Category Archives: Tips and tricks with genealogy

German Ancestors Part 4

The First World War brought with it terrible news for all the Germans who had already migrated to Britain. The day after war was declared in 1914, the Alien Restriction Act was rushed through Parliament, along with a Trading with the Enemy Act, which obliged all German owned businesses to be confiscated.


This Germanophobia spread across the country and the presses in London’s three German newspapers ground to a halt. There were twenty one suspected German spies arrested. Windows of all the butchers and bakeries which were identified as being German were bashed in by crowds of people all suffering from this Germanophobia, London’s streets soon had a different sound to them, the sound of breaking glass as one German business after the other were attacked.


A petition was received by Parliament a week after the sinking of the Lusitania, this petition had a quarter of a million signatures on it, all after the same thing, the removal of all Germans. The government obliged, interning them at the rate of 1,000 a month. They were placed in temporary camps at Frimley, Newbyry, Stratford, Hawick, Lancaster and Olympia. Some were even herded into prison ships moored off towns like Ryde or Gosport. There was eventually a huge camp built on the Isle of Man: its rows of huts would eventually hold 23,000 prisoners.


Due to the Germanophobia, many Germans took the decision to Anglicise their names. In addition to the famous royal conversions – Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor and Battenberg to Mountbatten – the writer Herman Hueffer became Ford Madox Ford and the composer Gustavus Von Holst, although the Swedish descent, dropped the Germanic ‘von’ from his name to be on the safe side.

Some Germans remained in London into the 1920’s but not many. A further influx was prevented thanks to restrictive immigration laws up until the 1930’s when the newcomers consisted of Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazism. 11,000 were admitted before November 1938, this increased to 55,000 by the time of the Second World War.


This time the government did not carry out a vindictive policy like they did with the Germans who arrived, perhaps this was because these newcomers were fleeing from Nazi persecution. After the war in 1945 there was a new influx of Germans into Britain, but their relationship was never the same as it first was, the German communities which had once been all through Liverpool, Bradford, Manchester and London had evaporated.


Tracing German ancestors in Britain can be a challenge but there are a few ways around it, for a start you can check the naturalisation records though there was no legal requirement to obtain naturalisation in Britain before the First World War. Unless of course, you were an adult male and wanted to leave real estate by will or join a London Livery Company. The place to go for these records is the National Archives should have duplicates of the certificates and declarations of these Naturalisations.


Church registers are another potential source, many of these records have been copied by the Anglo-German Family History Society.

The City of Westminster Archives Centre   has the records from the German Lutheran Church Charity which includes an investment book, subscriptions, accounts and papers 1708-1908.

Census records are also invaluable, from 1851 they should give the age and place of birth of anyone listed, it will normally say Germany or Prussia but you can sometimes get lucky and it will tell you the town or village.

The German Hospital also kept records, it might be an idea to look for them. There is an extensive collection of records held by St Bartholomew’s Hospital (reference GB 0405G). This includes staff lists and registers.

Certainly check out the Anglo-German Family History Society, they do wonders in helping people find their German ancestors.

German Ancestors Pt 3 – German Royalty Among the Brits

At the end of my last post I gave a quick account of how it was to be that there was German royalty among the British. Here is a bit more information on how that came to be.

With all the migrants from Germany to Britain, there was a one Prince Albert from the German duchy of Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha. He married Victoria and for a time, revived the unpopularity of the Hanoverian monarchs. The press and popular ballads portrayed him as an opportunistic adventurer. The country distrusted his German connections, and his awkwardness and tactlessness among court circles often caused offense.

Another reason why Germans were willing to migrate to Britain was because of the guarantee of freedom of expression, this brought in many political refugees, attracted by the liberal system of government. Many of these political refugees joined what was the middle class German community which was based in Sydenham which is in south-west London.

Karl Marx is a name many of us have probably heard, during the first half of the 1850’s he and his family lived in poverty in a three room flat in the Soho quarter of London. He spent his days in the British Museum and his evenings in the company of fellow Germans. Many of his encounters with Londoners were disastrous.

German settlement into Victorian Britain was not numerically impressive: 50,000 in a population of 30 million. This is not taking into account those who were, first and foremost, Jewish, though many of them had come from Germany. What made the German settlers unusual was that they entered all tiers of society simultaneously, including the very top. They therefore had a greater effect on British commerce and culture despite their numbers.

There were even German doctors and surgeons, they contributed a lot to medicine at the time. The president of the Royal College of Surgeons, Sir William Jenner was the son of a German, and two Germans – Sir Hermann Weber and Edward Sievenking – served as physicians extraordinary to the Queen. There was said to be around 40 German doctors in London at that time.

Did you know there was even a German hospital set up for all the migrants and anyone who spoke German? With some 50,000 German speaking people it wasn’t a bad idea. Germans also took to teaching throughout the country at schools and universities and as private tutors. Johannes Ronge created the first British children’s garden (kindergarten) in his house in Hampstead: work through play was his philosophy and he trained over 50 teachers, by 1859 there were 15 schools following his example.


German Ancestors Pt 2

During the 17th and 18th century, many people left Germany for England looking for religious freedom. This was one of the most unusual migrations ever seen during this time. They became known as the ‘Poor Palatines’ due to their destitution, they left their homes in Germany during the middle of winter at the end of 1708.

These migrants were farmers whose lands had been repeatedly devastated during the wars which were ravaging Central Europe at the time. Could you blame them? If someone kept knocking down your Lego creation over and over again, you’d move too. Anyway, their new elector, a determined Catholic, had ambitions to convert his overwhelmingly Protestant peasantry. So now the farmers are not only facing rebuilding after wars but also a leader who wants them all to convert to the faith he follows. By the summer of 1709 there were around 13,000 Germans crowding London’s eastern slums.

Not all were in the slums though, some were lodged in the wharves and warehouses at the docks both in Bermondsey and Southwark, thousands more were sent to an official refugee camp where there were a thousand army tents pitched in Blackheath. This enormous tent village became a bit of a tourist attraction. Their lives here were very basic but they were content, some made simple toys of small value which they sold to those who came to see them, their food was very basic consisting of brown bread, cheap cuts of meat and some roots and herbs and they were very cheerful and thankful for this food. Every Sunday, great numbers of them would go to church in the Savoy.

There were some people who were all for accommodating these migrants and so it was that they were given land in deserted areas such as New Forest. Trouble then started when the number of migrants then multiplied and the general attitude in England changed to one of hostility. It was seen that these migrants rather chose to beg than to work and so they were accused of being a breeding disease.

Queen Anne had a bit of a solution for this and saw to it that land speculators who had obtained land patents in the colonies then sent agents to the Palatines with offers of 40 acres of land, paid transportation to the colonies, and maintenance. Some 3,000 took up this offer and made their way to North America were they then settled into Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Many of those who remained were transported to Ireland where they settled in well in places such as the Rathkeale area of County Limerick. So if you have ancestors from this county, there is every chance they could have been German.

Remember how I said in my previous post that Germans were also involved in the royal family. Heres how it came to be that by the 18th century, Britain was ruled by Germans, this lasted for more than a century. The first of the Hanoverians was George I, who spoke no English, next after him was George II who only spoke German at home and then George III who declared ‘Oh!, My heart will never forget, that it pulses with German blood”. Having this German blood in the royal family encouraged more German settlers, from aristocratic members of the King’s inner circle to businessmen, bankers, scholars and artists.


Buttons buttons and more buttons, but who started it all?

If your Mum is anything like my Mum then you will be finding coffee jar after coffee jar full of buttons, blue ones, brown, black, white, green, in fact all the colours of the rainbow, trouble is, often they were the only one of that colour or design. Where did all these buttons come from I have no idea, I’m guessing from that ‘spare button’ sometimes attached to the new shirt or pants that you buy from the store. But before that, where they were made, who originally made buttons and how, I wouldn’t have a clue.


This is where an article I found comes in handy. Dorset, Dorset is the answer, for over two and a half centuries Dorset had been making buttons, starting out as plain and simple and then as technology improved, getting more and more intricate and beautiful, such as what we see today. Did you know that making buttons by hand is now a hobby? It used to be a job in what was a flourishing industry, but now women (primarily) make buttons by hand as a hobby.

It was in the 17th century that button making formalised into an official industry. Who started this buttonmaking in Dorset? A gentleman by the name of Abraham Case, a retired soldier. He had watched buttonmakers at work while on active service in France and Belgium and thought to try and establish buttoncraft as an industry in England.

The village of Dorset in Shaftesbury is where Mr Case settled in 1622 with his wife and it wasn’t long before they were crafting their own buttons. They were later helped by their sons Abraham and Elias, along with a few of the local villagers. The good thing about Shaftesbury is that it is located in prime sheep farming country, so their first buttons were made from, you guessed it, horn, their first buttons were known as high tops, and the horn they used was covered in linen and then finished off with an intricate pattern of waxed threads, just to give it that bit extra and help to keep it all together.

High top button(Photo of high top buttons)

These buttons, believe it or not, quickly became popular for use on men’s waistcoats and ladies bodices, not only in Dorset but throughout the UK. See the button was made by using a ring of sheep’s horn and then adding a piece of linen pulled into a twist to form a firm cone shape leaving the horn at the base.

FACT: When Charles I went to his execution, his silk waistcoat had Dorset high top buttons on it, reputedly crafted by Mr Case himself.

Did you know that by the time Mr Case passed away, there were 31 different button designs in circulation and that most were being made by women in their own homes in many of the surrounding villages. These amazing women would, once a week, deliver their finished products to the depot in Shaftesbury, some of these women had to walk quite a distance to get there, some 12 miles each way.


The Singleton family stood out from the rest when it came to making buttons due to their intricate skills and soon produced their own style of button which took on their name. Though the demand for Dorset buttons continued to grow and it was in 1660 that Mr Case’s sons established a second depot, this time in Bere Regis. Significant changes were to occur in the business when Mr Case’s grandson took over the business, business boomed to a never foreseen size. in 1730 there were more than 700 people employed to make buttons throughout the greater area of the county with additional depots at Wool, Sixpenny-Handley, Milbourne Stiles, Piddletrenthide and Langton Maltravers. There was even a sales office in London and an export department in Liverpool.

In the 18th Century, wire rings were being imported to use as the base for the buttons to replace the sheep’s horn. The wire was easier to work with and allowed more intricate designs as you can see below.

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Dorset Honeycomb Weave,Dorset Crosswheel Weave and Dorset Basket Weave Buttons. Amazing how far buttons have come to the now plastic, metal, silver, gold and even gemstone ones we have now.

The Case family were not the only ones to be making buttons, though they were the ones to start it in the UK. There was also Robert Fisher and the Atchinson family.

FACT Children as young as six were employed to make buttons but they had to work a full month without pay while they learnt the skills needed because they ‘spoilt much thread.’ After that, the pay was one shilling a week, this amount did gradually increase as they became more proficient. A skilled child could earn as much as 10-12 shillings in a week while women would earn about two shillings a day, this was for producing about six or seven dozen buttons. Then there are the exceptions of the highly skilled workers who could produce 12 dozen buttons a day.

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For women, working as buttonmakers had a certain luxury about it, in the field they would earn about nine pence a day so they were more than doubling their pay, there was also the convenience of working in the comfort of their own home. These luxuries added to the far greater comfort that these people began living in compared to their forebears. Not only was buttonmaking a job for all these women but a social outlet too, that was until …

In 1851 the death knell was sounded for handmade buttons when John Ashton demonstrated his new buttonmaking machine at the Great Exhibition in Crystal Palace. It took only three years for the machine to become so widespread that the Dorset button industry collapsed virtually overnight. The machine produced buttons more quickly, it was more reliable, the buttons were all the same and, they were made at a fraction of the cost. It left thousands of workers without employment as there was no longer a demand for their handmade buttons, this luxury of working at home on a very comfortable wage was no more. Not only this but farmwork was becoming increasingly mechanised and so there was no longer a requirement for skilled labourers.

Many families then moved to Australia and America, leaving their smaller villages virtually deserted, those who could not afford to emigrate ended their days in the workhouse. What a tragic end to something that was once so grand.

The last sad remains of the Case empire were, in 1904, sold to Lady Lees who made an attempt to revive the old handmade button industry. Her business employed ladies from the local mission and they battled bravely against the market forces to get their buttons out there, known and in demand, but sadly in 1915 they had to admit defeat and the business was closed for good.

Upclose Dorset Buttons  Only buttons DorsetButtons

If you have an ancestor who was a part of the buttonmaking industry, there are a few websites you can check out.  (Somerset and Dorset family history society)

German Ancestors Pt 1

So far my genealogy posts have been helping those who had ancestors from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall. So I’ve located some information to help those searching for German ancestors, I hope it comes in handy 🙂

Lets start off with a little fact. Did you know that the 2001 census taken in England showed that over a quarter of a million people living in Britain were German-born? To know our present, we need to know our past.


The earliest immigrants to Britain came as invaders, those from the Roman army and those from Anglo-Saxon tribes, all of which fought in Britain, conquered some areas and settled down. Later, immigrants moved to Britain to flee from poverty, and some in search of political or religious freedom. These immigrants were unique in that they merged with every class of people, from those who were destitute and living on the streets, to even the royal family.

Believe it or not, Britain has a very strong and deep connection with Germany, including the culture and language. England only emerged with a national identity in the tenth century after the German tribes unified as one nation.

By the time of the Norman Conquest, there were already hundreds of German traders to be found in Britain. If your ancestor was perhaps one of these merchants then it would be an idea to look into the history of the merchants, particularly during 1157 as Cologne merchants had a guildhall in London. In 1281 these merchants’ existence was recognised as they had now a self-governing German hanse, or merchants’ guild, based at the Stalhof or Steelyard at Thames Street, near Ironbridge Wharf.

This Steelyard basically became its own village with warehouses, a church, offices and residential quarters. This Steelyard was the base for the Hanseatic League which was an organisation founded in the 13th century by many German cities for protection and commerce. This was not the only location for the Hanseatic League though, they also had other kontors or depots, in many other English ports including Hull, Boston and King’s Lynn, these depots supplied England with corn, wax, pitch, hemp, timber, steel, furs and copper. It was only natural that the English has disagreements with the Hanseatic League due to their trading, primarily during the 14th and 15th century and were finally resolved when Elizabeth I abolished the League’s concessions in 1597.

The docks was not the only place where German immigrants were found to work, they were also found working in the mines where they were highly valued for their expertise, they were brought to work in the Cornish mines in the 13th century, and from the late 15th century onwards into Cumbria. There were disagreements, riots and fights due to so many immigrants with the local inhabitants. In Keswick, there was a 200 strong German population which did not sit well, Leonard Stoulz who was one of the miners, was beaten to death in the town by a mob of villagers in 1565. Parish registers show that the Germans eventually integrated with the local community and surnames such as Hindmarch, Stranger, Pepper and many others remain common in the area.

Next I look into the reasons why the Germans migrated to Britain.

The trick with old photos

I’ve found an article in one of the magazines I have stashed here that is really quite interesting for those who have photos with no known date.

When it comes to finding dates, one of the best steps to take is to ask family members, particularly the elderly, they may know or be able to give you a rough time frame.

Another really good step to take is to check on the back of the photo, generally a date is written there usually in pencil, if not then there might be notes.

Take note of the mount, if there is one. Mounts became more popular during the 19th century, not to mention more ornate and substantial.

Consider the camera position along with how close the camera is to the subject. between 1860 and 1900 the cameras got closer and closer to the subject, BUT, amateurs in the 20th century kept back, possibly scared of unintentionally scalping their subjects.

Pay attention to the props used in the photo if there are any, they could be helpful with dating, not to mention the backcloth too.

Do some research into the photographic studio, directories can be very helpful there.

Pay particular attention to the clothes being worn in the photo, if you do a bit of research you can find out what were the trend in what time periods.


In the first half of the 1960s, women’s ears were generally hidden by their hair; in the second half, ears were generally at least partly visible.

Cartes de visite are photos on a 10 x 6.5cm cardboard mount. Very thin mounts, with squarecut corners, probably date from the 1860s.

In the later 1860s, backcloths often showed an indoor scene with an outdoor view, through a window for example.

The 1870s became a bit more trendy and fashionable with necklines for women. Frills, scarves, ribbons, necklaces and jabots, sometimes several at a time.

