• Guest Post - George Sargent: The Forgotten Golfing Innovator

    ‘The first recollections I have are of playing up and down the road, with a stick, with a knob or crook at the end, and trying to drive along a round pebble, in imitation of the golfers. It must certainly have needed some accuracy.’

    George Sargent, Article in The American Golfer 1909

    Idly flipping through the pages of a golf collectables book at Gloucester antiques centre recently, I paused and looked again. There in black and white was the signature of my great-great-uncle George Sargent. I had never met him and until my sister began a family tree a few years ago many of our ancestors and stories had been an unspoken mystery.

    The book states that George’s signature was worth $350 in 2004. Further down the list, keen golfer Frank Sinatra’s signature is listed at $100 less. 

    Using census, birth, marriage and death, and marriage records we had discovered that George was born at Brockham, Surrey in 1882, was a professional golfer, and had won the US Open in 1909. But what had lead him to America? Why is my sports loving father so disparaging about ‘glof’ as he terms the game, and why did I read about George introducing the use of motion pictures to study the golf swing when there appeared to be no obvious proof that he had done so?

    In 1886 George Jonathan Sargent was an inventive, playful four year old living with his mother Amelia, father William, Alfred his five year old brother, and baby sister Rose Edith, my paternal great grandmother.

    The family moved to Epsom soon after Rose was born and George began imitating the golfers at the nearby Epson Down Golf Club, seeking out little round stones and straight sticks with a crook at the end just the right size to practice with.

    George often popped onto the course and soon became a caddy, carrying clubs, fetching stray balls and carrying out various duties. His father William worked hard, long hours as a maltster to support the family. The pressure on George to earn more money in a stable job must have increased when brother William was born in 1894.

    Golf was George’s passion, his life, and we can only imagine the family conversations that I suspect lead to the families disparaging ingrained view of golf as a profession.

    George was hardworking, willing to learn and had obviously made an impression at the club. Thomas McWatt took the enthusiastic youngster under his wing, and before his twelfth birthday George had begun a six year apprenticeship as a golf club maker with the professional golfer.

    By the age of sixteen George was flourishing at the game and McWatt, along with famed golfer Harry Vardon, encouraged him to a quite exceptional standard and he later proudly declared that ‘I could hold my own with any scratch man’.

    Harry Vardon took George to Canton golf club up in Yorkshire where he developed his game, learned how to teach golf and how to manage and design golf courses.

    He then moved back to Esher, Surrey to be coached by Sir Edgar Vincent. His first game as a pro was at Muirfield in Scotland. By the end of the first round he was in fifth place. It created quite the buzz and Harry Vardon later commented that everyone was walking round asking ‘Who the blazes is this Sargent?’.

    Great things were predicted for the young prodigy. After moving to Dewsbury in Yorkshire and winning several prizes, George competed in the prestigious ‘Open Championship’ at St Andrews, finishing in an astonishing fourth place.

    By 1905 George felt he had outgrown the UK pro circuit and moved to the Royal Ottawa Golf Club in Quebec, Canada, leaving behind his pregnant mother and unmarried pregnant sister.

    George and Beatrice on their wedding day 1907. Courtesy of Carol Hitchcock  granddaughter of the couple.

    George and Beatrice on their wedding day 1907. Courtesy of Carol Hitchcock granddaughter of the couple.

    In 1907 George returned to England to marry Beatrice Marguerite Pearce in Battersea and she joined him in Ottawa later that summer.

    A fruitful few years followed and George became a pro in New England at the course he had helped design - Hyde Manor Hotel in Vermont.

    In 1908 their first son, Alfred, was born in Quebec and in 1909 George left Beatrice in Liverpool as he sailed for New York on The Mauritania.

    George put his time to good use practising, but fared very badly at the US Championship at Myopia. Feeling he could do nothing right he tore up his card in disgust; ‘When I cooled off and saw how bad almost everyone else was I realized my mistake, and promptly made up my mind I had torn up my last card.’

