"Each has his own tree of ancestors, but at the top of all sits Probably Arboreal." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

On chasing wild geese

You might have gathered by now that I have a tendency to flit about in my research, picking up and putting down different projects as my mood changes, and one of the things I have been working on for a while, on-and-off, is a descendancy of my 4x great-grandfather, Joseph Bryan Geoghegan.
I’ve mentioned JBG, as I usually shorthand him, in my post G is for Geoghegan. He’s my absolute favourite ancestor, because he had a long, fascinating and semi-famous life. He also effectively founded a dynasty, having two wives and fathering 20 known children altogether. (Some sources quote 22, but I only have 20 in my tree so far.) Plus, he has a nice unusual name to work with: the ideal candidate for my descendancy experiment.
As you already know, I do have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about extended family, and I routinely try to identify siblings’ marriages and children. However, I rarely go further than this, or go on off on a wild goose chase if I can’t find them easily, unless I’m looking for a particular piece of info that contributes to my wider genealogy. To try and investigate all the descendants of an ancestor just for the fun of it is a bit bonkers, to be honest!
So far I have identified 125 possible descendants of JBG (across all generations). It’s kind of tricky, as I’m essentially doing genealogy backwards, but actually it’s teaching me to think outside of the box, to focus on useful information that I tend not to pay that much attention to (father’s occupations and marriage witnesses have proved key) and to use my usual sources in different ways. It’s also turning up some fascinating discoveries.
I came across a second marriage of JBGs daughter Annie Birchall Geoghegan, which I would probably never have found otherwise, to a William Proctor Oliver in 1903. He was 26 years old. She was 44 but claimed she was 38, and she continued to lie about her age on the 1911 census as well!
Then I discovered that Annie’s daughter Ellen Christina Bennett had married in 1910 to a George Harold Oliver – some relation to her stepfather William, perhaps? George Oliver’s father is given as Emmanuel Oliver on the parish record; I have yet to identify what connection, if any, there is to William Proctor Oliver.
The parish record also gave one of the wedding witnesses as Charles Phillip Bennett. I assumed that this was Ellen’s brother Charles, though I’ve never come across the middle name before. However, as Charles was still unmarried in 1911, I took a guess that I’d probably be able to find him on the 1911 census, and went to Ancestry to do a search, on the logic that from this I would be able to find an occupation that would help me to identify him in marriage records – and also just ‘cos I was curious!
Ancestry brought up the following:  Charles Bennett, b. abt. 1890, Bolton, Lancashire. Boarder at Woolpach Hotel Inn, 29 Commerce Street, Longton, Stoke On Trent. Marital Status: single. Occupation: clerk, china factory.
I was immediately excited, because it is yet another family link to Stoke on Trent, where JBG had a music hall just before he died, and where his son in law, my 3x great-grandfather Matt Hall also had a music hall around this time.
However, then something else struck me. I had seen this address before; this was where Matt Hall’s daughter Marion Hall was living and working as a barmaid... on the 1911 census. I was sure of it. Yet she wasn’t listed in the household here. (I was slightly scuppered by the fact that this was in my lunch hour, today, and I don’t have flash on my work PC so I couldn’t see the original)
