It’s a question many ask about genealogy. Will I be able to find all my ancestors and how far back can I go? Some seems to think you can go back to time immemorial, but can you?
Well unfortunately the answer is no you can’t. The records only go back so far. But don’t be downhearted as you can get a long way back.
Up until 1538 it was more than likely that only people born into the aristocracy who would have had their baptism, marriage or burial registered by the family. In 1538 Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII right hand man decreed that in the new Church of England all baptism, marriages and burials would be recorded by the parish priest at the local church with copies being made and sent to the bishop every three months. Thus the parish records came into being. This system continued until 1837 when the present system of receiving birth, marriage and death certificates was introduced when Queen Victoria ascended to the throne. Baptisms, marriages and burial were still recorded by the church when the events took place, but the official registration was still required.
So if you’re really lucky you may be able to get back to 1538. But a note of caution is needed. A lot of the records this far back are really difficult to read and they may be in Latin! This means that not only with you have to translate the date but also the names. For example it’s not too bad with my name Sarah as in Latin it’s Sara but some other names are really different. Walter in Latin is Ualterius and Louisa is Ludovica. Also the condition of the records may be so bad that when they are viewed they can have unreadable areas.
If we consider Dronfield in Derbyshire the records began in 1560 but the church itself was built in the 12th century. So we see there is a large discrepancy between when the church was built and the records began. This means you will miss out on so many ancestors, probably approximately 13 generations at 30 years per generation. Don’t be upset though as if you think about it up to the present day you can probably go back approximately 15 generations and 15 is better than nothing as it’s still over 4.5 centuries.
You also have to take into account what information is given in the parish records. There was no set format for the records, it was what the vicar or his clerk decided to include. This means it will vary, sometimes greatly, between the parishes.
For baptisms in most cases you will get the child’s given name, his parents given names and his father’s surname, so for example the basic information you may get is:
John son of John and Mary Smith baptised 1 January 1600
You may get lucky and find that the mother’s maiden surname is included. In the later records you got information such as where the family lived and the father’s occupation.
Marriage records are the ones that can be most annoying. It is not uncommon to just find that John Smith married Mary in the parish on a certain date. This gives so little information. Again the later the records the better as the woman’s maiden surname was included and perhaps the abodes or even father’s names and occupations for the couples.
Burial records in general were just the person’s name and when they were buried, but in some cases the place of death was recorded and even their age at death. I have even come across some records which stated what the person died from.
So all this means that just because the records are available doesn’t necessarily mean they are of any help and so you may not be able back to the 15 generations. With so little information in the records if your ancestors moved about you would have difficulty finding them.
But don’t give up hope, half the fun is the search. The old adage search and ye shall find is the mantra most genealogists adhere to. You never know what you will find until you look, so look and you may be pleasantly surprised as to what is available.
I was considering the other day what questions I would ask any ancestor I could meet and so I decided to write a fictitious interview with one of my ancestors.
Allow me to introduce my guest today Percy Staton.
Hello Great Grandpa and thank for doing this.
Can you tell me when and where you were born?
I was born on the 19th March 1878 in Worksop, Nottinghamshire and I was baptised at Worksop Priory on the 1st of May 1878.
Tell me about your parents and siblings
My dad was Frederick Staton and he was from Eckington Derbyshire. I don’t remember him as he died when I was only a year old. He was the organist at Worksop Priory. My mum was Anne Taylor who was from Holbeck Woodhouse in Nottinghamshire. She left Worksop to find work after dad died and I lived with her Mum and my Aunt and Uncle in Worksop. I was mum and dad’s forth child. I have a sister named Edith born in 1872, a brother called Harry (Henry) born in 1874 and a sister named Arabella born in 1876.
What was your occupation?
I moved from Worksop to Peterborough in the late 1890’s to become a dental assistant. I went to Peterborough as my elder brother Henry Hamilton Staton was a Dental surgeon there. He had trained under our uncle Richard Payling who was the husband of our Mum’s sister Sarah. I spent my entire working life in Peterborough where I was a dentist and a maker of false teeth.
Where did you live?
In 1881 I was living with my Mum and sister Arabella on Potter Street in Worksop, Nottinghamshire. By 1891 I was living with my Grandma on Cheapside in Worksop and I was at school. In 1901 I was now living in Peterborough, Northamptonshire on Russell Street where I was lodging while working as a dental assistant. In 1911 I was living on Eastfield Road in Peterborough with my family and I was a dental mechanic and maker of false teeth. In 1939 I was living on Broadway in Peterborough with my family and I was still a dentist.
Tell me about your family
I married Eva Dent the daughter of William Thomas Dent and Louisa Payling on the 12th August 1902 at St Peter’s church, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. We were both 24 years old.
We met in Peterborough where Eva was a milliner. Just as a side note Eva was distantly related to my brothers mentor Richard Payling as Richards Cousin was Eve’s mother Louisa. Small world isn’t it. Together we had 2 children. Our first child was born in 1905 and was a son named Frederick after my father. We had our second child in 1912 a girl named Margaret. Sadly my wife Eva died in 1918 from an appendicitis. I remarried the following year. Her name was Evelyn Butler and she was 20 years younger than me. Later that year we had a daughter named Edith (Betty). My son Frederick was a quantity survey, my daughter Margaret was the manageress at a sugar factory and Betty was a hairdresser. All of my children married with Frederick and Betty staying in Peterborough, but Margaret moved around the country with her husband until settling in Sheffield.
When did you die?
I died on the 23rd November 1944 at my home in Peterborough. I was 66 years old. My cause of death was Paget’s disease. This is where my bones don’t renew themselves and become brittle and misshapen. I wish I could have lived a bit longer at least so I saw the end of WW2 and have lived to see my grandchildren.
This is a great way to remember you ancestors and can be a great way to get children interested in their ancestry. They could do a similar interview with their grandparents.
It’s something I’ve wondered about over the course of my research. How would the development of new technologies have impacted on our ancestors?
Technology comes in all shapes and sizes. We mostly think of developments in electronics but there are so many more.
In the earl 1800’s the Jacquard loom was developed. This used a punched card to control the loom and made making more intricate designs in fabric possible. This would have been revolutionary to our ancestors as they could have patterned clothes rather than the boring plain ones. This would have made life much brighter as they could have had more decorative homes.
In the 1820/30’s a major development happened when Michael Faraday started to develop the electric generator. Just think what this would mean for our ancestors. Eventually they would be able to use electric lights. Just think what a difference this would make. Until electric lights they had to use reed lights, candles or oil lamps. All of these came with their own problems. Reed lights smelt and all produced smoke and caused rooms to get dirty quicker. Once they could have electric lights all these problems would be solved.
What about photograph which was developed in the first part of the 19th century. Just imagine being able to have a photo of your loved ones to have as a keepsake. People could have photos of their children and some even had a photograph taken of their children if they died young, really, they posed the dead child and had it photographed. I love old photos of my ancestors they just look so funny. I know they had to stay perfectly still for up to 30 seconds but the facial expressions are just funny.
If you look at these two photos you can see that you could look normal like my great, great grandad but his wife decided to go for the Queen Victoria look or she was constipated!
In the 1870’s the telephone was invented by alexander Graham Bell. Now admittedly it would have taken a long time to filter through the country, but how cool would it have been for our ancestors to pick up the phone and call a friend or family member who lived away from them. Before you would have had to write a letter and wait for a reply whereas now they would be able to phone them up and get a reply to any questions straight away. It would also mean they could have phone for help. If your ancestor was a farmer they would have been able to phone the vet to come and help them and the vet would have been able to drive out to the farm and help (admittedly the car would be much later but still the vet could come by horse).
Later the same decade Thomas Edison made the phonograph. Now if you were lucky enough to be able to afford one you could play music in your home. No more would you have to go to the concert hall to hear music. You could listen to what your wanted not what was being played. Mind you there were probably still arguments among families over what they wanted to listen to. Dad wants Beethoven and the kids want Brahms.
The 1890’s saw the first screening of moving images. Can you imagine being able to watch a film for the first time. It must have been revolutionary for our ancestors to see.
The 1900’s brought the start of household appliances. The dishwasher had been invented in the 1890’s but the vacuum came about in 1901. No more sweeping, now your could do electric sweeping. Admittedly you’d have to pump the machines bellows while pushing it about but it was still progress. The washing machine came along later the same decade.
Think of the advances in medicine which came along in our ancestor’s life time. Some major developments came about. Small pox vaccinations, pasteurisation, anaesthetics for surgery and penicillin. How many of our ancestors survived because of these. I know my great Grandma would have survived if penicillin had been around in 1918. She died from an appendicitis and peritonitis. If she could have had penicillin she may have survived.
So we think of technological advances being modern but it isn’t. Technology has been developing since man first began to change things and will continue on into the future.
The 6th April 1199 brought to an end the short but eventful reign of Richard the Lionheart when he died from an arrow wound he incurred during the siege of Chalus Castle in France.
I’m sure you’ve all probably heard the legends of King Richard I of England. He’s well known for his crusades in the Holy Land and being the King during the time of Robin Hood, but what about the rest of his reign.
Well ironically Richard spent very little of his reign in England. Most of it was spent either on crusade, in captivity in Austria or fighting to hold on to or regain his lands in France lost by his brother and Regent Price John.
Richard was born in Oxford on the 8th September 1157. He was the 4th child of King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He was never expected to be king as he had 2 older brothers but they both died before him. When he was just 12 he was created Count of Poitiers. He was crowned King on the 3 September 1189 after the death of his father and was King until his death on the 6 April 1199. During the same period Richard was Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine and Gascony, Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Count of Nantes. It’s a good job he didn’t need to live in all these places to hold the post or he’d have to move about all the time.
Richard is usually portrayed as tall and well-built and being very strong. He more than likely had reddish hair like his father and brothers. Was he really tall is unknown. Some sources have him at over 6 foot 5, but his brother John was only around 5 foot 5 so who knows.
Richard was the beloved son of Eleanor and she usually sided with Richard over most things including against her husband. During Richard’s reign his mother had great influence over Prince John who acted as regent. In fact when Richard died from the infected arrow wound it was in his mother’s arms, not his wife’s.
Yes Richard was married in name. On the 12th May 1191 Richard married Berengaria of Navarre the daughter of King Sancho VI of Navarre and Sancha of Castile. Berengaria was the choice of Richard’s mother for a bride. They married in the Chapel of St George, Limassol, Cyprus. His sister Joan was the widow of the King of Cyprus and he settled the issue of her inheritance from the new King while he was passing on the way to the crusades.
The marriage was not an affectionate one. It was most likely a marriage of convenience for Richard, but probably not for Berengaria who is rumoured to have loved Richard. She did stay with him in the Holy Land for some time but left for France and did not see him again until his release from captivity in 1194 after 2 years. After this she was reunited with Richard when he lived in France on and off from 1196 – 1199. She is the only Queen consort never to reside in England during her tenure. She did visit after Richard’s death. She died in Le Mans, France in 1230 where she was nun. The couple didn’t have any children as some believe the marriage wasn’t consummated although there is little evidence for this.
So what happened to Richard after his death? Richard is actually buried in 3 places. His entrails were removed and buried where he died in Chalus, France. His heart was embalmed and buried in Rouen Cathedral in France opposite the tomb of his elder brother Henry the Young King and his body was buried in Fontenvraud Abbey at the feet of his father. His mother was buried alongside her husband King Henry II and Richard’s sister in law Isabella of Angouleme was buried alongside him, thus some people think it is Berengaria. I recommend a visit to the abbey as it’s a really nice place.
But what of the man who shot the arrow that killed him? Well Richard immediately pardoned him and event gave him money. After Richard died his men killed the man in the most horrific way he was flayed alive and then hung.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!