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.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

How to start researching your UK family history

I have learned a lot in the twenty three years I have been researching my family, and I am still learning every day.  I decided that before I put any more of my own family research into this blog, I should give you the benefit of some of the lessons I have learned.

Start with the resources you already have
You will have information about your immediate family.  Note everything you know down.  Include as much detail as possible - places, dates, occupations, any extra information you know.

Find all your elderly relatives and question them.  Many will claim to know "nothing" and then reveal an intimate knowledge of the family at a later date.  Ask them for dates and places, and even if they are vague, note everything down. Catch them before they die, or forget everything. I regret not asking more specific questions of my grandparents, even though I was interested and did ask questions.

Make good records
Start a book and allocate a double page to each individual you note down, and add any details as you go through.  You may need to number the people in order to keep track, if the family reuses names in different generations, although it is a good habit to add the birth year whenever you talk about any individual.

Note on the records any paperwork you may have - certificates, references in books, etc.  You never know when that insurance certificate may provide evidence of address or profession etc.

Start a log of searches, inquiries and research undertaken, and note down not only what you have searched but also what you are looking for.  I used to note which of the indexes I had searched at the Family History Centre or St Catherine's house, but going back later I realised that I also needed to know what I had been searching for, for this information to be useful.  It's no good knowing that you've searched the 1896-1899 indexes for Dickins, if you don't record whether it was Robert or Jim you were searching for, or whether it was births or deaths you were searching. All I can say is, you will never regret putting too much information in the log.

Take copies of certificates if they are owned by other people, and make a note of who holds the originals.  Do the same for photographs.  Try to scan in a good quality copy of any old photographs, and annotate them.

Learn to make - and read - family trees
Some people pick up the techniques necessary to make family trees quickly, other people need help.  Some people make ridiculously wide family trees which become impossible to read.  Work out what works for you and stick to it, but often making an overview family tree, and then making more detailed family trees which link to it, is both easier to do and easier to read.

Update everywhere when you find new information - and quote sources
I have a lot of scribbled pieces of information on my family files and have no idea where the information came from.  It's a huge pain to try to find a piece of information and confirm it, when you know you must have had the origin of the information at some stage.  If you don't have time to update online family trees and your files, keep a folder for genealogy filing and stick it there until you do have time.  You won't regret it!

Go backwards in time, logically
The easiest way to do family history research, once you have exhausted your own and your relative's knowledge, is to work back logically in time.  Suppose you have your parents' marriage and dates of birth.  If you don't have a birth certificate for your parents, you need to start there, which will give you the details for your grandparents.  Then go for your grandparents marriage, then their birth details.  You should always finish off your ancestors by locating their deaths, although I have never found anything on a death certificate particularly helpful for family history research.  The more modern ones will be more useful, as they give places of birth as well as details of the person's death.

Once your have got to pre-1912, use the census
The census returns for 1841, 51, 61, 71, 81, 91, 01 and 1911 are the most useful family history resource that we have.  You will find that different family history sites will give you free access to a different census, but it may well be worth setting up an account which allows you access to all of them, if you can afford it.  These vary tremendously in both price and accuracy, and so it is good to collect some information about all of them and what they offer. 

It is a little confusing when you begin to use census returns, as each census may give slightly different information, you may find that the variation in age for your ancestors is not exactly 10 years although the censuses take place every ten years, and sometimes either enumerators at the time, or transcribers since, have made mistakes about interpreting both numbers and names.

Charles Henry Hughes Spivey revisited

Someone who is researching C.H.H. commented on my previous post about Charles Henry Hughes Spivey, and I didn't notice their comment for six months!  I must admit I thought Blogger notified one about any comments, but for some reason this didn't happen.

It occurred to me that I had not included the picture that I think of as the most typical of C.H.H., nor yet had included a proper biography.  So I decided to rectify those oversights here.

Charles Henry Hughes Spivey was born in Carmarthen on 26 October 1870.  He was the son of William Smith Spivey (born 1830), an accountant and solicitors' manager and Maria Elizabeth Jones alias Hughes (born 1838).   His grandfather was Charles Henry Hughes, a solicitor, borough treasurer and Land tax commissioner for Carmarthen.