1870s furniture was also notable opulent: thickly padded upholstery, fringes, bobbles and tassels were all popular.

Skirt bustles in the 1870s sloped smoothly to the floor, the 1880s saw them jutted out from the small of the back.

Studio scenery had a much more smooth look in the late 1860 and 1870s, but a more weathered look in the 1880s.

The A&G Taylor studio lasted in America from 1879 to early 1880s, their details can be found on the back of their photos.

Babies were commonly shown on fur rugs but were most commonly shown on white fur rugs in the 1890s.

Vignettes are round or oval close-ups fading to whitness at the edges, the majority of which date from the 1890’s.

Leg of mutton sleeves were extremely popular in the second half of the 1890s.

Men’s collars were very high going from the 19th century to the 20th century.

Elaborately trimmed, wide-brimmed, flat -crowned woman’s hats were all the rage from around 1908 until shortly before the First World War.

Women often wore white blouses in the early 20th century, the V-neckline didn’t make its appearance until 1913.

Soldiers in the First World War wore tunics, bandage-like puttees round their calves, and round peaked caps.

In the 1920s women commonly wore Dome-like cloche hats, brimless and pulled well down on the head.

Photos of people walking towards the camera are characteristic of the late 1920s and the 1930s.

Soldiers in the Second World War wore short battledress blouses, gaiters round their ankles and khaki field caps or berets.

Colour photos from the 1950s may look unnatural, with pillar box reds and custard yellows. Many families though didn’t go for colour until the 1960s.


West Indian ancestors, do you have any?

For me at this stage I would have to say no, I don’t think I do have any West Indian ancestors, but like much of genealogy, you don’t know for sure until you find documentation and perhaps photos.

If you think there is a chance you could have West Indian ancestors or are just curious about the history, please continue to read and even have a look at the websites I have listed for further information 🙂

Countries included as British West Indian

Also I have included the dates these countries were settled so if you have a hunch then seeing the date may perhaps help you in you research.

Anguilla – 1650

Antigua – 1632

Bahamas – 1629

Barbados – 1625

Belize – 1638

Bermuda – 1609

British Virgin Islands – 1666

Cayman Islands – 1670

Dominica – 1763

Grenada – 1763

Guyana – 1814

Jamaica – 1655

Montserrat – 1632

Nevis – 1628

St Christopher – 1623/1713

St Lucia – 1814

St Vincent – 1763

Tobago – 1814

Trinidad – 1802

Turks and Caicos Island – 1678

Please note that some of these Islands were previously occupied by either the French, Dutch or Spanish.

Now I know what a lot of you are probably thinking, being West Indian means you are black or have black ancestors, not necessarily true, your ancestor could have been someone who owned a plantation on one of the islands and owned some slaves (not that I enjoy using that word but it is the term used at the time).

Unfortunately not all the research into these ancestors can be done outside of these countries and many of them hold all the records there, especially in the associated churches, though there is some that you can do online and even in England, let me show you how, but first, you need to know some of the history.

By 1800 the population of the British West Indian Islands was mostly Africans and those of African decent, those who had been captured, enslaved and transported from West and Central Africa, an amazing 1.6 million actually, transported to the British West Indies to work as slaves on the plantations. Though this changed in the 19th century when Asian Indian labourers were recruited to help overcome severe labour problems due to the abolition of slavery in 1834 (good date to remember).

Tracing your ancestors on these islands is much the same as tracing them in England, it helps a lot to know which island they were from and which parish they were associated with, it would also be useful to know their ethnicity and their religion. Sadly though, the amount of documentation which has survived is poor on some of the islands due to poor records management, neglect and fire, not to mention both public and private property destroyed during war or invasion, plus humidity and hurricanes due to the climate, last but not least would be due to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Port Royal, former capital of Jamaica was destroyed in 1692 thanks to an earthquake, so if you have difficulties locating records there, that would be why. Also, similar destruction happened to Plymouth which was the capital of Montserrat in 1997.

If you have an ancestor who was a slave then tracking them down could be tricky, see they were not entitled to have legally recognised surnames, couldn’t make contracts or own property – until the 1820’s – also they were often prevented from attending church. If you are wanting to know about an enslaved ancestor before they were freed then you need to research their owners, though you need to keep in mind that an owner can also be an ancestor.

Generally before 1834 the only information you will find is the person’s ethnicity and status, though if these two are not recorded then you can generally assume that the person was ‘considered’ white, even if they were not. Another little fact is that some relationships and marriages were not recognised at the time Muslim marriages were not recognised as legal first until 1936 and Hindu ones not until 1946, so finding the term ‘illegitimate’ is rare, look into these things pretty deep as there are a lot of religions, laws and traditions mixing together on these islands.

Helpful websites   – The Church of Latter-Day Saints has many records online on this very useful website.  – a website for newspapers, old and current  –  more newspapers to sift through   –  Caribbean Genealogical Web Project  –  a site to help those looking for Hispanic, South American and Caribbean ancestors

One suggestion I could give, go and have a bit of a working holiday, once you have researched as much as you can, go and see where your ancestors lived and worked, you might just be able to find the missing pieces.


Happy hunting 🙂

A great way to track them down

Yet another way to track down your ancestors, and in fact, have a glimpse at what life was like for them is to read the newspapers from their era. Newspapers can be difficult to track down though, you need to find the ones that were published in their location and while they were alive.

These days, many of the old newspapers have been stored digitally or on microfiche, saves damaging the original copy or having it get stolen.

The most likely mentions of your ancestor in the newspaper would be their birth, marriage and death, unless of course your ancestor was one of status, in which case there may very well be more mentions of them.

I should also tell you, be prepared to find a few skeletons in the closet through reading the newspaper, often these stories when spoken about at home were ‘modified’ to protect the children in the family, this can lead to some confusion when tracking down ancestors. By skeletons I’m talking scandals and court cases, information that could lead to families moving away to run from their past.  A great site to start, thousands of newspapers from around the world are listed as are their links.   Much the same as the above site, listing many online newspaper sites. Fantastic site which contains the text of newspapers dating back to the 18th century for both the UK and US, though it is pay for access, there are free trials available.


Wonderful little gems

When I really got into genealogy, I went for the census records soon as I had the names of a couple and the general area. – you can find census records on here for both UK and also Ireland, there are also links on this site to some other amazing census records. – lists many links to free census records, in particular for the UK.  – lots more links to census records on this site also

Immigration records are another of the best things to search for if you find your ancestors came from overseas, which is the case for many of us.  –  information and advice when searching records for ancestors from Ireland.  –  emigration and immigration records for UK and Ireland, also with links to lists from America, Asia and Oceania.



Something I’d never really thought about

This post is about something I’ve not come across in my searching, thankfully, but it seems to be something that hasn’t really changed. Single mothers in the workhouse, ok so there are no workhouses around now but if you translate it into today’s terms then its single mothers on benefits schemes, so they can survive and raise their child or children.

Single mothers seem to have had it hard for … well … forever. Having a child out of wedlock was certainly not the done thing. A Poor Act from 1576 pronounced that ‘Bastards begotten and born out of lawful Matrimony were an offense against God’s Law and Man’s Law.’ These births were not only disapproved of on moral grounds but also births were expensive.

Settlement laws decreed that an illegitimate child ‘belonged’ in the parish where it was born and any costs regarding raising the child would fall on the parish. Common knowledge says that after having a child it not only meant you then had another mouth to feed but the mother would have great difficulty supporting herself for quite some time.

Now the fathers could shake off their responsibilities to the upkeep of the child if they wanted by paying a lump sum called a bastardy bond, though this rarely happened due to the expense.

The parish tried many things to, in a sense, get the heavily pregnant women off their hands, including, paying a man from 0utside the parish to marry such a woman. I guess in their eyes they see it as the child then having a mother and a father and so, growing up with a normal family life and also it meant that the child, which would then be born in wedlock, would take the husband’s settlement.

The reason behind the workhouses was that it was not only easier to care for one big family under one roof than it was to care for many under several roofs, but it also saved the parish money.

If you are interested to know more about the workhouses or are struggling to find an ancestor who may have been in a workhouse, then have a look at the following websites.

There are surviving workhouse records from London at

There is also free access to some early records at

A variety of census transcripts can be found at

Another site for workhouse documents is  has a lot of workhouse records also