Monday, 22 June 2015

Who Fought at Waterloo?

Placing a person with certainty at a particular event presents challenges to the family historian.  When the event is as famous as the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815, there is the bonus of copious available research and records as well as the potential for confusion, tall tales and fabrication.

The Battle of Waterloo was the culmination of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, which started in 1792.  The French Empire expanded across Europe until the failed invasion of Russia in 1812, and defeat in 1814.  Conflict between European powers extended far beyond Europe, with the French taking the Louisiana territories from Spain in 1800 and selling the territory to the USA in 1803, and the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States.  After the French were defeated in April 1814, their Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to Elba.  European armies had been dispersed when Napoleon returned to France in March 1815 and regained power.  Britain had made peace with the USA in February 1815, but British troops had not yet returned from America.

The period between Napoleon's return and Waterloo is a very short time to muster large land armies and move them to the battlefield at a time when the horse was the fastest means of transport.  Consequently many men who served during the campaign did not participate in the battle. 

The four main European powers in opposition to Napoleon, Russia, Prussia, Great Britain and Austria, each agreed to provide 150,000 troops, including cavalry and artillery, at the Treaty of Vienna on 25 March 1815.  By June 1815, the Russian army was still in Poland and the Austrian army was fighting the King of Naples, brother in law of Napoleon, in Italy.  Britain was allowed to pay for foreign soldiers to make up the British contingent, because troops in America could not be recalled in time.  Consequently the Anglo-allied army was made up of troops from The Netherlands and Belgium (17,000 men), and German states of Hanover (11,000 men), Brunswick (6,000 men) and Nassau(3,000 men) joined the King's German Legion (6,000 men), a British Army unit comprised mainly of German expatriates, and rest of the available British Army (25,000 men). 

Three armies fought at Waterloo: the French (ca. 70,000 men) versus the Anglo-allies (ca. 68,000 men) and Prussians (ca. 50,000 men).

Map of the Battle of Waterloo showing movements of the three armies

Waterloo Medals

According to The Numismatic Chronicle published in 1869, Waterloo medals were issued by the English (1816), Hanoverian (1817), Nassau (1815), Brunswick (1818), and Prussian (1813,1814,1815) heads of state.
Waterloo medals

These medals were issued to all ranks.  There are some differences between them in which military actions made men eligible for a medal.  The issue of thousands of medals generated records that potentially place individual soldiers at the battle.

French soldiers did not gain recognition until the issue of the Saint Helena Medal in 1857 to surviving soldiers of all ranks, who served between 1792 and 1815.  I found an incomplete database of soldiers granted the Saint Helena medal.

Using British records, I present an explanation of the use of medal rolls and some other military records to determine if an individual was a Waterloo hero.

British Waterloo Medal Records

For the British, this was the first time rank and file soldiers were entitled to a campaign medal.  The British medal was intended for 'Waterloo men' of the British army and the King’s German Legion, who were present at the battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras on the 16th June 1815 and Waterloo on the 18th of June 1815.  In all 39,000 medals were issued, which included all officers and men who were in the Low Countries at the time.  Lists of eligible men, used by the Royal Mint to engrave the medals with the recipient's name and distribute them, were based on regimental muster lists, but there was confusion over which units were at the battle.
British Waterloo medal

The Waterloo Medal Book (reference MINT 16/112), used by Royal Mint, is available to download in sections from The National Archives for a fee.  A version published by The Naval & Military Press is apparently the source of Ancestry's " UK, Waterloo Medal Roll, 1815" collection and FindMyPast's "Waterloo Medal Roll 1815" collection.

The Waterloo Medal Book was a simplified list, containing name, rank and regiment.  It was derived from the army's own lists, compiled for the purpose of claiming medals by the regimental officers, typically with little more detail than name, rank and comments about wounds or death.  The "War Office: Campaign Medal and Award Rolls (General Series)" (reference WO 100) collection at The National Archives includes Waterloo medal lists in the subseries WO 100/14 (Cavalry, Wagon Train, Artillery and Foot Guards), WO 100/15A (1st to 52nd Foot) and WO 100/15B (53rd to 95th Foot, Rifle Brigade, King's German Legion).  These can be downloaded for free, but are not indexed. 

The TNA Campaign Medal and Award rolls are indexed and presented as the "UK, Military Campaign Medal and Award Rolls, 1793-1949" on Ancestry.  Waterloo medal rolls can be accessed by browsing the collection or using the search form having chosen Service Region as  'Europe' and Service or Campaign as 'Battle of Waterloo 1815'.  Note that a large chunk of records relating to medals issued for service in India with the similar TNA reference WO 100/I4 have erroneously been included and indexed as part of the Waterloo medal rolls.

The medal rolls give a good indication of whether a person of interest served in the Low Countries at the time of the battle, but may not definitively prove the case.

Muster Books and Pay Lists for Ordinary Soldiers

The day to day records of the army are fabulously detailed.  The regimental pay lists record how each soldier's pay was calculated, based on rank, length of service, the number of days he served during a particular muster period and allowances.  In addition to medal entitlement, 'Waterloo men' were also allowed two years’ extra service in the reckoning of pay or pension. 

The records are housed at The National Archives and organised by regiment.  Most regiments active in 1815 are in series WO 12, but artillery and militia regiments are spread across several other series (see TNA's research guide).   A selection of muster books from TNA reference WO 12, dating from around 1815, are available as digital images in the "UK, British Army Muster Books and Pay Lists, 1812-1817" Ancestry collection.  It is not clear if the collection covers all regiments at Waterloo and it is only partly indexed.  The limited time spans leaves me frustrated as I want to track individual soldier's whole careers, not just a few years around 1815.
Royal Scots Greys depicted in "Scotland Forever"

The quarterly pay list (image nos. 103-142) for the 25th April - 24th June 1815 for the 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) reveals many men were killed on the 18th June, or absent from the muster of the 24th due to wounds.  Several men were "sent to Depot in England" on the 24th May, so missed the battle and are not listed on the medal rolls.  Later muster rolls note "Waterloo man" to help administer extra pay entitlements.

