Submitting a Genealogical Problem

Our March 2016 meeting will focus on problem-solving. Here are some guidelines for boiling down the information you have about your research problem before you bring it to the group. They are based on a problem proposal developed by Thomas K. Rice, CG, and J. H. Fonkert, CG, in 2008 for the MGS Research Study Group and were adapted by Lois Abromitis Mackin, Ph.D., in 2015 with the permission of the original authors.

Formulate your question

Most genealogical problems center around establishing the identity of a person, identifying the relationship between several people, or learning more about a person’s life. You might want to

  • Find a person’s parents, siblings, spouse or children
  • Find where a person came from or moved to
  • Find out if someone served in the military or practiced a particular religion or occupation
  • Find when someone was born, when they died, or when they became a citizen.

Clearly identify what you are looking for as specifically as possible. Break big general problems down into smaller ones. Bring a smaller, specific problem to the group.

Define the focus person

Because genealogical problems/questions almost always center around a clearly identified person, please provide as much information about that person as you can. Your description of the focus person should include the following facts if you know them:

  • Name variations–both given and surname
  • Date and place of birth
  • Parents’ names
  • Siblings–names, dates of birth, places of birth
  • Spouse’s name, date of birth, place of birth, parents
  • Marriage date and place
  • Occupation, economic status
  • Places of residence
  • Religion, churches attended
  • Military service, pension, bounty land, discharge and draft dates and places
  • Land ownership
  • Death date and place, informant on death record, cause of death, newspapers reports or obituaries
  • Burial place
  • Probate and will specifics
  • Emigration, immigration, naturalization, citizenship information–embarkation, ship record, first and second papers, alien registration, etc.
  • Criminal and/or civil court records
  • Mention in local or church histories.

You may not have all the information listed. Provide what you have. This list is designed to jog your memory for what you know. It is clues in this information that may lead to the answer you seek.

Explain how you know, and where you looked

For each piece of information you provide, please indicate where you found it, using a simple notation such as death record, federal census, tombstone, family history, marriage license, etc. If a piece of information is supported by several sources, list all of them. If your sources disagree, give all the versions of the information, along with the source of each.

Let the group know what sources you searched even if the search resulted in no findings. This will help us avoid suggesting something you have already tried.

Submit your problem

Please write up your problem, including what you know, where you found it, and where else you looked, and bring copies to the meeting. It may be helpful to provide a pedigree chart and family group sheet.


The Poor Laws of England and Wales

Here is Julia Mosman’s handout for our meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday 27 February 2016 at Mounds View Library, posted here with Julia’s kind permission. Thank you, Julia!

Between 1601 and 1833, various sorts of poor relief existed. Some are more valuable to genealogists than others, but research into all may prove fruitful.


  • The primary unit of local government is the parish.
  • Before the Reformation, poor relief was handled by the Church and individuals.
  • After the establishment of the Church of England, local gentry often left endowed tenements & charities for the aged or indigent administered by local clergy.

Elizabethan Poor Laws (aka 43rd Elizabeth)

First set into law in 1601. These principles formed the basis of Poor Law for 200+ years.

  • Everyone had a parish of Legal Settlement.
  • Parents and children were responsible for each other.
  • There were 2 classes of people in need of assistance; the “deserving” poor, and the “idle” poor.
  • Parishes were responsible for locally funding their efforts.
  • Parishes were required to elect two “Overseers’ of the Poor” every Easter, who set poor rates, collected them, and authorized disbursements.
  • Poor rates were based on property, so landholders chiefly bore the expense.
  • There were 2 types of parish relief: “Outside” relief provided assistance in money, food, clothing, or goods, with recipient living on their own, and “indoor” relief, providing shelter and services.
  • As the population remained stable, and most people were known, the system worked well.  No major adjustments were made to the system until the early 1720’s.

Legal Settlement

  • Legal settlement was the overlying principle of poor relief; qualifications for which were:
    • To be born in a parish of legally settled parent(s).
    • Renting property worth more than £10 per annum or paying taxes on such a property
    • Holding a Parish office.
    • Being hired by a legally settled inhabitant for a continuous period at least of a year and one day.
    • Having served a full apprenticeship (7 years) to a legally settled man.
    • Having previously been granted poor relief.
    • Females changed their legal settlement on marriage, assuming their husband’s legal place of settlement.
  • If you could not satisfy these requirements, you could move into a new parish using a settlement certificate. It had to bear the seals of the overseers of both parishes and the local Justices, and it was not transferable. A very few rare copies of these survived the years.


