Burntwood Family History Group
   Home      Journal 2007 04 Volume 15 Number 3
Extracts from Burntwood Family History Group Journal
April 2007     
     Vol. 15 No. 3
  Contents of this issue.
From the Chair
Bucks FSH Open Day
Church Newsletters
News from the Secretary
Murphy’s Law in Genealogy
A Call from Down Under
Reviews of Guest Speakers’ Talks
The Resolutions of Henry Hyden Well
‘Sharpe’ Discovery
The Top Ten Worst Selling Genealogy Books
Arising from Coal Dust (Part 11)
Requests for Help
From the Chair

Dear Friends, I am delighted to be able to tell you that our trip to Kew planned for 23rd May will be going ahead. We have had a very good response this time, despite having to opt for a midweek visit. Jenny Lee has been working hard to ensure this outcome, and it was her letter which was published in the Lichfield Mercury that brought it to the attention of a wider public and has resulted in us getting a full coach. If you have missed out and would like to go on the reserve list, please contact Jenny on 01889 586 168 as soon as possible.

Those of you who have signed up need to make sure that Jenny knows whether you are planning to go to The National Archives or the Royal Horticultural Gardens. If you are opting to go to TNA you will need to have a Reader’s Ticket, which may be applied for in advance through Jenny, who has the necessary forms. This also applies to those of us who have out-of-date tickets and it will save valuable time on the day. Those of you wishing to visit the Gardens may be able to get a reduction of the entry fees by being in a party of at least ten people if you pay two weeks in advance but, again, Jenny needs to know in good time.

Those of you visiting Kew for the first time need to do a bit of preparation beforehand. I suggest you look at their website (www.nationalarchives.gov.uk) for information about their holdings. You can even order some documents prior to the visit, and these will be waiting for you on arrival, which will save a lot of time. I am sure everyone will be looking forward to the trip and I do hope you all have a great day out. Good hunting! Jane Leake

Bucks FSH Open Day

If anyone’s likely to be in the vicinity of Aylesbury in July, you might be interested in the following item we’ve received from Graham FK Taylor-Paddick, the vice chairman of Buckinghamshire Family History Society:

Bucks FHS will be running its annual open day on Saturday 28th July 2007, 10am to 4pm, at the Grange School, Wendover Way, Aylesbury (south-east of town between A413 and A41). Many attractions for Buckinghamshire researchers including full Bucks FHS library and databases, guest societies and commercial suppliers. Admission is free and there’s ample free parking. Up‑to‑date information can be found at www.bucksfhs.com/openday

Church Newsletters

Do they ever get anything right in church newsletters or bulletin boards? Judging by the sheer number of these bloopers circulating, it makes you wonder! Anyway, here’s another choice little selection...
The church will host an evening of fine dining, superb entertainment and gracious hostility.
Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24th in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.
Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.
For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
The church is glad to have with us today as our guest minister the Rev. Shirley Green, who has Mrs. Green with him. After the service we request that all remain in the sanctuary for the Hanging of the Greens.

News from the Secretary

Some of you will already be aware that the ONS (Office of National Statistics) are closing some of their existing offices and transferring the services to the TNA (National Archives). They have sent out a news release which states that ‘ONS intends to close its research facility, currently located at the FRC (Family Records Centre) in Islington, and instead to make indexes available at TNA in Kew. The relocation is expected to be complete by April 2008’. This will mean that most family history research material will be concentrated at Kew, but certificates will not be available there. To obtain full registration details it will be necessary to purchase a certificate from Southport or the registration district in which the event took place. It is expected that full digitisation of the indexes will not have been completed by the time of the move to Kew, so the registers may be available on microfiche until such time as they are digitised and can be viewed on computer screens, due to lack of space for the existing binders.

In the long term, this will probably be a considerable improvement in the accessibility of family history research material from governmental sources, as it will be concentrated at Kew and it will not longer be necessary for our coach trips to be divided between Kew and Central London. Experience of previous changes would, however, seem to suggest that there will be problems initially under the new system. We can only hope that the ONS organise the transfer more efficiently than they have done with some earlier schemes


Journal format

When Kaye wrote to us about the omission of her details from the Interests List addresses, she was kind enough to compliment the producers of the Journal on the new format. Unfortunately, Kaye seems to be jinxed as the letter printed out on my computer with the last words of each line not being visible. So, Kaye, when you read this please bear with me if it is not exactly as you wrote it:

‘Whilst writing may I commend you all on a very interesting Journal. I am finding the new style of journal very pleasing. Your résumé of the speakers’ evenings has made me wish I could have been there (unfortunately I am a remote member and not healthy enough to travel down to Staffordshire). I also loved the little humorous snippets interspersed throughout the Journal, resulting in a very enjoyable journey through the whole publication.