Army Lists for Officers

The official published Annual Army Lists document officer's rank and seniority.  Officers held a rank in their regiment, in ascending order, ensign (coronet in the cavalry), lieutenant, captain, major, lieutenant colonel and colonel.  Promotion within the regiment required a vacancy, but officers could hold a more senior rank in the army.  Regimental colonels were usually generals in the army.  Seniority, determined by the earliest date of promotion, placed officers of the same rank in the command hierarchy and eligibility for promotion.

Many officers who served at Waterloo were rewarded with promotion, enhanced pensions for the wounded and allowed to count two extra years service for pay purposes.

The Army Lists are available for free download from The National Archives (reference WO 65).  The highly annotated 1815 list (reference WO 65/65) shows which officers were promoted and who they replaced.  Promotions dated 18 June 1815 are a tell-tale sign of service at Waterloo.  The 1816 list contains a long list of officers honorary distinctions (medals), which were also published in the London Gazette.  "Waterloo" is noted for regiments that participated in the battle.

These records are just a starting point.  If your ancestor is included in the medal rolls, you can rapidly determine their regiment and tap into some very juicy records.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Starting out with a computer package – tips I wish I’d been given

I started using a package in 2013 and it was really exciting, just putting in a few facts and having a tree grow on the screen in front of my eyes, five generations ranging from my son to my great-grandmother in a matter of minutes, just like that.  Get me, amateur genealogist!

But later when I went back to that initial information I wished I’d done a few things differently, so thought I would share those things with you. Some of these apply in principle to any record keeping, others are more specific.

Starting out with your tree [Image from FamilyTreeMaker2012]
Get your timings right
In the excitement of entering data and building a tree don’t race ahead – when I first started using a genealogy programme I would put the year of a specific event and the fact, just so the tree would be as big as possible.  Bad plan.  While census entry dates are easy to check on, eg using Genuki, dates things like baptisms can be a faff to find again and without the precise dates you may be wasting your time, perhaps looking for a census entry in April when that person actually died in February.

Note all you know
So your ancestor lived with her six brothers and sisters? When using census returns don’t just enter the data on your ancestor, put in all the information relating to every family member into their own individual Person profile: estimated DOB, birth town, occupation. I've found that later on this has been useful, eg discovering someone I’d feared had died in childhood was actually living with a married aunt.

Note what you need
I've found it really useful customising my tasks within Family Tree Maker. Recently I've added my own categories specific to counties, specific to resources and specific to actions.

For example I could select my Cornwall, Visit & Photograph and Check with Council categories. This will filter tasks to respectively let me search for a clump of Cornish records on one online resource, plan a trip to see what my great-grandmother would have seen as she ran along her street, and to pop all enquiries relating to a particular cemetery into one email and not have to trouble a helpful but very busy Council employee several times.

Avoid horror and nausea
Always, always, make sure your information is backed up. The feeling of losing data is nauseating, like realising you've accidentally overspent by using the wrong debit card.  And indeed it would be an expensive mistake, all those years of subscriptions wasted, money down the drain. In addition to uploading my Family Tree Maker tree to Ancestry I use Outlook Cloud to upload a copy of my entire FTM tree file as back-up.  I use Outlook because my main email account is my Hotmail one but, as they say, other products are available.  I also upload my e-copies of original census returns downloaded from various sites.

I hope some of these will be helpful. And now I'm off to back up my family tree; after recommending it to you I'm feeling guilty for not doing it myself for a couple of months...

Text copyright Lynne Black 21 June 2015
First published on World Genealogy Collaboration blog site:

Friday, 19 June 2015

New Indexing Project Challenge...Gift of Love...African American Freedmen's Bureau Records

Today in celebration of the Juneteenth, there was a special news event announcing the Freedmen's Bureau Project. Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.  Specifically it dates back to 1865. It was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. It was the end of southern resistance to President Lincoln’s proclamation. It is a Holiday in Texas commemorated every year.
Reproduction of the Emancipation Proclamation at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio from Wikipedia
If you do not have a good understanding of what the African American Freedmen's Bureau Records are the FamilySearch Wiki page will give you a greater understanding of what records are involved. At the end of the page are some great links to give you further information.

FamilySearch International, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro­-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS), and the California African American Museum are partnering to make the images available, and free for anyone to view and search.  The main focus at present is for volunteer indexers to join the effort to get the records indexed in record time.  Would you like to help?  Go to the Afro­-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS) website and click on the image of Juneteenth, or go to The Freedmen’s Bureau Project and click on the volunteer now button.
Volunteer Now page for the project.

This comes at a time that the United States needs a healing element of love. The gift of volunteering to make these records searchable will be just that a labor of love.  All help will be greatly appreciated,
See you next month. 

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The Headstones Have Arrived AND Do You Digitally Edit Documents?

Last summer I wrote about ordering 3 markers for Man's family, one for his great-grandmother, Charlotte and one for his great-grandfather, Carl (husband and wife, but, not buried side by side, not even buried in the same county).  Also ordered was a companion stone for his grandparents, the Stevens.  All three markers were delivered by November 2014, but, we had no opportunity to visit and photograph the new markers at that time.  This spring (almost summer) we are visiting where possible. We are happy to report that we have managed to obtain photos of Charlotte and Carl's stones.

You can read the previous posts here: The Lazy Hazy Days of Summer, Perfect for Remembering and Headstones and here:  Sounds Easy - - Until - - Ordering Memorial Markers

Carl is buried mid state in Clare, Clare County, Michigan.  I could see no time frame that we would be able to visit there, and even though I had requested a photo on the web site, Find A Grave, months ago, the request had not been fulfilled.  I had a "brain storm" of sorts and turned to social media, posting on Facebook that if anyone would be traveling through mid Michigan and had it in their hearts to stop and take a photo, I would be so thankful.  Within minutes, and I mean minutes, FB friend Pam Warren (who is a Genealogy Blogger, at Granny's Genealogy) wrote privately and volunteered, stating she had her hubby were driving through Clare that very weekend.  Talk about a sense of timing on my part.  I had no idea.  What a true delight.  I had quite a bit of information, including a scanned copy of the lay out of the cemetery and where Carl's burial spot was, so, I forwarded that information to her right away.  I was able to include the image of what the stone was supposed to look like.  And, true to her promise in just a few days I had this lovely image of Carl's marker.  She has granted me permission to use the photo, thank you Pam, for being a good friend, and the photo.

