3 interesting websites for #FamilyHistory researches


At various times in my Family History researches I’ve found these websites interesting and useful.

The History of the Workhouse

image credit Dr Neil Clifton / Leeds Union Workhouse Leeds Union Workhouse Built in 1859 and now, since 1998, used as the Thackray Medical Museum.

Probably most family history researchers have found one or more of their ancestors ending their days in the workhouse. To find out more about life in the workhouse then a visit to The Workhouse – the story of an institution is a must.

It’s a massive website filled with information about every conceivable aspect of workhouse life but I’ve found that the most useful part is the directory of workhouse addresses with links to the pages of individual workhouses.

This is the link to the directory part of the site: ​http://www.workhouses.org.uk/addresses/
then just use the A-Z to search for the town you want and click its link.

Railways Archive

image credit Ben Brooksbank / A major accident on the ECML near New Southgate. 17th July 1948

If you think your ancestor might have been involved in a railway accident there may be some information at the Railway Archives website.

In 1947, my mother kept a diary and one day she recorded: “Mr Eaton was killed today on the Railway”. Her father worked on the railway so Mr Eaton’s death must have been particularly significant. The Railways Archive website has 32 accidents listed for 1947 but none of them seem as though they would have involved the Mr. Eaton mentioned in Doreen’s diary. Further scrutiny of the accidents recorded for 1947 show there were a staggering 111 fatalities and over 800 injuries. The worst accidents of 1947 were at Gidea Park (7 fatalities and 45 injured); Doncaster (18 fatalities and 118 injured); Burton Agnes (12 fatalities and 32 injured); South Croydon (32 fatalities and 183 injured); and Goswick (28 fatalities and 90 injured).
The causes of these terrible railway disasters were:
Goswick: excessive speed and human error resulting in derailment and the train splitting
South Croydon: signaller error resulting in derailment
Burton Agnes: collision with a road vehicle
Doncaster: signaller error resulting in rear collision and derailment
Gidea Park: fog, excessive speed and human error resulting in rear collision and derailment.
Reading these appalling statistics made me re-appraise what might have happened to Mr Eaton. I’d assumed he’d been killed while working for the Railway: now I’m not so sure.
Interestingly, sixty years later, in 2007, 54 accidents were reported on the railway in which there were 6 fatalities (5 were caused by collision with a road vehicle) and in the majority of cases there were no injuries at all.

The Railways Archive is easily and freely searchable and might provide you with interesting background for your family’s story.

Hansard On-Line

image credit By Adrian Pingstone (talk · contribs) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Hansard is the edited verbatim report of the proceedings of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords in the British Parliament. It is a fantastic resource for adding detail to your family story. When I was researching the background to I Think I Prefer the Tinned Variety: The Diary of a Petty Officer in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II I was trying to find out about the Mobile Naval Air Bases (MONABs) that were set up to provide back-up for the British Pacific Fleet in 1945 and I found a fascinating reference in Hansard.

I also found a report in Hansard about a school that features in my family story which was most interesting.

Go to the Historic Hansard search page and enter the person or place you’re interested in. You’ll go to a page where you can narrow your search down or follow up on some of the suggestions. Well worth a visit!

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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.


Thanks for reading my blog today.

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

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This is a useful list for Family Historians. #familyhistory


If you find that one of your ancestors has a rather obscure nickname this ​List of Traditional Nicknames in Historic Documents could be helpful.

Scanning the list, these caught my eye.

Babe = Mary (or used as a name for the baby of the family)

Butch = (Butch is a common nickname used to separate “Sr” from “Jr” mainly in cultures with German backgrounds. Typically the father (Sr) goes by his first name, while the son (Jr) will be referred to as “Butch” by family and friends.)

Doc = name given to 7th child

Heinz = Heinrich

Iggy = Ignatius

Kissy = Calista

Kit = Christopher

Mimi = Wilhelmina

Norm = Norman

Rita = Margaret

Sadie = Sarah

Telly = Aristotle

And it occurs to me that the list might also be useful for fiction writers looking for something slightly unusual for their characters.

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The impenetrability of the unrecorded past

I wrote this post on May 31st 2016 and as it’s only had a few views I thought it could have another airing on its second anniversary.

The image above is one of my favourite family history photographs.


I’ve inherited it from my grandmother but I’m not even certain if she is in the photo. I don’t know anything about the photo. I’ve guessed that it might be at a wedding celebration but it might not. There’s no information about where the people are; who they are; what they’re doing all together; even when it was taken. The woman on the front row on the right looks a bit like another photo I have which I’m sure is of my grandmother. Obviously there’s no one alive today from that era who can provide the answers.

Why didn’t they write some names, dates and details on the back?

You would think with the great attention that was being given to emerging literacy in those days, they would have wanted to practise their skills and annotate their photos. I suppose if the photos went in an album originally they wouldn’t have thought there was any need. I know my grandmother and her mother and her sisters could write well because I’ve got a collection of postcards they sent to each other in the early years of the twentieth century when they went on holiday.

So why didn’t they add some captions to their photos?

I’ve spent hours (years!) researching my family history; and that of my husband’s family too. I’ve accumulated all sorts of documents that have been saved over the years. I’ve become my family’s custodian of old photographs; postcards; letters; diaries; receipts; birth, marriage and death certificates; birthday cards; wedding cards; engagement cards; funeral cards; school magazines; church magazines; newspapers and newspaper cuttings; medals; coins; jewellery; samplers; a christening gown; a wedding dress; a decorated rolling pin; nanna’s bag; a sewing box; china; glassware; two glass fronted cabinets; and a tiny silver thimble.

Read more of the impenetrability of the unrecorded past on my Cabbage and Semolina Blog.

