Some family historians are lucky enough to have photographs of their ancestors. Some are even more fortunate, because their forebears had the foresight to write names on the back of them. But what can you do if you have photographs and no idea of who is depicted? One option is to date the photographs based on the clothes worn by the people - as this can then help you narrow down the generation and possible contenders! A fascinating topic in itself, we decided it might be helpful to publish a series of blogs covering fashion through the decades since the advent of photography.
The world's oldest known photograph was taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce around 1826 – a view from a window at Le Gras, France, which took no less than eight hours to capture. But the first clear images of people were taken in 1839, by which time the process had been refined to take around one minute. American scientist and photographer John William Draper is credited with producing the first clear photograph of a female face: his sister Dorothy Catherine Draper. And while we might consider the ‘selfie’ to be a relatively new concept, Robert Cornelius, an amateur photographer and lamp maker in Philadelphia, is credited with taking the first self-portrait – also in 1839.
Imagine now that we don’t actually know when these photographs were taken. A little research into fashions of the day – in America, since both were taken there – will hold the key. To date the photograph of Dorothy, a quick search on ‘American fashion 1830s’ offers thousands of links, including this one to The Fashion History Timeline - an open-access source for fashion history knowledge. Here, we learn that the 1830s was a decade marked by ‘huge sleeves and hats’, and ‘hair was parted in the middle and brushed smoothly over the ears’. Scrolling down, several images are a good match for Dorothy, including this one from 1838, entitled La Mode, New York.
As for menswear in the 1830s, the site advises that ‘towards the end of the decade, sleeves began to fit smoothly to the shoulder… and neckwear was varied and elaborate, usually consisting of a stock or cravat' - basically a neck cloth. Using another source, a good match for Robert’s clothing was the above image found on Wikipedia, which is the work of American painter Henry Inman dated 1838-40, A Gentleman of the Wilkes Family.
Since photography was new in the 1830s, we have had to resort to comparisons with drawn or painted images from the era. But future blogs will be able to draw on other dated photographs, too. Next time, we will look at photographs and fashions of the 1840s, and see how trends can be influenced by popular figures – such as royalty.
As Wikitree’s Sarah Callis said in her presentation during our 2021 conference: “Our ancestors are not just dates and names – they are people. And we want to learn more about them!”
The good news is that it’s possible to build a narrative around them – and, it is actually possible to do it using free resources.
Take one of our volunteers who is researching her Scottish roots. Using FreeCEN, she found her 3x great grandparents, William and Ellen, in the 1851 census. He was a soldier with the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders, and they were currently in barracks at Stirling Castle with their three young sons. But by 1861, Ellen was a widow, living in Plymouth, earning a living as a washerwoman.
“Mrs Kiddie’s husband had died. During the funeral, another soldier asked if he could marry her. To his surprise, she said it was too late – she had already agreed to marry another soldier. You see, it took a certain strength of character to be a soldier’s wife and cope with all the associated hardships of army life – and women of such character were scarce.”
Work on building her ancestor’s story continues for our volunteer, but it just goes to show the rich range of free resources available out there.
An early photo, taken at Scutari, of officers and men of the 93rd Highland Regiment, shortly before their engagement in the Crimean War, 1854. Via Wikimedia Commons
Your recommendations revealed
So, here we go with YOUR recommendations for FREE local or occupation-specific genealogy resources. (For the national resources you recommended, please see our previous blog.) The first recommendation was for the Forest of Dean Family History Trust where you will find resources ranging from parish records, marriage licence allegations/bonds and census name indexes to memorial inscriptions, surname interests and summary convictions registers. Simply register to search the records for free. It also has a popular forum described as ‘a very valuable tool for breaking down brick walls’.
Next, the Lancashire BMD and Yorkshire BMD sites were recommended as examples of several similar county projects aimed at placing the original registrars' indexes online. Note the word ‘original’ because there is a difference between the original indexes and the General Register Office (GRO) index that has been made available to the public. The GRO index consists of re-transcribed entries which were submitted quarterly to the GRO in London for the national catalogue. However, the simple act of making this secondary GRO copy introduced many errors and omissions – and that is what these various county projects seek to rectify.
Staying with Lancashire, another recommendation was the site of the OnLine Parish Clerks (OPC) project for the County of Lancashire. Its aim is to extract and preserve the county’s parish records and provide online access to them, free of charge. It also provides other data of value to those researching in Lancashire. All information has been compiled and transcribed by volunteers who have often become involved in the project because of their interest in a particular parish where their own ancestors lived.
Also recommended was the Cornwall OPC Database, which comprises parish records and 'extra searches' ranging from apprentice indentures and land records to muster rolls and wills. Other resources include emigration records, British Army & Navy BMD, and Cornish newspapers, plus links to useful information such as naming patterns, old occupations and trades, and online books about Cornwall.
From a distance…
Sheffield Indexers, another recommendation, is a site that started in 2001 with the aim of indexing genealogical information specific to Sheffield and make it available in a simple-to-access format. Access is free of charge, with all transcriptions provided by voluntary sources for the benefit of the genealogical community. It was started by Elaine Pickard who grew up in Sheffield but has lived in Ottawa for 50 years! She is ably assisted 'on the ground' in Sheffield by Vicki Theaker, who coordinates the team of transcribers. There is also a searchable message forum where anyone can ask for help from knowledgeable local genealogists.
And now for a couple of burial site recommendations: Adur & Worthing Councils Burial Search and Bath Archives Burial Index. If your ancestor lived in the Adur and Worthing areas, this site offers a simple burial register search to enable you to find people buried in either Broadwater or Durrington cemeteries. The results tell you where they are buried and provide a map.
If you believe you have an ancestor buried in Bath, you can search on this site. Information can include name; dates of birth, death and burial; age at death; cemetery and grave location.
Staying with Bath, if your ancestors lived there between 1603-1990, the Bath Ancestors searchable database could be a real gem. It contains over 76,000 records of people who lived in and around Bath. The records have been indexed and transcribed by volunteers using original documents held by the Bath Record Office. The database includes brief details taken from the original sources, which is usually enough to enable you to identify individuals. The site states: “We index sources such as Coroner’s records, vaccination records, and Board of Guardian records. We’re always adding to it and it can come up with surprising results...”
Another recommendation is Essex and Suffolk Surnames, genealogy and local history website run by one of our FreeREG transcribers, Helen Barrell. It offers transcriptions of parish registers wills and poor law records, plus other historical documents, stories about families and interesting people, and hints and tips for research. There’s also a page of links to free online books for Essex and Suffolk genealogy - and a recommendation to try Ancestorian, which is a social network just for family history.
Staying with Essex, three more sites were recommended for this county.
Essex Family History is a site that covers the towns and villages in the Dengie Hundred area in eastern Essex. As the site states: “Family history research has two strands – firstly, finding specific data about your ancestors; and then secondly, finding out how they lived and what their world was like.” Accordingly, the site divides its data into two areas. The Family History index includes data ranging from BMD and trade directories to court records and sporting records. The Local History index provides links to information about the area’s local and social history – for example, 'buildings and physical features', 'everyday life' or 'village statistics'.
If your Essex ancestor was in the military, this site may help Military in Essex Family History. It covers the Essex Military, in its various forms, from 1415 up to 1958 when the Essex Regiment was amalgamated into the Royal Anglian Regiment. Or perhaps your ancestor was in the Police? If so, the Essex Police Museum could be a useful resource. It holds a large collection of service records for officers who served over 80 years ago, links to 'History Notebooks' free publications, and a digital archive of editions of the Essex Police newspaper.
And last, but not least, the Tameside Local & Family History site was recommended. It concentrates mostly on pre-1837 resources for the towns which make up Tameside and are not available elsewhere online. There are photographs, transcriptions of trade directories, census returns, and tax assessments; historical articles about Tameside people and places; and a forum.
Waiting to be discovered
Thank you to everyone who submitted their recommendations – reviewing the sites has been an eye-opener for us, and just goes to show how many other similar sites must be ‘out there’. It’s just a question of looking for them, and listening out for suggestions. So, our volunteer with her Sutherland Highlander soldier should take heart – there’s still much more she can learn about him and the family. It’s just waiting to be discovered.
We know you're wondering who you'll be hearing from at our 2021 online conference, so here you go... (Look out for the schedule coming soon!)
Guy Solomon & Joshua Rhodes
Josh Rhodes and Guy Solomon are economic and social historians of nineteenth-century Britain. At the Alan Turing Institute, Josh and Guy work on the Living with Machines project, using large-scale digitised historical datasets to take a fresh look at how the Industrial Revolution impacted ordinary peoples' lives.
Join Josh and Guy as they introduce you to the Living with Machines project and their work on large-scale nineteenth-century census data to examine the human impact of the British Industrial Revolution.
Discover the possibilities that these new, large datasets offer, the challenges of working with commercial historical datasets, and the importance of open data for the future of historical research.
Michelle is a Scottish professional genealogist, DNA detective, author and historian. She is an expert in the genealogical use of DNA and runs her own genealogy and DNA consultancy business, Genes & Genealogy, specializing in solving unknown parentage and all manner of unknown ancestor mysteries using a combination of DNA and conventional research methods. She also undertakes traditional family history research, living relative tracing, historical and television research, podcasts, tutoring, lecturing, course creation, bespoke family history books, webinars, speaking engagements and article, blog and book writing commissions. Additionally, Michelle is the official genetic genealogist of #AncestryHour on Twitter (ancestryhour.co.uk) and is known for her work on WWI soldiers, particularly with The Fromelles Genealogy Project. She is a regular speaker at major genealogy events. You can find out more about Michelle on her Facebook page, APG profile and follow her on Twitter.
Sarah's interest in genealogy started with her grandmother who had conducted research before the days of computers; her passion was sparked when she received her grandmother's research. Sarah has been doing genealogy for about ten years and has been active within the genealogy community. A team member of WikiTree, The Free Family Tree, Sarah is in charge of their social media and hosts weekly livecasts that feature different aspects of genealogy and WikiTree.
Sarah's presentation is:
"WikiTree: The Free Family Tree" WikiTree is a free online, collaborative one-world tree where members work together to create accurate, sourced profiles that not only compile the basic facts, but also biographies and photos. WikiTree's platform also enables its members to create non-person related pages to gather other information, such as those pertaining to a One Place Study. WikiTree is a community of genealogists where we all come together in different ways to grow our shared tree.
Recently, through the power of free data sources, some precious photographs, letters and documents belonging to a flight engineer who died in World War 2 found a new home and purpose with a blood relative.
In November 1942, the flight engineer was part of a crew who perished when their plane was hit by flak. He was 25 and had been married to his childhood sweetheart for just six months.
Some 60 years later, a distant cousin researching the family tree found the flight engineer’s details on the Commonwealth War Graves website. His widow was still listed in the BT Telephone Directory, so the cousin wrote a letter hoping to learn more, but received no reply.
Six years later, however, the widow’s nephew and executor of her will wrote to say he had found the cousin’s letter in his aunt’s files. He confirmed the family connection and offered to share copies of photographs, letters and more. Later, on reflection, he decided to pass the whole collection to the cousin, since his was the direct family line.
Now the cousin - who happens to be a history teacher - is the custodian of the items, and he uses them to illustrate his lessons. So, the flight engineer’s story lives on – all thanks to a couple of free searches.
This is a powerful little story that illustrates the benefits of Free UK Genealogy’s vision of making data more accessible, more usable, and free, forever (see our previous blog).
This week, we asked you (via Social Media) for your recommendations for FREE sites that YOU use in your research – and you came up with the goods. In fact, there were so many suggestions, we plan to share them over two blogs!
Below, we will cover the national and international sources you have recommended. Then, next time, we will share your local gems.