‘I must admit, even though I use computer technology every day, I do prefer to do my leisure reading from a well-produced written publication. To save group funds, though, if the Journal could be laid out in a format as interesting as the booklet, then receiving it by email would enable members to either read the Journal on the computer screen or print it out themselves. Obviously, if members printed it out it would save so many trees etc, although personally I do use the back of old (letters) to print on for home use. I must admit to still preferring the (plop) on the mat when the mail arrives via the Royal Mail, rather than the (sight) of an email arriving!!!’

Does anyone else feel like contributing to the debate over whether we should give members the option of receiving the Journal by ‘snail-mail’ or ‘email’? Please feel free to let us know.

Relevant to the above, I recently received a letter from one of our ‘exchange journal’ societies in Canada, asking us if we would like to received their journal in digital format, so other people are thinking along those lines. In their case, we prefer to receive a paper copy so that it can be made available to members at meetings via our library, if they wish to read it at home.

Journal cover February 2007
Who spotted the error in the caption to the cover picture of the UK’s smallest public park? To set the record straight, I spotted it, but not before the print run was completed, so I decided it was an unnecessary expense to scrap 150 A4 colour prints. The name of the park in the picture is not Victoria Park, it is Prince’s Park. There are two plaques attached to the railings, one of which is provided by ‘Parkwatch’ and the other by Lichfield District Council Leisure Services. The plaque tells us that the park was created in 1863 to commemorate the marriage of Prince Albert Edward to Princess Alexandra of Denmark


Requests for information

Bob Jackson, 51, Church Drive, Ravenshead, Notts., NG15 9FG (telephone number and email address available from me if you have information and wish to contact him by those means) is researching his family in Lynn, Shenstone, from at least the 17th century. In the early 19th century they were farming Cranebrook Farm and were still farming there in 1900. Bob’s ancestor was Joseph Jackson, who left Lynn to work in the coal mines in the 1850s. At least three generations of his family lived in Chasetown area, with addresses in Bull’s Row (Ball’s Row?), Queen Street and May Terrace. Joseph left Chasetown in 1902 for Hucknall, where he worked as a colliery under-manager. Other names in Bob’s research, who are linked by marriage, are as follows:

Sarah Nevil (Neville) c. 1730; Mariam Winters c 1770; Mary Freeman b. 1802; Sarah Horobin b. 1827; Harriett Ann Cooper b. 1854 and Frances Mary Bee b. 1879.

The last paragraph of Bob’s letter reads, ‘Where can I find information to put flesh on the bones of my research. For example – what was life like for a mining family in Chasetown? Is there any way of discovering which colliery they worked at, are there any colliery staff records available, where did they go to school. etc? Any suggestions anyone could make would be much appreciated.’

I have passed on this request to several members of the group whom I know have some of this information – but what about you?

Eve Bloor, Member No. 193, has lots of information about the Craddock family in this area but would welcome any more that members may have come across in their research. She has sent me two A4 sheets of her Craddock ancestry going back to mid-17th century, so if anyone wishes to contact me first, I can tell you whether or not she has the information already.

Murphy’s Law in Genealogy

Murphy’s Law is that curious phenomenon that’s operating when...

Copies of old newspapers have holes occurring only over the surnames for which you are looking.
The last will and testament you need is in the safe on board the Titanic.
Your grandmother’s maiden name, which you have searched for over four years, was on a letter in a box in the attic all the time.

A Call from Down Under

Although I have three close friends who have been very keen genealogists over many years, I had not been interested enough to look up my own ancestors. However, that changed after my sister returned from a holiday in Australia where she had met a cousin’s daughter who wanted to know our maternal (Jarvis) family tree. We didn’t know anything about it, beyond our uncles’ and aunts’ families, and the last of these elderly relatives had died in 1988. But after talking to my friends and using the free website (www.familysearch.org) from the Mormons, I was able to trace my mother’s family back through London to my great-grandfather’s birth in East Sussex in 1841.

That made me wonder how far back I could go in looking up my paternal (Derry) ancestors and, by a strange coincidence, when I was talking to my Australian niece once-removed, she gave me the name of a Brownhills Derry who had researched a lot of these ancestors. So I got in touch with Sue Lote (née Derry), who was tremendously helpful in setting out for me many generations of my ancestors. But when you’re back to the 18th century church records, it becomes more difficult to fit names, with fair certainty, into the family tree.

Being a pensioner and having a computer, I thought that here was a hobby for those wet days and dark nights when my main hobby, gardening, was not practical. Knowing now that my ancestors had lived in the Lichfield-Cannock-Rugeley triangle for many generations, I decided that if I hoped to be able to fit together all the different branches of the Derry Family I would need to amass as much data as possible. When I was a pupil at Lichfield Grammar School in 1943 I was known as Derry No 6, but I did not know how distant from me these other five were. This was another challenge for me to resolve.

