• Brick Wall Challenge: Open Data Day 2020

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

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    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/

  • 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.

  • Poison Panic on BBC One

    We're pleased to host another guest post by author and FreeREG transcriber Helen Barrell, who will feature on BBC One's Murder, Mystery and My Family  this Wednesday (3rd April) at 09.15am. 

    Here, Helen describes the usefulness of parish registers in researching the subject of her books, and the case of Sarah Chesham, who she believes suffered an unfair outcome in her trial.

    Cover of Poison Panic

    The cover of Helen's book: Poison Panic.

    Some years ago, I was researching a branch of my family who lived in Acton in Suffolk. I discovered a great-several times uncle called Mordecai Simpson who, it turned out, had been drawn into an arsenic poisoning which led to the hanging of a 17-year-old.

    This was the rather sad case of Catherine Foster, who was convicted of murdering her husband. The crime only came to light when Mordecai, who lived next door to Catherine, noticed his chickens dying. It turned out they’d eaten leftovers from the arsenic-laced dumpling that Catherine had fed to her husband. She was hanged in 1847.

    While transcribing the parish registers for Wix in Essex, I stumbled over another arsenic case – when Mary May was found guilty of poisoning her half-brother Spratty Watts (also known as William Constable). Mary was hanged in 1848, and the more I looked, the more cases of arsenic poisonings I found cropping up in the newspapers around that time.

    And one of the other cases was that of Sarah Chesham, who stood trial no less than three times for poisoning in 1847 and once again in 1851. Just after that final trial, when Sarah was condemned to death, an act was passed which restricted the sale of arsenic. Up until then, it was as easy to buy as an any innocent grocery, but after the act was passed, arsenic could only be purchased if the customer signed or marked the poisons register. In later years, many other poisons were added to the restricted list, including strychnine and cyanide. If you’re an avid reader of Golden Age crime fiction, you’ll have come across poisons registers in murder mysteries.

    But these stories are no fictions – real people died of arsenic poisonings, and real people were hanged in front of crowds of thousands of people. I was curious about the impact of the cases on the people involves and their communities and so set about researching them in detail. In 2016, Poison Panic, my book about the cluster of poisonings in Essex was published, and in 2017, Fatal Evidence, the biography of Alfred Swaine Taylor – the toxicologist who worked on nearly all the cases in Poison Panic, as well as famous nineteenth-century trials like that of William Palmer – came out.

    Alfred Swaine Taylor giving evidence at an inquest

    Last year I was contacted by the makers of BBC1’s award-winning series Murder, Mystery and My Family. Sarah Chesham was to be the subject of one of the episodes, and they asked me for my help.

    I was really glad to be involved as I’m not convinced that Sarah Chesham had a fair trial in 1851. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s what the law would define as an “unfair trial”, because as things were in 1851, the judge presiding over the case and who sentenced her to death after she was convicted of attempted murder, had not technically done anything wrong. It’s just that morally it doesn’t seem right as the Offences Against the Person Act, under which she was tried, doesn’t include execution as a possible sentence – life imprisonment or transportation for life are the stiffest sentences possible. However, judges were allowed to sentence as they saw fit, and Campbell, the judge, decided that Sarah was guilty of the charges she’d been acquitted of in 1847 as well. 

    Sarah had no defence counsel, and the press had been printing lurid nonsense about her too – with no money of her own, no solicitor to raise a petition, and with no Appeal Court (which wouldn’t exist until 1875) to challenge Campbell’s sentence, Sarah Chesham was hanged.

    Parish registers were incredibly useful for my research – not only did they inspire me in the first place to find out more about the arsenic poisonings afoot at the time, but they also helped me to reconstruct the families of those involved. In the case of Mary May, the registers were useful for finding out if the newspapers were correct when they claimed she’d had sixteen children and murdered them all – it will come as little surprise to learn that this wasn’t true at all. Over-the-top gossip surrounding the arsenic poisonings cases made their way into newspapers unchecked and were repeated and exaggerated as the stories spread. 

    Parish registers offer us an insight into ordinary people’s lives – and when those people become part of extraordinary events, those registers can give us the facts that overblown, tub-thumping newspaper editorial of the past distorts. And so it’s fitting we filmed a scene in Clavering’s churchyard, where the very vicar who recorded Sarah Chesham’s family in his parish’s registers once stood.

    Helen Barrell, FreeREG Transcriber and Author of Poison Panic in Clavering, Essex.

    The second series of Murder, Mystery and My Family is being broadcast on BBC1 from 25th March to 5th April. The episode about Sarah Chesham airs on Wednesday 3rd April.

    Helen Barrell’s books Poison Panic and Fatal Evidence are published by Pen & Sword and available from all good bookshops.

    Transcriptions for Acton, Clavering and Wix can be found on FreeREG.

  • How will GDPR impact historical records?

