Ancestral homes #FamilyHistory #ancestry

If you want to know what a location in your family history is like today, then the Geograph website is for you.

The website is a marvellous repository of photos taken by enthusiasts from all over the UK of the many places where they live or enjoy visiting.

The site is particularly useful if you want to visit a church that is connected to your family history without actually going there on a visit.

​I don’t know if the project has managed to cover every inch of the British Isles yet but I shouldn’t think there are many places that haven’t been captured.

This is my favourite Geograph image.

The photo was taken at Beaumont cum Moze in Essex.


Our Starling ancestors originated in Beaumont cum Moze and emigrated to London in the nineteenth century.

I think the remains of the Thames sailing barge in this photo are so evocative and we often speculate that it was on a boat like this that the family made their move to London’s East End.

Mark W. Starling married Mary Ann Heyson on 24th January 1852 at the parish church of St Leonard, Beaumont cum Moze, Essex. Mark was 25 years old and Mary Ann was a year younger.

Mark and Mary Ann Starling were my husband (Michael Murray’s) great great grandparents.


Mark was accompanied at the wedding by his father Robert Starling, an agricultural labourer, and Mary Ann’s father was William Heyson, a Dealer (although what he was dealing in is not known).

Mark himself was employed as an agricultural labourer and Mary Ann was a dressmaker.

Mark had lived with his grandmother, Susan Starling, since he was a child as both his parents had died before he was four years old. His brother Robert lived with other relatives until old enough to go to work as an agricultural labourer and take lodgings. He died in 1853 shortly after Mark and Mary Ann were married.


Susan Starling died in 1858 reputedly aged 96 years and I think it’s a safe bet that Mark and Mary Ann started their married life living with Nan.

Their first child, Robert, was born in 1852 followed by Stephen in 1855.

What happened next is a mystery but a few years later the family had left rural Essex and were living in the docks area of London’s East End.

Maybe increasing mechanisation and the growth of imports resulting in less work for the labourers prompted Mark and May Ann to move off. Maybe they just fancied a change after living in the same place for so long.

Whatever the reason, by 1871, the family lived at 36, Morris Street in Shadwell, East London and Mark was working as a coal whipper; Robert was working as a docks labourer and Stephen had become a book binder.

Coal Whippers were the men who had the job of getting the coal off the ships and on their way to the customer.

Coal was brought to the capital from the coal fields of the north and by the last quarter of the nineteenth century over three million tons of coal was being transported by sea each year. It was the job of the coal whippers to get the coal out of the hold of the collier (ship used for transporting coal), into sacks and carried on their backs onto the coal merchants’ lighters (smaller vessels) for onward transport. It was hard, heavy, labour-intensive work which took its toll on the life expectancy of those involved.

In 1881 Mark and Mary Ann had moved to 40, Morris Street, Shadwell, with their son Stephen. Mark was still working as a labourer but no longer, apparently, with the coal whippers. Stephen continued to live at home and work as a bookbinder and Robert, married and with children of his own, had moved out and gone to work as a coal porter.

By 1891 Mark and Mary Ann had moved round the corner to 35, Upper Chapman Road. Unfortunately Stephen had died in 1885. Although he continued to work as a general labourer up to the 1890s, Mark died in 1894 aged seventy four years. Clearly his decision to stop being a coal whipper was the right one.

Mary Ann died three years later. Both Mark and Mary Ann ended their days being supported by the parish union, hopefully in the infirmary and not the workhouse and they were buried privately although exactly where isn’t known.

Shadwell today is hugely different to the Shadwell known by Mark and Mary Ann but maybe the bridge in this photo was constructed when they lived in the area.


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This has to be one of the most useful family history websites

Time to renew the ancestry subscription

Book of the Day


Time to renew the ancestry subscription


I received an email from the ancestry website last week informing me that my annual subscription was due for renewal at the end of the month.

I logged into the site to check that my payment method was up-to-date and was amazed to see that I’ve been subscribing to the site since the year 2000.

I started researching  my family history in the late 1990s. I was learning to explore the Internet as part of my IT up-skilling as a primary school headteacher. In the process I stumbled upon a database of the 1881 census maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints.

I was stunned when I began to find records that were definitely my ancestors. Finding the names of the grandparents and great grandparents was very exciting.

I was soon looking for more ancestors.

Then I found;

signed up for a seven day free trial;

found the records of lots more ancestors;

and was hooked!

Over the years I’ve explored the main branches of my family tree right to the most distant twiglet.

And the same for my husband’s family tree; and my brother-in-law’s; and cousin-in-law’s; and even helped a close friend to track down his birth mother and sister.

I subscribed to Find My Past for the release of the 1911 census and the 1939 Register. And I’ve ordered over fifty Birth, Marriage and Death certificates from the Government Record Office.

By 2012 I’d run out of new explorations and was becoming increasingly frustrated with banging my head against the ancestry “brick walls”. But the British Newspaper Archive was live and so I subscribed to that too.

