Jan 062011
 

To mark the start of the new year we are delighted to bring you a guest post by Celia Heritage. Celia is a professional genealogist and lecturer in Family History and, yes, her surname really is Heritage. Celia offers professional research service, online research advice and Family History Courses. She is currently working on putting her popular 5-week beginners’ and refreshers’ course “Building Your Family Tree” online and has  several talks on using maps in family history coming up in her talk schedule over the next few months.

Using Maps for Family History Research

As family historians we often become set in our ways in the types of records we study. Records of birth and marriage tell us about our ancestors in relationship to other people, while census records provide us with a glimpse into the lives of our families once every ten years, showing us where they lived and what they did for a living. If you hope to really get to know your ancestors however, it’s time you turned to other sources and two of the sources we regularly underuse are maps and directories. We are very lucky to live in the world of digitisation! Digitisation has revolutionised family history, taking records that were previously only available in isolation on the bookshelf and, not only making them accessible at home via the Internet, but evolving them in order to achieve a far greater depth of meaning.

Whereas maps tell us what sort of environment our ancestors lived in, giving an indication of local facilities from railway stations, public houses, factories and public baths, directories give us specific information about the people who actually lived in that environment: where they lived and often their occupation. Directories are excellent sources for fleshing out your  family tree. I traced two of my own relatives Joseph Hemus and his wife Martha in the post office and trade directories for Birmingham between 1880 and the 1920s. From the directories I discovered that although Joseph ran a draper and hosiery business, his wife had her own business as the proprietor of a domestic service agency, initially from the same address as her husband and later at a separate address. The directories also showed that Joseph and Martha had originally lived in and run his draper’s business from one premises but, presumably as his business prospered, he was able to rent separate premises for the business a few streets away from the family home. In his later years a study of the directories once again shows that he moved the business back home and guess he must have downsized the business in his later years.

The beauty of the AddressingHistory project is that it marries these two concepts, producing as it does the results of a surname search in the directories plotted on a map of the environment in which they lived. This means that not only is it easy to pinpoint exactly which part of the city an ancestor  lived in at that time, but that you can simultaneously locate other family members with the same surname living in Edinburgh.  The Edinburgh directory of 1784 predates the first national census that was of any use by some 57 years while both the 1865 and 1905 directories are useful stop gaps in between the decennial census returns. And while we are here – the other great thing about this project is that with the selection of three  maps many years apart it makes  a superb tool for watching the city of Edinburgh develop through the years before your very eyes!

Guest Blog Post: Using Post Office Directories to Research “Lower Class” Ancestors

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Aug 252010
 

Today we are excited to introduce our first guest blogger, Emma Jolly. Emma is a professional genealogist and historical researcher (more information on her website: www.genealogic.co.uk), she is also the author of Family History for Kids. Emma has written for us about how she has found post office directories, like those in AddressingHistory, valuable whilst undertaking research and particularly focuses on those people who may not traditionally appear as prominently in the directories.

Using Post Office Directories to Research “Lower Class” Ancestors

Most family historians know how useful post office directories can be in researching ancestors of high social status or those with shops. But directories often seem less useful for investigating the lives of the working classes.

London Post Office directories are similar to those in Edinburgh and have helped me to trace owners of private schools, china shops, lawyers and senior members of the clergy. However, I have also used them to find out more about members of the working class.

Although the Private Residents section tends to include middle or upper class inhabitants, the Trades section can include workers like cabinet makers, commercial travellers or laundresses. And the appearance (or not) of your ancestors in a series of years provides an insight into the success of their business over time.

For those tracing the history of a school, the directories’ school lists are essential for pinpointing when the school opened and any subsequent name changes. Street and public house name changes can also be thus identified – useful for all in streets, and for those who either worked in or regularly visited local pubs.

The descriptions of areas of the city tell us about the nature of your ancestors’ immediate environment in that specific year. Was it ‘healthy’ or ‘populous’, rural or industrial; how many railway stations did it have, and were there any trams? What workhouses existed and where in the city were they?

My great great grandfather, William Jolly, lived and worked as an apprentice blacksmith in the Auchinblae and Fordoun area in 1861. Even though I have visited this quiet and remote region, I may never have known that it once included “a thriving modern village” without the use of a local directory [Pigot and Co.’s National Commercial Directory of the whole of Scotland, and of the Isle of Man 1837 (Kincardineshire)]. And the description of the flax mill and the weaving industry in which “the greater proportion of the industrious classes here find employment” could explain why William’s sisters were later working in a flax mill in the town of Montrose.

When trying to track a likely church for a baptism or burial for any class of ancestor, the list of churches with denominations for the relevant year can help to simplify the search. In the later Victorian years, churches were built regularly and our ancestors often shifted adherence. With a shorter list, the research should be less arduous.

A glance at the Commercial section for businesses in that street where your ancestors lived [by using censuses or BMD (Births, Marriages, Death) certificates] gives an indication of the world with which they were familiar. A street of hotels, or coffee houses; piano makers or dressmakers; schools or factories – what did your ancestors see everyday? Was there a library on the corner, long since closed, where they could educate themselves in adulthood?

I have traced Londoners of every social class within the city and to as disparate parts of the globe as Scotland, France and India. Directories are always useful in my research and if I can access them online, then, all the better.

If you are would like to contribute a guest post to this blog on any topic related to the AddressingHistory project then please email us: addressing.history@ed.ac.uk.