The Riggin brothers were sons of the Rev. James Riggin, a Methodist preacher of Sevierville, Tennessee. Originally Catholic, the Riggin family had renounced Catholicism when they came to America from Ireland."

An extensive history of Harry Riggin's life was also included. It seems he knew Abraham Lincoln when Lincoln was a student at New Salem, learning under Mentor Graham, and opposed Lincoln in the 1838 state legislature elections.

From Mr. Hickey's article, photograph courtesy of the
Illinois State Historical Society

With that clue I was able to trace the Riggin family, through the Reverend James Riggin, back to Somerset County, Maryland, when the first Riggin -- Teague -- arrived sometime in the 1650s as an indentured servant. A book of Somerset County wills and land records proved invaluable.

Like my Scottish Muir line, the Riggins faithfully named their sons and daughters after parents and grandparents. I currently have eight ancestors, all born within a few years in age of each other, named Teague Riggin in my family tree.

Map of Somerset County, Maryland, circa 1795

It was at this point in my research that I confused myself beyond reason. Several of these Riggin ancestors were of an age to serve in the Revolutionary War. A review of those records, showed no one named Riggin with which I was familiar. So I went to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) website and searched for a Riggin patriot. I found three, named Francis, Stephen and James. I do not believe at this time, that the James who fought for a Delaware regiment is my James Riggin. But I did download the three applications that used Stephen Riggin as their patriot ancestor as he fought in the Somerset County Militia.

For several days I traced the lineages provided by the three ladies who became DAR members using Stephen Riggin as their patriot ancestor, gathering source citations to validate their research along the way. As I worked backwards, I was, of course, trying to connect them to my Riggin extended family in Somerset County.

When I got to John Riggin, last person on their lineages, all I learned was he wrote a will in 1747. At first I believed this John Riggin did not tie into my tree but rather was a descendant of a possible brother of the original Teague Riggin, who may have also come to the American colonies, but the records are in no way definitive on his existence.  Now I believe this John Riggin to be the John I have in my tree who was born about 1708 and wrote a will in 1747 which was probated in 1757. The date the will was written and the place it was filed being the only "proof" of that connection. In the sea of early Riggin genealogies on the Internet, I would be the only person making that connection, which is the source of my confusion.

Augustus Kerr Riggin, son of Harry Riggin;
image from the Past and Present of Menard
by Robert Don Leavey Miller

Have I got it right or am I completely lost?

I have been researching how to think through and write a genealogical proof standard but have never done one before. I'd love to hear your thoughts on proof standards as I am in uncharted waters.

Monday, 22 September 2014

FHISO is back in action. User input needed.

In the few weeks since the beginning of August, the Family History Information Standards Organisation (FHISO) has burst back into life after an apparent slumber.  This is good news for all genealogists.

The Prize

We live in a world where many things we take for granted have been made possible by technical standards.  For example, the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) standards underpin the technology behind this blog.

  • online records that come with the citation and provenance data embedded in a format that is understood by any genealogy database you choose
  • sharing your family history with other researchers, confident that no information has been lost or corrupted
  • new tools that are compatible with existing software

FHISO’s goals are:
FHISO shall work transparently and collaboratively to identify, develop, disseminate, and maintain voluntary, open, consensus-based technical standards, including necessary supporting documentation and services. The standards shall be publicly available at no or nominal cost on a non-discriminatory basis. Anyone may implement the standards for any purpose, without royalty or license fees. These rights, granted to users or implementers, may not be revoked by FHISO.
The open nature of FHISO is important because no company or organization holds a monopoly or undue influence on technical developments.

Have a listen to the interview on FGS radio with Roger Moffat and GeneJ in December 2012 for a flavour of the possibilities.

A Short History of FHISO

FHISO was established in February 2012. Many genealogists had been frustrated with the shortcomings of GEDCOM for many years. Things came to a head in 2010, when DearMyrtle and Russ Worthington demonstrated that family history data did not transfer between programs properly, which resulted in the formation of BetterGEDCOM. Different programs interpret the current de-facto GEDCOM standard inconsistently, and implementations vary in the degree of compliance. GEDCOM was developed in the 1980s and the last widely implemented update (version 5.5.1) was in 1999, so a replacement that can handle modern research methods and cope with newly available tools is long overdue.  BetterGEDCOM lead to the establishment of FHISO.

Between May 2012 and May 2013 the following vendors announced support for FHISO: Ancestry.com
RootsMagic, Inc.
ourFamily•ology, Inc
Calico Pie Limited (produces Family Historian)
Coret Genealogie
brightsolid (now D C Thompson family history)
Mocavo (since purchased by D C Thompson)

In addition genealogy and family history society bodies on both sides of the Atlantic also announced their support:
The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) of the United States
Federation of Family History Societies (FFHS) of the United Kingdom

An open call for papers issued in March 2013 remains in force.  To date over 50 papers have been submitted.  An initial flurry in the first 3 months was followed by a steady trickle.

In June 2013 Drew Smith’s appointment as chair was announced.  And then things went quiet. It has taken a long while to fill other positions. On 5 August 2014, the Technical Standing Committee (TSC) was announced and the board was announced on 15 September 2014. The TSC has proposed four initial exploratory groups that will start the process.

