Tuesday, 24 November 2015

An Essay on Turning 70

I reached a milestone birthday on the weekend by turning 70. Although not life-altering by any means, it was, to me at least, a significant event.

Many people reading this will already have passed this threshold and no longer be all that impressed. But those of us who get this far still only reach the day once. I have two sisters who went passed the age some time back. Our parents never made it, so for us it is a bit more eventful.

I have to say this one snuck up on me. It seems like it was only a short time ago that my wife and I were in our thirties, busy renovating a home, raising a family, attending kids’ hockey games and parent-teacher meetings, and generally doing all the things younger people do and enjoy. Now I have grandchildren the same ages as our children were those many decades ago and their parents doing what we did.

There is a very old saying, the origins of which apparently lost in history: Time and tide wait for no man. A similar phrase appeared in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales – The Clerk’s Tale – in 1478: Ay fleeth the tyme; it nyl no man abyde (Ever flees the time; it will wait for no man). In that passage it had to do with a man considering marriage, though, not turning 70! Seventy, for goodness sake!

Time does seem to go exceedingly faster these days. As I said, this particular birthday seemed to come on very quickly. Did we not just celebrate my 60th? And 50th? And what about that big party we had for my 40th? For this birthday we had a quiet dinner out: just my wife, two of my sisters, a brother-in-law and my daughter who flew in especially for the occasion – and me, of course. Our dogs helped marked the day by not getting me up at five in the morning for their first constitutional walk; they waited until 5:30!

Being 70 offers a different perspective on life. We are certainly slower of foot, stiffer of joint and less patient with things like shovelling snow or mowing grass. We are no longer saving for retirement. We are there! Although I am busy every day, doing such activities as this – writing a blog post – I am no longer employed (or “employable” as I like to joke). These days I am engaged mostly in genealogical pursuits: ancestral research, writing, editing and assisting others. Older people like to have hobbies to keep busy. This more than qualifies.

Travel just got a little more complicated as insurance companies will now want to be more assured about my health than they would have demanded last week. Apparently they are more concerned, in just one day, that I am not going to collapse on a trip outside the country and they will have to cough up for medical expenses. (Isn’t it funny that they are the ones who now want more insurance?) I am quite confident that none of my ancestors ever had to think about this aspect when they picked up and moved from England, Scotland and Germany to faraway places in North America .

It has struck me that birthdays themselves are a big part of family history. We look for specific dates on which our ancestors came into the world and, of course, those dates as well, when they departed. We often consider, and compare the ages that people reached in the past, perhaps in some morbid fashion wondering how close we might be to the end ourselves. Yes, I have gone back into my files recently to see how many of my direct ancestors made it this far. The news is good; a large number of them lived well into their 80s. Maybe I’ll analyze that in another blog post.

I am happy to have made it this far. I will celebrate it, not just for myself, but also for those family members who did not achieve this age but who would have been pleased that I did: my mother, my father, my little brother, all of whom I have written about here before (Mother’s Day, My Mother’s Scrapbook, A Special 100th Birthday, My Parents’ Wedding, My Brother Jimmy). And I will particularly hope that my descendants all enjoy at least 70 years of life – in good health and with as happy experiences behind them as I have had.
Wayne, 65 years ago!

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is the Editor of Relatively Speaking, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

What can you tell from just the index of the 1939 National Register?

As I wrote in the last post, I have been looking at the 1939 National Register for England and Wales on FindMyPast.com. In trying to limit my financial exposure I searched for just names of people I thought might help in finding particular family members.

I mentioned last time that I had found families of two first cousins (2X removed): the wife and daughter of Wilfrid Jack Shepheard; and Wilfrid’s sister Margery Teresa (Shepheard) Russell.

Wilfrid and Margery had another brother, Alfred Harry – or just Harry, as he was called. He has been very elusive. I have not found him on many records and true to form I did not find him on the 1939 register. I believe he was married in 1924 to a Florence E. Taylor and that they separated and later divorced without having children. That was mentioned as well by a niece of his. We also think he remarried some years later but I have not confirmed that. Part of the reason why there are still some unconfirmed names and dates is that I have not yet been willing to spend the money to purchase marriage and death certificates for him – but that’s another story.
Clockwise from top left: Alfred Harry, Frances, Wilfrid Jack and Pauline Shepheard, ca 1935 (Frances and Pauline were the wife and daughter of Wilfrid)
Harry's first wife also remarried. There is a marriage for a Florence E. (nee Taylor) Shepheard to a George S. Lewis in 1947 that I believe is her. The index from FreeBMD actually shows both surnames which makes a strong argument that this was the wife of Harry.

On the 1939 census there is an entry for a Florence Lewis (Shepheard), born in 1900, living in Dagenham M.B., Essex. I found that when searching for Florence Shepheard. The coincidence of the two names suggests this is the same person. And here is where using just the index seems to work. The entry indicated there were two other people living at the same address in 1939, both of which could be viewed. Out of curiosity I did a search for George S. Lewis to see if he might have lived close to Florence.

The surprise was that a George S. Lewis, born 1906, is not only listed in the same area but, according to the TNA reference number, was living in the same household as Florence. I thought, if this works maybe I can find who the third person living with Florence was. So I did an advanced search for just the reference number.