  • If you or your family became or threatened to become reliant on parish relief, and could not satisfy the strict guidelines for legal settlement, you were liable to be removed to the place of your last legal settlement.
  • If no settlement certificate was in force, then a removal order was applied for from the local Justices.
    • An Examination as to Settlement was carried out before the local justice, overseers, and another ratepayer, (usually the church Vicar) to ascertain the last place of legal settlement.
    • Parishes often sued each other over assignments of legal settlement.
    • In 1795, a law was passed that no person could be removed unless or until they requested parish aid.

Parish Apprentices

  • Children of poor families, orphans, and widows’ children were often apprenticed at parish expense to masters, as much as possible in other parishes.
    • Masters were legally required to take apprentices.
    • Masters had a legal obligation to feed, clothe, house, and impart “the mysteries of their trade” to the apprentice.
    • Once the apprentice served their full term (7 years), they would assume their master’s place of legal settlement.
    • Girls apprenticed until they turned 21 or they married.
    • Boys often were apprenticed to age 24, giving the master 3 extra years of service.
  • Apprenticeships were recorded in Parish Indentures, sworn before the local Justice by the overseers and the churchwardens.


  • Illegitimacy was accepted in society.
  • Only became a problem for poorer classes of labourers without financial resources. Girls of this class would be placed at age 13 (or younger) in service. If she became pregnant, she would invariably lose her job and be removed to her parish of record immediately. If the child was born in the new parish, she could claim relief while the child was “at nurse”, defined as up to the age of 3 years.
  • The responsible parish would try to find the father to financially maintain the family.
  • Bastardy bonds and Filiation orders were applied for from local Justices.
  • A maintenance order could be for a lump sum of  £40 paid to the parish or a fixed sum for the lying in, and a weekly allowance until the child was 14 yrs. A labourer would have a smaller sum fixed, about 2s per week, and a master or farmer up to 3s.6d.


   Before 1834

  • First established in southern Midlands and Essex circa 1715.
  • By 1797, 1,927 workhouses existed throughout Britain and Wales, which were locally funded and controlled. They were neither punitive or harsh.
  • Workhouses evolved to combine the functions of day care, night shelter, geriatric ward and orphanage.
  • Hospitals for the ill and insane were established during this period as well.

    After 1834

  • The “Great Reforms” of 1834 moved parish relief from local control to regional districts, controlled by governmental groups.
  • Regional (Union) workhouses were established.
  • Combined 2 or more parishes into a “Union”.
  • They were intentionally designed to discourage people from resorting to them.
  • The principle of “less eligibility” was applied.
  • Segregation of ages, and of sexes, was rigid.
  • Relocation to manufacturing areas was “encouraged”
  • Outdoor relief was outlawed
  • Within 5 years, workhouses were proven to be much more expensive than promised, because of overhead.  Due to economic problems, outdoor relief was retained/reinstated in most places.
  • In the early 1900’s a series of laws were passed which eliminated much of the need for workhouses, in effect reinstating outdoor relief.
  • Workhouses existed in law until 1930.

Workhouse records

  • Some workhouse records still exist, and are valuable to researchers. However, just as many did not retain records of inmates.
  • Inmates were reported in the regular Census returns; births and deaths were recorded in local Church records, and after July 1, 1837, the local Registrar’s records.


What records exist:

  • Overseer’s Account and Parish Relief Books, found under various names/titles
  • Parish Chest – village constable, parish register, wardens (see above)
  • Filiation orders and/or Bastardy bonds
  • Apprenticeship bonds
  • Poor house (Workhouse) records
  • Court cases, in various Court levels; i.e., Quarter Sessions, Nisi Prius, Petty sessions, and Lawyers’ records
  • Newspaper accounts

Where records are maintained:

  • County record offices, regional museums, and libraries
  • Legal document repositories, such as National Archives
  • Newspaper archives
  • LDS films of county records

How a long-distance genealogist might find information:

