Essential Reading

'I have been a family historian for more than 40 years, and a professional historian for over 30, but as I read it, I was constantly encountering new ways of looking at my family history....Essential reading I would say!' Alan Crosby, WDYTYA Magazine

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Stunning Stocking Fillers for the Suffragette In Your Life!

Attractive replica designs, competitive prices, fast efficient online service Special promotion to celebrate 100 years since some women in Britain first got the Vote !

Arrives in time for Xmas

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Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Personalised Help With Researching Your Family History

Launch Offer - Initial Consultation: £20 for one hour at my home (Altrincham, Cheshire, WA15)

Ruth A Symes

M.A.Cantab; PhD York; PGCE London

Start from scratch? Knock down a brick wall? Prove/disprove family rumours? Understand what’s on the internet and what isn’t? Go back further? Explore more deeply?

I can help you with my personalised family history service.


Ruth A Symes is a frequent contributor to all the UK’s major family history magazines and has written four books on family history. See my author page on Amazon.

For more information:

Email me:

Facebook: Search My Ancestry

Twitter: @RuthASymes

Figure 1 Ruth on the panel of experts answering readers' questions in the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine

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Thursday, 8 November 2018

Armistice in Cheshire - How Our Ancestors Celebrated

‘Even the Dogs Sported Red, White and Blue’: 

One hundred years ago this week, our families in Cheshire were celebrating in a way they had never celebrated before; an armistice had finally been signed between the Allies and Germany, bringing the horrors and deprivations of the First World War to an end.


Once the good news was out on the morning of Monday 11th November 1918, Cheshire – like many other regions around the country - did not hold back with its festivities. In Chester, people decorated the streets with banners and bunting; flags hung out of every window. Thousands of citizens congregated in the Town Hall Square to hear the Dean of Chester issue a prayer of Thanksgiving and a further service was held at the Cathedral on the evening of Wednesday 13th November.

War Memorial, Hoole Road, Chester. Via Wikimedia Commons


In other towns around the county ceremonies were held in market squares. A large gathering of local dignitaries representing all the local churches, amongst other civic institutions, marched from the Municipal Buildings to the Market Square in Crewe at noon on Sunday 17th November. Here an improvised platform was erected embellished with the colours and flags of the Allied countries (including Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, South Africa, and France)

People sang the hymn, ‘Oh God our help in ages past’ and then listened whilst the Reverend W. A. Becket read the 26th psalm. But the core of the proceedings was the address delivered to the crowd by the Mayor of Crewe, Mr C. J. Bowen-Cooke, who was careful to temper his joy at the ending of hostilities with a remembrance of the sufferings of all those who had been lost or who had lost loved ones in the conflict. 

Brunner Mond and Fodens

Workplaces in Cheshire received the good tidings most often by telegram and then passed them on  by ringing works bells or buzzers. In Crewe, railway workers were released for the day at 11.30, whilst the more fortunate millworkers of Holmes Chapel, were treated to a full three days holiday. 

In Sandbach the workers from the bus and truck manufacturing company Messrs. Foden, and the chemical works Messrs. Brunner and Mond left their works on hearing the news and paraded through the town whilst the Messrs. Fodens’ works band played ‘lively airs.’

Female worker feeding ash furnace at Brunner Mond, Northwich, Cheshire in September 1918, just weeks before the Armistice celebrations temporarily closed the chemical works.

Holmes Chapel

After the quietude and darkness of the four years of the War, there was suddenly an outburst of light and noise. Street signs and shop fronts were once more illuminated at night, bonfires were lit, and fireworks let off. Cars hooted their horns, people sang and played instruments in the street and, in Holmes Chapel amongst other places, the church bells were rung almost continuously till midnight on the 11th November.

Charity in Chester and Nantwich

There was an outpouring of charity towards the young, the poor and the disadvantaged. In Chester, the only man up before the Court on Armistice Day was freed without penalty and, at the special request of Mayor, Sir John Frost, the children in all the elementary schools in the city were given a week off. In Nantwich, the inmates of the local workhouse were provided with ‘a meat tea’ and ‘a special dinner’.

Armistice Day Celebrations London, 11th November 1918.
Imperial War Museum, via Wikimedia Commons.

Cheshire Society Back in Business

For the better off, the prospect of peace brought with it a new whirl of parties and engagements. The Cheshire Chronicle of Saturday 16th November 1918 carried the following advertisement. ‘Now that the Armistice is signed and an early peace is in prospect, there will no doubt be many interesting Social Functions. During NEXT WEEK. Ladies will find at BROWNS OF CHESTER  (where you can always find something distinctive in dress), an attractive exhibit of the daintiest and most fashionable gowns and in fact, everything for Hotel and Restaurant wear.’ After years of misery and frugality, Cheshire housewives were ready to party once again!
Poppies - Wikimedia Commons

[Information from the Cheshire Chronicle and the Nantwich Guardian for the week beginning 11th November 1918].

