Conference Ribbons

I first attended Rootstech in 2016. On registration, you receive a delegate badge in a plastic wallet attached to a lanyard. Nothing particularly remarkable about that., its fairly standard conference procedure.  What was unusual, particularly to my English eyes, was the number of conference badges adorned with “ribbons”, in a multitude of colours, bearing different messages, slogans, logos etc, some serious, and some downright wacky!

And so, for my trip this year, I have joined the ribbon brigade, I am not only collecting ribbons, but also distributing them to delegates. I have already acquired several ribbons and the event has barely started.

Ribbons are a great conversation piece and a great ice breaker. Also, walking around Salt Lake City, the Rootstech delegate badge and its ribbon “tail” provoke smiles and acknowledgement from complete strangers. How very un-British! Standing in my hotel reception this evening, my colleague and I were asked to explain the meaning of our ribbons by a group of American businessmen. Currently, my trail of ribbons includes: Exhibitor, Trouble Maker, I Tweet, Caution! Researcher, Support your Local Archives, England, The Surname Society and #Ancestryhour .

I have already seen Crazy Cat Lady, I Haunt Cemeteries, Wales, Family Storyteller and Runs with Scissors to name but a few. By the end of the conference some of the ribbon tails will be a positive trip hazard!

You can follow my tweets of events at Rootstech 2017 by following @Historylady2013. I will be tweeting photos of the ribbons too.



What is a Painted Lady

I am currently out of the UK, on my way to attend Rootstech 2017 in snowy Salt Lake City, but am taking the opportunity to “detour” via San Francisco for a brief holiday before settling down for an intensive few days of genealogy. I am therefore undertaking the obligatory tourist  tours and visits, sampling the various sights and sounds San Francisco offers in the company of @TheKirstyGray.

So, in answer to the question posed in the title of this blog is: it rather depends upon where you live. In the UK, most people will tell you it’s a butterfly, as indeed it is, but in San Francisco, a Painted Lady is an entirely different thing.

San Francisco is vulnerable to earthquakes and over the years, the city has lost a number of architectural gems. The city has also been ravaged by fires which have also destroyed properties.  Wikipedia defines a Painted Lady as “Victorian and Edwardian houses and buildings painted in three or more colours that embellish to enhance their architectural details” although the guide on the (almost obligatory) open top bus tour was adamant that the houses had to be original Victorian houses, and not those which are replica buildings.

When I was studying house history, learning about various architectural styles in order to be able to “date” the origins of the construction, was vital. Walking around San Francisco, it has been a delight to see so many differing architectural styles and to appreciate the skills not only of the original builders and architects, but also of those who seek to preserve the heritage of the city.

If you want to know more about the Painted Ladies, this website might be of interest to you.


Today we visited Alcatraz. I found it a rather disturbing experience, to witness the conditions in which the men were incarcerated, but was surprised at the variety of the flowering shrubs in bloom. Many I recognised, if I could not actually name them, but gardening is not my strong point.

Tomorrow we travel to Salt Lake City. I will be spending time , when not at Rootstech , doing some research at the Library.

During the last few days, Kirsty and I have been staying at the Vertigo Hotel. You might like the photo below – but then again maybe not.


Naughty John Dawson Strikes Again

Last week I wrote about education records and gave the example of how they helped to tell the story of John Dawson. I was also able to use land records to find out more about him, as you will see.

Reading through the minutes of the Board of Guardians in the 1870s, I became aware that John and his brother owned a farm in a small village not far from Keighley. By this time, John’s brother had returned to live in the workhouse, where he was identified as being a lunatic in the 1871 census. The brother’s share of the rent, one third, was being handed over to the workhouse to pay for the brother’s upkeep.

Making use of the records held at the West Yorkshire Registry of Deeds I was able to trace the purchase of this farm in the 1860s, when John and his brother had bought the farm from its owner who lived in Kirkby Lonsdale. The Dawson brothers never lived at the farm, which was tenanted by a Mr Gill, and the Gill family continued to occupy the farm into the 20th century.

In 1883, John’s brother died in the Wakefield Asylum. I found two deeds had been registered on the same day. One was a statutory declaration of intestacy of the brother, the other giving details of a mortgage that John had taken out on the farm. In subsequent years, John took out two further mortgages on the property. Two of the mortgages had been advanced by the same person, a solicitor in Bingley.

John was registered to vote in Keighley, although the electoral roll confirms his address as being Brasenose College Oxford and his name remained on the roll until 1906.  Now it is not an easy task to find a date of death for John, as he has quite a common name. I had no idea where he died. There were simply too many options in the first decade of the 20th century so I decided to try and find a deed which would record the transfer of the farm to another owner which would have confirmed the date of John’s death, but to no avail. I then looked at the 1910 Valuation Office Survey, sometimes called the “Lloyd George Doomsday Survey” and found that the owner of the farm owner was shown as Samuel Weatherhead.  Perhaps John defaulted on the mortgage?