I had further luck when I discovered that a Family History Group was thriving in my birthplace of Burntwood. I joined forthwith and started collecting all the Derry data that I could:

All BFHG church CDs and record books – with Derry details put into church lists.
International Genealogical Index (IGI) – the Staffs entries of baptisms and marriages were copied from library microfiches.
National Burial Index (NBI) – Staffs entries were copied.
Public Record Office (PRO) – entries of Staffs births, marriages and deaths from 1837-2004 were copied. Living in Caterham, Surrey, on the outskirts of London, it was fairly easy for me to make long day visits to Islington and copy out these entries.
Some of the ten-yearly census records (1841-1901) and, in particular, the 1881 one which is on the Mormon website. These are very useful in confirming families, but often a child’s name may be missing because of the birth and death both happening in the ten-year gap.

Over a period of about 18 months, I collected details of approximately 1,600 births/baptisms, 1,000 marriages and 860 deaths/burials. I keep these in a loose-leaf master file in date order, with all details on a line. Now I had to categorise them, in order to be able to fit these people into the family tree.

My first sorting was to start a numbered family table that gave:

Parents’ names and wedding date if known, their village and list of children with baptism date/church. These details help to resolve whether, for instance, there are two William/Mary families overlapping in time, but who are usually in different parishes.

Then by adding 20-30 years or so to a man’s birth date, I look for a marriage date and wife’s name that leads to another family generation. With death/burial dates and age, I can look for the appropriate birthdate, but up to the early 19th century and the start of state records these figures could be approximate, as people were often illiterate. From 1837-1874, BMD records are incomplete, as until 1875 it was not compulsory to register.

To be able to match these BMD details with family numbers I gave each placed family a generation-letter and family-letter. So, for my most distant family it was ‘A’ generation, with Al, A2, A3 etc. being the children and any families descending from the males being BA1-4 say, BB1-9, BC1-5, etc. with the appropriate family number put on the linking line on the family tree.

I evolved this system in order to avoid double-use of birth names with marriage names and death names. I gave my entries in my master-file the family no./child no. if they had been placed into a family (e.g. F66/4 – which is the 4th child in Family 66). Then, later, when I had started to slot the families together, I could also add, say, EC4 to this person’s entry – which meant ‘E’ generation/’C’ family/4th child

I was now starting to type out these generation branches of families onto spreadsheets on my computer, with three screen pages printed out compressed and then glued together to give an A3 page for usage and copying. When family generations had reached the bottom or right side of the page, I just annotated the new page number where I had carried on with the descendants.

By July 1911, state records had become more helpful, as birth registrations gave the mother’s maiden name, thus enabling one to fit families together easily. I therefore started a second family table. Also in 1911, marriage registrations give the spouse surname, so by looking up this surname and reference, one can obtain the first name of the spouse. From April 1969, death registrations give the birth date, thus providing better accuracy in matching names.

This system may seem complicated, but by careful book-keeping and having a unique code for every placed person in the family tree, it avoids double-usage, which professional systems like BrothersKeeper and Legacy do not indicate. I also use a master index which references a family’s unique code to family no. and to family tree page, and also a large database table that lists alphanumerically by unique code all the placed Derrys and spouses with birth, marriage and death dates, church and state references. I am able to rearrange this table in all sorts of ways, to help to place more of my ancestors.

So far I have been able to place about 1,330 children into 370 families on 26 A3 pages, but a lot of my 20th century families have, like myself, moved out of Staffordshire, so I am needing to spread my records further afield to be able to place more of them. My paternal ancestor tree goes back as far as Thomas, born 1708, and the maternal one, with a single transition (through Yates) into the Derry tree again, to Robert, born c.1575. I suggest that to try and complete a full family tree (i.e. downwards and sideways), you need:

1) A fairly uncommon surname.
2) Family generations that have lived in a particular area for 2-3 centuries if possible.
3) A computer for surfing genealogy websites such as www.familysearch.org, www.ancestry.com, www.findmypast.com, etc.
4) Visits to a good records office to look at church registers.
5) Lots of spare time!
Ray Derry, born Burntwood 1932

Slogans for Genealogists

Here are a couple more suggestions for sayings genealogists could hang on the wall...

My family coat of arms ties at the back ... is that normal?
How can one ancestor cause so much TROUBLE?

Reviews of Monthly Talks

February 2007: Mark Frampton on ‘The redemption of Eliza Jane’ - Reviewer: Jan Green
Mark Frampton, of the Ancestral Rescue Club in Drayton Bassett, came to talk to us about his great-aunt Eliza Jane Scotham, his family’s most notorious ancestor. He was able to illustrate her bizarre story with many slides, beginning with a 1920s photograph of this seemingly respectable lady.