    He put in weeks more practice in preparation for the US Open Championship and a few days at Garden City. Then something happened, ‘I commenced to develop a feeling I was going to win; that feeling never left me, and even when I started the first round 6555, which was enough to dishearten anyone, I never lost confidence.’ He determined to improve during the afternoon, started badly, improved then spent the rest of the match playing a tightly nudged game with MacNamara. On the ninth hole he heard clapping and someone said ‘You are level with MacNamara’ and a friend advised he kept cool. George felt no excitement ‘I might have been made of wood for all the feeling I had, there was just one determined object in my head to win.’

    And by George did he win! He heard a great ovation from the Gallery and realised he had done the unthinkable.

    He later modestly thanked his ‘brother pro’s’ for their generous congratulations, ‘I had come amongst them almost an entire stranger, and I thank them all for my kind reception.’

    George proudly wrote ‘Golf Champion’ as his profession on the 1910 USA census. He played in another fifteen US Opens finishing six times in the top ten, and won both the 1912 Canadian Open and 1918 Minnesota State Open. Other achievements beckoned aside from championships, as the family dotted around America popping across the border to Canada and back to England intermittently with a steadily growing family.

    George moved to the Chevy Chase Country club as head pro for seven years, then to Minneapolis, Ohio and Columbus, constantly re-designing and refining the courses he played on.

    George was a member of the Professional Golfers Association Of America from its beginnings and in 1921 was honoured to become the 3rd president, a post he held for five years.

    Selection of adverts. Courtesy Stephen Guyot, thegolfballfactory.com

    During his time at Chevy Chase he was also busy designing, manufacturing and promoting his own range of golf clubs.

    A well groomed mustachioed George stares from the posters;
    ‘Hit Hard and Look Spiteful, is what you have to do with most clubs, Smile and Take it Easy, is all you need with the Champion Clubs.’

    During the 1920s George was confident enough with his teaching to give golf lessons on the radio and this seemingly batty idea may have led him to his next innovation.

    C Francis Jenkins with one of his moving image inventions. Image: Wikipedia

    Sometime before 1930 he had met C Francis Jenkins, a pioneer in motion picture apparatus as well as the development of television. Several years before, George had begun studying the golf swing with an incredibly focused eye, using stereoscope photography to analyse the science of stance, grip and angle.

    We can only imagine his excitement at discovering that Jenkins had developed a movie camera that took an incredible 3200 shots a second. At the time an ordinary camera took only 16. George explained to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that he and Francis could take ‘3200 pictures a second on 200 feet of film’ slowing ‘a golf swing down from something like one second to four minutes’. This is an achievement that OB Keebler described in the paper of 1930 as ‘the most important development, I suppose, in all the history of golf, so far as the teaching of this complex and baffling game is concerned.'

    George chose his three subjects expertly, Harry Vardon his mentor and old style golfer, Bobby Jones a newer buck on the block, and Miss Joyce Wethered ‘the greatest feminine golfer who ever lived’. 

    Bobby Jones age 14, Miss Joyce Wethered in 1953, Harry Vardon. Images: Wikipedia

    There were only four of these amazing cameras in the world and the film was produced by the PGAA; it must have cost a fortune considering the amount of film used. Around the same time George, ever the innovator, was experimenting on apparatus to ‘weigh’ a golf swing and by 1939 he had developed a cobbled-together machine that did just that. Along with analysis of champions' heights and weights, he calculated that the optimum swing for a win was 22° between the golfer's body and the golf club, all clearly demonstrated in Popular Science magazine.

    Having pieced together George’s articles and quotes, I now have the proof of his early innovation using motion pictures to analyse golf techniques. The film that he worked on showing his three chosen subjects can be found on Youtube:

    George and Beatrice had 10 surviving children; several went on to be golf pros, teachers and course designers. 

    George helped shape the future of golf through his application of innovative, practical scientific inventions. Perhaps it is because of his self-effacing, collaborative nature that much of his story has remained undocumented until now?

    Heather Tweed is an artist, writer and educator. She has spent five years scouring dusty manuscripts and unopened tomes, bringing to life a remarkable characters from the past. 



    Links and sources:

    National Library Of Congress catalogue, 35 stereographs of famous golfers demonstrating golf techniques:


    How I won The Open Championship, George Sargent, American Golfer 1909:


    Golf The Proper Way, The American Golfer, Vol 3 No. 6 April 1910:


    This Game Of Golf, Sarasota Herald Tribune, August 5th 1930:


    The Great Golf Hall Of Fame:


    Golf Club Patents 1935, George Sargent & William H Vaughn:


    Novel Scale “Weighs” Golf Swing, Popular Science August 1939:


    The Right Clubs and Balls:


    Analysis of Golf Swing film from Youtube video (above)

    Gilchrist’s Guide to Golf Collectibles, Roger E Gilchrist & Mark Emerson, iGuide Media, Inc. 2004

    Golf Club Patents, Sargent George, William H Vaughan, filing date Sept 4, 1935,
    Serial No. 40,089:


    Epsom and Ewell History Explorer, George Jonathan Sargent 1882-1962 Hazel Ballan 2012


  • Frank Rogers - Volunteering with FreeREG

    Free UK Genealogy couldn't have made over 400 Million records available without our wonderful volunteers who give their time and energy so generously to make our websites what they are. 

    Here, volunteer transcriber Frank Rogers tells us about his experiences volunteering with FreeREG. 

    Frank Rogers, FreeREG volunteer

    Frank Rogers (c)

    Original Parish Registers are difficult and time consuming for genealogists to access in their search for items of interest to them. FreeREG has been set up to address this problem by transcribing them onto a web site to allow free access to the data and provide search facilities.

    Volunteers are required to do this transcribing from images of the parish register for Baptisms, Marriages and Burials. The original registers are usually held in an Archive centre, with only the current registers in the Parish. 

    These images are made available to transcribers to work on in their home, so they can do this in their own time. Most use a special free program to enter the data on their computer. Email is used to transfer the images and data files, and communicate with their coordinator and other transcribers, who may be anywhere in the world.

    Over 40 million register entries have already been transcribed, but there is still plenty to do. We welcome new volunteers who can help us with both transcribing, and sourcing more records to transcribe.

    There are interesting challenges, like trying to decipher the poor handwriting of some priests, and learning the meaning of Latin words used at a time when this was still used in documents. Most registers include details of Parish or Abode of the individuals, and this provides interest, particularly when the place mentioned is known to the transcriber. Sometimes the place name mentioned is no longer in use. For example, I came across several references to a farm in the parish next to my home village, and even asking locals who might know has not yet produced an answer as to where it was. On other occasions there are records of a larger number of deaths than usual, particularly of children or a whole family, and one asks themselves "Why?". Sometimes the text 'smallpox' or similar is added to the entry as an explanation. The deaths of a mother and child at about the same time also highlights another tragedy more common in years gone by. One also learns about the Gregorian calendar in use before 1752, the change in the date of New Year’s Day, and the missing 25 days that year!

    There are email groups for transcribers to communicate with each other. These are often used to ask other transcribers for their opinion on difficult register entries. Help and support is also readily available on the Members section of the FreeREG web site, and from your coordinator.

    I also convert donated registers already in computer readable format to FreeREG format.

    To do this I use the facilities in Microsoft Office Excel to write what they call Macros to process the information as required, making corrections as necessary. The Macros are written in the Visual Basic programming language which enables me effectively to write a program which can do virtually anything with the data.

    Over 3 weeks in May I was able to add over 74,000 records to FreeREG from 8 parishes in Kent and I am now working on another batch of donated registers that will add about another 15,000 records.

    As a retired computer programmer this is a task I enjoy, and I hope to help other counties that may need this conversion doing.

  • The Witchfinder General: Halloween Guest Post

    Helen Barrell - FreeREG transcriber and writer of historical crime fiction and non-fiction describes how she uncovered records pertaining to the 'Witchfinder General' in the parish registers of Essex and Suffolk.