The 1910 survey is fascinating and contains lots of information about properties and you can read more about it here

I hope this week’s series of blogs have given you some ideas for how you can use land records to help to tell your family story.

How land records can help your research

The Victorian house I mentioned was constructed around 1865-70. The local Poor Law Rate Books indicated that from 1865, the occupant was paying rates for a “house and land with a gross rateable value of £33. 0s. 0d at Green Head” and that the house was actually owned by the business owned by the occupier and his two brothers.[1]  However ownership of the land was not transferred to the brothers until November 1871.  Prior to the transfer the land had been owned by William Rishworth, a yeoman farmer who lived in a village a few miles away.  William’s wife was Mary Paget and her father, William Paget, a farmer, bequeathed the land to Mary in his will made on 16th December 1812.[2] The Tithe apportionment map* of 1842 identifies a number of Closes (parcels of land) being owned by William Rishworth but being occupied by William Smith. These same Closes are mentioned in the three indentures** made on November 16th 1871 and registered at West Riding Registry of Deeds Wakefield, which records the conveyance of the land from William Rishworth to the brothers.[3]

In 1816, Joseph Paget, by the means of a deed of lease and release***, passed the ownership of his land to his four farmer sons, William (father of Mary), Joshua, Thomas and James.[4] In 1801 the Pagets also acquired land from the widow of Henry Comaleach. In the deed dated 1796 which records Henry’s own acquisition of the land, mention is made to land previously owned by The Reverend Jonathan Kighley, who had an “Estate in Utley”, ‘by virtue of an Act of Parliament obtained for enclosing the common moor and waste land within the manor of Kighley(sic, Thwaites, and Newsholme, laying on the south side of the Turnpike road from Kighley to Skipton’.  The land was enclosed by Lords Richard and George Henry Cavendish, Benjamin Ferrand, Reverend Charles Knowlton, Rector of Keighley, Joshua Field  ‘and others’  in 1780.[5]

The Local Studies Library has a copy of a sketch map drawn in 1612 for the Earl of Devonshire, which identified his land, in the parish of Keighley. The original of this map is held at Chatsworth House. Although not to scale, this map identifies areas of common moors and waste land around the town and the Turnpike road. Until the enclosure map can be located it cannot be proved the house is built on enclosed land, as seems likely.

*You can learn more about Tithes and Tithe Apportionment by reading the

**An Indenture is a binding legal agreement, contract or other document involving two or more parties. These documents got their name from the “indented” side of the document. The agreement would be written out twice (or more as required) and the document was divided up by cutting a “wavy” line. To prove a document was not a fraudulent copy, the two sides could be matched up together.

***Lease and release This site gives an excellent explanation of lease and release

There are many different types of deed and the University of Nottingham has produced a useful list which explains the various different types.



[1] Keighley Local Studies Library BK1/15/1-60.

[2] West Riding Registry of Deeds Ref QM/677/730.  

[3] West Riding Registry of Deeds Ref 664/260/298 Ref 664/261/299, Ref 664/261/300.

[4] West Riding Registry of Deeds Ref  GI/180/196. 

[5] Keighley Library Bk 315.

Land Records

The prospect of looking for your ancestors in land records might seem rather daunting at first sight, particularly if you are relatively new to family history research, but they can be a fascinating source of information. One of the first problems is knowing where to start. There are many different types of deeds and understanding what each type of deed is, and what type of infromation it contains can be , at least initially, quite challenging. For students of house history, land records are essential tools. Even if you live in a modern house, the land upon which it stands has a history and an exploration of the records can yield names of both land owners and tenants.

As part of my MLitt Degree studies, I undertook some research into the land upon which my 1970s home stands. Opposite is a large Victorian detached house. The deeds of my house, and those of the house opposite, which I obtained via the Land Registry for a small fee, confirmed what I already suspected.[1] My home was built on land which once formed part of the gardens of the old house.  My own deeds and the deeds of the house opposite were about 95% identical, with the only difference being relevant to my own house. The deeds gave some names, and I was then able to visit the wonderful Registry of Deeds in Wakefield to start tracking back the records relevant to the land upon which my home sits.

Living in Yorkshire I am extremely fortunate to be able to visit the Registry of Deeds in Wakefield, the repository for summaries of the registered deeds deposited between 1704 and 1970. They are indexed by personal name and place and held by West Yorkshire Archive Service. The West Riding Justices of the Peace, by Act of Parliament, were made responsible for the establishment of a registry to record deeds, except copyhold and short leases, relating to land in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Its main purpose was to provide dependable proof of ownership. The West Riding included the area which became part of North Yorkshire after local government reorganisation in 1974.

A deed is a legal document. It is signed and delivered, especially if it concerns the ownership of property or legal rights. Such deeds include mortgage deeds, contracts, indentures, instruments, wills, and other legal documents.

In 2016, the Wakefield archive building was closed to enable archivists to remove all their holdings to a new purpose built archive.[2] Local researchers are eagerly awaiting the opening of the new Archive building on February 11th 2017.[3]

Tomorrow I will describe what I was able to discover about the land by making use of material held in Wakefield and Local Studies Library.




