Behind the scenes at the record office

When I saw that West Sussex Record Office was holding an Open Day with the possibility of behind the scenes tours I knew I needed to plan a Chichester trip!

I’ve been to WSRO a number of times in the past to undertake various pieces of research and on a quick reckoning I believe I have been to 8 other county record offices across the country, plus places like The National Archives and the Society of Genealogists.  I was therefore particularly intrigued to see what goes on behind the scenes.

I was really lucky that when I arrived they still had a few spaces left for the 11.30 tour – just time to pop my coat and bag in a locker.  At that point I bumped into Mick Henry of the Sussex Family History Group.  He was clutching his proof copy of the latest journal and I was so intrigued to hear about the background of one of the articles that I actually managed to miss the departure of the group tour!  However, I was swiftly taken through to join the group in the strongroom, where Jennifer, the Collections Manager, was talking about the conditions in which the documents are kept.  From there we moved on to a room at the back of the building where new acquisitions are kept in ‘quarantine’ and cleaned up if necessary.  Some new articles may arrive with mould or bugs so it’s obviously important not to introduce anything like that into the rest of the collections.

Moving through the building we were then introduced to the work of Screen Archive South East www.brighton.ac.uk/screenarchive .  Their work includes collecting, repairing and digitising old cine film which they are then able to make accessible to the public and they are interested in material from not just Sussex but from Surrey and Kent too.  We watched a little promotional film from 1970 on the joys of visiting Margate!

Upstairs we had the delight of watching one of the conservators in action as she showed us how she uses very light Japanese tissue paper (made of cotton, not wood pulp) to preserve fragile documents.  What patience and attention to detail you need for that work!  She was working on pages from a parish register and it is a lovely light and spacious working area.  After passing various offices and another room housing books we made our way back down to the reception desk and the hour-long tour was finished.  It was totally worth doing and it has given me so much more insight into the work that goes on at the record office.

After the tour I took time to look at the displays in the searchroom.  Various maps were available to view and also the oldest document held by the archives – a Grant of Land made by Oslac, leader of the South Saxons, in 780AD.  Members of the West Sussex Archives Society as well as the Sussex Family History Group were also on hand to answer questions and to help with research queries.

It’s so important that we use and support our archive services. Sometimes visiting a record office can seem daunting and the staff a little intimidating, but I’m sure that meeting so many friendly staff will have helped to break down that barrier for any visitors who had not stepped inside the building previously. The staff will have put a lot of hard work into organising the day but, judging by their tweets afterwards, the staff at WSRO were pleased with the number of visitors they welcomed at the open day.

In the Strongroom at West Sussex Record Office. I’m right at the back of the group on the right. (Photo is the property of WSRO, from their Twitter feed on 23 November 2019)

We will remember them

I often feel as though I don’t achieve anything particularly meaningful, but today I feel I have.

I write this on 11 November and today was the culmination of months of research and planning.  We held an event at Godalming College to mark the reinstatement of the memorial to those former pupils who gave their lives during the Second World War.  I first began to think about the memorial probably over a year ago.  As a pupil at the former Grammar School I used to pass the wall-mounted memorial every time I went up or down the main staircase, and at Remembrance time the cabinet was opened up to reveal the 16 photos of the men who were killed.

At some point, maybe 12 or 15 years ago, the memorial was taken down.  It was deemed at that time not to be relevant in a modern Sixth Form College.  I started to make enquiries of various people and fairly soon ascertained that it was being stored in the old sports pavilion at the other side of the field.  I talked with the only other Old Godhelmian on the staff, a History teacher, and together we went to speak to the Principal to ask how she would feel about reinstating it somewhere, especially in view of the imminent 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War.  She was very positive about the idea and particularly keen to engage the enthusiasm of current students.  We felt it would be great if current students could conduct some research into the lives of those on the memorial.

And so, earlier this year, the memorial was retrieved from the sports pavilion and one of the Estates guys did a fantastic job of sanding down and re-waxing the wood.  A position was decided on and the memorial put back up.  As the History students were being enthused about the research, we invited to college a 100 year old lady who had been in the very first intake to the school back in 1930.  She talked with the students about her experience of school and her memories of those on the memorial, including Thomas Tinsey who she reported had been dared to set fire to the boiler room!  (He didn’t succeed).

Today we welcomed the mayors of Godalming and Waverley, the Chair of Trustees and some Old Godhelmians as the students presented their research and we marked Armistice Day.  A student played the Last Post very ably to a large crowd of students and staff gathered outside and it was very moving to observe the two minutes’ silence in that way.  Back inside a wreath was laid at the memorial and the exhortation read.  This year, among this cohort of students, there has been real engagement with the lives of those who went before, finding local connections and making their history studies more real.  The mayor asked that in due course a copy of their research could be passed to the local museum.  I am very pleased with what we have achieved together, honouring those who achieved so much during that war.  We will remember them.

A list of those commemorated on the Godalming Grammar School WW2 Memorial
Some of research undertaken
Memorial showing the photos of the 16 men

A Norfolk Diary

In my last blog I drew on the writings of The Revd Benjamin Armstrong, one time Vicar of East Dereham in Norfolk.  Having discovered the publications of his diary excerpts I can’t put them down!

I now find there are three volumes:    ‘A Norfolk Diary – Passages from the Diary of The Rev Benjamin John Armstrong, Vicar of East Dereham 1850 – 88’, published in 1949, edited by his grandson Herbert Armstrong; ‘Armstrong’s Norfolk Diary, further passages from the diary of the Reverend Benjamin John Armstrong’, published in 1963, edited by Herbert Armstrong ; and  ‘Under the Parson’s Nose’, published in 2012, edited by his great grandson Christopher Armstrong.  There are some entries which are common to more than one book, but one may give more detail of the entry than another.

As I said last time, there are many names mentioned in these publications.  They would be particularly worth reading if you have nineteenth century ancestors in Norfolk who were clergy or landowners, since there are descriptions of many social engagements.  But even if, like me, your ancestors were humble ag labs, the books give some valuable background information which would have had an impact on those ancestors, mentioning for example periods of drought and extreme cold, town festivities and tragedies and national and international events which our ancestors would undoubtedly have been aware of, such as the Crimean War, the death of Prince Albert and various rail disasters and shipwrecks.  The number of deaths from smallpox in 1872, for example, must have been a worrying time.

I have been trying, since last time, to do some background research on some of the more ‘ordinary’ people mentioned, using the parish registers and sometimes the British Newspaper Archive to see what light they can shed.

Could John Flowers be one of your ancestors?  25th January 1854 “old John Flowers…is a pious and, in person, a beautiful old man, who, notwithstanding he lives 3 miles from the Parish Church, sits regularly every Sunday  on the pulpit steps, in devout attention and occasionally in the sermon murmurs approbation”.  14th July 1856 “likely to die from mortification in his foot”.  I found his burial entry on 7th September 1856, aged 83.

Another long-lived parishioner was Benjamin Tollady of Hoe, who was buried on 17th April 1859:  “one of those righteous peasant patriarchs…the last of his days were spent in saying the Creed and The Lord’s Prayer…he could not read and had worked hard all through life until he lost an arm, amputation being necessary from a thorn prick from which mortification ensued”.  The burial register gives his age as 97.

Other diary entries comment on unusual names.  1st April 1864 (not, as it turns out, an April Fool):  “a poor woman whose child is about to be baptized will call her Withburga, after our local saint”.  I found the baptism entry on 6th April – parents Robert and Perey Peake.  St Withburga’s well was a notable feature in the churchyard, which Rev Armstrong took pains to have tidied up in the early years of his ministry in East Dereham.