Two email forums for the Technical Standing Committee were launched on 12 August 2014.  The low volume read only list, tsc-announce is for announcements.  Much more interesting is the tsc-public for discussion.  This list has been active with lively discussion exceeding 500 messages in just over a month.

How users can contribute

Whether or not you are of a technical inclination, please do take a look at the papers and discussions. If you find the papers too technical or the forum discussions too lengthy, don’t despair. The discussions have already spawned 3 blog posts on sources and citations:

A balance of contributions from genealogist users (that’s YOU) and technologists is needed for success. Please let them know about the many ways you do research in reality and how you use many kinds of programs and services that are not designed for genealogy. Tell them what is useful and what is not. Give them frequent reality checks and ask for explanations of anything in the proposals that is not clear to you.

Vendors and service providers also stand to gain from FHISO standards through meeting their customers’ needs.

Are YOU ready to join the collaboration?

Saturday, 20 September 2014

My three Rs of Genealogy Research

As family historians we need the traditional three Rs of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic, after all how else to locate our families’ records, write their stories and calculate and cross-check their ages, dates of births, deaths and shot-gun marriages.

But today I’m going to propose that another three Rs are also needed for our family history research.


Traditional wisdom suggests we maintain a research register/spreadsheet which documents every record set and document we’ve checked in the course of our research, either online or offline. This practice, or some variation of it, is certainly helpful to ensure we don’t waste valuable research time searching the same records again and again.

However, I’d argue there’s a benefit to visiting at least some of the records more than once. Certainly we should revisit those documents we’ve stored in our files, databases or trees.


Because I firmly believe that research findings, and our perception and understanding of them, are not static. The documents themselves will not change but the research “glasses” we’re wearing will certainly change how we see the detail on them.

What we know of our history changes over time, either incrementally or in large leaps forward. Things we haven’t noticed about a record will suddenly leap out at us as having a new or additional meaning. The significance of names will become clearer as in the interim we’ve learned of family connections. If we only look at the record the first time we find it, and don’t squeeze it for every single drop, we run the risk of missing the key to a brick-wall breakthrough.

And then there’s the one-time search of a particular record set, especially online. I’m sure we’ve all had searches that we’ve rejected as unsuccessful on one occasion, only to revisit the search and see, with those new glasses on, something important that turns it into a relevant record for our research.

And what of looking at adjoining pages to see who’s living nearby? We used to do this automatically when searching offline but the downside of an online search is that it takes us straight to our ancestor’s document and tempts us just to exit to the next search without checking out the broader context.


Each of us has our own way of recording our family history. Most will keep at least key information in family history programs or trees, either online or offline. Others have their own family websites. Others again will publish the family’s story in a book.

Shutterstock Image ID: 137910917
It’s probably a fair bet that the participants of this Worldwide Genealogy blog are also writing their family history online ie writing a genealogy blog. I’ve noticed that when we say “blog” people sometimes conclude we’re just playing around on the internet, telling others what we had for breakfast etc. Some time ago I wrote a post suggesting that we should start reframing how we refer to our blogs, by “telling it how it is” and saying we write our family history online.

Blogging is a great option for recording our family’s history and revealing the grassroots of history by contextualising it within the broader framework of traditional history.

I feel sure that the centenary of World War I will produce many micro-stories of the impact of war on families and communities as well as the contributions made by individuals on both sides of the military fence. This reveals a more nuanced tapestry of history than the big-picture, important-people version that we all learnt at school. It also exposes the sheer scale of war’s impact at the grassroots level. We can do the same for so many aspects of our family history by revealing more about a community, which in turn might lead to a One Place Study.

Blogging also provides a less threatening way of starting to document a family history rather than the daunting prospect of writing a book. From a personal perspective blogging suits my approach to a narrative recording my family’s history and allows me to add new information to the family history I’ve published. Of course to a large extent I’m preaching to the converted on this topic.


Having identified and documented your research findings, do you look at what you’ve actually written or recorded? Do you check you’ve not leapt to conclusions and blipped over an assumption you’ve made? You know what they say about assumptions…

I recently wrote a story on my blog about my research into the Callaghan family of Courtown near Gorey in Wexford. In my research I’d looked at the 1901 and 1911 census records from the National Archivesof Ireland online. The family comprised head of house, David Callaghan, son David, daughter Bridget, daughter-in-law Kate and grandson, another David. Even though it was staring me in the face, I made a stupid mistake and jumped to the conclusion that Kate was son David’s wife whereas it was very clear she was a widow. If I hadn’t gone back to revisit the document, and review what I’d written, I’d have left myself following an incorrect research trail and potentially led others astray as well. A really stupid beginner’s error despite years of experience. You might be interested in my post about the success, the surprise and the assumptions stupidity.  

I certainly hope I’m not the only one to make such a silly mistake which is why the revisit, record, revise steps are so important. We need to do them in a cool moment not while we’re in the thrill of the hunt for more data and excited by each new discovery.


Of course with so many records coming online it’s tempting to just keep searching for new and fascinating titbits about our families. Still we’d be wise to stop every now and then, and revisit what we’ve written or recorded in our family trees. 

Revisit those documents we have stored, look again at that photo we’ve been mystified by, and assess whether there are certificates we need to purchase,  microfilms to be ordered in or another avenue of research to be explored

Record each new discovery and assess what its impact is on the discoveries we’ve made before. 

Revise our assumptions and family links. There is a constant flow between revisiting, recording and revision. 

How do you approach your research and do you use any of these steps? Have you made silly mistakes that needed revision?

Friday, 19 September 2014

Have you thought about joining a Family Society, Association, or Organization?

When I first started to explore my family history, I discovered periodicals that were produced by Family Organizations.  These presented wonderful clues for me.  I was able to follow their research to know how and where to explore to prove my ancestors.  Sometimes the thesis that a researcher on the family presented proved wrong, but isn't that the purpose?  You present and idea and then prove or disprove it?  They collaborate with information and delight in sharing pictures or "finds" they have made.  It is a place you can bounce ideas off of.  Researchers are the beneficiaries of the newsletters or publications which the member's donations fund the subscriptions to various libraries. (I funded the Vance Newsletter for Clayton Genealogical Library in Houston.)  Many now have a DNA project they manage for their surname.  Don't be discouraged if you aren't a male descendant. Many are beginning to recognize the value of atDNA tests (autosomal) and are adding them.
My example of a newsletter front.

How do you find your "Family Organization?"  Some Organizations are a Surname that pulls in people that had the same surname.  I found in the United States, it often follows the theme of a myth, for example:"three brothers came to the United States..." For my Mayflower ancestors, there were is the lineage society of the Mayflower and individuals, such as The Pilgrim John Howland Society.  I am being simplistic here; there are many family societies of all shapes and sizes. Some require a membership fee, usually because they have a project which fees provides funds to support.  Some don't have membership fees, but do require a pedigree to prove relationship.  Again, I am just giving examples.  
Finding your Family Organization or Association may prove problematic.  You can find some that are listed in books written by people who have researched names, periodicals in the genealogy department, and organizations like the Federation of Genealogy Societies membership.  Directory of Family Associations Paperback –1996 by Elizabeth Petty Bentley (check your local library, or it is available in paperback online) is one book available.  
On the internet, searching for a surname organization is not always intuitive.  The title could be an acronym instead of the name. Some of the organizations are not on the internet or have moved to social media sites like Facebook.  That is when organizations like the United Kingdom FFHS and Cindi’s List come in handy.
I have the privilege of helping compile and add Family Organizations to a FamilySearch Wiki page.   It has been sad to see many old organizations have disbanded because of age related problems, since no new younger people showed and interest.  There are many unanswered or unproven mysteries in family files.  Those who have proven their ancestors can help the new or continuing researcher to sort out the records best for the researcher's use. There is good to be done by participating in a Family Society.  I digress.
Going back to my "job", for those of you that know of a Family Society, Organization, or Association, come to the Wiki, see if it is there, if it is not add it.  The word is Wiki. It is for anyone to edit, correct or add information to. It is good advertising to seek out members.
These are some resources for seeing if your Family Society is still active and you can join. 
Some family societies join State and Nation Societies where you can find a list.
Federation of Genealogical Societies
Directory of Family Associations Paperback –1996 by Elizabeth Petty Bentley (check your local library, or it is available in paperback online. 
Cyndi's List has Surname, Family Associations and Family Newletters.  unfortunately through no fault of her own, many links are broken.   
Sometimes when associated with a specific organiztion you can find them on the Wikipedia such as the List of Mormon Family Organizations.  It says Mormon but many are New England ancestors common to member and nonmember alike.
Another resource is GenWeb Counties like Washington, Tennessee, they list Associations related to their county. 
Some Blogger's have lists on their blogs too. 
This is the FamilySearch Wiki pages. It is a work in progress; names have been searched and discovered through the internet. 

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Hidden from history? The scandalous story of the Redit women from Suffolk

Firstly, an apology for not writing my monthly slot on this blog throughout the summer.  A combination of having to frantically meet my publishers deadlines for my local history book, coupled with the long school summer holidays and having to “entertain” my son put paid to my blog writing activities. 

But, I am now pleased to say that my local history book Bishop’s Stortford Through Time is now available in the UK on Amazon (book and Kindle); and will be released on 28 September on the American Amazon.com.  I have yet to see my own copies of the book, but from the proofs of the book, I am very happy with the result.

Bishop's Stortford Through Time by Kate Cole

Are our female ancestors 'hidden from history'?

Whilst researching my book, I discovered several “family history” stories about local people and was able to incorporate some of them into my book.  One story which stood out to me was about a wealthy Victorian childless couple who gave to the town of Bishop’s Stortford a very grand water-fountain.  This water fountain was installed in the 1870s at a very popular and busy crossroads in the town; and used by many weary Victorian and Edwardian travellers.  Whilst researching this story, what struck me the most was that, although the inscription has on it the names of a husband and wife, Edwin and Eliza Eyre, it was highly likely that the bequest to the town was the result Eliza’s money.  She had been left a substantial amount of money by a very wealthy uncle, and it was probably this bequest which resulted in the gift of the water fountain to the town.  As the uncle’s bequest was in the late 1860s (i.e. before the Married Women’s Property Act of 1870 and 1882), legally her money would have belonged to her husband, Edwin Eyre.

