Friday, 31 October 2014

Back To The Days When It All Began

Today,  Protestants from all over the world celebrate Reformation Day. It was on October 31, in the year 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Schloßkirche in Wittenberg. At least this is how the story goes. 
But that’s not what I want to write about. I want to take this opportunity to introduce to you my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Adam Reichardt, also known as Adamus Ricardus, one of the first Lutheran pastors in Germany. He was born in the town of Sangerhausen, not far from Martin Luther’s hometown of Eisleben, in 1525. He was baptized catholic but as the reformation was introduced to Sangerhausen in 1539, he and his parents probably became protestants. He enrolled at the University of Vienna in Austria on the fourth of April 1550 and became a Schulmeister (teacher). But he received a call from his homeland to help establish the new Protestant Church and his life would dramatically change.

As the majority of the population in that part of Germany had adopted the Lutheran faith, there was a lot of administration work to be done. It wasn't enough to have believers, the existing (former catholic) parishes needed to be re-organized  and new ones needed to be established. While finding church buildings wasn't such a problem, there was a severe lack of pastors who were needed as soon as possible. Therefore church government made the decision to take in men without any theological education or even catholic priests who had converted. Like Adam Reichardt there were other teachers who wanted to become a pastor but there were applicants with other occupations as well, like sextons and craftsmen and even a servant had applied. All of them were ordinated, often only after having received some kind of theological “crash course”.  It would take years until there were enough pastors with a proper theological education for every parish. 

Adam Reichardt was ordinated in Wittenberg on Friday, November 16, 1552 by the Pastor Johann Pommer and was sent to Immenroda right away, where he stayed for one year. He then left for the parish of Niederröblingen/Helme.

In 1574, it was time to move again, this time he took over the parish of Osmünde, close to the city of Halle (definitely a career step!). 

The church of Osmünde, first mentioned in 1191 (but the village is probably 300 years older), had once been a well known Pilgrimage Church due to its statue of the Virgin Mary.  With the death of the last Catholic Pastor in 1538, it had become a protestant church. Reichardt's predecessor and first evangelical pastor of Osmünde had been Matthias Fischer (Piscator), a pastor who had studied theology and had been ordinated by Philipp Melanchton. These two pastors should change community life in this parish and form the new, evangelical church. The statue of the Virgin Mary was removed and the pilgrimages to this church were put to an end. Also, they made several changes in the church itself: the altar stone from catholic times was removed and became a step to the new altar and all parts of the old altar except of the figures of Johannes and Maria were removed.
Due to the increase of population and parish members, they needed more space and therefore decided to build a gallery, which was completed in 1581.
Adam Reichardt remained in Osmünde for the rest of his life, retired in 1600 and died two years later.

What would he have thought if he would have known that only 16 years after his death, there would be a war between Evangelical and Catholic States which would last for 30 years and would lead to devastation, famine, pestilence, dislocation and bring death to many, all in the name of God? Osmünde itself was sacked several times by different troops and in some years the villagers even left in fear of loosing their lives, hiding in the marsh land for months. The Church was damaged more than once, but survived and was restored after the war. And what survived as well, was the gallery with the carving that reads ARP 1581  (Adam Reichardt Pastor).


But I do not want to let you go without a song that was sung in the church of Osmünde at the time of my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, the Pastor Adam Reichardt:  Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, written by Martin Luther, who wrote the Ninety-Five Theses and nailed them on the door of the Schloßkirche in Wittenberg (or did otherwise), 497 years ago on this very day.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Memorial Day Foundation's War Memorial Registry

As we in the U.S. get ready to celebrate the second of our two annual holidays to commemorate veterans, who served in the armed services, I wanted to review a website volunteers may use to upload photographs and information about war memorials into a war memorial registry.

Veterans' Day is observed on the 11th day of the 11th month. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed 11 November 1919 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words:

"To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations..."

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs, the original concept for the celebration was a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m., the exact time the armistice went into effect. An act of Congress in 1938 made the day a legal holiday. In 1954 the act was amended and the name of the holiday changed to Veterans' Day in order to honor service men and women from all U.S. Wars.

Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France,
wait for the end of hostilities. This photo was taken at 10:58 a.m., on
11 November 1918, two minutes before the armistice ending World War I
went into effect

I began photographing war memorials this year as part of Heather Wilkinson Rojo's, the author of the Nutfield Genealogy blogHonor Roll Project. The objective of the project is to transcribe the names of soldiers on war honor roll memorials so they are available on search engines for future genealogists and descendants to discover. Heather marshals her volunteers before each Memorial Day and Veterans Day then updates her honor roll page on each holiday. But I'm stealing Heather's thunder and wandering off topic...

