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Have you a Cuckoo nesting in your Family Tree?

A significant number of Family Trees contain “Cuckoos”; people that just don’t belong to that family but that are recorded as being a member by virtue of them either having the same or similar name or they are attached as a spouse; sibling; parent or child; without verification.   There is nothing more annoying or disheartening than to find that a branch or even a core part of your Family Tree is not even your family!   You have wasted time; effort; money and often emotions, connecting to these people and their lives, only to discover they just don’t belong.


So how do “Cuckoos” get into Family Trees?

Genealogy isn’t always flawless; incomplete or missing records; transcription errors; a quest to incorporate a family myth or legend; using others’ published trees as evidence; making assumptions; using unsourced material, can all contribute to the “Cuckoos” entering the tree and nestling there.   Some may have been nestled there for many years!   Another cause can be the over enthusiastic who, caught up in the excitement of discovering ancestors, rush to publish unsubstantiated trees.  In time these are picked up by genealogy databases and the error is perpetuated.

Let me share some examples:


Whilst researching at the archive recently and having time to kill waiting for microfiche, I had a quick look at a published tree for the family I was researching; what an eye-opener – “cuckoos” in nearly every generation and no sources cited.   No wonder this family had hit a research brick wall and had asked for my help.

Someone whose Grandfather had come from West London looked up his Great Grandfather in the 1901 Census and found him living in the West London area; he then tracked this family back through the census for a further 50 years in that area, however, it wasn’t his Great Grandfather! just someone with the same name and roughly the right age with a child sharing the name of his Grandfather.   Fresh research later proved that his Grandfather was the first in his family to move to London in the early 1900’s; the family origins were in the North of England; a different family altogether.


Another well publicised example is the long held belief by actor John Hurt that his family descended from the Marquis of Sligo; a family legend passed down through generations.   However, the truth unveiled by more thorough research was both fascinating but shattering to John Hurt who said at the end of his “Who Do You Think You Are?” episode “I’m not who I believed I was,” he added that his discoveries altered his sense of identity. “I’ll probably laugh about it before I know where I am,” he mournfully concluded, “but I don’t feel like laughing now.”


So how do you identify, oust and avoid “Cuckoos”?

Back to basics; work backwards from yourself and ensure that each fact for each person can be verified and that you have cited the source(s).  This ensures that you have the evidence to make the link between generations.  If you can not verify a person then “park them” outside your tree until you can.


Don’t presume; check and cross reference if possible; for example, ages on census records can be notoriously inaccurate so what other records are available to corroborate the facts.  


Check the information makes sense; for example, supposed siblings born less than 9 months apart or children born to mothers well over 50, possible but not always probable.


Don’t skip generations because you have hit a brick wall, you need evidence to make the link back to the next generation so keep looking.


Remember that just because something is in print or published on the Web doesn’t mean that it is accurate.   What are their sources?   Check the facts and cross reference before you use this information in your tree.


Get another pair of eyes to look at your findings and to examine your evidence, this should throw up any inconsistencies as they should question dubious links.


If you are unsure whether someone belongs in your tree then don’t put them there until you can prove it, no matter how tempting it is to do otherwise.   Keep the “Cuckoos” out!


Light in the Darkest Hour


Our guest blog is from the

Light in the Darkest Hour

100th Anniversary of WW1 – 11.00pm August 4th 2014


"The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life-time"

 Sir Edward Grey, Foreign Secretary on the eve of the First World War.


This August 4th across the country, lights will be turned out to signify the start of the 100th anniversary of WW1.


In the evening of that day, The Shorncliffe Trust will be lighting 550 Lanterns on the graves of the Soldiers at Shorncliffe Military cemetery to shine a light on the men who have paid the ultimate sacrifice from 1914 to the present day and take their rest on a hill in Kent.


The Shorncliffe Trust is looking for each of the 550 lantern to be sponsored and placed by each headstone or memorial, so at the centenary of the darkest hour, the men of Britain, Canada, China, Belgium and the Commonwealth will have the light shine upon them to show the world, we have not forgotten them and the charities efforts to build a heritage park and education centre in their memory, will never cease.

The evening will include the lighting of the lanterns, a commemoration service and a moment to share the story of your family members that lived through that darkest hour.


To make a donation of £10 for each Lantern please contact:


To volunteer to light the lanterns in the evening please contact:



Proceeds from this event will go to support the creation of the Shorncliffe Heritage Park and education centre and secure Britain’s WW1 heritage from the redevelopment of Shorncliffe camp.   For further information please contact:

‘Shorncliffe redoubt has the unique attribute of being the original home of the modern British Army. It is here around 1802 that Sir John Moore and others set up the training camp which trained the world famous 95th Foot and then introduced the light infantry methods of fighting to whole regiments for the first time. The scale of light infantry training was really a world first and Shorncliffe could therefore be seen as a World Heritage site. Its importance is immense and rather than destruction, should merit restoration of the remains, and some sort of heritage trail which would undoubtedly draw welcome visitors to the area.’


