Saturday, 27 November 2010

The Gazettes Online: A resource worth exploring

I’ve just been listening to The National Archives Podcast by Audrey Collins ‘The London Gazette - not just the brave and the bankrupt’

This really struck a chord with me as, after getting more seriously into Genealogy, I read several articles about The London Gazette and its sister publications The Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes. “Very interesting,” I thought, “must take a closer look, but not the sort of place to find my humble ancestors.” 

Then, late one evening, I put my grandfather’s name into Google on a whim and was surprised to get a hit. I was even more surprised when I realised that I had found him in the London Gazette - twice! So, to underline the message of the podcast, I thought I would share a couple of examples from one branch of my family tree of ordinary individuals found in the London Gazette: 

Page 7828 

Civil Service Commission - November 9, 1927. 

Male Sorting Clerk and Telegraphist, 
Huddersfield, Douglas Sykes Wilkinson. 

(This is my grandfather, Douglas, aged 16, being appointed to his first job.) 

PAGE 7246 


Printed copies of the draft Provisional Order will be deposited at the said offices of the Board of Trade on or before the 21st day of December next, and printed copies of the draft Provisional Order, when deposited, and of the Provisional Order, when made, may be obtained at the offices of the undersigned, and at the office of the Clerk to the Urban District Council of Golcar aforesaid, and at the residence of Simeon Sykes, Surveyor to the Urban District Council of Golcar, in Swallow-street, Golcar, on payment of one shilling for each copy. 

(When it was proposed that electric lighting should come to the Yorkshire village of Golcar, copies of the Provisional Order could be obtained at the home of Douglas’ uncle, Simeon Sykes - actually he lived in Swallow Lane not Swallow Street.) 

PAGE 10136 

His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Military Medal for bravery in the Field to the under-mentioned. Non-commissioned Officers and Men:- 

68393 Bomdr. S. Sykes, R.G.A. (Hudders-field). 

(Simeon’s brother, Samuel Sykes, received an award for bravery whilst serving in the First World War.) 

Some of the problems associated with the OCR technology which enable the gazettes to be searched (and how to get round this) are discussed in the podcast. Looking at the Gazettes Online website today I was pleased to discover that the original printed indexes to the London Gazette are now available online from the early 19th Century onwards and can be downloaded as PDFs (you need to select a particular year and each year is covered by several volumes of indexes) so that, with a bit of patience, it should now be possible to find ancestors in the Gazettes who have previously proved elusive. So far, there only appear to be indexes to the Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes for 2002 onwards. 

I’ve recently been doing a little research into one of the ancestors of my partner and, inspired by the podcast, I decided to search for him in the London Gazette to see if I could identify his civil service appointment. No luck so far, but I did find him among the names of Insolvent Debtors, along with a list of seven previous addresses at which he was known. So, not just the brave and the bankrupt, but you may find someone among the bankrupt who you weren’t expecting!

I suppose the lesson here is, if something is available online, is free and is searchable by name, then it’s worth searching for the names of your ancestors, even if you think the chances of finding them are pretty slim.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

19th Century 'Kirkings'

These days in the UK, Sunday is often a day spent at the pub, a chance to meet up with friends and relax at the end of the working week. A far cry from the early 19th Century when Sunday was spent going to church, you might think? Or perhaps not, if this outburst from the Kirk Session of Kilcalmonell and Kilberry, Argyll is to be believed: 

Kilcalmonell and Kilberry Kirk Session: Minutes 1821-33
NAS Ref. CH2/1423/1 - Pages 33-35 

At Kilcalmonell the 17th of April 1825 years The Kirk Session of Kilcalmonell met. Present the Moderator and Elders.

Among other matters the consideration of a practice too common in Country Parishes and in this also, of people meeting together after Divine Service in a public house profaning the Lord’s day by drinking and engaging in carnal conversations especially when collected together under the vulgar name of Kirking Came before the session when after a full discussion of the same the Members agreed in the following as their judgment in this Matter. 

That profanation of the Lord’s day is a sin of vast criminality to many awful prohibitions of the word of God condemned by several Acts of Parliament and acts of Assembly; and quite inconsistent with the profession of Christianity. And it appeared to the Session to be established beyond a doubt, that those meetings on the sabbath called Kirkings, are [a] most gross and heathenish violation of the sanctity of the Sabbath, by the indulgence which is given to the flesh in drinking and speaking; they unanimously resolved and do now resolve, by the blessing of God, to apply the discipline of the Church to the suppression of such unholy meetings. 

And give this public intima[tion] of their determination to deal with those who assemble in Kirkings on Sabbath day as with other transgressors of the law of God. And moreover that those keeping houses should take care not incur the penalty of the Civil Law annexed to keeping their houses open During Divine Service or disorderly during the rest of the Sabbath. And finally that the parties which occasion the Kirking shall be held as the leaders in the sin.

The Kirk may not have been able to prevent these 'Kirkings' but they did succeed in getting some of the individuals who participated brought before the Session and there are descriptions of two such events on pages 60-68 of the minutes.  At one of these 13 or 14 bottles of whisky were drunk by a group consisting of between 20 and 25 people - naturally, recollections were a little vague!

I looked at a few Scottish dictionaries and did a quick internet search but was unable to find any further reference to this particular type of Kirking so it is hard to know how widespread the practice was.  Although there does seem to be some similarity with the 'Kirking Feasts' which sometimes accompanied ceremonial attendances at church.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Remembrance Day: The Diary of a WW1 Nurse

As this week it was Remembrance Day, commemorating the official end of the First World War, I thought I would share a short extract from the diary of Lily Harris, sister of my great-grandmother Emily Harris. 

Lily was a trained nurse who in 1915 joined the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (Q.A.I.M.N.S.R.) and spent much of the war serving in Egypt. 

Lily does not seem to have always had time to keep her diary regularly but this extract, dated 25th November 1918, describes how the news of the end of the war was celebrated where she was: 

Nov 25th 

This has been a very exciting day, hear definitely we are to take no more convoys & evacuate on alternate days, all cleared out by the 3rd of December. My ward has been emptied. Hand over equipment tomorrow. 

Several sisters go to Jerusalem tomorrow, 2 days leave, so now we are all wondering where will be our next stop & how soon we shall be home. 

On the 11th Germany signed the Armistice. We had a few little parties, two social evenings & a whist drive here in the mess & one evening “At Home” at the Club, they were all very enjoyable. 

Last Sunday we “The Nursing Staff” thought we must make our patients realise the war was ended, so gave them a supper, “Fresh Mutton & Vegetables”. They did enjoy it. 

Unfortunately, it was many months before Lily got to go home again. Her service record (held at The National Archives, Kew - Reference: WO399/3582) includes a letter she wrote from Suez in June 1919 requesting that she might be released from her contract and allowed to return to the United Kingdom as she had been serving abroad since May 1915. Although not absolutely clear, it appears she did not return to the UK until September or October 1919, after a medical board judged her to be suffering from Anaemia. 

This photograph dates from Lily’s time in Egypt and shows a group of QAIMNS nurses in their distinct uniforms. One of them may be Lily herself. 

There is a modern colour photograph of one of the capes worn by a QAIMNSR nurse on the Auckland Museum website.