It started when a distant Canadian relative found an intriguing article about her in the Times index of 1889 and sent it to Mark. He was surprised – to say the least – by the information uncovered by his subsequent research. Eliza Jane was known to have been a teacher who had educated Mark’s grandmother, her god-daughter, at a private school in Wolverhampton. She had been regarded by later generations as an august, ultra-respectable personage who was a great credit to the family. In fact, nothing could have been further from the truth.

Initially Eliza Jane had appeared to live an exemplary life, so her family had been utterly confounded by later developments in her career. It started in the 1880s when she and her sister Alice were running a school in Wolverhampton, and Alice brought a charge of ‘alleged malicious prosecution’ against Mr Mills, a local businessman. She claimed that a false charge he had brought against her, of defrauding him of a £43 cheque, had ruined the school and caused all their pupils to leave.

In fact, Mills was not certain which of the two sisters had been responsible, as they were of very similar appearance. Locally it was a very significant event, as cases of slander were taken very seriously in those days. At the end of the trial, the ladies were awarded £1,000 and the judge complimented Mr Mills because he had expressed regret.

But this was not the end of the story, and the citizens of Wolverhampton eventually had cause to regret their harsh treatment of poor Mr Mills.

When they moved to Kidderminster, Eliza Jane and Alice were regarded as model Sunday School teachers, with two classes of girls placed under their care. Eliza Jane in particular was held in very high esteem, with clergymen regarding her as an earnest Christian. When one lady teacher transgressed the rules, Eliza Jane was cited as an example for other teachers to copy. In September 1889, Eliza Jane took a job as governess at the home of a man who went on to become Lord Mayor of Kidderminster. Later she was asked by another school to take over for a couple of weeks because she was regarded as such a fine, upstanding character.

Then the Wolverhampton Chronicle of October 1889 recorded that there was a bank robbery in Bridgnorth, following which a smart, intelligent woman was arrested. Disguised as a nurse, she had forged a cheque for £210 at the Metropolitan & Birmingham Bank at Bridgnorth. The woman turned out to be Eliza Jane Scotham!

Mark displayed sketches from newspapers concerning her court case in Stafford, three months later. Immense detail was cited in the newspapers of the day, providing a treasure trove for future Scotham genealogists.

Shocking details of Eliza Jane’s secret past emerged during the inquiry. Doctors thought that she was a pathological fantasist. She had written many strange letters, including one complaining to the vicar of St Marks, Wolverhampton, that a Roman Catholic had asked to marry her for £100,000. During the period she had lived in Kidderminster, she had also forged letters purporting to be from certain ladies of the district, had tried to defraud a Mr Perrin, and after she had visited the Talbot Hotel a money box was found to have gone missing.

Eliza Jane was sentenced to nine months hard labour. The 1891 census records her working as a teacher at an Industrial School, where girls who had been in trouble were taught by teachers who had also been in prison. She had eventually pitched up at an orphanage run by Lady Cavendish, a distant cousin of the Duchess of Devonshire, in Hampstead Hill Gardens. When the Cavendish Home closed in 1931, a Bishop’s Tribute had been presented to Miss Scotham for her work there.

Eliza Jane died in her 79th year in Willow Road, Hampstead, and her gravestone credits her with founding the Cavendish Home for Girls. Mark said that he had been relieved to discover that his great-aunt had apparently managed to live down her shameful past and had eventually ‘made good’.

March 2007: Roger Knowles on ‘Original documents for research’ -Reviewer: Jan Green

There can be no talk as absorbing and enjoyable as one by a real aficionado, and Roger Knowles is clearly devoted to his collection of original documents and ephemera. In his fascinating talk we learned that under this broad umbrella is included a vast potpourri of miscellanea – newspapers, legal documents, wage books, photographs, posters, flyers, advertising materials, trade cards, tickets, menus, timetables, programmes and all manner of apparently throwaway items.

Roger illustrated for us, via historic newspapers and other paper collectables, how such items illustrate the times in which our ancestors lived and help us to put together a picture of their lives. His collection is extensive, so I can give only the merest flavour of his talk.

His earliest document is dated 1351, came from County Durham and was written in medieval Latin on vellum. He paid just £30 for it at a Postcard Fair in London, to a dealer who obviously wasn’t aware of the its true historic value. Other ancient documents in his possession are a 1658 inventory of the goods and chattels of Elizabeth Bailey of Middlesex, a list of title deeds for the previous 500 years for a convent established in Saxon times and a 1689 portrait of William III and Queen Mary on a document sent to the Lord Lieutenant of Huntingdon, regarding the Lieutenancy of Huntingdonshire.

Old newspapers were shown to be a unique resource in reconstructing the past. Until the 1720s, only the gentry had access to newspapers such as The London Gazette, and news was passed by word-of-mouth in the towns and villages. In some later newspapers we read shocking stories, such as accounts of the London Workhouse putting on view nearly 180 children to manufacturers willing to employ them, and travelling gypsies stealing children to sell as slaves to beggars. Accounts of crime included arrests of military deserters, burglaries and highway robberies. Punishments for all misdemeanours were harsh; in one case, theft of a line of handkerchiefs led to the perpetrator being transported to the American plantations.

