Two places at once?

If I’d had a pound for every person who supposedly ‘doesn’t appear in the census’ but subsequently turned up after a thorough search I might have retired by now.

But what about those that actually appear to be on the census twice – or more?

One such scenario belongs to an Arthur Walne, born in the Preston area c1879. In 1901 there are two entries for very similar individuals recorded:

RG13; Piece 3906; Folio 117; Page 25

This one shows Arthur at 16 Whalley Street, Blackburn with parents and several siblings.  His occupation is given as Farm Servant with additional notes of ‘general’ and ‘Ag’. He is a worker. His age is given as 22 and his birthplace Preston.

RG 13; Piece 3906; Folio 17; Page 25

This time, an Arthur Walne is recorded at “Hastonlea (Haslinghey)" [nb both names are included in the address column]. This time he is a servant in the household of widowed farmer Jane Thistlethwaite. Still 22, still born in Preston, and occupation Carter on Farm (additional note ‘Ag Horse’).

At first glance, the two are seemingly the same person, but it’s extremely commonplace for families to use the same names in the same areas, resulting in cousins, uncles, nephews etc being born close together and given the same first names.

So what to do in this kind of situation? We come back to our friend the Genealogical Proof Standard.

In almost every case we research, we are not dealing with absolute certainties. We put a story together based on pieces of paper, sometimes DNA matches, and information from other sources eg oral histories. We need to remember that we are looking at probability rather than certainty – who is to say that old pedigree wasn’t tweaked or that the father of that child was really the father of that child, despite what the certificate says? It doesn’t sound very trusting, but DNA is increasingly showing that these things happened – and the preponderance of similar names in similar locations in an area centuries ago doesn’t help the clarity of our research.

Essentially, we need evidence.

Enough evidence to reach a conclusion with which we are comfortable, and with which we can satisfactorily argue our case to others.

Five points apply here, as quoted by the University of Strathclyde’s useful blog post The importance of establishing proof and the Genealogical Proof Standard:

-       research has been reasonably exhaustive

-       information has been analysed and correlated

-       conflicting evidence has been resolved

-       sources have been cited or referenced

-       a reasoned conclusion has been created

In the case of Arthur, the hypothesis is that both entries refer to the same Arthur Walne, and that he migh have spent the night at one or other of the premises, with one of the schedule fillers-in having mistakenly recorded him under their roof that night. It is certainly not unheard of for parents to record all of their children at home, for example, even when in reality they were under the roofs of their employers.

To take the points in turn.

Research has been reasonably exhaustive - how many Arthur Walnes appear in the birth indexes around the time the subject of the entries would have been born? What about under other spellings of the name (in this case Waln, Woan, Whon, Whone etc are all fairly common variations). Try local baptism records too and search out certificates.

What about in other census years, can only one similar individual be found in those? Try other accessible records as well – service records, marriages, the 1939 Register, whatever is sensible and reasonable for the period you are investigating. What would other genealogists seek out? Not just an online family tree, I daresay.

Clearly it would be impossible to search every single piece of paper ever created – this is where the ‘reasonable’ part comes in – but you can be sure to look at primary sources from original records (not just indexes), to find more than one source and to ensure that the sources are independently created. You can also evaluate the reliability of your sources. Is a family tale passed down the generations likely to be 100% accurate? Are naming patterns enough to provide proof? 

This kind of case is also made complex by the fact that we are looking to try and prove two separate entries are for the same person, where in theory they should only have been recorded once. It needs to be borne in mind that absence of evidence of another Arthur is NOT automatically evidence of absence of another Arthur, and it is even more important to search out any other possible Arthurs in various sources....

Information has been analysed and correlated. Look at all the information you find and consider all the information you have gathered. What fits with your hypothesis, and what doesn’t? Do the cross references make sense? If evidence doesn’t fit try and resolve the conflict – this doesn’t mean forcing it to fit your agenda, but being open to finding out that your hypothesis is incorrect and that you may need to form a new one.

If there happened to by more than one Arthur Walne in any of the sources, investigate both and map out what happened to each. Did one die in childhood or emigrate (and if so can you be sure they didn’t return)? Did they live close to each other? Can you kill them both off and be reasonably sure that the timelines and places for both lives can be satisfactorily proven? eg Do the fathers on their birth certificates match the fathers on their marriage certificates, and the father they were listed with on the census in their early years?

You’ll also need to be recording the sources you find so that should you need to make your case that you can back it up with citations and references, and create the reasoned conclusion with which to explain the proof you have found, summarise your findings and argue any points you believe were conflicting but that you have resolved.

For further reading, check out the blog cited above, and perhaps sign up for the FutureLearn course to take your research further.

So do I think the Arthurs referenced above are the same person? Well yes, I do, but there were several Arthur Walnes in my ONS that needed to be ruled out as far as possible, and particularly with passenger lists it hasn't always been easy to prove which record related to which - and there may be more to find. Which brings me to my final point:

Just because you believe you have the most probable conclusion at the time of the original research doesn’t mean that it will always be the most probable conclusion. New sources are becoming accessible all the time. New DNA database matches are being generated and new sources being deposited and indexed. It is very possible that someone will come along with additional conflicting evidence and you will be forced to re-evaluate your original conclusions, or at least revisit your conclusions and re-iterate your points. It’s all part of the challenge!

What the troops want to read

A couple of months ago I found new evidence to answer a family mystery in the EADT.

