Hurrah for free stuff! If you’ve ever been curious as to what you might discover about your ancestors on Findmypast, then now’s your chance, with the Findmypast free weekend.
Even though the parish registers for Essex and Suffolk aren’t transcribed in their entirety on any commercial sites yet, you’ll still find lots of records which are relevant. Here’s a run-down:
- Suffolk Family History Society have many parish register transcriptions on Findmypast for you to search, although the accompanying images aren’t available (you’ll need to send off for the microfiche to see the original)
- National Burials Index: covers some parishes from Essex and Suffolk
- Wills: Essex and Suffolk are covered by the England & Wales Published Wills and Probate Indexes – find out how to use this collection for Essex and Suffolk.
- Wills: Essex Wills Beneficiaries Index. Brilliant resource from the Essex Society for Family History, this index can be searched for people who appear in a will with a surname other than the testator’s. So for instance, very handy for tracing a married daughter.
- Boyd’s Marriage Index: Quite good coverage for Essex and Suffolk. I find it useful to look someone up on Boyd’s and then go to ERO’s digitised registers to find the original, just to check it’s “my” person. Also see Findmypast’s London records as quite often Essex couples would marry in London (to avoid parental approbation or for the opportunity to go on a jolly?)
- British Newspaper Archive: although this exists as a discreet website, you can access it via Findmypast too. It’s full of local newspapers from across Britain and fuelled my book, Poison Panic, and it’s amazing what comes up just by throwing in an ancestor’s name (yes, including murders…). Give it a whirl!
- Merchant Navy Seaman Records: Being coastal counties, if you’ve got Essex and Suffolk ancestors then there might be some sailors somewhere among them. From about 1920, the records include photographs, but some earlier ones will include date and place of birth, level of education and even physical description of eye and hair colour and height.
- Criminal registers: these are handy used alongside the newspapers. Includes petitions against transportations and executions. Again, came in handy writing about my poisoners!
- Apprenticeships: this might help you trace an ancestor back to their place of birth if they moved on becoming an apprentice. Sometimes the apprentice’s father’s name is mentioned.
- Essex Memorial Inscriptions: compiled by the Essex Society for Family History. Look up the name and it’ll tell you which cemetery they are buried in. For the full transcription, however, you’ll need to send off for the CD from ESfFH’s shop.
- Censuses: I find the 1851 census for some parishes in the Tendring Hundred (particularly Wix) so faded that the Ancestry transcriptions are mostly inaccurate. Findmypast have boosted the scan of it so it’s been easier to read and therefore transcribe correctly. If you can’t find someone in censuses at one site, it’s always worth trying on another.
This barely breaks the surface but should hopefully give you some pointers for searching for your Essex and Suffolk ancestors on Findmypast this weekend.
Note: if you don’t want to subscribe to Findmypast, make sure you cancel your account, as you’ll need to set one up in order to participate in the free weekend.
An interesting note from 1745 in West Bergholt‘s parish register shows us that the vicar got muddled up with some of his parishioners’ surnames. Understanding the accent of your ancestor’s region can be really helpful if you want to trace them back further. In this video I talk about certain features of the accent(s) found in the north of Essex and the south of Suffolk, delivered in my authentic north-east Essex twang.
Everyone knows about Guy Fawkes, the Catholic Yorkshire man who was put to death with his co-conspirators for plotting to blow up the Houses of Parliament.
But did you know that the village of Lawshall in Suffolk has a connection with The Gunpowder Plot?
The Drury family & Good? Queen Bess
In amongst Lawshall’s 16th century marriages, there is a note that says:
Memor: It is to be remembered that the Queens highnesse Elizabeth, in hir progresse riding from Melford to Bury 5. Aug. Regina 20. an. Dni. 1578 prd. dined at Lawshall Hall, to the great rejoicing of ye said parish & Country thereabouts.
Elizabeth I’s progresses around the country are well-known, where she dropped in on local dignitaries and graced them with her presence for the duration of a meal, or to stay the night – it is a cliché when country houses say “And this is the room that Elizabeth I slept in.” The people of Lawshall may have felt rather lucky to have the most important person in England come for a visit – she and her entourage were given lunch by Henry Drury, who lived at Lawshall Hall.
I wondered if the locals would have commemorated this visit by naming their daughters Elizabeth. From September 1578 to 24th March 1579/80, there are twenty-seven baptisms in the Lawshall register, and almost half of them are for girls: thirteen. And how many of these girls were named Elizabeth? Most of them, you’re thinking, right?
Banns registers aren’t usually considered that important for family history research – after all, we only need to look at marriage registers, because we’re interested in the successful marriages that produced our ancestors. Aren’t we?
The availability of banns registers isn’t as complete as marriage registers, perhaps for this very reason. For instance, Essex Record Office has only included banns in their scanning project where they have been entered in a marriage register (as you sometimes find between 1754-1837), or where a banns register has been bound with a marriage register. Banns registers on their own aren’t included.
Usually, they don’t tell you much. They give the names and sometimes the abodes, and sometimes the marital statuses of those wishing to marry, and the dates on which the banns were published in the church. They can be useful if you’re fairly sure someone got married and you want to know which parish it took place, or if the marriage register for the other parish has been irretrievably lost, so providing you with a rough date for their nuptials and the bride’s surname previous to her marriage.
Sometimes, however, you’ll find the banns for a marriage that never took place, and you’re left wondering what on earth happened. Who changed their mind? Did someone find a legal objection to their union? Most of the time, we’re left with no clue and have to scratch our heads in wonder (particularly if you find someone who serially gets to the second reading of the banns before bailing out!). However, the banns for East Bergholt, between 1783 and 1803, provide reasons for the cancelled marriages, and they give us an interesting insight into late eighteenth century lives, and attitudes towards marriage.
Hogarth’s depiction of Tristram Shandy’s home baptism.
The other week, I started to transcribe the parish registers for Lawshall in Suffolk, starting from the earliest date available – baptisms in 1563. Some rather intriguing things have appeared in them, and I thought I’d share them with you because they shine a light on the ordinary lives of people in the past.