Looking at my entry for Marion on Ancestry, I discovered that I hadn’t found her in Ancestry’s version of the 1911 census, which meant I must have found her on the ‘old’ 1911 census website. I went back to the website, which very kindly allows you to see records you’ve already viewed without paying for them again, and found the household (again, only the transcript, I hadn’t paid for the original in this case).
Both Marion Hall and Charles Bennett appear here, along with Jane (or ‘Lane’, as Ancestry has it) Rowe, the cook and Charlotte Sullivan, the manageress, who doesn’t appear on the Ancestry transcript either. However, it doesn’t feature the 6 members of the Tattersall’s family to be found on Ancestry’s version – who, it turns out, all lived at number 27 Commerce Street.  I assume Jane Rowe and Charles Bennett have somehow been accidentally tagged onto the wrong household by Ancestry.
Had it been the 1901 census, it would be more understandable, as the households followed on from one another on each page, and I’ve frequently found instances where two households have accidentally been lumped together in transcription. But since the 1911 census is made up of individual forms for each household, I’m not sure how this could have happened. I’ve still been unable to find Marion or Charlotte Sullivan, and I can only assume they have been completely missed from the transcription by Ancestry, which is somewhat frustrating. But it does remind you of the importance of checking multiple sources! And to keep a track of addresses!
Anyway, having solved that little mystery, I was delighted to find out that Charles, whom I had originally taken to just be a guest at the inn, was in fact Marion’s cousin! I suppose it could be coincidental that they ended up in the same place, but it hardly seems likely. So their mutual presence goes some way to confirming the relationship on both sides. I couldn’t be 100 per cent certain that this was the correct Marion before, and nor could I have been completely certain that this was the correct Charles Bennett without Marion’s’ presence either! And as well as corroborating one another’s identities, this meeting sheds some light on an issue that had previously played on my mind.
In 1896 Matt Hall divorced his wife Kate for adultery, and she subsequently disappears from my family history. I’ve found no trace of her at all following the divorce. In 1901, Marion is living with her father in Stoke on Trent. Her brothers and sisters are not fully accounted for, but I believe that they were travelling and working in theatres at this time, and that they were mainly in the care of their father. In 1922 Matt Hall dies, and all five children contribute warm and loving obituary messages to the Stage publication. All of this is testament to their very close relationship with a loving father. But given that so many members of their mother’s large family were also heavily involved in the theatrical world, I had often wondered what relations were like between them. Seeing this glimpse of Charles staying with his cousin Marion is enough, I think, to confirm that they remained in contact with the maternal family.
I have still to find a marriage for Charles Bennett. I think I already have a marriage for Marion, but I need to order the marriage certificate to be sure. But even if my descendancy never fully ‘descends’, my wild goose chase will have been worth it to have discovered this tiny but vital piece of my story.
L x

Thursday, 15 November 2012

100 posts of genealogical joy

This is my 101st post. To mark the occasion (it’s an achievement of sorts) I thought I’d take the time to look back on my blogging career so far. Here I look, rather selfishly, at what genealogy blogging has done for me.  
I started the blog back in February, after nearly a year of thinking about it. Having gone into it not knowing what to expect or what I hoped to get out of it, I’ve found it incredibly rewarding.
One thing that I was looking for was to engage with genealogists nearer my own age. Though it still seems that we young genealogists are a rare species, I have come across a few (Niall, Katelyn, Elisse, Elyse, Lianne, Jess and Tina) and I want to thank them all: you’ve made being a twenty-something genealogist a much less lonely pursuit! I’m sure there are still others I haven’t discovered yet, so if you’re out there get in touch – we can start a little club!
Blogging has helped me to engage more with the genealogy community as a whole. There are some great blogs out there that I really enjoy reading – too many to list here. I’ve begun using Twitter, which has been a revelation. I particularly like the real-time tweeting as breakthroughs are made and mysteries are solved. I’m also engaging with genealogists both pro and amateur around the world on LinkedIn and enjoying some of the thought-provoking discussions on genealogical etiquette, problem solving and methodology. Genealogy can be a rather solitary activity, so it’s nice to be able to share the joy and the frustration with like-minded people of all ages.
I’ve found that blogging really helps me with my research too. As I encounter a problem or an interesting story to discuss, and begin to formulate a blogpost about it, I find that it crystallises in my mind where there are gaps, where things need verifying or elaborating, and how I can take it further. I’ve talked before about how I have found writing a narrative about my genealogy useful, but it never occurred to me that blogging would magnify that further, because of course it’s not just for you but for the rest of the world. By opening up your research to closer scrutiny from the blogging community, you force yourself to be a more detailed, more meticulous and more critical of yourself. I have made errors on my blog, but I accept that and I try to correct them where possible. Also, the input from readers has been really useful as well, and I’m so grateful for that.
Perhaps the most rewarding part of my genealogy blogging is that I’ve found that my real-life friends have read it and shown an interest. Weirdly, though genealogy is a big part of my life, it’s not something I’ve talked about much to them, because I thought they wouldn’t be interested or that they would think it was really geeky – which it probably is, and I’ve never really been ‘cool’ so no one should be surprised!
Actually, what I’ve found is some of my friends have said they have found it really interesting. Then they often launch off into their own family stories – usually prefaced by ‘my mum/dad/grandpa/etc. did their family tree and...’ A few people have even asked me to look things up for them, or how they should go about finding certain people. I even succeeded in getting my boyfriend interested briefly. It has made me realise that a lot of people are actually interested in their family’s past, they’re just not that interested in researching it themselves at this point in their lives.
The most common questions I get asked also reflect this: ‘Where do you find the time?’ and ‘how do you know where to start?’
My responses: I find the time from the same place as you find time for zumba/golf/hockey/photography/the gym etc. and knowing where to start comes easy when it’s something you’re really interested in – you just teach yourself. After all, I wouldn’t have a clue where to start at the gym even! And that’s the key I think: I love genealogy, and blogging about it just adds a whole new dimension. Perhaps it’s a bit like having a single running machine at home and then going to a huge gym with all the bells and whistles?
Anyway, thank you all. It has been 100 posts of genealogical joy, and here’s to many more!
L x

Monday, 5 November 2012

Remember, remember...?

So, I was planning on making this, my 100th blog post, rather more reflective, but I will postpone that until next time in order to concentrate on some rather more timely subject matter – Bonfire Night.
The reason for this is that there is an old family rumour that one of my ancestors was in some way involved with the Gunpowder Plot. Exciting as this may seem, as yet I have found no evidence that it is actually true.
The rumour originates from my paternal family, but I haven’t been able to narrow it down much beyond that, which means 50% of my ancestral lines are currently implicated.  If I was ever to narrow this down – or even get that far back on most of these lines – I’d be very impressed, and I don’t hold much hope, to be honest. However, it is rather interesting to consider that if the rumour were true it would imply Catholic recusant ancestors, and the recusancy rolls are a potential source of information that I am aware of, many thanks to my degree, so you never know...
In an attempt to possibly suggest where the connection might be, I have looked in a little more detail at the plot and two potential connections immediately present themselves:
One possibility is the Wintour, or Winter,brothers, Robert and Thomas, who were among the key plotters. The name Winter occurs in my Father’s maternal line, which is where I sort of get the impression the story comes from (though I can’t be certain).
If it were on my father’s maternal line, the Winters would seem the most likely candidates. The Rayners came from Ireland in the early 1800s and so that’s half of my great-grandfather’s side accounted for. On my great-grandmother’s side, again we can discount the Geoghegan line, which also came from Ireland, and I have enough second-hand information on the Hall line back into the 1600s to suggest that they’re improbable. It really only leaves either the ancestors of Emma Winter (both of her parents were also Winters, quite probably related) on my great-grandfather’s line or the ancestors of William Kipping Hedgecock on my great-grandmother’s line.
The possible problems with the Winter connection are that Winter is a fairly common name, so alone it is hardly compelling evidence. This is further compounded by the fact that Wikipedia tells me that historian Antonia Fraser (for whom I have great respect) in her book about the Gunpowder Plot (which I may have to purchase) points out that the brothers never used the spelling Winter themselves; it is usually found spelt Wintour or Wyntour. Obviously, spelling was quite variable back then, and I suppose it was still relatively fluid by the time I encounter my Winters in the nineteenth century. However, my Winter ancestors are consistent in the spelling of their name, which doesn’t really help my case.
Further to this, the location is wrong – the Wintour brothers came from the West Midlands, whereas my Winters were based in Surrey. Again, though people did move around, the location evidence hardly helps any argument for this being the connection, so I have to concede it isn’t likely.
A stronger possibility, I have to concede, is on an entirely different branch of my family, which has strong roots in the right area. My Buswell line as far back as I’ve been able to trace it originates around Whichford in Warwickshire, before migrating southwards into Chipping Norton and Banbury. Whichford is roughly thirty miles from Coughton, the base of the Throckmorton family, to whom many of the Gunpowder Plotters were related or connected. Though it’s not particularly close, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine part of the family moving a relatively small thirty miles over a couple of hundred years, and/or being connected by marriage to a family within such an area.
The problem with this possibility is that the Buswells feed into my Thompson/Newby line, which is my paternal grandfather’s side, and as I say, if anything I had the impression that the connection was on my dad’s maternal line.
On his paternal line, I can discount the Thompsons, also Irish, and the other possibilities are the Newbys/Wallingers, about whom I know too little to guess either way.
What I can say without any hesitation is that nowhere in my family lines have I encountered anyone who can seriously be called a gentleman of the rank that the Gunpowder Plotters were (with the exception, perhaps, of William Kipping), so whichever branch it was, they must have had some financial problems somewhere along the line!
Just to be clear, this is all very much conjecture, just for the fun of it. I have absolutely no evidence that this particular rumour is even true, never mind the means to identify the ancestor! Indeed, many such rumours do turn out to me completely untrue, or at least exaggerated considerably. Given that my most famous real ancestor’s granddaughter ­– J. B. Geoghegan, grandaughter Mabel Hall – only died in the 1960s and yet the man was never mentioned, it would seem improbable that a true story so much older would survive!
I think the most likely explanation is that my ancestors may have ‘supported’ the plot – i.e. they were recusant Catholics, hoping to put a Catholic monarch on the throne ­– rather than being actively involved in it, and over time, this expression of support became exaggerated into something more sinister.
That said, I have no evidence whatsoever for any kind of recusancy or nonconformity in my family either. Almost all of my ancestors baptised their children, married and were buried in the Church of England (despite the fact that many of them lived in strongly Methodist areas). Beyond that, I have found no evidence of anyone actively involved in the church or showing any strong faith. As a fair complement of my ancestors was Irish, some of them may have had a catholic background, but that wouldn’t really tie in with the Gunpowder Plot in any case. The vast majority of them seem happy to tow the Anglican line, to be honest!
It just goes to show that there’s only so much that genealogy can uncover. The vast majority of our family history must remain unknown, and many of the myths must remain unresolved. It’s rather nice to have the possibility that I really do have such an exciting background, though, and with a bit of luck I might one day make the breakthrough that proves or disproves it!
L x