His mother's birth circumstances seem a little strange.  She was born Maria Elizabeth Jones, and no father is shown on her birth certificate, although she is Maria Elizabeth Hughes on the 1841 census and all those until her marriage to William Spivey.  She lived with her mother and maternal grandmother until the 1861 census, when she is shown living with Charles Henry Hughes and four of her siblings.

This is the astonishing thing:  in the 19th century, and in Wales, which I had always thought of a slightly more puritanical than England, C.H.H.'s grandmother never seems to have lived with the father of her five children.

C.H.H. seems to have had a sad childhood, but to have been born into an amazing group of siblings.  He was one of seven children, who seem to have been born roughly every two years.  The last living child is John H. Spivey, born 1875.  His mother died in 1877.  His namesake grandfather died in 1879, and then, tragically, his father died in 1881, leaving seven orphans, the youngest of whom was six years old.  C.H.H. was only eleven.

I have a photograph which I thought for years must show my great-great grandfather William Smith Spivey and his children after the death of his wife. Due to the fashions that the women are wearing, which are mid 1880s I don't think this is the case:  I think this shows Joseph Spivey, brother of William Smith Spivey, who appears to have taken on the guardianship of the younger children on the death of his brother.  His resemblance to C.H.H. when he was older is striking.

The next information I have about C.H.H. he is living in Walthamstow in 1891 with his brother William, who was a schoolteacher who later went on to be headmaster of Monoux School (see elsewhere on this blog).  His profession is shown as bank clerk on the census.

On 10 September, 1893, he joined the ranks of the Scots Guards.  He served 23 years and 136 days in the ranks before being promoted to a combatant commission on 24 January, 1917, retiring in 1920.

He served in the Boer War, with the second battalion Scots Guards, from 15 March 1900 to 27 October, 1902 in the 8th division. Otherwise, he seems to have been the Superintending Clerk of the Scots Guards for some years. I have a number of fading and crumbling letters which were sent to C.H.H. from various people over the years.  At some stage someone (maybe my grandmother) has typed up the letters onto thin copy paper, but this, too, is aging now.  I do not know if these are of interest to anyone but his descendents, but I will type them up here to become part of his record.


17.1. 14 from 5, Bury Street, St James' S.W
T Sergeant-Major Superintending Clerk C.H. Spivey
I am so very pleased dear Sergeant-Major Spivey that your hard work met with such a brilliant success last night.

Pray allow me to congratulate you, and on behalf of the associates to send you our hearty thanks and a cordial shake of the hand.
Sincerely yours,
Henry Stracey
From: Colonel J.W. Smith Neill, C.B.E.
January 24th, 1917 Headquarters, Scots Guards, Buckingham Gate, SW
Dear Spivey,
I feel I must write to congratulate you, on behalf of the Regiment, on being Gazetted to the Regiment as a Permanent Combatant Officer.  It is no doubt a great honour and one you will appreciate, but I know that all your brother Officers, past and present, will feel that there is no one who more thoroughly deserves such a reward and honour for the long service and splendid work you have done in and on behalf of the whole Regiment.

It is indeed a pleasure to me personally to feel that you have come to us as an Officer and no one, I feel sure, will be more truly and heartily welcomed by all.

I wish you long life to enjoy your honour and trust that further rewards may await you for you deserve everything that can possibly come you way in the way of good fortune and happiness.

It is my earnest wish that you may be long spared to be one of us and to continue your splendid service to the old Regiment.

Yours very sincerely
J.W. Smith Neill
From: don't know.
January 24th, 1917, 62 Warwick Square, SW
Dear Spivey,
It is with the greatest pleasure that I have just seen your name in the Gazette and no one knows better than I do how well you will perform the duties of your new rank.  It has all come out just as I wished it to.  By remaining in your old position as Superintendent-Clerk, you have now what I feel you have always wished for:  a commission to the regiment.  So much better than taking one in some other regiment where everything would have been strange and amongst ones you don't know.  I suppose some day I had better see Sgt Coot about the Association but I have no doubt you have given him over all the papers and you will be able to give us a help if we want it.  I can only end by wishing you many years of good health to perform your work as Quarter Master of the 3rd Battalion, which as I have said before I know how well you will assist your commanding officer and all the Battalion you will have perform your duties with.
yours sincerely
Marked "confidential"
Home Office, Whitehall Ln, 20 December, 1917
Order of the British Empire
I am directed by the Home Secretary to inform you that, in view of the services you have rendered on work connected with the War, it is proposed to submit your name to the King for appointment as a member of the Order of the British Empire.

