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Ancestry Research
Voices from the Past

Imagine that our ancestors, those once living, breathing individuals from whose collectiveness we come, had a way, nowadays, to talk to us in some degree at least. With the advent of the camcorder and all other means of recording human presence, preserving the personalities and some life footage of our ancestors has become a reality, more so for our descendants a generation or two down the line. But what about our great—grandparents and beyond, those around when multi—media as a way of life was a thing of the future. Well — we can actually get a good picture of their lives from a whole host of surviving record sources from the basic births, marriages, deaths and census records through wills, inheritance papers to old photographs of places and people among much else.

More and more this material is being linked to computer indexing and preserved on microfiche cards for ease of access for our technological minds.

At The Family Records Centre, 1 Myddelton Street, London EC1R 1UW you can find all English and Welsh births, deaths and marriages from 1837 onwards plus the census records (as the name suggests, every 10 years) from 1841—1901, later returns being closed for reasons of privacy. These materials hold lots of detail — names, ages, occupations, specific addresses and will be built up in a series of finds involving cross— referencing. For Scotland, from 1855 onwards we find a similar situation at New Register House, Princes Street, Edinburgh EH1 3YT. Before the respective dates of 1837 (England/Wales) and 1855 (Scotland) it was not actually law to register a birth, death or marriage but many of these events were recorded — in Old Parish Records, created in a church—based parish system and so technically they are really baptisms, proclamations of banns and burials.

Most of us know names and dates for our grandparents and sometimes a generation beyond this. Following one line at a time will get you back in time more swiftly than had you branched out although ultimately all branches, maternal and paternal, are of equal importance certainly in terms of our physical existence. You can expect to trace back to a point between 1750—1770 and many lines can go beyond this point, with careful research methods.

You can begin with your own birth record if you have nothing else. Take a 1901 birth: ‘18th September 1901 at Ratehaugh Quarry, Longhaughton, born Robert Edward, son of Dixon Egdell and Annie Egdell formerly Warner; father’s occupation: Whinstone Quarryman’. We can now look for the marriage of Dixon Egdell and Annie Warner either by searching the indexes pre—1901 or trying to locate the family on the 1901 census to find if any other children existed at this time to the couple, giving an idea of when they might have begun their family.

Scottish records are fortunate in giving a little more detail than those in England/Wales in that the date of parents’ marriage along with place is found on a birth record after 1855 to the present day (with an exception of 1856—61). A Scottish death record from 1921 tells us:

‘John Sharpe, Engineer’s Machineman, married to Elizabeth McElroy, died 1921 April 18th at the Royal Infirmary, Glasgow, usual residence: 282 Castle Street, Glasgow, aged 50, son of Jason Sharpe, Slater and Mary Jane Sharpe rn.s. (maiden surname) Campbell (both deceased) Scottish deaths always provide a person’s parentage, by word of mouth of the ‘informant’, usually a relative be the deceased 9 or 90 : English and Welsh equivalents unfortunately don’t supply this useful cross— referencing detail although a Scottish marriage record will provide the father’s name of bride and groom.

From John Sharpe’s death record we can search for his birth circa 1871 (he was 50 in 1921): always allow a couple years either side of a suspected birthdate in making the search: our ancestors were not so specific with ages as we are and surnames often altered, back and forth, an ‘e’ being added or dropped, for example many unusual sounding names were written down phonetically. Beyond these basic sources and taking the John Sharpe example, we could locate archives for the hospital where he died. In this case the ward journal provides this: ‘patient states that a valve full of compressed steam burst and struck him on the ankle. There is a compound fracture ....‘ Such an entry hints at an accident at work and in fact further research in another source reveals an 8—page Fatal Accident Inquiry. Report relating to industrial deaths, and from this we find the most minute detail of his last day at work. His birth was found in 1870 in Glasgow and his parents’ marriage in 1858 also at Glasgow and this in turn provides his grandparents’ names Robert Sharpe, a Labourer (deceased) and Dorothea Sharpe m.s. Ingram (deceased). John appears on the 1871 1881 and 1891 census returns with his family. From 1881 we find: ‘7 Garngad Road, Glasgow: Jason Sharpe, Head of house, married, age 45, Slater by trade, born Ireland; wife Mary Jane, age 40, born Ireland, son Jason, single, 18, apprentice Slater, born Glasgow, Jane, daughter, 16, Pottery Work Painter, Margaret, John, Mary Ann, aged 13, 11 and 8 respectively and all scholars (at school) and four—year old Alison,’ the youngest of the family. You will often find other children not listed, having been among the very many infant deaths of the times.

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