Unravelling inconsistencies without benefit of certificates

Certain inconsistencies appear in the records viewed for two brothers who are commemorated on Petersham’s War Memorial and whose graves are in the Churchyard, almost within sight of their home, Parkgate.  One died at home of influenza in the closing weeks of the war and the other in the aftermath of war.  Without ordering certificates, a costly option for a project with a zero budget, what can we do to resolve some of these inconsistencies and confirm which pieces of information provided by the family are likely to be reliable?.

The parents of these men were the actor Henry Farren, and his wife, Mary Farren.  But when did they marry?  Did they marry?  And was Henry a member of the Farren acting ‘dynasty’?

And who was Mary?  There is a marriage between a Henry Farren and a Mary Ann Scotland in Lambeth in 1882, but without sight of actual certificates, one cannot say whether these are this couple.  Her name is given as Mary in all the census returns we are able to associate with her..

There are several inconsistencies in the documents relating to Montague.  His birth was registered in Strood, Kent in the fourth quarter of 1887 and his parish of birth was identified as Gravesend in the 1911 census, and also when he enlisted in the Army in December 1915.  His age was given as 3 in the 1891 census, which would match a birth in August 1887 and this entry reassures us that he was not a subsequent child, given this particular combination of names, perhaps following the death of a sibling.


Fast forward to 1 October 1896 when Montague transfers from Oldfield Road Infants’ in Stoke Newington to Oldfield Road School, when his date of birth was given as 31 August 1888, and his father’s name as Montague Farren of 83 Park Lane.  Is this another Montague Farren, and if so, why doesn’t he show up in the censuses of 1891 or 1901?


When Montague was eventually baptised, at St Faith’s, Stoke Newington, on 28 August 1897, his date of birth was recorded as 27 August 1887.  If this date of birth is correct, then he was baptised the day after his tenth birthday, and one can imagine the family realising Oops, Montague hasn’t been christened, and heading for the parish church at the earliest opportunity to remedy that omission.

The age calculated for Montague on 9 December 1915, when he enlisted, was 25 years and 4 months.  The four months will almost fit a birth in late August, but for him to be 25, he would have to have been born in 1890.  In this case, perhaps the calculation was made from his date of birth, and he was not inclined or competent to correct it, if he noticed it when he signed the form.  Nor could he have been 27 on 3 March 1919, as indicated in the Burial Register for St Peter’s on 11 March 1919. In the latter instance, this information is likely to have been provided by his mother, whose own vagueness with regard to her age, may indeed turn out not to have been rooted in vanity.


Only once does ‘Ann’ appear as part of Mary’s name and that is by the War Office in the directive re the recipient of Gerald’s medals, when she is identified as Mrs Mary Anne (sic) Farren (of Parkgate, etc).  She signed letters as Mary Farren, and the handwriting on the 1911 census form matches her handwriting in the letters she sent to the War Office and to Wharnecliffe Hospital. Her sons, when identifying her in documents always gave her name as Mary.

Census returns are not helpful.  Mary Farren appears with her sons’ father in the 1891 census aged 36, born in York, Yorkshire, information which is likely to have been provided by Henry Farren. Twenty years later she is a widow, aged a mere 51, responsible for filling in her own form, and giving her birthplace as N.K. [Not Known]!

When might they have married?  Mary helpfully indicated that she had been married 25 years, but if Henry has indeed died between 1891 and 1911—and as yet we don’t know when—then we’re unable to establish when they might have married.  If 25 years is accurate, and we have to make assumptions, we could look for a marriage occurring in the year preceding, or even following, their son’s birth.  Robert Hindson T Farren, gave his date of birth as 25 February 1883 when applying for US citizenship, as well as on what is likely to have been his Draft Registration. (This matches the registration of his birth in 2Q 1883, Gravesend as six weeks were allowed for registration of a birth and a birth towards the end of February might well not be registered until April.)  That marriage in the third quarter of 1882 between a Henry Farren and a Mary Ann Scotland might fit, but even if this is our Mary Farren, was her maiden name really Scotland and why is a woman who is clearly educated, and able to write fluently and persuasively, not able to say where she was born, even to the nearest large town or the county or region?