Gareth Glover Military Historian


True Meanings

Ever wondered about the origins of some of our everyday sayings?  Many originate from the jobs our ancestors did:-

“Let your Hair Down” 

During the 19th Century many injuries were suffered by mill workers who caught their hair in the machinery.  As an early Health and Safety initiative workers were encouraged to cover their heads when working.  At the end of the day they “let their hair down”.

“Upper and Lower Case Typeface”

Printers stored their typeface letters in wooden cases with segments for each letter.  When working they opened the case to display the capital letters on top of the small letters, hence upper and lower case.

“Double Cross”

Documents were signed with a cross or X when someone could not read or write.  If for some reason they wanted to void the contact or agreement they inserted a second cross or X, hence double cross, pulling out of an agreement or contact.

“Getting the Sack” 

Journeymen artisans usually brought their own tools to work.  When an employer wanted to dispense with their services they handed them a sack and told them to collect up their tools and go.

“Learning the Ropes”

Sailors taught new recruits about how to handle the ship, its sails and most importantly the ropes.

“In the Limelight”

Discovered in the 1820’s, “Limelight” was first used in theatres in 1836 at the Covent Garden Theatre in London.  Limelight was used to highlight solo players on stage in much the same way spot lights are used today.  Their use spread throughout the world in the 1860’s and 1870’s, finally being replaced by electric spotlights in the late 19th Century, although we still use the expression “In the Limelight” for anyone whose success brings them to the attention of many.


Missing from the census?


There may be any number of reasons why your ancestor might be “missing” from the Census schedules; transcription errors; incorrect spelling; damaged or missing volumes; but amongst the most interesting is the reason for the estimated thousands of women missing from the 1911 Census.

The Census provides a snapshot into the lives of our ancestors on one particular night every 10 years; in 1911 it was the night of 2nd April.  In the lead up to the 1911 Census, a mass boycott was organised by the Women’s Suffrage Movement who rallied to the cry of we don’t count; we won’t be counted!”. 

In February 1911 the following article appeared in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph and in Brighton, a Miss G Allen urged women not to comply with the Census and not to fear any penalties.  She is not listed on the 1911 Census.


On the night of the Census many heads of households (both male and female) refused to list any of the female occupants in the household; in some cases the enumerators noted the non compliance, but not the individuals involved. In other instances, as this was the first census that was completed by the householders themselves, the female occupants highlighted their plight with scathing comments (see above).

Overnight events were organised in many towns and cities across the United Kingdom; Manchester; Cheltenham; Reading; Cardiff; Bristol; Liverpool; to name but a few; “open houses” were set up and there are tales of “houses so full, and with women coming and going throughout the night”, that it proved impossible for enumerators to attempt a headcount.


To spend the night away from home, women gathered on Wimbledon Common and “enjoyed a picnic of roast fowl, sweetmeats and tea.”  In Yorkshire many women walked overnight on the Yorkshire Moors.  In London, one Suffrage Society hired the Aldwych Skating Rink for the night (as no-one was supposed to be sleeping there) in order that women could muster there to avoid the count.  As the women walked down the Strand from their rally in Trafalgar Square towards the Aldwych, enumerators tried to count the gathering and estimated that around 500 women and 70 men were involved including Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel. 



Another renowned suffragette, Emily Wilding Davison is listed on the 1911 census at her residence in Coram St, Russell Square when in fact she spent the night in a broom cupboard in the Houses of Parliament and is listed there too.


Just over two years later Emily Wilding Davison died from injuries sustained at the 1913 Epsom Derby whilst still fighting for the cause.  This week marks the Centenary of that tragic event.

If you can not locate your ancestor on the 1911 Census, then perhaps, they too took part in the 1911 Census Boycott.




Bound for Western Australia

During a recent research project to trace the British Roots of an Australian family, I found a very interesting account of the voyage that took their ancestors to Western Australia in 1853, not as a convict but as a Pensioner Guard. 

Pensioner Guards were retired soldiers who went to Australia as guards on the convict ships, often accompanied by their wives and children, to start a new life.  These early settlers and their families totaled nearly 2,500 between 1850 and 1868.  To encourage them to stay in the colony, they were offered an allotment of ten acres of land which they could select and lease for seven years and then own freehold. As an extra incentive, a gratuity of £10 was given to each of them and they were promised the use of convict labour to help clear the land.

