Saturday 27 December 2014

Villains and Heroes - One Family on Find My Past

Record Category Headings on FMP
Yesterday (Boxing Day) Find My Past sent me yet another promotional email telling me that they had added more records to their website.  This is all well and good, but finding anything on their *@~%#!* website has been quite difficult since its 'upgrade' in April.  

The old searches on the census returns that let you go straight to an address have been lost somewhere in the depths of their site and there are now dozens, if not hundreds (I have no idea!), of little data sets arranged under a very few general headings, see the list in my screen shot on the left.  The only way to make certain you get a hit in the data set you want is to (a) know the data set exists in the first place and (b) head straight to it via the A to Z index of record sets, the bottom option on the list.  Which makes it a bit difficult if you DON'T know that a particular record set exists.  The Search All option does not return results from all the record sets - unless you leave the 'Where' option blank (ie don't put in Sheffield or Barnsley) meaning that you end up with dozens of entries to scroll through that you hadn't wanted at all.  The only way to reduce the number is then to apply filters - but of course again you have to know what you are looking for to do this.

The record set that piqued my interest yesterday was this:  
"Over 11,000 Yorkshire, Sheffield Quarter Sessions 1880-1912. The court of Quarter Sessions was established in 1880 and its initial function was to hear criminal cases. The court sat every quarter, usually in January, April, July and October and, after each session, a Calendar of Prisoners was published to record the personal details of people tried at the session and their offences."  A bit of retrospective experimentation showed that this record set is categorised under Institutions & Organisations in the list above.  Would I have been able to guess that?  Not sure ...

My connection to family history in Sheffield is via my children (now well and truly grown up and left home) and my first husband (who shall remain nameless if you don't mind).  I investigated that family tree more than 20 years ago when I was a single mother on benefits (so that tells you something about our dysfunctional family) because it was impossible to find a job that fitted in with dropping primary school age children off at school for 9am and picking them up again at 3pm.  I used to spend the time between in Sheffield Archives - it kept me busy and saved on gas and electricity at home too! This is also when I started studying with the Open University.

Purely alphabetically I tried searching in the Quarter Sessions records for Atkinson and recognised a name in the list of results almost immediately.  Arthur William Atkinson was one of the great, great grandfathers of my children and an ancestor I had always felt was a good 'un as he worked as a blacksmith all his life.  Unfortunately I was about to discover that hard work does not always equate to being a good man.  The entry I had found was a transcription that showed Arthur, of 81 Porter Street, Sheffield, was charged with the malicious wounding of his son and that he went to trial on 5 July 1904.

Results for Arthur William Atkinson in All Records on Find My Past
Out of interest I tried searching for Arthur William Atkinson in the All Records search - I put in Sheffield and did not get a hit on the Quarter Sessions record, however putting in Yorkshire brought back 1,403 results which did include it, halfway down the second page of results under Courts & Legal.  So despite the new record set being specifically to do with Sheffield entering Sheffield in the All Records search is the WRONG thing to do!
Still on Find My Past I looked Arthur up in the Sheffield newspaper of the time, the Sheffield Evening Telegraph.  I have got fairly good at filtering the newspaper records by name of the paper and by date - the only thing that annoys me is that if you go a step too far on the filtering you can't step back, you have to clear the ALL the filters and start again.  I fail to understand how the exact same record set, British Newspapers, can be offered to the public by the same company, BrightSolid, via two different front ends with two entirely different search engines.  The search on the British Newspaper Archive is much superior to the Find My Past version. 
Sheffield Evening Telegraph 12 May 1904 
The above newspaper cutting (part of a longer report) from May 1904 shows his initial appearance in the Police Courts where he is committed for trial at the Quarter Sessions.  A report of the Quarter Sessions themselves on 6 July 1904 showed that he pleaded guilty of common assault and was bound over to come up for judgement if called upon.  However in order to find the second cutting I had to change my search to look for Atkinson only as his first names appear distorted on the page and have not been OCR'd correctly.  Fortunately I had the date of the trial from the Quarter Sessions index so could narrow down my search by date to hits in July 1904 only. The BNA search engine allows you to set date as a parameter at the offset - on FMP I have to apply layer after layer of filter to get the same result.