The Home Secretary desires me to ask you to be so good as to fill up the enclosed form and return it to me in the accompanying addressed envelope at your earliest convenience.

I am sir, your obedient servant,
(Sir) G.G. Whishard
Acting secretary
Order of the British Empire

To Second Lieutenant C.H.H. Spivey.

From Colonel J.W. Smith-Neill, CBE
May 20th 1919 10, Wilbrahim Place, S.W.1
Dear Spivey,
I feel I must write to you a few lines on giving over Comd to thank you for all you did to help me during the time you were at H.Q.. I know how much I owe you for all your advice and help, and I shall always be most grateful to you.  I know so well that my start in the office required all your kind help and that I received so much assistance from you.  I can only try in these few lines to say "Thank You" many times from the bottom of my heart.

I do hope that you are feeling better, or that you soon will be.  Please don't forget me or Mrs Neill.  We shall always remember you and all you have done to help us both.
yours ever
J.W. Smith-Neill.
From:  Lieutenant-Colonel M Romer, OBE
August 10, year undated, 2, Eaton Place, SW
My dear Spivey,
I have been meaning to write to you for some time to thank you for all you did for us,while I was commanding the 3rd battalion.  No one could ever have served me better in every way and I know that during the "winding up" if it hadn't been for you I should have been hundreds of pounds out.

It makes me very sad to think that I have really left and I shall always remember you amongst my earliest and last associations with the Scots Guards, so I hope you will let me have a line from you from time to time and tell me what you are doing.

I sent your name in for the Depot and so hope you may get it, as it would suit you, and you it, down to the ground.

I hope the leg is better and that you will be able to have a good rest now and get it quite well.  Please remember me to your wife and family.
Yours ever
Malcolm Romer.
The mention of a problem with his leg, is all I know about it, but his son, Donald Charles, suffered from leg ulcers that wouldn't heal for some time, and his other son, Leslie William, lost a leg to diabetes too, so it may be a family weakness, rather than a war wound.

C.H.H.  was unusually awarded a civilian MBE for his work for the Guards during the war.  According to my grandfather, the Scots Guards had sent their records to the archives at some stage between the ending of the Boer War and the beginning of the first world war, and I imagine somewhere like the vast warehouse at the end of the Indiana Jones film - a cavernous building piled to the rafters with boxes.

When the Guards wanted to mobilise the troops, they had no records, and C.H.H. apparently managed to recall from memory the names and addresses of many of the men.  I am convinced that I must inherit my love of filing and categorization from him...but unfortunately not the prodigious memory!  The picture above is of Charles Henry Hughes Spivey on the day he collected his MBE.  He said he didn't want any fuss, or any of the family to go with him, but my great aunt, his step-daughter Caterina Mondioli, always known as Laurie to the family, happened along to be included in the photographs.

As to his private life, he married my grandmother, Ruth Elizabeth Charlotte Mondioli, nee Dickens, on 24 May, 1903 at St George's, Hanover Square.  She was a dancer who had been around the world to dance at the newly-formed Metropolitan Opera, and to Sydney to appear in "Turquoisette".  She had previously been married in New York and had a child, but returned home to England on the death of her first husband, Federico Mondioli, who was reputedly an Italian Count, although I have failed to find anything confirming that. Caterina, in the photograph above, is that child.

C.H.H. and Lottie had four children: Olive, who died young, my grandfather Donald Charles, my uncle Leslie, and my aunt Helen Marie, latterly Ingram.

I can see that C.H.H.'s family may not have approved of the dancer wife or the fact that he apparently insisted on joining the army as a private soldier, rather than purchasing a commission.  However, they were beginning to be scattered far and wide, and so it is hard to see that they were in a position to collectively disapprove of him.

Maria Isabel Spivey, his sister born two years before him on 27 December, 1868 was a teacher.  Educated at Carmarthen High School and Whitelands College in Chelsea, she went to Newcastle to teach at Durham College of Science as a teacher of the methods of education.

She married William Richardson on 23 May, 1900, and went to live in Willington-on-Tyne, taking on a number of voluntary and charitable causes in the area of Willington and Wallsend.  When war broke out in 1914, many families were thrown into poverty by the fact that their husbands and fathers had ceased to receive their wages from their peacetime jobs, but had not yet received their pay from the Army.  I didn't understand until I read the dedication in her husband's book about Wallsend, how much hardship this must have caused for families who were living on the breadline anyway.

