• What's in a name?

    Anna Wilson is a Free UK Genealogy volunteer and PHAROS student.

    Here, she shares with us an example of how FreeREG helped her track down the baptism record of her four-times great grandfather, William Dunbar.

    I have been researching my family history since 2004 after discovering three Victorian photograph albums in a dark corner of my parent's attic. It's a large attic and was full of ‘stuff’ so these albums had been left untouched for years. My father stated that he had never seen them before even though the house had been his family home since the 1960s. 

    The photograph albums led to the discovery that my paternal great-grandparents were Scottish and offered me the opportunity to delve into the amazing records available at ScotlandsPeople.

    This was until I came across the name of my four times great grandfather William Dunbar. I easily found trees online which included William and a baptism record for him on the 14th April 1754 in Whittinghame, East Lothian. The actual baptism record detailed the name of his father Alexander Dunbar and his mother Helen Pringle, and I happily continued to work on my tree entering in the details of his marriage and children. 

    I tend to bulk the wish list of records I want to purchase with credit at ScotlandsPeople as it keeps me on a focused path rather than straying into looking at ‘potential’ records and using up all my credit. So it was months later that I obtained a copy of Peter Taylor’s will, my three times great grandfather, who had been married to Ratchel DunbarWilliam’s daughter.

    Peter Taylor, family photograph

    Peter Taylor’s will was a gem of a genealogical document for both the Taylor and Dunbar families. It referred to land that Ratchel had inherited from her father, which had belonged to William Dunbar’s mother… Ratchel Galloway. This was an unfamiliar name: where was Helen Pringle? I revisited the records I had about William. His marriage to Catherine Patterson was in 1785 in Haddington, East Lothian. Their marriage occurred before the introduction of Civil Registration in Scotland in 1855 and so I was reliant on the Old Parish Registers of marriage. The entry stated that they had been irregularly married in Edinburgh – perhaps more information would be in the Kirk Session Records but residing in Somerset a visit to the National Records of Scotland (NRS) would not be happening any time soon.

    So, I searched ScotlandsPeople again changing dates, names, and locations with the same three results but none relating to William Dunbar the son of Alexander Dunbar and Ratchel Galloway

    By 2018 I had been trying to search for William Dunbar’s correct baptism for 2 years. I discovered that FreeREG had great coverage of baptisms, marriages and burials for the East Lothian area. I decided to use their search engine, making sure I used the Soundex facility. In less than a minute, bingo: there he was William Dumbar, baptised in the September of 1759 in Haddington, East Lothian just below the other William Dunbar baptised 1754 in Whittinghame, East Lothian. Clicking on the entry his father was Alexander Dunbar and his mother was transcribed as Rahall Gallaway, with William Gallaway as a witness.

    Baptism record of William Dumbar on FreeREG

    Baptism record of William Dumbar on FreeREG

    So why could I not find the original image on ScotlandsPeople? 

    I went back to ScotlandsPeople and searched using ‘Rahall Galloway’ as William’s parent and used phonetic and wildcard searches to match the transcription of the baptism entry and there it was in the search results. It recorded William Dumbar’s parents as Alexander Dumbar and Rachall Galloway and I was able to purchase the correct baptism for my William Dunbar – leading to a different family to that of Alexander Dunbar and Helen Pringle. 

    So, some valuable lessons learnt along the way:

    • Always verify the information and sources from online trees, 
    • Never give up on brick walls,
    • Find as many records relating to an ancestor as possible,
    • Use as many search facilities as possible to find them,
    • Always use phonetic and wildcard searches on different websites
    • If FreeREG covers your area of interest in Scotland it is a great resource to identify names that have been mistranscribed as well as assist in narrowing down the relevant individual before you spend your credit at ScotlandsPeople.

    I wish I had found FreeREG sooner!

  • Spanish nobleman ‘Found Shot’ in Peterborough

    An intriguing entry occasionally catches the eye of our transcribers - and raises all kinds of unanswered questions.

    One such entry was recently unearthed by Ian Slater, a volunteer transcriber for FreeREG, when working his way through the burial register for Broadway Cemetery in Peterborough.