Sheffield Evening Telegraph 3 July 1918
While I was searching for mentions of Arthur William Atkinson in the Sheffield newspapers I was made happier to come across an entry for him which shows the family in a much better light.

This snip shows Matthew Jubilee Atkinson (born 1897 of course, Queen Victoria's Jubilee year!) as a Lance Corporal in the York and Lancaster Regiment in 1918.  He has been awarded the Military Medal for Bravery.  There in the caption are his parents, Mr and Mrs Arthur William Atkinson, now of 82 Carver Street.  

To be honest I haven't done a lot of research on the soldiers in this family tree - so I was surprised to see that the article notes that Matthew would be 21 on 3 August 1918.  As it also states he enlisted on 17 August 1914 that makes him only 17 years old at that time.

So here is a young man who enlisted underage at the outbreak of the war, apparently with the knowledge of the authorities, fought (according to the snip) at several large battles, Loos in September/October 1915, the first day of the Somme 1916 and the fighting on the Somme against the German advance in March of 1918.

I do know that Matthew re-enlisted in the army after the war and that later he emigrated to Australia.  Long ago a family member from his branch contacted me from over there.  I wonder if they know that he won the Military Medal?

Sunday 21 December 2014

Why Do I Research First World War Soldiers' Stories?

Since this time last year I have been deeply involved with the Barnsley War Memorials Project however my interest in the First World War and the experiences of the men and their families goes back a lot further.  

I have been researching my family history since 1992 but at that time there were very few easily accessible resources available for the First World War. It is hard to remember what it was like without online searchable databases, but 20 years ago most research was done from microfiche and film, transcriptions and original records on site in local Record Offices and Archives.  For me the major breakthrough was the Army Service (and Pension) Records coming online on the Ancestry website in 2007, when it became so much easier to research soldiers if your man's records were in the 40% of the burnt records (the majority of the Service Records were destroyed in the blitz in WW2) that survived.  Medal Index Cards had been available from the Public Record Office online from shortly before that - but at a cost (unless you were actually in the Public Record Office in Kew) and of little use if your man had a common name (these are now also on Ancestry).  I appear to have started saving images of soldiers' entries from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website in 2008.  So much has changed over the past seven years!  Even the CWGC pages use to be a snazzy overall purple colour quite unlike the cool grey and striking red and green of today.
A CWGC snip from 2008

Connaught Cemetery September 2009
I discovered that a large number of the OH's relatives were involved in the war.  My own family tree is less well populated by soldiers - I suppose that is the contrast between his family in urban, industrialised Barnsley and my North-Eastern families many of whom came from predominantly rural areas, with a bit of coal mining on one side or from coastal towns concerned with sailing and ship building on the other.  By the time the OH and I travelled to Belgium in 2009 to visit the battlefield cemeteries with Leger Travel I had already researched enough of our WW1 soldiers to print out a page full of names and references to check should we go to the correct memorials and cemeteries.

I gave a talk to the Friends of Barnsley Archives in March 2013 based on three of the OH's relatives' experiences of WW1 using photos we had taken in 2009 of Tyne Cot, the Menin Gate and the Connaught Cemetery near Thiepval where Frank Armitage is buried.

My interest has been expressed on this blog by a series of First World War Soldier Stories beginning in April 2013 with Frank (see the eponymous tab above for links to all the stories) and from July 2013 was directed into Barnsley War Memorials after a request for another talk for the Friends of Barnsley Archives to be given in November 2014.  As 2014 would be the first year of the Centenary of the First World War a talk booked for November had to be about the war and as the date of the booking would fall the 10th of the month it seemed appropriate to try to pull together sufficient information on local memorials to reflect the concentration on Remembrance which we were sure would pervade by then.

