Category Archives: Genealogy

The Northamptonshire Earthquake of 1750

English parish registers were sometimes used to record momentous events as well as baptisms, marriages and burials.  In 1750 the Reverend Thomas Barnett, Vicar of Rothwell in Northamptonshire, wrote a dramatic account of the earthquake which struck his church just as he was in the act of administering Holy Communion:

On Sunday Septr 30th 1750. We were terribly alarmed with a violent Shock of an Earthquake.  It was felt at this Town about half an hour past twelve at Noon.  I was at that time administering the Holy Sacrament, and was with the whole Congregation in the greatest Surprize.  Its first Approach was heard like a mighty Wind or rather the driving of many Coaches.  The Motion was from S.W. to N.E.  Its Continuance was as near as I could judge about half a Minute, and was very dreadful and awful. 

The Earth was sensibly perceived to heave under our Feet.  The Church totter’d from its Foundation, and the East Window shook most violently, as if all was coming down, and from the Roof, which we thought was falling on us, we heard dreadful Crackings three or four Times, as if great prodigious Weights were flung upon it.  In Fear and Trembling we expected instant Death, either by being crush’d under the Ruins of the Church or else that we should have been swallowed up alive; but as Almighty God directed, no Harm happen’d unto us.  They who were in the Churches or Houses were more sensibly affected and felt it most, than those who were walking.  It was felt in all the Neighbouring Towns of Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.

Rothwell, Northamptonshire

A more phlegmatic and secular account of the same event was provided by the steward to the Earl of Cardigan (whose seat was Deene Park, Northamptonshire). Like the Vicar of Rothwell, the steward compared the sound to the rumble of a heavy coach:

… The Noise that preceded the Earthquake was, for a few Seconds, like the rumbling of a Coach upon a Bridge … The Force of the Shock was chiefly, if not entirely lateral; and so considerable, as that several People, who were sitting in Chairs, catched at the Walls, Tables, and such things as stood next them, expecting they should be thrown down: Buildings of all Kinds were shaken greatly; and the Beds, Chairs, and such things as stood above-stairs were displaced, and rocked about very much: Windows were shaken as if they would have been broken; and in several Places Pewter upon Shelves in Kitchens thrown upon the Floor…. I have not heard of any Damage being done by it more than some Chimnies thrown down, but nobody hurt by them.

The Northamptonshire Earthquake followed the London Earthquakes of 8 February and 8 March 1750. These similarly caused little damage and no fatalities, but many people thought they were a sign of divine wrath.  

‘Like the sound of heavy carriages’

Five years later, English parish registers show parishioners donating money to the survivors of the catastrophic Lisbon earthquake and tsunami, which struck on All Saints Day 1755 and led to more than 10,000 deaths, destroying a third of the city.  According to a British merchant who survived it, the Lisbon earthquake too began with ‘a rushing noise, like the Sound of heavy Carriages, driving hard at some Distance’.


Sources

Parish Registers of Rothwell, Northamptonshire: frontispiece to ‘Rothwell Register 1708–96’ (Northamptonshire Archives, digitised by Ancestry).

Kenneth Maxwell, ‘Lisbon 1755: The First ‘Modern’ Disaster (but if modern, how is it so?); University of Oxford, https://public.mml.ox.ac.uk/files/windsor/5_maxwell.pdf.

‘Roads, and those in Tring’, Tringlocalhistory.org.uk.

‘An Account of the Earthquake Which Happen’d about a quarter before One O’Clock, on Sunday, September 30, 1750, by Mr. – Steward to the Earl of Cardigan’, Philosophical Transactions (1683-1775), vol. 46, pages 721–23. JSTOR. Accessed 6 May 2024.

Old Occupations: Glossaries for Ancestry Research

One of the chief interests in researching your ancestors is finding out what they did for a living. But many occupations have changed over the years, and so has the vocabulary. So what exactly was a Sagger Bottom Knocker? a Throstle Doffer?  Here, in no particular order, are some useful free glossaries and other resources that may help to find out what your English ancestors were up to.

Engraving from 19th century Book of Trades
‘Mechanical Powers’, from The Book of Trades

Pottery Jobs Index

An A-Z of jobs in the Potteries, this is part of thepotteries.org, an excellent local history resource for Stoke-on-Trent.  Many entries have links to an entire page of information and illustrations. (This is where you will find the Sagger Bottom Knocker, hanging out with the Blunger Operator and the Bank Odd Man.)