Certificates aside, I followed up her surviving sons, Robert and James, and two grandsons from Robert’s first marriage as well as two from James’s marriage.  Robert had emigrated to North America before the war, and registered for the draft on 12 September 1918, at which point his younger brothers were still alive.  He married  Caroline Clara Rosanna Parfrey in 1906 and  had by her two sons, Robert James Hindson Farren (born 1907) and Eric Montague Parfrey Farren (1908–1973).  Robert was living with his grandmother at Parkgate in 1911, but joined his father to the United States in 1912.   At the time of the 1920 US Census, in which hs is recorded as Robert John,  he was living in Detroit with his father and a “Marie L Farren”.  Robert (senior) appears again in US records in the 1930s, with a third ‘wife’ Betty O. Farren.  No search has been made for records for marriages to Marie L, or Betty O. because this War Memorial project has zero budget, and there are other men and women to research and commemorate.

James, who had also emigrated before the war, returned to the UK where he enlisted with the  ‘Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force,’ giving Parkgate as his address in the UK.  His attestation is dated 29 April 1918, at Bramshott Camp in Hampshire.  He was within a month of his 37th birthday.  He was a farmer in Mervin, Saskatchewan, Canada in the most recent record found for him.  On one of his visits to the UK, in the 1920s, he was accompanied by his wife, Doris and two sons, John (b. c1930) and Gerald (b. c.1933).  Search engine results for Farrens associated with Mervin, turn up several in British Columbia, who could be followed up.

It is interesting to see, in the names given to their nephews, the fraternal loyalty and affection of Gerald and Montague’s brothers.

What may be rather more significant to a researcher, is the incorporation of the surname Hindson into the next generation.  It is that surname, so strongly associated with England’s northernmost counties, that may provide a clue to one of the grandparents of Mary’s sons, or even to Mary’s maiden name, if she and Henry were not married.  Exley may also be a significant surname.


Order certificates!  Start with the birth certificate of one of the sons, perhaps the eldest, Robert, as this will also provide missing information on the name with initial T.  What is given as the mother’s maiden or former name?  If the surname is Scotland, order that Farren/Scotland marriage certificate.  If not, search for a marriage between Henry Farren and someone bearing that surname, starting three years before the birth of the eldest son, and continuing until the death of Henry Farren.

You might wish to order the birth registration for another child in order to establish ‘reliability’ or consistency.

Searching for a death certificate for Henry may be more difficult as Henry Farren is not uncommon as a name, but also because he may have died while performing elsewhere in the United Kingdom, which at that time still included Ireland.  Note, on the marriage certificate, the name and profession of his father.

To narrow down the time of his death, it might be worth contacting the archivist of the University of Bristol’s Theatre Collection, who may have information about Henry Farren or his father, should the marriage certificate confirm that he, too, was an actor.  As a relatively prosperous actor, a report of his death, or an obituary, may have appeared in the newspapers.


Kate Evelyn Luard (1872-1962)

Well, it didn’t take long to unmask our nursing sister, once I’d the benefit of that attribution. She was indeed a Miss Luard, but Kate Evelyn Luard, rather than Kathleen, and it would seem, known to her friends and family by her middle name, Evelyn.

The daughter of the Vicar of Aveley, a man rejoicing in the name Bixby Garnham Luard and of Clara Isabella Sandford Bramston, she had brothers who achieved high rank in the army, one of whom, Frank William Luard, a Colonel in the Royal Marines, was killed at Gallipoli on 13 July 1915 six weeks after her last entry in the ‘Diary’.

She subsequently released a book under her own name, called ‘Unknown Warriors’, a new edition of which has been produced by her family and will be published in August 2014.

Update to this post on 6 August 2014
I duly pre-ordered the book, and it arrived today, just in time to distract me from the research I had intended to prioritise. Yesterday’s episode of Michael Portillo’s series, about the role of the railways in WW1, included something on the ambulance trains.

The  contrast between that photograph of the well appointed interior of an ambulance train coach, intended to reassure the general public, and the working conditions described in Anonymous Diary of a Nursing Sister, could not be greater.




Realities of nursing versus ‘The Crimson Field’

For anyone who has read the (anonymous) Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front 1914-1915, the BBC drama , The Crimson Field, will seem rather unconvincing in its depiction of the reality of nursing in WW1.

While defined as a ‘Diary’ the resulting book seems to be based on letters home, and covers the writer’s nine months’ nursing in France, much of it spent on the hospital trains, nursing the most seriously wounded.   It reveals the reality of D.O.W. but also the heroism of patients and nursing staff.

This time I’ve been carefully reading it to see what clues there are to the identity of this nursing sister, or to why her ‘diary’ ends rather abruptly.  I’m noting any clues to her identity, to the actual numbers of the hospitals to which she was attached, and the end-points and dates of her train journeys in the hope that somewhere this information will be recorded, so that I can narrow down the candidates!   I thought at first that she must have been a military nurse, as she’d been with the army in South Africa, and sailed with troops from ‘Sackville Street’ Dublin within days of the declaration of war.

It seems that the National Library of Scotland  holds Blackwood’s papers, but perhaps those relating to the anonymous nursing sister were amongst the papers lost during the Blitz, in the fire that destroyed the publisher’s London premises.

Having accidentally visited the diaries page on the Open Library via The Internet Archive,  in order to shorten the URL, I noticed that the book is attributed to “Kathleen Luard” so I will now desist from my frenetic note-taking to see whether I can find convincing evidence for this attribution.

For those who want to read this book:
I downloaded this book some years ago, when I was given my first Kindle and was stocking up on free Kindle editions.  You don’t need a Kindle as it can also be read online, or downloaded in book form in a variety of formats here.  For those who prefer an audio version,  you can listen to it here  (These links will direct you to pages on the incomparable Internet Archive.)  The same book is offered on Amazon by ‘independent publishing platforms’ at prices between £10 and £20, quite steep, I think, considering it is a relatively short book.

Anonymous, Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front 1914-1915, Edinburgh and London, 1915, [published William Blackwood & Sons in 1915].

Undoing duplicated spouses & children

I spend so much time helping Ancestry novices undo the duplicated spouses and children on their family trees, that I’m dedicating a post to it.

Understanding how it happens
This is not Ancestry‘s fault—apart from the fact, alas, that its transcriptions can be so unreliable, but I’ll not vent here on that disappointing element.

Adding duplicates is an own goal.  It doesn’t happen the first time you find something that links to a person who is already on your tree. It happens if you unwittingly add, as a ‘new person,’ someone who is already on your tree. It arises because the details in the ‘fresh’ information appear in a slightly different format to what is already on your tree, which leads Ancestry to ‘suspect’ that you are adding a new person.  Perhaps the enumerator interpreted the spelling of the name in a way that was inconsistent with a previous version so, to a Mere Computer, you might be adding a ‘newcomer’ to your tree.

Often it is a new person e.g. when  additional children have been born since a previous census, or when suddenly a mother-in-law is visiting on Census Night.

How to avoid this happening (because it’s going to take a heap of time to undo)
After you click to ‘review’ the hint, remember you’re reviewing a suggestion in order to accept, amend or reject it!

When you click to review , you are taken to a page where the ‘new’ information is on the left.  When Ancestry ‘thinks’ this is a different person to the one you have on your tree, there will be nothing on the right-hand side of the screen.  Usually you will tick (check) the Add box to add that person to your tree.  Instead, override your eagerness.

There are two options to the right of the name of the person you are adding:  ‘NEW PERSON’ and ‘Not a new person?’.  Pause before you act.  Helpfully, at the very top of the page,  there is a summary of what you have about the person on your tree and what is ‘unknown’.  Take time to digest this.

If you recognise that someone is not a ‘new person’, you will avoid duplicating a person you already have, and you will be given the option to connect that information to the person you already have on your tree.


Percy’s photos

I have a threadbare wallet containing photographs of some of my grandfather’s military comrades in the Great War.  Most of these photos are either studio photographs or informal group photographs taken in military hospitals.  On the reverse of each, my grandfather, Percy, pencilled the names and regiments of those in the photos.

At the time the Imperial War Museum’s project Faces of the First World War was first announced, I read that, after the war, when families were asked (presumably by the War Office) to provide a photo of the deceased soldier, some families gave the only photo they had.  The thought of the loss of these ‘sole photos’ dismayed me.  But it shouldn’t really have surprised me since, in the course of my war memorial projects, where I’ve been able to contact relatives, it is rare indeed to find someone, apart from direct descendants, who has ever seen a photo of their relative.

So many of those who went to war were young and unmarried, leaving grieving parents, siblings and young widows, but no direct descendants.  Indeed, I’ve not yet come across a photo of my grandmother’s first husband, who died in 1915.  From time to time, I’ve made attempts to locate relatives of some of the men in Percy’s photos, particularly those on the CWGC database of those who did not survive the conflict.

A friend, who has  a ‘dedicated’ scanner, has allowed me to use it to make superior scans of Percy’s photos, making it easy to provide a digital copy to any interested surviving relatives.   My most recent such reunion of relative and photo provided a studio photograph of a man killed in 1918 to his half-brother’s son, a man not born until the end of the Second World War.

What follows is a list of the men whose relatives have not yet been located.  Apart from one Canadian, all served in either the South African or the Australian forces. Given the superior surviving records for the Australian forces—I have sung the praises of the AWM elsewhere, more than once—I am hopeful that I will eventually reunite copies of these photos with interested relatives.

By publishing their names here, at some point, preferably during my lifetime, a relative researching them may come across this post.  Most of the men on this list did survive the war.

Group of three soldiers with a nurse
In pencil on the reverse of the postcard:
4340, Sgt L Buckley, A Company, 30th Battalion, A. I. F.
Pte G Fox, No. 1 Section, 9th F. A., A.I.F.
Trooper J. H. Nash, 13th A. L. H., A.I.F.

Three soldiers, signatures on photos
Signatures read:
Patrick, C.W. Medlin, A. Willison

Reverse of card, pencilled:
Pte Patrick, S.A. Scottish;
Pte C.W. Medlin, 3rd S.A. Infantry;
Sgt. Willison, 5th Canadians.

Three soldiers, posing in Williams Pioneer Studios Ltd (Holloway)
Sgt G.A. Leak, 1st Regiment, Killed Delville Wood, July 1916
F (or T?) Horsley (or Hawsley?), 4th Regiment.

Photo of man in black tie, taken at the Parisian Studios, 27 Church Street, Liverpool
6050 Sgt Spud Murphy, S.A. Scottish

Photo of three men standing behind a nurse
Percy is the man in the middle.  On the reverse is written:

2nd London Gen. Hospital
Chelsea Hut I

With best wishes
J.A. Mitchell, 7th Battalion, A.I.F.
Home address: Queensborough, Victoria, Australia

On the right (in the space for the address):
P. A. Groves, 1st S.A.I., Abroad.

Very young soldier (head and shoulders)
Signed below portrait: Yours sincerely, Reg. L. Huckett, 11th October 1917




To the Fallen, from the Rear Party

Talking yesterday to a U3A group about the various ways of finding out what happened on the battlefields in World War 1, I mentioned my passion for out-of-print regimental histories, which I often find on the Internet Archive.  As we had a SMART Board at hand, I offered to look for a history for a particular regiment, and the ‘Loyal North Lancashire’ was suggested.

The Internet Archive did not disappoint.  The War History of the 1st/4th Battalion the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment (1914–1918), published Preston, 1921, was there for the taking, with 1350 people besides myself having coveted and downloaded.

We had a quick peep at the ‘Read Online’ version and we were immediately touched by the wording of the book’s dedication.

Loyal North Lancs Dedication

I love the metaphor of the survivors being simply ‘The Rear Party’ and the way it conveys a the feeling of fellowship with those who hadn’t survived.

Immediately opposite the dedication is a photograph of Lieutenant-Colonel  Ralph Hindle, D.S.O, who commanded the battalion for just over two years until he was killed in action in November 1917.   The photo is accompanied by a remark he made in 1917: “What do these fellows mean by saying, ‘I’ve done my bit’?  What is their ‘bit’?  I don’t consider I’ve done mine yet.”

The first pages consist of a reduced facsimile of the Roll of Volunteers for Service Abroad, as signed in the Public Hall on 8 August 1914.  It’s for all eight companies of the battalion, and if you read the book online, it’s easy to enlarge the image until the signatures of the men are legible.

The book is  enhanced by extracts from the war diaries, photos, including aerial photos which show opposing trenches, and fascinating, detailed battlefield maps.  There’s even a copy of the Battalion’s Christmas Card for 1916.  The Appendices include a list of honours awarded to members of the regiment, and a detailed list of all casualties.

This book is going to keep me up tonight.


More Information about Digital Editions
I’ve previously written about downloading digital editions of books and choosing between the available formats here.


German morale during WW1

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about German morale thanks largely to Rob Schaefer who uploaded some enthralling interviews with German WW1 veterans on his site, Gott mit uns, earlier this year.

There are subtitles, thanks to which I’ve added to my German vocabulary the names of quite a few weapons.  I doubt that I’ll retain them, unless I have the opportunity to use them in conversation but, briefly, I felt almost ready to contemplate reading Jünger’s In Stahlgewittern in the original.

Max Arthur’s Lest we forget also includes an extract from Sulzbach’s writings, in which he  describes the effect on German morale, in July 1918, of the ‘unbelievable barrage’ from the Allies, when, he says, they realised that things were going badly wrong.  On a home visit to Frankfurt, as a commissioned officer, and in uniform, he had an unanticipated experience:  not one person saluted him.  He recognised  that ‘at home’ they wanted the war over, victory or not.  Back at the Front, his comrades were receiving letters from their families that complained, ‘We have nothing to eat, we are fed up with the war, come back as soon as possible.’


