Saturday, 25 September 2010

Postgraduate Certificate in Genealogical Studies - A Personal View

Earlier this year this blog got rather neglected; likewise my partner, friends and family. However there was a good reason and, hopefully, it’s all been worthwhile as today I received confirmation that I have passed the Postgraduate Certificate in Genealogical Studies!

The course is part of the Genealogical Studies Postgraduate Programme provided by the University of Strathclyde which offers one of only a few qualifications in genealogy currently available in the UK. The course is delivered online (although with some opportunities to meet tutors and fellow students in person) and attracts students worldwide, although with the majority in the UK and from Scotland in particular. The Postgraduate Certificate is provided by the University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning and, despite the title, an undergraduate degree is not a requirement, although there is a formal application procedure.

My motivation to undertake the course was threefold: firstly, to increase my knowledge and improve my genealogical skills; secondly, in order to get a qualification relevant to my profession (something which I think is going to become increasingly important for professional genealogists); and finally, for personal enjoyment and satisfaction.

I’m not quite sure I knew what I was letting myself in for though, as I apparently overlooked the part of the course brochure which mentioned a requirement of 20 hours a week and it was something of a shock to hear this when attending a introductory meeting! However I kidded myself that, as I would know most of it already, I could easily get away with committing less time.

This turned out not to be the case as even simply reading the handouts and completing assignments took about 20 hours a week. As my weekdays and evenings are already filled, this pretty much meant spending every Saturday and Sunday from the time I got up until midnight on coursework, and this was without doing any additional reading (which I would have liked to have been able to do). Hence the neglect of everyone and everything else!

Nevertheless, I don’t regret my decision to do the course and would certainly recommend it to others. It definitely isn’t a course for beginners, or even for those who’ve exhausted the basic genealogical sources and want to learn a little more in order to better trace their own ancestors, but rather for those who’ve been bitten by the genealogy bug in a big way and want to undertake a serious academic study of the subject, whether with a view to turning professional or not.

I do think it’s a worthwhile course for those who already consider themselves to be quite advanced in genealogy as there is so much information given in the handouts that cannot easily be found elsewhere. I found that having some knowledge of the majority of record types discussed was an advantage as it made the background information (much of which was new to me) more relevant and easier to understand.

Any complaints I have about the course are more in the nature of small niggles: some handouts did not appear to have been spellchecked or proofread, occasionally some information was out-of-date (mainly on non-Scottish sources) and I think there was general confusion caused by a lack of clear guidelines on referencing. However, this is partly balanced out by the fact that tutors do appear to take complaints seriously and that the course is frequently adjusted in response to student feedback.

My only further comment is that it may not be clear from the course brochure how strongly Scottish-based the course is. Whilst the idea that skills learnt from researching genealogy in one country can be transferred to another country is a sound one; I would have liked to have seen greater inclusion of English and Irish records as the coverage of these at times seemed perfunctory. However, I do realise that it is not possible to include everything (certainly not in the already packed eight months during which the course runs) and that non-Scottish sources are covered in greater depth later.

Perhaps the best recommendation for the course is that following completion of the Postgraduate Certificate a large number of students, myself included, have chosen to advance to the Postgraduate Diploma. So if this blog goes a bit quiet again in a few months you’ll know why!

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Assurance On Life Of A Child

One of the few original documents I have from my mother’s family is a life insurance policy taken out on my grandmother at an early age and described as ‘Assurance on Life of a Child’. It’s a rather curious survival because (as it seems likely the weekly premium of one penny ceased to be paid long before she died) it apparently has no value, but presumably was kept in the belief that it might do so. 

To us, the idea of insuring a child’s life is an unpleasant one, but to our ancestors it may have been a practical and sensible option. Despite fears in the 19th and early 20th centuries that insuring the life of a child was connected to infanticide (the TNA produced a good podcast on this and the related subject of Burial clubs), it seems to have been commonplace in working-class families. 

Judging from the table below this policy, dated 1922, would have provided little more than the cost of a modest funeral, and in the case of a child dying shortly after birth, probably not even that. 

What surprised me about the document was that it dated not from the time of my grandmother’s birth, but from several years later. However on reflection, the timing may have been significant. 1922 was the year in which her family suffered the death of a child (the second to die in infancy) and also the year in which a new baby was born. 

It seems possible that having already lost children at an early age, the family decided to insure the life of the new baby, and at the same time also took out policies on the older children. 

