Whispers and Secrets, a preview for Secret Lives

I will present “Whispers and Secrets: Women in Property Records of the Manorial Court” on 31 August 2018 at the Secret Lives: Hidden Voices of our Ancestors conference held at Jury’s Inn, Hinckley.  This interview with Helen Tovey of Family Tree Magazine gives a taste of the delightful challenges of manorial records.


Conference tickets are available via the Society of Genealogists.  If you want to hear a host of excellent presentations, make haste before tickets sell out.

New Family Trees from Findmypast and Living DNA

Product launches and bold claims of innovation are features of RootsTech and 2018 was no exception.   This year, two announcements were a new global family tree from Findmypast and Family Networks from Living DNA.  Frustratingly, both are in early development, so there isn’t yet any new functionality available for users to explore.

Findmypast pop up for global tree

Findmypast three-part family tree strategy includes partnership with FamilySearch

In the RootsTech General Session of Friday, 28 February 2018, Tamsin Todd, CEO of Findmypast said:

We decided that a successful Findmypast family tree experience would combine both the wisdom of the crowd as well as the contributions of experts, whose published reference trees provide credible signposts for newer members of the community.  These reference trees will usually be provided by genealogists with competent research skills. We will be seeking feedback from the genealogical community, and will share our thinking as we go, on how the shared tree maintained by the community and the reference trees, built by experts, can interact and support each other.

Ben Bennett, executive vice president of Findmypast, explained that the benefits of a shared tree could be watered down if we have too many shared trees, and advocated contributing to an established community instead of duplicating what already exists.  Tamsin then made the announcement:

FamilySearch has agreed to partner with Findmypast, as they have done with others to provide thier family tree, to underpin Findmypast’s new tree offering. We are confident that this approach of adding to already thriving family tree and encouraging evidence based assertions is the right one to help our users make more discoveries about their British and Irish ancestry.  Our new suite of family tree products including our shared tree, reference trees and updates to our private trees is still in development. So this isn’t a product launch. It’s an early preview for the RootsTech community.  We wanted to give each of you an opportunity to provide feedback and be part of its creation.  You can preview some of our work at findmypast.com/newtree.

So that’s 3 types of tree: private individual trees, a shared global tree and published reference trees.  Findmypast has had private individual trees for several years and all other the big companies have tried out the global tree idea.

Verified reference trees are the new thing here, but nothing was said to indicate how this might be implemented.  On that topic, Dear Tamsin, we need to talk.  UK educated genealogists , based in the UK, are best placed to support Findmypast’s strength in British and Irish records.

Family Trees are a tool.  Interaction between different types of tool are essential if the user is to get the most from their research.  Could the Findmypast strategy be part of the prediction made by Judy Russell, aka The Legal Genealogist? In the Innovation Showcase she shared her thought that:

the most exciting possibility for the future is to blend the DNA research records and the documentary records into a curated, documented, DNA verified, single family tree

That will require both traditional genealogy tools in combination with DNA tools.

Living DNA says: Family Networks rebuilds your tree based on DNA

That is a bold claim from Living DNA, which seems to contradict the wisdom about using DNA for genealogy.  DNA tests reveal how closely you are related to others, rather than determine exact relationships.

DNA technology is developing quickly and in just the last few years many analysis tools have been created.  Living DNA’s press release of 26 February 2018 describes ‘Family Networks’ as a “new DNA-driven matching system and family tree reconstruction method” that “will predict how users are related to direct matches”.  My understanding of further information in the press release is that it calculates which genetic trees are possible and compares this to user’s genetic matches and known family trees.  Note that this is a statistical prediction, which may be a very helpful guide, but not a certain determination of exact relationships. This image from the press release gives you the idea of converting a set of DNA matches into a more familiar family tree.

Living DNA Family Networks illustration

Family Trees are visual representations which help us understand of relationships.  Exploration of underlying data from different sources is best served by tools that allow us to easily un-pick erroneous connections in combined trees.  Are you up for that challenge, Findmypast and Living DNA?

© Sue Adams 2018

Old Newton Labour Party Photograph 1929

The centenary of women’s franchise prompted me to dig out the one photograph in my family’s collections that depicts women involved in politics.