Advertisements and bills were also shown to be grist for the historian’s mill. This kind of  ephemera was originally a by-product of exuberant capitalism – advertising material made possible by advances in printing. Examples included the Illustrated London News’s advertisements for Beecham’s Pills in the 1840s; a shop’s printed paper bags advertising an antiques fair at Stafford; and grocers’ and tea dealers’ bags and posters listing the prices of their products.

And so much more. There were Stourbridge wagon books contained a list of Black Country jobs in 1777, 1784, 1768 and 1794 – superb archive material giving many individuals’ names; a very rare Irish 1827 Quaker marriage certificate containing 102 signatures for the declaring of the marriage; extremely rare 1847-1947 Cannock Chase Colliery archives; a 1906 Book of Poor Officers for the Cannock Union; a wartime savings card for 1940 ... and possibly the youngest items in the collection: Brownhills Music Festival programmes dated 1959, 1960 and 1961.

Roger Knowles was able to show us how, in their fascinating diversity, such documents and other items reflect people’s everyday lives. Many of the pieces we were shown were originally produced for some immediate, practical purpose, with no thought that they would be preserved for future generations to see. In today’s throwaway age, I wonder how much of our daily lives will be revealed to our ancestors by what we leave behind?

April 2007: Alan Tong on ‘The Parish Chest’ - Reviewer: Pam Woodburn

We were happy to welcome an old friend as our speaker this month. Alan Tong has entertained us several times in the past with his light-hearted and knowledgeable  approach to some of the ways of tracing family history.

He started his talk by telling us of some of the difficulties that had been solved in his own research by using the Parish Chest, and described some of the documents that we might find there. He also stressed the importance of putting the flesh on the bones of our research in order to discover what really went on in the lives of our ancestors.

He explained how the parish played an all-important role in the lives of our ancestors. Since 1605, the parish had been responsible for the poor and needy within its boundaries. He gave us a description of how the officers of the parish met for their annual vestry meeting on Easter Tuesday every year, when the various jobs within the parish were allocated and its accounts were opened for examination.

He went on to describe some of these jobs and explained why some were far less popular than others. Among those mentioned were the highway supervisor, the parish constable, the sexton, and the parish clerk (by far the busiest man in the parish). He also mentioned many documents that could be tracked down in parish records and how they can help our research by  giving  us further details of the daily lives of people at those times.

In the course of his talk he mentioned removal and settlement orders, church warden and overseers’ accounts, apprenticeship, the poor law unions and workhouses, and he explained what we might find in these records.

Another helpful tip concerned the tracking down the errant fathers of illegitimate children, often a stumbling block in our research. We learned that by consulting the records of the overseers of the poor, he was able to track payments into the parish and payments made to unmarried mothers. He also gave us tips about the methods of naming illegitimate children which might indicate the father’s identity.

I’m sure that many group members gained a great deal of useful information from Alan’s talk.

The Resolutions of Henry Hyden Well

We often come across things in genealogical research that are both frustrating and make no obvious sense. But perhaps the following offers some degree of explanation. It could be that this was more commonplace than we can imagine...

It is New Year’s Eve 1852 and Henry Hyden Well sits at his desk by candlelight. He dips his quill pen in ink and begins to writes his New Year’s resolutions...
1. No man is truly well-educated unless he learns to spell his name at least three different ways within the same document. I resolve to give the appearance of being extremely well-educated in the coming year.
2. I resolve to see to it that all of my children will have the same Christian names that my ancestors have used for six generations in a row.
3. My age is no one’s business but my own. I hereby resolve to never list the same age or birth year twice on any document.
4. I resolve to have each of my children baptised in a different church – either in a different faith or in a different parish. Every third child will not be baptised at all or will be baptised by an itinerant minister who keeps no records.
5. I resolve to move to a new town, new county or even new country at least once every ten years – just before those pesky enumerators come around asking their silly questions.
6. I will make every attempt to reside in counties and towns where no vital records are maintained, or where the records office burns down every few years.
7. I resolve to join an obscure religious cult that does not believe in record-keeping or in participating in military service.
8. When the tax collector comes to my door I’ll loan him my pen, which has been dipped in rapidly fading blue ink.
9. I resolve that if my beloved wife Mary should die, I will marry another Mary.
10. I resolve not to make a will. Who needs to spend money on a lawyer?

A ‘Sharpe’ Discovery? - by Pam Turner

200 years ago, in 1806, my 3x great-grandfather Richard Crosbie was born. Richard was a coach trimmer/painter by trade and, according to all the censuses from 1851-81, his birthplace was Doncaster in Yorkshire. Research into his marriage to Caroline Brown revealed that the event had taken place in Doncaster on 5th July 1830. However, my initial research into finding a christening record on the IGI or in the Doncaster parish records had drawn a blank. Looking further afield, in the rest of Yorkshire, had also proved fruitless.

So I widened my research to the rest of England. I found an entry on the IGI for the christening of a Richard Crosby on 6th July 1806 in Berwick-on-Tweed, Northumberland, to parents James and Amelia. Following this up, the IGI showed that a marriage had taken place in Doncaster on 15th September 1805, between a James Crosby and Amelia Egley. As one of Richard’s marriage witnesses in 1830 had been an Egley, I decided that these entries definitely warranted further investigation.

First of all I decided to obtain full details from the Berwick-on-Tweed christening record. I have to admit I hadn’t expected to find very much information, as parish records for the early 1800s are not noted for being highly informative. But I was proved wrong, as Richard’s christening record turned out to be the most detailed I have ever come across. The entry read:
July 6th 1806, Richard Crosby, (born June 18) 1st son of James Crosby, Soldier, native of Ireland and his wife Amelia Egly native of Doncaster
After receiving this information via a very helpful Northumberland researcher I was ecstatic, not only because I was certain I had found Richard’s birth details, but also because I had found an ancestor who had possibly taken part in the Napoleonic Wars. Being a huge fan of the ‘Sharpe’ books and television series, it had been one of my greatest wishes since starting my family history research to find a soldier from the Napoleonic era, though I had never really expected that he would materialise. Potentially, therefore, here I was with the prospect of having my own ‘Richard Sharpe’.
But how should I go about researching a soldier from that era, to see if there were any similarities with the fictional character?
I decided to go back to my original decision to obtain more information from James and Amelia’s marriage, and therefore obtained a copy of the details from Doncaster’s parish records. Although it did not contain a great deal of information, the document did tell me that James was in a foot regiment stationed in Bridlington at that time, and also that the couple had married by licence.

I then requested a copy of the marriage bond and allegation, which I hoped might tell me more. This was obtained from the Borthwick Institute at York University, and proved very useful. The bond stated that James, a bachelor over the age of 22 was a ‘serjeant’ in the 8th regiment of foot, and Amelia was a spinster of Doncaster parish aged over 21.

Finding out James’s regiment was a huge piece of information that enabled me to find the next and most vital documentation in establishing details about his life as a soldier. The National Archives website has a wonderful search facility and just by typing in the name of James Crosbie, I was able to access info from their catalogue. The entry that came up told me they held the military records for one such person who was born in Ireland, and who was a serjeant in the 8th regiment of foot serving from 1795 to 1820. With the certainty that this was my James, I requested a copy of the record.

When the documentation eventually came I was initially disappointed, as there was only one sheet of paper and the writing was not easy to decipher. However, after perusing it carefully I realised that it did indeed contain a wealth of information.

Firstly, it told me that James had been born at Castletown, County Westmeath in Ireland, and had enlisted for unlimited service with the 1st Battalion of the 8th Regiment of foot at nearby Mullingar on the 9th day of May 1795, aged 17. The next information I gleaned was that James had served after the age of 18 for 23 years and 360 days, of which 18 years and 58 days had been as a serjeant, 1 year 265 days as a corporal and 4 years 32 days as a private. Prior to reaching the age of 18 he had served 1 year, therefore his total service amounted to 5 days short of 25 years.

The next thing listed on the document was his general conduct as a soldier. This was reported as being ‘Very good, always conducted himself as an honest, sober and useful non-commissioned officer in the field and every other aspect’. This was followed by James’s signature to say that he acknowledged receiving all his clothing, pay and all just demands from his time of entry to date of discharge.

After this declaration there followed a paragraph giving his description on discharge. He was listed as aged 41, 5' 8" in height, with brown hair, grey eyes and a fair complexion, and his trade was ‘labourer’. Finally, the sheet stated that his length of service had been sworn out. It was signed by his commanding officer on the 29th day of September 1819 at Corfu and then confirmed at Horse Guards on 2nd May 1820.

So all this wonderful information confirmed that James had indeed been a soldier throughout all of the Napoleonic Wars – but the question was, in which battles did he take part? Was he in the Peninsula with Wellington? To which other places might he have been sent during his 25 years service? Returning to my initial thoughts on whether James shared any similarities with the fictitious Richard Sharpe, initially I have to say that it does not look very promising. However, my next move will be to look into the history of the 8th Regiment of foot. I hope that if I can trace where and when the regiment was stationed throughout James’s 25 years of service, perhaps details from their movements will throw some light onto his role in the Napoleonic era... to be continued!

