Thursday, 27 September 2012

WDYTYA Series 9 - William Roache

The Coronation Street actor William Roache was the subject of last night's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? Now 80 years old, William's personal memories are extensive enough to act as a very good foundation for genealogy reasearch.

Williams focus for this episode of WDYTYA? was his grandmother, Zillah Waddicor, and her life running a cafe in Alton Towers in the period between the two world wars. This was prior to Alton Towers being converted to the theme park that it is now famous for. Originally it was the country estate of the Earls of Shrewsbury.

As a large cafe catering for up to one thousand people at a time, Zillah's business was very important to the local community. As a result, and thankfully for William, several records have been kept, including photographs and even an example of a menu. The success of Zillah's cafe is an example of the first generation of working class day-trippers, and in that context is important to the understanding of social history.

As proud as William was of his grandmother's entrepreneurial spirit, he wanted to find out how she had become so successful, and what role his grandfather, Albert, had to play. From the census records of 1911 he discovered that Albert had run a stall selling soft drinks and ice-cream in Blackpool. Business directories going back to 1896 revealed that the stall had originally been owned by Albert's father, James.

More than this, James actually owned several properties that he rented out. William found James' will, which  revealed that his estate was worth almost half a million pounds in today's money. Interestingly, James made his daughter-in-law Zillah, and not his own son Albert, an executor of his will. Furthermore, he left his entire estate in trust to only one of his three granddaughters. A check of the 1901 census showed that the other two granddaughters, including William's mother, were living with other relatives, suggesting that they were not as close to James.

Discovering that his mother, at only three months old, was not living with her parents was an emotional end to William's WDYTYA? journey.

William Roache's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

WDYTYA Series 9 - Alex Kingston

Last night's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featured Alex Kingston, famous for her roles in ER, Moll Flanders, and many others. Her story appeared interesting from the outset due to the fact that her mother is German and her father English. This mix of nationalities offers a lot of potential when it comes to researching genealogy.

Alex's first line of inquiry was regarding her great-grandfather, William Keevil, who she knew had died in the First World War. Prior to enlisting, however, he had been a photographer. A trip to Battersea library helped Alex to trace her ancestry back a further generation. She was also able to check the census records to discover what William was doing up until 1911. 

Interestingly, William was listed as a lantern slide maker. We discovered that lantern slides were the very early equivalent of modern photographic slides used in projectors. William was working with imagery at the early days of the photography industry, and it was a natural career progression for him to eventually become a professional photographer himself.

The next stage of Alex's research involved combining the two separate threads of William's photography career and his military service with the Royal Engineers. Again, fascinating facts emerge, as it was discovered that William used his professional expertise in a military capacity. He took part in sound ranging, which involved using sound waves recorded on photographic film to precisely locate enemy guns at the front line. Once again William was at the forefront of new technology.

Unfortunately, for all his hard work William was killed as a result of shelling during the battle of Passchendaele in August 1917.

The second part of Alex's story involved trying to discover if family rumours of Jewish ancestry were true. She quickly discovered that her gx4 grandparents were Michael and Elizabeth Braham, and it is believed that the original family name would have been Abraham. This is not evidence of Jewish ancestry in itself, however. For that, some detective work was required. It was discovered that one of the daughters of Michael and Elizabeth married into an Orthodox Jewish family, which would suggest beyond reasonable doubt that the Brahams were themselves also Jewish.

Researching Jewish ancestors often throws up some very interesting stories. Jewish records are usually very well kept, and can be extensive. However, I have discovered in my own personal research that Jewish ancestors can be difficult to trace due to migration throughout Europe.

I really enjoyed Alex Kingston's story on Who Do You Think You Are? You can view the episode on the BBC iPlayer.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

WDYTYA? Series 9 - Hugh Dennis

Last night's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? had a military theme again, which is in no way a bad thing. The subject was Hugh Dennis, or more specifically his two grandfathers. Both experienced the harrowing death and destruction of the First World War.

Hugh's first story to unravel was that of his paternal grandfather, Ronald Dennis. Ronald was born in 1899 in a village called Wales, situated to the south of Sheffield in Yorkshire. This was an area synonymous with coal mining, and Ronald's father, John, worked at the coal face down a pit. Rather than following in his father's footsteps as most boys did however, Ronald showed enough educational potential to be awarded a grant to attend a grammar school.

Attending grammar school gave Ronald good prospects for the future, and a professional career seemed likely. However, world events conspired against him, as they did for so many young men. In January 1917 he joined the Army, and was sent to St. John's College in Cambridge for officer training. In addition to being taught how to fight, the men were also educated in the manners befitting of a "gentleman." In fact, officers from the lower classes, such as the coal miner's son Ronald, were called "temporary gentlemen," only considered to be of a sufficient social standing until the war was over and they were no longer officers. I found it disheartening to see the snobbery being shown to men who would go on to risk their lives during the war.

A visit to the Imperial War Museum in London revealed that Ronald was sent to France in October 1918, unbeknown to him only one month before the end of the war. Nevertheless, the nineteen year old officer could not escape the horrors and danger of war, and was injured by shrapnel while defending the village of Futoy. He was sent home to recover, and left the Army after the war had ended.

After researching Ronald, Hugh turned his attention to his maternal grandfather, Godfrey Hinnels. Godrey's war experience was quite different to Ronald's, and involved some ferocious battles as well as the loss of a brother. 

One battle was particularly bloody. Godfrey was stationed near to the village of Neuville-Vitasse with the Suffolk Regiment in April 1917. Originally tasked with burying the dead from previous battle, the regiment were soon involved in an attack on the Hindenburg Line as part of the Battle of Arras. Combat involved the soldiers working their way along the German trenches, throwing grenades ahead of them before advancing with bayonets. 