Happily no further children died young in the family, but the document remains a sad reminder of a time when, despite a fall in infant mortality rates, the death of a child remained a very real possibility for many families.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

A Glimpse into English History via FamilySearch Indexing

I'm a volunteer indexer with FamilySearch indexing but haven’t been able to do much lately, partly due to computer problems. However, having just bought myself a brand new MacBook I was pleased to discover that their java-based indexing software works on a Mac without any difficulties. 

One of the things I like about FamilySearch indexing is the wide range of projects to choose from. So that you can either work on a project relevant to your area of interest, or alternatively you can choose a type a record you wouldn’t normally encounter during your own research, in order to extend your genealogical knowledge and experience. 

Having had a bit of a break I decided to plump for some relatively familiar English parish registers and this week have been indexing some batches from the UK, Warwickshire - Parish Registers 1538-1900 project. 

I was fascinated, after downloading a batch, to find myself looking at a nearly blank page headed by the following: 

These are to Certifie those th[a]t may make sirch for names Christeninges 
Weddinges or Burialles, in Sheldon Register Book in the yeares of o[u]r 
Lord God 1651 & 1652 th[a]t you find here omitted (for the major parte) 
by reason of the late consumeing inward warres here in England whome 
God deliver us from the like for ever Amen. for this reason I omitt 
the residue of this page. Thomas Dunton junior de Sheldon 

This appears to come from the Parish Register for Sheldon, an ancient parish that has now been absorbed by the City of Birmingham. 

I’ve read about the gaps in parish registers during the period known as the English Civil War and the Commonwealth (1642-1660) but have not come across such a clear reference to it before, or one apparently for the benefit of future genealogists! 

In England in 1653, responsibility for registering births, marriages and deaths was taken away from the church and given to an elected official known as a ‘Parish Register’. However, this was sometimes the former parish clerk who simply carried on making entries in the parish register as previously. This may be the case here, although as I could only see one double-page of the register I am not certain. 

The register does contain entries from 1653 and this was presumably when Thomas Dunton junior of Sheldon became ‘Parish Register’ and wrote the above explanation for the missing years. In fact, despite the warning, this register (with only two years missing) is probably one of the more complete registers for this period. 

I would encourage anyone who’s thought about becoming an indexer with FamilySearch to give it a try. The software is easy to use and you don’t have to commit a lot of time. Just about all genealogists have used the IGI at some point and this is a great way to give something back for all the free information. Not to mention, you never know what genealogical gems you may stumble across!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Married in Haste?

Researchers who have traced their Scottish ancestors back to the pre-1855 Old Parish Registers will know that many so-called ‘marriage registers’ are in fact records of the proclamation of banns and do not necessarily include the date the marriage took place (or indeed if the couple ever actually got married).

You may find, however, that the register includes details of the fee paid for proclamation or records the numbers of days on which banns were proclaimed (sometimes abbreviated to ‘3 Sab’ for three Sabbaths, for example).

In theory, banns of marriage should have been proclaimed on three successive Sundays, but it is clear that this did not always happen. So I was interested to come across this explanation in the Kirk Session Minutes for the Parish of Ceres in Fife of exactly how a couple could have their banns proclaimed more quickly (providing they were prepared to pay the additional fees of course!).

National Archives of Scotland Reference: CH2/65/5 Pages 186-187:

Ceres 6th Octr 1794

The Session taking into consideration
that there has crept into this parish several irregularitys
with Respect to the proclamation of Bands_
The Session unanimously agreed and resolved for the
future, That each couple of folks that is to be pro=
claimed three different Sabbaths in the ordinary
way shall pay the Ordinary to the poor which is
Fourteen pence Stirling and if they choose to be
proclaimed three times in two Sabbaths, they shall
pay Two Shillings and sixpence Stirling to the poor
and if they choose to be proclaimed three times in
one Sabbath they shall pay six shillings Stir:
to the poor_ and if they are
proclaimed three times in two different Sabbaths
they shall be proclaimed in the morning of the
first Sabbath, and on the Second Sabbath in the
morning befor divine worship and at noon that
day before divine service, for the last time_
And if they are to be proclaimed three times in
one day they shall be proclaimed at the ringing
of the second Bell by the Precenter befor two or
more witnesiss; and for the second time at the convun=
ing of the forenoons service, and for the third and
last time at the convuning of the Congregation
in the
afternoon_ The Session further ordains
that when partys are to be proclaimed three times
in one day they shall pay to the Precenter one shilling
Stirling for his additional trouble_

Presumably, similar arrangements were in place in other parishes, so by noting the fees your ancestors paid for their proclamation you may be able to determine how much of a hurry they were in to get married!