The Ongoing Research of a Family History

June 20, 2014 by Beverley Hopwood


Beverley Hopwood is the award-winning author of Gladys & Jack and its sequel, Kate & Ozzie, two historical novels that resulted from intensive research into her own family history. This is the second installment in her series on family research; read the first post here.

“Are you still researching your ancestors?’ a friend asks. Well, yes. I keep finding new information, new records are being put on the internet sources, and it’s just so much fun.

Delayed Release of Records

Years before my mother began losing her memory, she told me she was sure that her father had been married before, and that they had a son. For some reason his first wife took their son and went back to England. Unfortunately, the ship sank and the son and wife drowned. For years I looked for evidence of these events, but never found any. Finally, last year I found the marriage registration of a Mary Maud Evelyn Clark and Osmond William Martin, my grandfather. This wasn’t until 1915, which meant that record had only just been released. (Records are not immediately published). There is still a possibility that the birth record of their child has not yet been released. During this wartime era there was a higher chance of a ship being sunk than at other times. Maybe Mary wanted to be back with her family during the war, or maybe, as suggested in my book, Kate and Ozzie, she disliked Canada, the cold, and the fact that Ozzie drank too much. I will periodically search for the child’s birth registration. Interesting that among my grandmother’s papers was a newspaper clipping of a list of ships lost at sea.

Names are Clues

Sometimes, a mother or grandmother’s maiden name might be used, and this is a great clue. An unusual name might be used for this reason. John Pink Summers was a great uncle of mine. His grandfather’s name was John Pink Summers, and his mother’s name was Pink. She was a mixed-race woman born in Jamaica and had a white half-brother by the name of John Pink. Although she was free, her mother was quite likely a slave on the Pink’s plantation and acquired the name Pink from the estate owner. This was the tradition in Jamaica before slaves were freed in 1836.

Names can get confusing when a child dies; often, later, another child is given the same name as the one that was lost. People counted on having their children carry their names down the line. In Wales, the son of John became Johnson, the son of Robert became Robertson, and William became Williamson. Other countries had different traditions, which is important to study and know because it can lead to discoveries you might otherwise have trouble with.

In England there are lists of names that in the 17th and 18th centuries were “One County names”. Hannaford is a Devon (or Devonshire) name; almost all of the Hannafords were farmers or farm hands in Devon until about 1840’s when roadways were improved, railways expanded, and farming became more mechanized. Devon and Cornwall had been less influenced by Rome than much of the country to the east and so the Celtic language of Cornwall remained until the last century. There was one Hannaford who arrived in Newfoundland in the 1500’s, but then Plymouth is in Devon, and many ships left Plymouth for the New World in that century. This is not to say people did not move around. If there was no work, they travelled the countryside, and of course, London, England is a melting pot for most counties in Britain.

Compare those Records!

Comparison of records is very important, and families can make mistakes. According to the 1881 Census, the Martin family was in Montreal. Winnie was 6 (1875), Osmond was 5 (1876), Martha was 3(1878) and Mary was 2(1879). In a sworn affidavit, Winnie pronounced her brother Osmond’s birth to be Nov 25, 1877. The piece from the family bible was attached. I’ve never found my grandfather’s birth registration but I found the third child’s registration: Mary Elizabeth Martin Nov 6, 1877. As it’s impossible for two children to be born 19 days apart, and Mary Elizabeth could not have been registered prior to her birth, the sworn affidavit must be an error, and my grandfather had to have been born in 1876. The fourth child, Martha Jane birth was registered as August 23, 1879, however her sister’s records all said 1881. The names got straightened around after the Montreal Census, the birth day and month were all correct, but until last year, the birth years of the first four children were incorrect. If you can follow this, you are a true genealogist!

When researching on the internet, always try to have a look at the original sources. For most censuses and Immigration ship lists, a person is able to scroll back and forth, to see who else was in that town or on that ship. You may be surprised and find more relations, or missing relations. For some reason, the families were not always listed together, perhaps just listed as they were boarding. In one case I found children with their Aunt and Uncle.

When studying the originals, you may find letters which have been transcribed differently than what you know them to be. That is why some are shown with corrections on Ancestry.com.

There was a huge Carter family in Ruddington and if I scrolled down the street addresses of the village, I often found a missing child working for someone, or if a wife died leaving young children, they might appear with the grandparents. In the 1800’s and before, children as young as eight were sent out to work. Girls helped in the homes, and boys helped on farms or the local Manor house. Unless the family was wealthy, they had to go out to work.

Tracking Down the Loose Ends

Because the records of deaths may not released for decades, trips to cemeteries can produce more recent material. Large cemeteries have their own records on file and if you are related they will look up the information for you and more details might be found. Travelling to other countries to search can be fascinating, especially if you do some research ahead. Seeing the old houses or graves of ancestors brings a certain thrill to a person which no number of records can do.

Be warned: When you’re talking about family history, many people will tune out after the third name you mention, so save your sharing for someone who is really interested. Most relatives are interested in what you have found, but may also be invaluable when it comes to additional information, stories, and photos. Some will confirm your own story, and others may lead you to question a story you have heard, and that can lead to more research.

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About this Contributor

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Beverley Hopwood, former teacher of music and English, has researched the archives in Britain, Ontario, and Alberta for two decades. She has written two novels based on her family history: Gladys & Jack and Kate & Ozzie. She continues to connect with cousins and pursue further research, knowing that the stories never end. Gladys and Jack won The Word Guild’s prize for best novel in The Word Awards for 2013.

Learn more about the writer and her stories on her website.