The baptism of Withburga Peake

On 25th December 1866 the Revd Armstrong conducted the wedding of one Mahershallalashbaz Tuck. “He accounted for the possession of so extraordinary a name thus:  his father wished to call him by the shortest name in the Bible and for that purpose selected ‘Uz’, but the clergyman making some demur, the father said in pique, if he can’t have the shortest name, he shall have the longest.”  It turns out from the marriage register that the bridegroom was an innkeeper – I should think pronouncing his name was a challenge for his customers when they’d had a merry evening!

The marriage of Mahershallalashbaz Tuck

On other occasions the Revd Armstrong comments on the disparity of ages in marriage couples.  On 9th January 1877 he married his organist, John Upchurch Martin, to Eliza Smith.  He was 66 and a widower and she was 28.  On 19th September 1861 he married James Elvin, a widower aged 70, to Maria Moore aged 45.  James was a coachmaker, and a bit of detective work in the censuses indicates that he did quite well for himself since in 1851 he was employing 21 men in his business.

The Revd Armstrong was certainly not afraid to say what he thought of someone, and his disapprobation of ‘dissenters’ is a regular feature.  On 10th October 1871 he mentions the Andrews family whom he was pleased to have “rescued from dissent”.  He was obviously encouraged when on 15th February 1878 Mr Tyas, the town’s Congregational Minister, came to see him about “leaving dissent and asking to be put in the way of becoming a clergyman of the Church of England”.  On Easter Day in 1862 he conducted the wedding of two parishioners who I think had been cohabiting, this following a conversation he had had with the man in question only the month before when he expressed the opinion that he was “fast going to ruin in spiritual and temporal matters”.  There was only one wedding recorded in the register on that day – that of David Gudlestone/Girdlestone, a hairdresser, and Elizabeth Spurrell.

Despite his apparently  forthright manner, his pastoral care was, however, obviously appreciated by many.  On 3rd November 1853 we read “was surprised to see a Chelsea Pensioner in the garden, in all the glories of cocked hat and scarlet coat.  It turned out to be old Nicholas Peake, late a parishioner of Hoe.  He had left the Hospital for a holiday and had brought me some flower roots as a present in acknowledgment of former kindness”.    Ancestry has a reference to a Private Nicholas Peake, birth date about 1780 in Hoe, who enlisted in the 63rd Regiment of Infantry in 1808 and was discharged in 1825.

The Revd Armstrong suffered his own personal trials and tragedies over the years.  His diary entries record the death of a baby daughter, his concerns over what he saw as the unwise marriage of another daughter, worries about a son in the army, a nephew in a mental hospital, the deaths of his parents and sister in quick succession.  But through the years you also get a strong sense of the integrity and honesty of a man with a strong sense of vocation and a love of the people he served in East Dereham for over 30 years.

 

 

 

Don’t just book it….

“Mr Cook of Leicester having planned an excursion to North Wales and Ireland, and undertaking to take any individual from Dereham to Dublin and back, first class, for 42s, I thought it a chance not be thrown away.”  So reads the entry for 17 September 1855 in the diary excerpts of The Revd Benjamin Armstrong, one time Vicar of East Dereham in Norfolk.

It was while browsing the Norfolk shelves at the Society of Genealogists that I chanced upon this publication:  ‘A Norfolk Diary – Passages from the Diary of The Rev Benjamin John Armstrong, Vicar of East Dereham 1850 – 88’.  Flicking through the pages I could see at once that it would be fascinating reading, but it was near closing time and there was no name index, so reluctantly I put it back on the shelf whilst taking note of the title.  This volume was published in 1949, edited by his grandson Herbert Armstrong.

Happily I was able to find a copy of the book through Amazon and have enjoyed reading it immensely.  I also found that there was a second book of excerpts published in 2012 with the title ‘Under the Parson’s Nose’, this one edited by his great grandson Christopher Armstrong.  For anyone with an interest in East Dereham in particular but also an interest in the social history of mid nineteenth century Norfolk, these books are invaluable and I would really commend them.

The character and views of the Revd Benjamin Armstrong really come through – his integrity, his concern for the poor, his enjoyment of travel, his love of his family, but also his firmly-held High Church position and abhorrence of poor preaching.

