‘I know from the early censuses that some of my ancestors were from Buckinghamshire. Can you help me trace them?’
A straightforward request for a search of registers which are not available online. A list of four ancestors born in Buckinghamshire before the beginning of civil registration in 1837 was provided, with a request to search for their baptisms in parish registers, and to check burial registers to confirm doubtful deaths. If baptism searches were successful, it was requested that the searches be extended backwards as far as possible.
Information about each ancestor was initially reviewed to check for accuracy and consistency, and to target the registers to be viewed. Ancestor 1 appeared in five censuses, all agreeing place of birth, and with a date range of birth between 1827 and 1830. Ancestor 2 appeared in three censuses, with a probable death in 1871. The 1851 and 1861 censuses agreed on place of birth, and give a date range for birth of 1793-4; however, SJ has accepted a ‘select’ christening of 1798 in a different parish and a ‘select’ marriage of 1822 from online sources, both which need to be checked. Ancestor 3 appeared in two censuses, with several possible deaths after 1851. Ancestor 4 appeared in four censuses, and died in 1888 aged 62, all agreeing on date of birth (1826) and place of birth.
There is never a guarantee that parish register searches will be successful, but here there was a very good chance of success, as the names were fairly uncommon and the places in question were small, agricultural, solidly Anglican parishes. The register searches found the baptism for Ancestor 1 in 1827, and further searches took this direct line back to 1605. The ‘select’ christening for Ancestor 2 was clearly incorrect, and a baptism in the ‘correct’ parish was found in 1793. This line could not be traced back further. A burial was found for Ancestor 3 in the burial register, confirming a date of death in 1855. The baptism for Ancestor 4 was found in 1827, and the direct line traced back to 1673.
‘I have a sixteenth century will, which is hard to read even though it’s in English. Can you check my transcription, and translate the Latin at the end?’
The sixteenth century hand can be difficult to read, but if you want to want to transcribe documents yourself, wills are an excellent place to start, as they are written in English, and tend to be fairly formulaic, and follow a set pattern. This will of 1568 was written in a very clear secretary hand, and exemplifies many of the challenges involved in the transcription of early modern documents:In dei no[m]i[n]e amen the last daye of Martii in the yeare of our lord god 1568...I JR of the p[ar]ishe of sayntt andrewes beyn of p[er]fytt mynde and memory thank[es] be gyven to allmyghty god doo ordeyne thys my last wyll and testame[n]t yn man[ner] and forme followyng
Wills often begin with the words ‘in the name of God Amen’ in either Latin or English, then give the date, and the name and parish of the testator. The Latin used in English records was typically highly abbreviated, and many marks of suspension and contraction used in Latin are carried over into the writing of English. Here, for example, we see the general mark of contraction used over the word ‘nomine’; the line through the descenders of the ‘p’ in ‘parishe’ and ‘perfytt’, indicating the omission of the letters ‘e/ar’; and the looped vertical mark indicating the omission of the letters ‘es’ in ‘thankes’.
fyrst I beqweyth my sowle into [th]e hand[es] of Jesus cryste and my body to be buryed yn [th]e church yarde of [th]e a fore sayde p[ar]yshe
In addition, a few special letters are only used in the vernacular – here, the use of the Saxon thorn in the word ‘the’. Having dealt with his body and soul, the testator goes on to bequeath his wordly goods:
I geve unto RW one cow to JH one bullocke of ii yeares of age Also I bequeath unto TH my brother yn lawe one acre of corne in the gronde in shepe land...
I wyll to JM my lande ladie in recompense of her kyndnes two of my sylver sponnes...
Item to EP my best furred gowne a doublet and a payre of hosen a flytch of baken ...
a kettell one posnet and one chawfyng dishe...Item to JH thre joyned stools a grid Iron a spete a payre of cobirons...
Many words in the will are still in general usage, but some are unfamiliar: a posnet, for example, was a small metal pot with a handle and three legs; cob-irons were the irons which supported the ‘spete’ (spit).
Probatum fuit hui(usm)o(d)i testame(n)tum cora(m) n(ost)ro mag(istr)o JG legum doctore Surr(ogato) etc xxiiii die mensis Novembris 1568 jurament(o) JS executoris in hui(usm)o(d)i testamento nominat(o) et cui com(m)issa fuit Ad(ministratio) etc et de bene et fideliter administrand(o) ead(em) iurato Ad sancta dei evangelia citra festum purificationem prox(imo) Salvo iure etc.
Probate clauses in wills were written in Latin until 1733. The Latin is often highly abbreviated, with ‘etc’ covering entire phrases. The clauses can be worth translating; occasionally, the relationship of the executor to the deceased is given; and they do of course give a final date for the death of the testator. The translation of this clause is as follows:
This will was proved before our surrogate, Master JG, doctor of laws etc, on the 24th day of the month of November 1568, by the oath of JS, executor named in this will, and to whom administration was granted [of all and singular the goods], having sworn on the holy gospel of God, for well and faithfully administering the same before the feast of the purification next, saving the right [of any other person].
‘I have a death certificate which states that a coroner’s inquest was held. Can you help me find the records of the inquest?’
The death certificate stated death by drowning in the Thames, and noted that a certificate had been received from a coroner, following an inquest. Coroners’ records (and in particular the depositions, the statements of witnesses called to give an account of circumstances relevant to the death) can contain a great deal of useful information for family historians, and all surviving records from before 1 January 1875 have been preserved permanently and are on open access. However, more recent records are to be retained for 15 years; after that, records may be destroyed, kept, or sampled at the discretion of the coroner. Gibson and Rogers say that you are more likely to find a newspaper report than a coroner’s record for the hundred years before the Second World War (Coroners’ Records in England and Wales, 1992).
This particular inquest took place in September 1875, so there was a good possibility that no records at all survive; and as no indexes to coroners’ records are available online, the only way to check was to consult the indexes at the relevant archive. As the name of deceased, date of death and inquest, and location of death and inquest was known from the death certificate, it was a simple matter to locate any surviving records; the inquisition summary page was bundled together with the depositions and case papers. The notoriety of this particular case also meant that it was widely reported: the London Daily News, the Morning Post and Lloyds Weekly News, as well as local newspapers around the country reported the case, and the London Evening Standard carried a detailed report of the coroner’s inquest on the following day, along with some witness statements, and the verdict of the jury.
‘Our scout group has a room full of old photos and documents. They’re taking up space, but we don’t want to throw everything away.’
A request for help from a small excepted charity run by a group of six trustees, who also asked for recommendations for managing all their records, both paper and electronic. We undertook a systematic review of records, using the DIRKS methodology, allowing ten hours for a preliminary investigation to review the structure and business actitivies of the group, and the legal and regulatory requirements within which it exists, and to identify recordkeeping practices at the group. Records were identified and classified according to a broad functional classification scheme, and a disposal policy was agreed. For a further ten hours the records were appraised, packaged and stored in conditions that meet archival storage standards, and catalogued with simple finding aids and document tracking sheets provided. A plan for records was agreed with the local archive in the event of the closure of the group.