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Wednesday, 7 November 2018

How did your ancestors celebrate the Armistice 100 years ago this weekend?

100 Years On from the Armistice

November's issue of Discover Your Ancestors online periodical is out now. It includes my article on how our ancestors celebrated the armistice of 1918 on the Home Front !
Take out a subscription now!

family history magazine discover your ancestors
Discover Your Ancestors Online Periodical November 2018

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Family History Questions and Answers

I'm answering readers' questions in November's WDYTYA magazine!

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Promised yourself to research your family history in retirement? Here's a way to get started.

Want to find out more about your long lost family now that you are retired?

Not done anything about it yet? 

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Unearthing Family Tree Mysteries

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The intriguing characters in these real family history mysteries include an agricultural labourer who left secrets behind in Somerset when he migrated to Manchester, a working-class woman who bafflingly lost ten of her fourteen children in infancy, a miner who purportedly went to live with the Red Indians and a merchant prince of the Empire who was rumoured to have two wives. This book shows how a variety of sources including birth, marriage and death certificates, censuses, newspaper reports, passports, recipe books, trade directories, diaries and passenger lists were all used to uncover more, and how much can be detected by setting the characters from your family tree in their proper historical backgrounds.

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Friday, 14 September 2018

Family History at Christmas - Highly readable gifts

Thinking Ahead to Christmas ? 

For women's history and social history books - competitive prices and a great service - visit:

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Saturday, 11 August 2018

Dressing the Royal Children - Why Kate's Kidswear is Not as Plain as it Seems !

Simply Fitting - Clothing the King
By Ruth A. Symes

Everybody’s talking about the modest – some say rather old-fashioned - way the Duchess of Cambridge dresses her little ones. But the public obsession with royal childrens’ wear is not a modern phenomenon. It probably goes as far back at least as far as the times of Queen Victoria. And Kate’s sartorial choices for her growing brood are probably actually based on a well-thought out respect for history and tradition rather than on her own personal preferences or whims.

Via Wikimedia commons

Queen Victoria was all about bringing the monarchy to the people. After the decadence of previous royals, including her own uncles, the Queen reignited public devotion through the civic duties that she undertook with her husband and growing brood of (eventually nine) children.  After the launch of the fabulous new man-of-war, Victoria, at Portsmouth Docks in 1859, The Hampshire Advertiser commented with a degree of pride that ‘Her Majesty and the Royal children were dressed very neatly but plainly and presented a somewhat striking contrast to the gay costumes of many of those around them.’ The Hampshire Advertiser, Saturday November 19th, 1859).

‘Plain’ apparel for Queen Victoria’s children created a clear distance between the Royal children and others – the ‘gay’ costumes around them were a mixture of the extravagant attire of the rich and the tawdry get-ups of the poor. By contrast, the elegant unfussiness of Victoria’s brood suggested that they were virtuous, above reproach, and models of Christian austerity. Royal simplicity was not meant to be meek or ordinary, nor was it a passing phase. Rather it was a powerful signal to the country. It was also an enduring one. The Greenock Telegraph pointed out some forty years later (when discussing the all-white outfits of the three of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren Prince Edward/David, Prince Albert and Princess Victoria Mary, who were closest to the throne), ‘their little garments are, of course, made of the finest materials, but the style is simple in the extreme.’ (September, 1898)

Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children,
Credit: Wellcome Library Gallery, via Wikimedia Commons.

Simple clothing for juvenile royals continued to meet with approval in the Edwardian period – an era otherwise renowned for lavish costume. In 1905, Pearson’s Weekly commented approvingly that, ‘The Princess of Wales [Mary of Teck – later wife of George V] has never followed fashion in the dressing of her children. Absolute simplicity is maintained in all they wear. As babies the Royal children have always worn muslin in preference to silk, and when in town, Princess Victoria Mary always appears at lunch in a cream nun’s-veiling frock, with simple tucks, and devoid of lace edgings or other adornments. In Scotland, a warm plain blue serge frock is substituted, with a thick reefer jacket, while for church and visits a plain white cloth coat and white hat are worn.’ In the same article Mary’s young son ‘David’ (later Edward VIII) was applauded for his self-restraint because, ‘although anxious to wear an Eton jacket, he has not yet worn any other than Jack Tar (sailor) suits, or the Stuart Tartan kilt when in Scotland.’ (Pearson’s Weekly, May 11th 1905).