    One of the biggest witch-hunts in English history began in the village of Mistley in north-east Essex in 1644. When I began to transcribe Mistley’s parish register covering that period, I expected to find the names of those caught up in the panic. But the register unlocked clues as to the power structures in the area that helped to bring Matthew Hopkins, self-styled Witchfinder General, to prominence.

    After three years of inducing terror and extracting false confessions under duress, Hopkins died and was buried in Mistley, on 12 August 1647. A note in the register tells us that he was the son of Mr James Hopkins, Minister of Wenham – about eight miles away from Mistley, over the border in Suffolk.

    (Courtesy of Essex Archives Online. D/P 343/1/1)

    The reason for Hopkins being in Mistley had been shrouded in mystery. What brought him there from Suffolk? Why was he buried in the place where he started his witch-hunt?

    As I was transcribing the register, picking up every name as I worked my way through it, I wondered if there were any other people called Hopkins in the register – did Hopkins have any family who had travelled to Mistley with him?

    This led me to the burial in 1641 of John Hopkins, with the handy note “son of Marie Hopkins (wife to Mr. Tho. Witham, parson).” So there we have our explanation for why Matthew Hopkins was in Mistley – his mother had married the vicar, after the death of his father in 1634. And John Witham, who performed Hopkins’ burial, was his stepbrother.

    I wondered if the family of Thomas Witham could shed any light on Hopkins. Witham was inducted into Mistley’s church in 1610, when at once - and I’m sure other transcribers will recognise my joy at this - his beautiful, clear handwriting appears in the register. He kept the records neatly for over thirty years, carefully numbering each entry. He was fond of adding a distinctive trefoil design with a long tail, and whenever a record related to someone in his family, he often wrote the name twice the size of everyone else’s.

    (Courtesy of Essex Archives Online. D/P 343/1/)

    From 1613 until 1629, the baptisms of seven children of Thomas and his wife were recorded in Mistley’s parish register. His wife was named Free-gift, a presumably Puritan name, perhaps an Anglicised version of “Dorothy”, which means “Gift of God”. She died in 1633. 

    Between 1630 and 1639, four brides with the maiden name “Witham” married at Mistley. Two of them, Marie and Dorcas, match up with daughters of Thomas and Free-gift, but two other brides, Anne and Susan Witham, do not. However, when we come to the baptism of Susan’s children by her husband Richard Edwards, the names are written in the same large writing that Thomas Witham used for his family. So it seems likely that Susan, and perhaps Anne too, were also children of Thomas and Free-gift, perhaps born before Thomas became Mistley’s vicar.

    This is important to note, because it was the death of one of the Edwards’ children which helped to spark off the witch panic. Richard was an extremely important man in north-east Essex, a wealthy landowner who was also chief constable of the Tendring Hundred - the area where Mistley lies. By 1643, Thomas Witham had gone to London to preach, leaving his church vacant. It seems that Matthew Hopkins, as son and stepson of clergymen, had influence, as would Richard Edwards. And if Edwards’ wife was Hopkins’ stepsister, then it was the death of his stepsister’s child, apparently by witchcraft, that set him off on his career as The Witchfinder General. It was perhaps not random rage, but targeted revenge.

    But it’s not only in Mistley that we find the Witham family connecting with a prime mover in the witch panic. Bradfield, the parish immediately to the east of Mistley, was the home of Sir Harbottle Grimston, who sounds like a villain in a Dickens’ novel. He was a very important man, and as a Justice of the Peace (along with Sir Thomas Bowes, my great-several times uncle, I’m sorry to say), helped Hopkins in his schemes to prosecute witches.

    I’m currently transcribing Bradfield’s earliest register, and came across the Grimston family in the 1500s - Harbottle was baptised there in 1578. Then in the 1620s, familiar handwriting appeared in the register, and I even spotted a stylised trefoil - was this Thomas Witham? But a note in Latin helpfully informed me that one Peter Witham, alumnus of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, became the reverend incumbent of Bradfield in 1628. 

