Keeping your cool and your eyes open have to be to this month’s buzzwords. The standard of census transcription provided by the ‘big two’ has left so much to be desired I was on the verge of insanity. Just how many ways can you spell ‘Tait’? With the clock ticking for a paying customer time comes at premium. It quickly reaches the point where you either move on to search for the next record, or delegate. In this case I managed to do both, and for that I have to thank my good friend and ‘genie’ colleague Michelle Leonard, for her startling efficiency in finding the census record which had been eluding me within five minutes! First tip – if you think you know where your ancestors are living, try a search using the address! With sanity partially restored, and suspicions confirmed that there had indeed been at least one other child born in the intervening period between marriage and the 1841 census, it was time to head off to the Old Parish Registers (OPR’s).
Whilst like many I use a combination of secondary sources and each has its positives and negatives, they still don’t retain all of the information contained in the original registers. They are also prone to human error incurred during the transcription process which was testing my patience so sorely in my search for Tait (Lair, Lais, Fair, Fait, Sair, Sait, Late and even Tart!) Often, access to the originals can be problematic due to distance from the archives or restrictive opening times. Hence I am a big fan of the BT’s or Bishops Transcripts which are freely available online through Family Search. Rather than launch into a full explanation of the information they contain I have added a link at the end of this post. Suffice it to say, they comprise images of the original baptism, marriage and burial records for an individual parish. With some containing records dating from the late 16th century to circa 1841 they are a very useful tool for research in the pre statutory registration period. A word of warning though, they too are prone to errors and omissions as they are themselves copies of the original registers, albeit contemporary ones. Also, they are not indexed so a bit of savvy searching is required. A good tip is to glean as much information as possible from other sources before you reach for the BT. It worth noting that ‘The Genealogist’ now has some parish records for Northumberland available online. Their whizzy quick search button for related family members and records is a great timesaver - but remember this list may be incomplete. It is no panacea nor a substitute for the real thing, and more importantly it still has many details and individuals omitted from the transcripts.
It was whilst putting this into practice in the BT’s for Ford, I happened on a record that provided an answer to a question that has been plaguing Smith family research for YEARS – and not just mine I might add! I can’t find a single individual that has found the correct answer, but I can now remedy that situation. What made this particular case even more trying was the individuals involved left quite detailed wills that contained not a single clue, referring only to wives and mothers by their Christian names. Well ‘cousin’ Patrick, I can now solve the mystery of the 'Harper' in your surname!
Margaret Young late Harper, of Mount Carmel, Parish of Norham, widow of Aaron Young, Farmer, Died died 15th January 1805, buried 18th aged 89 years
One of the earliest blogs I wrote back in March 2013, 'One too Many ...or Was It' concerned Aaron Young who unfortunately drowned in the river Whiteadder at the Bluestone Ford on the 31st December 1822. An incident which has fascinated generations, but beyond the grisly details, little was known about the gentleman’s parentage. He was an only child, his father having died in 1759 when he was just 4 years old and his mother’s Christian name was Margaret! Anyone who has researched Young families in the North Northumberland area will appreciate the difficulty in firstly finding the records as they were ‘dissenters’, and then identifying who is who from often patchy information. However, even dissenters were required to be interred in the parish burial ground, so the records should be in the parish burial registers. As Aaron Young and his father before him were associated with the farms of Windmill Hill near Berwick or Mount Carmel near Norham, searches for his parents burial records in the past have centred around these areas. There she was on the page before me in Ford - Margaret Young, maiden surname Harper of Mount Carmel died aged 89 in January 1805. If her age at death is correct then this gives an approximate date of birth of 1715 -1716, around the time of first famous Jacobite Rising known as the '15.
The exact same record from The Genealogist with false eyelashes and lipstick applied, but that vital piece of information 'late Harper' required to trace her own family ancestry, nowhere to be seen.
The original parish registers and thus the BT’s for this area can be extremely informative particularly if the parishes fell under the auspices of Bishop Shute Barrington
For the genealogist, demographer and historian, however, the memorable gift of Bishop Shute Barrington was his introduction of a detailed format for parish registers, along the lines of the pioneer work of William Dade in the neighbouring diocese of York, but in a more manageable format. From 1798 until the national introduction of printed register books in 1812, baptism registers in the diocese of Durham were required to include the child’s date of birth, the mother’s maiden name and the parishes in which both parents were born as well, as the number of the child in the family. Details of fathers of illegitimate children were recorded with similar zeal. [Debretts Ancestral Research]
Frances Jane Thompson, Born 20th May 1805, Baptised the 25th, 5th daughter of The Reverend Joseph Thompson, Curate of this Parish, Native of Little Blencowe in the Parish of Greystock, [Greystoke] Cumberland, by his wife Margaret Daughter of John and Byers, Native of Great Salkeld Cumberland.
