Family Bibles

The Bible was once regarded as more than just a holy scripture, they were sacred objects in themselves. Given the most important place in the house and filled with family records and memories, the "family Bible" served as the spiritual centre of the home.

Publishers catered to this market by producing ever-larger Bibles, complete with explanatory articles, colour illustrations, pages for recording births, marriages and deaths, and ornamental covers for wealthier families.

Family Bibles can be a superb resource for genealogy research. The births, marriages and deaths of generations are listed as the Bible is passed down through the family. Even if you already have this information, seeing it penned down in an ancestors handwriting will be much more thrilling!  

Family Bibles tend to have survived more in America than in Britain, much the same applies in Australia and New Zealand. This is not always the case so ensure to ask around, older relatives may have an old family Bible buried away in the loft, not realising it would be of help to your research. Family Bibles were such a commonplace during the Victorian era, that they can’t have all vanished in the UK!

The Family Bible below was sent to us by ‘The Episcopal Diocese of California’ last year. It was published in Cambridge in 1637 and belonged to the ‘Hardy’ family. It lists 13 births from 1710 – 1794 and is a bit of a mystery as to where the Hardy family came from and how their family Bible found its way to California. This would be a great project for a keen genealogists to work on.

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Marriage Licences

The Society hold a collection of around 3,000 original marriage licences from churches around London and Middlesex from 1768 –1892. Many of the Document and Special Collections also contain individual marriage licences.

Marriage licences give valuable information regarding places of origin and family members. This can be vital information given the difficulties inherent in researching London families in the years before Census and General Registration.

Each license tells its own unique story like the one featured below which shows Henry Bulley and Frances Ellen Blood, two “minors” marring each other again for the second time in February 1834. They eloped for their first marriage to Greta Green in Scotland and were perhaps then ordered by their parents to marry again ‘properly’.

 

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Some of the 26 volumes of original marriage licences.

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Personal Stories – World War I

Many of the collections have documents relating to family members who bravely fought in one of the great wars.

The ‘Ridout Special Collection’ is no different, except for the sheer amount of information it has on one particular family member who died at the tender age of 19.

Personal letters that Gaspard Ridout wrote to his mother before he died really help to build the picture of a brave young man who was desperate to make his father proud, whilst the official documents give us real insight into how this young man died in an unprecedented German attack that unfortunately left many others dead. Combined they are a touching account of a young man’s short life.

Gaspard Ridout died on 21 March 1918 which was the first day of the last great German offensive. Operation "Michel" was opened with a 6,000 gun barrage which delivered a lethal gas attack deep into Allied lines. At one point, the Germans advanced 14 miles in one day, more than at any other time during the fighting in the West. During the first six weeks of fighting, the Allies lost 350,000 casualties, but more troops were rushed in from across the channel, and American units began arriving for the first time.

A postcard written by Gaspard Ridout shortly before his death along with his certificate of death and a war grave commission addressed to his grieving mother.

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An Inventory document detailing a wrist watch, strap and guard.

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One of many personal and touching letters written by Gaspard Ridout to his mother.

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Gaspard Ridout’s grave.

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Grants of Arms

Coats of Arms derived when mediaeval knights taking part in tournaments were recognised by the arms they bore on their shields and the crests they wore on their helmets. Heralds became responsible for recording arms, and then later for controlling their use.

Coats of arms belong to individuals. For any person to have a right to a coat of arms they must either have had it granted to them or be descended in the legitimate male line from a person to whom arms were granted or confirmed in the past.

To establish a right to arms by inheritance it is necessary to prove a descent from an ancestor who is already recorded as entitled to arms in the registers of the College of Arms.

The Society of Genealogists has hundreds of historic ‘Grants of Arms’ letters patent which are all quite beautiful in their own right. Most have one or two seals attached to the official parchment document which are protected by a removable metal case. They are rolled and kept in official College of Arms boxes.

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Grant of Arms for Amelius Richard Mark Lockwood 1917

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Grant of Arms for William Joseph Kelson Millard 1882

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Bonds

All three of the Society’s collections (Special, Document and Topographical) contain many different legal documents such as wills, marriage settlements, leases, indentures etc. Also included are Bonds for things like family debts like the example below.

An 1807 Bond showing the Joint and Several Loan Obligation of James William Drinkwater Guest and Jonathan Shield Guest of Islington obliged to repay William Till of Pentonville £1020 plus interest. Should they default they are obliged to pay the Penal sum of £3000.

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Suggested lectures:

Sat 31 July 2010 10.30am Finding and Understanding Wills. Book early to avoid disappointment.

Wed 6 October 2010 2pm In the High Courts of Justice: Chancery Records for Family Historians. Book early to avoid disappointment.

 

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Maps

The Society hold thousands of original and copied flat and folded maps dating back to the eighteenth century. The Society’s map collection is part of the extensive Topographical collection and covers most of the British isles as well as far away places such as Jamaica.