Friday, 2 November 2012

The teeny tiny fruits of a teeny tiny breakthrough

I was using the 1911 census on Ancestry a few days ago, when I noticed something: Occupations appear in the transcribed information.
This interesting for 2 reasons. For one thing, it isn’t always the case for censuses that it does, and I like having it there for easy reference. (Especially at work, where I can’t see census images due to lack of flash – most annoying when I’m trying to do a bit of research in my lunch hour.)
The real reason this intrigued me, though, was that if it’s transcribed then it will show up in a search, and this fact opens up new options for locating people whom I couldn’t find back when I was using the original 1911 census website. In particular, my Hall family have generally been most tricky to locate, because of their peripatetic lifestyle as music-hall performers. In 1911, I only had two out of the five children – Mona and what I believe to be Marion ­­– and had not found their father either.
So, I put the 1911 occupation search to the test on the remaining three: Mabel (my 2x great grandmother), Henry Victor and Amy, as well as their father Matthew. No luck with either of the first two, or with their dad. But, with Amy I came up trumps.
Now Amy has always been a matter of some frustration. Of all the siblings she does seem to have had the most prolific career, which I have tracked steadily through mentions in the Stage publication.
Born in 1879, by November 1887, at the age of eight, Amy is already forging her stage career with performances as Jim in Saved From The Streets with the W. H. Sharpe company. She then takes up a position with the Rass Challis company from around 1893. There is a bit of a gap for her in the Stage archives between 1890 and 1892, but she was definitely still touring on the 1891 census. Between 1893 and 1895 – again, there’s a bit of a gap – she moves to the Leopold Brothers company, and stars in various production, including  the long-running show Frivolity. I have also found evidence of performances alongside her sister Mona between 1904 and 1906, and a slot in her father’s production Unknown in 1896 at his Music Hall. Her career stretches into the 1920s, when she would have been in her forties. But, despite all this, finding out anything about Amy’s private life has been utterly hopeless. Until now.
The 1911 census was taken on the night of Sunday 2 April. From the Stage archives, I knew that Amy was performing in Brighouse, just three days previously, but she certainly wasn’t there by the time the census was taken!
Now, searching for Amy Hall born 1879, Liverpool, with ‘actress’ in the keywords box, threw up the following: Amy Hall, born about 1880, Liverpool, an Actress. She is staying in Chorlton, Lancashire, in the household of a Mrs White, some of whose children and grandchildren have the surname Elliott (I have yet to unravel the relationships in this household). Also lodging there is a married couple, Horatio and Annie White, both also actors.
She gives her name as Amy Hall. But intriguingly she says she is married . So, it doesn’t give me much clue, and there’s no sign of anyone who might be her husband, but apparently she is married – I’d always wondered. Like her sister Mona, it seems she continued to use Hall as her (stage?) name. Now I just have to find the marriage record – no mean feat. However, it’s one of the very few tidbits of information I do have about her personal life, so it’s very welcome.
Plus, I can add the Sinclairs to my list of connected theatrical people to look out for on my travels; you never know when they might come in handy.
I’m now wondering whether Amy might have had children as well, and also considering whether gaps in her career might tally with marriage and/or pregnancy. On the basis that Amy was about old enough to marry from the age of 16, anytime from mid-1895 onwards is plausible. Looking at gaps in mentions in the Stage, there are holes from December 1895 to Jun 1896; March to Aug 1897, Jun 1899 to Aug 1900 and Nov 1906 to May 1907. From late 1907 the mentions slow down radically – there are none at all in 1910, for example. There are, I think two possibilities her.
One is that Amy did indeed marry sometime in the period Dec 1895 to Jun 1896, at the tender age of sixteen, and perhaps gave birth to a child in the gap between March and August 1897, and perhaps again in 1899–1900. On the other hand, perhaps she was rather young for this to be a strong possibility. Also, in 1896 Amy’s parents divorced, when her youngest sister Mabel was just five years old, and her father moved from his post s stage manager in Lincoln to the managerial position at the newly opened Burslem Hippdorome, so perhaps it was these family difficulties that kept the young Amy busy out of the limelight. You might even conjecture that perhaps the Stage diligently chose to avoid mention of the family at this difficult and potentially scandalous time for them, well-known as they were in the Music Hall community.
On the other hand, perhaps the possible slowing down of reports on Amy’s career from 1907 onwards is because she had a new family and responsibilities that kept her from the stage. She would have been in her mid-twenties by now, a much more likely age of a marriage, especially in someone so career-driven.
Of course, it can’t be proved that just because there were fewer mentions of her Amy’s career had slowed down, or that gaps meant she had stopped performing. As I previously mentioned, in 1891 she was on tour at the time of the census, and yet I have found no mentions at all of her in 1891 in the Stage. However, when you look at the frequency of entries at other times, it is hard to believe that the gaps have no significance. For example, there are thirteen mentions of Amy in various performances in 1898, and eleven mentions in 1901 – and yet from mid-1899 to mid-1900 there was nothing at all?
Whatever the truth of the matter, it never ceases to amaze me how the slightest bit of new information can reopen a mystery that you thought was pretty much a closed case. This just highlights the importance of improving the information available online, both in terms of getting new records digitised and in improving on the digitisation of those collections that do exist.
You can read more about Amy and her career in Fearless Females 2012: Shining stars
L x