In an effort to increase the possibility that an future descendant may learn a little more about the memorial on which their ancestor is honored, I also uploaded my war memorial descriptions and photographs to the Memorial Day Foundation's War Memorial Registry.

The Memorial Day Foundation is a tax-exempt not for profit organization created to increase awareness and respect for the holiday. The foundation provides flower bouquets when can be laid at war memorials across the country. It also maintains a website which is a crowd-sourced repository of photographs and information about almost any type of war memorial. home page

The war memorial registry is organized by state and then by city. Under each city is an index of war memorials, which are linked to a detail page about each memorial. Here is a sample of the index record for a memorial I added: War Memorial Registry index record

I began contributing to the Memorial Day Foundation last month. By in large I found it to be a positive experience.


  • It is easy to register and begin contributing. The website is intuitive to navigate
  • The contributions are moderated to ensure the quality of each entry
  • There are over 12,000 memorials listed on the site at time of this writing
  • The organization is extremely responsive. I received an email from the Executive Director the same day I started contributing to the website.
  • My user support experience was very good. I forgot to attach a photograph and received an email offering to post it for me if I would email it to the organization.


  • They do not accept Confederate war memorials even though the very holiday for which they were named commemorates both sides in that terrible and tragic war. This is my biggest pet peeve
  • Their information about Memorial Day under the Education tab is not completely accurate but supports their position not to recognize Confederate memorials. 
  • They do not have an online way for users to edit or correct their memorials
  • They do not have a separate field on the data entry form to list the names of individuals that may be listed on honor rolls
  • I am not a fan of Taps playing when you visit the website. I love Taps but do not like sites to make noise that I don't knowingly choose to happen
  • The keyword search brings back a lot of erroneous results

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Going Dutch, starting with Civil Registration

De Valk windmill, a landmark in Leiden, Zuid-Holland, The Netherlands

Back in April Yvette Hoitink issued her Ancestor Swap Challenge. Since visiting The Netherlands to attend the Gaenovium conference in Leiden earlier this month, I have been inspired to explore Dutch records. Civil registration records, the official secular records of births, marriages and deaths, are a good starting point for genealogical research. I present an investigation of these records for the city of Leiden, as a variation of Yvette’s challenge.

Online guides to the Dutch civil registration, known as Burgerlijke Stand, system include:
Comparing equivalent records from different countries is a good way to gain a deeper understanding of a record type. I regularly come across genealogists from outside the UK who are very confused by civil registration in the UK. Note that there is no British or UK-wide system, but separate and different systems for England & Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. This comparison of Dutch civil registration is with the England and Wales system only.
Netherlands England & Wales
Start dates 1795 or 1796 in Limburg & Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, March or June 1811 whole country 1 July 1837
Record closure periods Births 100 years, marriages 75 years, deaths 50 years Full details are required for GRO certificate orders from last 50 years. Indexes are un-restricted.
Record organisation Record date, year, record number Volume, page, record number, registration district
Number of copies 2
  1. Original created by municipality
  2. Copy sent to district court annually
2 or 3

Births, deaths & civil marriages –
  1. Original local registers collected by district registrar
  2. Copies sent to General Register Office quarterly (every 3 months).
  3. Religious marriages - church has its own register in addition to registrar's.
Index structure Index of district court copy register compiled every 10 years from 1813, arranged alphabetically by surname (sometimes only by first letter of surname) National index of General Register Office copy registers compiled quarterly, arranged alphabetically by surname, forename(s), referencing registration district, volume, page.

Each registration district compiles an index of its completed registers, the arrangement of which varies from district to district.
Language Dutch, French, Flemish English
Location of records
  1. Municipal registers over closure dates in city archives
  2. District court registers & 10 year indexes in provincial archives

  1. Completed local registers in district registrar's offices
  2. GRO copies at GRO
  3. Completed church registers usually in county archives
Access Everyone has access to provincial registers Access only via legally certified copies (certificates). Public access to the actual civil registers is legally forbidden. Church registers sometimes available.
Online indexes No reliable and complete index at national scale. FamilySearch recommends using WieWasWie as a general index for Dutch civil registration, but it is incomplete. Some regional and municipal archive websites have indexes. FreeBMD provides an online version of the GRO index. Some registration district indexes are at UK_BMD or on county council websites.

