Latin Parish Registers

Just lately I’ve taken my family tree back into the early 17th century in a few places. I’ve noticed, as well as a dearth of information, the further I go back, the harder things are to read. Not because the records are old and faded, though most are, but because many are in Latin, and some in some kind of half baked Latin that puts ‘us’ or ‘ii’ at the end of random words or with bits of Latin scattered amongst English.

I’m not going to give any lessons on how to translate parish registers (I’m still learning myself), there are a few already out there that will show you all you need to know anyway, so I’ll point to those instead:

Firstly is the very good word list at Family Search. This gives enough detail without giving you a headache and teaches how to translate times and dates too. This is probably the best place to start.

Family Search

Some notes on Genuki go into a bit more detail, but double check the date translations with the above as I think there are some mistakes there.


And this one is great if you can’t tell your William from your Gulielmus. It’s a lengthy list of common names in Latin and English

British Genealogy

I’m starting to get the hang of it now at last and don’t need to look at my notes quite as much or ask for help in archives, but I still stop and shake my head sometimes.

It feels such a great privilege to handle documents that old but I do wonder just why some curates and priests chose to write their registers in Latin at all, as not all did. It smacks of pretentiousness at times as I often find the odd line of Latin thrown in amongst a page full of English. There really was no need for it. If, as some believe, it was to stop the masses from reading them, they needn’t have bothered. Most people wouldn’t have been able to read them in English either back then.

At the same time though, I do feel a small stab of pride in myself that I can actually read them when I do find them. And I’ve learned something new, or old, depending how you look at it.


More Questions Than Answers

A couple of posts back I mentioned wills and probates and that I was waiting on one arriving, via email, from the Borthwick Centre. Well it arrived.

It was the last will and testament of Robert Otley of Lund, dated 1729/30. Robert died the previous year and was my 8th great grandfather through his daughter Alice. Alice was married to William Wallis and they were, yes you guessed it, my 7th great grandparents.

The will didn’t tell me much that I didn’t already know, save that a couple of his sons weren’t mentioned. I deduced, and in one case proved, that they had died before him. It was odd though, just who he left his money to. His youngest daughter was taken care of, as was his eldest daughter and couple of his grand children. His eldest son, who I expected would inherit the bulk of his estate was left a single shilling and most of the estate went to William Wallis, who he described as his son.

I have no idea why the eldest was pretty much written out of things. Perhaps he was already well established in his own right, or maybe his father had other reasons. I doubt I’ll ever know.

I am now, and this is probably going to become a habit, waiting on another probate, only this time I’m really not sure what I’ll find out. This one is for William Thompson of Kilham. I think he died in 1811, but I’m not certain as the Memorial Inscription that goes with the burial says he was the parish clerk when I only have evidence of him being a shepherd. He and his wife are buried together and the names and ages match. The probate I’ve found though is from 1837, which is a long time after their deaths. They did have a son called William, so it might well be him. I’ve already got further back on that particular branch of the tree, so just when he died is not that important in the scheme of things. But was he really the parish clerk and is that his will, being well and truly dragged out? Or is it his son or someone completely unrelated and have I just wasted thirteen quid?

Tune in soon to find out!

50 Lives of the First World War

The book to accompany the WW1 Lives research project is now available from Beverley Treasure House, priced at £4.50. I received a copy the other night at the volunteers Christmas get together.

Three of the lives I researched are in there, albeit edited to fit. We were all of us, the volunteers, asked to name our favourite three, which was difficult as we’ve done almost a thousand lives between us and, by the time we’ve finished, there will be well over that many.

My first pick was William Hirst Briggs, the son of one of the founders of Briggs & Powell, one of Beverley’s oldest businesses. In researching him I also found out quite a bit about the business and Brigg’s father and grandfather. There were a few skeletons in that particular closet.

My second favourite was the Oldfield Family, a father and five sons who all served. Between them they gave me quite a few weeks of work. Only Arthur is in the book (all six was probably too much to ask for). He was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal. When a nearby platoon was pinned down by enemy fire because their machine gun was broken he went to get them another. He came back with two German machine guns and ammunition.

Lastly I chose my only civilian, Mr William Stainton who went down with the Lusitania. Much of the information I found on Stainton seemed to suggest that he was buried in a mass grave in Ireland, along with many others, but I found a snippet in the newspaper that reported his body being returned to Beverley and, after a little hunting around, I found him buried in Etton next to his grandparents.

The three I chose seemed to have been heavily edited, though I do tend to put as much as I can into the write ups. There is much more information in the individual research folders for all of them, as I suspect there will be for all the others. I suppose, after all, you can only fit so much on a page.

Thankfully some of the research has been entered into the Beverley Treasure House online system and can be searched using the finding number WL. At the moment it looks as though they are adding them alphabetically and seem to have got to F, but I’m sure the rest will be there eventually. All of the research can be viewed in the archives and the full biographies of the ones I did can be seen following the link in the main menu.

Moral Dilemma

I’ve recently finished researching a life for the WW1 Lives Project. The man in question was one Harold Ramshaw. His father was a butcher for many years, as he was for a while and his brother too. His nephew was a Spitfire pilot killed in the Battle of Britain and he himself served in World War One from the outset.

There was quite a lot to research on this particular life, mostly on his family, but the thing that really stood out was something that left me with a bit of a moral dilemma.

I found a 1923 newspaper article where he was being sued for arrears. Having read the article through it turned out that these arrears were for maintenance of a child. It seemed that Harold had had a child with a married woman the year before and had been ordered to pay maintenance. The twist was that the child had been registered under the woman’s husband’s name.

I managed to find the woman’s marriage. At first I thought that she may have had a bit of a thing with Harold and then gone on to marry someone else, but that wasn’t the case. She had been married for eleven years when the child in question was born.

My moral dilemma came about when I found out who the child was. Did I add this into the usual biography we write for each life or not? In the end I decided on something in between. I mentioned the court case and elected not to mention any names, as I have done here.

It just struck me that the child, who would have been 96 years old by now if he was still alive, might not have had any idea that the man on his birth certificate was not his father, and who was I to point it out to him and his children and grand children? I’ve dug up a few unexpected skeletons in my family tree, but this research is not mine as such and I decided that it was not my place to air someone else’s mucky linen for them.

I have left what I found in the research so, if any of his descendants happen to want to look into it, it can still be found. It’s all there in the public domain anyway, but at least it isn’t printed in big bold letters for all the world to see in the corridor of the local library.

Probates – or the last will and testament of John Noble.

I’ve noticed, as I’m sure everyone else has, that the further back we take our family trees, the less and less information there is to allow us to do so. Sometimes there is little more than parish records and most of those are simple one liners, often just mentioning the name of a child’s father in a baptism or the names of the spouses in a wedding. If you’re looking for a well used surname sometimes it’s a case of using educated guesses and then looking for something more solid.

Probate records fall into that solid category, if you can find them. Thankfully, via Find My Past, you can order any you find from the York Borthwick archives, for a fee of course. The process is a slow one though. You find the index on Find My Past, then follow the link to the Borthwick website, where you fill in a form requesting a quote. In my case I asked for the full documentation, but you can just go for the registered will. I’m presuming that you need to ask for a quote first because they probably don’t know just what condition the documents are in without looking at them. Either way, they took about a week to get back to me and charged £13.50 for the first one I ordered. It took another week or so to be emailed to me, but was worth the wait.

I’ve never really looked into probates before. I’ve looked at wills in Beverley Treasure House, and they have helped, but they are few and far between.

The one I ordered from Borthwick was the will and probate, along with an inventory of assets (if it existed), basically the whole load of probate documents, of one John Noble of North Dalton, yeoman, and my 8th great grandfather, dated 1740.

I had already, as you do, been through North Dalton parish records and found what I thought was all of John’s children, their baptisms and some deaths. I found a marriage licence for him too and pieced together that he was born c1697 (still haven’t found that elusive baptism for him) and married Margaret Callis in 1722. They went on to have Elizabeth, William, James (my 7th great grandfather) and Henry between 1722 and 1732, when Margaret died. John himself died in 1739 and there my research stopped until I received the relevant email from Borthwick.

I must say that I wasn’t expecting much, perhaps a single page of mostly legalese (or weasel words as I prefer to call it). It was possible that I’d just wasted £13.50 on something irrelevant or something that would prove all my research to be utter rubbish.

I was quite surprised when I opened that email. It had attached a seven page PDF document that was a full colour, high quality scan of the will and a full inventory of John Noble’s assets which included amongst other things his purse and apparel, a brass kettle, various pots and pans, the contents of his house, beds etc, a copper and a brown vessel, three cows, a plough and harrow, one pig, some hay and corn and what I think is the chickens in the yard. It all added up to £65 6s 6d which, according to the National Archives Currency Converter, is about £7722.55 nowadays and equivalent to a couple of years wages for a skilled tradesman, nine or so horses or thirteen cows, give or take a leg. Presumably there was a horse to go with the plough somewhere but a few of the lines are difficult to read and some use words that don’t come up in any of my books or even the all knowing (yeah, you did detect just a little sarcasm there) Google. I may ask someone at the archives to have a look at it at some point and teach me some new old words.

