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Family History and Ancestry Search

4.40 to 9.30 searching for early 19th century relatives from the 1841 Census.

Is this just a time filler, a time waster?

Like watching TV, or buying up a stack of Sunday papers? What is it that I am putting in my head? What is it that I am finding out? Is this research of some sort? If I have a story in the back of my mind what is it?

Like most people I have been selective in the past, tending to pick out my ancestry down the Vernon line because I know that 2000 years ago there was a family in Normandy, Northern France, named after the town of Vernon who came over with William the Conqueror.

The idea that my pedigree is exclusive is ridiculous

I can make no direct link nor is the line pure as it takes only a few days of this delving to realise, rightly that with a doubling in grandparents with each generation I am in theory the product of some 4 million fluke encounters over the last two millennium since the conquest of England. Though I don’t have a surname as common as smith, I have within easy reach of parents and grandparents the surnames Ferguson and Wilson – this makes tracing relatives into the 19th century fraught with problems. To verify that a John Wilson born in Wigton in 1806 is my great grandfather x6 requires me to check through each census from 1801, checking that this person does become the parent of someone who is attached at the tail end of my search.

Tracking back through the female line is harder as women don’t retain their maiden name when they marry.

Here I try to trace back birth dates and places. I prefer the weird and the exotic, in favour of the obvious – too often I hope I am the distant relative of a family who a hundred years ago included a set of triplets and two sets of twins. My father’s descendants are hard to trace because the men die young or disappear. Their are widowed parents and daughters who retain the family name – children were born out of wedlock and both men and women could die young. Then you are hit with revelations. Picking through every street of Benfieldside, Durham where my grandfather grew up as I boy it is only noticeable that very few people make it into their 50s when you come across a 90 year old agricultural labourer – everyone else is done a mine or working in the papermill.

Over in Wigton in the early 1800s I find a family with a four Cuthberts from as many generations, great grandfather, grandfather, father and son in the same house.

Having such a set of relatives living these days is common place, but not all in the same house and not all with the same name.

Does any of this say anything about me or my close family?

Do I see in any of these relatives traits that exist in my siblings or parents? That depends on how well I think I know my family. Looking for a pattern of alcohol abuse or dependency is a trait that may be easier to track – does this explain the possible great grandfather who is in a workhouse? Does it explain why the Vernons on the male line die young? Is there a genetic flaw here?

I am taking the view that I share in equal amounts traits passed on by all relatives I can trace –this of course quickly diminishes any value I may put in my grandfather Vernon, even though I resemble him very much in my twenties and thirties – he loses more hair and grows a moustache. He could settle though, my mother describes him as ‘completely useless,’ a term that my in-laws could use to describe me the way things are turning out.

I have an idea

When I married my father in law, an Oxford Don, supposedly asked around his old college, where I was an undergraduate, for insights – they were positive (though I can’t imagine he would have got many). What if a father in law check the pedigree of a future son in law before he approves him for his daughter – and what if he decides he is incompatible due to a history of X in his family line?

I’ve been helped by cutting my late grandmother kept.

She lived with her grandfather as a child, born 1903, sent to finishing school in Belgium just before WWI broke out … proud of her of her Ferguson ancestry, but not of Alders. (Her father was a butcher, her grandfather the owner of a major business in Newcastle). Did neither of her husbands parents attend their wedding? Her father was ill, so she was given away by her grandfather, Eric’s mother attended, but of course she is referred to as Mrs G S Vernon. Not much hope of tracing her then!

Assumptions can be made though about how and where people were likely to have met, and family names being repeated through the generations – we have several Twentymans throughout the 1800s on my grandfather’s side and my father’s side liked to call girls Gertrude.

Courtesy of the Census reports now online I’ve managed to attack over 250 names to my family tree

This includes short sets of some families that have married in. I am trying to take the direct family line back to the 1841 census across all male and female lines – I’ve got the Wilsons back to the late 1700s in Wigton – they were blacksmiths through to the 20th century and never moved, sons becoming blacksmiths as far as the census returns are concerned from the age of 10.

It has become possible to recognise the great tide away from the countryside into the cities, my grandfather’s family (the blacksmiths) the last to move from Cumbria into domestic service in Consett. Others moved to Tyneside early in the 1800s. The Ferguson probably came down from Scotland at about this time, first settling in Alnwick before moving onto North Tyneside. The Vernons have apparently been settled in Alnwick for several hundred years – I was able to pick out watchmakers and jewellers, with one great, great grand parent having a ten year spell in Sheffield (he died, or left his wife) he pops up on the quayside in Newcastle. I understand our Vernons were nailmakers in Alnwick back to the 16th century.

