Tuesday, 16 December 2014

A Special 100th Birthday

Last Wednesday, December 10th was the 100th anniversary of my father’s birth. My sisters and I celebrated the occasion together with a special lunch. It is an interesting experience to so closely connect with an event a century old within one’s own family.

My father packed a lot of activities and events into his life, and went through a lot of ups and downs along the way, before he died at the relatively young age of 68. I have now gone beyond him in longevity, something which I value and appreciate, as would he I think.

William Calvin Shepheard was born in 1914, just after the start of the Great War. Growing up on a farm east of Calgary, Alberta, I doubt whether he would have been aware of, or affected much by that conflict although I do know there were members of the community who participated in the war efforts, both here and overseas. What more concerned the people were building new homes, raising families and surviving the harsh winters on the prairie, as many of them were newcomers to the region and the country.
Bill Shepheard as a two-year old in 1917
My father’s extended family was very close-knit, not uncommon in rural communities. He went to school and participated in many social activities with all of his cousins. One of them actually introduced him to his future wife at a local community dance. Farm work was shared among family members, all of the children having chores to do when they were young. As they grew into adulthood they also became part of the workforce operating the family enterprises.

He married, Norma, his sweetheart on October 1st, 1939, about which I wrote in my blogpost earlier. They spent almost 35 years together before her untimely death in 1974.

Bill left the farm in the late 1930’s to study electronics with Coyne Electrical School based in Chicago, Illinois. For most of his life he worked as an electronic technician: fixing radios, televisions and all manner of electrical appliances. He was naturally independent and entrepreneurial, something he likely learned in his early days tending to a myriad of farm jobs and responsibilities He established his own businesses on a couple of occasions during his electronic career.

He volunteered during the Second World War, joining the Royal Canadian Air Force. For several years, as a member of the force, he participated in, and taught courses to others concerning electronic-related equipment and methods, in particular related to aviation.
William Shepheard, LAC - 1942
He loved to take on new projects, and even built a home from scratch in the late 1940s. He was a ardent photographer and was one of the early users of the home-movie camera. We have countless photographs and hundreds of hours of 8 mm movies of family picnics and vacations, Christmas celebrations and general family activities. I have mostly converted them all now to digital formats – just in time, as many of the old films and negatives have deteriorated badly.

Dad was involved in community activities with the Kiwanis Club and the Calgary Movie Makers Club. All of us kids remember the many Christmas and other parties with friends he and my mother developed with members of those groups, and the fund-raising activities for which we were enlisted. He was even, for a short time, part of the Calgary Auxiliary Police program.

He was very much a family man, a trait developed during his farm upbringing. He was always very pleased when all of us, along with several cousins on many occasions, got together.
Bill with his family at Christmas 1981
I cannot begin to describe or list here all of the things my parents were involved with over the years but it seems that, looking back, they were always busy with friends or family doing something.

In later life, he left the electronics world and bought a golf course business located in central British Columbia. It was a sort of return to the land but, more importantly, another chance to run his own business.

Over the years he had medical problems to deal with, some very serious. They all interrupted his work and family-life but he persevered through all the setbacks. The one thing he could not fight successfully was the cancer that took his wife, my mother, at the age of only 57. It was a devastating blow that I believe he never entirely recovered from. He did marry again, I think for the companionship he had missed, but that union did not work out as both of them hoped it would.

He died in 1983, just nine years after my mother’s passing, succumbing to heart disease brought on, partly I am convinced, by a life-long smoking habit. His early death does not diminish what he accomplished or what kind of man he was. What good character traits I have come in large part from him (the bad ones cannot be blamed on either parent I’m afraid).

It was a hundred years ago that William Calvin Shepheard arrived on the planet – quite an amazing number when I think it was only one generation back from me.

Happy Birthday Dad!
Bill Shepheard – 1982

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 a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Victorian Crime & Punishment Course - Pharos

A couple of years ago I took an online course from Pharos Teaching & Tutoring Limited about Victorian Crime & Punishment. This particular course, that I highly recommend, was part of a certificate program about which I will write later along with comments on courses in general.

