• The Shipway Pedigree Fraud

    With 10 years’ experience of deciphering 16th-18th century registers, FreeREG transcriber Cathy Jury has come across some interesting entries. She even wrote about the challenges of transcribing difficult entries, back in 2017. But the following note, referring to a baptism of ‘John Shipway, the son of John Shipway’ in the Charfield, GLS register, she says caps them all:

    “Note that the entry of May 31st 1619 is a forgery, written at a much later date and forming part of the notorious Shipway Forgery. See also marriage 4 Feb 1617 and burial 9 Dec 1684.”

    Cathy looked into the story behind the entry, and says that it’s worth the read…

    Unthinkable

    When the church records show a BMD record for your ancestor, you’re inclined to accept it as a fact. Mistakes are made, of course – but usually only in the spelling or order of names. The possibility that an entry is fraudulent is unthinkable.

    That’s why Lt Col Robert Shipway of Grove House, Chiswick, who knew he had some 'ancestral connections' within Gloucestershire, was happy to accept the findings presented to him by the 'principal genealogical specialist' Dr Herbert Davies BA, MD, who he had hired to research the Shipway pedigree, in 1897.

    But Lt Col Shipway was deceived. ‘Dr’ Davies was actually a 22-year-old former assistant school teacher who had assumed the BA (Oxon) degree of one Herbert Davies (who was now in Australia), and whose MD degree diploma from the University of Heidelberg was a complete forgery.
     
    And, in fact, the ‘findings’ Davies presented to Lt Col Shipway had actually involved the desecration of several historical relics (including the addition to the Charfield register almost 270 years later, which Cathy had seen), and one unfortunate death following an exhumation. It all resulted in a three-year prison sentence for their perpetrator.

    Remarkable fraud

    During the next year following his engagement, Davies had pursued the Shipway line and traced it back to John Shipway (c1615-1690) of Beverston Castle. But his research had stalled with the lack of Shipway entries in the parish register prior to 1639, so Davies then commenced a remarkable series of fraudulent activities in order to establish a more ancient and far more important pedigree for the Shipways. 
     
    It should be noted that, throughout this period, Davies was being paid daily, plus expenses – in total he received £683 in fees and expenses (equivalent to c£91k today, according to the Bank of England’s calculator). 
     
    Using his impressive academic status, Davies gained free access to the Beverston registers and convinced the vicar to supply legal certificates of the entries he had 'found'. He also gained permission to inspect the contents of some graves, leading to the 'discovery' of an inscription on the plate of a lead coffin (discovered after Davies was left alone to 'clean' it).

    Imago of the register with a note about the fraudulent entry

    Image of the register page, with a note about the fraudulent entry.
    Reference P74/IN/1/5, Courtesy of Gloucestershire Archives

    “A lesson to all”

    Davies’ next act was to forge various wills. But this was to be his undoing.
     
    Lt Col Shipway showed the wills to the eminent genealogist WPW Phillimore, who felt that the content was suspicious and alerted the appropriate authority. The result was a prosecution lasting from September to November 1897, which was avidly followed by the local and national press. Davies was sentenced to three years penal servitude.
     
    Read more details on the story here and in this blog on the AmericanAncestors website, where the author wisely notes: 

    “The case of ‘Dr’ Davies serves as a lesson to all: even the most detailed attempts at crafting a fraudulent story will be unravelled by well-trained researchers.”

    Open, Global Genealogy

    Of course, if all data was truly open and accessible to everyone - which is our aim at UK Free Genealogy, con-artists such as Davies would find it more difficult to work their scams!

    OPEN, GLOBAL GENEALOGY is the theme of our annual conference which will take place (online) on 22 and 29 May. Find out more about our plans for the conference and register to join us on the 2021 Conference page.

  • Brick Wall Challenge: Open Data Day 2020

    We have been inundated with responses so have closed for this year.

    ___________________________________________________

    We're holding a 'Genealo-thon' on Saturday the 7th March, using our records to help break down your brick walls.

    Why not get some fresh eyes on your Brick Wall Ancestor? This year for Open Data Day we're hosting a Brick Wall Challenge! Send us as much information as you have on your 'brick wall' ancestor (BWA) and the Free UK Genealogy community will try to help you push that ancestral line back a generation using our freely available Open Data.

    Use the form below to tell us as much as you can about your BWA and if your application is progressed we will be in touch!

    When sending us a FamilySearch tree link, please make sure the focus is on your brick wall ancestor, or other ancestor; if it is on yourself, we won't be able to view your tree.

    If you'd like to be involved from the other side, to help break down the Brick Walls, this is the page for you: https://www.freeukgenealogy.org.uk/news/2020/02/14/brick-wall-team/

  • Accessibility Improvements: New Colours For FreeCEN & FreeREG

    In the summer of 2016, Free UK Genealogy began a journey to make all of our websites accessible to a minimum AA standard of W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. People may struggle to access our services due to advancing age, long-term health issues, and/or disability, which can often make access difficult or impossible. We're committed to removing all barriers to access of family history information and so we arranged for our most newly-developed website at the time, FreeREG, to undergo accessibility testing at The Shaw Trust (you can read about that here, in our News article)

    A few weeks later, we received the report which told us what we already knew: users with accessibility issues found it difficult or impossible to use our websites, even with assistive technologies. So we set to work to make the improvements required, with the vast majority of it being done by our volunteers. 

