Ancestry.co.uk have released another exciting record collection on their UK site. The National Probate Calendar serves as an index to wills proved and administrations granted after 1858 and although the database is not complete yet it is still going to be a major boost for UK researchers.
Even though the calendar is only an index it does provide a great deal of information on the deceased. They may not look much, but those few brief lines can tell you a lot about the deceased, take for example the entry for my 3x great-grandfather John FAIRS:
FAIRS John of 6 Park-road Henfield Sussex agricultural labourer died 27 November 1915 Probate Chichester 11 December to George Shepherd private 4th Royal Sussex regiment. Effects £982 19s. 2d.
There is so much information there. Name, address, occupation, date of death, where and when probate was granted and to whom (his son-in-law) and their occupation. Also how much the estate was worth, hopefully dispelling the myth that a humble agricultural labourer would have nothing of value to leave in a will.
Details will vary, but these index entries will often help fill in details or clarify research. In the example above, I had no idea that George SHEPHERD was serving in the 4th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment, that fact should help me identify him amongst dozens of George SHEPHERDs who also served during WW1.
These records have been available previously in selected locations (I have previously accessed them on microfiche at the West Sussex Record Office), but genealogist have been waiting a long time for them to be available online. I only hope the Probate Registry can cope with the increased demand for copies of wills this release is almost certainly going to create.
This should be a Tombstone Tuesday post, but I couldn’t wait that long. Today I finally located the headstone of Mary Ann and John FAIRS, my 3x great-grandparents.
As you can see it is not in great condition, it is at the eastern end of the churchyard at Henfield, Sussex, and on previous visits I have not been able to find it because that section of the churchyard has been overgrown. The photo below shows what it was like in June last year, the headstone is in the section on the left-hand side.
I knew if I was patient the grass would die back over winter, rather than me having to trample my way through. The problem was that it has been so wet and cold that I have not been able to get there until now.
I should add that I did have some help finding it. The churchyard had previously been transcribed for the Sussex Family History Group, so I already had a transcription of the headstone, but that wasn’t the same as seeing it for myself.
I was fiddling around with Family Historian last night and then in Excel, producing a list of the top-ten surnames in my family tree.
I thought this was going to be a mostly pointless exercise, purely for fun and curiosity, but it has highlighted an imbalance in my research, which I now wonder whether I should try and put right.
The top-ten surnames (really top-eleven surnames), with the number of individuals in my family tree, are as follows:
1. TROWER (127)
2. GASSON (104)
3. MITCHELL (84)
4. FAIRS (45)
5. BOXALL (38)
6. KINGHORN (28)
6. VINALL (28)
8. BATEMAN (27)
9. GEERING (26)
10. DRIVER (25)
10. HEMSLEY (25)
The first three names are no surprise, after all they are the surnames of three of my grandparents, the surprising thing is that my fourth grandparent’s name is HEMSLEY, right down at the bottom of the list.
I don’t know quite why I feel that this imbalance is wrong, but I certainly feel I should invest some more time on it so that it moves up the chart. It wouldn’t be difficult to add lots more HEMSLEYs to my tree, but it needs to be done with purpose rather than just adding everyone I can find.
I am going to add the task of reviewing my HEMSLEY line to my to-do list, seeing what meaningful work I can do on the family. I am sure there are some interesting people and stories waiting to be discovered in Framfield, Sussex.
I’ve been updating my diary for the first few months of the year, and it looks like I shall be quite busy attending family history events. Like last years most of the events are at the beginning of the year, but I am sure I will find something else to do for the rest of the year.
The Sussex and South London Family History Fair
(14th February 2010)
This small one-day fair is held at the K2 Leisure Centre, Crawley, West Sussex. It is a mixture of trade stands and family history societies, with a few postcard dealers thrown in. An excellent warm-up for the next big event.
Who Do You Think You Are? Live
(26th to 28th February 2010)
Three days of family history at London’s Olympia, so far I have only booked tickets for two days (Friday and Saturday), but I shall probably book for the Sunday as well because they have a special one-day conference which looks very interesting.
Sussex Family History Group Annual Conference and AGM
(20th March 2010)
Not many stands here, but three talks, two of which are of particular interest to me (Mills and Millers of Sussex and Inns, Alehouses and Taverns of Sussex). Held at Clair Hall, Haywards Heath, West Sussex.
The South Coast Fair
(25th April 2010)
This is similar to the Sussex and South London Fair, except that it is held at the seaside at Worthing, West Sussex. A good excuse for an ice cream and a stroll along the sea front in the spring sunshine (if I am lucky).
I would also like to attend some of the talks at the National Archives and Society of Genealogists, these could hopefully be combined with research trips to the repository concerned.
It is time I started showing you some of my postcard collection again, this is a recent purchase from eBay and shows St. Peter’s Church, Henfield, Sussex.
St Peter's Church, Henfield, Sussex
I love the fact that the photographer had set up his tripod amongst the gravestones. Even on the original card they are slightly out of focus and unreadable, which is a shame because I am sure amongst those headstones is one for John and Mary Ann FAIRS my 3x great grandparents.
There are no clues as to the date, photographer or publisher of this card. I have seen cards with a similar style of caption, it was almost certainly a local publisher, and I would guess it dates from around 1910-20.
The family connection is not only the FAIRS who were buried here, but countless TROWERs who passed through, for baptism, marriage or burial. There is even a record in the churchwarden’s accounts for 1685 of a John TROWER being paid 3s 4d for work done on the Communion table and the bells. John TROWER was almost certainly my 8x great grandfather.