These are name-rich books, particularly worth reading if you have clergy ancestors in Norfolk or ones who moved in the higher echelons of society.  There are descriptions of frequent dinner parties, garden parties, concerts etc as well as meetings of local clergy.  There are plenty of descriptions of pastoral visits to the poor and needy, but frustratingly those indviduals are usually not named.  What I would like to do is try to match some of the specific references to burials etc with entries in the parish registers to see what light they can shed.

It was, however, greatly ironic that I should read the 17 September 1855 entry on the very day that we heard the news that the Thomas Cook travel company had collapsed.  I believe that the company had already been going for about 14 years when Revd Benjamin Armstrong and his father ventured to Dublin via Holyhead, visiting Bangor and Snowden on the way back.  He is fairly scathing of what he saw in Dublin, despite declaring it to be a ‘fine city’.

Three years later Revd Benjamin Armstrong chose to join another Cook’s excursion, this time to Scotland, and was again accompanied by his father.  They visited Edinburgh and Glasgow in September 1858 and greatly enjoyed the scenery on the drive from Callendar to Trossachs:  “One feels, on such occasions, the desire to keep silence in order to enjoy the great luxury of contemplating the wonderful works of God”.  Unfortunately the combination of a talkative driver and an annoying fellow passenger made silent contemplation impossible!  Such are the risks of group tours, I guess, but risks which thousands have taken in order to enjoy organised travel around the world with Thomas Cook over the last 178 years.

The Revd Benjamin Armstrong certainly found travel informative:  “One is better able to judge of people and things by coming in personal contact with them, than by all the descriptions in the world”.

Celebrations and Commemorations

I’ve had a couple of lovely surprises recently:  the first was a few weeks ago when our daughters and their husbands took us out to lunch.  This was arranged by them some months ago as a way of celebrating our Pearl wedding anniversary with us.  The six of us going out for lunch was what we were expecting.  However, on our arrival at the pub in question, we were taken through to the function room at the rear.  To our total astonishment there assembled were my husband’s parents and sister, my Mum, my brother and all his family, and a number of our close friends!  We had not suspected a thing.  Apparently my daughters grabbed a sneaky look at my address book as long ago as Mothering Sunday in order to find some contact details!  The expression on my face said it all – the photo taken by my brother was hilarious.  I’ve never been the recipient of a surprise party before, but down the generations isn’t that what people have often done for one another to celebrate and demonstrate their appreciation of each other? (I recall the surprise party we ourselves organized for my Dad’s 70th birthday).

Total surprise!

The other surprise was just last night.  There I was in bed reading Family Tree Magazine (as is my wont).  I turned the page and there staring me in the face on page 57 was the name of my own family history blog ‘Family History Musings by Marian’ in large letters!  Paul Carter, in October’s ‘Techy Tips’, was reviewing none other than my own blog!  Yes, I was certainly astonished by that.  Some time ago the magazine was asking people to be in contact if they had their own family history website or blog and accordingly I emailed in with details of what inspired me to set up my blog in the first place and how I use it to consolidate and focus my research.  I hadn’t thought much more about it until there it was staring me in the face last night!  How very exciting!  And it coincides with the 4th anniversary of my blog – a great way to celebrate.

Family Tree magazine
Family Tree article Oct 2019

Not a celebration, but an important commemoration took place last week but was one that could easily have been missed since it was so low key:  80 years since the outbreak of the Second World War.  A few twitter posts recalled the anniversary which my Mum remembers so well.  She was 9 at the time.  Thanks to her Mum’s diaries I know exactly what she was doing:   “Cloudy, still warm.  Alf came up to Brook for breakfast then back to Granny’s for rest of day.  War declared on Germany.  Alf and I went to Church 6.30pm then spent an hour with Will, Alice, Bertie and Florrie.”  Mum remembers hearing the news of the outbreak of war on the radio at her Aunty Pat’s.  The family were at the end of a fortnight’s holiday with family in Cowfold, Sussex, during which time they were obviously following the political events closely.  At the end of the fortnight the children did not return home to Croydon but stayed on in Sussex and a week later were starting school in Cowfold.  They stayed there for the next two years while their father continued to live and work in Croydon and their mother divided her time between husband and children.  That news broadcast changed their lives irrevocably, as it did for so very many.  It is entirely fitting that this autumn we commemorate the fortitude and bravery of that generation.