    One of the biggest jobs to come out of the audit was the insufficient colour contrast. The report stated:

    The combination of text and background colour should be set to create an easy to read website. Using colours that are similar for the background and foreground can cause blocks of text to become difficult to read.

    If the text size is at least 18 point if not bold and 14 point if bold, the minimum colour contrast ratio should be at least 3:1, if the text is less than 18 point if not bold and less than 14 point if bold, the minimum colour contrast ratio should be at least 4.5:1.

    Throughout the site there are combinations of colours that fall below the minimum contrast levels that make the text difficult to read.

    “There are instances where the text is made harder to read because of the colour combination used on the website when reading and hovering the mouse over certain links.”
    (Colour contrast tester)

    The new Free UK Genealogy logos

    It’s taken us longer than we would have liked, but we recently released the new colours on FreeREG and FreeCEN, and the new FreeBMD website (FreeBMD2) will also be part of this new suite. Alongside the design colours changing we’ve also made the font heavier, as the text being to light and difficult to read was a complaint we frequently heard from our users. We hope that these advances provide genealogists using our websites with a more enjoyable research experience!

    Visit FreeCEN and FreeREG now, to see these improvements and let us know what you think via the Contact Us link in the footer.

  • A Fashionable Marriage

    123 years ago today, on Wednesday 22 July 1896 at St Marks church in Lincoln Road, Peterborough, Northamptonshire there was a marriage between Hamlet De Wet and Mabel Langton. They both have interesting backgrounds. 

    Their families are well documented on the internet. They do not have obvious connections with Peterborough, therefore the choice of this particular church is surprising. Additionally, the St Mark's parish was created with the rapid growth in population following the arrival of the railways.

    This "Fashionable Marriage" was reported in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire newspapers. From these reports we learn the following: 

    At St Mark's Church, Peterborough, Mabel Katherine, eldest daughter of Mr Bennet Langton, of Langton Hall, Spilsby, Lincolnshire, was married to Mr Hamlet de Wet, of Kidderminster, second son of Major de Wet, of the Madras Native Infantry. The officiating clergy were Rev. T. Church, vicar of St George's, Kidderminster, and the Rev. B. de M. Egerton, vicar of St Mark's, Peterborough. The bride wore a white satin dress by Worth, with Brussels lace shirt and corded train and tulle veil (fastened by a diamond crescent, the gift of the bridegroom), and coronet of orange blossoms and white heather and myrtle. Mr Bennet Langton, brother of the bride, was best man, and Miss Langton, the bride's sister attended the bride. 

    St. Mark's Church, Peterborough © Paul Bryan | CC BY 2.0

    The reports do not specify the sister's name but their marriage is recorded on FreeREG - and Lucy Katharine Langton is one of the witnesses. 

    Langton by Spilsby (sometimes also known as Langton by Partney) is in the Lincolnshire Wolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, 55 miles from Peterborough. The Langton family has owned this village since at least the twelfth century and apparently still has very close links with it today. 

    Notable Langtons from Langton include Bennet Langton (1737-1801) a friend of Dr. Samuel Johnson.  Also Rev Charles Langton (1803 – 1886) married Charlotte in 1832, the third daughter of Josiah Wedgwood, the master potter. Charlotte died in 1862 and Charles married Emily, the sister of Charles Darwin, the naturalist, the following year.

    The bride was Mabel Marion Katharine Burton Langton, born 1866 in Langton. Her parents were Bennet Rothes Langton, landowner and Justice of the Peace, and Lucy Katharine Burton. Langton Hall had been twice destroyed by fire before the last Hall was erected by Bennet Rothes Langton in the 1860s.

    Engraving of Langton Hall, 1805

    Langton Hall (before being destroyed by fire in 1817). By Batholomew Howlett - A selection of Views in the county of Lincoln 1805, Public Domain.

    Dublin-born Hamlet Robert De Wet is recorded as living in Kidderminster, some 100 miles from Peterborough. His father Oloff Godlieb De Wet died in early 1894 aged 75, two years before this marriage. Born in Cape Town, South Africa, Oloff was a Major in the Madras Native Infantry. Hamlet's brother Thomas was a Senior British Officer in the Royal Navy. Another notable relative was Hugh de Wet, nephew of Hamlet and son of Thomas. This remarkable man was featured on the BBC programme This Is Your Life in 1956.

    During the Second World War, Hugh worked in France as a secret agent. He was arrested by the Gestapo and held in solitary confinement for six years, under sentence of death.

    There are several references to him on the internet. Below are two interesting links.

    http://www.bigredbook.info/hugh_oloff_de_wet.html 

    https://www.genza.org.za/index...

    At the time of the 1901 Census, our couple were living in Worcester, Hamlet was Manager of the National Telephone Company. Ten years later, the 1911 Census has the couple living in Filey, Yorkshire and confirmed that they were both living by "Private Means". The couple died in Norfolk in the 1930s.

    Outside the church of Saints Peter and Paul, in Langton by Partney are monuments to Bennett Rothes Langton (1840-1925), Lucy Katherine Langton (1840-1924) and Mabel M K B DeWet (1866-1934).

    Article written by Ian Slater, FreeREG volunteer.