Hello and welcome to the Blog! Please feel free to look round.

The Blog and I deal mainly with local and family history in the Black Country: if you don’t know where that is, here’s a map

map black country

The Blog and I

The Blog was originally updated regularly – weekly if at all possible.  However, due to family illnesses, updates have become sporadic in the last few years.

When in the mood, the Blog prods me awake in the early hours of the morning, muttering ‘Me!  You haven’t updated me for eons!  How about talking about…’ and I wander grumpily downstairs into the writing cave, coffee in hand, emerging only once the task is done.

That actually is a lie – I emerge several times, but only to refill the coffee mug. Or to cook a fried egg sandwich. Or both.

There are few scarier sights in this household than the Early Morning Blogger.

I share the writing cave with the fridge/freezer. Sometimes I think I ought to come clean and admit that I write in the larder.

About Me

I’m a cat-loving freelance researcher, author  and tutor, specialising in Black Country genealogy and local history and also in legal history. I am Secretary of the Wombourne History Group (WHiG) and co-editor of the Group’s latest book  “Wombourne Revisited”, and co-editor of “The Badge Mag”, the in-house journal of the British Badge Collectors’ Association, In 2014 I was awarded the bursary at the Wolverhampton Annual Local History Symposium for my research into the local coffee mill manufacturing industry. My research in this area has been published in “The Grinder Finder”, the in-house journal of the American Association of Coffee Mill Enthusiasts (ACME).

I’ve been interested in local history for as long as I can remember, thanks to my father, who would always point out places of interest to the Infant Genealogist (and still does).   My interest in genealogy was sparked over  35 years ago, when my maternal grandmother – who had an almost inexhaustible appetite for recounting tales of her youth and of her family – presented me with an album of photographs of my ancestors, interspersed with newspaper cuttings and some of the family stories. Some of this material was over a century old.   I immediately wanted to know more about these people…

You can find more about my professional life on the page “Courses, Talks, Research.”

About the Blog

To return to the plot: the Blog began life back in 2012 as a place where I, in my guise of genealogist/researcher, could  keep track of useful websites and books.  Then it developed some articles about various sources and techniques and  also become a sort of diary, listing things I have found or places I have visited in connection with my research.  It has developed a liking for illustrations. Sometimes I fear it has a life of its own.  It has been redesigned at least twice in its short life and will no doubt continue to evolve.

The layout  of the site remains unchanged.  On the whole the posts below this sticky are assorted jottings:  topics I think are important have a page to themselves and can be found above, just under the banner picture.  Found them? Good.

Sometimes the posts contain snippets of information or photographs that you may find useful: to save searching back through the posts, these are indexed on the page “An Index To Posts”

The page “Dates For Your Diary” lists talks and exhibitions in Staffordshire (sometimes in neighbouring counties)  and is updated at the beginning of every month.

Avoiding Spam


I try to keep this a spam-free site: so if you want to leave a comment, you’ll find that you need to enter a Captcha code. Also, all comments have to be approved by me as site administrator before they appear on the site.

This shouldn’t – I hope! – deter anyone who wants to make any serious comments. It doesn’t actually deter the spammers, but it does enable me to delete them.

Your comments and questions

If you do want to comment, your email address will NOT appear on the site. Nor will mine – if you want to say something, leave a comment and I’ll respond to that.

Contacting me

If you have a specific question to ask about an aspect of family history research, please  use the comments box on the “Contact Me” page.

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Tracing the history of a house

A useful tip from the Wolverhampton Family History Facebook group:

“Did you know you can also search UK census records by address on Find My Past? Just choose the census year from the A – Z, choose Address Search, and you can trace the history of a house through time. For example

https://search.findmypast.co.uk/search-world-Records/1851-england-wales-and-scotland-census?fbclid=IwAR0xUBfFUl-v3_LvXxcd5HqpwOBk_zXGUoBNvV9nVn12XcLRepmyObPBJBU “

Invaluable for local history, but also handy if the name of your ancestor has been mistranscribed.

Happy hunting!

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From the family album

Frank and Annie's weddingMy grandparents, Frank Charles Spicer (1901 – 1963) and Annie Griffiths (1900 – 2000) on their wedding day – 10 November 1924.  And the cake.