So, civil registration records for Leiden should be at the city municipal archive and the provincial Zuid-Holland archive. Erfgoed Leiden en Omstreken covers Leiden and surrounding municipalities. The Zuid-Holland provincial archives are housed at the Dutch national archives, the Nationaal Archief at The Hague, which is located in the province. The national website has an English version, but searches of its online catalogue return results in Dutch. I found Leiden civil registrations for 1811-1842 in the archive catalogue, but there are no online indexes or records. The municipal website is in Dutch, so time for the translation challenge.

Website translation
Website translation

For this website, Google translate proved entirely unhelpful. The Chrome browser’s built-in translate function was more useful. Both caused a noticeable delay and produce stilted English. My powers of persistence were tested, but worthwhile, as the website offers an archival catalogue, personal name search and images of original records.

Taking the marriage of Ary Coret in 1877 as an example, clicking on the entry in the search result list gives the indexed details and an image link to the original record. The index includes the names of bride, groom, fathers and mothers of both bride and groom; date and place of the event; birth place, age and occupation of bride and groom. That makes these records richly detailed compared to an English marriage register. The original contains even more information, but presents the challenge of reading old handwriting in a foreign language.

I can make out the following, but need some help with the square bracketed parts:
On the 26th December 1877, the couple appeared before the officials of the civil registration at the Town Hall in Leiden.

Ary Coret, aged 48, [a porter?] born in September 1829 in Leiden, resident in [??] was the adult son of Pieter Coret and Mary Magdalene ven de Wetering [? ???]

Elsje Gressie, aged 36, with no occupation, born on January 1841 in Leiden, resident ain [old Lange local canal?], widow of John Barentse, was the adult daughter of Gabriel Gressie [factory worker?] and Geertrui Phileman [??], residents in [?? South?? ??]

They requested to complete the marriage that had been notified on the Town Hall door on 16 December and [20th December? and ??]

No impediments to the marriage were reported, so in the presence of witnesses, the couple was asked if they accepted one another as spouses, [till death?] and promised to fulfill all the duties of marriage under the law. A declaration was made that

Arij Coret and Elsie Gressie [were married, witnessed by ? Barente, James Grijie. ? Niehuk, with some details of the witnesses and other ceremonial phrases]

[Witness signatures]

Corrections and refinements from Dutch genealogists or speakers would be much appreciated.

© Sue Adams 2014

Monday, 20 October 2014

Books glorious (emigration) books

The (mostly) Irish migration and history section of my library.
For her Worldwide Genealogy post earlier this month, Tessa Keogh wrote about a Baker’s Dozen of Genealogy/Family History Books. In a Google+ discussion, Tessa gave me the green light to appropriate her idea and write about the books that are among my own “Top of the Pops”. So this month my post is about my favourite books on migration, especially Irish migration to Australia, a topic near and dear to my heart. I hope some of these will be new to you and offer you some great reading opportunities. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they only apply to Australia as much of the information/research can also be applied to research elsewhere. Either way, it gives a better understanding of where our Irish ancestors’ migration fits into the bigger picture.  

Dr Richard Reid is one of Australia’s foremost Irish, and military, historians as well as a speaker on
Unlock the Past Cruises. If you have Irish ancestry in Australia you absolutely must get your hands on this book: buy it or borrow it from the library or a friend, if they’ll let it go. Based on Richard’s PhD thesis it is an analysis of the Irish migration to Australia in its peak period, revealing the nuances within that movement. I first read it as a thesis and was thrilled when he published the book…from my point of view it’s research gold! I wrote a review on it soon after it was published and it is worth reading even by non-Australian researchers who have Irish ancestry or an interest in migration history.
Richard Reid is also co-author or contributor to a couple of small collaborative publications for which the content vastly outweighs their slight appearance.
Visible women : female immigrants in colonial Australia. Richards, E (ed), ANU, Canberra, 1995
Poor Australian immigrants in the nineteenth century. Richards, E (ed), ANU, Canberra, 1991
Neglected sources for the history of Australian immigration.  Richards E; Reid, R; Fitzpatrick, D, ANU, Canberra, 1989.

Life and Death in the Age of Sail: the passage to AustraliaHaines, R, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2003.