  • Access
  • LDS film catalog at
  • visit the County website for local records
  • Check the National Archives for County and National records
  • Visit the 19th century (Gale) British Newspaper Digital Archive, & the Newspaper Archive (1607-2013), free through the LDS Family History Centers
  • Check Find My Past (paid service), limited free at Family History Centers
  • Check (paid service), or limited free at County libraries, MNGS, and Family History Centers
  • Discover fellow researchers in particular areas (Facebook, message boards, mailing lists)

Further Information

English Poor Laws

Victorian Web, a History website  =

Workhouses of Britain

E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, full text available at –

National Archives Guide to the Poor & Poor Laws:

Naming Patterns of England, Cornwall, and Wales

This is the handout from Julia Mosman’s presentation at our October meeting and is posted here with Julia’s permission. Thanks, Julia!


Surname use grew during 1400s to 1600s, as populations grew and social customs changed.
1. Patronymics – named after father (Johnson, Davidson, etc.). In Wales, patronymics were based on the father’s given name – surnames changed generationally, not always identically. (Davies, Davis). David Griffiths David was David, son of Griffiths, grandson of David.
2. Place names – birth place, town or village nearby, farm where they lived, Tower, Bridge, manor they owned, and so on.
3. Occupational – Smith, carpenter, or tailor. In Wales, Wil Saer (or Wil y Saer) means Will the carpenter. Surname could be Saer or became Sayer. (Check for Welsh and Cornish language variations.),_Personal
4. Miscellaneous – colors, objects, words from various cultures which came into England at various periods, such as Wain, and Wainwright. (Viking words, probably from Northern or Eastern England, where the Vikings settled.)

Use of Aliases

Established in legal documents, wills, parish church books, and manorial courts, particularly in land transfers/property ownership – when the wider use of surnames was being established. Often shown as “als” in church registers.
1. Retention of patronymics – men wished to retain ancestral names. Example, William HARRY of Luxulyan, in 1547 described as William HARRY alias WATT in a will; WATT was his grandfather.
2. Retention of topographical reference points, especially in relation to a manor or place from which some families derived their surnames. Example: John RICHARDS of Bosavarne (1547) had a son, John BOSAVARNE (1620) who had a son Martin THOMAS alias BOSAVARNE. (Bosavarne was a delightful manor house and grounds, which they later sold and moved to a different property.)
3. Illegitimacy. Example: John RESKYMER had an illegitimate son with Margaret GERBER, who was christened John RESKYMER alias GERBER.
4. Rights of inheritance, and other economic reasons. Example: Charles Graves SAWLE carried his mother’s surname as his second name; he became Charles Graves Sawle GRAVES at the death of his maternal uncle, & inherited manors in 3 counties, a fortune, and a lordship. For centuries, land records were kept in manorial courts; system was by copyhold. All records were kept by name, which provided the only legal proof of ownership. Children of a first husband often took the name of their mother’s second husband, but retained their father’s surname as an alias. Example: In 1540, Thomas LAWRENCE alias CODE married. The last mention of this line appeared in 1761, in Callington, at the death of Margaret LAWRENCE alias CODE. The use of this alias was worthwhile for 221 years!
By end of 18th century, as surnames became more static, use of alias fell. By mid to late 1800s, people used them more frequently to avoid unpleasant associations (e.g., criminals).

Given Names

The naming pattern adopted and used in the 1700s to approximately 1875

  • First daughter named after the mother’s mother
  • Second daughter named after the father’s mother
  • Third daughter named after the mother
  • Fourth daughter named after the mother’s eldest sister
  • First son named after the father’s father
  • Decond son named after the mother’s father
  • Third son named after the father
  • Fourth son named after the father’s eldest brother

Variations occurred regionally and within families. Names were repeated within a family, but not in strict order. Often children were named for a close friend, patriotic/religious figure, popular hero, relatives who might be expected to benefit the child, or a god-parent.

If the name is common, such as Ann, Mary, William, or John, it’s often difficult to identify who they’re named after. When a child died (and in 1800s only 1/3 of children reached adulthood), the next child of the same sex to be born was often given the dead child’s name. Be sure to check for a death record in case of discrepancies in ages.

Where variations did not take place, confusion might result from multiple people sharing the same name in the same place. Remedies to solve that problem:

  • Adoption of middle names, which became common in the mid-1800s onward.
  • Use of the mother’s family surname often as the second name; may be used by several generations.

