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Welcome, fellow genealogists! My blog will teach you about U.S. land records and United Kingdom research. My family has roots in Niagara County, New York; Norfolk, England; and northeast Germany.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday - Genealogy in a UK Graveyard

Genealogists are interested in cemeteries, in part, because of the information on the gravestones themselves and in any written records maintained by the graveyard owner. When looking for information from an English graveyard, I think North Americans have heard many rumors before they even begin the process. They bury people one atop the other…they remove the gravestones of the first burials…and so on. What is the real story?

Visiting a UK parish church is an experience like no other. In almost all rural settings the church appears to be in the center of a cemetery. The graveyard is not confined to the space behind the building, as in North America.
In the past, all of the church ground was not considered consecrated. Until the last century, there was a common practice to bury the ‘good’ people on the south side of the church and the others on the shadowy north side. Those who took their own lives or the lives of others were buried on the unconsecrated north side, which also was used for secular activities such as games, festivals, and fairs in the 1600s and 1700s. Less charming were the cockfights also held there.

Until the eighteenth century, corpses were usually buried in a fabric shroud. As bodies decomposed, they would take less space. Because more people qualified to be on the south side, the land there may be higher than on the north side. Both facts lend some credence to the belief that more than one body was placed in what we think of as one plot, perhaps one atop the other.  Overcrowding was and is an issue.  Today more than 70 percent of those who die in the UK are cremated.
Notes: In 1667 and confirmed again in 1678, the shroud needed to be made of pure wool. The Wool Acts were intended to promote and support the wool industry. Clergy and later, the family needed to certify that the shroud was woolen or a fine would be levied. These acts were repealed in 1814.  Some parishes owned a casket for the body that was used during the service.

Gravestones became popular in the seventeenth century. The earliest in today’s churchyards often date from the eighteenth century. The stones are considered the property of the person who erected it, and defacing a stone is considered trespass. Check with the parish clergy to see if there is a map or burial records for you to read and to see what the rules and regulations are.
Many local family history societies have recorded the inscriptions on the gravestones and these are available online at the society’s website. You may need to be a member to access the records online, but the dues are usually less than £20 per year.

Source: Friar, Stephen. The Companion to the English Parish Church. London: Chancellor Press, 2000.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday: 1875 Scottish Valuation Rolls

In late September, Scotland’s People announced that the Valuation Rolls for 1875 were now on their website www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk. The index, covering all of Scotland, can be browsed free of charge until the 31 December 2014.

You can search by name of property owners, tenants and occupiers plus by addresses across all of Scotland from 1875 to 1915, at ten year intervals and also 1920. This search often can reveal valuable information about your ancestors between census years. “The latest addition comprises over 900,000 index entries and almost 72,000 digital images taken from 141 volumes of Valuation Rolls.”

A valuation roll which is essentially the same as an assessor’s list or a county appraiser’s list puts a value on real estate for tax purposes. At a minimum you can expect the owner’s name, the address and value placed on the property. You might find much more such as the acreage and a description of the land.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday: Quakers, Methodists and Irish Presbyterians

The British “Federation of Family History Societies” ezine appeared in my email box recently. It was full of help for researchers whose anccestors did not belong to the Church of England. If you are not receiving this newsletter directly, please go to the Federation website, www.ffhs.org.uk/newsletters/  and subscribe.

Below is a summary of this month’s religion-related articles about Quakers, Methodists and Irish Presbyterians:
The Quaker Family History Society - Quakers became a well-organized and influential group keeping records from the late 1650s, and it was about 50,000 strong in 1660s Britain. “The Quaker Family History Society was formed in 1993 to encourage and assist anyone interested in tracing the history of Quaker families in the British Isles. We are…open to all with a worldwide membership of around 200.” The group works with Friends House Library in London, one of the main repositories relating to Quakers and their activities.