Charlotte is buried about a hour or so from our stick built home, so one day when we were going to be about half way there doing errands, we went to the cemetery (prior to errands, but, of course) and visited her grave site and the new marker.  We visited other family markers while there.  We checked on Man's parent's stone which had "tilted" a bit, he had requested the cemetery level the marker.  He was very pleased to see it was indeed, leveled.  To say we were delighted with the new marker on Charlotte's grave is an understatement.  What a sense of closure I felt.  I had wanted these graves marked for years and now they were.

I maintain the memorials for both Carl and Charlotte, they can be found here, Carl and Charlotte.

We will personally visit the grave sites of the Stevens' in the coming weeks, with camera in hand. I am very excited about seeing the stone.

Elsewhere in my genie life:

I have been down the genie research shiny hole. Many years of Commonwealth of Virginia marriages , divorces , deaths and some birth information have been added to Ancestry dot com.   Truth is, I have not even looked at the birth information, but, one of my research buddies/angels says there is a lot of delayed info there. At some time I will visit that data base.  The marriage and death data bases have images of the actual certificates. (Note:  Recent years do NOT have certificate images online, only the indexed information is available, some images were not released due to regulations covering recent events and privacy.)  I have roots so deep in Virginia I frequently say, "you cannot dig me out".  I have been having a wonderful time digging around in the data bases.

So, the question arises, do you digitally edit documents that you find online??  Here is an example of one from the death data base, frankly, it is well digitized, clear and quite easy to read.

In it's original downloaded size it is 1.21 MB of data.  I link documents to my data base, building a "life story" via documents and photos, when I can obtain them.  I love building the life stories this way.  However, I don't care to have that large a document linked, that is a lot of storage.

So, I digitally edit and reduce the storage size.  Trim off the black sides, enhance.  And, look what I found when I did, a white box in the middle of the document:

Social security numbers have been edited out of the documents/data base.  I won't comment further on the whys and wherefores.  I just thought it was interesting what happened when I edited the downloaded document.

Have you ever edited a document to find a surprise hidden?

Happy researching, I am going back to the shiny hole of Virginia records.  Yee ha!

* The required disclaimer, I have not been asked by to review or even to use their pay web site.  I pay my fees, I use, I take my chances.  I have a more full and detailed disclaimer page on my own blog, Reflections From the Fence, you can find the disclaimers, here.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Finding vanished houses

How often have you spent time looking at old maps and documents, tracking down places your ancestors lived in... but which don’t exist any more? Recently I’ve been doing a lot of that. So this month I’m going to share some of my ancestor-mapping with you.

Because the people and places I’ve been hunting for have been in London, I’ve been very lucky to be time-travelling in a place which has been regularly mapped over centuries.

Many members of the Worldwide Genealogy community will be much more experienced at this kind of research. Perhaps you’re part of a one place study? I’d love to read your comments and suggestions.

Reading Mercury report of the murder of Celestina Christmas
The houses I was looking for were 16 and 17 Murray Street, near the New North Road in the Finsbury/Islington/Hoxton area of north London in 1856. Confession time: the people who lived there weren’t ancestors, but they were part of the story of a horrible child murder which dragged my 3x great grandmother, Julia Harrington, into the newspapers - and of another child murder at the house next door to where the victim's aunt lived. You can read about them here.

At first, I couldn’t find a Murray Street in the right area. So either it had changed its name since the 1850s or it didn’t exist any more. The next step could’ve been a lot of searching, but luckily there are two useful sources for older London street names: the Survey of London and Pubs History.

The Survey of London was published in the 1890s and is now easily available through British History Online, which is a wonderful resource for anyone researching 19th century Britain. Pubs History is surprisingly helpful because it lists old and new names for streets in England. I’d come across it while writing about one of my criminal ancestors, who was transported to New South Wales for stealing a pub till. And Pubs History came up trumps: Murray Street was renamed as Murray Grove some time after 1938.

Leeds Intelligencer report of the McNeil murders
Now to find numbers 16 and 17. The newspaper report described them as ‘adjoining’, or next to each other. Usually odd and even numbers are on opposite sides of a street, but a quick session on Google Streetview showed that in Murray Grove the numbers run 1,2,3, not 1,3,5. Another problem solved. So where were 16 and 17? Streetview also showed me that none of the buildings in Murray Grove looked as if they dated back to the 1850s. And very few of them had house numbers. Luckily a search came up with a flat for sale in a tower block, no 13, which gave me a reference point to calculate roughly where 16 and 17 might be.

It was time to hit the old maps. There are so many online now, and London’s especially well documented at Mapco, a wonderful site (which also has a lot of historical Australian images). I’ve often found that the place I’m looking for is right on the edge of two different maps, and Murray Grove is no different. But I found some great ones for the right period.

Cross's 1861 map, with 16 Murray Street in green and 17 in red
Kelly's map of 1867, showing nos 16 and 17
Weller's map of 1868, the most detailed of the three maps

The part of the street where 16 and 17 used to be is unrecognisable now. Instead of houses and small streets behind them there’s a block of housing set back from the road. I've posted about what the houses might have looked like here.

I wondered why this area had changed so much. Had it been bombed during the Second World War? Again, there’s a brilliant website to go to: Bomb Sight, which maps the London Blitz of 1940-1941. And it shows that a bomb had dropped in roughly the same place as my two houses once stood.

Bomb Sight map. The two blue spots show nos 13 and 24 Murray Grove

I wanted to get a feeling of Murray Grove on the ground. I was in the area a few days ago and that gave me the chance to get an idea of real space, which even the best maps can’t give you. I even found another numbered tower block, no 24, so I had better co-ordinates to work out where 16 and 17 might’ve been – though after the bombing, there’d be less need to keep to the older layout of the street. Still, I pinned 16 and 17 down to a short stretch, just past the area where the orange-topped bins are now.

Murray Grove in 2015. The block at no 13 is at the extreme left of the photo. © Frances Owen 2015

Back at home I went back to the maps. I’d been puzzled by not finding nos 16 and 17 in the 1861 and 1871 censuses (had they been pulled down?), but they were there in the 1881 census. Phew. I headed for another website which had often come up with great results, the National Library of Scotland’s georeferenced map images, where you can see old Ordnance Survey maps overlaid on modern maps or satellite images. Counting the houses from the end of the southern side of the street, I thought I’d miscalculated by two. Nos 16 and 17 seemed to be a bit further on.

Murray Street, OS 25 inch, 1890s-1920s
But then I looked at a slightly newer, post-war map. The first two houses were marked 1a and 2a, then the numbers started again at 1 and 2. Who’d have guessed? And even handier, the two tower blocks I’d used for reference were built on the sites of two pubs, which were clearly marked. I’ve shown them with blue spots on the maps here. So my hunch had been about right, and I’d got 16 and 17 Murray Street.

Murray Grove, London/TQ, 1:1,250/1:2,500 1947-1964
I don’t know if this kind of research throws any huge light on the historical facts, but it gives me a bigger picture of the world these people lived in over 150 years ago. It brings genealogy to life. And though it was hard work, I do enjoy tracking down the places where my ancestors and their families and neighbours were. Do you?

Maps I used for this project:

Kelly’s Post Office Directory 1857:
Cross’s New Plan 1861:

Newspaper reports: via

Friday, 12 June 2015

How much is Enough?

To be honest I was not sure what to post about this month. After talking about Genealogy Do-Over, Rootstech and WDYTYA Live and not having attended any more conferences I could not write about my experiences this month. 
I didn't get to the Global Family Reunion or even watch any of the live stream from SCGS Jamboree.

Have I overdone the conferences and the webinars and does attending several hangouts on air (even if just as a viewer) each week lead to information overload. 
We all have our limits and much as we enjoy genealogy everyone needs a break.

I really enjoy talking genealogy with others and I am sure you will agree that we all have times when we feel "enough is enough", particularly when you give up a large part of your time to helping others, rather than getting on with your own research or spending time with your family.

I am not complaining and neither should others, the schedule we set ourselves can sometimes be overoptimistic or things happen and we are no longer able to cope with the pace of work. None of us wants to disappoint our friends and colleagues but there comes a time when you have to say I have had enough.

I can't remember the last time I took a proper look at my research and put a plan in place for where I want to go next so now I need to sit down and think out where I want to go. For too long I have been coasting along starting one thing after another and never really finishing things.

I have just had a birthday and before I reach my next I want a clear plan of where I am heading. 
If I start something and have to leave it, I want to be in a position to pick it up again where I left off.
I am never going to become one of those totally organized people but if anyone is going to be able to make use of what I have amassed it needs more structure than it has now.

As much as I enjoy learning and passing on my knowledge to others it does us all good to take a step back from what we are doing and decide on our priorities. 
So my resolution for the rest of the year is to decide on my goals and priorities and how I am going to achieve them.
Be realistic.
Remember that most things can wait until tomorrow. 
If you set a deadline most of the time it can be changed, but prioritize those which cannot. 
Reduce the stress of looming deadlines.
If you are finding you have taken on too much, drop what you can and reflect on why this happened.   

We may have Enough time, but not Enough time to Waste.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Keeping Family History Stories Alive through Fiction - Part I

Keeping Family History Stories Alive through Fiction
Part I
"Dr. Bill" Smith

Historical Fiction can work as a “cousin-finder”

I funny thing happened when I used some real family names in my historical fiction stories…

I found a cousin… several cousins, actually… well, some of them are “cousins-by-marriage” - but, that is beside the point. The point is: IT WORKED!! ;-)

I have written a number of series of historical fiction stories here: - 64 total stories, as I write this…


This “Weston Wagons West” set of stories follows three brothers (and their descendants), who came to America from England, in the 1600s, and settled in Virginia, Maryland, and Massachusetts, much as many of my actual ancestors did. The ‘twist’ to these stories is that they lived near and interacted regularly with my actual ancestors. By weaving the fictional stories of these Weston descendants with what I know from research of my real ancestors, I am able to tell their stories in fuller ways, and interesting ways, than just writing about the ancestors. This is especially true of these very early ones where only a few, barebones facts, are actually known and verified. It is fun, and now, also fruitful.

Some XXXXX (a family surname) cousins apparently “Googled” their surname and got one of my stories. The sharing on their Facebook group page was fascinating for me to read, as the author of the stories, before they actually contacted me and discovered this is my family as well as theirs. One cousin said: “Interesting historical fiction. What connection does the author have with the XXXXX?” Another replies: “Sorry, I didn't get that far. But I did find them in Illinois. I'll be checking on that.” Next, she posts a link to my author Facebook page (William Leverne Smith). Then adds, “ in the world did he choose this actual family????” followed by: “How did he know of them?” The first one adds: “That's what I want to know. I will probably contact the author and find out what he knows.” The other replies: “It seems as though he must be in the family somehow. He has names and places....of course you can get all that easily but why them? I'm anxious to know.”

She then posts my “Dr Bill Tells Ancestor Stories” blog with XXXXX stories in it, followed by the Google Books link to my “Kinnick Early US Family History” book, that has XXXXX family in it.  …

Later that day, I got both an IM on Facebook and an email note. We introduced ourselves, and now I am part of the XXXXX Facebook group, and we are enjoying sharing family stories.

This experience was just too much fun not to share with you all. I’m sure most of you have had similar experiences, but this was so interesting to be able to go back and actually see the process they used to find me, based only on my historical fiction stories using the XXXXX family name. P.S. There are literally hundreds of family surnames in my writing, so I simply used the XXXXX here to keep it simple, and, I hope, not distracting.

Have you had similar experiences? Have you written about them? I’d love to hear them!

How many new cousins might you find if you used historical fiction to keep alive your family history research?

See you next month! I love to read comments, so please leave one or more, including questions. 