From the Workhouse to Oxord University

My recent blogs have been looking at education records, and I will conclude with a story about the boy from the workhouse who went to university, which I hope illustrates the fascinating details and information which can be gleaned from education records.

I was looking at workhouse records and came across the story of 5 orphaned brothers, one of whom was called John Dawson, aged 9  in 1840, when a letter had been written to relatives seeking financial support for him and his four brothers, who were aged 13, 11, 7 and 5 . Two of the relatives were clergymen and one of these offered to give John a home. There is evidence from workhouse records that early in 1841, John made the trip from West Yorkshire to Modbury in Devon. Fortunately he arrived in time for the 1841 census, where he can be found living with the Rev.Isaac Dawson and his wife Elizabeth.

By 1851, John was a “commoner” at Brasenose College Oxford. I contacted the archivist at Brasenose College who was able to find the following information:

According to the Brasenose College Register (1909) and Joseph Foster’s Alumni Oxonienses 1715-1886 (1891) John Dawson was born in Yorkshire, the third son of William of Sutcliffe, Yorkshire. He matriculated (the formal ceremony of admittance as a member of the University) on 2 February 1849, aged 18.  At matriculation his status was given as armigeri filius, son of an esquire (originally a man entitled to bear heraldic arms). He was a Commoner (i.e. he did not hold a scholarship or exhibition).  He was awarded his B.A. in 1852 and his M.A. in 1857. The Master of Arts degree conferred full membership of the University with voting rights.

His father was indeed called William and Sutcliffe was part of the address where he lived, according to the Parish Registers. The information also mentioned being the son of an Esquire and it is highly probable that this information came from Isaac, who was in fact John’s great uncle.  Whilst I have not been able to find definitive evidence, I have reason to believe there is an element of truth in the statement. By 1861 John was back living in Modbury, where he can also be found in both the 1871 and 81 census records. By 1861 John was quite a wealthy young man, having inherited from Isaac:

“the residue of my property of what nature or kind soever whether personal or real to John Dawson of Modbury Bachelor of Arts of Brasenose College Oxford my grandnephew also I give and devise to the same John Dawson of Modbury etc.all my freehold property at Modbury consisting of houses gardens and an orchard and my freehold house and premises at Saltash Cornwall“ John was the executor of the will.

At the time of the 1891 census John was a Boarder at a lodging house in Oxford, still “living on his own means”. However it would appear that by the late 1880s life seems to have started to go a little haywire for John. I located a newspaper cutting which related to a “John Dawson MA of Brasenose College” being summoned by the Oxford Vice Chancellors Court for disorderly conduct early in 1889.

Oxford University Archives were able to provide me with copies of the case notes. The disorderly conduct involved John striking one of the college staff with a stick, amongst other less serious misdemeanours, and an unpaid bill. John failed to appear before the court and a warrant for “the apprehension of the defendant” was issued. Eventually the university instructed baliffs to seize John’s possessions. Oxford University Archives have been able to supply me with copies of the documents relating to the case including the bailiffs levy, a list of the goods seized , and the result of the auction of the goods.

There are also a couple of other newspaper cuttings which mention a John Dawson being drunk and disorderly. The area of Oxford is that shown in the court papers.

From the above, you can see how traditional records have been complemented by the university records and I hope this blog will encourage you to explore your ancestors’ education.

Other Education Records

University education records might not seem an obvious place to look for your ancestor. The earliest universities are Oxford which was established in the 12th century, followed by Cambridge. Form the 15th century onwards, four universities St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh were established. Trinity College Dublin dates from the late 16th century. Both London and Durham universities were established in the 19th century.  Universities have Alumni records and a number of these have been digitised. It is possible to obtain information, such as the name of the student’s father, home location etc. They also have many other records, for example Oxford University Chancellors Court where, amongst other things, students could be investigated and punished for their misdemeanours. More recent information will of course be subject to the requirements of the Data Protection legislation.

Other providers of education include the Mechanics Institutes and the WEA.  Mechanics Institutes were intended to provide educational opportunities for working men although there are examples of them becoming more like clubs for factory owners and the professional classes. In my home town, 3 daughters of a local clergyman would walk to town in order to borrow books from the Mechanics Institute Library. You might have heard of them: Charlotte Emily and Anne Bronte.  As a backlash, the local Temperance Movement set up a meeting place “free from the influence of alcohol” where members of the labouring classes (men!) could meet, read newspapers and listen to lectures. A number of non-conformist churches and chapels had their own educational establishments too where it is possible to locate ancestors.

The WEA continues to thrive and is providing educational courses in the twenty first century. One of the requirements placed upon Workhouse Guardians by the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was to provide education for pauper children at a time when education provision for the children of the poor. Guardian minute books may contain information about the employment of teaching staff and lesson content. It is also worth checking trade directories to identify schools which operated in the local community.

Tomorrow, I will tell the story of my research which uncovered a student who went from a workhouse to Oxford University.