Granny’s 1939 diary records the outbreak of WW2

 

 

Washing all the dolls’ clothes

I hadn’t really intended to wash all the clothes, but you know how it is – one thing leads to another.  The summer holidays are a good opportunity to do some sorting out and the other week I came across a box containing three headless Barbie dolls and assorted clothing.  I managed to put the heads back onto two of the dolls.  I also realised that some of the clothes were for larger dolls, which led me to remembering where other such dolls’ clothes were located.  And so, as I say, one thing led to another and I ended up with dolls’ clothes of assorted sizes strewn across the living room floor.

What a lovely afternoon of remembering!  There were clothes hand-knitted by my late aunt for my daughter’s Baby Annabel doll.  There were others hand-knitted by my Nan for the Tiny Tears that I had when I was five.  There were clothes that my Mum made from material left over from dresses she made for me and clothes that I sewed or knitted myself for my own assorted dolls and teddies.  The materials brought back memories and led me to hunt out photos.  There were outfits I know I bought at the toy shop with birthday or Christmas money and the little blanket knitted by our next door neighbour.  Happy memories indeed!

Dress for Tiny Tears from material used for a dress for me, aged 8
Wearing the dress of the same blue/black corduroy material

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dress I stitched for Tiny Tears from material left from my own dress
Dress made for me by my mother

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I decided that really they all needed a good wash before they went back into storage, so I put them in the machine on a hand wash setting and used up literally all of the pegs putting them out on the line.  Thankfully it was one of those hot days we had a little while back and they dried in no time.  I was then able to bag them up according to the size of doll.

A line-full of dolls clothes
A shawl for Baby Annabel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember that I had a little play washing line and pegs as a child.  The summer holidays then always seemed to be sunny enabling endless play out in the garden.  My dolls and teddies had such adventures, which often involved elaborate camps.  And they always came with us on holiday.  What happy, carefree days.

Well I feel a sense of achievement that the dolls’ clothes are now clean and sorted.  And maybe, who knows, in time there will be a third generation to enjoy dressing dolls in those clothes and have sunny summers in the garden.

Assorted teddies
Knitted outfit for Tiny Tears
Bought dress for Tiny Tears

 

 

Have you visited us before?

“Have you visited us before?” asked the receptionist at the Society of Genealogists in London.  I paused and said, “well, yes, but it was about 30 years ago!”.  The receptionist recorded that as a ‘no’.  My memories of that one visit are very vague, but the handwritten notes in my family history files are testament to the fact that I found some useful information on that occasion, in the days long before online access to data.

My investigation of sources relevant to my newly-found Mormon ancestors has continued apace since my last couple of blogs.   Last time I wrote of finding on Family Search that LDS membership records existed for East Dereham in Norfolk for the period 1848 – 1871.  I phoned the Portsmouth LDS Family History Centre to enquire, only to learn that they did not hold any microfilms.  The person I spoke to didn’t seem to know how I might find this record, which was very disappointing.  However, fellow family historians are wonderfully helpful, and shortly after posting my question on a family history society facebook page, I learnt that it was to the Society of Genealogists in London that I needed to direct my enquiry.  Apparently it stopped being possible to order microfilms at local LDS Family History Centres a couple of years ago, and all those held by the London Centre are now housed at the Society of Genealogists. http://www.sog.org.uk/ 

I had a very positive response to my phone call to the latter:  the person I spoke to went off to investigate and phoned me back with the good news that yes, they had film number 86996.  I couldn’t wait for an opportunity to get to London to view it!

