An epidemic in Brightlingsea, 1803

A group of physicians bow down to a yellow, thin figure representing "influenza"

Physicians expressing their thanks to influenza, 1803. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

I’m finishing off the transcription of Brightlingsea‘s burials, in a register covering 1765-1812. It’s not a very interesting register, and is frustrating for genealogists because it rarely gives any information other than a name and the date of burial. There’s hardly any ages, and very rarely does it give the dead’s relationship, so no “son of” or “wife of” as we often see. Although there are some occupations given – as this is Brightlingsea, it’s no surprise that there’s some dredgers among the dead.

Each year, Brightlingsea produced between 20 to 40 dead:

1800: 21 burials
1801: 38 burials
1802: 38 burials

Then, in 1803, the number of burials leapt, more than doubling to 86 in just one year.

There was an influenza epidemic in 1803, and the spike in deaths that we see in the register is likely to have been caused by it. Looking at the burials by month, comparing those of the three years before, gives us an idea of when the epidemic was at its worst.

Continue reading

Updates – Lawford

I’ve finished transcribing the earlier parish register (1558-1764) for Lawford in north-east Essex. It’s right by the Suffolk border, so you might find some ancestors wandering across.

I’ll be adding the transcriptions to this site over the next few days. Baptisms 1558-1764 – that’s over 1,500 in total – have been added. Look out for burials and marriages – which includes the marriage of Princess Diana’s 10 x great-grandparents.

I’m currently finishing off Brightlingsea‘s pre-1812 burials, so they’ll be going online next, followed by Manningtree‘s Methodist records.

Then I’ll return to Lawford, and transcribe the register covering baptisms and burials 1764-1812.

I have my eye on Langham’s earlier register at the moment, or will I do more Dedham records? We shall see what I transcribe next….

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017

Who Do You Think You Are? Live logo

It’s a week until Britain’s biggest family history fair, Who Do You Think You Are? Live, kicks off at Birmingham’s NEC.

There’s a wealth of family history societies, genealogy companies, and DNA-testing businesses hoping to catch your eye, and there lots of talks and workshops and goodness knows what else for you to sample.

If you’re planning to seek out some help with the trickier corners of your family tree, make sure you bring print-outs or even original documents.

I’ll be there on two days.

Friday 7th April

  • 2.20pm – 3pm: I will be giving two “Ask an Expert” sessions. My areas are old handwriting, wills and (no surprises here) Essex!
  • (And when not doing that I’ll be buying archival storage materials and checking out the CDs that the family history societies have to offer)

Saturday 8th April

  • 11.15am-12pm: my workshop session Turn your family tree surprises into a book will be taking place in Theatre 2. I’ll be talking about resources you can use to enrich your research, and the many way there are to share your writing.
  • 12pm-2.30pm: I’ll be at the Pen & Sword stall (number 290), where you can ask questions about my talk, and… well… let’s just say there’s books available to buy. Lots of them.
  • 3pm-4pm: I’ll be giving three “Ask an Expert” sessions.

Sunday 9th April

  • Collapse into an exhausted heap.

 

Did Jane Austen fake a marriage?

Ahhh, see, I told you that notes left in parish registers are endlessly fascinating!

Not only is it possible (at least I think so) that Charlotte Brontë got the surname of her heroine from the printer who manufactured parish registers, but Jane Austen, another vicar’s daughter, was actually writing in the marriage register.

The BBC has reported this as “‘Mischievous’ Jane Austen faked Steventon marriage records” which makes her sound like Sir Percival Glyde in The Woman in White. And there’s more: “Novelist Jane Austen created fake entries in a marriage register linking herself with two separate men, it has emerged.” Blimey! The strumpet! She’s committed both bigamy and fraud!

Well… no. Had she filled out a form in the parish register like so:

Layer-de-la-Haye marriage register 1754-1812. ERO ref: D/P 255/1/2. Image reproduced by courtesy of the Essex Record Office.

She would have been in rather a lot of trouble. From 1754 and the Hardwicke Act, marriages were far more regulated than they had been. At least one of the couple had to be resident in the parish they were marrying in, and the marriage had to be by banns or by licence. Banns were called on three consecutive Sundays in church, or a licence had to be paid for and would involve a fine if it turned out the marriage was illegal. If you were so rich that you owned half the British Isles, you could of course get a special licence and marry wherever the heck you liked. You’d also need two witnesses and a clergyman to perform the marriage, and then the spouses either signed or marked the register. The example above (the marriage of my 6 x gt-grandparents) shows that they got married by licence (Elizabeth was pregnant at the time, so the licence sped things up without having to wait for banns to be called), and they both marked – although note that Elizabeth signed with an E, which suggests she wasn’t quite as illiterate as it might at first appear.

If you look at the BBC article, you can see one of Jane’s works.