I find both these books by Dr Robin Haines to provide an invaluable understanding of the background to our ancestral families’ migration. It would be interesting for north American readers to compare and contrast the management of migration to Australia with that to the America. Aimed primarily at the academic readership they offer many insights for family historians. Sharon from Strong Foundations blog has recently reviewed the latter book.

Ireland’s New Worlds: Immigrants, Politics and Society in the United States and Australia 1815-1922. Campbell, M. The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison Wisconsin 2008.

Now readily available on Kindle as an ebook, or electronically if you have university access, this is an excellent book for its cross-comparison between two Irish migration streams and how their experiences differed. Definitely worth reading by Irish historians in both hemispheres.

Atlas of the Great Irish Famine. Crowley, J; Smyth WJ; Murphy M (eds), Cork University Press, Cork, 2012.
This comprehensive study of the Famine’s impact is excellent but I find its weight a deterrent to settling down to read it. I rather wish they’d issued it in two parts or alternatively that it was available as an ebook or two ebooks.

Mapping the Great Irish FamineKennedy L, Ell P S,  Crawford, E M, Clarkson L, (eds), Four Courts Press, Dublin, 1999.

I have had this book for some time. More spatial geography in relation to the Famine allowing a focus on townland or barony in comparison across census returns. I used it for a long time before the Atlas was published.

Oceans of Consolation: personal accounts of Irish migration to Australia. Fitzpatrick, D. Melbourne University Press, Melbourne 1995.

Enjoyable and insightful this book of rare letters between emigrants and their families in Ireland opens a precious window into how early emigrants responded to their new country. Although focused on Australian emigrants, the stories would still interest readers from elsewhere in the Irish diaspora. This is one of my favourite reference books. I referred to it in this post a while ago.

Richard Griffith and His Valuations of Ireland. Reilly, J R. Clearfield Company, Inc, 2000

A book no Irish researcher should be without. There’s so much more to the townland pages which we see when we search the valuations. Reilly explains what those cryptic annotations mean in terms of your family research. If you can’t get your hands on the book, this summary article will help.

The End of Hidden Ireland. Scally R J. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996.

The story of the residents of the Ballykilcline townland after they are dispossessed from the land. Scally has done a remarkable job of bringing them into the light and demonstrated possible strategies for those interested in One Place Studies.

Migration in Irish History, 1607 – 2007. Fitzgerald, P and Lambkin, B.  Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire, 2008

I confess that I have yet to launch myself into this book but I offer it here because it addresses Irish migration across the centuries rather than the narrow timeframe we tend to focus on as family historians.

Have you read any or all of these books? What do you think of them? Would you recommend them to others?

PS Apologies for the weird formatting...I'm a wordpress blogger and sometimes Blogger defeats me.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Halloween Traditions Past and Present.

This post is totally a personal post and relating to the United States. It is nearing Halloween. My children have always loved the fun of this day.  I wanted to write my parents story, learn a bit more, and share how it has changed for my children. It was not surprising when my children asked my dad how he dressed up when he was young.  This is his answer.
His most memorable Halloween was when he and about 6 other teenage boys got together and decided to trick one of their "grumpy" neighbors.  His neighbors were not next door like what you think of today, more like miles apart.  I digress, back to the story. 
According to him they would begin thinking up mischievous things to do weeks ahead of Halloween.  They had to have a plan in order to carry out their trick and make a clean get away.  He did not remember any treats associated with Halloween. This is his story.
“We waited until dark and met in the field to carry out our plan (how they did these things I don't know). We carefully lifted up his team of mules up on the top of his shed, quickly dispersed to our homes quietly.  The next day we heard our parents talking about what had happened to Farmer ___.
We didn’t own up to anything, because we’d get a whipping.” (If it were my boys, there would have been serious consequences). He said no one ever  told.

“The other farmer we just moved the outhouse behind the pit. We heard that his son went out in the night and fell in the hole where the outhouse had been.” (I don’t know about you, but I when I was little we had an outhouse. Yuck! ) 