Mining Occupations

Provided by the Durham Mining Museum, this is an authoritative glossary extracted from four 19th-century sources, largely (but not entirely) relating to the Durham and Northumberland coalfields.  Detailed explanations are provided for some occupations. Sadly, the list includes many references to children, such as the wailer (the boy who picked out the impurities from the coal) and the foal, a small child who assisted a slightly bigger youth (headsman or putter) in dragging coal from the workings to the larger passages. If the foal and the headsman were of equal strength they were known as half-marrows.

Obscure Old English Census Occupations

A general alphabetical index of terms found in UK census returns, some of which are obvious but others that are less so.  Rather oddly, part of a stock photography website.

Female textile workers

Victorian Occupations (1891)

An alphabetical listing of occupations found in the 1891 census of London.  Again, a mixture of the obvious and the obsolete, including some one or two startling anachronisms (Armiger, ‘Squire who carried the armour of a knight’).  But one mustn’t be a Quarrel Picker (glazier: one who fitted quarrels, the small panes of glass used in lattice windows).

Occupational Codes

A bit later in date than most of the lists, but still highly useful, this is a digital edition of the Dictionary of Occupational Terms Based on the Classification of Occupations used in the Census of Population, 1921, originally compiled by the Ministry of Labour.  Arranged within categories, but also including a dictionary of occupations, it covers nearly 30,000 terms, a good many of them now obsolete, such as the disturbing decomposing pan man who ‘charges shallow iron pans with salt and sulphuric acid…’ in the paint-making (etc) industry.

Kindly provided by Peter Christian (2016).

Cotton Industry Jobs

A list of selected occupations in the Lancashire cotton mills, compiled by Andy Alston from family knowledge and ancestry research.  Includes some illustrations.

The Book of English Trades and Library of the Useful Arts: with Seventy Engravings (1818)

Slightly less convenient to use than the modern glossaries, this is available through Hathitrust, Google Books and elsewhere.  It provides a detailed contemporary account of many early 19th-century trades, with some atmospheric engravings.  Some comments may jar upon the modern ear (The journeymans earnings are good; but we fear, as in numerous other trades, that his habits are not calculated to induce him to make the most of them). The level of detail is fascinating: who knew, for example, that in the hat-making trade:   

… beer-grounds are applied in the inside of the crown, to prevent the glue from coming through to the face, and also to give the requisite firmness at a less expence than could be produced by the glue alone …. In France, however, they use wine…

and finally….

The Oxford English Dictionary

The magnificent OED has to have the last word as the definer of the obsolete and the obscure. However, many occupational terms were just too obscure or localised to find their way in. Accessible free if you are lucky enough to have a local library or other institution that subscribes to this essential reference work. 

Tracing Your Ancestors (in England): Top Tips

Here at Debrett Ancestry Research we have researched more than 7,500 families over the years. Tracing your ancestors is a fascinating and absorbing occupation and we all learn endlessly from what we do. But here are a few pointers for those just starting out.

Tip 1: Cherish living memories

Woodcut: medieval young and old women embracing

Family memories are a precious and fragile resource.  So if you can, before setting out to trace your ancestors, ask other family members what they remember. Keep the answers safe and organised. 

We have designed a special book for this, as described in a previous blog: Recollections.

Tip 2: Treat online family trees with caution

Woodcut: medieval man holding branch

They can be helpful, but a lot of the family trees posted on sites like Ancestry are just plain wrong. Beyond living memory, you want every link in your family tree to be supported by hard evidence. That means a historical document, or an image of one. An index entry isn’t enough.  Someone else’s guesswork certainly isn’t. 

However, the best online family trees include multiple original documents, either uploaded or provided as links. If so, look at the evidence for yourself, and check that it makes sense.

Tip 3: Get birth & marriage certificates

Woodcut: medieval scribe with quill

Census returns are a wonderful resource in tracing your ancestors, but don’t rely on them alone. For the period from 1837 onwards, aim to obtain a full birth and marriage record for each ancestor. The birth certificate gives an address and occupation and the maiden name of the mother. The marriage certificate shows the names and occupations of the fathers of the bride and groom.  This is crucial evidence linking one generation to the next. 

However, your ancestors might have married in a parish church whose registers have been filmed by Ancestry or Findmypast.  In that case, the image of the full record can replace a marriage certificate.  Similarly, a baptism record might provide a full date of birth and address (and the General Register Office birth indexes show the mother’s maiden name).