Many people are fascinated by old maps and rightly so, as many old maps are works of art in themselves and reveal the surroundings of where our ancestors lived. This helps to give us a better understanding of what daily life would have meant for our ancestors. It’s also interesting to find an old map of a familiar place and compare it to a modern day version.

The below example is an original map from 1862 on linen of Deptford in Kent.

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Civil Service Evidence of Age

The Civil Service Evidence of Age documents were for established civil servants and civil service examination candidates, collected by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) in order to establish accurate birth dates for the purpose of either ensuring that an examination candidate was of the required age, or for granting a pension.

By the 1980s, the CSC still held original documents for approximately 60,000 individuals, consisting largely of items that it would be impractical to replace, such as personal testimonials or documents from overseas. This important genealogical collection was deposited at the Society of Genealogists (SoG) and provides unique and often irreplaceable evidence of birth for which other sources are unlikely to be available. It might more properly be titled the Remains of the Civil Service Evidences of Age, as it is estimated that it constitutes only 2% of the papers originally held by the Civil Service. The remaining 98% were destroyed by the Civil Service.

This collection spans evidence of birth from 1752 up until the twentieth century, though the great majority of births recorded took place in the nineteenth century.

The Society indexers transcribed not just the civil service post-holder or candidate, but also any relatives named in the same document where a date of birth was given for them.

The below example is of David Gross born 15 January 1885 in Constantinople Turkey.

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Suggested lecture:

My Ancestor was a Policeman. Wednesday 3rd November 2010 2pm

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Pedigrees

The word Pedigree derives from the Old French phrase ‘Pied de grue’ meaning ‘Crane’s foot’ which refers to the appearance of the typical drop-line family tree with lines from an individual branching down to descendants or up to ancestors.

The Society holds over 7,000 Roll Pedigrees outlining the genealogical relationships of thousands of families. Most of these are unpublished and represent the hard work of our members. Some, such as these beautiful volumes of illustrated pedigrees from the Lucas Pedigrees and Connections by ‘Louise Cecilia Bazalgette Lucas’ are works of art in their own right.

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The Scattergood pedigree is another very attractive family tree compiled by John Scattergood of Madras who died in 1723. What’s most interesting about this particular pedigree is that it claims to trace the family back to Adam and Eve.

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Apprentice Indentures

Apprentice Indentures are legal documents that were signed by apprentices and their masters to agree the conditions of an apprenticeship. Apprenticeship dates back to the later Middle Ages (1300-1500). Master craftsmen, such as cobblers, blacksmiths, tailors and weavers, benefited from cheap labour by taking on an apprentice, usually a child in their early teens, offering board and lodging and training in return.

Below is the original indenture for Thomas Eyre a “poor child” aged 12 in 1736, issued by the church wardens and overseers of the poor of the parish of St Margaret in the City of Westminster. These documents were obtained by document collectors from parish chests in the nineteenth century before the establishment of record offices. It is now held in the Crisp and Clench Collection of apprentice indentures purchased by the Society in about 1919. Not only does the collection hold many original apprenticeship indentures for Westminster parishes but there are also original indentures for children from the orphan’s asylum in the parish of St Mary’s Lambeth.

This indenture is on one piece of paper but indentures were originally drafted on a single piece of paper that was cut in half so that an apprentice’s legitimacy could be proved by putting the two pieces back together

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Pre 1800’s Book Collection

The Society’s archives hold over 500 pre 1800 book titles. One of the oldest books within this collection is John Speed’s ‘Historie of Great Britaine under the Conquest of the Romans, Saxons, Danes and Normans’ Printed by John Dawson for George Humble, London, 1632. The third edition was published after Speed’s death in 1629. Although the binding, leather spine and marbled paper boards, are in advanced state of deterioration, it is a very valuable book which has some claim to being the first history of England, first published in 1611. See images below.

Pre 1800 books are always an interesting read as many of the spellings are different to how we spell them today. Until 1755 when Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary was published there was no set way of spelling and so it was up to the writer to decide how they thought the word should be spelt, leading to many variations of the same word.

Included within the collection are poll books (of which some are the only known copies), army lists and almanacs. Poll books from this period are particularly interesting as most list voters’ names, occupations, addresses and even whom they voted for. Our poll book collections have been researched and mentioned in many academic publications as one of the most extensive in the world.

It is the Society’s intention to individually enter each book on to the British Library’s English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) including a description of the content and any unique or unusual features i.e. original binding, extra pages, manuscript additions etc. The ESTC holds information on British printed material before 1801 held by the British Library and by over 2000 other institutions worldwide. This is a very time consuming project and will need the expertise of a qualified librarian. The Society is currently applying to trusts for a grant to employ a part time librarian for one year.

 

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Suggested lecture:

Saturday 9th October at 2pm. The Georgians: Sources for the 18th Century by Else Churchill.

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