My dad still thought at 60 years of age that the face of the farmer would have been funny to see when he saw his mules on top of the barn. My dad was born in 1915, so he fell in the years of the expensive prank time period.  The Historyof Halloween  sheds some light on this time period.
It was not a relatable story for my children, because it would be another 8 years before they would even see an outhouse.  I thought it was a neat story, but was glad my sons were not old enough to understand. J
My mom on the other hand did not have a Halloween story at all.  She was too scared to even think about ghosts and such.  Her brother would wait until she was in the outhouse (there is that word aging) and then make ghost sounds, which would almost make her fall in the hole. 
He loved telling her the murder story of a couple in town (only 5 houses down) and how they laid in the store overnight that scared her so badly, she never forgot the story. She ended up researching it and writing about it when she became an adult. Scary things were never something she relished, but she did love having a big bowl of candy for the kids to chose from Halloween. She also loved decorating her class room at school and seeing the kids come dressed up to school on that day...another thing of the past. 
For myself, I fell in the post World War II group which also appears to relate to lack of sugar rationing and the beginning again of treats.
I only remember one time of going out trick or treating.  I was dressed up like a princess and went with a group of kids. What I remember most, was one house had really gone all out to have a scary haunted looking house.  I went up with a couple of kids to knock on the door, and a really scary looking witch opened the door.  I was so scared, I ran down the steps to run across a vacant lot.  I did not see the wire some surveyors had stretched along the property line and did a flip and ended face down in the moist cold ground.  That was it. I was up and down the road to return home as fast as I could go.  This is my only personal trick or treating Halloween childhood memory. The rest of the time it was handing out treats to those that came to our house. Something occurred to me, when I say treats, it was not always candy.  It could be popcorn balls, cookies, or many different homemade treats.

­­­­Just before my first child was born there were a series of murders in Houston that took trust of your neighbors down a huge notch.  Then a man covered up his murdering his son with putting poison in candy.  That really changed the thought on Halloween trick or treating for me.  Funny I never really thought about the trick part.  That brings us to my children and grandchildren and how trick or treat happens for them at this time period.  It appears to me it is all about costumes, well there still is candy or “alternative treats” like sugar free gum.   The treats must be in undisturbed company packaging.
They were just starting community Halloween activities in our area when my first daughter turned 5.  That was still in the 1970s.  When we moved to the country it was in full swing. Our first Halloween there was celebrated at a local maintenance barn for the “city”.  My daughter was Bianca of “The Rescuers”.   She was not into scary. 
The Hero and my mom in the background, daughters and son in foreground. I made the costumes. J

We had several years of our church creating their own Halloween activity night to keep the children off the streets.  They had games, class rooms became “homes” for the kids to drop by and trick or treat for candy.  It was a fun event that my children loved.  Then some became anti Halloween and called it Fall Festivals, it quickly died as an event, which brings me to what I see today.
In my area, the number of house to house trick or treating or church festivals the night of Halloween has gone down to almost none existent.  We have what is called trunk or treat.  I don’t think I have seen anything this elaborate, but I can understand the thought behind it. There are also Malls or department stores that have "Halloween Trick or Treat Night".  The most fun was the Assisted Living at my mother in law's. 
My mother in law at 91 in her assisted living waiting on trick or treaters.
My grandchildren, in a small town, still have house to house trick or treating and it is very important to them. This is an example of their letters to me:
my grandson

My granddaughter that decided to make her own mermaid costume. J

I really have had fun making costumes through the years.  Still do occasionally when there is special request.  I hope the fun of dressing up never goes away.  From ghosts, to pirates, to princesses, it is a fun thing to see the imaginations and creativity of youth fly to come up with the best costume ever. 
I wrote a blog on this here.  I think it is a good thing. J

Do you have a Halloween tradition or story from your area?  
See you next month.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Writing local history

This week, to celebrate the publication of my first local history book, Bishop's Stortford Through Time, I am very excited to be doing tour around various blogs talking about various aspects of my book: not just the subject matter, but also about writing and researching "history".

One post a day - so 7 posts in total - spread across a wide and diverse mix of history-related blogs.

Today, Day 1,  I will be answering questions about my book, posed to me by Julie Goucher.  Many thanks, Julie, for your questions.

Before answering Julie's questions, firstly, I have to explain the layout and format of my book.  Each page contains:-
  • a "then" picture - a historic image taken (mainly) from vintage postcards dating from the 1900s to the 1920s;
  • a "now" modern-day photograph, showing the same location, so that a comparison can be made between "then" and "now" photographs; and 
  • a short caption about the view and giving more historical information about the building/view.

A page from my book: Bishop's Stortford Through Time

And now Julie's 5 questions...

What was your catalyst that inspired you to write your book?
I have always collected old vintage postcards - ever since I was a small child.  Originally I collected postcards of cats and children's story books/nursery rhymes.  But as I grew older, and more and more interested in history and genealogy, my "taste" turned to postcards relating to towns and villages I'd lived in.  As I'd lived all over the south of England, before finally settling in Essex 25 years ago, I've ended up with a very strange and eclectic collection of Edwardian street views of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Surrey, and Essex.  My other life-long collection of postcards is that of Great War embroidered silk postcards.