Unique or Unusual Names

Biblical names such as Obadiah might indicate they belonged to non-conformist church, and records for Baptists, Wesleyan Methodist, Primitive Methodist, etc. should be searched for the family.

Persons prominent in a particular religion or political groups in an area. Example: Loveday Hambley was a friend of the Quaker George Fox in Cornwall. Her name was popular in that county for some time and became a way to identify a region where a family originated. (Anyone with the given name of Loveday probably had roots in Cornwall – and to be more specific, in the St. Austell region.)

Nicknames and Derivative Names
Some areas used nicknames more heavily than others; this should be investigated when a brick wall occurs. Nicknames were often based on individual, physical features (Moley Brown) and personality, or unique occasion. Sometimes nicknames were based on geographical location – example: Old Katy Clinch alias Catherine Coombe; she lived past 100, Katy from Catherine, and Clinch from a tiny hamlet which disappeared circa 1830, when a mine expanded, which was where she was born.

Varying names in censuses may merely reflect derivative names (Elizabeth = Lisa, Isabel, Lily, Beth, Bethany, Belle, to name a few.).

During the Middle Ages, the word “cock” was used to describe a self-assured young man because he looked like a strutting rooster); as a result, this nickname was applied to a variety of names, including variations of William such as Wilcox and Wilkin.

Further Reading – a good read, and please be sure to check the end of the article, which has links to other articles that are really informative.

Navigating TNA’s Website

Our December meeting was a talk on navigating the website of the National Archives of the United Kingdom by Lois Abromitis Mackin, Ph.D.. The handout from the talk is published here by permission of the author.

What is TNA?

TNA is The National Archives of the United Kingdom. It is the official archive and publisher for the UK government. TNA was formed in the early twentieth century by merging four entities—the Public Record Office, the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, and the Office of Public Sector Information.

TNA’s website—

On the home page

Check out links to social media (Twitter, Facebook, and more), info on visiting, blogs, podcasts and videos, free e-newsletter, image library, bookshop, and featured items. There are links near the top of the page to “Explore our records” (research guides, digitized collections, Discovery catalogue) and “Education.”

Note the red button at the top labeled Menu. This button appears on every page and provides an easy way to navigate within the site.

Education resources

Access these from the Education link on the home page or from the red button menu.

While these are primarily designed for teachers and students, family historians will find lots of interesting material organized by time period, as well as Documents of the Month useful for learning about English history and providing context for English family research. Don’t miss the “Starting your research” and “Working with records” guides in the “For students” section.

Help with your research

Access this from the Explore our records link on the home page or from the red button menu.

Do not miss the “Start here” page (access from the yellow “Start here” link at the top of the page)! Explore “What we have,” “What we don’t have,” “What’s online,” “What’s not online,” “What are archives?,” and “How to use archives” for brief videos and research primers. It won’t take long to explore these, and you’ll find them very helpful.

Scroll down to find links to research guides, keep scrolling to find online exhibitions, other research tools, and links to blogs, podcasts, and webinars. Continue scrolling to find guides to reading old documents, another link to “Start here” resources, and guidance on citing sources.

TIP: Read the research guides for record groups you use or want to learn about! There are guides for records TNA does not hold–for example, birth, death, and marriage records–as well as for records in TNA collections.

TNA has many digitized collections available on its website you can search from the associated research guide.

Discovery catalogue

Access this from the blue Discovery box at the top of the home page or from the red button menu.

You can search online, digitized collections, collections not digitized, and collections in other archives. Use Discovery help to learn how to search and filter results.

Evernote and Genealogy

Courtesy of Julia Mosman, here are the handout notes from our September meeting on Evernote and Genealogy:

What is Evernote?

  • An online website that stores your information
  • It’s a note-taking and note-filing system
  • Only limited by your imagination, and your needs


  • Allows you to import & save all kinds of information
    • Create a research-workbook log and plan (start or add to it)
      • Research notes, to-do lists, photos, e-mails, timelines
      • Images from Ancestry and Family Search, state & library websites
      •  Pages from Google books, magazines, maps, receipts, business cards
  • In all sorts of formats
    • Typed or handwritten notes
    • Photographs
    • Video and/or audio recordings
    • E-mails
  • To all types of devices
    • Windows & Apple computers, tablets, iPad, iPhone, & Android smart phones
  • Which are synchronized between all your devices (if you have internet access) in the most current version (for your Operating System & browser)
  • Your files are automatically backed up to your computer and the Evernote servers
  • Includes OCR technology, which makes your notes searchable without manual indexing