Maria Isabel worked tirelessly for the wives and families to give them financial assistance until their money came through from the Army Paymaster.  She was later awarded an MBE for her work, and died in 1920, according to her husband, due to overwork. 

William Francis Spivey has already been mentioned, and became Headmaster of Monoux school.  He died in 1914.

Anne Mary Spivey, who must have borne a deal of the responsibility of the family, as the eldest child, later worked as a nurse for the Rothschild family.   I don't know much about Benjamin and Mary, the other two siblings, but the youngest, John, became a pilot in Aden.

What is striking about the group of siblings is that only C.H.H. appears to have gone on to have children himself.  I've found no information that leads me to believe that any of the other Spivey children ever did.

In 1920 C.H.H. retired from the Scots Guards, and he appears to have had a happy retirement with my great grandmother who was known as Lottie.  My grandfather once said that he didn't really have a mother, because she was so wrapped up in his father than she didn't really notice him.  They certainly seemed to have remained deeply involved with each other until his death on 23 June,1935, aged 64.

The newspaper obituary for C.H.H. mentioned that Gyp, his dog, refused to leave his bed and was found to have died on the day of his funeral. I believe it is Gyp who is shown in the above picture.

Lottie only lived a few months after C.H.H.'s death, dying in 1936, and she appears to have become a shadow of her former self, changing from a plump looking woman to a thin fashion plate. 

All three of C.H.H.'s surviving children had children, and many of their children had children too.  I haven't counted up all the surviving grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, but there are 10 great grandchildren and at least 20 great great grandchildren in my grandfather's branch of the family alone.

I will add to this biography as I find more information.

Friday, April 6, 2012

John Dickins 1772-1851

Having caught up today with about six months of comments, I decided it was time to update my blog with details of the families I am researching.  Always top of the list, as he has been for about 20 years, is Captain John Dickins, of the 90th Regiment of Foot, of Colchester, Birmingham, Trysull and Forton.  I have learned a great deal about him and his family in the last couple of years.

The History of Church Preen (I have typed up the relevant excerpts elsewhere on this blog) stated that John Dickins was married twice with a great many children, but I didn't know where or to whom he was married until relatively recently.

So... I still have no idea where John Dickins was born in around 1773. According to Sparrow's History, he was the son of John Dickins born 1737 in Church Preen, and he was the son of Richard Dickins died 1764, the last Dickins to live at Church Preen Manor.  His timeline goes like this....

1798: appointed cornet in the first fencible cavalry on 23 January 1798.  This information about his army career was given to me by the army archivist, who traced him from his appointment to the 90th Regiment of Foot as given in his children's baptismal records.  (There is a contemporary Frederick J. Dickins or Dickens who is also in the army at the same time...he served in the first Light Dragoons and the 12th Dragoons around 1800-1809, but is not the same man as they have concurrent appointments to different regiments.) No information about birthplace can be found on file.  I have searched the records at the national archives but there is a gap where he should be in the pensions records.

DICKINS, John bach & BLYTH Ann sp, married 16 Apr 1799 by licence, St Peter's, Colchester

I don't know that this is the right Ann Blythe, but there is one born 27 March, 1778
baptised 24 April, 1778 St Leonard, Colchester, Essex Father: Daniel Blythe Mother: Ann Oathwaite

1799: John Charles Dickins born 27 Dec 1799.  I can find very little about this John Dickins too.

1800: became cornet in the 15th Light Dragoons 6 May 1800.

1800: Baptism:  St Peter's
DICKINS, John Charles bap 8 Jun 1800 son of John & Ann

1801: became a lieutenant on 15 June 1801 and then was placed on half pay on reduction of the army in 1802.

1801: Thomas Dickins born 19 December 1801 in Colchester.

1802: DICKINS, Thomas bap 3 Mar 1802 son of John & Ann (child born 19 Dec 1801 father Lieut 15th Reg't Horse)

1803: again appointed lieutenant in the 15th Light Dragoons 17th September 1803.

Holy Trinity
DICKENS, Louisa-Jane bap 2 Sep 1804 dau of John & Anne (child born 6 Aug)

1806: appointed captain in the 7th garrison battalion 3 December 1806 and then Captain in the 90th foot in February 1808.