"Free to All"
High on the list is FamilySearch, which has the tagline "Free to All". Provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, FamilySearch is dedicated to preserving important family records and making them freely accessible online. Originally intended for Church members, the FamilySearch resources are now open to everyone to discover their heritage and connect with family members.
Several of you have cited the Online Genealogical Index (OGI) – a free tool that saves researchers hours of time by finding the exact website they need. The OGI began as a spreadsheet in January 2012 and currently has over 407,000 links to vital record data (birth, baptism, marriage, death, burial), as well as school records, graveyard headstones, war memorials and family pedigrees. The tool’s creator is a genealogist himself who was frustrated with subscription sites selling access to resources that were free elsewhere.
A highly recommended source: UKBMD. In 2000, the county of Cheshire revolutionised public access to birth, marriage and death (BMD) records dating back to 1837 when a joint project between the county's registration services and family history societies resulted in CheshireBMD. Other counties followed their lead, and UKBMD was started as a simple website to enable the main county BMD sites to be found via one convenient starting point. Many more BMD-related sites have since been added, covering parish records and Bishops Transcripts.
Now, you might think that UKBMD is a rival to FreeBMD. But there is a subtle difference that is of unique value to genealogists. Where FreeBMD transcribes the GRO indexes, UKBMD has transcribed the original indexes created by the local registrars. For this reason, our databases can differ slightly. For example, in the event that pages are missing in one index, they would likely be present in the other. Both are volunteer-led projects and so have similar commitments to quality of provision and there is actually potential for us to combine our efforts in the future, to enhance wider access to BMD records.
Again, in the same vein as FreeBMD, you mentioned the GRO website. As Howard, a FreeBMD volunteer explained:
The GRO site (England and Wales BMD certificates) is probably known to [many genealogists], but some may not realize that it's free to search its indexes (which give a little more information than the paper indexes which other websites have transcribed.
Staying with the BMD certificate theme, the BMD Certificate Exchange Facebook group was amongst your suggested resources. The group is a very popular one, with over 10,000 members, and is "a means to share birth, death, marriage, burial, and other certificates with fellow genealogists who may have an interest in them". You never know, you may find a certificate in there you would otherwise have to purchase!
Another favourite you have recommended is GENUKI which provides a virtual reference library of primary sources of genealogical information relevant to the UK and Ireland. The content is provided by a group of volunteers, and the site is maintained by a charitable trust. Established in 1995, it now contains more than 110,000 pages of information.
On a similar theme, Dustydocs is a 'web-linking site' of English Baptisms, Marriages and Burials records for the years 1538 to 1900. Their information is sourced from freely available church and BMD records, and validated user contributions.
The second recommendation is Irish.Genealogy.ie, a government website where you can search and freely access records from a number of online sources including the historic registers and indexes to the BMD registers, some church records, and others such as the census data and soldiers’ wills.
For those with American ancestors, you told us about The USGenWeb Project. Established in 1996 by a group of genealogists who shared a desire to create free online resources, it began with listing online directories of text-based resources. The site has since grown into a network of over 3,000 linked websites, all individually created and maintained by a community of volunteers. It includes a variety of unique county and state resources such as photos, maps, transcriptions, historical documents, and helpful links.
And for Canadian ancestors, you suggested the site for the Royal British Columbia (BC) Museum and Archives, which offers a wide range of information in three searchable databases. These include textual records, photographs, sound recordings, moving images, and maps; descriptions of publications held in the library such as books, directories and government reports; and BMD registrations.
Do you know of any other UK and international resources?
Put them in the form at the bottom of the page and we'll add them to the list
OPEN, GLOBAL GENEALOGY
So, back to the free sources used in our flight engineer’s story, the Commonwealth War Graves site was also among your recommendations (as you might expect) – and, although telephone directories were not mentioned, perhaps they are a resource worth considering. That said, while the current telephone directory is freely available online, it seems that past issues are only accessible via a paid-for site, which seems a shame.
If you are interested in OPEN, GLOBAL GENEALOGY, please do register your interest to take part in this year’s online annual conference to be held online on 22nd and 29th May.
And look out for our next blog on your FREE local and other site recommendations.