An ancestor, your library card, and a treasure trove

Tonight I hope to demonstrate why newspapers are probably my favourite family history resource, and show you just how much information is now accessible to most of us – often for free. 

To illustrate my story I will be noting all the references to one individual thrown up from a simple online newspaper archive search (supplemented with other information gleaned from census and parish records). I would never suggest that an online search of limited newspapers using just one search term is going to tell you all you would like to know. Like everything in family history, you may be left with more questions than you started with! However, I would certainly suggest that newspapers have never been more searchable and accessible to family and local investigators and that an online search is the best place to start your foray into newspaper research. 

My chosen subject is Daniel Walne, my three times Great Grandfather. Alive in the 19th century, he is a prime subject for newspaper research. Being landed and having been in trouble at least once (evidenced by an entry of his name in the Quarter Sessions registers at Norwich Castle in 1870) he is perhaps relatively likely to have been the subject of press interest. I will also admit that the surname, being somewhat uncommon, makes him an excellent guinea pig. 

If you are a Norfolk library card holder, you have access to a myriad of resources through the library. See here for a full list. By clicking Infotrac and entering your card number you can search the Times Digital Archive 1785-1985 and 19th Century British Library Newspapers. You also have access to a cross-search facility. Suffolk library card holders on the other hand should see here for the full list and access to similar archives. 

Remember however, that not all local newspapers are digitised. The Norfolk Heritage Centre, based on the second floor of the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library at the Forum in Norwich, has microfilmed copies of many further titles including the EDP, Evening News, Norfolk Chronicle and some less circulated titles dating from the late 1700s almost to the present day. The Suffolk Register Office too, has further local newspaper holdings on microfilm. 

I searched with the term “Daniel Walne” in “entire document” across all papers and years available.

And so to Daniel’s timeline… 

15 Nov 1830 – Born in Norwich.

19 Dec 1830 – Baptism at Heigham St Bartholomew, near Norwich.

1841 – Census records Daniel with his father (also Daniel, a farmer) and younger brother Thomas in Sprowston, at the time a village just north of Norwich.

1851 – Census records Daniel as a “Farmer’s son” with his father and brother Thomas in Lakenham (what we would now call “Old Lakenham” to the south of Norwich)

19 Oct 1854 – Marriage to Frances (“Fanny”) Bridgman at Litcham All Saints. Published in Bury and Norwich Post on 25 Oct 1854.

15 Oct 1855 – 1859 – Births of children, Daniel Bridgman Walne, Frances Jane Walne and Thomas William Walne (later T. Alfred) in Brockdish.

Early 1861 – Birth of daughter, Eleanor Mary Walne in Pulham Market, probably Beech Cottage.

1861 – Recorded on census with Frances, three children and two servants at Beech Cottage, Pulham Market. Farmer and horse merchant.

6 Aug 1862 – 16 Sep 1867 – Births of children Anna Maria Walne, Henry George Walne, Hannah Georgiana Walne and William Randall Walne in Pulham Market.

4 Oct 1867 – Burial of Hannah Georgiana, aged two, at Pulham Market St Mary.

22 Oct 1867 – Burial of William Randall Walne, at Pulham Market St Mary.

Early 1869 – Birth and Burial of Edwin Bridgman Walne in Redgrave.

12 May 1869 – Petty sessions Diss. Fined 5l, 17s and 6d costs or six weeks hard labour for “Furious Driving” on April 20 1869. Dr Curteis and Rev France (who baptised most of his children) were driving home in a carriage and dog cart respectively from a concert in Diss at about 11pm when they met Daniel “driving as fast as his horse would gallop”. The gentlemen narrowly escaped collision. In his defence, Daniel said his friend was driving. When found guilty, Daniel, of Redgrave, said he would go to Norwich, but a friend paid his fine. Reported 18 May 1869 in Bury and Norwich Post, and Suffolk Herald.

22 Sep 1870 – Allegedly obtained a mare under false pretences. Appeared at Norwich Quarter Sessions. The mare, valued at 20l, 10s, was the property of one Richard Hinde of Brockdish. Daniel, of Redgrave, offered to buy the mare after it was withdrawn from sale on 20 Sep 1870 having not reached its anticipated price. Daniel offered purchase at the asking price if he could have a written warranty. Richard agreed but told Daniel not to pay until he “fetched it away”. Daniel wrote a cheque on collection of the mare, asking Richard not to present it until Saturday. Richard paid it in on Thursday, and on Saturday had it returned with “no account” written across it. Richard sorted out a summons on the following Monday, but by the next Wednesday Daniel presented a veterinary certificate to Richard claiming the mare to be unsound and Richard took the horse back under protest. Richard said he had not initially taken the money because Daniel wasn’t sober on the day of the original sale – the veterinary surgeon, hearing this, said that despite not being sober, Daniel “knew what he was about”. A Bank Manager confirmed Daniel’s account was closed in December 1868 but could not say whether he was intending to reopen an account before Saturday. Daniel was found guilty but the case was referred to the Court of Criminal appeal, Daniel being sentenced to four months’ hard labour, subject to the decision of the superior court. Bury and Norwich Post, 25 Oct 1870.

11 Jan 1871 – Acquitted on all charges.

1871 – Census records Daniel with wife Frances and four children in Denton. Annuitant.