The Eyre's water fountain - Bishop's Stortford

I have read several other accounts of Bishop’s Stortford’s water fountain, and in all other accounts I’ve read, Eliza’s financial contribution has been ignored, because researchers automatically assumed the gift to the town was from Edwin’s money. The story of the Eyres brought home to me that when conducting genealogical or family history research, the female line cannot be ignored. Yes, it is sometimes harder to find our female ancestors, but they are very rarely totally “hidden from history”.

My great-grandmother - Louisa Parnall

One such female ancestor that has intrigued me over my years of research is Louisa Parnall – my paternal great-grandmother – the mother of my grandfather – and her family. The Parnall family has long fascinated me (always spelt Parnall, never, ever with an “e”). But, I have always found it very difficult to retell their particular story because there just is so much evidence about them and their activities.  I have a mountain of information, documents and photos about them all.  It's that rare occurrence when there is simply too much evidence about a particular family to make it all into a coherent story!

Louisa Parnall - shortly before her 1880 marriage

The Parnalls from Llansteffan, Wales

In a nutshell, four brothers and one sister left the tiny rural village of Llansteffan, in Carmethenshire, Wales sometime between the 1820s and 1833 and headed for the bright lights of London. The two younger brothers and the sister (Robert, Henry and Anne) found that the pavements of London were, indeed, lined with gold and so made their fortune in the clothing industry.  They ultimately died with enough wealth to make them each the equivalent of today’s multimillionaires.

Sadly, the two older brothers (William and Thomas), did not make their fortunes, and so both, at different times, were made bankrupt and thrown into debtors’ gaol. Both, probably as a consequence of their financial misfortunes, died relatively young in their 40s/50s. William was my 3x great grandfather – Louisa being his grand-daughter. Fortunately, the successful siblings looked after William’s many children and grand-children – employing some of them, making others their heirs, and leaving substantial bequests in their wills to all of them – including my great-grandmother (their great-niece).  Thomas appears to have not married and died childless.

When researching the story of the Parnalls, it has always been very easy to track down Robert Parnall and his brother Henry Parnall because they had a very large warehouse/factory in the City of London (Bishopsgate) and in Suffolk, and employed many hundreds of people. I have even tracked them down on Google through a very tenuous link that one of Jack the Ripper’s (suspected) victim’s lovers worked for them! Even poor William and Thomas Parnall can be tracked down via Google because of their bankruptcies.

Tallis’s London Street views - Bishopsgate Without (1838-1840).
The Parnall's first factory is shown at number 100.  Ultimately they had 2 factories on this very busy London high-road.

Henry Parnall in 1860 in the churchyard outside St Botoph's Church, Bishopsgate.
He left a substantial will bequest to St Botoph's Church for them to maintain their graveyard as a garden for use by the general public.  Thus my ancestor has ensured that many of today's City-workers have somewhere to sit in the fresh air on a sunny day.
Image appears by kind permission of  City of London's Collage Collection

But over my many years of research into the Parnalls, I’d totally ignored their wives.

The wives of the Parnall brothers

A few years ago, the British Newspaper Archive came online and a whole new world of genealogical research opened up – newspaper articles. So I started entering in my Parnall names, and as expected, found plenty about Robert's and Henry's two large warehouses in Bishopsgate and also their factory in Suffolk. However, all of a sudden, my searches threw up the story of William Parnall’s wife (William being my bankrupt direct ancestor). But, rather than being a story about the Parnalls, this was the story of his wife, Mary (also my direct ancestor) and her sister, Emma.  Both were the children of the very respectful schoolmaster of Grundisburgh, Suffolk and his equally respectful wife, Mary and Nathaniel Redit (my 4x great-grandparents).

The Redit's story starts when William was an up and coming successful businessman – long before his financial woes – and long before his brothers Robert and Henry were even old enough to come to London to seek their fortunes.  According to newspaper reports dating from 1833, William's wife, Mary Redit, was "extremely well married, and living in London".  The Parnall siblings' father, Edmund Parnall, was a tenant farmer in Wales and could hardly be described as well-to-do.  Therefore, William had, by 1833, become so successful that Mary Redit had married "extremely well".  The story of the Redit women was told through the eyes of local and national newspapers.  Reporters delighted in recounting an extremely scandalous and juicy legal story of unrequited love whilst it was played out in the court-rooms of Bury St Edmunds.  The story of the Redits even made The Times newspaper and was probably debated over the breakfast table of many middle and upper-class houses!  According to reports, the court-house itself was packed and "the ladies, to the infinite disappointment of their curiosity, were ordered out of the court."

The Redit women of Grundisburgh, Suffolk

The newspaper account below is from The Times newspaper for Tuesday 6th August 1833.  Emma's case was also reported in the national newspaper, The Observer, along with all the local East Anglian newspapers.

Emma Redit - Breach of Marriage Contract 1833Emma Redit - Breach of Marriage Contract 1833Emma Redit - Breach of Marriage Contract 1833Emma Redit - Breach of Marriage Contract 1833Emma Redit - Breach of Marriage Contract 1833Emma Redit - Breach of Marriage Contract 1833Emma Redit - Breach of Marriage Contract 1833

By awarding Emma £500 in damages (a substantial amount in 1833), the judge and jury clearly believed that Emma had not misbehaved, nor had she had a miscarriage.  So was not of loose virtue. She was vindicated, and her potential suitor had been found guilty of the civil crime of Breach of a Marriage Contract.

Emma’s breach of marriage was retold in even greater detail in the many different local newspapers - each newspaper relaying different aspects of the case. Her mother and her 4 sisters (including Mary Parnall nee Redit) had all been called as witnesses. Many of the newspaper reports recorded their testimonies as to their own and Emma’s behaviour. This case was not just about Emma’s good virtue, but it had put into the question the entire Redit family’s morals. Emma’s mother, Mary (my 4x great-grandmother) seems to have been on the witness stand for a long period of time and she, out of all the Redit women, was personally held to account by barristers acting for Lucock.

Mary Redit testified that:-
 “I am mother of Emma Redit, who is my third child. My two elder daughters are married [this included Mary Parnall]. Emma is now 23. My husband died in February 1832; he kept a school at Grundisburgh 26 years. Defendant’s family had lived at Grundisburgh 30 years; we were intimate. Mr Lucock’s family consisted of a daughter and son. Mr Lucock [father] died in July 1831. Defendant was a scholar at my husband’s school, he was about 13 years old when he left. Defendant continued to live at the house where his father died. Mrs Grimwood (defendant’s sister) died about the end of last year. Defendant’s [Lucock] visits were frequent at my house about February and March 1831. We considered him as the intended husband of Emma. He came there much more frequently than he had previously done; and he paid more marked attentions to my daughter. He took her to Woodbridge Theatre, with her younger sister. My daughter was much attached to the defendant. [Note in the newspaper’s account: Letters were put in [to court] and identified as being in the handwriting of the defendant]. One day my daughter said she should like a letter on a plain piece of paper better than one he had given her; and he gave her another letter in which he promised to make her his wife. At that time and afterwards he was received in [the] witness’s family as her daughter’s future husband. Witness heard defendant say, he should not have a house to seek for, as he had one, and an income. He said the house was left in his father’s will to him (this was before his father’s death). He said rather more than half the property was coming to him. The latter part of March, defendant’s visits became less frequent. (Another letter was then put in [to court] and read, in which the defendant apologized for omitting to perform some engagement). When his visits were less frequent, I called a third time on Mrs Grimwood; it was not till I called a third time on Mrs Grimwood that I saw the defendant. I than asked him what he meant by not paying his visits to my daughter, as he promised; he had promised to take her to the theatre. I asked him why had had not answered my daughter’s two notes. He said, he never intended to come or to answer any notes. I asked him for his reasons, and he said he had none. I told him he must have heard something***; he replied he, he had not. He said, he never intended to make any explanation of his conduct, for if he loved the girl one day, it was no reason he should the next. I asked what he had done with the notes; he said he had burnt them. Defendant never renewed his acquaintance with my daughter after this period, and he never assigned a reason for his conduct.” 

***My note: Is Emma’s mother unwittingly telling us here that there had been rumours about Emma’s virtue and her alleged miscarriage?  Had Lucock heard rumours about Emma - hence him breaking off the engagement?

Mrs Redit was cross-examined by Lucock’s barrister. Through the newspaper’s account of the cross-examination, it is clear that Lucock’s barrister was putting her own name, and that of her late husband’s Nathaniel’s name, into disrepute.  Thus, the entire Redit family was on trial.  Moreover, the implications are clear in the newspaper reports: Lucock thought Emma and her family were gold-diggers and after his money.  Mrs Redit testified that:-
“My husband [Nathaniel] did not die in very good circumstances. I did not dictate the letter produced. Nothing was said about a stamp for that letter. [This appears to have been the letter where Lucock had declared that he would marry Emma] Young Lucock kept his birthday at the public-house, called the Dog; I was not there. I never took wine or spirits at that house in an unbecoming way; never took more than two glasses. I may have gone to the public-house sometimes three times in the year. Defendant came of age on the 22nd and gave the promise of marriage on the 28th. I never saw defendant intoxicated in my life. He came home with my husband about three o’clock one day. They came to have a beef steak together, they had a little wine.” 
The implication above was that Mrs Redit had made young Lucock write the letter of his intention to marry Emma whilst he was drunk after a heavy drinking session with Mr and Mrs Redit on his 21st birthday.  The landlord of the Dog public house was called as a witness to repudiate Mrs Redit's testimony. He testified that:-
“The defendant’s birthday was kept at his house [i.e. The Dog] in February 1831: eleven people were present and Redit [i.e. Nathaniel, Emma’s father] and the plaintiff left the house [pub] together and proceeded to Redit’s house. Mrs Redit was once at his house in company with Captain Drury (since dead) and her husband, and on that occasion drank nine glasses of sherry. He saw her take five, and the Captain said she had drank nine”. 