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The widow’s third, Borough English and Shakespeare’s bed

I’ve been looking at old wills this week, and thought I’d share a few thoughts with you.

We often think when we can’t find a will “Oh, they can’t have had much to leave.”  But this isn’t always the case.

Firstly, it’s worth bearing in mind that right up until the Married Women’s Property Act  1882, a married woman did not have the right to have property in her own name: on marriage all her possession automatically became her husband’s. A married woman could not therefore make a valid will.  Once widowed, of course, this rule ceased to apply: but many men left their widows only a life interest in property, specifying that on her death the property should revert to – for example – a son or sons. Therefore even a widow might not be able to make a valid will.

If a husband died intestate, then one-third of his estate automatically devolved on his widow:  this is know as “Dower” *and sometimes referred to as “the widow’s third” and was not abolished until the Dower Act 1833.

Where there was no will, the heir to a property was  often – but not always – the eldest son (or daughter where there was no son). .  But in many areas of England, the system of ‘borough English” – by which the estate passed undivided to the youngest child – prevailed. So,  it’s always worth checking whether this applies.  Borough English was not abolished until the Administration of Estates Act 1925.

Shakespeare’s will (no pun intended) left his “second best bed” to his widow Anne, which seems rather mean.  But in Tudor times, a bed – and all its attendant linen and hangings – was in all probability the most valuable item a family possessed. “Second best” here indicates a guest bed – and these were often finer than the bed which husband and wife regularly slept in.  So Will Shakespeare wasn’t as mean as he’s often judged to be.

And finally: if you’ve ever looked at a grant of probate, you may have looked at the total value of the estate and come to the conclusion that the dear departed doesn’t seem to have been worth very much.  Until 1896, the value of “real property” wasn’t taken into account when evaluating the estate – and real property includes copyhold and freehold property. So a house, or business premises, providing that they were owned and not rented, fell outside the value of the legal estate.


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Mea Culpa

The Blog and I return, somewhat shamefaced in the knowledge that we haven’t updated for well over a year.  This is, in part, due to yet another annus horribilis  – the details of which I shall not bore you with. However, as the Blog and I limp slowly into the sunset, desperately pursuing a pension which seems determined to outpace us, we solemnly vow to update ourselves at least once a month from now on. And we have just updated all pages and checked the links still work.  Hurrah!

In view of the somewhat – erm – unsteady state of political affairs in this country at the moment, I have asked my good friend Jane Smith for her permission to share with you her article “Elections in the 1830s”, which first appeared on her site  janealisonsmithdaily.wordpress.com/ on 30 April 2015.


Elections in the 1830s

As we move towards an election in the UK on the 7th May it is interesting to reflect on past elections and to look back to a time when most people couldn’t vote. Expression of any sort of opinion by the disenfranchised could be met by repercussions. This is the story of elections in 1833 and 1835 in Wolverhampton.