Arthur, M., Lest we forget:  Forgotten voices from 1914-1918, London, 2007 [Ebury Press].
Sulzbach, H., With the German Guns, Barnsley, 2012 [Pen & Sword]  First published in Germany in 1935 as Zwei Lebende Mauern, first English edition, 1973.  Translated from the German by Richard Thonger.

There is more about Herbert Sulzbach and Featherstone Park in my post Inside Featherstone Park.

Kindle Treats

I’ve recently been reading, on an early version of Kindle, the diary of an anonymous nursing sister who served on hospital trains during World War 1.  I can’t help contrasting her experiences and the demands of nursing the wounded and the dangerously ill with all that has been bubbling up since the Stafford Hospital revelations of the lows in nursing 100 years later.  Her description of the perilous condition of many of the patients, coupled with our realisation of how limited the treatment options were 100 years ago, makes it a somewhat gruelling read for those whose imagination tends to overdrive.  There’s a fair bit of anecdotal description of trench life from the patients and some interesting glimpses of the views of the ‘enemy’ patients she nursed.

This is one of a number of books of interest to family and local historians that are available free of charge and can be downloaded either from Amazon, or from one of the other providers listed below . When I was first given my Kindle, I focused on adding to it books that would be free and useful.

If you do find a book online, and it’s free, whether or not it’s in a version for Kindle, act.  Bookmarking the page will not necessarily help you to locate it again.  There is a phenomenon that I liken to booking your travel online.  [You visit a site, as part of a wider trawling expedition, and go back to the most favourable offer, a short time later…and it’s gone up in price.] It always seems to me that once ‘your visit has shown interest, in the form of leaving a cookie, you find the price inflated when you revisit the site.  In the case of out-of-print books, you’ll find the free version has vanished, but someone’s offering it, in another format, for sale.

I became aware of how fleeting a book’s availability might be, after noticing online a free version of memoirs that would have been of interest to descendants of the writer.  The free pdf had vanished when, some months later, I made contact with other descendants of the writer, only to find, when I had mentioned it to them, that it was only available as a printout at an exorbitant cost.  Worse, it was no longer accessible where I had added it to my Google Books. Fortunately I had saved the free version when I saw it, but I so nearly hadn’t bothered as it was a rather large file and I had access to a rather worn out copy of the book. Nowadays I am very careful, when I come across a publication of interest, to ‘harvest’ immediately.

What if the free versions don’t include a Kindle version?  Well, there’s almost always a pdf version.  Download that to your computer, and do what you can’t do with a Kindle purchase: rename it so the title is recognisable and short enough to show on the list of ‘items’.  (Maybe that’s only necessary on older Kindles!) Eliminating initial articles (The, A, An) helps, for a start.  Once you have it on your computer, you email the file to your Kindle.  To work out your Kindle address is simple.  The user name is exactly the same username as the email address that you use for your Amazon account.  (If your email address is heyamazon@sendmail.com then you email the file to heyamazon@kindle.com.)  No subject, no body text in the email, just attach the file.

The Hot List

Here’s my shortlist of current favourites.  Please don’t draw attention to it.  I’d hate these books to vanish before others find them.

Anonymous, Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front 1914-1915, Kindle edition.  The same book is offered on Amazon by ‘independent publishing platforms’ at prices between £10 and £20, with no ‘caveat emptor’.  This book covers the writer’s nine months nursing in France, much of it spent on the hospital trains, nursing the most seriously wounded.   It reveals the reality of D.O.W. but also the heroism of patients and nursing staff.  The book was published by William Blackwood & Sons in 1915 (Edinburgh and London).

Buchan, J., The History of the South African Forces in FranceLondon, 1920, [Thomas Nelson & Sons].  Anyone interested in out-of-print regimental histories will find that many are available in formats that are suitable for Kindle or eBooks.  If I remember correctly this book would have cost me £37.50, and I suspect that it might have turned out to be a printout from a pdf.

Waugh, E. Home Life of the Lancashire Factory Folk during the Cotton Famine,  Public Domain, Kindle Edition.  [This riveting read was introduced to me by Denise, a fellow family historian.  It is a reprint of Edwin Waugh’s articles in The Manchester Examiner and Times of 1862.  Week by week he describes his visits to the poor in Blackburn, Preston and Wigan.]  If you are looking for insight into the realities of poverty in 19th century Britain, you will find it here.

There are many nuggets out there.  While researching a handloom linen weaver in Scotland, an immigrant from Lurgan in Armagh, I came across, on the Internet Archive, an illustrated booklet The Hand Loom Linen Weavers of Ireland and their Work  by James White, published Chicago. Irish Hand-woven Linen Damask Company, (date of publication not evident).  Booklets like this broaden one’s understanding of trades, skills, working life and can flesh out the story of an individual for whom few records survive.  There is a Kindle edition, and in the case of this book, I should point out that free Kindle editions often show the signs of digitisation without subsequent editing.

There’s a dedicated community of volunteers who are steadily converting physical editions of out-of-print, out-of copyright books and pamphlets to digital editions.    We would not have so wide a choice if each one had had to be edited word by word.  The Hand Loom Weavers has quite a few puzzling passages e.g. sometimes the caption is detached from the picture it supports, or a page number floats inside the text.  Stick with it, despite the blips, and they soon become less intrusive because your brain can, and will, adjust to cater for that.

If these occasional blips really bother you and interfere with your reading, then do read the original book online. The clearest images for this are found on the Open Library.  Taking The Hand Loom Weavers as an example, follow the hyperlink to it, two paragraphs back, in this post.  You’ll see, towards the bottom of the box that gives you the book’s details e.g. Author Subject Publisher, a tiny blue icon for the Open Library.  To the right of this icon are the words “This book has an editable web page on the Open Library”.

Click on the words editable web page and you will be taken to the main page for the book, on the Open Library website.  Select the option Read online and you will be able to read a perfect copy of the book and to make use of the zoom feature to increase the font size.

Potential Sources of Free Digital Editions

Google Books

Hathi Trust Digital Library

The Internet Archive

Project Gutenberg

VIRGO [This has replaced the inimitable Electronic Text Centre of the University of Virginia.  Many of the Etext’s resources are still available here, or have been migrated to other providers such as Google Books and Project Gutenberg.]

Finding Regimental Histories

Visit The Long Long Trail to find to which division the regiment or the battalion of interest was attached.  You may need this later if a search for the regiment produces no results. Just type the regiment’s name in the search box at the top of the page.   The first search result is usually the page you want.  Scan the page for the Battalion Number, and note to which Division it was attached at the period of interest to you.

Use a search engine, keying in the regiment’s name in lower case and the words regimental history.   Omit the battalion number on your initial search.   Scan the search results.  What looks promising?  How might you narrow down the results by adding another keyword to your search terms?

I have recently found a number of other useful personal accounts or regimental histories, all of them free for electronic readers, including Kindle. They include:

Ainsworth, R.B., The Story of the 6th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry, France, April 1915–November 1918, London, 1919 [St Catherine Press].

Anonymous, Regimental Nicknames and Traditions of the British Army, 5th ed., London, 1916, [Gale & Polden].  With its colour illustrations, this is definitely one to read online!  Find it on the Internet Archive, and follow the link to the Open Library, rather than downloading it from Kindle.

Buchan, J., History of the South African Forces in France, This also covers the South African Brigade’s earlier operations elsewhere, for example against the Senussi,  It is one of many regimental histories undertaken by John Buchan.  His affection for the South African Brigade, which was attached to the 9th Scottish Division is reflected in his dedication to his novel Mr Standfast, which reads: “TO THAT MOST GALLANT COMPANY THE OFFICERS AND MEN OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN INFANTRY BRIGADE ON THE WESTERN FRONT”.

Thompson, E., The Leicestershires Beyond Baghdad (1919), London, [Epworth].

Ward, F.W. The 23rd (Service Battalion) Royal Fusiliers (First Sportsmans’)  London, 1920, [Sidgwick & Jackson].

Weetman, W.C.C., The Sherwood Foresters in the Great War, 1914–1918: 1/8th Battalion, Nottingham, 1920, [Thomas Forman & Sons].

An altogether different view—for World War 1, sides are taken— can come from the observations of journalists and writers.

Bennett, A., Over There: War Scenes on the Western Front, 1915.  Bennet was sent by the War Propaganda Bureau to tour the front in 1915.  He was horrified at what he saw, but agreed to produce an account that would encourage men to enlist.  At this point, enlistment was still on ‘voluntary’ or under moral pressure.  Balance his journalistic ability to observe and describe with the propaganda that, today, is likely to rankle.

Hales, A.G., Campaign Pictures of the War in South Africa (1899–1900) Letters from the Front, Melbourne, 1901, [Cassell & Company].  These are the letters, sent back for publication, of  a journalist covering the experience of the Australians sent to South Africa to support the British forces.

Next month:  Electronic readers and research

I also saw the opportunity to use my Kindle to carry about with me the notes, glossaries and aide memoires I need for my research. I have several tips for adding your own documents to Kindle, so I’ll be writing them up in a future post.  I also use a Kindle version for Android and DropBox, on my smartphone, to access research aids that I might need to have on hand in an archive, thus avoiding taking in loose sheets of notes that need to be inspected page by page at security points.


War Memorial Research (3): No easy match on the CWGC database?

In my experience, at least half the time, I can match a name to an individual without too much difficulty, particularly if there is information about next of kin on the CWGC database.  Here are some suggestions on where you might look for information about those whose names appear to be missing from the database or for whom the database offers too many possible matches.

Have they moved away? Bear in mind that soldiers on your War Memorial, who have no local address attached to them, are likely to have had some close local family connections, or to have hailed originally from your parish or town.  A not insignificant number may turn out to have been serving with Commonwealth forces following their emigration, or that of their parents.

George Brisco, who was serving in the Australian Forces, appears on the Sea Scouts’ Memorial Plaque inside St Peter’s Church in Petersham, though not on the Petersham War Memorial.  In George’s case, finding the Australian Service Records was quite an eye-opener running to 40 pages of high quality digital images.  In addition to his service records, the Australian Red Cross went to commendable lengths to track down other soldiers in hospitals and camps in England, who might be able to provide information about the incident in which George lost his life—just in that file, there were 45 pages’ worth of letters, records of interviews and communications with his mother.   The Missing Persons’ File included a fine photo of George in uniform.  You can locate and view records of those serving in the Australian Imperial Forces at the Australian War Memorial and at the National Archives of Australia.  Both organisations have sites that are easy to search and provide excellent information sheets.  The digitised records for WW1 service personnel are also free to view.  And while it can be months before one hears back from the CWGC, a query about the location of a diary, brought an answer within 24 hours.  Same day really, if you consider the time difference.  [Thank you, and well done, Australia!]

Finding people who have no obvious connection with the place: Of the six names on a Leicestershire War Memorial that I am researching, three had, initially, no obvious connection with the village.  Family Reconstitution techniques played a significant part in identifying the nature of their links to the village.  This is, however, time-consuming and if you know of someone who is doing a One Place Study on the place, they may be able to assist with that part of your research.

Finding natives of the place, whose names are missing from the War Memorial: If you would like to trace some of those who grew up locally, but whose names are not listed on the memorial, then the tactic of looking for the village or district as a birthplace, leaving the surname search box empty, often generates a number of results for soldiers who had been born there, but enlisted after moving away.

Were the service records up to date? Sometimes a war memorial will include rank, or the name of a regiment: note these down, but do not take these details at face value, particularly if you are unable to find a record for someone with a low frequency surname.  Soldiers were sometimes transferred to other battalions or to other regiments in the course of their service and news of promotions towards the end of a military life may not have reached the family or the committee responsible for the list.

Can you locate the soldier in the 1911 Census?  If you are able to access the 1911 Census, you may well find your soldier recorded with those parents or that spouse or living at that address.  Most of those named on war memorials will have been enumerated in the 1901 and 1911 Censuses so looking them up may help you to ‘flesh’ out the background of those whose Service Records have not survived.

Where in the UK was the regiment based?  If you know the regiment to which the soldier was attached, that can sometimes provide a clue to the region where your soldier lived or worked.  A search engine could be used to find out where the regimental headquarters were.

Research the whereabouts of the unit and the action around the time your person died.  British Service Records for ‘other ranks’, where they’ve survived, often provide no more information than K.I.A. or D.O.W.  If you are researching an officer, or an airman, you may find, or be able to deduce, more about their military service and deaths in their files.  Search The National Archives’ online Discovery Catalogue to locate the record reference in the relevant series or start at the Records page, by clicking on Looking for a Person, which, if you are not familiar with the site gets you to the search box with opportunities to find out more en route.

The inimitable site The Long, Long Trail is the finest information resource on WW1 and if you have queries, its companion site, The Great War Forum is outstanding.  Use the first site to find some background on the regiment, or key action on a particular day during the war, so that when you ask your question on the forums, you post it to the ‘right’ group.

Once you know the regiment, you are ready to look for the battle diaries of the battalion, the regiment and the division of which it was part.  Soldiers of other ranks are rarely mentioned by name, unless for something particularly noteworthy.  You can view digital copies of the diaries The National Archives at Kew, free of charge.

Workplace Memorials: If you are researching a workplace memorial, like the War Memorial at Waterloo, which lists railway employees, or even the small memorial inside the Royal Mail Sorting Office in Kingston upon Thames, bear in mind that they will record employees who may not have lived locally.  However, listing on a workplace memorial means that if you can locate the employment records for your soldier, at least some of his or her story will be revealed.  You may even find, if you contact the organisation’s archvist, that there was mention of his death or military service in its internal publications at the time.