It must have been horrific. After almost achieving their goal, they were pushed back along the trenches. Of the 700 men that began the attack, only 350 survived, and no territorial gains were made. Godfrey was one of the lucky ones. 

His next major engagement was at Passchendaele in July 1917. Under intense German artillery bombardment many lives were lost. Godfrey and the rest of the survivors were removed from the front line. Then, in the spring of 1918, Godfrey and his new Lincolnshire Regiment had to defend the town of Wytschaete from a heavy German attack. Within a few hours the battalion had been decimated. Less than ninety survived, with once again Godfrey being one of the few who made it out alive.

Neither of Hugh's grandfathers spoke of their experiences during the First World War. Like so many others they sacrificed so much, and were forever affected as a result. 

Hugh Dennis' thoughtful, moving episode of Who Do You Think You Are? can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Historical Photos Of The World - Historypin

In a previous post I wrote about historical photos of my family, and how I always find old pictures to be of great interest and value in genealogy. I have recently come across a website that has a huge historical image archive. It is called Historypin, and it contains thousands of historical photos of buildings, landmarks, and people from around the world.

Historypin is built on user content - users upload their personal photographs and share them with everybody else. As a result there is a real community spirit with the project, and getting involved in the community is very easy. Sign up is free, and a quick visit to the community homepage provides a wealth of information on schools, libraries, archives, and museums - basically anywhere where history can be learnt and enjoyed.

The key to Historypin is that individuals, groups, and organisations work together to create a massive resource of historical pictures and information. As users upload their photographs they can add stories and details to provide context. This really helps with the understanding of the time period that a picture represents, and is fascinating for any family historian.

The way that Historypin works is really cool. It is based on a giant map, which every historical photo is pinned to. The map can be searched by place or time to find historical photos of relevant scenes. Best of all, since Historypin works in conjunction with Google, old photos of an area can be compared with a modern equivalent using Google Streetview. This is a lot of fun, and it is fascinating to see the ways that areas have changed, and stayed the same.

Due to this link up with Google, a Google account is needed to log in to Historypin, but this is very straightforward, and completely free, to set up. The more people that get involved in the community of Historypin the better it will be, and the more historical photos of interest will be shared and enjoyed.

Monday, 10 September 2012

ScotlandsPeople 10 Year Anniversary

The website ScotlandsPeople has been providing invaluable genealogical information to people all around the world for 10 years. The first incarnation of the site was launched in September 2002, and although it has gone through some changes since then it is without a doubt one of the best resources available to anybody tracing their Scottish ancestry. 

ScotlandsPeople is the official government backed resource for state records. There is a huge amount of information available on the site, and it is expanding all the time. Valuation Rolls for 1915 were recently added, for example. The site is incredibly easy to use, and there is no annual membership. You simply buy and use credits as you need them. Very convenient.

With the amount of migration from Scotland over the centuries ScotlandsPeople is an absolutely essential resource for any genealogist. The ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh is also well worth a visit. Credit has to go to the relevant authorities for realising the importance of preserving historical documents, and for investing the time and money into making them available to us.

I for one am very grateful for the service provided by ScotlandsPeople. My family tree would not have grown anywhere near as much, or as quickly, without the information I found on the site. 

Congratulations to ScotlandsPeople on your success in the past ten years. Here's to many more.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

WDYTYA? Series 9 - Annie Lennox

Last night's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featuring singer Annie Lennox was of particular interest to me due to its focus on the north-east of Scotland. Regular readers of this blog will know that that is where many of my ancestors are from. In fact, Annie discovered a Mrs. Cruickshank, who shares my surname. However, since this is a very common name in that part of the world I am sure there is no connection, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Annie began her WDYTYA? journey looking for details of her great-grandfather Charles Henderson. She first searched for his birth certificate, which revealed that his father was James Henderson and his mother Jessie Henderson nee Fraser. Annie decided to focus her research on her great-great-grandmother, Jessie.

After initially drawing a blank on the census records she soon discovered that Jessie's real name was Janet. Name changes such as this were actually quite common, which is useful information to have if you are searching for Scottish ancestors.

The 1851 census showed Jessie (Janet) living with her brothers, sisters, and mother in Banff. They were listed as paupers. Further research revealed that Jessie's father had died only a couple of months before the census took place. 

By the time Jessie was five in the mid 1850s she had been orphaned. Records showed that at the age of ten she had been sent to live with a Mrs. Cruickshank. This is the point at which the mystery of Annie Lennox's ancestry really began to take shape. To cut a long story short, Jessie's mother Mary was illegitimate. Mary's father, James Rose, was a solicitor, and of a higher class than Mary's mother. He chose to marry someone else rather than taking responsibility for his daughter. Astonishingly, the census records showed that in 1851 he lived literally around the corner from his daughter and grandchildren. While he lived in comfort, they were living a life of hardship as paupers. 

Baptismal records from the 1790s revealed that James Rose had a sister, Ann, who went on to marry a John Cruickshank. This then was the Mrs. Cruickshank who Jessie was sent to live with when she was ten. Annie Lennox speculated that this was simply a convenient arrangement, with Jessie working for her keep, rather than as a result of Mrs. Cruickshank feeling any love or kinship for her great-niece.

Annie then continued her research to find out about Jessie's later life. The first record found was of Jessie working in a flax mill in Aberdeen at the age of thirteen. Next was the 1871 census, which showed that she was married with a child, Annie's great-grandfather Charles. She went on to have three more children, but then died in 1885 at the young age of thirty-five. 

This account is only half of Annie Lennox's Who Do You Think You Are? story. The second half of the program involves more illegitimacy, meetings with the kirk elders, and dancing with the Queen Mother at Balmoral. The episode can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer here