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Archive for the Category "Genealogy"

Probate online Aug 12

I’ve had my excited genealogist head on the last few days (it looks a lot like my normal head, but a bit beardier). The reason is that Ancestry, one of the big online record publishers, has released scans and a search index for the National Probate Calendar, covering 1861-1941.

This is the index to wills and administrations from the Principal Probate Registry. When someone dies, their estate has to be disposed of. If they left a will, one or more executors are appointed to carry out its instructions. If they died intestate, an “administration” is granted and, again, executors divvy up the estate. This legal process is recorded in the Registry.

The index can be used to request a specific will from the records, but even without this the information held is of great interest to family historians. An index entry generally gives a date of death, last residence, executor and their profession (often the next of kin), and the value of the effects of the deceased.

Not only does the new index place this information online (I used to visit First Avenue House in Holborn to search the records which wasn’t exactly convenient when I lived in Scotland), but it also provides a digital index, massively speeding up the search process.

There are plenty of reasons why a search might not turn up a result: many people simply didn’t have the assets to warrant it; early on, wives’ property was considered to belong to their husbands; and the indexation is by no means perfect.

That said, I’ve already found lots of relatives in the new data. The extra information compared with death record indexes means you can be surer you’ve found the right person and I’ve been able to (excuse the morbidity) “kill off” a number of people.

There were a couple of records that took me by surprise, however. In both cases, it was the identity of the executors that was unexpected.

My first cousin, four times removed:

GIBBS Emmanuel of Thanksgiving-lane Binfield Heath Oxfordshire died 2 May 1938 Probate Oxford 6 July to Martha Ann Gibbs widow the right honourable Godfrey Walter baron Phillimore and the honourable Anthony Phillimore lieutenant H.M. army. Effects £624 6s. 5d.

Quite why three executors were required to handle the assets of a deceased bricklayer, and why two of the executors should be the 2nd Lord Phillimore and his son, are beyond me at the moment.

My first cousin, thrice removed:

ROBINSON William Thomas of Foxhil Wanborough Wiltshire died 1 July 1918 Probate London 9 October to Frank Curzon theatre proprietor. Effects £15556 18s.

Frank Curzon was a successful Edward theatre manager and William Thomas Robinson was a race horse trainer, with no obvious connection to the theatre. But Frank Curzon’s Wikipedia page notes he bred race horses, including an Epsom Derby winner, so that seems the likely explanation. And yes, £16k was a lot of money in those days…

You can search the probate indexes here, but I suspect you’ll need an Ancestry subscription to look at the scanned pages.

The Saturday List: Notable Relatives Mar 20

Well, as a way of making sure I post at least once a week, this series is doing its job so far – even if I haven’t had time to post in between lists.

This week’s list of celebrities and other persons of note who have cropped up in my family history research. Some of them are distant relatives by marriages (and have been mentioned on this blog before); the others are direct relations.

  • Tony Benn – Not news to long time readers of this blog as it’s been mentioned before but the Howellses and the Benns are joined by marriage, as recorded on By virtue of this marriage, I can also include
  • Hilary Benn, and
  • Margaret Rutherford – her father having changed their name from Benn after murdering his father
  • John Edward Emile (Von) Holtorp – Another relative by marriage I’ve mentioned before (his son married my great-great-aunt), Holtorp was a member of the General Council of the International, alongside Karl Marx.
  • Frank Bough – yes, that Frank Bough. His wife Nesta (née Howells) is my third cousin once removed.
  • Rees Howells – Nesta’s great-uncle and the founder of the Bible College of Wales. I talked a bit about him in this podcast, and he’s on Wikipedia too.
  • Richard John Blackler – My great-great-uncle and the founder of Blacker’s, a large department store that operated for about 80 years in the centre of Liverpool. George Harrison briefly trained as an electrician there in the 1960s. The old store building is now host to a number of smaller outlets including a Wetherspoons pub called The Richard John Blackler.