Records like these were time consuming to keep and to copy so alas, this level of detail wasn't kept up for long, but while they do they provide manna from heaven for the family historian. This example happens to be for the daughter of the parish curate, but the other entries from this period are just as detailed with families from Yorkshire, Norfolk and McLeods from the Isle of Skye being amongst some notable entries in the register.
Having stumbled upon this piece of elusive information I resolved to re-visit the Ford BT in search of other ancestors on my maternal side who appear to have been equally averse to a traditional head wetting. It’s not often I get a chance to research my own family, so when I do I expect the ancestors to play ball and co-operate. On this occasion whilst not laying bare all the family secrets, they did submit to supplying some tantalising clues, suggesting they have been in and around the Ford and Crookham area for some time, and not just passing through.
Alexander Hewitt, Eastfeld, [occupation] Gardner, [marital status] Widower [died] 11th January 1804, [buried] 13th January 1804, [age] 90 years.
As well as Alexander's astonishing longevity which potentially links the family to Ford as early as circa 1714, of particular interest is his occupation. Subsequent generations are described as market gardeners and fruiterers, which remained the trade of our branch of the Hewitt family, who became fruit brokers in the mid 19th century. This connection eventually came to an end through a series of mergers and the ultimate retirement of my own grandfather on 30th June 1974. More about the business and associated families appear in my blog of April 2014
Another tantalising snippet of information was provided by this entry dated the following March:
Pringle Turnbull, late Hewitt, Crookham, wife of James Turnbull DANCING MASTER died March 29th 1805, buried the 31st aged 42 years.
I can honestly say this is the first time I have encountered the occupation 'Dancing Master' in a rural parish record. Furthermore what was her relationship to Alexander, daughter or granddaughter? What the record does suggest, however, is that I should potentially be looking for a Pringle connection and hope that she was not named for some unrelated eminent personage in the local community. Our ancestors are good at throwing us 'red herrings' such as this so it is always worth bearing in mind.
Away from the BT's for a moment, this record found with the transcripts of Irregular Marriages at Coldstream Bridge is another Hewitt sneaking over the Border into Scotland to tie the knot in 1795.
The transcript may be easier to read and imparts the relevant information but to my mind its just a bit lifeless. The old handwritten documents act as a window to the 'soul' of the parish, complete with their erroneous spellings and sometimes eyebrow raising comments. Whilst searching through the original images I came across a couple of entries that impart a bit more information than is immediately apparent.
Dated 1st Feb 1834, the surname Blythe, [abode] 'Travelling' and the occupation 'Besom Maker' [Brush Maker] tell us that this record is highly likely to be the baptism of a Romany or Gypsy child. The area around Kirk Yetholm, not far from Ford being renowned as seat of the 'King of the Gypsies' with its nineteenth century gypsy palace.
Another record that caught my eye was the 'supposed' man buried at Ford in November 1808.
A Stranger supposed from the neighbourhood of West Wemyss, whose name is supposed to be John Dunsire from a letter found in his pocket found drowned near Redscar, Ford November 10th 1808, buried 12th, supposed to be 50 years of age.
Was this supposed stranger actually John Dunsire, or someone else entirely? What was in the letter to suppose it was he, a testimonial from his own parish of settlement? Was he trying to cross the watery taker of souls that is the River Till at Redscar on his way South or North? We will doubtless never know, but if there are any 'Fifers' out there missing a John Dunsire who disappears around 1805, we have him here at Ford.
SAYS Tweed to Till--
The Bishops Transcripts are not the easiest to navigate at times, the handwriting ranges from sublime to somewhat more challenging, and the quality of the filming can be a bit haphazard. However, to the committed family historian they are definitely worth their weight in gold.
Debretts, Bishop Shute Barrington and the English Parish Register
Family Search, Bishop's Transcripts for Durham Doicese
The Genealogist https://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/