    Ian writes:

    When transcribing records, it is unusual to find one with an unconfirmed name; an age ‘range’; and an unknown address. So, when I found the following entry, it literally stopped me in my tracks:

    “Name – Hipolito Finat (supposed to be);

    Address – Unknown;

    Buried – 17 August 1885;

    Age – about 40-50 yrs”.

    Why was his name “supposed to be”? And why was his age in doubt, and his address unknown?

    Today, some 130 years later, we have the benefit of access to digitised records on the internet and, naturally, my first thought was to search for the name online.

    My search revealed a sorry and puzzling tale – reported in several newspapers* nationwide during August and September of 1885.

    Found Shot

    The reports revealed that Count Hipólito Finat was a Spanish nobleman, born in Madrid in 1838, and married to Leonor de Carvajal in 1870. He was a member of the Spanish Cortes, Deputy for the Province of Seville - and, sadly, he had shot himself in the head in King Street, Peterborough on the morning of Wednesday 12th August 1885.

    The first problem was identification – and, as the record shows, at the point of burial (five days after his death) they were not even sure they had got his name correct!

    The newspapers reported that Finat was found with nothing in his pockets that would lead to his identification. But from the quality of his clothes (made by outfitters in Paris) and, from his appearance, it was thought that this was “a gentleman from Spain or France”.

    So, the City Mayor contacted the Spanish and French Consuls in London. And, having found that the waistband of Finat’s trousers had the maker’s name of Robert Cumberland with an address in Paris (together with the name Finat and Madrid), the Mayor also contacted M Cumberland. In the telegram reply, it was confirmed that Hipolito Finat was a well-known gentleman from Madrid.

    The newspapers reported that he had, in fact, left Paris on 10th August, with 600 French Francs (about £24) and a gold watch and chain in his possession, although this was missing when his body was found.

    For some time, it seems Finat had been under the care of a Dr Barbet, Rue Boileau, Paris, and in a telegram received by the Mayor of Peterborough from Finat's bankers in Paris, it is stated that he was "temporarily mad". It was also reported that Finat had expressed an intention to commit suicide as he had thought that he would lose his fortune.

    At the inquest on 24th August 1885, an open verdict of Found Shot was returned.

    Image from the National Library of Wales


    With the identity confirmed and some context gathered, attention now focused on repatriation.
    On 19th August, the Consul-General of Spain based in London contacted the Mayor by telegram asking that the body be preserved. However, of course, the burial had taken place in the Broadway Cemetery two days earlier by the city Poor-Law Officials (after a photograph had been taken).

    Subsequently, on 10th September 1885, the Peterborough Mayor received an order from the Home Secretary for the exhumation of the body of Count Finat. This took place on 14th September at 4am in the presence of a group that included the Mayor, a Catholic priest, a doctor and the head-constable. 

    Four days later, the body was sent to London (after being encased in a lead shell and an oak coffin with silver mountings), where it was shipped on board the SS Lope de Vega, and forwarded to Madrid, accompanied by the priest.

    Why Peterborough?

    The question remains: Why did an important Spanish Count depart Paris and travel to Peterborough in England to commit suicide?
    While searching on the Count’s name in the newspaper archives, Finat’s name was found listed as a director on a 'prospectus' for the Union Bank of Spain and England Limited in 1881. This gives him a reason for having been in England – but the bank was headquartered in London, so why Peterborough? Maybe a branch was being considered there. Further searches show the bank went into voluntary liquidation around 1895, so it’s possible that Finat had good cause to fear he might lose his fortune.

    A noble link

    Peterborough does have one other link with Spanish nobility: some 350 years earlier, Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII, was buried in Peterborough Cathedral (1536). So, Finat was not the first important Spaniard to be buried locally – although he was probably the only one to have been exhumed and taken back to the country of his birth!
    At Free UK Genealogy, we naturally champion using free resources for our research. Although most newspaper archives are behind 'paid' walls these days, it is possible to search some newspaper archives for free and extract information. A search on ‘Count Finat’ in the newspaper archives (see sources below) brings up several pages of headlines and extracts, from which it has been possible to ascertain several facts about the incident, as Ian has related in this article. The Welsh Newspapers online site is, however, completely free!