21 Jun 1881 – Drunk in charge of a horse and trap. Convicted and fined 1l and costs at Harleston Petty Sessions 8 July 1881. Now of Brockdish. Reported in Ipswich Journal, 12 July 1881.

1881 Census – On census as farmer who has let farm in allotments. Living with wife, three children and a grandson.

19 Feb 1884 – Death of daughter Jane Taylor at her home at the Vale, Buxhall, Suffolk, aged 26. Reported as Daniel’s daughter in Ipswich Journal, 1 Mar 1884 and Bury and Norwich post 4 Mar 1884.

21 Aug 1885 – Before Harleston Petty Sessions for wilful damage of a door, along with a son. The pair were charged by Daniel Bridgman Walne, the elder Daniel’s eldest child. Daniel, of Brockdish, pleaded guilty. At 2am on 9 Aug 1885 he and his son had visited Daniel Junior’s property. Having made a lot of noise and sworn at his son, Daniel threw a stone at a door causing 2s worth of damage. Daniel’s other son shouted for his brother to “come out and fight”. After a time, Daniel senior and the other son left the property singing “For he’s a jolly good fellow”. Daniel was fined £1, damages 2s and costs 11s. His other son was bound over to keep the peace. Published in the Ipswich Journal 25 Aug 1885.

2 Feb 1888 – Frances appears in the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench, suing a solicitor for monies taken from a personal inheritance to pay debts owed by her husband. She is noted as living on some property in Brockdish owned by Mr Daniel Walne. The case occupied the court for upwards of two days and in the end, the justice found in favour of Frances who was awarded £1715 3s 4d and £155 interest. Reported in the Morning Post and The Standard, London, 3 Feb 1888. Using TNA Currency converter this equates to around £103,000 in today’s money. 

1891 – Recorded as yeoman on census living in Brockdish with a daughter, grand daughter and servant. Frances with eldest son Daniel Bridgman in Barsham.

19 Oct 1891 – Appears at Mildenhall County Court. Judge finds for the plaintiff in a debt case against Daniel for £11 0s 2d. Reported in the Bury and Norwich Post, 27 Oct 1891.

30 Oct 1891 – Death at home. Reported in the Ipswich Journal, 7 Nov 1891.

5 Nov 1891 – Burial at Pulham Market St Mary.

In this case, the most of the 23 results returned paint a picture of Daniel’s indiscretions. Taken with the census, is it the case that a family feud was the reason for Daniel Bridgman’s departure for London as speculated in an earlier post? They certainly fell out at least once, and the family troubles made it all the way into the court system. Was Fanny staying with Daniel Bridgman in 1891 because she was on his side, and had become fed up with her husband’s drinking and debts? Were Daniel’s children put through school by relatives not out of a belief in education but because Daniel didn’t have any money? Did Thomas William change his name to T. Alfred because he disowned his father and was adopted by Alfred Septimus? 

The questions keep coming… 

I can’t help thinking Daniel had grown up with little responsibility and ‘plenty’ of money – a dangerous combination! Perhaps he was used to living like a gentleman but didn’t have the money to match his lifestyle. 

Although most results returned from the newspaper search were for this Daniel, they also returned details of his son Daniel Bridgman’s victualler career – including reports of applications for licences for two pubs, one in Coggeshall and another in Lavenham, for example. The latter was initially refused because this Daniel couldn’t explain to the policeman’s satisfaction how a couple of fires started at his previous residence. It was granted on appeal however and the family moved to Lavenham. Sadly Daniel was soon back in the paper due to the sudden death of his baby son – thankfully he and his wife were cleared of any wrong doing. 

Additionally, an earlier Daniel was found in the news as occupier of an estate up for sale in Swainsthorpe in 1827 – for auction at the Norwich Rampant Horse Inn. Perhaps the same Daniel was alleged to have been involved in an argument over cattle in the Trowse area but found not guilty of affray in 1822. The search also threw up several extended-family deaths which added information to other branches of the tree. 

Next steps here would be to alter the search terms – perhaps there are further stories where our Daniel was referred to as “Mr Walne” for instance. Then, it will be the turn of the EDP and Norfolk Chronicle to see whether further information about the trials can be found locally on microfilm. 

With luck, the treasure trove of information presented above has shown just what can be added to your family tree through searching newspaper archives. I hope I have inspired you to try your hand at this, and to join your local library if you’re not already a member! Given the scale of cuts in the library service around the Country, there has never been a better time to show support to your local library. Both Suffolk and Norfolk also offer free access to Ancestry Library edition through libraries and County Record Offices. Of course you also have access to staff and other researchers who can advise you on courses of action making them fabulous places to further your research.


0 Responses

  1. I have to agree with you!

    In my time working at the hampshire record office, I had to deal with a couple of enquiries from the public. One of them was this man from Southampton (i think) trying to track one of his ancestors that had been some sort of minor criminal. It was amazing finding little, because there was not a huge mention about the subject, but enough to actually identify him as such person. And all thanks to the hampshire chronicle!

    thanks for sucha wonderful piece of information again.

    (by the way, you have change this recently havent you?)

  2. Hi, thanks so much for your comment, it's lovely to know people read my posts!

    Yes, I have changed it a bit – I thought the old colour scheme was a bit obvious for a family history site. If I hand more time I'm sure I'd be spending a lot of it reading newspapers, the adverts are brilliant 🙂

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