It wasn’t a massive sum really but it was all left to my 7th great grandfather James, to be administered by his step mother Grace until he reached his majority (her having received enough to keep her maintained for the foreseeable future, along with small amounts to the rest of John’s children). At this point I was wondering if I had the right probate at all as William, the eldest, as far as I thought, should have inherited, and I’d never heard of Grace. Further, a younger daughter, Mary, was mentioned too. So it was back to the parish records, which finally linked it all together, now that I knew what to look for.

William had died in infancy, in 1727, a fact that I had missed altogether. In fairness to myself the parish records are a bit patchy in places and I needed to go look at the originals. Grace Welburn was from Seaton and was John’s second wife, who he married in 1736. They had Mary in 1738.

So it turned out that I was right all along, though with bits missing, and that my £13.50 wasn’t wasted after all.

It just goes to prove that old saying, where there’s a will there’s a way and that with probates I have now a new tool in my research box which I can definitely see myself using again. In fact I already have plunged in again and I am now waiting on the 1730 last will and testament of Robert Otley of Lund.

* I’ve not put images of the probate document as I’m not sure of the copyright.

Why and How

A few years ago I started to take an interest in my roots. Wondering where I came from, just where did I get that taste for real ale, gardening and the ability to program a computer? Just who did I inherit these big ears from?

It wasn’t easy getting started. I was brought up by my paternal grandparents having, as a small child, been taken into care. That was in the mid-1970s, a time when things were kept quiet and not talked about. I knew very little about my father and nothing at all about my mother, save for her name.

When I was about nineteen I bumped into someone in a pub, as you do, who turned out to be my mother’s younger sister. From there I met my mother and her mother, but soon lost touch again and by the time I started to take an interest in genealogy I was into my forties, my paternal grandmother had passed away and my grandfather was quickly succumbing to dementia.

My aunts, who I was brought up with and look upon more as big sisters, knew a very little about our roots and a cousin had dabbled in online genealogy, but there was little definitive to go on so I took it upon myself to dive into the world of online family history and set up an account. I was hooked immediately and quickly started to build my tree, but I’ll go into the specifics (and the pitfalls) of that later.

Soon after that I volunteered at the local archives, The Treasure House in Beverley, to research the lives of local men who had served in the Great War. I learned a massive amount about researching people doing this and received a lot of help with my own genealogy research. The people there are so knowledgeable and helpful that a lot of what I’ve discovered would never have come to light without their help.

That’s not to say that the internet is not helpful though, on the contrary, it’s packed with information and many, many people who give up their time to maintain online archives, transcribe local parish records etc. Some offer researching services for a small fee that help you get to places you just couldn’t reach normally, such as Australia and the US.
But, when it comes to tangible evidence of your forbears, you can’t beat your local archives. There’s nothing quite like turning over the pages of a parish register that was started in the 16th century, half written in English and smattered with Latin, or discovering a two hundred year old map, hand drawn and watercoloured, twelve feet long and five feet wide, and realising that it was made by your very own 6th great grandfather. Except perhaps being shown a photocopy of another one drawn by his father thirty years earlier (the original is held by the Borthwick Institute in York).

I’ve discovered criminals deported to Australia, a grandfather who emigrated there and great uncles who went there to make their fortune in the 1860s, one of whom met a rather abrupt end. I’ve found a 5th great grandmother who travelled the world with the 34th Regiment of Foot as the 18th century gave way to the 19th, had five children to three husbands on three different continents and made her way through wars and battlefields to settle in Bridlington. I learned about an entire family of 19th century cab drivers, I’ve found shepherds, soldiers, thieves, fishmongers, gardeners, cordwainers, farmers, rich men and paupers.

Perhaps most surprisingly is the fact that the vast majority of my ancestors, with a few rare exceptions, all come from East Yorkshire, which makes the local archives a very valuable resource indeed. The big ears though, they’re from my paternal grandfather, and his line comes from Wiltshire.

Now, it is time to admit that, while I do seem to have a knack for genealogy, I am far from being an expert. I have no research or history qualifications. I’ve not got a Phd in anything at all. I am a computer programmer by profession, before that I was a welder. I’m just someone who took enough of an interest in something to learn how to do it.
The purpose of this blog  is, as well as to show off what I’ve found (there’s no point dragging all those skeletons out of the cupboard if only I get to see them), but also to act as a primer of sorts, to show others that you don’t need to go to university to find out what your great, great grandad did for a living, or spend a fortune paying someone else to find out for you. A lot of the research I do costs nothing at all but time and the only ability you need is a little common sense, that and the willingness to listen to sound advice.

So that is what this blog will be. Future posts will be about what I find and how I found it. I may go back a little and pick out some of the more interesting things I’ve already discovered and I will be dropping in posts about the WW1 Lives Project (see the main menu).