The railways have had an influence here too

I’m sure they acted as a conduit for people coming off the land to find work in Newcastle, where all my grand parents and great grand parents come from – via lines across from Cumberland via Haltwhistle or into Gateshead, or down from Edinburgh via Alnwick and Morpeth.

I pick through the Wigton 1841 Census hoping to find my Wilson family

Of nearly 3000 residents I reckon several hundred go by the name Wilson, a good many of these are called John, generation after another … and there are many blacksmiths too. I had this image of a blacksmith in each town, not a dozen of them, but I suppose a blacksmith was like a filling station, there would be several, and they’d be placed on routes in and out of the town. It ran in families because this is how someone would be apprenticed.

Zozo looked over my shoulders as I picked a Census entry and scanned through it – these sharp photos in Adobe Photoshop as almost as good as paper. I like to flick back and through the pages, imagining I am walking down the street, a Timelord looking in on the residents from a hundred or more years ago. I would see many more children, families were large, through our the 19th century there would be five, six, seven .. sometimes nine children, occasionally with grandchildren too.

Zozo wants to ‘write like that,’ in the wonderfully elegant handwriting of those doing the census returns.

My great-uncle, who left school on his 14th birthday to work in a solicitor’s office in Newcastle, was a copywriter – he wrote out letters and contracts by hand, onto copying paper. Some years after the First World War my grandfather was told that his younger brother Billy, whose plane crashed over Belgium in June 1991 delivering mail, had written on a wall behind some cupboard somewhere, the only memorial to his existence. Reading this handwriting takes time, I am slowly getting used to it – this is vital, because picking out where someone is born is often the only link with their birth dates to where they may have been two or more decade before (or where they might turn up a few decades later). I’m also cottoning on to the fact that Virnan maybe Vernon, that Georg is probably George, Edith B is not Garth E.

Things change after the first world war, families shrink to a single child or a couple each … after the second world war old names are ditched too – as if there needs to be a break from the past.

I nearly gave up on Eric S Vernon.

All I had to go on was that his father G A Vernon hadn’t made it to his wedding. It takes a while to trace his him because his parents moved in turn from Alnwick, to Newcastle, to Sheffield and then back to Newcastle. You have to remember too that where a person is born is almost certainly going to be his mother’s birthplace – mothers went home to have their children. I trace G A Vernon to a caretaker, Isabella Eleanor who has four children Gertrude, Henry Stewart, Edith Barker and George Arnold – their father, Henry, a watchmaker is not around, separated, still in Sheffield or abroad. Isabella isn’t listed as a widow from 1901 so I assume Henry is still around. He was one of four children born to another Henry Vernon, a jeweller from Alnwick in Northumberland – I believe there are three hundred years of Vernons from this point going back through Alnwick’s history.

10.00 get dandelion leaves for the guinea-pigs from Beach Head and Eastbourne.

In the TES

Biography, by virtue of its dependency on narrative, requires authors who can construct and modulate a storyline based on an informed selection and emphasis of incident.

3.00 pm It’s taken me two weeks to figure out – or a few minutes to figure out once I was inclined to engaged with the problem. Two weeks ago I damaged my backside – I bruised, fractured or somehow bashed my coccyx while bouncing around in Seaford Bay on a rib, a 50hp powered rescue boat for Newhaven & Seaford Sailing Club.

This two week’s period has coincided with other matters that have been a pain in the arse – the bank bouncing cheques and threatening to close our account for one, nothing back from an agent for two months a second, the car falling apart a third, having no cash so not drinking a fourth – just as well I could take to bed, a hot-water bottle stuffed down my pants.

I need to be writing though, I want to be writing.

I may have spent two days in a panic looking for work, believing I can still take the traditional route back into employment via CVs and references – I don’t think I can, I’ve had too long off. I need to do something radical to my CV too – it says too much, it is a mess, much of it is self-defeating, it wipes itself out.

It helps that I can be outside, it helps that it is sunny.

I have to stand to be comfortable, I can’t slouch over a desk chair or slump in bed with the laptop on my lap. I had thought of getting out the second hand desk I have, I use it as a bedside table. I know it won’t be high enough, I’d have to sit, perched on the end of my chair. What works, I discover as Zozo and friend pull out the gps to give a wash – that one of the double-decker guniea-pig hutches i the perfect height. I am standing in the corner of our back yard, against the house, the gps (boys) in front of me, the lap top in a box on top. I am sunning my chest and face, I can read the text in Arial Bold, 16 point.

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