1807: Henry Fowler Dickins privately baptised October 1807 in Colchester.

Before 1810, presume Ann Dickins nee Blyth died.

1811: Married Ann Campbell in Castle Church Stafford, 12 October, 1811.  Both his son Francis Campbell Dickins and his Father-in-law Archibald Campbell were involved in a Chancery case.  John Dickins was serving with another Captain who was a Patrick Campbell.  John is shown as from St Martin's, Birmingham in Pallot's marriage index.  Archibald Campbell, the bride's father is from Stafford.

1812: son Francis Campbell Dickins baptised St John's Deritend, Birmingham.  He married and is shown on the census returns living in Chelsea in London.  His children are shown as wards in chancery. He married Mary Matilda McAlpine.

1813: son Robert Archibald Dickins baptised St John's Deritend, Birmingham, 23 Nov 1813.  Robert continued to live at Woodford Grange after John Dickins moved to Forton, sometime after 1841.  He married Marianne Sanneman, and had one son, Bramah, who predeceased him.  He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Staffordshire Militia and there is a memorial to him in Trysull parish church. I have an original copy of his will, and the galley proof of his obituary from the local paper.  Robert Archibald Dickins Hon. Lieut. Col. Queen’s Own Royal Staffs. Yeomanry d1893 at Woodford Grange.

1815: son Henry Fowler Dickins baptised St John's Deritend, Birmingham, 23 Mar, 1815 for reasons which make no sense.  This IS the same Henry Fowler Dickins who was originally baptised in Colchester... allegedly.  There is a declaration in the records to say that he was baptised in 1807.

1816: daughter Sarah Dickins baptised St John's Deritend Birmingham, 18 Feb 1816

1818: on reduction of the army, placed on half pay.

1818: son Charles John Dickins is baptised 11 May 1818 in Trysull. He emigrates to Australia with a squatter called Griffin, marries and has many descendants in Australia.  I have letters sent by his children back to the UK.

1820: daughter Frances Dickins baptised Trysull, Staffordshire, 14 May 1820.  She may have had an illegitimate child.  She moved to Forton with her mother and father, and helped her sister Sarah run a school for young ladies.

1822: daughter Harriet Dickins baptised Trysull, Staffordshire, 13 Jan 1822

1824: son George Dickins baptised Trysull, Staffordshire, 11 May 1824.  He was the baby of the family and my great great great grandfather.  He seems to have parted company with his brother Robert on bad terms. 

1827: retired from the army.

1836: John Dickins is Land Tax Commissioner for Staffordshire.

1841: the family are at Woodford Grange, Trysull, Staffordshire for the census. Remembering that the dates are rounded for this census:
John Dickins 65 Farmer not born in Staffordshire
Ann Dickins 60 born in Staffs
Robert Dickins 25 not born in Staffs
Sarah Dickins 20 not born in Staffs
Frances Dickins 20 born in Staffs
Harriet Dickins 15 born in Staffs
Elizabeth Dukes 20 farm servant born in staffs
Mary George 20 farm servant born in Staffs
James Cope 10 agricultural labourer born in Staffs

1851: died at Meertown, Forton, Staffordshire 24 March, 1851, buried a few days later on 29 March.  Leaves wife and daughters in Meertown, son Robert Archibald is still at Woodford Grange. I have his death certificate and the notice which appeared in the London Gazette.

All Saints Church, Forton.  Picture by Gordon Cragg, CC attribution licence

He does not appear on the census as he has died by then, but the census return for the family at Meertown, Forton, Staffordshire shows:
Anne Dickins 72 farmer 120 acres employing 4 lab Staffs Stafford
Sarah Dickins 35 Warwickshire Birmingham
Fanny Dickins 30 Staffordshire Woodford
Harriet Dickins 29 Staffordshire Woodford
Christianna M Dickins granddaughter 5 Surrey Lambeth
William Barrett servant 35 ag lab Staffordshire Meer
Jane Magg servant 20 ag lab Staffordshire Forton
Sarah Bibb servant widow 27 house servant Staffordshire Brereton
Jane Earp servant 19 house servant Staffordshire Forton

I am beginning to think that the only way to track him down is to list  and identify every John Dickins in the 18th century.