Great! I searched every name in my family tree in the BNA database and although the majority of my ancestors hadn’t done anything newsworthy, a couple of my great grandparents had. And I’ve collected some fantastic stories about them which have helped me build up a greatly enhanced knowledge of the lives of each great grandfather and their families.

One of the best things about the British Newspaper Archive is it keeps adding pages to newspapers already included in the digital records; and new titles are added from time to time as well.

I was delighted when the BNA added the Barnsley Chronicle to the archive and I rushed to re-search my great grandfather, John Henry Buckle. I’d already found reports about him several times in a different local paper such as his involvement with a coal miners’ charitable fund. He appears to have had a well developed sense of civic pride and community responsibility.

Searching the Barnsley Chronicle I was thrilled to find a photograph which included my great grandfather at a presentation for a war hero in the local village during WW1. He is in the centre of the photo and although the image is rather blurry, it still gives a good idea of what my great grandfather looked like.

JH Buckle with war hero

Meanwhile, back on the ancestry website there’s a reduced price promotion for their DNA testing service. I’m really tempted by this but I’ve read some reports that say the results are very generalised and the information isn’t that good. Also, I’m slightly wary about sending my DNA sample off into the way blue yonder not really sure what’s going to happen to it. If any readers have tried this service I’d love to hear your opinion of it.

I use Family Historian software for collecting all my data and produce family tree documents from that. They are very plain and utilitarian, the complete opposite of this lovely sixteenth century woodcut by Jakob Lederlein.

Jakob Lederlein
image credit:Jakob Lederlein [Public domain], via Wikimedia Common
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Afternoon Tea, Sunday Tea and a very fine teapot.

How we discovered a celebrity photographer at the end of an ancestor hunt.

Book Promotion

From Carrier Bags and Nutty Slack to Steam Trains and Pennies via Nylon Frocks and Ankle Socks, Cabbage and Semolina is my attempt to capture some childhood memories from the 1950s. I hope you enjoy reading them.

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How we discovered a celebrity photographer at the end of an ancestor hunt.

While writing my quick blogpost to celebrate the birthday of renowned photographer Cecil Beaton Born #OnThisDay January 14 1904 I remembered another well known photographer also born in 1904 who’s been rather overshadowed by Beaton.

We stumbled on the grave of Angus McBean when we were ancestor hunting in Debenham, Suffolk a few years ago.

We’d gone to Debenham to try and find my Gooding ancestors and spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the pretty Debenham streets and investigating the gravestones in the churchyard.





We found the gravestone of my great, great, great, great grandfather, William Gooding, who was born in 1774 in Brockford, Suffolk.  I’ve never been able to pinpoint with any certainty William’s actual death date and the gravestone didn’t help.


Although I was confident that this was my 4 x great grandfather’s grave as it was possible to decipher his name with a bit of manic ancestor hunter’s peering.


We’d realised there was another more contemporary cemetery at the other end of the village and it was while we were searching there that we came across Angus McBean’s gravestone.


Despite his name, Angus McBean was actually Welsh. While attending Newport Technical College he developed an interest in photography. He sold a gold watch he’d inherited from his grandfather to buy some photography equipment.

After his father’s death in 1925, Angus and his mother moved to London and he went to work in Liberty’s department store in the antiques department where he started to learn restoration. His interest in photography continued but McBean developed an ability to design and make masks which came to be greatly admired  in theatrical  circles. The society photographer, Hugh Cecil, offered Angus an assistant’s job. From this Angus acquired more photography skills and established his own studio a couple of years later.

In 1935, Angus McBean was commissioned by Ivor Novello to make masks for a new stage production and to take photographs of a young actress, Vivienne Leigh. Consequently McBean became one of the most significant celebrity portrait photographers of the 20th century. Through the late 1940s and 50s McBean was the official photographer at Stratford, the Royal Opera House, Sadler’s Wells, Glyndebourne, the Old Vic and all the West End productions of H. M. Tennent.

In the 1960s McBean began working in the emerging record cover business with companies such as EMI. He was commissioned to create Cliff Richard’s first four album sleeves and the cover of The Beatles’ first album Please Please Me.

In later life McBean continued to undertake celebrity photo portraits and to explore his interest in surrealism. He became ill while on holiday in Morocco and after returning home he died in hospital on his eighty sixth birthday.

We enjoyed our visit to Debenham and learning about Angus McBean was an unexpected bonus. Recently I’ve found a One-Place-Study of Debenham which includes a page devoted to my 4 X Great Grandad which gives his death date as 1851 along with some other interesting information.

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You might also like Born #OnThisDay in 1904 – photographer Cecil Beaton


Book of the Day at with details of a free Kindle download.

(If you missed your free copy  of Michael’s literary novella, Julia’s Room, it will be available on another freebie at the end of January.  Check the website for details.)