War Memorial Research (2): First Steps

Recently I’ve been asked to provide advice on researching war memorials, so to make access easier, I’ll be posting some thoughts on this research here.  Eventually, I’ll also be posting some ideas for tackling local history projects, which I hope could be helpful for schools considering researching war memorials in their communities.

Record the names

Researching a war memorial usually starts with noting down the names.  I try to take a photograph of the memorial from every aspect, ideally on the first visit, as it gives a helpful reference point.  This is particularly important if the engraving has suffered any damage from exposure to the elements. There is plenty of advice about taking photographs of graves or memorials online including a clear, brief guide on the website of the Maple Leaf Legacy Project .

I find it’s helpful, also, to make a list of the names on the spot, writing them down in the order in which they appear and carefully noting any additional details.  Somehow I feel, while I’m writing down the names, a sense of engaging with each person, so, unless the memorial has hundreds of names, I do that as well as taking photographs.   If names appear on more than one panel or side of the memorial, be sure to note where there is a break in names.  You’ll also need to  devise a way that clearly identifies each panel or side, not just for you, but for anyone who comes across your project.  Compass directions will not always be  as obvious to others as they may seem to be to you.

If there are details of rank, regiment or service arm, note those as well, as any additional information will help you to ‘narrow down’ the field, when you’re looking for, say, a high frequency combination like ‘Thomas Williams’.  [Pause here to guess how many men named Thomas Williams died while on military service in the course of WW1.]

Where a war memorial does include rank, or the name of a regiment do not take these details at face value, particularly if you are unable to find a record for someone with a low frequency surname.  Soldiers were sometimes transferred to other battalions or regiments in the course of their service and news of promotions towards the end of a military life may not have reached the family or the committee responsible for the list.

Match the name on the War Memorial to a specific individual—using a site with FREE access

My next step is to ‘marry’ each of the names on the War Memorial to a name on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s database.   If it’s a rare surname, you’re in luck, but generally, at some point you may sense the enormity of the nation’s loss when you discover how many men with the name  ‘Thomas Williams’ died in WW1.

Search Tips for using the CWGC database
1. One of the reasons, some people are hard to find on the CWGC database, is that it works at its best if you enter the name in the exact format in which it appears on the CWGC database.  But of course, until you find the name there, you won’t know what that format is!  So, unless I’m dealing with a high frequency name/surname combination, I enter only the surname and an initial.

2.  If you are searching this database for the first time, start with the more unusual surnames on the memorial.  By the time you reach the high frequency surnames, you will have learned your way around the site and thought of a few search tips of your own.

3.  With a high frequency surname, you need to take the Forename search route for Thomas Williams because, while it will prioritise the Thomases, it also lists those who have the initial T and eventually delivers even the odd, but unique,  ‘Theophilus Tunstall Williams’ and ‘Tobler K. Williams’.   If there is more than one initial associated with the name, you’re in luck, because searching for T. T. Williams generated just three results (not 34 pages of results), one of whom was Theophilus Tunstall Williams.

Searching by the initial is the default search so to search by forename make sure that you click the radio button next to the word Forename.

If your search result is the message (0) records match your search criteria, do check that you haven’t entered a forename without disabling the radio button for initial.  (What it will have done for Thomas would have been to transform the name into t  h o m a s and to have looked for a T. H. O. M. A. S. Williams)  With a high frequency surname, you may realise that there can’t be no results at all for a Thomas Williams or a John Smith, but this possibility may not occur to you with a low frequency surname like  Camplejohn.

Other databases for WW1

If you subscribe to an online service, such as Ancestry,  it’s useful to also find the deceased on the UK, Soldiers died in the Great War database.  There is often slightly different information on the two databases.  Ancestry is available in many public libraries, so even if you do not have a subscription, you may well be able to access it on library premises.

If you are researching a Scot, search the Scottish National Roll of Honour as well as the CWGC database.

People missing from your War Memorial

Not everyone who died while on active service, is recorded on a war memorial. You may discover someone born in the district covered by your war memorial who is not recorded on it.  You will almost certainly feel compelled to rescue ‘The Overlooked” and you might even wish to make a case for their names to be added to the memorial.

Some of those who died on active service are recorded on more than one war memorial: in the parish from which they originate, or a town or city memorial, on a school war memorial, on a university war memorial, on a workplace war memorial as well as on war memorials in parishes with which the family was connected.

Names missing from the WW1 databases

Occasionally, you won’t find a matching record  so some lateral thinking is called for.

There’ll be suggestions on getting round the problem of missing or overlooked names in another post.