Easy to obtain

  • Decide if you want a Free, Plus, or Premium Account
    • Free has smaller notes, lower monthly maximum import;Premium may not be needed
  • Go to the evernote website, EVERNOTE.COM to confirm the differences
    • Step 1 – obtain an account, and set up a password
      • Allows you to synchronize files
      • Email your account directly (you’ll be given an Evernote email address)
    • Step 2 – download Evernote
      • The system will adapt to your operating system
    • Step 3 – download Evernote Webclipper to your browser
      • Google Chrome offers the most flexibility and features, but it works with all platforms
    • Repeat steps 2 and 3 for all other devices, as needed
    • Steps 1 through 3 took 6 minutes
  • If you want, check the “help” guides and videos on the Evernote site; they’re useful
  • Over 100 apps are on the Evernote site alone; recommend wait to add them for at least a week,
    • But be aware there may be extremely good ways to accomplish something, such as webclipping for Mac and iPhone users.

Using Evernote

Home page is divided into 4 parts – top, left column, center column, and right column

  • Top has orientatation
    • Email account it’s linked to, SEARCH window
    • Action choices similar to other Word or Open Office choices
  • Left –
    • Work Chat – share immediate messages with other people you’ve invited
    • Favorites –  easy, quick access to particular Notebooks
    • Notebooks – may be individual, or grouped into subject
  • Center – all notes in the current workbook OR notes fulfilling your search conditions
  • Right – Latest note you are working on, or creating/ check Info icon for documentation
    •  Click on the note to open it fully

Note- taking 101 –                                         

  • Notes are the basis of the system – all data is stored in Note format
  • Create New note – click on File, then New Note – or use Shortcut <Cntrl + N >
    • Can create a “link” note to files in Dropbox, Google Plus, SkyDrive, etc. as an Index
  • Evernote will automatically save notes instantly, and using OCR will index them
  • You can manually “sync: notes, speeding up the system timing; valuable if you’re sharing the note with another person

Tagging –                                                       

  • Tags are one of the mechanisms by which  Evernote searches for & retrieves Notes
  • Can build them separately, or as each note is entered
  • After creating tags, simply attach the Tag[s] to each note –
  • Click on Index at the top of the note to add more tags, or remove them later
  • To use, enter one or more Tags into search – the center column will fill with all notes containing those tags

Web Clipping                                              

  • System which enables you to capture documents, quotes from books, images, etc., from the Web using any digital device, and store the data in Evernote
  • Use Evernote Webclipper or EverClip for iOS devices
    • If using Evernote Webclipper – once you’ve gone online and found something
      • Click on the small elephant symbol found on your top “address” bar (far right)
      • Make choices regarding format, if you want to share, if you want to “markup” clip
      • Clip will be sent to your “default” notebook,or added to any designated notebook
    • Evernote automatically tracks when you clipped the resource, the last date you modified the clip, and the URL from which you clipped the material
    • For iPad or iPhone users, obtain EverClip***, as it makes clipping much easier

Annotating –                                             

  • Method to emphasize or add information in a Note; can be used with images, as well as any note
  • Can Highlight, add captions, identify persons, etc.
  • Annotate before or after clipping; when creating a Note, or adding at a later time
  • Can be easily removed


for an overview; look at other videos as well at your own peril!! (there are tons)    using evernote for genealogy organization    Google group on evernote for genealogy

Marriage and English Law

The topic of our May 23 meeting was marriage and English law. I presented a book report on Marriage Law for Genealogists: the Definitive Guide (Kenilworth, U.K.; Takeaway, 2012), by Rebecca Probert, LLM. Probert is Professor of Law at the University of Warwick and author of numerous books, including The Changing Legal Regulation of Cohabitation: from Fornicators to Family, 1600-2011, Cretney & Probert’s Family Law, The Rights & Wrongs of Royal Marriage, and Marriage Law and Practice in the Long Eighteenth Century: a Reassessment. In addition to her legal credentials, Rebecca Probert is a practicing genealogist.

The basis of Probert’s work on marriage law includes, as one would expect, English common law. She also includes material from Anglican canon law, original case law, statutes, and legal treatises and other literature, along with her own and others’ analysis of historical research and actual marriage data for communities and cohorts.