The Top Ten Worst Selling Genealogy Books - (from the ‘Family History UK’ website)
10. Ten Easy Steps to Making Your Own Coffin
9. The Fine Art of Graveyard Maintenance
8. Genealogy Sourcerybook – Trace your ancestors using spells, potions, and incantations
7. HairNetting Your Ancestors – How to dress your deceased loved one for those post-mortem photos
6. The Dead Book – Everything you wanted to know about dead people but were afraid to ask
5. In Search Of Your Canadian Ruts – Or does your Canadian family follow a seasonal mating ritual?
4. The Complete Guide to Erasing Your Family Tree – Or how to survive in the witness protection programme
3. The Family Tree Defective – Tracing your crazy relatives
2. Cyndi’s Lisp – Family history research using those recessive genes
And the number one worst selling genealogy book:
1. DNA Diggin’ – Use of the shovel in obtaining DNA samples

Arising from Coal Dust - by Alan Brookes - Part 11: Interesting pursuits

My brothers and I were very adventurous in pursuing activities to keep ourselves busy. Sometimes our inquisitiveness would land us in danger, as on the occasion we found a disused World War II arms dump.

A company situated on the Chasetown industrial estate traded in surplus military machinery and plant, and on one of our forays across land that used to be Cannock Chase No. 5 Colliery we stumbled across a massive arsenal of small arms ammunition. This was contained in a conical mound, about eight feet high and twenty feet across, on land completely unguarded or fenced.

We started rummaging through the pile, finding mortar rocket shells, grenades, strips of machine gun bullets and thousands of loose cartridge shells and conical bullets. We then realised that they all seemed to be intact, and we had been clambering over the mound in our hobnailed boots! We were not sure if all the ammunition on that dump was live, but we were extremely lucky to come away unscathed. When we visited the site a few days later to show Dad, we found that the ammunition had all been cleared away.

We were not angels, and a common pastime for Peter and me was ‘scrumping’. We would trespass into fruit orchards to ‘scrump’ the apples and pears. We also knew where the best wild fruit trees were – Meg Lane and Rake Hill in Boney Hay had the best damson trees in the area. We became experts at climbing trees and shuffling along the branches to get at the fruit.

A few hundred yards from my house at The Crescent, Boney Hay, was the Redmoor Brook, a fast-flowing stream which ran along the bottom of Gentleshaw Common. The water provided many hours of interest, in searching for all sorts of natural local creatures. The water abounded with tadpoles, newts, lizards, minnows, dragonflies and many others. A favourite pastime was ‘stanking’ the brook by collecting rocks and boulders and forming a dam across the stream by the footbridge. After we had cemented the rocks together with mud and clay, the water would reach a depth of about 2'6". This would provide a proving ground for the first attempts at swimming by many of our friends at Boney Hay.

One small drawback was that, after being immersed in the water for about ten minutes, our flesh assumed the natural colour of the soils in the area – red ochre. After an afternoon romping in the ‘Redmoor Brook’, we all resembled Red Indians, due to the high level of oxidised iron in the surrounding sands and soils. The sand in this part of Cannock Chase was laid down 200-220 million years ago, in the Triassic geological period, by an inland river system and is known as ‘bunter sandstone and pebble beds’.

One particular warm summer’s afternoon an irate farmer, Mr Dixon, came charging up to us as we splashed in the brook. He proceeded to destroy our ‘stank’ by clawing away the rocks and letting the water gush down the stream. What we hadn’t realised were the consequences of the brook’s higher water level further upstream, where the impounded water had backed up, overflowed its banks and run across the farmer’s fields. We had innocently diverted the course of the brook and, by doing so, caused damage to his crops. He threatened to report us to the police, but we never heard any more about it.

This didn’t stop our fun because, the next time we stanked the brook, we formed an overflow channel in the top of our ‘stank’ for the excess water to escape down stream. This kept the water at a constant depth and allowed the brook’s natural course to remain unhindered.

To coincide with the finish of each August bank holiday, Pat Collins’s travelling funfair arrived at the ‘Chase Wakes’. Pat Collins MP had died in 1943, but his two sons now controlled the fair. There were rides of all kinds, with hoop-la stalls, brandy snaps, candyfloss and other amusements. The fair was situated on the Cannock Chase Colliery sports ground, now the Burntwood Recreation Centre. The most daring ride was the ‘Big Wheel’, a Ferris wheel some 60 feet tall. We called it the Big Wheel to differentiate from other smaller Ferris wheels at the fair.

It was considered an achievement to be able to return to school and boast that you had ridden on the Big Wheel at the Chase Wakes. I summoned up my courage and entered the swinging carriage along with my friend Alan Westwood. I felt safer having someone sitting with me who was older and more experienced. As soon as the wheel was moving, and the carriage attained a great height, I felt a terrible unease. We were not strapped in and, as the carriage swung and rotated on its squeaking pivots, I was sure I would tumble out. The wheel halted to let people on the carriage at the bottom and we were stopped at the very summit, with the carriage rotating and the whole wheel slightly rocking from side to side. I thought that I was surely doomed and was about to start crying when suddenly my friend beat me to it by crying and bawling out loud, “Let me off! Let me off!”. Looking at him with disbelief, I immediately lost my respect for him as a protector figure. I was so shocked that I didn’t even think about crying myself. I managed to keep my fars inside until we reached the bottom, where we were relieved of our terror by the operator. He was quite annoyed at having to make a special stop just for us. I have never been on a Ferris wheel since.