(An eyewitness account of five sherries - but more than likely nine sherries!!! My 4x great-grandmother seemed to have liked her drink!)

In the end, as we have seen, despite all the mud-slinging, Emma's good name was proved, and she won her case for breach of marriage.  It must have been unbearable for this family to be thrown into such an intense spotlight.  Even though Emma won her case, the Redit name must have been ruined locally.  After all, as the old saying goes, there is no smoke without fire...  Emma's story could have ended here, despite her winning in court, her good name and virtue (and that of her family's) ruined forever and her reputation in tatters.  She must have been very notorious, and would have had extremely poor marriage prospects.

The Redits of Suffolk and the Parnalls of Wales

However,  Emma’s story did have a happy ending. On the 7th August 1836, three years almost to the day after the court case, Emma married her sister Mary’s husband’s brother, Robert Parnall in Soho, London. (I wonder if the date of her marriage was merely coincidence? Or did she use the date to reinforce the message that she was the innocent victim of scandalous gossip...)  This was the very same Robert, who, as I previously recounted further up this post went on to find his fame and vast fortune on the streets of London. At the time of their marriage Robert was 20 and Emma was 26 years old. Whatever earlier escapades Emma got up to, the Parnall family obviously believed her story and all the Parnalls stood by her and the other Redit family members. Emma died in the 1860s and lived much of her life in London, Brighton, and Llansteffan as a rich wife to a highly successful and well-connected Victorian merchant. It is not a far leap of the imagination to speculate that Emma’s £500 damages from her breach of marriage to Lucock might have been used to found the Parnall’s substantial business empire.

The newspaper reports show how close the Redit family had been, and how they all testified for Emma and her virtue.  It is perhaps of a consequence of this that when William Parnall was made bankrupt in 1847, his brothers and their wives stuck by him and supported his vast family for many many years. The Parnalls and Redits were doubly related with sisters Emma and Mary marrying brothers Robert and William; and they really did look after their own.  When Mary fell on hard times with the bankruptcy of her husband, Emma must have repaid the debt of the sisterly loyalty by financially supporting Mary's children (and even later, Mary's grandchildren) through the businesses of Robert and Henry Parnall. They say that revenge is best tasted cold.  Emma certainly did get her revenge on Lucock: the Parnalls became so much wealthier than Lucock could ever have imagined. Emma was far from the gold-digger Lucock accused her of being, as Robert Parnall was not wealthy when they married.  But, she did became fantastically wealthy through the business of her incredibly successful husband.

Grundisburgh churchyard, Suffolk

During my years researching the Parnalls, I have come across many “internet cousins” who have researched various parts of the Parnall story (although I am the only one to have tracked down Emma Redit’s story and her breach of marriage contract court-case). One thing that has always puzzled all of us is why did Robert and Henry Parnall set up a large clothing factory in the rural Suffolk village of Chevington when they were all from Wales? This factory in rural Suffolk, at its height of success in the 1850s, employed over 600 people! That is a tremendous number of people for a tiny rural village, although, most workers were probably women working piece-rate in their own homes. The story of the Redit sisters from Suffolk and their marriage to the Welsh Parnalls part way gives one explanation why the Parnalls might have set up their clothes-making empire in Suffolk.

But, perhaps even more reason for the Parnall's connection to Suffolk, is the tiny grave I discovered this summer in the churchyard of Grundisburgh's parish church  – a tiny grave laid next to the grave of Nathaniel Redit, schoolmaster of Grundisburgh.  Nathaniel, the father of the scandalous Redit sisters, and the husband of the sherry-loving Mary Redit. The tiny grave next to Nathaniel's is that of an infant, Robert, the eldest child of Robert and Emma (nee Redit) Parnall. Long before their vast riches came their way, their first born child died as an infant, and instead of being buried with his father's Parnall family in Llansteffan in Wales, was laid to rest in the tiny Suffolk churchyard in Grundisburgh – the home of the Redit family.

Nathaniel Redit
School master in this parish 30 years.
Highly esteemed.
Born 17th July 1778.  Died 8th February 1832.

Robert Redit Parnall.
Infant son of Robert & Emma Parnall of London.
Grandson of the late Nathaniel Redit school master of this parish.
Born 16th June 1837. Died 16th January 1838.

It is interesting that Nathaniel was "Highly esteemed".  With his death occurring just 18 months before his daughter's Emma's court case, it could be speculated that his headstone was put up after the court case (perhaps at the time of the infant Robert's death) and, with his epitaph, the Redit's were, once again, asserting that they were a respectable family.  The infant Robert's epitaph also shows that the Redits and Parnalls still considered themselves to be firm respectable members of this small rural community.  Robert Parnall was an extremely shrewd business-man: it might have made considerable financial reasons to have part of his empire so far out of London in rural Suffolk.  But perhaps even more so, he was appeasing his wife, the redoubtable Emma (nee Redit) so she could visit her two sisters still living in Suffolk, and visit the grave of her only child, Robert Redit Parnall.