The journey was not helped by the fact that no trains were running on the Circle Line, but finally I was there, loading the microfilm and scrolling through to find the documents.  “A record of births and baptisms of the Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ East Dereham Norwich Conference of Latter Day Saints.  Organised 24th Day of March 1849 on 18 Members at Conference in Norwich.”

The pages recorded the LDS baptisms of members:  for most it also gives the individual’s birth date, and says who baptized them and confirmed them.  Further columns sometimes indicate if an individual emigrated, died or was ‘cut off’.

I quickly spotted both James and Bartha Lina George, both baptized on 10 June 1849 by John Lickerish.  The entry for James includes the information that he was ordained both Deacon and Priest in October that same year.  Scanning through the records shows that James himself baptized members from around 1852 onwards, so it looks as though he became a significant leader in that local Mormon branch.  In fact, he subsequently baptized three of his own children:  Martha and James in 1860 and Ann in 1862.  John was baptized in 1866 and Alice in 1870.  I had read previously that the Mormon church did not (and I believe still does not) baptise children under the age of 8 years old:  Martha was 10, James was 8, Ann was 8, John was 10 and Alice was 12.

James’ wife Bartha Lina died in 1865 – before the baptisms of the last two children.  I was interested to see the baptism recorded of James’ second wife Frances Gathercole in December 1866 – about 6 months before they married.  A Mary Gathercole had already joined the church in 1852 and Harriet Gathercole would be baptized there in 1869.  The latter turns out to be Frances’ daughter by her first husband John.

So, apart from learning the baptism dates of James’ family, what else have I learnt from this particular document?  Well I had wondered whether many wider members of the family had also converted to the Mormon church even if they did not subsequently emigrate.  I think the answer to this is not really.  I did find three other George baptisms:  a Mary in 1851, born in Gressenhall in 1811, an Elizabeth in 1863 (unfortunately her date of is not birth given) and another Mary in 1864 (again no date of birth given). Now I think that the first Mary could be the wife of James’ oldest brother David.  Her maiden name was Burrell and there is also an entry for a Susana Burrell, born in Gressenhall, who could well be related.  Mary’s entry says that she was ‘cut off’ in June 1853, which I take to mean that she was excommunicated in some way.  Without dates of birth it is hard to work out who the other two women are, unfortunately.

In case you have any East Dereham ancestors yourself, some of the other family names which occur in this document are:  Johnson, Jones, Baker, Wright, Butter, Baker, Everett, Pooley, Savage, Thompson, Smith, Moore, Roberson, Taylor, Bowman, Gunn, Hill, Carr, Rawlins, Reynolds and Hayhoe.

The document entries cease in 1871, but James George is recorded as baptising people during that last year.  I do wonder whether the numbers in the church had dwindled by that time, with a number having emigrated to America including most of James’ children.  The same surnames crop up in the document again and again, so it looks like perhaps a relatively small number of families comprised the Branch.  This is speculation, but it could be another contributory factor to James’ decision to emigrate to Utah himself in 1878.

A book which I found on the open shelves at the Society of Genealogists is ‘A Norfolk Diary – passages from the diary of Rev Benjamin John Armstrong’.  He was vicar of East Dereham from 1850 – 1888.  Time did not permit a longer perusal, but it looked fascinating.  I subsequently found reference to it on the Hoe and Worthing Archive site http://www.hoeandworthingarchive.org.uk/church.html describing the vicar’s visit to parishioners in Hoe where he found “two families who are Mormonites”.  One of those families was that of Jeremiah Jones, whose name occurs frequently in the East Dereham document, frequently baptising people.  He was the same age as James and apparently Jeremiah and his family emigrated in 1862.

My visit to the Society of Genealogists was not quite a first, but my visit to a LDS Family History Centre a few days earlier certainly was.  I may not have been able to view microfilms, but I was able to view a document only available online at a LDS Centre as well as taking the opportunity to use Ancestry Worldwide.  My learning continues!