Tip 4: But remember some events were not registered

Although it was a legal requirement to register births in England and Wales from 1 July 1837, not everyone complied. It was only after the Birth and Deaths Registration Act of 1874 that a fine for non-registration was introduced. Similarly, many couples did not marry formally.

Tip 5: Use original records

Woodcut: medieval figure with book

We all make mistakes, and that includes indexers. Besides, the original records are much more interesting than a transcript. Beyond 1837, use Ancestry and Findmypast to search parish registers and a whole host of other records.  But be aware that they don’t cover everything.  Your ancestors might have lived in a county whose parish registers have not been filmed. If so, use an index like FamilySearch in the first instance, but you will then have to seek out the full details, or employ a professional genealogist to look for them.

Tip 6: Keep detailed notes

Woodcut: medieval scribe

Even if you are using a computer program to lay out your family tree, keep a full written record of everything you have looked at.  Every time you record a fact about an ancestor, make a note of where you found it.  If you save an record to your computer, give it a meaningful name so you can find it easily.

Tip 7: Look at maps and gazetteers

Old maps, in particular.  The National Library of Scotland provides an excellent online collection of old Ordnance Survey maps. Old gazetteers (eg Samuel Lewis) and county histories will provide potted descriptions of a parish or village. The more you find out about where and how your ancestors lived, the more interesting your family tree becomes.

Tip 8: Think about the historical context

It really helps to understand the bigger picture.  Read up on the background. Explore the literature of the time.  Wars, bad harvests, industrial change, all affected how and where your ancestors lived. 

Tip 9: Consider different spellings of the name

Woodcut: medieval figure with book

The spelling of surnames was very flexible until relatively recently.  It’s usually a good idea to use the ‘variant’ option when using an online index. If you draw a blank, try lateral thinking. Indexers sometimes have a hard time reading old records and might have misread something. Some capital letters (eg K/R/P) will have been indexed incorrectly.

 

Tip 10: Take your time

Woodcut: medieval figure with scroll

Genealogy is a time-consuming, painstaking process. It can be very challenging and it’s easy to make mistakes. So, don’t rush or guess.

Look at each record carefully, giving yourself time to get used to the old handwriting if need be. Double-check any detail you have copied.

In tracing your ancestors you are taking a journey back in time. Enjoy the travel as well as the destination!

Spotting Fake Genealogy

In a world where fake news has become as significant as the real thing, it’s time to shine a light into another dark corner: fake genealogy.

The Victorian actress Miss Leigh in 'Pretty Peculiar'

The Victorian actress Miss Leigh in ‘Pretty Peculiar’

Why fake it?

From ancient times, genealogy has been a powerful tool in reinforcing identity, whether personal or political. From the ‘begat’ lists of the Bible, to the often tortuous descents of privilege documented in Burke’s and our own Debrett’s peerage, ancestors have been invoked to demonstrate status through membership of a particular tribe. This is not a universal motive nowadays; many ancestor-seekers are simply curious, and find that identifying their forbears helps them to understand history. For some, however, the desire to be connected to a famous, titled or wealthy family is a driving force.

Inevitably, this has led to false claims and to exploitation.  These fall into two categories:

The accidental ancestor

Tracing ancestry is not always easy, even with all the modern finding tools, and the pages of websites such as Ancestry are teeming with inaccurate family trees. Moreover, oral history tends to value dramatic effect over accuracy. We humans like to arrange things into patterns, and to fill in any gaps in the facts with borrowed ones. Granny (or indeed Grandad) might not have been consciously fibbing with that story of a fine lady who ran off with the gardener; but the chances are, she didn’t. (Interestingly, plod through the documentation and you might find a grain of truth in the story: there might have been a professional gardener in the family, or the family might have relocated for reasons that appear illogical to their descendants.)

The unscrupulous genealogist

Intent to deceive is much rarer, but there have been some notable examples. American genealogy – with the uncertainties of emigrant origins, a vast country, and a lack of early documentation – was particularly ripe for exploitation. The American ‘genealogist’ Gustav Anjou (1863–1952) delighted hundreds of clients by selling them (for very high fees) spurious pedigrees connecting them to glamorous or illustrious emigrant families. This went far beyond the sort of carelessness that we see now online: Anjou provided false or fabricated references to documentation, providing the illusion that scholarly research had been carried out.