The children of King George V and Mary of Teck, 1910
By Arthur James Hope Downey (1877-1943)

As with Queens Victoria and Mary, Kate’s kidswear tells us something about what Kate (or more probably those that advise her) want to say about the monarchy. Prince George’s outfits of shorts, knee socks and patterned jumpers have been described in the press as his ‘standard uniform’ – to emphasise what it is suggested he is, a public servant in-the-making. Princess Charlotte, meanwhile, has been spotted in George’s hand-me-downs and also in outfits that are strikingly similar to each other - her pink dress in the Queen’s 90th birthday portrait, for example, was similar to one she was wearing 18 months earlier on a Wales’s family Christmas card.

Kate probably wouldn’t go as far as the practical Princess Mary of Teck who, when in February 1904 was presented with the fact that her daughter’s blue silk bridesmaid’s dress had gone missing in the post, stepped up to the mark and quickly made her own ‘facsimile dress for her daughter to wear on the morrow.’ Nevertheless, it seems that the public holds Kate in similar esteem for resisting spending huge amounts of money on items that might be worn only once - especially at a time of austerity nationwide. Indeed the press reports that the Duchess frankly owns up to not wanting to cause a nationwide ‘frenzy’ of shopping for children’s clothing.

So, unlike seven year old Harper Beckham, dubbed a ‘fashionista’ from birth and never seen without a prominent logo gracing her person, George, Charlotte and soon little Louis Wales too, no doubt, are positioned  - at least for now - outside the ephemeral currents of fashion. Emphatically not the offspring of celebrities or oligarchs - whose fame and wealth might be here one minute and gone the next - the Wales’ children wear clothes that in both cut and colour hark back to the childhoods of their father and Uncle Harry, and indeed sometimes much further back than that.

The fledgling Royals do not wear simple clothes to blend into the background. The apparent ‘plainness’ is loaded with meaning; a plainness that is meant to be compared positively with the ‘cooler’ dress of the kids of celebrities and the sometimes over-precious attire of the sons and daughters of the aristocracy. The popularity of Wills and Co., depends on their continuing representation of an enduring set of values – family life, value for money, lack of vanity, prudence and good workmanship. When the children wear similar colours to their parents, (the whole family sometimes appears in a delightful palette of pastel blues or pinks), they project an appealing image of an old-fashioned British family unit united by blood, cloth and history. This family, says the clothing, will endure.

As the new Duchess of Sussex contemplates starting – and dressing -  a family of her own, she might be well advised to take a look at some of the approving mentions of unadorned princes and princesses in the British press over a century ago.  For as one paper put it:  ‘Wealthy Americans would deem such wardrobes as far beneath their notice, their own children being laden down with costly laces and embroideries. The Duchess of York possibly dresses her three little ones for a less sum than many rich American mothers spend on one child, but how much to be preferred is the simplicity and good taste exhibited by her Royal Highness who usually considers lavish adornment vulgar and out of place when used for children.’  (The Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette of September 29th, 1898).

Meghan you have been warned!

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Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Historical Smellscapes: How did your ancestor's world smell?

See my latest article, 'Sniffing Out the Past' in this month's - August 2018 -

Discover Your Ancestor 

Online Periodical

                                                    Subscribe now at

  • Work out the smellscape of your ancestor's life.
  • Learn how to stimulate the memories of elderly relatives with smell prompts!
  • Identify and plan to visit museums that use smell as an integral part of the historical experience.

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Wednesday, 20 June 2018

New Review of Miss Weeton: Governess and Traveller

Miss Weeton: Governess and Traveller,

(Wigan Archive, 2016). 

edited by Alan Roby, 

with an Introduction by Ruth A Symes

Read this Great Review 

in The Methodist Recorder, June 2018

Miss Weeton, Governess and Traveller  ISBN 978-1-5262-0553-7

Written in solitude, Miss Nelly Weeton’s letters, journal entries and other autobiographical writings reveal a formidable woman as they vividly transport the reader through Georgian England.  With breathtaking cathartic candour, she reveals the sources of her protracted pain through years of betrayal, intimidation, humiliation and greed.

When her sea captain father was mortally wounded in the American War of Independence, her heart-broken mother removed from Lancaster to Up Holland village, near Wigan, to begin a new life with her two children.  At the age of 31, daughter Nelly finally broke free from the myopic discouragement of those closest to her.  Armed only with determination, a passion for literature and an unshakeable piety, she left the ‘licentious’ village of Up Holland, to eventually gain employment in the homes of the gentry.

With a penchant for excitement and adventure, Miss Weeton rivetingly describes her high risk ‘outside’ stage coach journey to and from London, and her walking and climbing excursions around the Isle-of-Man and North Wales. Her lone ascents of both Snaefell and Snowdon, supported only by a parasol and slippery-soled leather shoes, remain amazing feats of endurance.
On the 5th of June 1812, fortified by three boiled eggs, a crust of bread and wearing a slouch straw hat, a grey stuff jacket, with her map and memorandum book in a bag, she boldly ‘sallied forth’ alone for 35 miles . . .

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