QFHS meets three times a year, including once in London, for all day seminars. “All new members receive a starter’s information pack, and members receive the magazine ‘Quaker Connections’, three times a year with articles, queries and members’ interests. The Society also maintains a Rootsweb Mailing List QUAKER-BRITISH-ISLES.” For more information, check the website at www.qfhs.co.uk.
Early Stages of the Quaker Movement in Lancashire - If you have Quaker ancestors from Lancashire, you may be interested in the book, ‘Early Stages of the Quaker Movement in Lancashire’ written by Rev. B Nightingale, a prolific writer whose other titles include Lancashire Nonconformity. A PDF copy of the book which includes many names can be viewed or downloaded free at www.archive.org.

Museum of Methodism - The museum which is housed at Wesley’s Chapel, 49 City Rd, London, tells the history of Methodism from John Wesley to the present day and its contribution to shaping Britain’s political and social history. The building, built in 1778, is still in use today as a place of worship. John Wesley’s house stands next to the chapel. For further information, check www.wesleyschapel.org.uk/museum.htm.
Presbyterian Church in Ireland - If you have Irish ancestors who you believe may have been Presbyterian, it is worth looking at the website of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland www.presbyterianireland.org, where you will find a lot of useful information about where to find copies of church records and how to extend your research. It is worth noting that The North of Ireland Family History Society has a very active group of volunteers transcribing church records which include those from many of the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches. The society offers a ‘Look Up’ service for members unable to visit the Society Library. For details about the society and how to join, visit them at nifhs.org.


 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday: Finding Electoral Registers

Last but not least, let’s talk about where to find an electoral register. The source for these records on a national basis is the British Library, 96 Euston Road, London, www.bl.uk which has a partnership with www.findmypast.co.uk. The website has begun its digitization in 1832 and is moving forwards.

Beginning with 1947, the British Library has a complete set of registers for the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).  A complete list of their holdings is in a publication titled, Parliamentary Constituencies and Their Registers Since 1832, which also includes earlier burgess rolls and poll books. Once in hard copy, it can now be downloaded at www.bl.uk/reshelp/finhelprestype/offpubs/electreg/parliamentary/constituenncies.html.
Because of concerns about identity theft and commercial use of the lists, restrictions apply to the electoral registers from the past ten years.

Having voting information after 1832 is not always helpful to American genealogists because it is just too late. Locations of earlier records can be found in the following pamphlets:
Gibson, Jeremy and Colin Rogers Gibson. Poll Books c. 1696-1872, a directory of holdings in Great Britain. Birmingham, UK: Federation of Family History Societies, 1994.

Gibson, Jeremy and Colin Rogers. Electoral Registers since 1832and burgess rolls. Birmingham, UK: Federation of Family History Societies, 1990.
Check on purchasing copies at www.ffhs.org.uk. Even the British Library states that if the early roll you need is not listed in one of the above, “it may well be that no copies of the register sought survive.”

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday: UK Voter Disqualifications

In my last post, I mentioned very generally who would be included in the election records because they were qualified to vote by age and land ownership or tenancy, above a certain assessed value or rental amount. In the Gibson and Rogers booklet cited below, there is a nice list of who was disqualified and that may be a better beginning point. You simply will not find your ancestors if they fall into any of the categories listed.

The occupations that disqualified a potential voter will surprise North Americans.
                    -          Before 1887, active policemen, while serving and six months after leaving the force.

-          Before 1918, election agents and other paid election workers; postmasters; those receiving welfare, their spouses or children; collectors of government revenues.
Less surprising to North Americans are these types of non-voters. People who were and are not allowed to vote in the UK and who also might not be allowed to vote in some U.S. states includes:

 aliens
              people with mental disorders

anyone serving a prison sentence (UK laws prohibit anyone convicted of election bribery from voting for five years after the crime.)
A purely British reason for disqualification was being a conscientious objector between 1918 and 1923. Another is being a peer. On the other hand, peeresses were allowed to vote by the reform bill of 1918 but the right was taken away again in 1963.