Hampshire Archives, from the BBC website.

She’s written the groom’s name as “Henry Frederic Howard Fitzwilliam” where it says “AB” and added “London” as his abode, and then her own name where it says “CD”, and her home parish as her abode. Would Mr Fitzwilliam, bearer of such a grand name, want to marry by banns, though, one wonders?

Look at that example from 1767, and you’ll notice they’re different forms. On the page that Jane Austen graffitied, you can see the other side of the leaf – the title page of the register – showing through. What she “edited” was the example which was printed at the front of every marriage register, so that clergymen would understand how to follow the new layout. And it’s showing how to lay out the publication of the banns – it’s not a marriage entry.

Perhaps she didn’t expect her father to see it, or perhaps he spotted it and laughed.

It’s certainly a fun thing to find – but it was found, in fact, some time ago (“it has emerged” is rather misleading. This “emerged” years back). It is quite the hyperbolic headline – she falsified a marriage record! Well… she did, but not in quite the way you’d assume from the breaking-news tone.

It does go to show though, what you’ll find in parish registers. Poisonings, death by a bell falling out of a steeple, children born in barns, locals trashing a pulpit, extreme weather, and maybe the graffiti of a vicar’s imaginative teenager daughter.

You’ll be able to see this on display in Winchester from May.

Events

Saturday 3rd December 2016, 10am-2pm
What: Book-signing at St Mary’s Christmas St Nicholas Fayre
Where: St Mary’s Church, Bearwood, B66 4BX
Entry fee:
None! Just turn up. You can buy a copy of Poison Panic from me on the day for £12. And I’ll sign it for you.

Sunday 12th March 2017, 3pm-4.30pm
What: Essex Book Festival 2017. Criminally Good Afternoon Tea. In the county where the poison panic took hold, we’ll eat scones and I’ll tell you about the lives of Sarah Chesham, Mary May, and Hannah Southgate.
Where: Park Inn Palace Hotel, Church Road, Southend-on- Sea, SS1 2AL
Entry fee: TBC. Booking details to follow.

Saturday 8th April 2017, 11.15am-12pm
What: Who Do You Think You Are? Live. Workshop: “Turn your family tree surprises into a book.”
Where: NEC, Birmingham.
Entry fee: Workshops are £2 in advance, or £3 on the day. There is a ticket required to enter Who Do You Think You Are? Live as well. Book in advance.

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017

logo

News! I’m doing a talk at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017 at the NEC in Birmingham.

In “Turn your family tree surprises into a book”, I’ll explain how I pieced together alarming discoveries from my own research and turned it into a book. I’ll talk about the sorts of historical resources that you might find helpful for your research, and then I’ll take you through different ways to share your writing.

It’s on Saturday 8th April from 11.15am to 12pm. There’s a full list of all the workshops running over the three days, and remember that there’s loads of stalls from all sorts of family history societies, and vendors selling archival storage materials (I can’t be the only person who finds that exciting), and lots of knowledgeable and interesting people to speak to – photograph daters, heirloom detectives, etc etc etc.

 

The Fingringhoe skeleton

The skeleton from the 1857 Waterloo Bridge Mystery

The skeleton from the 1857 Waterloo Bridge Mystery

Have you heard “The Reclusive Skeleton of Fingringhoe” episode of Punt PI? In this Radio 4 series, comedian Steve Punt puzzles his way around cases of high strangeness, such as the Mull Air Mystery and The Crying Boy Paintings. It’s like Fortean Times on the radio. You’ll hear my dulcet tones chiming in, to talk about some of the research I did into the mystery of the skeleton. When a skeleton turns up, as they sometimes do – the image at the top of the page is from the 1857 Waterloo Bridge Mystery1)It wasn’t strictly a skeleton as there was some flesh accompanying the bones – although not very much. – they exert fascination. How can we identify a person just from bones? Without the flesh, can we find out how they died?

The skeleton in the Fingringhoe case was found in 1949, in the apparently abandoned cottage of an actress called Ada Constance Kent, who hadn’t been seen since March 1939. She was reclusive and rather eccentric, so was the skeleton hers? But what about the children who had got inside her house and played there? I’ll leave you to listen to the programme, and if you’re interested in reading about what happened in the 1940s, then see the chapter in Patrick Denney’s Foul Deeds & Suspicious Deaths in Colchester (Patrick pops up on the radio programme too!).

I looked into Ada’s family background, tracing her in the censuses. I went off-piste a little and traced her mother, aunt and grandmother. These bits weren’t used on the programme, but it helped me to see Ada in context, as an ordinary girl from a riverside village in north-east Essex, who apparently came to an extraordinary end.

Continue reading

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. It wasn’t strictly a skeleton as there was some flesh accompanying the bones – although not very much.