Dr. Bill


"Dr. Bill" (Wm. L.) Smith can be found regularly at his genealogy blog, "Dr. Bill Tells Ancestor Stories" <> or his family saga blog, "The Homeplace Saga," <>. He is an original contributor, as The Heritage Tourist, to the "In-Depth Genealogy" blog with a monthly column in the "Going In-Depth" digi-mag. He also writes a monthly post for the Worldwide Genealogy Blog.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

What is Genealogical Evidence?

What is evidence? Is someone else’s online tree ‘evidence’? There are some accurate and well researched family trees online. Equally there are some that are beyond fanciful, with people having children five years after they have died, or at the age of three. Then there are the creative genealogists who subscribe to such theories as, ‘They got married in 1825 so they must have been born in 1800’, because of course everyone gets married at the age of 25. Or ‘I have someone of roughly the right name in roughly the right place, the age is a couple of years out but hey it must be him.’ Have you actually looked for alternatives? How complete are the indexes you are using? Could there be equally, or even more, suitable alternatives in records that have yet to be included in that index? How well do you actually understand the data set that you are asking your subscription website of choice to search? And then there is my pet hate, ‘He was baptised in 1750 so he must have been born in 1750’. Why? How do you know? Do you actually have any evidence beyond the knowledge that the majority of baptisms were of young infants? What you should be doing, if you assign a birth date at all, is recording that birth as about 1750 and looking for corroborating evidence that this was indeed that individual’s date if birth. If that evidence is not forthcoming then the about remains.

There is also the question of how much proof do you require? How much evidence do you seek before adding an individual to your family tree? One piece of evidence? Two? Three? Clearly what is key here is the quality and likely reliability of that evidence. One person has recorded this on their online family tree, to my mind is next to worthless as evidence. Ah, you may say but five people have the same line on their online family tree. How do you know that researchers (and I use the term loosely) two to five have not just lifted researcher one’s information and grafted it on to their tree?

Forget online trees for a moment. What about ‘granny says…….’. This maybe ok, how is granny’s memory? Do great auntie and great uncle agree with her? Are there any official documents, birth certificates, newspaper reports, census returns, to back this up? The further back our family trees extend the harder it becomes to find one piece of reliable evidence, let alone anything that might be termed corroboration. This is the point at which you should stop scrambling backwards, pause until new evidence is unearthed and enjoy finding out more about the individuals that you already have whilst you wait.

The size of the population in the area and era that you are researching and the name of the individual may also effect how much evidence you feel you need before deciding that you have linked two records correctly. I am searching for a John Smith (yes really) in London in the late 1700s. If I find a baptism of a John Smith in London in 1799, even if the John Smith is in the parish where ‘my’ John Smith married do I make that connection? – probably not. Even if I have ‘my’ John Smith’s place and approximate date of birth from the 1851 census do I? If the place is a highly populated London parish maybe still no. If I know ’my’ John Smith’s father’s name (from his marriage certificate for example) and that agrees (especially if it is a more unusual christian name) then maybe I am getting somewhere. On the other hand, if I have a Crispin Pepperell in a small rural Devon parish (and I do) then I may be quicker to assume I have the correct person.

I appreciate that many people live thousands of miles from the focus of their research but this is not a reason to accept second hand ‘evidence’. As far as I am concerned an original source, or a digital image of that source is evidence, an index or transcription is not. Agreed, transcriptions and indexes are brilliant finding aids and providing they are done well, can lead us to original sources but they are not evidence in themselves. Ironically, it seems that the easier it becomes to access original records at a distance, the less people are seeking them out and the more content they are to rely on indirect data or non-evidence. I accept that there are many rigorous and diligent researchers out there but increasingly I see family trees where the compiler appears to require no evidence at all. There are a number of books and articles about genealogical proof available, it is worth taking time out from genealogical research to look at some of these.[1]

If people get fun out of building the biggest family tree in the world by melding their data with that of others without checking it, without researching it, without even thinking about it, who am I to spoil their fun? Just don’t kid yourselves that this is family history or even genealogy. This is mere pedigree hunting and the pedigree you have snared is highly likely to be inaccurate or not your own. As Anthony Camp, former Director of the Society of Genealogists, once said, ‘With poor knowledge of the sources and little care, the person who comes out of the shadows may just be a skeleton or more often a botched up monster of a Frankenstein, two people rolled into one, or one cut down the middle and married off to someone he probably never knew in real life’.
Janet Few

[1] Jones, Thomas W. Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Va.: National Genealogical Society, 2013). Mills, Elizabeth Shown Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, rev. ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2009).

Monday, 8 June 2015

Timelines put genealogical events into perspective

Timelines are a great asset in genealogical research. They can help put personal and family events into perspective by including local, national and even global events. 

They also come in quite handy if you have relatives with the same repeating name or even similar names. My husband’s side (the Eckman family) has one branch where everyone is John something or other. Timelines help me make sure I have the right spouse and children with the right John Eckman! 

Including local and national events may give insight on why you are having a hard time finding information. It may also give direction. For example, my uncle was born in 1916 and died in 1918. It was not until I spoke with a local funeral director that I realized how badly the flue epidemic hit Coatesville in 1918 that I realized why I was having such a hard time. She and a local parish priest both confirmed that, sadly, so many died that many babies in particular were buried in group graves left unmarked and now barely remembered. 

Using my my 4x great grandmother as an example:
Margaret Still is my 4x great grandmother. She was born in 1788 to Charles and Margaret Rhoades Still, of Uwchlan Township, Chester County. She has three brothers: Charles, Henry and Jacob. My family line gets a little confusing when I get back to her since she had two male children out of wedlock. The father – or fathers – are unconfirmed. When she got pregnant, her father put her out on a farm in a different township within the same county. I always wondered how she made a living and got on with her day to day life without any family support. 

Margaret’s Timeline:
1788 – Margaret was born in PA. The Constitution was ratified.
1790 – Neighboring Philadelphia becomes the nation’s seat of government.
1793 – Law is passed in the US compelling escaped slaves to return to their owners.
1794 – Whiskey Insurrection in Pennsylvania
1800 – Seat of government moves from Philadelphia to Washington, DC.
1808 - Son George born on 3 May
1812 – US declared war on Britain.
1820 – US Land Law set a fixed land price at $1.25 an acre, minimum.
1823 - Son David born
1827 - Court records show David Phillips committed fornication against her.
1828 – As per Sheriff Deeds, she purchased three (3) lots from the Kennedys in East Fallowfield Twp.
1830 – Her son George marries Sarah BING on 30 December
1830 - land records show Margaret sold son George 37 acres, a bldg, a horse and a cattle
1845 - son David marries Agnes Armstrong 16 April
1850 - census shows her living w/David and his wife and their son William in East Fallowfield Twp.; Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850 and East Fallowfield Twp. Played an active role in the Underground Railroad.
1851 - 23 January she sold George land purchased on 2 Feb 1829
1870 - census shows her living w/David in Marshalltown, East Fallowfield Twp.
1871 - 4 December wrote will
1872 - Margaret died in East Fallowfield Twp., Chester County, PA
1872 - 15 August will executed 

A timeline essentially puts events in chronological order and incorporates them with historical events. By creating a timeline, I can now see where I need to focus as well as understand my ancestor in a more historical context.


© Jeanne Ruczhak-Eckman, 2015

Saturday, 6 June 2015

A Marker and a Memory~ When Did Her Father Die?

 My maternal Great Grandfather, Manning David Daughrity, Jr. was born and died in Sumter County, South Carolina. David, as he was known to his family, is buried in the Sumter City Cemetery.

 Finding David's headstone at the cemetery was exciting. I had discovered his birth and death dates.
 Or had I? Nagging at the back of my mind was my Grandmother,  Azile Juanita Daughrity Roberts Sullivan (1921-2009) telling me that the stone was not the original. She told me that she and her sisters put new markers on their parents graves, and the one for their father was wrong. Her memory was that he died around Christmas because she remembered being so sad that holiday season.
     A search of Manning David Daughrity's death certificate has been unsuccessful. Many attempts have been made by myself and other Daughrity family researchers over the years.

  The Memorial Record from David's funeral has the following information

Memorial Record
Manning David Daughrity
9th June  1931

 But who filled out the Memorial? Was it done at the time of his death or years later? What about the information, is it correct?
  The family Bible also has Manning David Daughrity's death as 9 June 1931, but the same questions arise. Who filled it out and when?

 A search for an obituary for David Daughrity produced the following from The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina. It is dated 10 June 1931.  The report is of the death of M.D. Daughrity on 9 June 1931.

M.D. Daughrity Obituary
The State, Columbia, South Carolina
10 June 6

 Pretty convincing evidence that Manning David Daughrity, Jr. died on 9 June 1931.

One more piece of evidence convinced me of his death date. 

 A day of research at the  Sumter County Genealogical Society in Sumter, South Carolina provided me with the funeral home record for the death and burial of M.D. Daughrity.

Shelley-Brunson Funeral Home Record
M. D. Daughrity, 9 June 1931, pg. 240

The record from Shelley-Brunson Funeral Home, Sumter, South Carolina is consistent with the newspaper report of death.
 Also, a deed was found for Cemetery Plot  No. S506 bought by Mrs. M. D. Daughrity with the date 13 June 1931.  

 With these pieces of information, it is clear that M.D Daughrity died on 9 June 1931 and was buried on 10 June 1931 in the Sumter City Cemetery. 

    So Grandmom was right. Her father's marker was wrong.
 He didn't die at Christmas as she remembered, but the death date was not correct.
 What caused her to think her father died in December?  

I think I may have found out the answer to that question.

Shelley-Brunson Funeral Home Record
Mary E. Dority, 18 Dec. 1930, pg. 256
   While searching through the Funeral Home records for David Daughrity, I came across the entry for Mary E. Daughrity (1843-1930), David's mother and Grandmom's Grandmother. The date of her death and burial may provide the reason for the memories of an unhappy holiday season. Grandmom was remembering the death of her Grandmother, who died on 18 December 1930 and buried the next day.
 Family stories and memories usually have some truth to them. Grandmom's memory of sadness due to a loved one's death at a time that should have been a season for celebration was correct.  The family member mourned at Christmas in 1930 was her beloved Grandmother. Following six months later was the death of her father. Surely, the Christmas Holidays of 1931 was a hard one for the family as well.
   A marker and a memory. Proving that more than one source is needed to verify information and that family stories, while not always correct, can lead us to our ancestors. 

What family stories have aided you in finding your people?
Thanks so much for stopping by!


Thursday, 4 June 2015

Of Graduations, Weddings & Family Reunions

Wedding & Reception in Seattle, and a Family Get-Together
(get a large house with a huge yard for the day after party!)
Are you exhausted yet? Or are your big family events somewhere on the horizon? Between graduations, weddings and family reunions, the summer months are always eventful. And many of us try to fit in a big of genealogy or family history research if our summer travels take us back to our ancestors' places.

This past weekend (not quite summer so we all had school and work schedules to negotiate) our extended family combined several of these events and hosted a family get-together (our reunion is in August) all out of town. Between the packing, driving, flying, pick-ups at the airport, unpacking, assigning rooms at our rental house and various hotels, meals, wedding service, reception (great food and music!), late night snacks and chats, big family get-together (early morning ice and beer run, food and drink setup, and the infamous "can opener" presentation to the lucky couple) plus a free day for sightseeing and an evening boat trip - this was an eventful long weekend.

I had great hopes of cornering a few of the elders to get answers to some questions or ask for additional information. I was also hoping to stop by the central library while the others were sightseeing to get a bit of family history research in. Did it happen? No - there was way too much going on with way too little time to visit, let alone research. But I am proud of myself for taking scads of photos and getting the newest email addresses and cell phone numbers. I am going to have to try for those chats again during the family reunion in August and will take advantage of some interview apps for our smart phones that have recently been introduced.

Do you have any research plans for the summer? If those plans involve family members, how do you stay on track with all those people and so little time at reunions and get-togethers?

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

I Am Alone

It wasn’t until my grandfather was aged 88 that I was able to tell him more about the father and half-brother that he never knew. And the events in the life of my great-grandfather at the turn of the century make very sad but interesting reading…

…brawls, disturbances, court appearances, deaths, disasters, inquests, desertion, solitude, death in the old workhouse…

My grandfather Maurice Miller Ward was born in 1899. The 1901 census for Langton Matravers in Dorset showed him as a ‘visitor’ aged 1, in the High Street home of James Bower, a quarryman and his wife Julia. Ten years later, he was still at Langton, but boarding with grocer Margaret Cooper and her two daughters. On both censuses, my grandfather’s birthplace was shown as Southampton.

Maurice Miller Ward pictured with his mother Jessie

Maurice’s mother Jessie Ward (neé Morris) was also living in Langton, but at Durnford House. She worked for Thomas and Ellinor Pellatt who ran the Boys’ School; in 1901 as cook and in 1911 as housekeeper. On both censuses she was shown as married. When my grandfather Maurice married in 1922, the register entry showed his father as deceased.

Maurice Miller Ward pictured in 1948

But my great-grandfather was not deceased then. Nor had my grandfather Maurice been born in Southampton. In fact, his birthplace was Aldeburgh on the Suffolk Coast, the hometown of his father, well over 150 miles away.

Family of Fishermen

My great-grandfather’s name was James Miller Ward. He was born at Aldeburgh on 20 Feb 1857 to David James Ward, a fisherman like his father before him, and his wife Louisa (neé Miller). They had eight sons and three daughters, two dying as infants.

James married Anna Maria Forster at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Aldeburgh on 6 May 1878. His occupation was recorded as mariner. James and ‘Annie’ had just one son, also named James Miller Ward, born 11 Nov 1878. When the census was taken in 1881, James senior was shown as a fisherman and his wife as a net maker. In 1891, James senior was absent, presumably on a fishing vessel.

Family Brawl

On 22 Jan 1885, James senior’s wife Annie accused Louisa Laws, James senior’s sister of assaulting her. At the Petty Sessions on 7 Feb 1885 the evidence disclosed that the assault, which was mutual, took place in the High Street after a regular “sisterly” quarrel, during which some very “choice” language was used on both sides. The Magistrates dismissed the case, characterising it as a “family brawl,” in which one was as bad as the other. Considerable amusement was caused during the hearing of the evidence, the attitude of the litigants being frequently pugilistic, causing the Chairman to remark, amidst much laughter, that “he should not like to quarrel with either of them.”


On Christmas Eve 1895, a party was taking place next door after a wedding. Oscar Downing, a fisherman, was charged with assaulting James senior and his wife Annie. Downing and others had been drinking healths all round, and Downing, by his singing outside the house, caused James and Annie to come out. Downing wanted some whisky, and on being refused, struck a blow over the gate at James senior. Downing then entered the garden, and was twice knocked down by James senior, while wife Annie pulled his hair! Police Constable Jackson said Downing was drunk and bleeding from the nose and escorted him home. The Bench, in consideration of the fact that James senior had knocked Downing about, fined him only five shillings plus costs. The fisherman outside the Court marked their sympathy with the youthful Downing by subscribing nearly sufficient money to pay his fine.

Wife’s death

On 28 Nov 1897, James senior’s wife Annie died of cancer aged just 41. He was present at her death.

Second marriage

Almost one year to the day after his first wife died, on 30 Nov 1898, James senior, now described as a yachtsman and aged 40, married Jessie Morris aged 30.

Mother’s death following fall

On 12 Feb 1899, James’ mother Louisa Ward, aged 70, was in her sitting-room when her husband called to her to open the front door. In crossing the room, she tripped over some cocoa-nut-matting, and fell, breaking her thigh. She lingered on for five days until 17 Feb 1899 when she died from shock to the system. An inquest was held the following day and a verdict of "Accidental Death" was returned.

Son’s wedding

On 3 Apr 1899 son James Miller Ward junior, a yachtsman aged 21, married Alice Clarke, a domestic servant, also aged 21.

Granddaughter’s birth

On 9 Aug 1899 James junior’s wife Alice gave birth to Daisy Alice Maria Ward.

Son’s birth

On 22 Oct 1899, James senior’s second wife Jessie gave birth to Maurice Miller Ward (my grandfather).

Son’s death in lifeboat disaster

Just six weeks later, James Miller Ward junior, was the youngest of seven lifeboatmen who lost their lives in the Aldeburgh Lifeboat Disaster of 7 Dec 1899. 

James Miller Ward junior

Briefly, the events surrounding the disaster were as follows:

At 11am on Thursday 7 Dec 1899, guns were fired summoning the crew of the lifeboat after signals of distress had been heard in the heavy storm. The sea was so high that after a particularly heavy wave striking the broadside of the lifeboat, it capsized, turning upside down, and came to rest on the beach. Of the 18 crew, 12 managed to make it back to the beach, but six were trapped in the overturned hull. One of them, James Miller Ward junior was washed out from under the boat and although efforts were made to revive him it was futile. Hundreds of men tried to raise the boat to get to the other men but without success. After three hours, a hole was smashed through the hull, but the other five men were dead. It was nearly six o’clock before the last body was freed. And one of those that did make it back to the beach later died from the injuries he sustained. An inquest was subsequently held at which James Miller Ward senior was present and asked questions. He also confirmed that his 21 year old son was master of a yacht in summer and filled up his time fishing in winter. At the time his widow Alice was expecting their second child. 

The overturned lifeboat after a hole had been smashed through its hull
Memorial Cards for James Miller Ward junior

Grandson’s birth … …and death

In Jul 1900 James junior’s widow Alice gave birth to Percy James Reuben Ward. Sadly he had a cleft palate and died just six weeks later on 31 Aug 1900.

Father’s death

On 4 Oct 1900 James’ father David also died after a fall the previous month and a further inquest resulted with the same verdict of "Accidental Death" recorded.


Sometime before census night of 31 Mar 1901, Jessie had moved out of their Aldeburgh home and taken Maurice with her to Langton Matravers in Dorset and all contact with James senior is believed to have ceased. James senior was the living on his own in Lee Road, Aldeburgh.