In 1832 the Reform Bill was enacted by Parliament and by this Act Wolverhampton could send two representatives to Parliament for the first time. Voting rights were limited to households having at least £10 so most people did not have the right to vote. The four candidates were Mr Wolryche Whitmore, Mr Fryer, Mr Holyoake (part of the banking fraternity) and a Mr John Nicholson, a tea dealer from London who stood as a representative of the working man. Those who couldn’t vote, loudly supported those who could, and stones were thrown at supporters of Whitmore and Holyoake. G. B. Thorneycroft and others were badly injured by the stones and getting to a polling station at all was a frightening experience. The main polling station was at Tudor’s coach works on the Cleveland Road and a crowd of colliers and ironworkers gathered there. The military were called in and Sir John Wrottesley read the Riot Act. Polling continued fairly peacefully but afterwards a crowd gathered in the Market Place and an attack was made on the Swan Inn, breaking several windows. Squire Gifford was injured by a flying stone which kept him in bed for some days.
The next election was in 1835 when the tussle was between Colonel Anson and Sir F. Goodricke. Anson was in favour of enfranchising more of the people, only 4,000 out of a population of 130,000 could vote, but it was Goodricke who was returned. You can imagine the effect on the crowd. To say they weren’t happy was an understatement and what enraged them was a defiant attitude amongst Goodricke’s supporters who stood on the balcony of the Swan Hotel taunting them. The Rev. Clare, Vicar of Wednesfield and Bushbury, was urged to read the Riot Act but he thought the crowd was peaceable (as it was) and was in favour of walking amongst them and talking to the people. This might have worked had he not been accompanied by red-coated dragoons and the Vicar and his protectors had to beat a hasty retreat to the Swan Inn. The Rev. Clare then went on the balcony of the Swan to read the Riot Act and Captain Manning and the soldiers started to clear the crowd. The soldiers drew their swords and charged at the crowd. People fled in all directions with the soldiers galloping after them, swords being brandished to left and right. The soldiers started shooting with live ammunition, badly injuring four people. A boy of eleven, called Barton, was shot through the leg while he stood in the porch at St Peter’s, Adam Keay, a youth, was shot in the heel, Pinson, aged 20, was hit on his arm and Marriott was shot through the knee, requiring immediate amputation to save his life. After nightfall the soldiers continued to ride around threatening people and some were fired at in their own homes.
James Marriott, a hinge maker, aged 70, living on the Wednesfield Road, was interviewed by the Chronicle in 1888, to share his memories of a day that changed his life.
“ Oh, ah, I remember it well enough; I’ve cause to. It were about nine o’clock on the Wednesday night, May 27th 1835. I had taken no part in’t disturbances, not I. I were an apprentice lad then, about 17 years of age. I was apprenticed to the late Obadiah Westwood, i’ Brickkiln Street and he had sent me to Tarrett’s warehouse in’t Townwell Fold to see if it were open so that we might tak in a lot o’ work we had finished up the shop. Well, when I got to Townwell Fold there was a row on, and I heeard a shout as to how the sojers were coming down Cock Street. I stood still, we about eighteen more, just to have a peep at ’em, and just at that moment tow on ’em galloped past. They went straight on at first, driving the people before ’em and just at that moment tow on ’em galloped past. They went straight at first, driving the people before ’em, but I suppose seeing us standing together one on ’em turned his horse back and without saying a word he pointed his carbine straight at us and fired and I was down on my back in a jiffy. I felt stunned like in my right leg, and I hobbled up as well as I could on to my other, and sot me down on a big stone that were in front of that Blacksmith’s shop at the top o’ what they call Skinner Street. I then hitched my breeches up and saw a great hole right through my knee as I could have put my finger in, an’t blood was spurting out like water from a tap. Some on ’em around took me into a house near, and then they fetched Dr Coleman. As soon as he had looked at my knee he said he should have it off, too, afore midnight. The people had been hissin’ and groanin’ at t’ soldiers, there’s no doubt, and stonin’ on ’em as well, but I’d now’t to do wi’ that. Thank God! I got well over it and takin in all I’ve had very good health and good luck till now as well tho’ trade’s bin bad this last year or two.”
The affair caused a considerable stir not only in the immediate area but throughout the country. Two MPs, Villiers and Thornley raised the matter in the House of Commons and demanded a public enquiry to which Sir F. J. Wrottesley gave his support. The upshot was that Bow Street Magistrates came down from London to carry out an enquiry. At first this was behind closed doors and the Press were excluded. A letter was sent to the Home Secretary asking that the enquiry be held in public and Lord John Russell agreed. This was an enquiry of national interest and The Times and other major newspapers sent their reporters. Witnesses for the soldiers spoke, Captain Manning defended his decision to use live ammunition instead of blanks as had been done previously and said that the soldiers deliberately aimed low, as shown by the wounds of those injured. On the other hand there were credible witnesses of high standing, who spoke against their actions. T. M. Phillips, ( the Coroner I assume) said he was in Dudley Street, and saw the soldiers brandishing their sabres to the left and right. He saw one man fall and people flying in all directions. Certainly one or two victims suffered wounds to their heads. Richard Fryer Junior said that soldiers chased him to his door in Lichfield Street and one pointed a gun at him and threatened to “let the daylight into him if he didn’t go inside.”
The House of Commons judged that the soldiers had acted properly and shown, “commendable forbearance,” and the matter was dropped. Rather wisely, perhaps, Goodricke decided not to stand at the election two years later and Colonel Anson, Liberal MP, was returned.
Wolverhampton Chronicle 1888

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FutureLearn Course: Tracing Your Family Tree Week 5

Week 5 of the  course returned to sources, and considered how local and general histories can flesh out your family tree.

As followers of this blog are only too well aware, this is something that I always emphasise. Mention was made, not only of printed histories, but also of maps, photographs, newspapers and a range of different types of directories.

As in previous weeks, this was only a brief overview of the different types of sources available, and I must admit that I’d have found it much more useful if the videos had actually given a close up view of the document under discussion, rather than showing someone looking at it.  But on the whole, this was quite a useful week.

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Futurelearn Course: Tracing Your Family Tree Week 4

Week Four of the course considered the Genealogical Standard of Proof and also DNA testing.

The Standard of Proof is important – in fact I wrote a page about this some time ago –  and I thought that this was well covered., with useful exercises. However, the final exercise – evaluating the evidence provided by four World War II ration books – had no tutor input at all, and students were left to decide for themselves how useful, if at all, these were. Opinions ranged from ‘Very’ to ‘Not at all’.

I thought that this exercise would have been of  far more use if it had replaced the end-of-module quiz, which was, as before, banal.

The section on DNA testing left me cold.  The basic principles were well explained (although the slide showing DNA inherited through several generations would have been loss confusing if a few more colours had been used on the slide!) – but after that I became more and more confused.  I’m just not science-minded, and was rapidly out of my comfort zone.

To be quite candid, I’ve never been too certain about the benefits of DNA testing.  If I can’t discover who great-great=great-great grannie was,  DNA isn’t going to help me here, because (a) we’re talking of the maternal side here, and (b) all a test can do is match me with other people who have the same markers, may therefore be related to me, and have their DNA stored by the same provider.  And DNA can’t tell you how you’re related to these people, merely that you are.  As far as I can gather, the advantage of testing is (a) you may discover hitherto-unknown distant cousins and (b) if you do, they may have some information that you don’t.

It all seems a bit of a waste of money to me.  Or have I completely misunderstood – feel free to correct me on this!

If I wasn’t confused enough already, the tutor then referred to someone whose DNA profile was “found to be a close genetic match to the current Macdonald chief of Clanranald using STR testing. Because it was already known from documentary evidence that the chief was a descendant of Angus Og of the Isles, who fought in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, the closeness of the match confirmed that he was also descended from Angus Og.”

Now, I’m not doubting this for a moment, but – only two weeks ago the course dwelt upon documentary evidence (and indeed, this week has already covered the Standard of Proof), so it would have been useful to learn exactly what this documentary evidence was that proved descent from a chap who died in 1330.

Finally on this topic, this month’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ magazine includes an excellent article on illegitimacy, which advises that it’s only worth considering DNA tests once the paper trail is complete.

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FutureLearn Course: Tracing Your Family Tree – Week Three

So – week 3 of the course is down and dusted.

This week the course tackled major sources – church, civil and religious records, looked at the types of records that might be held in physical archives and considered some genealogy databases available.

And at last we’ve looked, albeit very briefly, at BMD certificates, and how to fill in an outline family tree. This, in my opinion, is where the course should have begun. If I used the layout of the course as a template for one of my own courses, I’d expect the majority of the class to demand their money back at the end of the first week, and be very surprised indeed if I had any students left by the end of the second week.

There has been very little information about how to obtain certificates – and, in fairness, on a course which has attracted thousands of learners from all over the world, I wouldn’t expect to see detailed explanations for every single class of record, nor comprehensive lists of what records are available for which country.  But the course attempted to cover far too much information this week, and completely failed to explain how different records link in to create the whole picture: for example, that information from (for example) a marriage certificate can be used hand-in-hand with census returns – (and that, in my opinion, is the time to tackle the difference between primary/secondary sources, and direct/indirect evidence).

I seem to have used ‘in my opinion’ rather a lot this week, and I don’t want to appear a Moaning Minnie. But I will say that the much-vaunted Google Hangout, though better than the earlier one, was badly produced,  and the ‘quiz’ idiotic in places.

The forthcoming week covers the Genealogical Standard of Proof, and also DNA.  I’ll let you know…


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FutureLearn Course: Researching Your Family Tree – Week Two

This week the course addressed ‘Effective Search Techniques’, without first addressing what we might be researching, or indeed why.

This began by advising the creation of a timeline of events, creating a family tree (the first time that this has been mentioned), looking at the information gathered with a critical eye, and considering gaps and inconsistencies.  Where there are inconsistencies, the course suggests, consider whether these arise from primary or secondary sources.

All very well and good, but what are these sources?  So far this has not been explained.

(At this point, Dear Reader, you have obviously sensed my mounting frustration with the course.  And I am not alone in this…)

After a quick canter through a technique apparently known as ‘FAN’ (‘Friends, Associates and Neighbours’) – which I’ve always known as ‘Cluster’ genealogy – mindmapping (okay if you like that sort of thing – personally it drives me wild, and I’ve never seen that this is any different from just jotting down a list of Things To Do) and DNA (which we will, apparently, look at in more detail in a later week), we turned to names, variation in spellings, and ways to search databases.

I still maintain that this course is back-to-front.  Week Three looks at ‘major sources types’.   Perhaps we might then discover where to start.

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FutureLearn Course: Researching Your Family Tree – Week One.

I mentioned on 3rd February that I’d signed up on the FutureLearn online course “Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree”, and that I’d give weekly updates and comments on the course.

So – here we are at the end of week one.

To be quite honest, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag.  There are lots of links to useful websites (which I’ll add later to my page “Useful Websites”), and some useful explanations about documentary evidence:  the nature of primary, derived primary and secondary sources, issues that may arise, and an explanation of the difference between transcripts, abstracts and indices.  And this is all very good, and very important – and in fact I’ll deal with these issues in detail in later posts.

BUT – and this is a very big but indeed – I don’t think that the course has delivered what it promises. The modules for this week are entitled “Basics For The Absolute Beginner”, yet there has been no explanation of how to start tracing your family tree. It’s very important to know early on what the pitfalls are, but it’s equally important to address that simple question ‘How do I start?’ (and I’ve seen that question raised an awful lot of times in the last week.)  True, there are course participants from all over the world, so it’s well nigh impossible to explain what records exist for every single country, but the basic principles for starting out on your journey is always the same – start with what you know.

How to start out is explained on my page “Where Do I Start?  A Beginners Guide”, but in brief, start with yourself. Your birth certificate will give your parents’ names – the next step is to find their marriage certificate. This will, with luck, give you their ages and their respective fathers’ names. That’s probably the time to decide which line you want to follow (most people start with their father’s family, but you don’t have to) – and search for the birth certificate – then look for the parents’ marriage certificate – and keep on repeating this process. Fill in with death certificates (note that it can be tricky to identify the correct death cert). Use census returns for additional information. With a modicum of luck, this will take you back into the early 19th century.

Speak to relatives and find out what information they know or have – you may find they have old certificates, or photographs, or a family bible. Ask them for stories about the family (but be prepared to take these with a pinch of salt).

And when you’ve got a goodly collection of names from certificates, then that’s the time to ask yourself “How reliable is this evidence? Do I need any other documents to substantiate it – and if so, what documents do I need, and where do I find them?”



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On not giving up

Only last night I managed to solve a problem that had been bugging me for years.  My grandmother had told me that a relation of hers (and she didn’t know the name) had kept a farm on Goldthorn Hill, about half a mile from where I live now.  I managed to identify the buildings which seemed most likely, but without a name or even an approximate  date to go on, I couldn’t resolve this.  So it’s been on the back burner for about 20 years.

Until last night, when I sat down with a cup of tea to read “Accidents” – a study of accidents in 19th century Wolverhampton written by my good friend Jane Smith.  And there was my four-times great grandfather, Joseph Hartland of Pearson Street, owning a farm on Goldthorn Hill which he rented to a (named) relative of his.  It all fits. After 20 years.

The moral is: never give up.  The information you need may well be out there somewhere – it’s just a matter of finding it.

Jane’s book is available through Amazon – if you have relatives in Wolverhampton, I can thoroughly recommend it.

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