The Surgeon Superintendents on the convict ships kept detailed journals of each voyage and passed on a report to the Governor of the Colony on arrival.  Here are some fascinating extracts from the journal of John Bower MD, Surgeon Superintendent on board the Pyrenees that set sail bound for Fremantle in Western Australia with 296 prisoners and 94 passengers comprising 30 pensioner guards, their wives and children in 1853.

JOURNAL of Her Majesty's Hired Convict Ship "Pyrenees" Between 22nd December 1852 and 16th May 1853. 

General Remarks:

The prisoners embarked on board the Pyrenees were received from the following prisons:

22 Dec 1852 Warrior Hulk 55 Woolwich Defence Hulk 35

19 Jan 1853 Portsmouth Prison 50 Stirling Castle Hulk 2

24 Jan 1853 Portland Prison 88

28 Jan 1853 Dartmoor Prison 66

The total number of prisoners embarked 296

“The average age of the Prisoners was 25.55 years. Between 15 and 20 years there were 64; between 20 and 25 there were 114; 50 between 25 and 30; and the remaining 68 were upwards of 30 years of age.  There was a marked difference in the appearance of the men received from the Hulks and those from Portland and Dartmoor prisons; the former had a pale and waxy look which contrasted strongly with the rusty and florid complexions of the men who had been exposed fully to the bracing air of those elevated localities.

In the families of the Guard there were several of their children who appeared ill qualified to withstand the privations of so long a voyage.  The heavy expenses entailed on a Pensioner by providing his outfit and very great difficulty most of them would find in repaying the advance made for that purpose renders the rejection of any of the children a measure of great hardship to the parents.  They were therefore all received on board.  Five of them died on the voyage from various complaints incident to their age.  Here may I be allowed to remark that I consider the addition of a few leeches to the supply of medical stores would prove of much service in the treatment of these children, the want of them was much felt on board the Pyrenees.  The Guard being, with one or two exceptions, men of whose constitutions had been long tried by Foreign Service suffered very little from sickness.  One aged man who had never before left Ireland died of the prevailing fever.  Although several of their wives were young girls they all enjoyed good health.

The Crew were all young men.  The space appropriated to them was much too small and only ventilated by a small narrow scuttle.  It was impossible to remove the bottom boards of the lower bunks as instead of being fitted like those of the prisoners, they were fixtures.  As sailors in the Merchant Service are mainly averse to cleaning out their new place even when it can be done without much trouble it was found very difficult to secure their requisite cleanliness in this case where it was about impossible to reach dirt which rolled by the motion of the ship under the sleeping places.”…….

During the detention in the Channel and for several weeks after leaving England many of those on board suffered from sea-sickness and disordered bowels.  The time occupied in passing from England where the Thermometer stood at 50 degrees to the variable winds near the Equator where it never fails below 80 degrees was only 17 days.  A succession of light and baffling winds prolonged the passage between the NE and the SE trade winds for upwards of ten days.  As usual a great quantity of rain fell which rendered it necessary to keep the Prisoners below much more than usual: they suffered so much from the heat and closeness that many of them assured me it formed the worst part of their punishment.”........

“Generally speaking the health of most of the persons embarked was improved by the voyage.  The greater part of the prisoners were disembarked by the 6th of May; the others waited on board for a passage in a vessel shortly expected, until the 16th of May and the 2nd of June on which date all that remained were sent on shore.  The greater part of the Guard with their families left on the 9th of May, a few being retained until all the Prisoners were landed.”

John Bower MD


England - a nation of shopkeepers

England is known as a nation of shopkeepers, but did you know that the oldest shop in England is Chiddingstone Post Office in Kent, serving customers since John Moody, a Tailor took on the lease in 1593: although the building is about 140 years older dating back to the reign of Henry VII.


The British Bank Holiday


Mention the British Bank Holiday and what do think of?  Where to go?  The wet and windy weather?  That we have too few?  In England and Wales we currently have nine Bank Holidays; 10 in Scotland and 11 in Northern Ireland, but have you ever wondered why we have Bank Holidays and when they began?  

In 1834 the Bank of England reduced the number of saints days and religious festivals it observed from 33 to just four; Good Friday; Mayday (1st May); All Saints day (1st November) and Christmas day, however, the general working population at that time were given only Good Friday and Christmas day as holiday.  

Then in 1871 the Liberal MP and Banker John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury (1834 – 1913) introduced “The Bank Holidays Act 1871”.  The Act designated four bank holidays in England, Wales and Ireland - Easter Monday, the first Monday in August, St Stephen’s day (Boxing day), and Whit Monday (Good Friday and Christmas day remained as traditional days of rest) and five in Scotland, New Year's Day, Good Friday, the first Monday in May, the first Monday in August, and Christmas Day.  