Major findings of Probert’s study are that the overwhelming majority of English and Welsh couples married in the Church of England, cohabitation was very rare, and informal marriage practices were non-existent. Probert’s work overturns myths about marriage incorporated in the work of social historians including John Gillis, For Better, For Worse: British Marriages, 1600 to the Present (1985); Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England, 1500-1800 (1977), Uncertain Unions: Marriage in England, 1660-1753, (1992); and Brian Outhwaite, Clandestine Marriage in England, 1500-1850 (1995), as well as popular guidebooks for family historians.

Probert stresses the importance of understanding relevant legal terms–“valid marriage,” “clandestine marriage,” “voidable marriage,” and “void marriage”–as well as the difference between mandatory and directory requirements of the various laws governing marriage. She also points out that changes in laws over time sometimes mean that the status of a marriage at the time it was celebrated may be different from the status of the same marriage after the passage of time.

Some of the common mistaken beliefs that Probert debunks include:

  • “Before the Marriage Act of 1753, marriage could be created by informal exchange of consent.” Probert traces this error back to 19th-century judicial errors in American and English legal cases where judges misunderstood the law.
  • “Any marriage that did not fully comply with Lord Hardwicke’s Clandestine Marriage Act of 1753 was void.” No, explains Probert. This error is based on the failure to understand the difference between the mandatory and directory requirements of the act. The act’s requirements for banns or licence and marriage in a church were mandatory (i.e., failure to observe them invalidated the marriage), while the place of marriage, requirements for the manner of registration, and witnesses were directory (i.e., failure to observe them did not invalidate the marriage).

Probert presents considerable evidence in support of her thesis that marriage rather than cohabitation was the norm before the late twentieth century, highlighting a variety of reasons for marriage including fear of punishment under fornication laws, insurance against destitution (explaining the differential treatment of married versus unmarried couples and their children under settlement laws), the importance of ensuring the legitimacy of children, and the importance of establishing and maintaining a good name in the community.

Chapters of the book address the Who’s, How’s, When’s and Where’s of marriage in England and Wales from the seventeenth century to the present. Probert’s discussion of each topic includes not only a discussion of the provisions of various laws important to the topic of marriage, but also description of important legal cases showing the kinds of cases that reached the courts and how the courts applied the law, as well as statistical analysis of data from extensive research in parish registers, census records, and civil registration by Probert and others showing actual practice under the various laws.

The chapter on the Who’s of marriage starts with the requirement for mental capacity, including legal interpretations around ability to consent. It then proceeds to discuss the requirements that parties to a marriage be free to marry, without any existing valid marriage, and explains the legal nuances between separation “a menso et thoro,” desertion, annulment, and divorce. This chapter contains a detailed discussion of the degrees of relationship within which couples were prohibited to marry from the pre-Reformation period to the twentieth century, complete with tables, how illegitimacy or adoption were treated, and the treatment of marriages within prohibited degrees.

The How’s of marriage chapter provides a timeline showing changes in legal requirements. From 1600 to 1653, marriage was governed by Anglican canon law. For a period of time during the Commonwealth, from 1653 to 1657, civil marriage was the only valid means of marriage. From 1657-1660 Parliament backpedaled, making civil marriage the only specified method, but not invalidating religious marriages. From the Stuart restoration in 1660 until the implementation of Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act in 1754 marriage was once again governed by Anglican canon law. Following the implementation of Lord Hardwicke’s Act in 1754, marriage was governed by that statute,with Anglican rites only permitted (and limited exception for Jews and Quakers). In 1836 statutory change brought back civil marriage and recognized marriage according to rites of religious denominations outside the Anglican church. This chapter is a great explanation of which requirements were mandatory and which were simply directory, as well as how and when marriage requirements changed. Probert explains how the legal requirements and the resulting practices should affect strategies for researching marriages of particular religious and social groups, for example, Catholics, miners, Protestant dissenters, Quakers, and Jews.

The When’s of marriage chapter discusses requirements for age at marriage and parental consent and how they changed over time, as well as what happened when these requirements were not met.