Gibson, Jeremy and Colin Rogers. Electoral Registers. Birmingham, UK: Federation of Family History Societies, 1990. www.ffhs.org.uk

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday: UK Voting Records – An Introduction

This post is the first in a series about voters’ records in the UK. Because they list addresses, the members of a family of voting age, and land ownership and leasing details, genealogists can use them as an alternative to the census and to further their understanding of land records.

The United Kingdom has kept voting records, called Poll Books, Burgess Books or Rolls, and Electoral Registers, depending on the time period. Poll books are generally early records of those who voted and how they voted in parliamentary elections. Secret ballots did not begin until 1872.
Burgess books or rolls listed the freemen of a borough who were often entitled to vote for members of parliament and for members of the borough corporation. Note: A borough is a self-governing place with a corporation and privileges granted by a royal charter. This term has wider uses today; see www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borough.

Since 1832, electoral registers of people eligible to vote in parliamentary elections have been compiled annually, with the exception of the war years: 1916-1917, 1940-1944. They were compiled twice a year from 1919 to 1926 and again from 1945 to 1949. Registers for voters in local elections were kept was well, such as those for county council kept since 1889.
Voting was not secret?! Before telling you how to find these registers and books, it may help to discuss the differences in voting between the UK and North America because they can be distracting when working with this data.

            Voting Age
Until 1971, men could vote when they reached age 21. Since then, the voting age is reduced to 18 years. The exceptions were soldiers and sailors age 19 and 20 after World War I. Women over age 30 got the vote in 1918. That age was reduced to 21 in 1928 and 18 in 1971.

            Qualifications
Who was qualified to vote varied between the counties and the boroughs in the UK, and the various boroughs had customs that widely varied with each other. To be simplistic, citizens could vote if they were of legal age, and owned or rented property, based on the value of the real estate or the amount of rent paid. The necessary values were changed over time.

            Plural Voting
You might find an ancestor on more than one voting list and wonder how that can be. In 1948, ‘One man, One vote’ became the law of the land. Before that year, there were three geographic categories; residence, business and university. You could vote in all three before 1918 and between 1918 and 1948, in two of the three.

_____________. UK Electoral Registers and Their Uses. London: British Library, Social Sciences Collection Guides, Official Publications. www.bl.uk/socialsciences
Gibson, Jeremy and Colin Rogers. Electoral Registers. Birmingham, UK: Federation of Family History Societies, 1990.

Herber, Mark. Ancestral Trails. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2006.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday: Gretna Green Elopement

In the second season of Downton Abbey, Lady Sybil Crawley and the chauffeur, Tom Branson, headed for Gretna Green, Scotland, with plans to elope. Since Lord Grantham’s estate is in Yorkshire, if any of us North American’s were listening carefully, it probably seemed they were just heading for the nearest border where marriage laws were different.

Indeed that was the case, but people came from further away to marry in this first town inside Scotland on the main road from London to Edinburgh. In fact, the phrase “Gretna Green Elopement” came to mean any marriage ceremony performed without complete parental approval away from the local parish church. The village today advertises itself to couples wanting a destination wedding, similar to Las Vegas without the neon.
For genealogists with English families, it might pay to look at the Scottish records if you are having trouble finding a marriage in the south.

In 1754, the Hardwicke Marriage Act declared that brides and grooms under age 21 needed parental approval and all weddings needed to be performed in a Church of England. However, the laws of Scotland differed and much younger teens could marry without permission. About fifteen years later, Gretna Green had become the border town most known for these ceremonies.
Scottish law allowed for "irregular marriages", meaning that if a declaration was made before two witnesses, almost anybody had the authority to conduct the marriage ceremony. The blacksmiths in Gretna became known as "anvil priests" because the blacksmith’s shop was at the main crossroads in town, and the smithie performed so many marriages over his anvil. (wikipedia, Gretna Green)