The new Act was not only popular with the general public but also with Bankers and Business people as a provision within the Act gave them an additional day to pay their debts, Bills of Exchange falling due on a new Bank Holiday would be honoured on the next working day after the Bank Holiday. 

Sir John Lubbuck was educated at Eton and on leaving he joined his father’s bank, becoming a partner at age 22.  He was elected Liberal MP for Maidstone in 1870.  Highly influenced by Charles Darwin, he was also a talented mathematician and scientist publishing books on Archaeology and Insects.  

Lubbock also introduced the first “Ancient Monuments Protection Act 1882” protecting 50 monuments in Great Britain; so as you go out this rainy Bank Holiday, perhaps visiting an historical place of interest, spare a thought for the man initially responsible – Sir John Lubbock.


“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”
Sir John Lubbock



Ordinary People –Extraordinary Events #1


For me, genealogy and family history research is about more than a list of names and dates.  Places; people; events; social context and history all add to the picture of how our ancestors lived their lives; and sometimes this background investigation can bring to light extraordinary incidents.  Whilst researching background information on villages in the Cambridgeshire Fens, I came across the following tragic story: 

On the 8th September 1727 a travelling Puppeteer arrived in the village of Burwell, Cambridgeshire.  He set up his puppet show in a thatched barn containing dry straw, near the centre of the village.  Around 140 people from Burwell and surrounding villages came to see the performance; and at the start of the show, to prevent anyone from getting in without paying, the small entrance was nailed up (an act that would later prove disastrous).  

The show began; and then at about 9pm, a fire broke out in the barn, and very quickly took hold.  The nailed up entrance door prevented people from escaping easily and by the time the door was broken down 76 people - 25 adults and 51 children, had perished.  A further two people died of their injuries some days later.  A man was sent to trial on 27th March 1728 at Cambridge accused of maliciously starting the fire, however, he was acquitted. 

This is taken from the Parish Register "The fire was occasioned by the negligence of a servant who set a candle and lanthorne in or near a heap of straw which lay in the barn.  The servant's name was Richard Whittaker, from the parish of Hadstock in Essex, who was tried for the fact at an assize held in Cambridge on 27 March 1728 but was acquitted."

Those who lost their lives in the tragedy were buried in a mass grave in the churchyard of St Mary’s and the grave is marked by a headstone known as the “Flaming Heart Gravestone”



Great Grandmother was a Slubber Doffer?


In a hundred years time when our descendants look at the census record for 2001 or 2011, will they be as perplexed by their ancestors' occupations such as Webmaster; Reiki Healer or Blogger, as we often are by ours?

In 1801 the population of the new United Kingdom (formed through the 1800 Acts of Union) was about 10 million, with about 75% of the population living and working in the countryside.  By the 1841 census, almost half of the population of about 16 million were living and working in towns and cities and by the 1911 census, only 20% of the UK population of about 40 million, lived and worked in the countryside.

The Industrial Revolution and the move away from countryside to urban living created many new occupations and with them new "job titles" just as the Technological Revolution has today.  Here are some of the more curious occupations that I have come across through my research of census records and Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates, together with a brief explanation to help decipher what your ancestors actually did for a living. I admit to "cheating" for X and Z and have to give credit to Wikipedia for providing me with Xylographer and Zincographer to complete the alphabet.     


Annuitant - This is someone who receives a regular income from investments

Beamer - Someone who drew the warp yarn through and onto the beam of a loom in weaving

Caffler - A rag and bone dealer

Devil - A printer's apprentice or errand boy

East India Man - Employed by the East India Company

Fustian Cutter - Someone who cut the treads in the making of coarse woven cloth

Gloveress - A female glove maker/seller

Hackneyman -A horse drawn taxi driver

Ironsmith - A blacksmith

Journeyman - A freelance trades or craftsman

Kilner - In charge of the kiln at a pottery

Licensed Victualler - An innkeeper or publican

Mercer - A silk, cotton or woollen draper

Navvy -A labourer

Overlooker/Overseer -A foreman

Portmanteau Maker - Someone who made suitcases or trunks

Quister - Someone who bleached articles particularly cloth

Reeler -Someone who operated the machine that wound yarn onto bobbins

Slubber Doffer - Someone who removed empty bobbins from the looms

Throstler - Someone who operated a throstle machine used in spinning cotton or wool

Under House Parlour Maid -Deputy to the parlour maid

Vintner - A winemaker or wine seller

Worsted Twister -Worked a machine twisting yarns for the woollen mills

Xylographer - Someone who carved wooden blocks for printing

Yeoman -Usually a farmer who owned his land, entitled to vote and served on juries

Zincographer - Someone who etched zinc plates for printing






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