Of Emma's hapless one-time suitor, Lucock, I know nothing further.  Not even his christian name.


This is a warning to all genealogist everywhere – follow up your female family line – you never know quite what you’ll find.  Your ancestors, like mine, might have been the subject of many heated debates conducted over the breakfast tables of the great and good from nearly 200 years ago!  I am very proud of my sherry-loving 4x great-mother and her four daughters - the Redit women of Grundisburgh, Suffolk.

The Dog Inn, Grundisburgh.
The location of Lucock's coming-of-age party when he drunk heavily with Emma's father,
the school-master Nathaniel Redit.  Also the scene of Mary Redit's tippling of no less than 9 sherries in one session.

The village of Grundisburgh on a postcard from the early 1900s - some 70 years after the scandalous events of the Redit women.  The school on this postcard is still there in the village.  However, as it was constructed in the Victorian period, this was not Nathaniel Redit's school.  The village of Grundisburgh is tiny, it is therefore possible that Nathaniel's school was located in roughly the same position as the later Victorian building.

Grundisburgh Church.  Underneath the round tree on the right of this picture lies the remains of Nathaniel Redit and his baby grandson, Robert Redit Parnall.  There is a tree at this location today (probably the same tree as the one in this Edwardian photograph) and this tree has ensured that Nathaniel's and Robert's graves are relatively untouched and unmarked from nearly 200 years of standing in a rural churchyard.  Their graves having been protected from the elements was there waiting for me, their direct descendant, to find and finally link together the story of the Parnalls of Llansteffan, Wales and the Redits of Grundisburgh,Suffolk.

Remember back in January when I told you that my own Family history is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're gonna get?  Well, the story of feisty Emma Redit, her (clearly non tee-total) mother and her loyal sisters are among the best and finest chocolates in my box of chocolates!


I look forward to sharing with you more of my discoveries over the coming months - see you next time on this blog on 18th October 2014. In the meantime, you can catch me on my blog Essex Voices Past or on twitter @EssexVoicesPast

You may also be interested on my previous posts on this blog
April 2014: Happy Easter 1916?
March 2014: Who do you think they were?
February 2014: Family History Show and Tell
January 2014: Family history is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're gonna get

I have written more about my Parnall ancestors here
The Coles of Spitalfields Market

 © Essex Voices Past

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Sounds Easy - - Until - - Ordering Memorial Markers

Sounds easy - - ordering headstones and monuments for Man’s family members whose final resting places have been unmarked for years.

Sounds easy - - until you actually start the process.

Suggestion - - maybe just do one at a time?  Dealing with three cemeteries has proven to be a bit of a challenge.  They all have different rules.  Different requirements.

Here are some suggestions, from things I am learning along the way.

Call each cemetery first thing.  As soon as you decide you want to place monuments, call the cemetery.  Ask questions.  What requirements, what restrictions are enforced.  Keep good notes, you are going to need them.  Get contact information, names, full street address and phone numbers, Also obtain the full address and contact data on where the memorial is to be delivered. Street address for delivery could well be different from where the office is.

Some of the restrictions will be size, some will be the type of materials required. Some cemeteries only allow bronze flat memorials.  Some restrict the smallest size allowed, or the largest size allowed.  Some require that “companion” stones are only one specific size.  (BTW, a companion stone is one that has two names, usually a husband and wife on the same stone.)

Inquire as to requirements for the base to set your memorial on.  Marble, or concrete.  Does the cemetery require that you have a request in for said base by a certain date, here in Michigan, there is one cemetery we are dealing with that must have an order for the base placed no later than September 30th.  Or, we wait till next spring.

And, of course, you need to know, what fees are involved. After you pay the price of the memorial marker, how much will you need to pay to the cemetery to have the memorial installed to their specifications.  One cemetery charges $600.00 for a companion stone.  One cemetery charges $250.00 for installation of a single bronze.  Once cemetery is replacing some weird little concrete stub of a “marker” for a minimal installation cost to us.

Work closely with the cemetery and the monument makers.  Put them in touch with each other. One cemetery we are dealing with requires a form to be filled out by the monument maker which we must sign off on or they will not accept delivery.  One cemetery has suggested a rubbing be made of other family stones.  They require as an exact match as possible.  You try matching a stone, in color and style when what you must match is over 70 years old.  Hint: they don’t quarry that kind of stone anymore.

You will find that if you use suppliers other than those recommended by the cemetery your fees and requirements may change.  If they order from a company they deal with continuously, you may or may not pay more.  The cemetery may be more or less cooperative.  They have reasons, to be uncooperative, some of the reasons probably have to do with $$, but, some of the nightmare stories of stones arriving in horrible shape and inscribed horribly, well, you can understand the cemeteries cringing when you state a desire to deal with other than their usual vendors.

Ask about lead time required by the monument supplier.  Ask prices.  Ask for discounts. Yes, at least try, ask for discounts.

You might consider informing the cemetery of exactly how the stones will be inscribed.  With Man’s grandfather we are working on having BOTH of his names inscribed.  The cemetery needs to know this.

I have asked the cemeteries what dates they have recorded.  This was particularly important when I was trying to come up with a birth date for Man’s grandmother.  It took me two days to review and consult and draw up a time line listing of her ages.  She was vain, she “fibbed” about her age on every single document.  And, oh, her death certificate, had her aged 61, but, the death date and the birth dates recorded do NOT figure up to 61.  We had different days, different months and a plethora of different years.  We had to “settle” on one set of dates, as Man was not going to consider a birth stated as “About 1888 to 1893".

Ask for photos of suggestions and of the final product from your vendor.  I am asking for photos of the final product before they are shipped.

Yes, it sounded easy - - in theory - - 

* Images of the headstones are mock ups of the stones/memorials we hope to be ordering in the next week or so.


Sunday, 14 September 2014

Be alert (and other geneagoogle tips)

I’m guessing you use Google in your genealogy research. But are there any new tricks to help you search for your family history? Here are some ideas.

A few days ago I posted on a couple of Facebook groups – it was about a talk being given in Newcastle, New South Wales, by the makers of a documentary looking at the lives of Irish ‘famine brides’ -orphans shipped to Australia - and convict women.

I couldn’t go. I’m on the wrong side of the Pacific. But I thought my fellow Aussie genealogists might be able to. So I was surprised to get a couple of comments saying ‘I didn’t know it was on, and I live in Newcastle’. Which is a real shame. But it got me thinking – how did I, living in the UK, know about an event taking place all those miles away, when people there had no idea it was happening?

The wrong kind of convict (S. Olkowicz. CC attrib 2.5 via Wikimedia)
The answer – Google Alerts. I had one set up for convict Australia. In fact I have one for convict Australia -cichlids, since I got fed up with being notified about fish for sale. (Stripey blighters from Central America, since you ask.) I’ve got several alerts set up, mostly to do with genealogy or history, and they’re just one way I keep up with the latest news, along with blogs, Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Do you use Google Alerts? They’re easy to set up, but you’ll need a Google account, which most people already have. Here’s a quick how-to if you’d like to get your own alerts.

Log into your Google account. Go to or click http://www.google.com/alerts (I’m guessing you’re online if you’re reading this). You’ll see a box like this:

Type in what you’d like Google to search the web for and select show options to customise what information you want delivered, how often and where to:

 … And create your alert.

This will keep you updated on anything on the web with the words (for instance) ‘worldwide’ and ‘genealogy’ in it; if you just want news about the exact phrase "worldwide genealogy" use double quotes (like I did there) as you would with any Google exact phrase search.

I expect there are much more sophisticated things you can do with alerts, but this suits me fine. I haven’t tried any other Google search tricks with it.

But in case you need a reminder, here are the search symbols (there’s probably a better geeky term for them) which I find useful for my own geneagoogling:

To search for an exact phrase: use double quotes at the beginning and end
"worldwide genealogy"
For two or more words which must turn up in the results, but not necessarily in that order, use AND
genealogy AND worldwide
To search for two words or terms at the same time, use OR (this will find family history and family tree)
family history OR tree
To exclude a word which might fill your search with unwanted results, use a minus sign (I used this to find my ‘ghostly’ 3xgreat-grandmother)
"sarah marshall" -finding
To search one specific website, use site:
To search within a range of numbers – now this could have been invented for us! – use two dots
births london 1850..1865
To find a phrase where you can’t remember some of the words, use the asterisk wildcard
who * you think * are

Have you got any search tips to share with us?

Happy geneagoogling!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Did any of your relatives pass through Ellis Island?

When I saw that on Mondays with Myrt on 8th September 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkLDfZbb2iA one of the topics to be discussed was the updated website for Ellis Island I did not expect to find anyone on the website from my family. 
After all my family, apart from one aunt, have always lived in England.

I have deep roots in England and most of my family can be found in just a few counties in the south of the country.
Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire are where they lived with a few exceptions.
So given this they would appear to be the type of people who liked to stay close to home.
However they did migrate within England, family in Dorset and Wiltshire moved to Hampshire.
Some, in more recent times, also travelled further afield (one aunt emigrated after marrying an american soldier after WW2).

Southampton, my hometown, is one of the major UK ports.
More about its history can be found here http://www.plimsoll.org/ .

Living in a major port unsuprisingly some of my family had connections to the maritime trade. 
Some have visited places far across the seas as serving members of the merchant navy. 
My grandfather worked for the Royal Mail Steamship Company and travelled to South America. 
I also know that my uncle worked on the passenger liners, as I have in my possession his discharge books. 
What I had not realized is that now the records go up to the 1950's. He frequently sailed between Southampton and New York in the period now covered by the records.

So I entered his initial and surname, narrowed the search by first name and found him entering Ellis Island on the ship Queen Elizabeth. 
Because there was an index, below the image of the ships manifest, I noticed another person with the same surname. 
This second individual is a good match for my grandfather's brother as the first name and year of birth match and he is a British national.

If you want to try out the new passenger search here is the link 

You may be surprised and one of your family may have been recorded before it close 60 years ago.

I have also found my aunt and 2 of her children but they may not have actually passed through Ellis Island as this was in 1956.