Monday, 23 September 2013

Military Monday - New WWI Wills

A recent BBC website article gave details of a new online service from HM Courts and Tribunals Service.
Soldiers' wills proved between 1850 and 1986 are being made available to search and download - the first batch being from between the years 1914 and 1921.

The search is available here.  It costs £6 to download a will, and can take up to 10 days after purchase for the document to be available for download; mine took 2 days.  The site is a work in progress so if you don't find anything after your first search it would be worth checking back every so often for updates.

I ran a couple of searches for the Richardson brothers who died during the First World War, and although I was unsuccessful with William Richardson - I did manage to find his older brother, Harold.

Some of the wills include detailed bequests to family members and others have letters written to loved ones in the event of their deaths.

Harold's will is much more basic, but it confirms his service details and his date and place of death.

Because Harold was already in the army and not with his family in the 1911 census, I wasn't entirely sure I had the right military details for him.

The will confirms that I have, as it leaves his estate to his father, Robert, whose address matches with other sources I have for him.

So another very useful resource.

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Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Tuesday's Tip - Checking & Rechecking

Whilst I was putting together the spreadsheet, I realised I hadn't followed up a problem I had with my great-great grandmother, Louisa Baker.
From her marriage certificate to Charles Bateman, I knew her father's name was Joseph, but it was difficult to ascertain if their surname was Baker or Barker, so I'd previously searched the census for both options.

According to the later Census returns after her marriage (1881, 1891 & 1901), Louisa had been born in Staffordshire, and some time ago I had found a likely sounding family in Rowley Regis in the census of 1861 & 1871.  The head of the household was Joseph Baker, wife Louisa Baker & with a daughter Louisa of the correct age.  So I pencilled this in as an 'almost definitely' correct record.

I have my tree entered at the Genes Connected site and sometime later I received a message from someone who thought we may have a family connection.  After comparing notes, I realised that the family in Rowley Regis weren't my ancestors at all.  I rechecked on Ancestry but couldn't find another family in 1861 or 1871 that would fit with my information, so this side of the family got put on one side for a quite a while.

After having my memory jogged the other week, I thought I'd revisit this by finding her birth reference on Free BMD  and ordering Louisa's birth certificate, which arrived last week.

It confirmed that the family surname is definitely Baker.  I think I'd got it into my head that Louisa's mother's name was also Louisa - probably due to the first likely family I found in the census - and that's why I'd been unable to find the correct family.
I now know Louisa's mother was Sarah Simlett & I've also found  possible census returns for the family in 1861 & 1871. Now I just have to wait for some free Ancestry access so I can check & download the original document. I can also look for a marriage certificate for Joseph and Sarah, which will hopefully take this family back another generation.
So even if you think you've hit a brick wall, it's worth going back to recheck on occasion, as a fresh look at a problem can sometimes help.
Making sure you have seen as much of the documentation for each family as you can also helps ensure you are researching the right people and not wasting time and money climbing the wrong tree.

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Saturday, 7 September 2013

Sorting Saturday - Organising Spreadsheets

A few weeks ago I read a very useful tip about organising your research using a spreadsheet, which can also help in revealing any possible gaps you may have.

It looked like a really good idea, so during some free time I've had recently I set up my spreadsheet.  I decided to do mine slightly differently to Janine by just doing the one sheet, but still with a row for each ancestor and with each record in its own column.  I can see the advantage in having more than one sheet and I may add more later.

I applied different colours to the cells to make it easy to check; red for missing documention or proof, green for proven information and N/A if a particular record doesn't apply to an ancestor eg. an 1881 census return for someone who died in 1875.  The cells with ????? remind me that I've had an unsuccessful search for the information and that I'll have to return to it for a more careful search.

Putting an approximate date of birth (DOB) and/or date of death (DOD) helps to differentiate  between family members with the same name - and there are lots of those; see the Burn family entries!

I also decided to restrict the names to my direct ancestors as I have over 3500 people in my Roots Magic database. The spreadsheet still took several hours to complete with 156 of my ancestors and I have to admit to wondering  if the end result would be worth all the time it took.

Now it's finished I can definitely say it was worth the time I spent.  I was really surprised at how much documentation I'm missing and how much I've relied on census returns to calculate approximate birth dates etc. So I'll need to rectify that in the future - it's a shame the cost of 'Hatch, Match & Despatch' certificates restrict me to only ordering one or two at a time.

It was also a huge help a few weekends ago when Ancestry UK offered free access to all their English census returns.  I was able to see at a glance which ones I was missing and worked my way through them, marking the ones I found with xxxxx.  When I've entered the details on to Roots Magic I'll update the spreadsheet.

The other benefit of using a spreadsheet in this way is that I can see very easily who I need to research and which records I need for them - which is going to keep me very busy!

So thanks again to Janine for posting such a useful tip!