Old Newton Labour Party photograph

Old Newton Labour Party photograph

The Representation of the People Act 1918 gave women the vote for Members of Parliament in the United Kingdom for the first time.  It granted voting rights for all men aged over 21 resident in the constituency.  However, the franchise only applied to women aged over 30 who also met one of three further criteria:

  • occupied property valued at five pounds as a tenant or owner in their own right
  • was the wife of a husband who met the above property requirement
  • a University graduate

It is striking that this photo is a group of women, but it was taken over a decade later than the 1918 Act.  The clothes and hairstyles, especially of the younger women, date from the 1920s or 1930s.  The banners give further clues:

Wellcome to Old Newton Labour Party

Vote for Owen Aves

Womens 21 Vote

The women 21 reference chimes with the reduction of voting age to 21 and removal of the property requirement for women brought in by the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act, 1928.  Old Newton was in the Eye Division constituency in Suffolk.  Owen Aves was the Labour candidate in the General Election of 30 May 1929.  He didn’t win the seat or stand again in the constituency, so we can be sure this photograph was taken during to the 1929 election campaign.

Based on comparison with other photographs in the family collection, the lady standing leftmost was most likely Ellen Elizabeth Shave, nee Knock, born in 1871.  Who were the other women?  If you recognise them, I would love to know.


© Sue Adams 2018

Family History magazine subscriptions – A comparison for 2018

At this time of the year, you may be looking for a magazine subscription as a gift to yourself or your family’s historian.  Four magazines that I am interested in reading in 2018 are:

  • Who Do You Think You Are?
  • Your Family History
  • Family Tree
  • BBC History

Leverage Your Library Card

library card

Before you do anything else, dig out your library card and check what titles are included in your county library online services.  If you aren’t a member of your local library or you don’t have a current card, join, apply for a card and open your online account.  Membership of UK county libraries is generally open to residents in the county and free.


As I live on the boundary between two counties, I have two library cards, which give me free access to a range of popular magazines.  Both cards provide access to ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ and ‘BBC History’ and Suffolk also includes ‘Your Family History’.  That’s three out of four on my wish list sorted!  Which family history magazines does your county library subscribe to?

Special Offers and Added Extras

If your magazine of choice isn’t provided by your county library, check for special offers on subscriptions.  Be aware that offers come with conditions, typically auto-renewal or requiring a direct debit, which revert to standard prices.  Whether added extras are a bonus to you is a personal decision.

For the four magazines on my wish list, the best offers I have found are:

Who Do You Think You Are? 6 print issues for £20.45 by direct debit with an added extra, a downloadable version of Family Historian 6.

Your Family History 3 digital issues for £1 then £20.99 every 6 issues by direct debit.

Family Tree Print issues by direct debit, quarterly £9.99 or annual £39.96 comes with the Christmas Pack which includes a 1 month access pass to Findmypast British records and other goodies.

BBC History 5 print issues for £5, then £19.99 by direct debit every 6 issues.

Happy reading and Merry Christmas!

Spreading the Word about Stamps on Documents

Family Tree Magazine (the UK magazine, @familytreemag on Facebook)  has recently launched a Facebook group, Family Tree Academy.  A member asked a question about duty stamps on documents from the United States of America, which indicate that tax had been paid.  Editor Helen Tovey noted that duty stamps were also used on British birth, marriage and death certificates and wanted to know when this was normal practice.

Reading the Facebook post was a déjà-vu moment for me.  I was just thinking, ‘I blogged about that’, when lo, there in the answers was a link to my blog post, A Blogging Collaboration Leads to the Answer.

Family Tree Academy post on duty stamps

Family Tree Academy post on duty stamps

The use of revenue stamps on UK civil registration certificates spans the period from 1870 to 1949.  There’s a story behind reaching this conclusion.  Back in 2012-2013, I wrote a series on marriages in my family to celebrate my parent’s 50th anniversary, including Stamp duty and authenticity of legal documents.  I had identified the commencement of the use of revenue stamps, but Amy Sell’s blog asked when the practice ceased.  Comments on both blogs narrowed down the date range, which guided me to the relevant law, the Finance Act of 1949.

The story is not yet over.  The question of when stamps were used for US vital record certificates has been raised.  Contributors have started exploring answers.  I suspect that it may vary between states.  Do you know the answer? Do pop along to the group and add to the discussion.


© Sue Adams 2017

What’s On at Your Local Library?

On Friday I went to my local library in Thetford, to attend the local history group that meets monthly.  This month we explored materials from the special collections.  Thetford library has three collections, two named for notable historical figures connected to Thetford, which contain items pertinent to family and local history: Thomas Paine, Duleep Singh and Norfolk Studies.