So, when I started to blog Essex local history on my website, Essex Voices Past, it was a very natural progression to start to blog about my collection of Essex and Great War silk postcards.  I never dreamed I'd turn my hobby (obsession!) into a book until a Commissioning Editor from Amberley Publishing stumbled across my blog and contacted me.  Their "Through Time" series of books was 100% up my street, and after a very short negotiation period, we settled on me writing a book about the town of Bishop's Stortford in Hertfordshire.

Why a book on Bishop's Stortford?  Well, despite it being in Hertfordshire (and I consider myself to be an Essex historian), it's the very next town to where I live in Essex.  Despite being in two different counties, my Essex home town of Great Dunmow has very close (historic, modern and geographical) ties with the Hertfordshire town of Bishop's Stortford.  Also, I had driven to Bishop's Stortford every single work day for nearly 10 years because it has a mainline station with direct trains into the heart of the City of London, where I worked.   At the start my research, apart from driving through the outskirts of the town and then parking my car every single day in the town's station's car park, I knew nothing about Bishop's Stortford.  Like many people who commute into London, I was a "rooster" - out of the town all day and only coming home to sleep at night.

Researching and writing a book about the Bishop's Stortford was a wonderful experience.  In fact, I fell so much in love with the town - its past, its present and its future - that my research directly influenced my (grownup) middle daughter to fly the nest and move into a beautiful little flat in the town's centre.  She is the new generation of modern commuters who work in London but live in this very well equipped historic beautiful 21st century town.

A historic area of Bishop's Stortford

What was your strategy for the development of the book?
Although I had lived nearby the town for many years, I did not "know" the town at all.  Yes, I knew it to shop in, and to commute into London from.  But no, I didn't know any of its history.  So my first step was to see what secondary sources were out there - books written by other historians, websites run by historians, and also any interesting primary source material.  Once I tracked down my sources, I hungrily devoured them to determine the town's history.  I spent a good couple of months just reading and learning.  I'm not very good at note taking (too many academic courses have put me off note taking), so I wrote my "notes" directly into a Microsoft Word document, which ended up being turned into my book.  From this research, I got a good sense of the town and also the start of my "must haves".

I am a great believer in the premise that it is people who create history - my own take on The Great Man (and woman!) theory (although I believe that it is also "normal" men and women who make history too!).  So my next strategy was to see what Great Men and Women this Hertfordshire town had produced.  Very quickly I found that it had (at least) four famous sons who had each shaped the town (some much more than others).  Because their impact had been so great on Bishop's Stortford, each one of their stories had to be woven into my book.

Once I had my Great Men (along with their wives, sons and daughters) then the very bare bones of my book had started to take shape and that dreaded blank page was no longer blank.  The rest of the book just slotted into place after that.

Bishop's Stortford's Great Men were:-

  • Cecil Rhodes;
  • Sir Walter Gilbey;
  • Sir John Barker; and
  • Sir George Jackson.

(You'll have to read my book to find out why and how they and their families impacted the town's fortunes!)

After finding my "Great Men", my next strategy was to work out the chapters and each chapter's contents.  This was incredibly difficult to do and it was only a few weeks before I sent the finished product to my publishers that I had the final list of chapters.  My biggest problem was that I wanted to include a chapter on an area of Bishop's Stortford called "New Town" - I had a chapter ready and waiting specifically for this area.  But, after months of scouring the internet, searching through countless postcard dealers' stock, and consulting with the town's museum, I could only find a handful of postcards of this area.  Certainly not enough postcards to turn it into a reasonable, coherent and structured chapter.  So I had to ditch the chapter, and rearrange everything else to give me a more balanced book - even with such limited postcards of this tiny area.  It was a long sleepless night, shortly before my deadline, when I had to rearrange every single page into their correct (new) chapters.

In the end, I was very pleased with my final structure and my chapters.  Once I had these new chapters, everything else just fell into place.  But it was a few panic-struck days sorting it all out.

Sir John Barker          Sir Walter Gilbey

How did you decide what images to include / exclude?
To a certain extent, Amberley's very strict guidelines of only 96 pages made choosing which images I wanted to include or exclude easier.  I was also restricted in that the book could only be about the town itself - I couldn't include any sections on the many beautiful villages which surround Bishop's Stortford. Some views of town had been photographed time and time again by Edwardian photographers a hundred years ago, and so I had several cards of (roughly) the same view and had to choose the "best" view.  Other views were "one-offs" and thus much harder to source but once I had them, they HAD to be included.  In the end, I ended up with about 20 images/pages too many so had to go through a very strict culling process to whittle the book back down to 96 pages.  Some pages were culled because I didn't like the story that accompanied the images, whilst other pages were cut because I didn't think the image added to the overall book.  Other images cut because although they were excellent images, I hadn't been able to totally identify the view, or reproduce the "now" photograph.

One of my favourite views of the town.
But I couldn't include it in my book as I couldn't replicate the roof-top view.

What resources did you consult to in order to write the details which accompanied each page?
I consulted just about every single local history book/website/journal article I could lay my hands on about Bishop's Stortford! My bookcase has swollen considerably with its own little section with published histories of the town.  As well as books, I also consulted

  • Maps: I purchased a reprint of a 1896 map of Bishop's Stortford.  This map, in combination with Google Maps, accompanied me on many of my walks through the town.  Combining these two ancient and modern technologies showed up areas of the town which had changed over the last 100 years.  Once I had identified areas of change, then I could consult my books to determine why they had changed.  For example, the two maps clearly showed that the river which flowed through the town was not following the same path on the two maps.  It took a little bit of investigation to discover that in the 1970s the river was diverted and now is no longer following the path it took when the 1890s map was drawn.

  • Trade Directories:  On a few occasions, I needed directories to determine where various tradesmen's shops had been.  The combination with these directories and old maps helped pinpoint many of the buildings and views within my postcards.
  • Walking the town:  It sounds very obvious, but walking throughout the length and breadth of the town (and its river) many many times was one of the most important types of research I undertook.  It was only by walking the town that I came to realise just how important the river and canal had been to Bishop's Stortford during its period of industrialisation from the 1760s onwards. Also, I was very surprised to see amongst the town's street furniture, many plaques documenting the river's fortunes.  From when the Stort Navigation first opened in 1769 until 2014, when part of the tow-path was repaired, the town's engineers had left behind date plaques and stones commemorating various events in the river/canal's fortunes.  These plaques became very important primary sources - and even a very accurate timeline - within my investigation of the town.
  • Newspapers: The British Newspaper Archive became a "must have" resource.  For the majority of my captions, I consulted this wonderful archive to read contemporary newspaper reports about the town.  Thus, for example, after I purchased a postcard showing King Edward VII being driven through the town, I was able to find newspaper articles recounting this trip, and how the town celebrated the visit of its monarch.
This is one of my favourite photographs in my book.  It's a picture of South Mill Lock showing the 18th/19th century lock keepers cottage and a modern canal barge.  The date plaque of 2014 was "left behind" after recent repairs to the tow-path.
Over two hundred years of the The Stort Navigation captured in one picture!

Was there one or two images that you simply felt that you had to include if so how did you ensure that happened?
There were three "must include" images which I had to have in my book.
  1. The town's workhouse:  In common with many other towns across England, following the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, Bishop's Stortford had to build a workhouse to accommodate the district's poor.  Like many other workhouses, the workhouse was a classic hexagonal shape, with a formidable and severe central block, and blocks of buildings spurring off from the centre (so that families could be segregated - husbands and wives separated, and children separated from their parents).  It was a very very foreboding building.  I can imagine Victorian inmates being at absolute rock-bottom when they first arrived at this workhouse.

    Today, like many other former workhouse and former mental institutions, the buildings which were once the workhouse have been converted into des-res houses, apartments and flats.  Being of an age whereby I can remember visiting (as an adult) a close family member in a dark, severe Victorian Essex mental institution (which has now been converted into luxury flats), these new uses have always personally astounded me.  I don't know whether to admire these buildings' new uses (and they do make beautiful homes), or be depressed that this is how our society once treated the weakest amongst us.  I'm never sure if I want to move into one of these beautiful Victorian Gothic monstrosities, or have them razed to the ground.

    Therefore, images of the town's workhouse was a "must-have" because its importance in the town's past.  But, not unsurprisingly, I could not find any historic images on postcards of this building.  After all, what Edwardian photographer busy chronicling their town would have set up their cameras and taken hard-to-do photographs of such an austere and deeply depressing building? So, to ensure the building was included, I had to be contented with two modern-day "now" images of the workhouse, without an accompanying "then" image.