Got any interesting/notorious/celebrity relatives? Do share in the comments 🙂

A matter of legitimacy Apr 26

Three marriage certificates I ordered online last weekend popped through my letterbox this morning, and all three were curious in their own way.

The first recorded the marriage of my great-great-great-grandfather Henry Beard to my g-g-g-grandmother Sarah Payne in Reading in 1843. I didn’t know the names of Henry and Sarah’s parents, so I was particularly interested in the “Father’s Name and Surname” column on the certificate for each of them. This showed Sarah’s father as James Payne (although gave no occupation), but this box was crossed through for Henry.

A missing father’s name can often indicate illegitimacy. I don’t mind if that’s the case, but the missing father’s name doesn’t help my research.

I moved on to the second certificate, which recorded the marriage two years later of Joseph Gibbs and Eliza Alleway, who were also two of my g-g-g-grandparents. I was surprised to see that Eliza’s father’s name was missing from this certificate. Two illegitimate ancestors in one morning seemed a bit of a coincidence. Although Joseph’s father, James, was recorded, his occupation was again not recorded.

It turns out that both couples were married in the same church – St Laurence’s (recorded as St Lawrence’s) – and both by the same vicar, John Ball. As the early 1940s were the first days of civil marriage registration, my suspicion is that this may have been a case of the vicar having a particular approach to recording the registrants’ parents: he didn’t record fathers’ occupations, and he left off fathers’ names if they had died – as opposed to the usual practice of putting “(Deceased)” after the name.

That practice was demonstrated on the third marriage certificate that came today, from 1902 (and soon enough after the turn of the century that the registrar was still using “18__” cetificate with the 8 crossed out). This records the marriage of my great-great-uncle Frederick Pinnock to Annie Batttison. My previous research suggested that Frederick was born to my g-g-g-grandmother Harriet Pinnock five or six years after the death of her husband Thomas, so I was interested to see who Frederick recorded as his father.

This time, there was a father shown: “Thomas Pinnock (Deceased)”. Frederick’s age is given as 32, which confirms census evidence that he was born in 1869 or 1870. But I have Thomas Pinnock’s death certificate and he definitely died in 1864. Maybe Frederick never knew, but that would mean that none of his eleven older siblings ever spilt the beans.

Next task then is to try to find the four ancestors from the 1840s on the 1841 census – but that may have to wait until after the local elections…

Hatches, matches and despatches Nov 09

In days gone by, the printed indexes of births, marriages and deaths (BMD) were housed at Somerset House. Then they resided at the Family Records Centre in Islington, an excellent resource in its own right. Sadly, the FRC is closing down. The upstairs National Archives resources (censuses etc.) are moving to Kew from early next year. The paper BMD indexes – owned by the General Register Office – have moved to Christchurch as detailed on the GRO site.

Microfiche versions of the BMD indexes have for a long time been available in local libraries and record offices, but the FRC was a key central resource. As I understand it, the Office for National Statistics had committed to placing the indexes online in a fully searchable form by spring 2008, but this project has been delayed and won’t be able to take over from the FRC search room.

On the up side, other online resources continue to offer some access to the BMD indexes. The FreeBMD project, for which I used to be volunteer transcriber, has manually copied millions of entries from the indexes into a searchable database. It’s an invaluable resource and a testament to the benefits of collaborative working online. FreeBMD continues to grow, and is nearly complete now for the Victorian era.

A number of commercial websites provide access to scanned versions of the indexes as part of their subscriptions. These aren’t directly searchable, but you can browse for the page you need just as you would with a paper index. Both and offer this service. Helpfully, Ancestry (which is the one I have experience of using) also provides access to the FreeBMD data, and to the electronic BMD database that replaced the paper version in 1984.

While it’s a familiar refrain – and good avice – from family history guides that you shouldn’t rely solely on the internet for research, the increased availability online of scanned or indexed copies of physical sources is extremely welcome, and BMD indexes are a prime example. It’s a shame that the ONS’s promise of a fully searchable online index to replace the paper versions has, in the short term, fallen through, leaving family history researchers worse off than before.