A fellow historian got to know about my interest in WW1 War Memorials and I was asked to attend a meeting to discuss the possibility of some kind of group to collate a Roll of Honour of Barnsley's WW1 Fallen.  In the course of each of our own research paths we had both discovered that Barnsley Council had not produced a list of names of the Fallen after WW1, unlike many other towns and cities across Great Britain.  Sheffield has a Roll of Honour kept in the Town Hall, and I had used a transcription of it in my research into my first husband's family history in the 1990s.  Fortunately there aren't many Tom Appleby Dunbars in the world as the list only gives very brief details, name, number, rank and regiment.  Incidentally this list can now be consulted online at the Sheffield Soldiers of the Great War website.  The lack of a similar memorial in Barnsley seemed slightly shocking, but surely something that could be relatively easily amended.  Ah, the innocence of those early discussions!

The Barnsley War Memorials Project was formally constituted in March of 2014 with a committee of Chair, Treasurer, Secretary and Information Officer, later co-opting a Council Liaison Officer when it became apparent that this would be helpful.  As the lady who had called the original meeting was keen to pursue her own research projects she is not a part of the constituted Project, however she continues to submit research to Barnsley Archives on an independent basis.  She recently presented two folders of research about the men named on the Barnsley Holgate Grammar School Old Boys WW1 Memorial Plaque (now on display in the Cooper Art Gallery) to the Archives.

The Barnsley War Memorials Project now has a website, created using Blogger software, just like this blog, but now fronted by a dedicated domain name which appears to give it a little more credibility with organisations and individuals who look down upon 'blogs'!  We also have a Facebook page and a Twitter account.  I have had to do a bit of up-skilling to learn to manage these various forms of social media - but in my opinion you need to use every available option to publicise a project, from newspaper articles to tweets!

BWMP newsletter December 2014
My regular duties as Secretary include answering emails, creating web pages for individual war memorials, creating Barnsley Soldiers Remembered webpages from information submitted by family members of soldiers from the Barnsley area, and writing and distributing a monthly digital newsletter.  There are now eight issues all available to download from the Newsletters tab on our website. I also post on the Facebook page and regularly Tweet to pass on our updates and to generally make people more aware of the work of the Project.

I have been well booked for talks in 2014.  I spoke to a conference in Leicester about the ins and outs of WW1 research; I have spoken to the Friends of Darfield Churchyard on some of the men on their memorials and to the ladies of Holmfirth Womens Institute on Families in World War One.  My talk on "Who Wanted War Memorials?" was well received in November and can be seen in two parts on YouTube and I have since given a talk on the Barnsley War Memorials Project itself raising some useful petty cash for our Project.  I also gave short talks on the First World War to two primary schools in the Cudworth area in November and hope to be invited back next year.  I took part in the launch of the South Yorkshire Through Time webhub at Experience Barnsley by giving a brief talk on the progress of the Barnsley War Memorials Project and explaining how we use social media to connect with the public.

I enjoy researching other people's Soldier Stories and in the past year through them have discovered a wealth of other resources that could be applied to my own family history.  Some of these are featured in the most recent edition of the newsletter (see left), Almanacs, local newspapers, community websites, Absent Voters Lists.  Others that I can think of are the wealth of books on the subject of War Memorials and the First World War that are available - Barnsley Pals by Jon Cooksey is particularly useful (and Pen & Sword, the military book publishers are based in Barnsley) but I have also enjoyed more general books like Memorials of the Great War in Britain by Alex King (looking at the symbolism and politics of Remembrance), The Origins of the First World War by Annika Mombauer (the title says it all!), Empires of the Dead by David Crane (the story of Fabian Ware the man behind the CWGC) and most recently A Kingdom United by Catriona Pennell (which looks at popular responses to the outbreak of the First World War).  