  2. Sir John Barker being driven to the town's station: I had a very strange experience with this postcard.  I had bought the postcard from that well-known internet site.  It was identified as a card from Bishop's Stortford, but with no other identification - so no road name but a contemporary message on the back stated that it was Sir John Barker.  When I received the postcard in the post, and looked at it, I absolutely "knew" the view I was looking it.  But how could I know it, because at that stage I didn't know Bishop's Stortford?  The postcard really bugged me and even with Google Maps' help, I couldn't identify it.

    It was when I was driving home from work one night that I finally identified my mystery card.  As normal, I pulled out of the station car park and turned left into the one-way system ready to drive through the town.  As normal, I stopped at a set of traffic lights just past the car park.  Something I'd done a thousand times before.  As I waited for the lights to change, I looked up.  And bang! There was the exact view as on my unidentified postcard. I'd found my mystery view and I had seen it a thousand times before.  In 2014, I was in the exact same location as an unknown photographer had been over a hundred years previously in 1906.

    It was one of those strange moments in family/local history when I had been going about my daily business but had managed to totally connect with the past and I knew with absolute clarity that someone had been there before me.  This was another card which HAD to be included in my book.

  3. A view I've seen a thousand times before.
    It didn't help my identification that today this road is on the town's one-way system,
    and you can only drive away from the photographer.
    Today, Sir John's car would be going in the wrong direction down a one-way street.
    But once identified, I absolutely knew that I was walking in the same steps as our ancestors.

  4. Military Funeral: In early May 2014, I purchased from a very large postcard fair a postcard of soldiers in full uniform marching through Hockerill (an area of Bishop's Stortford).  At the time, the dealer was very apologetic because the card's image on the front had been damaged.  The dealer had reduced the price  accordingly, and wanted to double check I really wanted such a damaged card.  However, the minute I clapped eyes on it, I knew that I had in my hands an extremely important postcard of Bishop's Stortford's past.  A few month's previously, I'd seen a similar postcard on the Bishop's Stortford Museum's own blog but they hadn't been able to identify their card.  I immediately guessed that I had just purchased the "sister" card to the Museum's card because the same woman passer-by was in both postcards.

    Whereas the museum had been unable to identify their card, I was lucky with my card because it had a postmark (1915) and the message on the back identified someone in the picture as being "Percy... He has just left our Brigade".  The combination of the 1915 postmark, and the fact that the message was clearly inferring that this was a recent photograph of "Percy", took me to several newspaper accounts of Bishop's Stortford's Military Funeral of the Great War. The final confirmation that I had a postcard of the military funeral was that several newspapers reported that a local contingent of the Boys' Life Brigade were present at the  funeral.

    You will have to read my book about this funeral to get the full fascinating details.  But, in short, it involved Albert Ball, who had been stationed in Bishop's Stortford in 1915 when he had been in the Sherwood Foresters Regiment (Notts and Derby Regiment).  After leaving Bishop's Stortford just weeks after the town's military funeral, Albert Ball went on to become one of the most famous airmen of the Great War and received a posthumous Victoria Cross for his valour.  Whilst I don't think my postcard depicts Albert Ball, as my postcard is of another regiment present in Stortford at that time (the Bedfordshires), it is an extremely important picture of Bishop's Stortford during the Great War.

    This postcard really was a "must have" image.  But my story/caption for this was very long, so Amberley themselves had to do a bit of rejigging of the page so that my "then" and "now" pictures could be included on the page.  But more importantly, realising its importance, my full text explaining the story of the town's military funeral was not cut nor edited.

My thanks to Julie for asking her questions

My blog tour

You can catch me on the following dates and blogs discussing "all things history" along with my recent book.

About me

I have a Masters in local and regional history from Cambridge University, a BA in history from the Open University, and an Advanced Diploma in local history from Oxford University - all studied whilst a mature student.  Bishop's Stortford Through Time is my first book for Amberley Publishing. They have commissioned me to write a further 3 books:-
  • Sudbury, Lavenham and Long Melford Through Time (due to be published summer 2015);
  • Saffron Walden Through Time (due to be published summer 2015); and
  • Postcards from the Front: Britain 1914-1919 (due to be published summer 2016).
I live in Essex, England, and regularly write about the local history of Essex and East Anglia on my blog Essex Voices Past.

©  Essex Voices Past 2014