    Results for 'count finat' | Between 1st Jan 1850 and 31st Dec 1899 | British Newspaper Archive

    Welsh Newspapers Online - Search - '()' (library.wales)

    Hipólito Finat | findmypast.co.uk

  • 1930s: Dating photographs from fashion in the pre-WW2 decade

    In our series of blogs on dating photographs from fashion, we have arrived at the 1930s.

    This decade heralded the beginning of the golden age of cinema. The ‘talkies’ had now firmly replaced the ‘silent’ movies, and going to the cinema was an inexpensive pastime for people. Many of them went every Saturday for their fix of the film stars. No surprise, then, that fashions of the time were inspired by the likes of Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Clark Gable and Errol Flynn.

    Images of Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Clark Gable & Errol Flynn from Wikipedia

    Greta Garbo, Marlene DietrichClark Gable & Errol Flynn.
    From Wikipedia

    While the knock-on effects of the Great Depression in the USA meant times were tough for many in the UK, women could copy the film stars’ make-up and hairstyles at relatively little cost; and the introduction of man-made fibres and the zip made clothing more affordable and accessible. Clothes catalogues were launched in the UK (Littlewoods) and the USA (Sears), and the option to purchase items and spread the cost was appealing. Glamour was now accessible.

    By this decade, many people owned cameras (such as the Kodak Box camera) as they were inexpensive and easy to use – having no focus feature and using a roll film. Lucky family historians, such as myself, have a wide range of photographs in their collection, taken in locations other than a photographer’s studio. However, while colour photography was now possible, black and white photographs were cheaper and still the norm.

    Women’s fashion

    Following on from the boyish look of the Roaring Twenties, femininity returned to ladies’ fashion in the 1930s. Thankfully, though, corsets did not reappear.  
    In this decade, the fashionable silhouette evolved into a slender, elongated torso with widening shoulders and a neat head with softly waved short hair. Though the lines were simple, the overall effect was one of complete sinuous femininity with a natural waist and skirts flaring out slightly at the ankle. Hemlines descended back to ankle length and waistlines moved back to their natural place. (See the photo of my grandparents, with my mother, taken in 1933.)

    In the evening, satin dresses with low backs were fashionable. A technique known as the ‘bias cut’ was introduced, whereby the fabric is cut on a 45-degree angle so it stretches and moulds itself gently to the body. This created a slinky, flowing effect in evening gowns and was sometimes used for daywear, too.

    Day dresses came in a variety of patterns: floral, plaid, and dots. They were darted around the bust and fitted around the hips, falling to a straight skirt which often had gentle flutes through the insertion of bias-cut panels or pleats. Cap, elbow length and wrist-length sleeves were worn, usually with volume at the top and narrowing towards the wrist.

    Fur was everywhere in the 1930s, for day and evening wear. It wasn’t only for fashion – it had a practical purpose: there was still no central heating. It was used for fur coats; coat linings, collars and cuffs; capes; and gloves and stoles. While fur was a luxury item, it came in all grades and prices, ranging from sable down to rabbit; and faux fur, made from cotton pile, was available for those who couldn’t afford the real thing.

    Hats included a style of cloche which allowed room for curls to be shown off; caps and pillboxes in a variety of shapes and colours to match outfits; and even berets. For the summer, there were wide-brimmed straw hats to match the colour of the dress.
    As the decade came to a close, and World War 2 began, the popular style of broad, padded shoulders, nipped in waists and shorter A-line skirts that would dominate the early 1940s had already emerged.



    While men still wore suits for formal occasions and work, casual wear such as knitted sweaters and soft-collared shirts became increasingly popular for day-time wear. Blazers and sports jackets with flannel trousers and open-necked shirts were styles influenced by sporting pursuits. This photograph, taken on the beach at Birchington, Kent in 1938, depicts the more casual approach to clothing that men, women and children were able to adopt in this decade.

    Oxford bags remained popular for men, and trouser legs continued to be wide at the bottom and worn creased and cuffed. When suits were worn, jackets had wide, padded shoulders and tapering sleeves. Of course, formalwear did not disappear altogether, and the tuxedo continued to be a popular choice, with white tuxedos being worn in warmer countries.

    Towards the end of the decade and the start of World War 2, military-inspired trends such as the trench coat and the leather ‘bomber’ jacket saw popularity as casual outerwear.

    Children's wear

    Girls’ dresses, mimicking women’s fashion, returned to the natural waist. Cotton and muslin were popular fabrics, and dresses were embellished with embroidery, piping, and ruffles. Peter Pan collars remained popular (see the photo of my mum and her sister, below, in 1938), and dresses could be made in plain or patterned material.

    The movies had an influence on girls’ clothing too, and the ‘Shirley Temple dress’ – with puffed sleeves, a high waist, and a short hem – was particularly popular for little girls. Older girls wore longer dresses that fell just above their knees.

    Sailor suits continued to be a popular style for young boys, and age continued to dictate whether a boy wore shorts or long trousers, with younger boys wearing corduroy shorts and cotton shirts.
    Older boys’ clothing largely echoed their adult counterparts, with wool and flannel suits. Trousers were worn with a belt or suspenders, while hand-knitted sweaters or sweater vests were worn over collared cotton shirts with ties.

    The end of fashion?

    Next time, we take a look at the 1940s. This was the decade in which World War 2 resulted in clothes being rationed for eight years (from 1941 to 1949). Resources and raw materials for civilian clothing were limited, which could have spelt the end for fashion. But we’ll discover how it survived and even flourished in wartime, often in unexpected ways

  • 1910s: Disappearing Corsets, Healthy Fashion and Feminism

    In our series of blogs on ‘dating photography from fashion’, we have reached the 1910s. This decade can be divided into two main periods: before the war and during the war. 

    The war in question was World War I, of course; but let’s focus on the fashion...

    At the start of the decade for women’s fashion, the S-curve of the 1900s softened, although it was still focused on the top half of the body. As the decade progressed, the straight skirts of the earlier years of the 20th century started to taper in at the bottom. Some of these were so tight it made it difficult for the wearer to walk! They were often worn with tunics or jackets over the top.

    Other than this there were some new fashions that came into being – one of which was wide-brimmed, stylish hats. These were embellished with feathers, ribbons, veils or other decorative features.

    Women’s boots with high, curved heels resembling men’s church shoes, but in a feminine style, became popular. They commonly had a rounder shape, or bows, with slimmer heels. In the evening, women often wore shoes with small heels, or slippers, similar to court shoes.

    Rockaway Hunt Meet

    Curveless female fashion.

    The fashion designer Paul Poiret introduced a playful side to fashion in the USA, and he also credits himself with getting rid of the corset (however, other designers were moving in that direction, too). This meant that clothes started to fit the contours of the female body more naturally.

    In the UK, corsets were still worn but they became longer and less restrictive. Part of this was due to women becoming more aware of the effect of their clothes on their health. Feminism also started to influence fashion with men supporting women in developing less restrictive clothing. Women started entering professions and adapted men’s work-clothes as part of this process.


    Men’s Fashion

    Men’s fashion was similar to that of the previous decade. Trousers were becoming narrower and shorter, with creases down the front and turn-ups starting to appear. This was possible due to the invention of the trouser-press in the mid-1890s.

    From 1914 until the end of the decade, men were most often photographed in military uniform but during this time the trench coat also became popular (fashionable is probably not the right word). As the name suggests, the coat was named after the trenches of the First World War. A water-resistant, khaki coloured coat that was lighter than the official coat issued by the British Army, it kept the wearer warm and dry. It was worn by women, as well as men, during the war. After the war, the trench coat became popular as everyday wear, particularly in the USA.

    Trench coats (Wikipedia)

    Children’s Clothing

    In this decade the constraints of the war led to material rationing. This meant the smock dresses, which had been popular for young girls since the 1890s, became shorter and less embellished. Many girls wore light-coloured, dropped-waist dresses. One effect of this was that girls looked less like small women. This trend was similar for boys too with school uniforms appearing and shorts rather than trousers becoming popular for younger boys (being a more practical type of dress). Teenagers started dressing like adults.

    For younger children knitted fabrics were popular. They were comfortable, stretchy, easy-to-make and gave greater freedom of movement than other types of fabric.

    Children's Fashion from 1910

    Make sure to look out for our next article, where we take a look at the post-war fashions of the roaring twenties.