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

coal whipper

If you enjoy family history but are sometimes perplexed by an ancestor’s occupation, here’s the solution.

Dictionary of Old Occupations: A-Z Index

This has to be one of the most useful  websites for family historians available free on the Internet.

The Dictionary of Old Occupations contains over two thousand entries so if you’re puzzled by the work undertaken by a Buddleboy you can easily find out that it was the person responsible for the upkeep of vats used to wash ore in the tin (or possibly lead) mining industry. Or how about a Cupel Maker which turns out to be a thrower in the pottery industry who made crucibles. Or was someone in your family a fripperer? Which means that they sold second hand clothes.

This really is one of the most fascinating and useful on-line dictionaries I’ve ever come across for both general interest and family history researching.

My husband’s great, great grandfather was a coal whipper in the 1870s and I used the Dictionary Of Old Occupations to help find out more about the job.

The job of the coal whippers was to get the coal off the ships when it was delivered to the London Docks.

Coal was brought to the capital from the coal fields of the north and by the end of the nineteenth century over three million tons of coal were being transported by ship 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 shifted 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.

I copied this fascinating account of the life of a coal whipper on my Family History blog a few years ago. It’s from The Mysteries of London by G.W.M. Reynolds. This was published in 1846 in weekly episodes. It was a “penny blood”: one of the mass produced, cheap, sensationalist serials that were so popular in that era.

One of the characters in the story is a coal whipper and here he is describing his life to other drinkers in a pub, The Dark House.

He explains that the coal whipper works for a local publican who acts as middle-man between the captain of the collier and the coal merchant. The publican contracts to move the coal and hires the whippers and pays them directly; what is extra shocking is the fact that out of his meagre wages the coal whipper had to pay substantial amounts to the publican for beer in order to be sure of getting a job!!!

This is what he said:

“My father was a coal whipper, and had three sons. He brought us all up to be coal whippers also. My eldest brother was drownded in the pool (Pool of London) one night when he was drunk, after only drinking about two pots of the publicans’ beer: my other brother died of hunger in Cold-Bath Fields prison, where he was sent for three months for taking home a bit of coal one night to his family when he couldn’t get his wages paid him by the publican that hired the gang in which he worked. My father died when he was forty – and any one to have seen him would have fancied he was sixty-five at least – so broke down was he with hard work and drinking. But no coal whipper lives to an old age: they all die off at about forty-old men in the wery prime of life….

….He doesn’t get paid for his labour in a proper way. Wapping swarms with low public-houses, the landlords of which act as middle-men between the owners of the colliers and the men that a hired to unload ’em. A coal whipper can’t get employment direct from the captain of the collier: the working of the collier is farmed by them landlords I speak of; and the whipper must apply at their houses. Those whippers as drinks the most always gets employment first; and whether a whipper chooses to drink beer or not, it’s always sent three times a-day on board the colliers for the gangs. And, my eye! what stuff it is! Often and often have we throwed it away, ‘cos we could’nt possibly drink it – and it must be queer liquor that a coal whipper won’t drink!

Well, I used to earn from fifteen to eighteen shillings a-week; and out of that, eight was always stopped for the beer; and if I didn’t spend another or two on Saturday night when I received the balance, the landlord set me down as a stingy feller and put a cross agin my name in his book….

….not give me any more work till he was either forced to do so for want of hands, or I made it up with him by standing a crown bowl of punch. So what with one thing and another, I had to keep myself, my wife, and three children, on about seven or eight shillings a-week – after working from light to dark.”

Tough times!

Our ancestor was Mark Starling  (1827 – 1894) who stopped working as a coal whipper and lived on into his seventies, although unfortunately he eventually died in the workhouse.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

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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 ancestry.co.uk;

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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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.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

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


Book of the Day at http://www.spurwing-ebooks.com/ 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.)


Remembrance Sunday reflections

On this Remembrance Sunday I’m reflecting on the First World War and the national commemorations which commenced three years ago.

It seems ages since the launch of the poppies installation at The Tower of London. And yet, in real time the war still has another year to run and the influenza pandemic which affected an estimated 500 million people worldwide has hardly begun.

I found this audio clip in October 2014 and it has haunted me since.

The clip is a shocking representation of the number of lives lost in just one battle of World War 1 and I’ve listened to it several times in the last three years.

In January 2014 I started my own family history commemoration of the First World War.

During the first two years of World War One but 100 years later, I explored the lives of all our ancestors who were alive during that era. If you share Murray, Magnus, Joseph, Starling, Ashworth, Buckle, Smith or Barratt surnames amongst your ancestors you might like to read about ours at Writing a Family History: First World War Stories.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Did you know that this well-known verse is part of a longer poem “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon? I didn’t, although I’ve heard the famous lines many times. I think this setting of the words is a suitable note on which to say thanks for reading my blog today.


We enjoyed watching “Gunpowder” on BBC1.

The series is a beautifully produced drama with lovely lighting in some of the interior shots. The graphic punishment scenes are convincingly gruesome and serve as a timely reminder of what was commonplace in England not all that long ago!

Not being Game of Thrones viewers we’re unfamiliar with Kit Harington, the mover and shaker behind “Gunpowder”. It’s interesting to read that Harington is descended from Robert Catesby (the ring-leader of the plot) on his mother’s side; and through his father’s family history he’s related to James I, the target of the assassination attempt. Another ancestor is Lord Harington who was in the Houses of Parliament which Catesby and his co-conspirators tried to blow up.

I don’t usually read the Daily Mail but I stumbled on this interesting article which shares  a different perspective of the show.

I know too little about the period to judge the historical accuracy of the production. But it’s been great drama for Saturday night viewing!

Thanks for reading my blog today.

You might also like to check out my Book of the Day.