Special collections are where libraries and archives meet.  Libraries typically contain published materials like books, journals, newspapers, DVDs etc. that are not unique items.  Archives typically contain unique original manuscripts and artifacts.  Special collections may contain original materials, rare publications and other materials that inform the study of the collection’s topic.  The Thetford special collections are kept in a separate room with controlled access.

Aerial photographs, newspaper cuttings and photographs came out of the archival boxes.  One box contained a collection of photographs from the Jolly family of Thetford, which has not yet been catalogued.  I judged them to be from the late 1800s and early 20th century.  The photographer’s marks locate photographs in Hemel Hempstead, Luton, Reigate and other places.  What a treat!

Thetford Library runs regular events which are publicised on their Facebook page @ThetfordLibrary and notice board. This week Thetford Library hosts its own exhibition and events in partnership with The British Library’s, Harry Potter: A History of Magic.

Thetford Library notice board and Facebook page

Thetford Library notice board and Facebook page

The exhibition focuses on the subjects taught at Hogwarts with examples of manuscripts from the British Library collections.  I particularly like this 12th century herbal, written in Latin, which recommends two plants of the Centauria genus as snake bite remedies.  Spot the centaur and the snake?  The library holds modern books on the similar subjects.

Harry Potter exhibition extract & herbal books

Libraries, museums and archives are essential components of the information infrastructure.  In the current climate of austerity, funding is under threat.  The latest threat is to Northamptonshire libraries, where the Northamptonshire County Council proposes to close or out-source the management of 21 of its smaller libraries to community volunteers as a means of making £10 million cuts.  This is the county council that caused uproar a few months ago with the proposal to charge £31.50 per hour to use Northamptonshire Archives.  The Guardian draws the stark conclusion that the UK no longer has a national public library system.

Thankfully, Thetford Library is still funded with professional staff.  Libraries need our support to demonstrate their value.  Do pop in and explore your local library.


© Sue Adams 2017

Digital Microfilm and Fiche Scanners in Archive Searchrooms #AskAnArchivist

The 4 October 2017 was Ask An Archivist Day, an annual Twitter event organised by the Society of American Archivists with participants worldwide.  This year I asked 35 county archives in the UK this question:

Do you have microform scanners for searchroom users? #AskAnArchivist

Of the 24 responses, only 8 have digital scanners.  In hindsight I should have been clearer with my question. I wanted to know which archives have digital scanners capable of producing high quality digital images, so users can leave the archive with copies of microfilm or microfiche on a USB stick.

Hertfordshire Archives @HertsArchives and Teesside Archives @TeessideArchive illustrated their replies with pictures of their scanners.  This is basic equipment that every archive needs.

digital scanner twitter screenshots

Microfilm is an old technology, super-ceded by digital photography.  Microfilm and fiche readers are horrible to use and print-outs from readers are woefully poor quality.  As spare parts become ever more difficult to find, readers fall into disrepair.  Please, dear archivists, direct your money toward modern equipment, not old readers.  Consider getting together to make bulk purchases.

Archive users are document scholars, whose study is limited by poor quality copies.  Give users a reason to #LoveYourArchive!


© Sue Adams 2017

Come to the Suffolk Family History Fair

Family Folk returns to the Suffolk Family History Society Fair this Saturday 30 September 2017 between 10 am and 4pm at the Waterfront Building, University of Suffolk.

Come along and ask for help with your unsolved mysteries, hard to read documents and what to do next.  Don’t be shy to #AskAGenealogist

Expert speakers, Michael Gandy and Myko Clelland wil explain “Tithes & Taxes” and “making the most of FindMyPast”.
Family History societies from Suffolk and elsewhere provide records and insights for thier areas.
Archives, museums and special interest group provide background context to your ancestors lives.
Suffolk Family HIstory Society Annual Fair 30 Sept 2017

Revisiting Shakespeare’s family property

Last week I spent a couple of days in the vicinity of Stratford-on-Avon, best known as William Shakespeare’s birthplace.  A couple of photographs from my grand-mother’s collection depict a cottage identified by her daughter, Barbara, as Anne Hathaway’s cottage.  Unusually, Barbara the family shutterbug, wasn’t the photographer as she is in one of the photos holding her camera.  Judging by her youthful appearance, my best estimate of the date the photos were taken is the early 1960s.  It isn’t hard to verify the location, but I stopped by to follow in gran’s footsteps and take my own photo.