I have been an enthusiastic first adopter of the Imperial War Museum's Lives of the First World War website.  I now have Communities set up on the site for many of the War Memorials in Barnsley and have remembered over 700 men - but there are so many more ...

I am also more aware of the growing number of local websites around the country created by groups carrying out their own research into War Memorials and the Great War.  I particularly like the Tynemouth World War One Commemoration Project as they have been working for some years now and have lots of ideas that we would love to 'borrow'.  One is a map of the local area with spots to indicate where each Fallen man had lived - they do a great Powerpoint presentation which shows these maps and spots changing over the period of the war.  They also recently featured on a BBC television programme.  Brilliant!

There are also a host of books produced by these local groups and organisations who are researching the history of their own area during WW1.  Most recently Kingstone Remembered (as seen in the December newsletter above) but also see Royston and District in the Great War (which I wrote about last year) and Lest Cudworth Forgets written in 2004 by the Cudworth History and Heritage Group.  This year there have also been two books from the Penistone History Group, one about the men on the Penistone War Memorial and one about the men from Thurlstone and Hoylandswaine.  There has been a booklet from the Billingley Village History Group on the men from their village who fought, fell and returned home (see issue 4 of the BWMP newsletter for details) and a book from the Worsbrough History Group on the names on the Worsbrough Dale War Memorial at St Thomas' Church. 

This means that the experience of assisting with a large borough wide project has given me additional insights into co-operating with other local groups, improving my own research and widened my understanding of the background, politics and social history of the First World War - which is not a bad thing!

So, why do I Research First World War Soldiers' Stories?  Because I find them fascinating slices of early 20th century social history - because they intertwine with the wider history of this country and the rest of Europe - because many of my own ancestors were touched by the issues that I am now coming to more fully understand and appreciate.  Because they are relevant to everyone, young and old, that's why!

Thank you for reading - and please visit the Barnsley War Memorials Project website, have a look at the huge list (500+) of memorials we have discovered in the past year, view some of our photos and search the site for your own family names, then maybe take a side step and and read some of the Barnsley Soldiers Remembered stories linked to the memorials which can be found on the companion site.

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Finding a Nurse in the Absent Voters' List for Barnsley in World War One

I have just added a page to the Barnsley War Memorials Project website that is like a blog post in itself.  So for all my followers on this blog here's a link.
An extract from the 1918 Absent Voters' List (thanks to Barnsley Archives)
I am transcribing the streets that make up the parish of St John the Baptist in the Barebones area of Barnsley.  There are 140 men on the war memorial for this church and I have been researching them on and off for the past year.  Many of the OH's ancestors and relatives lived in the area although none of them appear to be named on the memorial.  There was a streak of non-conformity in the OH's family and I think I need to track down more of the chapel memorials to find the missing names.

In the snip above I was pleased to see a nurse listed.  This won't be a very common occurrence as despite a universal franchise for men over 21 being brought in towards the end of the war women still had to be over 30 and fulfil certain property qualifications to have the vote.  And of course they had to be serving abroad to appear in this list.  That narrows it down rather a lot!

Katherine Sarah Blackburn was a doctor's wife living in the big house on Sheffield Road, Barnsley which is now the Warren House Dental Practice.  She was born in 1879 in Hartlepool, Co Durham and had been married to Vernon Kent Blackburn, a physician and surgeon, for six years by the time of the 1911 census.  They had two children, John Kent Hartley Blackburn aged 5 and Olga Mary Blackburn aged 3 in 1911.  They married in the September quarter (Jul, Aug, Sep) of 1904 in Newport in Wales and Katherine's maiden name was Shotton, a great northern name and one that features in my own family tree!

I look forward to researching her in more depth ... having found that link to Durham I won't let this one go in a hurry! I also want to know what took her to Salonica as a nurse in WW1, that will be a great story I'm sure.