Several people popped up on a search for piece number 1083F, item number 015. I looked for one whose individual number was before or after Florence and George and found Emily E. Taylor born in 1861. Given her name and age, I have to assume she was Florence’s mother. If true, that would give me some additional data that might help find the family on other records. Using this information I did find a family on both the 1901 and 1911 censuses: Florence born in late 1900 with a mother Emily, born about 1861-62. Florence’s birth place is given as West Ham, Essex, which just happens to be where Alfred Harry was born as well.

An important note in the 1939 entry is that Florence apparently was recorded with both names – Lewis and Shepheard. That made her easier to find. It is curious, of course, that they would be living together several years before the actual marriage. Maybe it just took that long for the divorce to come through and they could not wait. I have found a marriage for an Alfred H. Shepheard to an Elsie H. Peach, in the March quarter of 1947. That just happens to be the same quarter that the marriage between Florence Taylor-Shepheard and George S. Lewis took place, although in different parts of the country. Might that give us a clue as to when the divorce was finally granted?

Using just the index data, and not spending any more money, I think I found a family related to my cousin. The data did lead me to a probable family on the censuses. I could – and might – unlock the 1939 entry just to get some additional data, like birth dates and occupation, but I don’t really need to at this point if I can use the data for other searches for Harry.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is the Editor of Relatively Speaking, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Searching the 1939 National Register of England and Wales

The whole genealogical world must know by now that the National Register of 1939 for Great Britain, actually just England and Wales, has now been released through FindMyPast. It is the only listing of people between 1921 and 1951 as the 1931 census was destroyed in an air raid on London and no census was taken in 1941. Every citizen, upon being added to the list as of September 29, 1939, was issued an identity card which was then needed to be shown for the purchase of essential items or to prove they were British residents. The extra security was a necessary consequence of a country at war.

For residents of Scotland, an extract of information can be ordered from the National Records of Scotland by filling out their form. You must prove the individuals are dead in order to get the data and, of course, send them £15.

Yes, I did some searching of the 1939 register, too, the worst part being that, in addition to my normal subscription, which is not cheap, it also cost me a substantial amount to “unlock” the information for each household I wanted to see.

In 1939 I did not have any members of my direct-line still left in England but I did have some great-grand-uncles and –aunts and several cousins living there. Those are the people that I went looking for. A few who were serving in the armed forces, of course, are not on the list, so that left a few blanks. Also not available is any information on people who are assumed to still be alive. Their names are not shown on the index and redacted on the scanned pages of the register.

One interesting sidelight of the searches is that you get to see a portion of maps showing where the family lived. FMP presents segments of a 1937-1961 Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 map, an 1888-1913 Ordnance Survey 6-inch map and a map of present day. You can zoom in or out of those to see the whole area. I always like to see maps as they give me perspective on where and how the families lived.

So what did I learn with the few families I found?

1.      I found most of the people I set out to find. I had to fiddle around with names and dates and locations somewhat on a couple of them. Emma Wary, a great-grand-aunt, was indexed as Emma Wwray. I did find her by her birth date finally. I did inform FMP of the error so we’ll see if they make the correction. I did not find some men who were likely in the armed services and away from home. Without good information about their families I could not confirm a usual residence for all of them. Information given on most of the family members I found, such as occupations, conformed to other data I already had on them.
2.      In a couple of instances I discovered that some of the spouses of my family members were living with a parent or parents. I had information before about who they probably were but this data confirmed the names. For example, Frances Shepheard, the wife of a 1st cousin, 2X removed, had her mother, Elizabeth Kuharzik, with her. Frances’ husband, Wilfrid Jack Shepheard, was not at home but away at sea. A redacted line on this entry was most certainly their daughter, Pauline, a delightful lady, still alive,who I finally found last year. I wrote about her in a blog post last January. Wilfrid’s sister, Margery Teresa Russell, was living with her husband, Leslie Russell and his parents, Ernest and Evelyn, interestingly at a place called Edge of Beyond, in Kent.
3.      I found another 1st cousin, 2X removed – Reginald Thomas Ellison. Until now I did not know he was married or that he had children. The information on the register confirmed it was him by his birth date, which I had previously known. One of the few things I knew about him was that he was an only child of John Thomas Ellison and Fanny Ann Shepheard, my great-grand-aunt. The register showed Reginald had a wife named Muriel. Her mother, Sarah Allison, was living with them. I confirmed (more or less) that Sarah was Reginald’s mother-in-law when I later found the index record of their marriage. I also found civil registration information that showed they had at least three sons in the 1920s – the list indicates both the father’s and mother’s surnames. So there are a few more people in my tree now to find out about.
Family of John Thomas and Fanny Ann (Shepheard) Ellison, with son Reginald Thomas Ellison (ca1906). On the 1939 National Register I found Fanny Ann and new information about the family of Reginald.
So was it worth it? I found information on nine families with 16 people. Names of four others were redacted but I think I figured out from my own data who some of them might have been. None of them are/were direct ancestors so the information is incidental to my personal ancestry. I did confirm a few names and dates and found a few new cousins. But overall, I would have to say it was very expensive information (just over Cdn$9 per family) and I doubt I will do much more with searches of this database. I have enough credits left to unlock only one more family so it will have to be of prime interest to my own line.

Searching the register did remind me that there are still several BMD documents and wills that I need to order. Funds will certainly be better spent on obtaining those documents in the future.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is the Editor of Relatively Speaking, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated