Friday, 28 September 2012

Signing the Ulster Covenant

Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant. Around the world on September 28th 1912, half a million people recorded their opposition to the prospect of a Dublin-based Home Rule parliament for all of Ireland. (Strictly speaking a quarter of a million signed the Covenant, and the rest (the females) signed a Declaration framed in similar terms.)

The centenary reminds us of the irony that a country with the least full-population data has two extensive sets collected just 18 months apart. Much can be learned by comparing the returns of the Census taken on Sunday 2 April 1911 (one of only two surviving) with the information provided by signatories to the Covenant or Declaration.

Take as an example our 2xgreat grandmother, Agnes BURTON. In 1911, she was one of seven people of that name recorded on the Census.

In the following year, just four Agnes Burtons signed the Declaration. Can they be matched to individuals in the Census?

The first address (in Tennent Street) seems to be in both data sets but the house numbers are different. Had Agnes moved from number 11 to number 235 in the intervening year? In fact, she did. Her daughters (Isabella and Mary Ann) included on the Census return also signed the Declaration and gave the same new address.

Lindsay Street is even more straight forward. The house number matches and apparently the family was still in residence. But Agnes was the only signatory from that household. Had Mary (aged 24 at Census time) married or left home for another reason? Of course, it is possible that Mary was still at home but declined to sign (which would have created some fascinating dinner conversations!).

The other address in Belfast South (Tassagh Cranmore Park) does not appear in the Census list but there was an Agnes living in the Windsor Ward at 109 Marlborough Park. She had three adult daughters—Winifred, Alicia and Mary. Each of them signed the Declaration and gave addresses in Cranmore Park, but only the youngest Mary was more specific listing the house name(?) Tassagh when she signed immediately under Agnes. Winifred and Alice appear to have signed at a different Meeting Hall.

All of which leaves just one signature to be reconciled; that of the resident of Finmore Street, Pottinger. Was she the other Agnes from Co Antrim, from Co Down, or Co Monaghan?

Agnes from Ballynure Street, Clifton in Antrim was the only one of the seven to list her religion on the census as Church of Ireland (the established Church) and so might be thought less likely to be a supporter of the Covenant than the non-conformists.

Lurganmore in Co Monaghan is a considerable distance (more than 90 minutes drive) from Belfast. If this Agnes was now resident in Pottinger, then it required a major relocation. When you consider that her son James (recorded on the same Census form in 1911) signed the Covenant at Drumgart Hall (in Monaghan), this seems unlikely.

You will note immediately that the two Agnes in Co Down lived at the same address, St Leonard's Street, in 1911. 19-year-old Agnes is our 2xgreat aunt, the daughter of 42-year-old Agnes.

The PRONI database shows that 3371 people signed one or other of the documents at Westbourne Presbyterian Church. Of those just six lived in Finmore Street. Agnes Burton resided with Sarah Nelson at number 6. If there were other adult residents in that household, they apparently were not signatories.

Although the area near the Belfast shipyards has been redeveloped after World War II bomb damage, there is a Finmore Court just two minutes walk from St Leonard's Crescent. Are these the addresses referred to in the century old records? Did Agnes (presumably the younger) move out of home (but not too far) soon after the Census?

It would be useful to be able to explain why Agnes (a member of the Salvation Army) chose to sign the Declaration at a Presbyterian Church. Was Sarah Nelson a member of that church? In 1911, there were four Presbyterians by that name aged between 18 and 28. One was a flax spinner and another a linen weaver, working in the same industry as "our" Agnes.

So the circumstantial evidence that our ancestor signed the Declaration is strong. Will the signatures provide the definitive evidence?

Clearly the person who 'signed' the 1911 Census is not the one who signed the Declaration.

But what about the person who 'completed' the Census?

In the absence of further evidence, I will assert that the younger Agnes filled in the form that was signed by our great great grandmother in 1911 and then signed the Declaration in her own right the following year.

What do you think?

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Ancestors beyond number

There are two crucial points in the development of a family historian. At the first, you decide that it would be much neater and more efficient if each individual in your database had an unique identifier that shows his or her relationship to each other person and so you set out to develop such a system.

The second crucial point comes when you realise that if this was an easy task, someone would have done it already and you begin to explore the history of genealogical numbering systems.

Can you tell that I have recently reached point two? The saving grace is that I now know that what appeared to be an enormous pile of waste paper on my desk is actually an array of reinvented wheels. They may not all be fully functional, but I can say that I have examined the major variants of both ascending and descending numbering systems.

It has been an interesting by-way to explore and has jogged my memory on some half-forgotten mathematics and data organisation principles. I have enjoyed the learning (which is a "good thing" in itself).

Is my database (and its parallel universe of documents) any easier to navigate as a result? Unfortunately not, but if I could find a way to link an atree (ascending) to a Henry (descending) perhaps…

Monday, 17 September 2012

Three degrees of separation

In his regular Saturday Night Genealogy Fun posting, Randy Seaver set the following challenge:

Using your ancestral lines, how far back in time can you go with three degrees of separation? That means "you knew an ancestor, who knew another ancestor, who knew another ancestor." When was that third ancestor born?

This struck me because of its similarity to my recent post on children and their grandparents. That three-step chain could not stretch back too far when it begins with my grandchildren, but if I were to add a step on the other end … ?

Our 3xgreat grandmother, Caroline KUHN, grew up in the region of Uckermark (currently in north-eastern Germany) in the mid-nineteenth century.

Her paternal grandmother, Sophie GRUENHAGEN, was born in 1763 but died in 1824 so she never knew Caroline. On the other hand, Anna BERT, her maternal grandmother lived in Gramzow well into Caroline's teen years.

This makes my three degree chain:

  1. I enjoyed almost 12 years of the life of Sydney Thomas CRAMER (1902-1963).
  2. He lived in the same home as Caroline KUHN (1835-1906).
  3. She grew up within a short distance of the home of Anna BERT (abt 1760-1850).

I imagined that I could do better by following the line of S T CRAMER's wife, Isabel Corry SUDDABY. Her mother, Jane DAVIES was born in 1877 and I visited her regularly (with my mother) during the 1950s. But Jane was born after her parents left Rhyl, so it is unlikely that she knew her grandmother Susannah (b 1815). Making either of her parents the mid-point of the chain limits the next (evidence-supported) step to post-1800, despite the individual longevity of 2xgreat grandmother, Jane.

Family historians need a ready supply of answers to the inevitable question "So, why do you do this?". Without the opportunity to analyse our tree, how else could I comprehend that the Seven Years' War was not merely a footnote of "ancient" history, but the lived reality of someone just three lifetimes removed from me!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

An early death?

When a relationship breaks down, harsh words may be spoken and statements made that are not entirely true. Many people suffer in those circumstances; particularly the children. There is another group whose pain is often overlooked—the family historians.

I have been seeking the date of death of a person a few generations back. He was recorded in the 1911 Census so that defines one end of a search window. His widow left the UK in 1925 which sets the other end of the window.

So why was I unable to locate any record of this person's death between 1910 and 1926? The name could have a few variants but they also turned up nothing.

Eventually, I extended the search. Aha, my target had died in the first quarter of 1948 (in the same town as he was living in 1911).

Apparently the entry on the application to migrate concerning marital status was a slight exaggeration.

One can only wonder if the addition of (widow) was made when it was explained that a married woman would need the approval of the husband from whom she had been estranged since (around) 1910.

I can understand, from a 21st century perspective, that this unreasonable imposition might lead to some harmless deception of a faceless bureaucrat. But did no-one think of its impact on me!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

A whip, lost or stolen

While I am not a believer in the theory that all history is cyclic, it is surprising how often you find that an apparently "unique" modern event has a parallel in the family records.

Last week, veteran Queensland jockey Shane Scriven announced the end to his 33-year career in racing. Inevitably, news reports recalled his involvement in what was usually described as the "infamous whip stealing incident at Ipswich last year".

In April 2011, Scriven was handed a five month suspension for overcoming the loss of his own whip during a race by snatching that of a young apprentice rider. His "victim" was suspended for two weeks for failing to report the incident to stewards after the race. The original penalty was reduced to three months on appeal, but it is unclear whether Scriven's representative used the precedent set more than 50 years before in arguing for that relief.

Henry John Corry SUDDABY (older brother of our great grandmother Isabel Corry SUDDABY) was involved in an almost identical set of circumstances during the running of the Windsor Handicap at Eagle Farm on 2 December 1922.

On the following Thursday (7 Dec 1922), The Brisbane Courier carried a short report that referred to the strange events.

When the case was reported in detail on the following day, it became clear that Uncle Henry (commonly known as Squib) had not been a very convincing witness with a number of different versions of what had happened. Nevertheless, the stewards panel apparently accepted the most damning version and fined the premier rider Billy Hill £20 for his improper practice. The size of that fine can be judged from advertisements in the same newspaper offering "quality" suits for £8.

Henry SUDDABY escaped with a severe reprimand for failing to report the matter. It probably had the desired effect on a nineteen-year-old who had been concerned that the trainer would "rouse on him" for being careless.

There must have been no lasting ill-feeling over the case. A 1935 report on the status of the QTC Distressed Jockeys' Fund showed that W Hill was elected as vice-president and H Suddaby (by then retired from riding) was Secretary.

That 1935 report makes clear that race-riding was not an easy way to make a living. Among the payments Squib had authorised in the previous year were £43/3/6 for hospital fees and £25/13/- for funeral expenses. This week, Shane Scriven was quoted as saying “… the body has had enough and the time is right to give it away.” Some things never change.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Leviticus, Iolanthe and sisters-in-law

When a family historian launches into the day's planned project, it is unwise to predict where it might lead. Who would have expected that a quick check on the details of Philemon Lewis COLEY's two wives would find me juggling biblical commentary and Victorian light opera as sources?

The facts are straight forward. On 6 February 1887, P L COLEY married Margaret HARLEY. They had two daughters (Margaret Lucy and Beatrice Olive) before Margaret's untimely death on 26 March 1892. As was common at the time, Margaret's younger sister Lucy HARLEY came to help care for her young nieces. On 26 May 1893, P L and Lucy married and went on to become our 2xgreat grandparents. Which prompted someone to ask "Wasn't it illegal for him to marry his wife's sister?".

A preliminary search offered Leviticus xviii 18 as the ultimate authority on that question…

from which derived A Table Of Kindred And Affinity: Wherein Whosoever Are Related Are Forbidden In Scripture And Our Laws To Marry Together. The inevitable conclusion is that under Canon Law and in the Ecclesiastical Courts such a marriage would be considered "irregular" at best. But was it "illegal" in 19th century Queensland?

The Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act removing the bar to such marriages eventually passed the Imperial Parliament in 1907 after more than half a century of trying. Gilbert and Sullivan's 1882 operetta Iolanthe mocked the inactivity (or intransigence) of the House of Lords on a range of important issues and had included the line "We will prick that annual blister, marriage to deceased wife's sister".

So on the face of it, the marriage of P L and Lucy (and the legitimacy of five of their eight children) was open to question until 1907. But Queensland was an independent Colony with its own Parliament.

In 1877, the Queensland Parliament has considered and passed The Deceased Wife’s Sister Marriage Act (41 Vic. No. 25.). On 10 April 1878, Queen Victoria had given her Royal Assent and hence "no marriage between any man and the sister of his deceased wife shall within Queensland be voidable or in any wise impeachable upon the ground only of such affinity between the parties thereto any law usage or custom to the contrary notwithstanding".

So had the COLEY family remained in England, such a union in 1893 would have been able to be challenged on the (completely unscientific) grounds of consanguinity. But in their new home, logic prevailed and the marriage was entirely legal.

That 1877 Act stood until the Acts Repeal Act of 1991 tidied away a number of older statutes including the Lady Bowen Lying-in Hospital Land Sale Act 1887, the Sandgate Racecourse Act 1896, the Enemy Contracts Annulment Act 1915 and the Deceased Husband’s Brother Marriage Act 1931. What could Gilbert and Sullivan have made of that?

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Wild Cards and Transcription Errors

Trying to solve a puzzle in which you have no emotional involvement can provide an opportunity to reflect on how you work and to learn some important lessons.

I had taken an afternoon away from tracking our own ancestors to respond to a request from a friend. Family legend had it that a young woman travelled to Queensland in the late 19th; century, had a baby, married the next year, and then returned to her interstate home where her death was recorded some years later. Could I corroborate any details of this tale?

It sounded straight forward because the family name of the young woman was unusual (at least in Queensland). That proved to be the case—just a single entry and that was for the marriage I was seeking. I now had the year of the marriage and so (if the legend was accurate) the year of the birth.

The first blockage came when I found that there was no birth registered with the surname of the (soon-to-be) husband. I had already established that no-one had been given the mother's surname at birth in Queensland. So I was looking for a child born in a (probably) known year to a mother who might or might not have used her real name.

Fortunately the on-line tool for Queensland Births Deaths and Marriages historical index searching allows the use of wild cards prefixed by an initial letter in the mandated family name field. Could I try a brute force search?

The initial result was pleasing. Not because I found the missing birth, but because the test query generated a very manageable five results. (With hind-sight, this should not have been a surprise. The total population of the Colony was less than 175,000 at that time.)

So it was worthwhile continuing the wild card strategy through the alphabet. Within a few minutes, I had found my target. I could be fairly certain that I was correct because the family name of mother and daughter differed from my original information by only one letter— had been written as

Which is where the learning takes place. It made no sense to leap to the worst-case conclusion (that I had no idea of the child's name) before considering the possibility that there had been a variant spelling. With German ancestors whose names are recorded with and without umlauts (Kühn, Kuehn, Kuhn), I should have known that, but charged blindly on.

It is a very useful strategy to pause to consider how a name under study might look when poorly written, or sound when spoken with an accent. A few moments reflection might open up a line of enquiry that saves hours.

And my puzzle … Further confirmation came when a search on the tl-variant of the name turned up the registration of the death of the little girl at just a few weeks of age. Emma married and returned to Victoria as the tale claimed. Was her husband the father of the little girl? That remains a mystery.

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