While looking up that obituary, as so often happens, I came across something else that caught my eye: a war time mobile library. The article appeared in the Diss Express on Friday, 11 September, 1942:

Diary of a Woman with a Mobile Library [contributed]

Armed with a little experience gained while helping with a Red Cross Library at a military hospital, Mrs Milford Tweedy decided to run an unofficial mobile library for the benefit of troops in isolated districts of the country where she lives - an area which has a similarity to the Eastern Region.

Over 5000 books have been issued and she has been able to observe the varied tastes of the men and relative popularity of books in different categories. Detective and “Wild West” books are the most in demand and readers are extremely faithful to their chosen authors.

Oliver Strange’s “Sudden” books are read with avidity in one camp, yet scorned in another. The men themselves cannot express reasons for prejudices of this kind and often have heated arguments over the respective qualities of the heroes. The most champions are for the “Saint” books by Leslie Charteris followed by Edgar Wallace and “Sapper” books.

Books which have been filmed are particularly popular, also racing stories and love stories of the straightforward “happy ending” type. The specific demands of more serious readers are less easy to meet.

In the non-fiction class “Lawrence and the Arabs”, “Mein Kampf,” books on the Navy, RAF, lighter travel books, - and topical biographies of well-known people are the most widely read.

Since P G Wodehouse began to broadcast for the Nazis, the troops refuse to read his books which were much in demand at one time. Now they turn to Joan Butler, Damon Runyon and Thorne Smith.”

In 2016, crime fiction still issues best in Norfolk libraries, and there are many western fans too. Just as in 1942, different places have different favourites and it's part of the librarian's role to stock the right books in the right place - and keep them circulating.

The dangers of celluloid

Farmer’s Death from Burns

On Wednesday, an inquest was held at Pimlico, Clitheroe, in reference to the death of a retired farmer named James Walne, aged seventy-three years, who died the previous day from the effects of burns received a week ago. Walne got out of bed soon after midnight to see what the time was. He struck a match at the bedside, and was lighting the candle when a spark dropped on the celluloid case of his watch. The case immediately blazed up, setting fire to the bed and to the man’s clothing. He was badly burned about the head and neck and arms.

A verdict of “accidental death” was returned.
— Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, Friday, 26 February, 1909. Supplement, Page 5, Column 2.

James, a member of my ONS, was one of several people who perished or were injured by burns from celluloid items in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In his case the celluloid that flared up when ignited was his watch case, but for others it was a hair piece, jewellery, collar or a toy doll. At risk too, were those working in the factories that created these things.

So what is celluloid? Essentially, an early plastic that can be coloured and moulded. The name ‘celluloid’ was registered in 1870 but its origins go back approximately 15 years earlier under the names Parkesine and Xylonite. Made from nitrocellulose (aka guncotton) and camphor, it is particularly well remembered as the flammable film used for early movies, but it is less well remembered perhaps as a substitute for ivory (sometimes known as ‘French Ivory’) or tortoiseshell, as well as a cheap and light material for making lots of other things, from decorative clocks to plectrums.

Plastics have moved on in the last century and most that we use now are nowhere near as flammable. However, celluloid is still used today for particular products – notably accordions. Vintage celluloid items are getting rarer and are now prized by collectors.

A few years prior to James’ death, the issue of highly inflammable – and even explosive – celluloid was raised in parliament by Lord Saltoun. (Celluoid – HL Deb 13 May 1902 vol 108 cc8-14).

The guncotton element, he said, had caused many serious burning accidents, including one to a member of his own family. The lady in question had been sitting four feet from her drawing room fire when a comb ignited and her ‘head was enveloped in flames’. He further noted Professor Ogston’s recent article in the Lancet on the same subject, which contained a warning about the dangers of celluloid collars for children and adults which were ‘fearfully inflammable’. Unfortunately, should something around your neck catch fire, it was extremely difficult to remove it before serious injury was inflicted.

At a time when smoking was very commonplace, and open fires and candles the norm, the potential dangers were obvious - spare a thought too for the canine victims: Mademoiselle Zelle’s little dog reputedly died when her collar was ignited by her mistress’ cigarette in Paris. ‘Pouf! It was all over’.

Suffolk and Essex Free Press

New to the British Newspaper Archive is the Suffolk and Essex Free Press, 1855-1900.

The digitised and searchable collection includes weekly issues from Thursday 30 August 1855 - Thursday 30 December 1869; and weekly Wednesday issues from 7 January 1885 - 26 December 1900.

The very useful Newsplan survey of East Midlands and East of England shows that the gap between 1870 and 1884 is mirrored in the physical holdings at the BL and film copies at SRO: Bury - just cut off in 1900 for the online ones. The first edition was published on 5 July 1855, just a few weeks prior to the digitised collection beginning.

The newspaper was known originally as the Free Press and General Advertiser before a brief stint as the West Suffolk and North Essex Free Press (30 August 1855 - 12 June 1856). From 20 January 1949 it became the Suffolk Free Press. 

A brief search on my usual search terms shows this is a particularly good source for Sudbury (it's place of publication, funnily enough) and immediate surrounding area at the dates published. I will be interested to catch up on all the gossip about my several greats uncle's dealings in Lavenham which is just a couple of miles up the road...

Nowadays, the paper is still based in Sudbury, serving South Suffolk and North Essex.