To avoid fakes pushing their way into your own ancestry, there are some simple rules to follow. Don’t adopt anyone else’s family tree without checking each connection. Was it is based on guesswork, wishful thinking, idly clicking buttons on a wet afternoon, or on careful research using original records (which includes digitised images of original records)? Are there obvious howlers, such as people having children at an impossibly young age, or simultaneously being in three different parts of the country? Look at each generation carefully, and in full: siblings are important.  Occupations are important.  If there is a marriage or birth certificate to be had, get a copy.  And be wary of those innocent-looking little green leaves or links that the website waves at you. It is not thinking, it is only shuffling its data and showing you a few of its cards.

For further information on fake genealogy:

Gustav Anjou – Fraudulent Genealogist: lists the family names affected by Anjou’s misdemeanours, but contains broken internet links.

Fraudulent Genealogies: FamilySearch’s overview of the subject, with several useful links.

Baronage: sets out a number of errors, and the background thereof, in the 1970 edition of Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage.

Maidenhead spoons in old wills and inventories

One of the most fascinating genealogical tasks is reading old wills and inventories.  For a start, there is the humbling recognition that the goods and chattels of even a well-to-do householder, right up to the eighteenth centuryy, could be listed on a single page.  The will owill-fragmentr inventory of a Tudor or Stuart yeoman (or his widow) often takes us room by room around his house and outbuildings, enabling us to peer through the windows and see what kind of bed he slept on, what he wore, what he ate his food with, and even into the corners of the lumber rooms where miscellaneous and unnamed ‘thinges’ lurked.

Silver utensils, being of special value, were often described in some detail.  A wealthy Cornish yeoman of the parish of Saltash in 1581 left his wife, among other things, a dozen silver spoons ‘called by the name of the mayden head’; after her death, they were to be passed on to her daughters.

Maidenhead spoons 1580

Maidenhead spoons 1580

 

 

Maidenhead spoons – that is, spoons with a filial in the form of a female head –  feature in inventories from the fourteenth century.  The examples that survive – both in the documents and in reality – are usually silver, but no doubt there were wooden spoons that were similarly carved.  It has been suggested that they might have been wedding gifts.

 

The expression ‘born with a silver spoon in his mouth’ reflects the importance of the silver spoon as a mark of status and in particular of inherited wealth.

Precious as they were, it might have come as a surprise to the yeoman in question that a few centuries later, his maidenhead spoons would have fetched thousands of pounds.  A pair of Elizabeth maidenhead spoons, made ca 1580, was valued at between £5,000 and £7,000 in 2016.

The minute size of a spoon filial was a challenge to the craftsman.  Similar images, in wood and stone, are found in abundance in medieval church decoration, where the larger size allowed for a greater breadth of treatment.

Maidenhead spoon filial 1607

Maidenhead  filial 1607

Like other traditional forms of decoration, the maiden’s head had a symbolic meaning.  An inventory from Durham Priory (1446) makes it clear that two of its spoons (which were perhaps used liturgically for incense) had ‘the image of the Holy Mary at their ends’.  Over time, as with other emblems, generations of craftsmen adapted the image as they chose, so that some of the female heads on the ends of spoons were not obviously maidenly.

Small wonder that, come the revolution, a new fashion for Puritan spoons emerged, with plain lines and no decoration.

 

Sources & Further reading:

T Kent, West Country Silver Spoons and Their Makers, 1550-1750 (J H  Bourdon-Smith Limited, 1992).

C M Woolgar, The Culture of Food in England, 1200–1500 (Yale University Press, 2016).

Roberta Gilchrist, Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course (Boydell Press, 2012)..

Online catalogue, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Woolley & Wallis, Salisbury: www.woolleyandwallis.co.uk.

J H Bourdon-Smith, London: www.bourdonsmith.co.uk.

 

 

Surname origins online

In Britain, the surname lies at the heart of genealogy; most of us carry round with us a medieval name-tag which might have arisen from where an ancestor lived, what they looked like or their occupation.

In 1986 Debrett Ancestry Research acquired Frank Leeson’s Surname Archive and took on the legacy of Frank’s ‘Surname Report’ service by providing detailed studies of British surname origin and distribution, using a wide variety of printed sources.  We are now gradually updating and releasing a selection of studies from the Debrett Surname Archive in Kindle and paperback form.