James Miller Ward senior, second wife Jessie & son Maurice in pram

Life continues

At the time of the 1911 census, James senior was actually moored in Harwich Quay on board the fishing vessel ‘Wygiel’. James was the mate and his brother George Henry Ward was the master.

Last Will

On 23 Apr 1926, James senior made his last will and testament. He was then living at 71 King Street, Aldeburgh. He said:

“I give devise and bequeath all my estate both real and personal to my son Morris Miller Ward if he is living at my death and comes forward and identifies himself within five years of my death (he having been taken away by his mother many years ago) …”


James senior died on 8 May 1936 at the Red House, Bulcamp-cum-Blythburgh. The Red House was the former Union workhouse. It was not a very nice place. Some thirteen years later the poor conditions at the Red House were even brought up in a House of Commons debate when the sanitation was described as inadequate, the bathrooms were in a deplorable condition and elderly patients had to sleep in beds placed beside outside doors.


On 17 May 1936, the following appeal was published in the News of the World:

“WARD. Will Morris Miller Ward please communicate with me the undersigned when he will hear something to his advantage. Dated this 12th day of May, 1936. J. Noel Cooper, solicitor, Saxmundham, Suffolk.”

Replica fishing boat

The announcement was pointed out to Maurice and he travelled to Suffolk to collect a large-scale replica wooden fishing boat which his father James had supposedly built with just one arm (having lost an arm in a whaling accident many years earlier). James senior’s effects were valued at £195.

The replica boat is now in my possession. It bears the inscription ‘I AM ALONE.' 

Lifeboat Disaster Memorial

The Lifeboat Disaster Memorial

A memorial to the disaster is sited in the graveyard at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. It bears the following inscription:

On December 7th 1899, in response to signals of distress, a crew of 18 brave men manned the lifeboat “Aldeburgh” which was speedily launched in the teeth of an easterly gale and a heavy rolling sea. At duties call to rescue others with their own lives in their hands, these brave men went afloat, when alas! the boat capsizing seven of them met their end and lie buried here.

By a large fund promptly raised to provide for those suddenly bereft, as well as by the monument, fellow townsmen and fellow countrymen near and far paid tribute to an example of noble self-forgetfulness.

There are seven crosses marking the individual graves of the six men who died at the time of the disaster, and the seventh who died of his injuries over 3 months later. The inscription for James junior reads:

In Loving Memory of
James Miller Ward
aged 21
The Lord hath need of him

Centenary commemoration

On 5 December 1999 I attended a special service to commemorate the Aldeburgh Lifeboat Disaster with other members of my family.

Closer to home

By coincidence, James Miller Ward junior has his name inscribed on a memorial in my home town of Poole in Dorset – the RNLI have their headquarters here and a few years ago they erected a memorial on which the names are inscribed of all lifeboatmen who have lost their lives over the centuries.

Part of the RNLI Memorial at Poole

East Anglian Daily Times - Friday 12 March 1999

News Report - 8th Dec 1899

Called out in atrocious conditions to go to the assistance of a boat in distress the 46ft 13 ton wooden lifeboat Aldeburgh was flung over and submerged by a mighty wave shortly after launching. While some of the 18 crew managed to swim clear and make it back to shore many were trapped under the capsized hull and either drowned at sea or after the boat came to rest upside down on Aldeburgh beach.

As the sad centenary of the tragic event approaches preparations are being made to honour the brave men who perished that day in the name of duty. A church service is being organised and a wreath will be laid at sea. Efforts are now being made to trace living relatives of victims and survivors of one of Aldeburgh's worst disasters as recounted below.

At 11am on Thursday telephone messages were received at Aldeburgh that minute guns were firing out at sea to the southward but caution was exercised before the gun cotton rockets used for the purpose of summoning the crew of the lifeboat at Aldeburgh were fired," reported The East Anglian Daily Times of December 8 1899.

An understated introduction to a graphic account of one of the most terrible disasters ever to hit the East Anglian coast. On that morning responding to the alarm signals with unswerving dedication to duty 18 local crewmen had swiftly mustered at the lifeboat station. The sprat boats had taken the early morning tide but those who had gone north saw that a gale was brewing and wisely beached at Sizewell," continues the report. So horrendous were the sea conditions that even after meeting at the lifeboat station it was some time before the order was given to launch the 46ft “Aldeborough".

The storm at length broke and by noon a heavy gale was raging from the south east by east blowing dead on shore. Signals of distress were soon heard. Battling against the heavy sea the crew fought against the on shore wind until they headed south at great speed with sails set. But despite making good progress disaster lay only minutes away. Just then a heavy sea struck the boat on her quarter and before her helm could recover a mighty sea struck her broadside. She was over in a moment and such a scene has never been witnessed off Aldeburgh.

The boat remained afloat but was driven by the force of the sea inshore. Some crew members struggled free or had been thrown clear of the crippled boat. But half of them were trapped in the upturned keel. Almost all the inhabitants of Aldeburgh were watching the boat as she went through the surf towards Slaughden Quay at the southern end of the town and cries of horror were raised in a thousand voices when it was seen that she had capsized.

When it finally beached no time was lost in attempting to release those held inside the 13 ton boat. A rush was then made to cut through the wreck with axes. On the tide receding there was great anxiety to dig out the boat in which by that time a large hole had been made. Work was carried on with remarkable energy although darkness set in and by 6.30pm all bodies had been recovered. People had poured on to the beach from the town as news of the tragedy spread. Many were wives and mothers of the men trapped in the boat. They were helpless to act as the muffled shouts and screams of their suffering loved ones reached them.

Interviewed at home after the ordeal by the East Anglian Daily Times reporter he said “We missed half a dozen of the crew at once and knew they must be under the boat. In a short time James Miller Ward was washed out from under the fore part of the boat. He was insensible and dead really, for Dr Wrightson and others tried for an hour or more to bring him to and could not do so. The tide was still making and with the waves breaking right over the boat some of us were working up to our necks in water all the afternoon before we got the last of the bodies out from under the boat. Some of them were dreadfully crushed."

Sharon White (ne
é Ward)
Aldeburgh One-Place Study