    The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force on the 25th of May 2018. Designed to augment existing Data Protection rules, the principles as set out in Article 5 show clear requirements that all personal data held by anyone must be stringently and transparently collected, stored, processed and preserved or removed, and will result in heavy fines for breaches and failure to comply.

    Genealogy services that store and process data are having to review and strengthen their procedures; for example WikiTree are removing DNA test information on living non-members. Family historians may understandably have questions about what the GDPR means for genealogical research… will we still be able to order birth, marriage and death certificates for living people?  Will the harsh rules and measures lead to the destruction of records that could be of future genealogical interest? What about other personal data that FreeUKGEN holds?

    Records on Free UK Genealogy websites

    While many of the records on our websites are about dead people, some Record Subjects are living people, and thus regulated by GDPR. Very occasionally, a record focussed on a dead person will contain information about living persons - for example, a burial record can state someone is the widow, or widower, of a named living person. 

    We collect and process publically available register and census information including personal data about a Record Subject’s birth, baptism or other similar entry into a religious body, marriage and marital status, occupation (e.g. ‘groom’s occupation’), gender, age and other personal data as is recorded in historical documents. We consider it is legitimate to process this information for research purposes, including statistical and historical purposes. Further, many of the records we process provide public access to official documents,  including indices of Birth and Marriage, and registrations of marriage these are likely to be, additionally, covered in an exemption.

    Destruction of records

    Article 5 states that “...further processing for archiving purposes in the public interest, scientific or historical research purposes or statistical purposes shall not be considered to be incompatible with the initial purposes”. (Article 5)
     
    In the recent ‘Windrush immigrants’ case, a former Home Office employee reported that landing cards of people who have lived in the UK for many years, which were used to establish their status were deliberately destroyed by the Home Office in 2010. Responding to the claim, the Home Office admitted that records were destroyed but claimed that this was necessary to comply with the Data Protection Act (DPA). However, the Board of Trade had transferred comparable historical records to the National Archive (BT 26 Inwards Passenger Lists 1878 to 1960), and government departments continue to do this. For example the surviving aliens' registration cards for the London area as recently as 1991, which survived by accident, have been transferred, and are now open records.You can find them on the National Archive here. 

    It is a real concern that the fear of incurring large fines may drive organisations to destroy business records that could be a rich source of genealogical information. It is easy to see how managers and Data Protection Officers may believe that destroying documents holding personal data removes any risk of mishandling. We have seen such a case on social media involving a local funeral director with 45 years worth of records. Worried that their small business doesn’t have the time, money or expertise for further processing, they arranged for the historic records to be shredded.

    It is clear that the GDPR highlights the importance of effective records management and should help drive the case for investing in new information management technologies and programmes. Businesses could donate records that are no longer needed by them (e.g. no longer covered by a contract) which nevertheless have research value to an appropriate research institution, such as a local archive, or transfer to a business archive.

    Record Disposal Policies of local councils often include provision to ensure that records of potential historic interest or research value are identified and transferred to their Archive Service. This would have to be done with the agreement of the Archive Manager, going through the formal accession or deposition process that must take into account already strained resources such as storage space and staff to manage and maintain the records.

    The ARA are arguing for “clear language in any UK and Irish implementing legislation that ‘all archiving purposes are in the public interest’ and therefore all archives have a clear legal basis to exist and do their invaluable work.”

    Other personal data that is held by Free UK Genealogy

    Free UK Genealogy holds data for a number of other reasons that are permitted by GDPR (and its predecessors):

    Contract: e.g. we have (unwritten) contracts with our volunteers - in order that they can transcribe, we have to send them images or links to images, and in order to do that we have to hold and process their email addresses.

    Legal: e.g. some people, very kindly, permit us to claim Gift Aid on their donations.  We have a legal obligation to pass their names and addresses on to HMRC, and hold and process this information to do this.

    Legitimate interests: we include information about our legitimate interests in our forthcoming revision of privacy information. We hold, for example, the names and email addresses of people who have contacted us using our contact form, in order to be able to reply to them.
    We don’t have any ‘vital’ interests (data held/processed to save lives) and we don’t (at the moment) carry out ‘public tasks’ (if a public body delegated tasks to us, we would do).

    Consent: where we have no contract, legal or legitimate interest, we need to ask for consent to hold and process data (for example, in the past we have sent invitations to test new features, notices of forthcoming meetings, and similar to our newsletter mailing list.  While we hold and process the personal data of who has signed up for the newsletter as part of a contract (they ticked a box saying they wanted the newsletter), they didn’t sign up for additional emails - so we have asked that they give us explicit consent for each additional kind of mailing. Consent is the ‘last straw’ of legitimate data holding and processing.

    infographic

    If you would like to know how we handle the data we hold, you can read our updated Privacy Notice here https://www.freeukgenealogy.org.uk/files/Documents/Privacy-Notice.pdf