Surname Study Paperback

The Surnames Baker and Baxter

The academic study of surname origin is a slow and painstaking business, and few counties have the good fortunate to have been covered by the English Surname Series, which provides an in-depth study of local surnames from earliest records onwards.

At the other end of the scale, ‘surname scrolls’, which typically provide a brief hotchpotch of notes from dictionaries and random examples from historical records, enjoyed a bit of a boom when the potential of modern mailing lists met the surge of interest in all things genealogical.

The latest development is, needless to say, online, and many websites now offer surname analysis and history.  We have been looking at some of the many sites out there, using two names (one rare and one common) to test the databases.

Ancestry

ancestry.com/learn/facts/

Dominating the field is the US giant Ancestry.com, which draws upon its huge genealogical databases to analyse surname distribution and provide some general statistics.  The starting point is simple; typing in your surname leads immediately to a choice of results. For rarer surnames results will be sparse, and older documents are often inexpertly transcribed and indexed.

If your surname is included in the Dictionary of American Family Names (OUP 2013) Ancestry will pull out the relevant entry; no further attempt is made to establish the origins of a name.

Further categories can be selected after an initial selection of ‘United States’, ‘England and Wales’ or ‘Scotland’ (sorry, Ireland).  For the ‘England and Wales’ section, a distribution map will appear (based on a single census), but this is followed by some entirely US-based data collections about immigration and civil war service (that’s the American Civil War, by the way), and an analysis of occupations and, rather startlingly, life expectancy.  No UK data is used in these sections.

So, despite all that big data, this service is of moderate interest for those in the US only.

 

The Internet Surname Database

surnamedb.com

This site claims modest coverage of just under 50,000 surnames and is based on a former mail order service which provided potted surname histories on scrolls.  The last company statement is dated 2007 but users can provide links to their own information. ‘Statistics’ are drawn entirely from US records. We found nothing of value for either of our surnames on this site, which seems to be largely an advertising platform.

 

Forebears

forebears.co.uk/surnames

Advertising also looms large on this portal.  The surname section boasts ‘Meanings and Distribution of 11 million surnames’. The home page shows a simple search box, a stream of user submissions and a general article on the history of surnames.

For an individual search, a selection of excerpts is provided from older surname dictionaries; presumably for copyright reasons, modern scholarly works do not feature here.  In view of this, as a footnote rightly says, ‘diligence is advised on accepting [the] validity’ of some of these excerpts.

The list of variants and ‘similar surnames’ is fairly meaningless, relying on computer-think rather than informed logic.

Mapping illustrates the prevalence of your surname worldwide, or for a selected area.  The English section is based solely on the 1881 census; the British analysis apparently takes in census returns from 1881 to 1901, and a table provides the figures, listed by county.  This is quite a helpful tool.

The site will also ‘transliterate’ your surname, should you wish it, into a variety of other forms including Arabic, Bengali and Tibetan.

 

Some minor sites

 Meaning-of-Names.com is largely a directory of other sites and navigating through the advertising is a lengthy process, leading in one case to a compulsory marketing survey.

www.myheritage.com offers a surname distribution search which is really a personal name search.

searchforancestors.com/surnames/origin/ offers a surname origin search of very limited value and a surname distribution search based solely on the US census.

locatemyname.com aims to show the distribution of surnames worldwide.  The homepage links to individual pages for each country. Results show:

  • top local cities/towns with numbers of occurrences
  • top global countries with occurrences of the name in the records
  • distribution maps
  • ranking of the surname in ‘popularity’
  • a simplified ‘meaning of the name’
  • a selection of famous people with the name

It’s not clear what records are used in this analysis.

Beyond this brief survey, there are many genealogical sites offering a simple ‘surname origin’ search which lead, at best, to a brief derivation from an unacknowledged source.

Conclusion

While the internet and the plethora of genealogical data online should offer rich pickings in terms of surname distribution, this is best carried out on an individual basis on a site such as Ancestry or Findmypast using specific sources.  None of the sites we looked at attempted any serious analysis of surname origin.  The bridge between painstaking and informed research, and search-box quick fixes, if such a thing is possible, has yet to be made.

 

 

 

Creating a Family Biography

We have recently relaunched a service that we first introduced in the 1980s (as our Family Heritage Programme).  We had a number of clients whose ancestry we had already traced, and who were now looking to obtain a lasting summary of their family history in a coherent single volume, to hand on to future generations.  From a series of research reports and a pile of family photographs we created a narrative: the story of the family, from the earliest known generation onwards, illustrated with photographs, maps and including a detailed pedigree chart or family tree.  We now call the final product a Family Biography.

In the 1980s, this involved a lot of travelling around, taking photographs, amassing local information and – quite literally – some physical cutting and pasting.   The process is now much more streamlined, but the finished product is still very much an individually crafted piece: a Family Biography.

A Family Biography will bring your ancestry to life, by setting the story in a wider context.  Just as each family is unique, we believe that each family history deserves individual and thoughtful treatment.   Using contemporary sources, the finished book will not just state (in full detail) what happened and where, but will seek to explain why a family moved to a particular location, or why their fortunes rose or fell.  We may not find all the answers, but setting a family in its historical and geographical context often makes sense of your family’s past.

Half-leather binding

Half-leather binding

Perfect binding

Perfect binding

Standard binding

Standard binding

The final product can be bound in a number of different formats. Craftsman leather binding is still the most popular, or for multiple copies, perfect binding provides a practical and economic finish.

Each biography includes a detailed family tree chart and we can also arrange to have this printed on acid-free paper, suitable for framing.

Prices are quoted individually.

For full details and sample pages see our new Family Biographies website.

 

The Brewer’s Drayman

McEwan draymen 1929This photograph, found in a junk shop many miles from where it was taken, apparently portrays the draymen of McEwan’s Fountain Brewery, which was founded in 1856 by the brewer-politician William McEwan,  donor of Edinburgh University’s magnificently grandiose McEwan Hall.

The photograph is dated 1929: depression was biting, and the following year McEwan’s would merge with its rival William Youngers in order to survive.

As a vital link between brewery and drinker, the drayman holds an honoured place in popular culture.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines him as ‘a man who drives a dray (in England, usually a brewer’s dray)’ and, if case you were wondering what a dray might be, cites a French-English dictionary from the reign of James I:

Haquet, a Dray; a low and open Cart, such as London Brewers use’

Literary allusions

At about the same date, the drayman found his way into Shakespeare, albeit in unflattering guise: Pandarus, in Troilus and Cressida (1609) describes Achilles dismissively as:

‘A dray-man, a porter, a very Cammell’

Charles Dickens sketched a more benign portrait of the London drayman in The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (1843): the enamoured John Westlock helps Ruth Pinch over a rope which two ‘good-tempered burly draymen’ are using to lower beer barrels into a cellar:

‘… and when John helped her – almost lifted her – the lightest, easiest, neatest thing you ever saw – across the rope, they said he owed them a good turn for giving him the chance. Celestial draymen!’

The grotesque broadside ballad ‘Barclay and Perkins’ Drayman’, which crudely expresses even cruder racist sentiments, portrays the drayman as the thuggish but majestic object of a Thames-side widow’s love:

This drayman was more than six foot high,
a proper broad great back man
She thought him best the reason why
he was twice as big as the black man
His face was like the moon just rose
More like a priest than a lay man
The eyes they did sparkle and so did the nose
Of Barclay and Perkins Dray man

A heavyweight occupation

Physical strength was obviously a prerequisite for the job, and in 19th century popular culture the drayman became something of a champion.  He was not however known for his radical politics. Punch magazine noted that draymen were among the first to enrol as Special Constables in April 1848 to protect the City against a Chartist demonstration.

The draymen of Barclay and Perkins’ brewery, which was on Bankside, stepped into the limelight in 1850 when General Haynau of Austria, who had notoriously ordered the flogging of Mme Madersbach, a Hungarian aristocrat, visited the brewery. He was met by a hostile crowed of draymen and labourers and was forced to flee and take refuge in a dustbin, from which he was eventually rescued by police.

A few figures

That fount of Victorian wisdom, Haydn’s Dictionary of Dates, tells us that in 1858 there were 205 great brewers in England and 40,418 licensed brewers.  According to the Findmypast indexes, the census of England, Scotland and Wales of 1851 identified 604 men as draymen (or brewer’s draymen or brewer’s carters), of which 119 were in Scotland. (The total population at this date was around 20.9 million.)  In 1881, a handful of draymen’s wives were also described as draymen: in most cases, the description has been struck through by the enumerator but against one the word ‘milkseller’ has been added, an indication that some of the draymen were probably milkmen, not brewery carriers.

Heavy lifting

The heavy loads carried by the draymen took their toll.  The pioneering bone surgeon Sir William Arbuthnot Lane (1856–1943), whose father was an army surgeon, studied the skeletons of brewers’ draymen and other manual lifters and noted that:

‘In the case of the brewers’ drayman who carried a heavy barrel on his right shoulder, the spine had become adapted to meet its burden’.

The industry had yet to embrace the culture of health and safety, in which it is now classed (in the US) in the category of ‘Material Moving Workers, All Other’.  In the UK, while the horse has been replaced by the engine, the old word is still used, resonating down the centuries in honour of this essential British occupation.

 

Drayman

Sources

The Oxford English Dictionary (online)

Bodleian Library, Broadside Ballads Online

William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida (1609), Act 1 Scene 2, line 24

A. James Hammerton, Cruelty and Companionship: Conflict in 19th century Married Life (Routledge: London, 1992)

Charles Dickens, The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit liii. 609 (1843)

Haydn’s Dictionary of Dates (1858)

Who’s Who in Orthopaedics (London, 2005, page 184)

DNA and the descent of hereditary titles

Later this month the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council will make an important judgement as to whether DNA evidence can be used to decide how hereditary titles should descend. The case in point relates to the baronetcy that was granted to the Pringle family of Stichill in Scotland in 1683.

DNA evidence appears to show conclusively that since 1919 the wrong branch of the family has used the title. In this year the 8th Baronet, Sir Norman Robert Pringle, died, apparently leaving three sons. The eldest son, Norman Hamilton Pringle, inherited the title in the normal way after his mother made a Statutory Declaration that he was her eldest son by the 8th baronet. Then in 1961 Sir Norman Hamilton Pringle died and his eldest son, Steuart Robert Pringle, inherited the title. Sir Steuart, who was a distinguished General in the British Army, died recently, and his son, Simon Robert Pringle, expected to inherit the title.

In fact, the DNA tests showed that Sir Norman Hamilton Pringle’s father was not the 8th baronet, and technically he was illegitimate. Norman Hamilton was, so to speak, ‘the ‘cuckoo in the nest’. Further tests showed that the 8th baronet’s eldest son was actually Ronald Steuart Pringle, and Ronald’s son, Norman Murray Pringle, now claims that he is the true heir to the baronetcy.

Will the seven judges decide in favour of Simon Robert Pringle, or his cousin Norman Robert Pringle? The decision could go either way, but if the DNA evidence is recognised as good decisive evidence, it may open up a great many claims to titles and inheritances which can be disputed on the grounds of the results of DNA tests.

Roll of the Baronets 2011

Roll of the Baronets 2011

A few years ago at Debrett Ancestry Research we encountered a rather similar situation where genealogical research showed that the title in another family of baronets, Smith of Eardiston, had been used by the wrong branch of the family since 1893. In this case, it was a bigamous marriage which caused the problem. As a young man, Christopher Sydney Winwood Smith (died 1887), who was the eldest son and heir of the 3rd baronet, went to Australia, where he worked as a labourer.  Without telling his folks back home, he married a poor Irish girl, and had a son by her. The son and his descendants knew nothing of their titled Smith relations in England and were unaware that they were rightfully baronets.

Gervase Belfield, genealogist at Debrett Ancestry Research, fought a long and at times frustrating campaign to have the mistake corrected. Eventually, in 2008, the Attorney General agreed that a written ‘Caveat’ should be entered on the Official Roll of the Baronetage, revealing the true identities of the baronets of Smith of Eardiston since 1893.

If the Privy Council judges decide to allow DNA evidence in establishing the identities of the rightful inheritors of titles, then there may be many other claimants waiting in the wings. Debrett Ancestry Research has the necessary experience to take up the challenge of proving the true heirs to these disputed titles.

Old Photos: an Intriguing Trio

From a box of old photos in a junk shop: a photo of three young nurses in the 1940s.

Nurses

 

On the back of an off duty photo of the three young women is inscribed:

Three Musketeers Front

18 March 1948
Porthos: L. A. Everett

Aramis: Rikki [?] Hughes

Athos: B. Darbyshire

‘Rikki’ might have been Veronica, a popular name in the Merseyside area at the time.

The photographer was A A Newall of Northenden Road, Sale (Cheshire).

Was this then Aramis’s marriage, with Porthos and Athos as bridesmaids?  Does anybody know who these Three Musketeers were?


Wedding