Monday, October 12, 2015


newspapers can be an invalualble source for family historians.  Many of the county record offices will have archives of local newspapers.  Some are being digitized and made available online, although most of these are charged for.  However, you may find useful links on this page, which gives links to free newspaper archives all over the world.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Slave ownership database

University College London has compiled a slave-ownership database for the 46,000 people who were compensated for their losses at the end of slavery.  If you go to the UCL website for the slave ownership database, you can put in the names of your ancestors and discover if they owned slaves, as between 10 and 15% of the British population are said to have done.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Register of Ships online

Lloyd's Register has digitised and put online the historical editions of the Register of Ships for familiy historians and others to be able to consult the books without travelling to London.  This is a wonderful resource for anyone who has shipowning ancestors.  The books can be searched in Google Books, and are very clear compared to a lot of books on the Internet Archive and Google Books services. 

Editions from 1764 to 1899 are available with a few gaps and omissions.  It's an easy cover page which allows you to navigate into and out of the books very easily.  So impressed that they have made this a free service - well done Lloyd's Register!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Benjamin Aldridge 1884--1918

Today seems like a suitable day to write about my great-grandfather, Benjamin Aldridge, who died in the first world war, aged 32, leaving a widow and four small children.  The eldest of these was my grandmother, Amy Evelyn Aldridge.

I don't actually know when he was recruited into the army.  He was a grocer's porter, a job which probably didn't pay very much, and which can't have been very much of a preparation for the horrors of trench warfare at the beginning of the 20th century.  He seems to have been a quiet man, and a loving father, and worried about his children in his absence.

He had good reason to worry; my great grandmother was apparently so horrible a mother that her children still had nightmares about her into their 80s.  My grandmother bore the scars of some of the things which were done to her - she had boiling porridge thrown over her and various things including knives thrown at her. 

I can't tell if my great grandmother was a horrible child who became a horrible woman and then a horrible mother, I don't know.  She had already lost a brother in the war before her husband died, and maybe the uncertainty and the difficulty of managing a family without her husband changed her for the worse. great grandfather Benjamin Aldridge was called up and was in the Royal Garrison Artillery.  He didn't win any medals, and he has no known grave, just his name inscribed upon the Thiepval memorial in France.  My grandmother knew his army number off by heart, and also a far number of poems, including the one by Rupert Brooke which summed up her father's fate, The Soldier:

IF I should die, think only this of me;
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less,
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

She could recite the poem, and it spoke to her of her father.  He wrote to her to keep herself quiet and then never came home.  Shortly after her tenth birthday he was killed.  Like so many others in that brutal conflict, I don't expect he knew what he was fighting for or against, nor why he had to die.  It's not something I can understand either.

At 10pm we will shut off our lights, light candles and remember him.  They hoped they were fighting the war to end all wars.  It's still my hope that Man can learn to stop fighting.  The evidence doesn't look good at the moment.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

John Joseph Bramah and family

The name of Bramah is famous among engineers.  Joseph Bramah (1748-1814) was an inventor, engineer and lock maker who was born into a farming family in Yorkshire, but made his way to London, where he founded a company which still bears his name today.  He invented a virtually unpickable lock, an unfreezable lavatory, the beer pump and various hydraulic systems.

His nephew, John Joseph Bramah (1798 to 1846) followed in his uncle's footsteps and became renowned for the engineering works and venture in partnership with George and Robert Stephenson, famous in railway history.

In the census for 1841, John Joseph Bramah and his wife Martha have two visitors staying with them on the night of the census:  Marianne Sannemann and Laetitia Robey.  Both are interesting to me because of their links with the Dickins family.  Marianne Sannemann went on to marry Robert Archibald Dickins, my five greats uncle, and later they named their only son Bramah.  Laetitia Robey was the sister of my four greats grandmother, Charlotte Eleanor Robey, who married my four greats grandfather nine years later.

I noted the friendship between the Robeys and Bramahs, and wondered if there might have been a closer relationship between the families (given the use of Bramah as a first name for her only son) but filed it away in my family history as an oddity when I first came across it.  I continued to look in a casual way for some link between the Robeys and the Bramahs, and later came across the strange case of two infants fostered by John Joseph and Martha.  Thomas Bramah Diplock and Samuel Robey Diplock were very small when their father and mother died in 1831.  The children were then looked after by their uncle and aunt.

It is fairly common in English genealogy to find children with surnames as middle names.  In Scotland this practice is formalized to the extent that the first grandson is given the first and last names of one grandfather as first and second names, and the next grandson the first and last names of the other grandfather and so on.

Thus, I felt sure that there must be a link between the Bramahs, Robeys, and Diplocks... and I just needed to investigate the family tree of Thomas Bramah and Samual Robey Diplock to find it.

It was fairly easy to find the information that their father and mother had been William Diplock and Esther Frances Diplock, nee Bramah.  A number of obituaries for Thomas Bramah Diplock, who became a doctor and latterly a coroner, mentioned that his mother had been a sister of John Joseph Bramah, who was himself a nephew of Joseph Bramah.  However, looking at the ancestry family trees for John Joseph Bramah, most of them ascribed him to Thomas Bramah, son of Joseph Bramma of Yorkshire, and I could find no mention of Esther Frances at all.

Then I stumbled across a blog by David O'Flaherty, in which he mentioned an article in Ripperologist magazine, which included some family history for Thomas Bramah Diplock, who is interesting to Ripperologists because he acted as coroner in some of the Ripper murders.  After some false starts, I was able to see a copy of the article, which is very detailed and gives a lot of information, but disappointingly little about the ancestors of Esther Frances Bramah.

David mentioned in his covering email that his co-author Robert Linford had found a birth for Esther Frances Bramah in the registers of St George's, Hanover Square, a church that has featured heavily in my family history in the past.  He said that the birth of Esther Frances Bramah was in 1796, to Edward and Wilhelmina Bramah, and I found it: 13 March 1796.

I soon found the relevant baptism, and two years later, on 18 May, 1798, the record for John Joseph Bramah, also son of Edward and Wilhelmina Bramah.  It was the work of some hours to trudge through the marriage records for St George's, only because there was quite a gap between the marriage and the birth of Esther... but there, in 1790, it was.  Edward Bramah marrying Wilhelmina Sayers (1768-1808) on 3 January 1790.  I found other births for the family, an Edward in 1792 and 1802 (which probably means the earlier child died), and a Richard in 1794.

This means that nearly all the family trees I have seen online for John Joseph Bramah are wrong.  They are right to say that he was the nephew of Joseph Bramah, but his father is Edward Bramah, born 1751, brother of Joseph Bramah (1748-1814) not the brother he is normally ascribed to (usually Thomas, born 1754).

There is more to do on the Diplock side, but I am very happy to have sorted out the genealogy for John Joseph Bramah.  For those interested in his work in engineering, there is information here about it.  For those wishing to read the obituary for Thomas Bramah Diplock, it can be found here.  For those who wish to know more about the uncle, Joseph Bramah, information is here, and the company which still makes his locks can be found here.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Carmarthenshire links

This will be a list of free online resources for people researching their Carmarthenshire roots.  Most of the first batch are from the Internet Archive.

Historical Background
Historical notes of the countries of Glamorgan, Carmarthen, and Cardigan

General view of the agriculture of the County of Carmarthen (1794)

A history of Kidwelly (printed 1908)

West Wales historical records: Carmarthen volume (9) 1912 - includes articles on:
report of the WW historical society annual meeting;
laws of the society; list of members;
Quakers of Pembrokeshire;
Parish Registers, baptisms at St Peter's Carmarthen;
Pembrokeshire in by-gone days; Scurlock of Carmarthen;
Scourfield of New Moat; marriage bonds of West Wales and Gower;
Local history from a printer's file;
Pembrokeshire Hearths in 1670

Church history
Pamphlet: Facts and Figures about church and dissent in Wales (1888)

The Episcopal registers of the diocese of St David's 1397 to 1518: from the original registers, in the Diocesan Registry of Carmarthen (1917) Vol 1

The Episcopal registers of the diocese of St David's 1397 to 1518: from the original registers, in the Diocesan Registry of Carmarthen (1917) Vol 2

Other books
Black Book of Carmarthen (poetry)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Names - and how they can lead you astray

When I first started my family history, I used to ignore individuals whose names weren't spelled exactly like my other ancestors.  I have a family of Dickins, and so tended to look for that spelling and more or less ignored the Dickens, Dickons, Diggens, Dyckins etc. 

Gradually, as I gained experience, I realized that before the 19th century, people weren't so bothered by spelling, and might spell their names in a variety of ways.  For census returns up until 1911, you are very much reliant on the spelling and care of the enumerators (and nowadays, the transcribers for family history sites).

I have made a couple of big mistakes regarding spelling of names.  I found my grandmother's family in a census but rejected it because the child's name was spelled Hanoria, and my grandmother's name was Honora.  It turned out to be the right entry.

I also rejected a marriage in the late 1800s because the name given was Clark instead of Clarke.  That, too, turned out to be the right entry, and the only time my great grandfather seems to have used Clark instead of Clarke.

We think of surnames as fixed things, things that travel with us through life, but that wasn't true for a very long time.  In Anglo-Saxon England, there was not a great need for surnames.  People generally think that's because no-one travelled, but that isn't true.  The reason that there was little need for surnames was that parents would give children a unique name, something that no-one else was known by.  Sometimes these would be attributes that they hoped for their children and sometimes an attribute they already had.

When the Normans conquered England, they brought with them a tradition for using Biblical names for their children, and a tradition of using nicknames to describe people.  William the Conqueror would be an example... though he was also known as William the Bastard.

Strangely, the people of England quickly abandoned their traditional names in favour of the Biblical names which were liked by the Normans, and thus there might suddenly be four Johns and ten Henrys in a small village... some sort of surname to distinguish who you were talking about was necessary.

In the beginning, a man might have a lot of different surnames.  He might be called William the Red, because of his Red hair... or William the Smith because of his profession, or William John's son, because of his family.  He might move house and be called William Rivers because he lived near the River, or William Cooper because he had changed profession.

It took a while for names to settle into families too.  Sometimes two brothers wold have entirely different surnames because they had different professions, or one identified himself as John's son, while another was a miller.

For most of England, the surname seems to be fairly fixed by the 16th and 17th centuries, but this isn't true all over the country.  Cornwall and Devon seem to have been still using flexible names by the end of the 18th, beginning of the 19th century.  Wales seems to have used the father's christian name in succession, for many years.

It is always something that needs to be considered, whether an ancestor may have changed his surname in the course of his life... and whether he may have changed the spelling for some reason.  My Dickins ancestors seem to have adopted Dickens in the course of the 19th century, maybe to link themselves to Charles Dickens, or maybe because people had begun to assume that was how the name was spelled.