Following is a summary of some of the sources of information I learned about, with respect to Britain specifically, where genealogists may find the names of their ancestors. These will include many documents associated with crimes, even though the family members being searched were not themselves criminals.

For family historians, name-rich documents are important sources in unravelling personal relationships and events that impacted individual lives. Legal proceedings produced many types of records that are replete with personal references. Such accounts, if they have survived, help to chronicle the activities of a community and many of the people in them.

The Courts

Judicial records are generally thought to deal mainly with the subjects of inquiries – victims of offenses or those accused of perpetrating them. But within court annals one might also find the names of presiding officials, court officers, witnesses, juries, deponents and, possibly, family members of almost any of them.

Higher courts – in Britain, King’s (or Queen’s) Bench – dealt with most of the more serious legal matters, both civil, in the Plea Side, and criminal, in the Crown Side, as well as with appeals from lower courts. One may find named individuals in a number of different types of records in cases heard – in the indictment and writ files, controlment rolls, depositions and rule books. Assize court records, dealing with only the criminal cases, are another source of information although often not as complete or reliable with respect to identifying people.

The Court of Chancery was, in many respects, on an equal level of the judiciary to the King’s Bench, but was charged with meting out decisions based on justice and equity, rather than summary judgments. It dealt mainly with matters involving land, estates, trusts and guardianship. Documents, including the pleadings, evidence, decrees and other reports, contain many references to people and families who brought or were the targets of suits. Those dealing with only money concerns, under common law in the early part of the 19th century, may have been handled in the parallel-operating Court of Exchequer.

Minutes of the local and regional Petty Sessions and Quarter Sessions courts also contain many invaluable types of records reflecting communities. In addition to misdemeanor and criminal cases, they might include information about borough or parish administrative appointments, matters affecting businesses or social interaction within the community. Names of individuals granted licenses – as gamekeepers, alehouse operators, pedlars and hawkers or slaughterhouse owners – will appear in the transcripts. Persons appointed as Justices of the Peace, Poor Law Overseers, constables and sheriffs, highway contractors, coroners or almost any other position of importance in the community will also be listed.

Information about property and inheritance were also be the subject of court decisions, especially after 1857 when the probate of wills and estates was moved to the new, civil Court of Probate.

By the mid-1800s, as a result of many new laws promulgated by governments, litigation of most legal matters had moved from ecclesiastical to civil courts with much of it, resulting in an explosion of claims and suits as people turned to the courts for the resolution of their disputes. There was a large increase in the volume of records kept on the populace (to the delight, now, of family researchers).

The Police

The 1800s also saw the organization and expansion of police services. The Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 established a regional force in the greater London area. It was followed by Rural Constabularies Act of 1839 and County and Borough Police Act of 1856 extending the reach of the national government to the counties who were obliged to launch their own police departments. New sets of records were created with details about the individuals involved directly in policing including service records that give full physical descriptions, as well as birth places, birth dates, previous occupations, marital status and career information.

Punishment of Offenders

The names of those convicted of offenses, whether minor or serious, may be found in any number of records associated with punishment, at a local level – in Quarter Sessions records – or in prison or transportation lists. Information will also be available for those who administered or supervised the prisoners on various censuses or government documents.


The positive result for present-day genealogists was the production of a profusion of court-related records, from Victorian-era Britain,  listing people of all walks of life, along with details about their occupations, places of residence, family relationships and origins. The latter can be particularly important for historians whose ancestors apparently disappeared from the areas where they were born and raised. For those actually convicted of crimes, there may be an abundance of information. Police, court, prison and/or transport records may contain details of their physical appearance, general health, literacy, family members, occupation (or lack thereof), places of residence and other history. Local newspapers, reporting on the events, are also sources for such information.

Sources of Searchable Data:

Kings’s (Queen’s) Bench – records held at The National Archives (TNA) under series KB
Court of Chancery – records held at TNA under series C
Assizes – records held at TNA under series HO and ASSI
Petty Sessions and Quarter Sessions – primarily in local record offices
Search local record office catalogues, TNA catalogue, Access to Archives (A2A) and National Register of Archives ( NRA) and other specialty websites.