The Where’s of marriage chapter stresses that the requirement to marry in a parish where at least one party is resident was always directory, never mandatory. It presents studies of out-of-parish marriages and explains why couples might have chosen to marry out of parish. This chapter includes a discussion of the Fleet marriages prevalent from the 1690s to the 1740s, along with overseas and shipboard marriages. It is extremely helpful to genealogists trying to determine where to direct their search for marriage records.

I highly recommend that every genealogist researching Engish and Welsh ancestors read Probert’s guide! At U.S. $14.99, it’s a bargain. Probert even has a web page at with links to podcasts, research papers, and a quiz you can take to see whether you’ve mastered key points. You’ll also want to read Probert’s just published sequel, Divorced, Bigamist, Bereaved?: the Family Historian’s Guide to Marital Breakdown, Separation, Widowhood, and Remarriage: from 1600 to the 1970s (Kenilworth, U.K., Takeaway, 2015), available at and other booksellers.

Finding Your Relatives in British Newspapers

This outline was created and presented by Julia Mosman at the English-Welsh group meeting Thursday April 23, 2015 and is published here with Julia’s permission.



  • Fill in gaps – essential knowledge, such as suicides, sudden deaths, children who didn’t survive long, etc.
  • Adds knowledge AND understanding
  • May make family connections clear
  • Can open new avenues for research – may discover unknown relations, and surprises.


  • Newspaper availability
  • Cost of db access – Find My Past/British Library access is NOT covered in LDS deal, not available in “library” version (which MNGS, county libraries, and LDS have)
  • Condition of newspapers/indexing – error rate may be significant. Newspapers themselves contained errors – same last name in one article can be spelled three different ways.



  • Cyndi’s List
  • British Library Online [aka The British Newspaper Archive]
  • Individual & regional efforts, e. g., Birmingham Library website, West Briton Newspaper, 1836 to 1862, etc.


  • Microfilmed copies
  • Local repositories – libraries, record offices, etc.
    2 places in Cornwall – the Royal Cornwall Library, and the CRO


Newspaper Availability

  • Some available from 1620; more variety in 1700s; ballooned in 1800s – many localized papers were created and disappeared in short time spans.
  • Newspapers of record (Gazettes) existed.
  • Bankruptcies by law had to be printed – but many were sent to smaller publications, probably to alert local businesses to possible problems.
  • Taxes were collected on each paper
  • Postal regulations changed – at one time (1800s), papers mailed to subscribers could be forwarded without another fee, so papers were sent to the U.S., N.Z., Australia, and other British possessions, besides within counties
  • Literacy levels were not high in various levels of society, but papers were in the possession of many “lower class” people (such as tinkers, carters, fishermen) – and notices, news, etc. were sent in by clergy and correspondents, so it’s possible for relatives to be mentioned, no matter their circumstance


Discover what publications existed for the area of interest during various time periods:
1. GENUKI – by county, depending on the county coordinator
2. Google – by county
3. Cyndi’s List (these are links to subjects, which have links to various websites)
 British Library Newspaper Collections
Concise History of the British Newspaper Since 1620
Early Indian Newspapers
Early Newspapers
English and Welsh Newspapers on the Internet
Irish Newspapers on the Internet
London National Papers on the Internet
Scottish Newspapers on the Internet
Victorian Illustrated Newspapers and Journals: Select list
Cyndi’s List also has links to non-commercial sources, e.g., the Birmingham Iron Age newspaper accessible in Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections.
4. Gazette Gateway –searchable online database for the London, Edinburgh, and Belfast Gazettes, the official newspapers of record in the United Kingdom.
5. Newspaper Archive–(a free database at LDS family history centers, you can create a “free” account).
a. Choose a Place (United State, Algeria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Jamaica, Japan,United Kingdom, (some nations omitted)
b. Under United Kingdom, check counties – they’re limited and do not cover all regions
c. Can also search by Country, State, City, and Publication
d. There’s a very good Help section, which includes tutorials covering techniques, PDF searching, using filing cabinets, and using search alerts; can also contact them via email, telephone, or writing
e. When I tested the site for The Cornishman, in the 1890s, images were not available
6. British Newspaper Archive–a joint project of the British Library and FindMyPast. 408 titles online as of 15 April 2015. “Searching the site is free, but to view the newspapers you have to pay a fee…” Can purchase a one month (GBP 9.95) or 12 month subscription (GBP 79.95). Can also use “Pay-as-you-go” – 40 pages, GBP 19.95, valid for 365 days. A one-off payment
 Monthly is valuable for people researching a number of locations. Pay-as-you-go is good if you’re not researching a number of subjects
. Yearly is mandatory if you’re researching a large number of persons. Remember, you can use the Free version at your local library, or LDS FHC as an alternative to a personal subscription. The site also occasionally offers free access days–watch for announcements of these.
Using the site:

  • Start with a broad search, then add filters; start with a name or keyword, then add information, such as a location. Filters are shown on the left side of the screen (Archive type, Historical records, Newspapers, books, & directories).
  • Choose from our collections (be careful of “default” entries)–British newspapers, Irish newspapers, PERiodical Source Index (Persi), US & World newspapers, Australia & New Zealand resources
  • Narrow your search results by County, Place, Newspaper, Article type, Date – from 1700 through 2000.
  • To search newspaper articles for an ancestor, topic, or person from history: 1. Enter the name of the person you’re looking for in the search bar at the top of the homepage. Put a double quote mark on each side of the name and click the “search” button. The quote marks will make your search results more relevant because they tell the website that you’re looking for a phrase. This means your results will only include articles in which these words appear next to one another. 2. You may need to try alternative names to find the person. You may need a middle name, or a different spelling. Many were referred to as “Mr. R. A. Smithers”, Mr. Smithers, or Raymond Smithers, rather than Raymond Alfred Smithers. If looking for a woman, she may have been recorded as the wife or daughter of somebody, rather than by her own name. Often, “the wife of Mr. R.A. Smithers” was used. Once widowed, she could then be referred to as “Caroline Smithers, relict of Raymond Arthur.” 3. You can also use extra information you know about the person to focus your results. For instance, Raymond Smithers was a chimney sweep, so enter that in the search bar too. Putting a + mark before the name you’re searching for will tell the website that while we’re interested in reports about chimney sweeps, they must always include the name “Raymond Smithers”.
  • Search by dates – example: 1720 – 1750, the site has these newspapers (not all that existed): Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh, Scotland), Newcastle Courant (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), Stamford Mercury (Stamford, Lincolnshire, England), Ipswich Journal (Ipswich, Suffolk, England), Derby Mercury (Derby, Derbyshire, England).
  • Problems I encountered using Find My Past, British Newspaper Archive, in March 2015: 1. Several “repeats” of posts, some less than well identified, some better. 2. The thumb-nail images give an idea of which is most reliable. 3. From approximately 20 “returns”, there were 5 articles in all, some unreadable. 4. Edges were cut off – the first or last letter[s] in a column. 5. Had to use “shortened” or partial surnames because they were misspelled in their index, not in the newspaper itself.

7. Fold 3 (available from Hennepin County Library’s website using your library card) has the London Times, 1785 – 1820
8. Historic Newspapers is NOT the same service as the British Newspaper Archive; it offers copies of entire newspapers, on a specific date after 1 Jan 1900, for purchase. However, it’s shown on Cyndi’s List as “England’s largest private newspaper archive with over 7 million originals dating back to the 1600s. A dedicated research team is in place for special projects and requests.”

The West Briton births, marriages, and deaths are regularly posted to a Cornish list on Rootsweb; almost every column has resulted in people noting misspellings, or mis-identified people. (Wrong groom married to a lady, middle names shown as surname, and so on.)

Newspaper images are indexed using Optical Character Recognition (OCR). OCR has  drawbacks, which one encounters more frequently the further back one searches in newspapers. Papers in 1836 often have tears, “off-line” print, blops of ink, and irregular borders – all of which cause problems even with good OCR technology. Then, if the paper is printing words in Cornish, or Welsh, translation becomes a problem; the OCR assumes an English spelling/meaning, and tries to force the word into the nearest approximation of what was on the page. This leads to very, very odd results at times.

That may be why the British Newspaper Archive only has the West Briton from 1862. The paper was microfilmed in the 1950s-60s, and copies of those films reside at St. Thomas in their special collections, courtesy of the St. Piran Society. (The society intended to index the paper, but the project didn’t get off the ground until the West Briton indexing group took it on in 2003.) The films go from 1836 to 1888, I believe, but the paper started in 1810, and films from 1810 to 1836 exist in Cornwall. Copies of the films are not available, nor will they ever be as the firm which did the work is no longer in existance.