Anne Hathway's cottage

Anne Hathway’s cottage. Black & white photographs from Mabel Adams, nee Coulson collection, 1960s. Colour photograph taken by Sue Adams 16 September 2017

Comparisons between then and now show the entrance sign next to the open gate has been removed, a taller hedge, a lack of visible re-thatching and the middle chimney looks shorter.  The public entrance is now round the back and the gate is kept closed.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust manages several properties that are associated with the famous bard, including Anne Hathaway’s cottage and Mary Arden’s farm, the childhood residences of his wife and mother.  Neither woman had any rights to the property now named after her.

According to the Trust’s website Anne Hathaway’s cottage passed from her father to her brother Bartholmew in 1581.  The Trust’s archive includes many digitised documents including the Will of Bartholomew Hathaway of Shottery, dated 6 December 1624.  The image of the will is hard to make out, even if you can read the handwriting, but a transcript helps us out.  The will describes property, including a messuage, the cottage, bequeathed to his son John Hathaway thus:

“all that my messuage or tenement, orchard, garden and backside, with thappertenaunces, seituate, lyeing and being in Shottery aforesaid, togither alsoe with two yard land and a half earable, meddow, comon and pasture, with two closses therunto belonging, seituate, lyeing and beinge within the towne, hamlettes and feildes of Shottery and Old Stratford, with theire and every of theire appurtenaunces”

The will specifies the order of successive inheritance from John:

” and to the heires males of his body lawfully begotten, or to be begotten” “and for want of such issue of the said John Hathaway,” “unto the saide Edmond Hathaway my … lawfully to (be) begotten” “and for want of such issue of the saide Edmonde Hathaway, I give and bequeath the saide messuage or tenement … aunces unto my sone Richard Hathaway, and to the heires males of his body lawfully begotten or to be begotten, and for want of such issue of the said Richard, then to remaine to the right heires of me the said Bartholmew Hathaway for ever”

This is an example of an entailment following the principle of primogenitor.  It is pretty clear that no woman stands to inherit!  The order of succession also tells us the birth order of John’s sons.

The property description of Anne Hathaway’s cottage is fairly typical of the time.  Could you be sure just which messuage or cottage it describes?  Situate, lying or being within the town, hamlet or field of Shottery or Old Stratford is hardly a specified street address.  This will is just one of the documents that records the history of title and other sources of evidence that identify the cottage.

Whilst visiting Mary Arden’s farm in the hamlet of Wilmcote, I met Master Charles, the farm steward enactor.  Stewards were responsible for keeping records, which Master Charles demonstrated by writing the farm account in his book using a quill pen and oak gall ink in secretary hand, a style appropriate to Mary Arden’s lifetime.

Master Charles

Master Charles writing the farm account. Yes that is secretary hand!

People who can write in secretary hand tend be mines of historical information and Master Charles was no exception.  Identification of Mary Arden’s childhood home is complicated by three factors:

  • Female inheritance and sales of the house
  • Close proximity of another similar house
  • Copyhold tenure

Mary Arden was the youngest of 8 daughters of Robert Arden, who remarried after the death of Mary’s mother.  His second wife, Agnes, was a widow with children from a previous marriage.  When Robert Arden died in 1556 the copyhold of the house passed to his second wife Agnes, the step-mother of Mary Arden.  In 1567, Agnes transferred the house to John Fulwood, the husband of one of Agnes’ daughters.

Mary Arden's farmhouse, Palmer's farmhouse

Left: Mary Arden’s farmhouse, Right: Palmer’s farmhouse

At Mary Arden’s farm there are two houses in close proximity, now known as Palmer’s farmhouse and Mary Arden’s farmhouse.   Palmer’s farmhouse was previously thought to be the Arden family home.

Copyhold tenure is the lowest tier of feudal land holding, with a hierarchy of rights and obligations.  The copyholder had use of the land from the lord of the manor  in  return for rents or services.  Identifying which manor a property is part of is tricky, especially when we are not sure of the manorial boundaries and how many manors existed.  The hamlet of Wilmcote lies in the parish of Aston Cantlow, but the manor of Aston Cantlow may have had different boundaries.

These are just some of the delicious complexities of English property records that I enjoyed discussing with Master Charles.

© Sue Adams 2017

The London Family History Show, 24 September 2017

Family Folk is coming to the London Family History Show this Sunday, 24 September 2017 between 10am and 4.30pm at Sandown Park Racecourse in Esher.

Please do stop by to try your hand at reading old handwriting, to ask me for guidance with your family history or just to say hi.


The show is organised by Discover Your Ancestors magazine and sponsored by The Genealogist.  In addition to the exhibitors, there will be talks by military historian Chris Baker, social historian Keith Gregson, and Mark Bayley of The Genealogist.

London Family HIstory Show