On Saturdays after finishing our paper rounds, Peter and I used to cycle to Lichfield swimming baths, a small, single pool opposite Christchurch Gardens, off the Walsall Road. The attendant was ‘Taffy’ Hughes, a small Welshman of heavy accent and affable nature. He extended enough control to be firm, but left sufficient scope for you to have an enjoyable time. You knew where the line was that wasn’t to be crossed before incurring the threat of being thrown out. The changing rooms were small cubicles, used by girls and boys, situated all around the edge of the pool. I think at least half of Mr. Hughes’ job involved constantly checking for ‘goings on’ in those cubicles. After all, in those days you had to take every opportunity to meet your girlfriend where and when you could. I think that’s what most of us went all the way to Lichfield baths for – besides swimming, that is.

I became quite proficient at swimming at school, particularly long distance swimming. My friend Malcolm Ingry and I regularly swam 50 lengths of Lichfield swimming baths without pausing for breath. When the swimming baths were closed, we used the Anglesey Canal at Wharf Lane, Brownhills. There Norton Pool, now known as Chasewater, feeds the West Midland canals system, topping up and maintaining the canal water level. The canal was great for swimming there, being about ten feet deep and 25 feet across. This was where the canal barges used to be loaded with coal direct from Cannock Chase No.1 Colliery in the fifties The water was usually clear, except where the underwater plants grew. These were to be avoided, as they seemed to wrap themselves around my legs as I swam by them; it was as though they were carnivorous and trying to drag me under the water.

Venturing to try swimming at other locations further afield, Malcolm and I travelled by bus to Keeper’s Pool, at Sutton Park. It was November and the lake was deserted. Entry was free, so we had sole use of the diving boards above the lake. We both loved diving, always trying to outdo each other by performing more difficult and daring dives. We raced to the top board, 15 feet above the water. Diving in together, and hitting the water unusually hard, we both received bruises to our arms and bodies, because our entry had broken a thin layer of ice that lay just beneath the surface. The shock of entering ice-cold water was like a thousand needles all sticking in my skin at once, and upon surfacing I cried out in pain. In order to get back to the bank we had to progressively break the ice sheet piece by piece, to carve out a path of clear water. We immediately clambered out and dried off. Malcolm’s face and lips were blue and I’m sure mine were the same. With chattering teeth and trembling bodies, we both exclaimed, “No wonder the place was deserted!”

Requests for Help

Janet Ralph (email: mick.ralph@rya-online.net) writes:

Ø I wonder if you can help me with my family research? I am interested in finding out more about my Brimble/Plimmer families who were in the area from 1881, coal miners by trade. Much of the information I have comes originally from the late John Brimble of Tipton, MBE, founder member of the Black Country Museum, who also came from the same line of descent. My information does not go further than the 1901 census, and I am interested in tracing more recent members of the family and also to find out in which of the many mines in the area they are likely to have worked. Thanking you in advance for your help.

More details:

·     Jane Brimble married Josiah Plimmer, miner (8 children: more details available). 1881 address: Chase Terrace, Rugeley Rd, Burntwood.

·     James Brimble, coal miner, carter. Died 1891 age 35.

·     Charles Brimble, miner, married Julia Wright (5 children: more details available). 1881 address: Boney Hay, Back of Bells (would this be a pit or a pub?), 1891: 30 Rugeley Road. Charles married again in 1896 at St Michael’s, Brereton to Mary Ann Brindley, formerly Smith. Family were said to be devout Methodists.

·     Thomas Brimble, 1881 address: Boney Hay, Back of Bells; 1891: Boney Hay; 1901: Chase Town. Coal miner, and in 1901 ran a shop, selling boots and clogs to miners. married Lucy Hindley.

Stuart Turner (email: stfr@o-turner.freeserve.co.uk) writes:

Would anyone have a picture of the Chasetown County Primary School blazer badge from the mid to late 1950s that I could copy? The Labrador dog on the badge was my family pet, ‘Major’, who used to visit the school, looking for me.

Incident at Lichfield Workhouse

Jan Green found the following in the Mercury, dated Friday August 1st 1902:

Lichfield City Police. Thursday. Before the Mayor.

Destroyed His Clothes

Morris Riordan, sailor, no fixed abode, a native of Australia, was charged with destroying his clothing at the Workhouse the same morning. Evidence having been given by Tramp Master Millington, and an inmate named Bevan, the man was sentenced to 14 days hard labour. He gave as his reason that he was unable to break 13 cwt. of stone on dry bread.