Police records are held by TNA – under series MEPO and HO
Search TNA catalogue, A2A and other specialty websites

Records of those sentenced to prison or transportation held in TNA under series HO, PCOM, CO or PRIS
Search TNA catalogue, A2A, NRA, local record offices and other specialty websites

References for Information:

Victorian Era – General





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 a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Birth to Baptism Intervals – Plympton St. Mary, Devon Parish

In a recent blog post on The Pharos Blog, Helen Osborn commented about the intervals between when children were born and when they were baptized. This is particularly important for the time period before civil registration in Britain when the only records of children coming into the world were in the Church of England parish baptism registers. Most often the local Vicar only recorded the date of a child’s baptism so we need a rule of thumb to determine when the actual birth might have occurred.

We generally assume that children were baptized “shortly” after their birth. Helen pointed out that the “Book of Common Prayer held that a child should be baptised on the next Sunday after birth, or failing that the following Sunday. But did people obey this ‘rule’?” The short answer is, “Not always!”

I actually have a lot of data on both births and baptisms for one of the parishes I look after as an Online Parish Clerk – Plympton St. Mary. I had noticed there were differences in the dates but had not really looked at them all to see what the averages were or if there were any trends evident. Helen’s blog post gave me the impetus to go back and see what the intervals were between births and baptisms.

A few Plympton St. Mary parish Vicars in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries were very diligent and recorded both the baptism and birth dates in the registers. They seemed to come in groups, though, with birthdays set out for several years and then no such dates for several years – or even decades. I went back and analyzed the information and got quite a shock. I always assumed baptisms were done within a few days of the children’s births. I found that was not necessarily so!

There are five groups of data in the Plympton St. Mary parish baptism register where we can compare the dates:

Total number of baptisms
Total number of births recorded
Average time between births and baptisms
Largest time interval between birth and baptism
162 (89%)
13.9 days
44 days
232 (74%)
16.6 days
181 Days (1)
118 (49%)
14.7 days
40 days
223 (25%)
204.8 days
2,843 days (2)
114 (98%)
44.5 days
1,665 days (3)

(1)   One entry had 181 days between the birth and the baptism which, when excluded from the calculation, dropped the average to 15.9 days. Without this entry the longest period was 44 days, consistent with the periods before and after.
(2)   There are 29 entries where the child was older than one year: 9 children over 1 year old; 8 over 2 years old; 5 over 3 years old; 5 over 4 years old; and 2 over 5 years old. Without these entries, the average time dropped to 76.7 days. The largest was still close to a year.
(3)   One entry had 1665 days between the birth and the baptism which, when excluded from the calculation, dropped the average to 30.1 days. The larges then was 292 days.

There were scattered entries with birth days recorded in between the larger groups: one in 1637 had 15 days between birth and baptism; one in 1652 was 11 days; and the average for 12 entries between 1661 and 1676 was 11.3 days.

I was very surprised that the intervals were so long, around two weeks throughout the 17th century (ignoring the one very large entry) with the greatest times just over six weeks.

I was even more surprised when the intervals began to climb substantially in the 18th century. A scattering of entries between 1727 and 1796 (25 in total) averaged 65.8 days (over five weeks). Then, as can be seen on the table, the average, from 1798 to 1814, rose to 76.7 days (ten weeks). Those between 1727 and 1814 do not count the many children over one year old who were baptized – 32 that we know of. The older children were mostly in families where more than one child was baptized. During the period from 1815 to 1817 only one older child was baptized and the average went back down to around four weeks.

I am curious now what was going on during the late 1700s when so many parents waited so long to have their children baptized – one nearly eight years old. Was it because they could not afford the baptism fees charged by the church at the time? The results beg for more research into the history of the parish.

I think we can we use these calculations as representative of the periods when births were not recorded, at least in this parish. When looking at birth dates in the past, genealogists should take into account that the baptisms recorded, most often the only indication of the birth date, were probably at least two weeks from the children’s actual birthday, at least for the time before the 18th century, and generally much longer afterward, which is also what Helen suggested in her blog post.

I will be looking at my other parishes now to see if the trends are similar.

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 a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.