    As it’s been a couple of years since I originally transcribed Mistley’s registers, I looked back at my notes and found a snippet from the Alumni Cantabrigiensis, which contains a brief biography of students who studied at the University of Cambridge. Peter Witham and Thomas Witham both appear, and Alum. Cantab. says that they were brothers. To be honest, I could have guessed that from the near-identical handwriting! Although of course, who knows - perhaps Thomas used to pop over the parish border to write up all the baptisms, marriages and burials for his brother in his beautifully neat handwriting? Although the Mistley register has “baptised” and the Bradfield register “baptized” - would one man change his spellings? But, just like Thomas’ habit when recording family events, when Peter’s son was baptised in 1630, the entry was written in larger writing.

    (Courtesy of Essex Archives Online. D/P 173/1/1)

    During Peter Witham’s incumbency at Bradfield, three records pertaining to Sir Harbottle’s family were entered in the register: three of his grandchildren, none of whom were actually baptised in Bradfield as they were all born in London. They take up half the length of a page, with full details about where they were born, what time of day, and other details - far more information by some way than is included in the entries for the mere ordinary folk of Bradfield.

    Considering what I had surmised regarding Matthew Hopkins’ relationship to the Witham family and their involvement in the witch panic, I wondered if here, again, we had evidence of the close-knit networks of power in the area. Peter Witham was stepuncle to The Witchfinder General, and he seems to have been close to Sir Harbottle Grimston, or at least acquainted with him, as the vicar would be with the local gentry. Although Peter Witham left Bradfield in 1633, just before Hopkins would have arrived in Mistley, a connection had been made between the Grimstons and the Withams during his incumbency.

    So Matthew Hopkins wasn’t in Mistley by accident. He had lived there since boyhood, and was connected with the most powerful men in the area. It is no surprise, then, that when Civil War came and unrest and panic afflicted the populace, he could rise to prominence as The Witchfinder General.

    (Courtesy of Wellcome Images)

    Parish register images: courtesy of Essex Archives Online. No further reproduction is allowed images unless with written permission from the Essex Record Office

    Additional information:

    For a fascinating and eminently readable study of Matthew Hopkins, see: Malcolm Gaskill, Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy. London: John Murray, 2005.

    Great Wenham’s earliest register hasn’t survived, so no record of Matthew Hopkins’ baptism exists. Thomas and Peter Witham were born in Steeple in Essex, according to Alum. Cantab., but the earliest register for Steeple hasn’t survived either.

    Manningtree was part of the parish of Mistley until the late 1600s. Richard Edwards is stated as being of Manningtree on his statements that he gave alleging witchcraft against several local women.

    About the Author:

    Helen Barrell is a librarian and an author. She has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Punt PI and her Victorian true crime books Poison Panic and Fatal Evidence are published by Pen & Sword. www.essexandsuffolksurnames.co...

  • Trust : Enrichment : Openness

    Archives Unlocked, the vision for Archives in England 

    Archives Unlocked was launched by the National Archives yesterday, 29th March. This is a compact, but important document: “IN SHORT: ARCHIVES MATTER. Our collections need to be used to be useful.”  This is not a new philosophy, but it has new implications, driven by three changes in the context of archives which have become more apparent over the last decade or so, and the last months. The technological and social context is characterised by the concern for digital and accessibility in the UK Digital Strategy section on heritage. This is joined by a concern for confidence in information in an era of false news, and the removal of old obfuscations and lies through examination of archival material.

    “TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE Digital technology has fundamentally changed what it means to be an archive. Archivists can help the IT and knowledge management communities by bringing professional archival practice to this digital world”,

    “USER EXPECTATIONS Society is changing, opening up new uses for data and records, and posing new questions about what is collected now and in the future, in both paper-based documents and digital formats”. 

    The third change is “CONFIDENCE IN DATA AND INFORMATION People need to have confidence in the integrity of institutions. Organisations need to be open and transparent, and high profile enquiries into the history and culture of public, corporate and charitable bodies have highlighted the evedential value of records.” 

    The Vision document changed significantly in response to the changes we experienced particularly through the second half of 2016: the importance of access, particularly digital access and access to born-digital information highlighted when the importance of this data for confidence in institutions became clearer: it is not enough for the data to be preserved, or for it to be reliably transmitted, but also for it to be open and transparent.

    This context leads to three high-level visions, for Trust, Enrichment and Openness, with case studies and think pieces for those who would like to delve further, and action plans for those who are involved with delivering the vision, in whatever capacity.

    How Free UK Genealogy helps to achieve that vision (using the language of Archives Unlocked).


    People and institutions trust in the quality of our type-what-you-see transcriptions as an authentic representation of archived records, supported by our openness about the limitations of a transcription, and the need for researchers to verify information. 

    • Democracy and society are strengthened by enabling free, comprehensive, remote scrutiny of the archival record, holding institutions and individuals to account.
    • Users have confidence in the integrity and authenticity of our transcriptions, and in the charity and its volunteers who support their research.
    • We embrace the opportunities of technological change, ensuring confidence in both born-digital and transcribed records.


    Our work enhances and enriches our society intellectually, economically and culturally.

    • Our culture of knowledge and learning and our commitment to open data expands through new ways to discover and use archive material.
    • Open data means value in businesses(1) can grow through the use of archive material to support change, innovation and efficiency.
    • People’s lives are enhanced through their engagement with archive collections.


    Free UK Genealogy cultivate an open approach to knowledge, makes archive records accessible to all.

    • We aim to deliver an excellent user experience, enabling people to find, access and interpret archive records
    • The rich diversity of society is increasingly reflected in our archives’ collections, users and workers (including volunteers).
    • We are networked globally to maintain excellent practice and open new possibilities for institutions and users.

    In some of these areas, we have almost 20 years’ experience as an institution, and huge experience as individuals.  In others, we have just started on our paths towards truth, enrichment and openness. The work plan will help us in that, and we in turn can help others in the wider archive world.

    The plan focuses on three themes:

    DIGITAL CAPACITY. Develop the digital capacity of the archives sector, to preserve digital records, and increase discoverability of the paper and digital archive. 

    RESILIENCE. Build the sectors resilience to ensure more archives can meet and sustain the Archive Service Accreditation standard, open the sector to new skills and a more diverse workforce, increase income generation capacities, and support innovative service models. 

    IMPACT. Demonstrate the impact of archives by developing and expanding audiences, piloting approaches to using data and evidence, and influencing thinking in the IT, commercial and knowledge sectors.


    The plan will be delivered over the next three years, each a separate phase:

    PHASE 1 - BUILDING THE PLATFORM. Scope and design the infrastructure that will give archives the capacity, knowledge and development tools for delivering the three themes of the action plan. 

    PHASE 2 - DEVELOPING CAPACITY. Design and test new models of delivering world-class archive services, working with partners on research and guidance in order to enable the development of new archive practice. 

    PHASE 3 - SHAPING THE FUTURE. Enable services to influence new delivery streams in emerging technologies, policies and strategies, within and beyond the archives sector.

    (1) One change between the consultation version of Archives Unlocked and the published version which we argued for was a fundamental shift from seeing ‘commercial’ relationships in terms of behind-paywall datasets: a wider vision of the contribution of archives to economic sustainability (as opposed to the contribution of business to the budgets of archives) is both more representative of the wider archive community, and fit much better with a vision for archives that has truth, enrichment and openness as its aims.  This is not to say that there is no role in this world for commercial partners who limit access: if they are providing enrichment that cannot be made by the archive or not-for-profit partners, they still have an important role, and will still be contributing to economic sustainability.

    Quotations and adaptations from Archives Unlocked are © Crown copyright 2017.

    This publication is licensed under the terms of the Open Government