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

Thursday, 24 May 2012

My Ancestor Came From Edinburgh 1821-1830

Edinburgh Diary 1821-1830

Click here for more on books by Ruth A. Symes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

My Ancestor Came from Edinburgh 1811-1820

Edinburgh Diary 1811-1820

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

My Ancestor Came from Edinburgh 1800-1810

Edinburgh Diary 1800-1810

Click here for more on books by Ruth A. Symes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Our Ancestors and the Diamond Jubilee

How They Celebrated the Diamond Jubilee

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 14 May 2012

Manchester School Records

School Log Books Online

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

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

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Ancestors Literate or Not?

He Couldn't Sign His Name

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

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

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

Friday, 11 May 2012

Emails about Search My Ancestry

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Miner Ancestors

Some Resources on Mining Ancestors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Search My Ancestry Translated

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

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

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Become a Follower

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Postmortem photographs

Deathly Looks

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

How to conduct an oral history interview

Ten Top Tips for Interviewing Relatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Saturday, 5 May 2012

    Dates of Easter in the Past

    When Was Easter in the Past?

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

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

    Keywords: family history, European ancestors, Easter