“Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death”

When we look at the factors that caused our ancestors to migrate from one place to another, specifically within the United States, do we consider the effect that climate disasters may have had? Most of us are familiar with the Dust Bowl, which forced thousands of families in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, to abandon their farms, devastated by crop losses and unable to pay their mortgages and migrate westwards towards California.

For hundreds of years America was largely an agricultural society, dependent on the weather for providing good conditions for crop growth. Many of our farming ancestors lived or died by the harvest their lands produced. Climate disasters, and their accompanying economic losses, were catastrophic to families, and to communities.

In 1847, a 76-year old farmer by the name of Reuben Whitten died in Holderness, Grafton County, New Hampshire.1 Back in the summer of 1816, Reuben had harvested a good wheat crop which he had shared with his family and neighbors. Why was that act important? By sharing his wheat crop, Reuben saved his family and neighbors from starving at a time when all their crops had failed, and many of their sheep had frozen to death, in the summer. In fact, Reuben’s neighbors were so thankful to him, that family members later erected a stone commemorating his selfless act.

Weather grave “1771 Ruben Whitten 1847
Son of a Revolutionary Soldier
A Pioneer of this Town. Cold season of
1816 Raised 40 Bushils of Wheat on this
Land whitch Kept his Family and
Neighbours from Starveation.”

How was it that crops failed and animals froze in what should have been the warm and sunny summer of 1816 in New England? What was the ‘cold season of 1816’ to which the words carved onto the headstone referred? Known also as the “year without a summer” or “eighteen hundred and froze to death”, 1816 was a year that few who lived in the New England region would soon forget.

No-one could have expected that the mild start to April 1816 would foreshadow a period of frigid temperatures, severe frosts and heavy snows. Summer would not come that year to New England. In Salem, Massachusetts, April 24 started off with a mild 74°F, dropping to 21°F within 30 hours. By May 1816, several cold spells had delayed planting and farmers began to fear that they would not have crops to sell or food to feed their families. The corn crop in Maine had frozen and strong winds and freezing temperatures from Canada killed the buds on the fruit trees. Warm days would bring hope to the farmers and a hasty planting of their crops, that hope only to be dashed a few days later when severe frosts would again occur. This cyclic change in temperatures would continue through September 1816, eventually bringing serious drought to the area and to much of the United States.

Weather chart

Newspapers across the region carried articles on the strange weather and the devastating crop losses. On 12 June, 1816, the Hallowell Gazette of Maine reported that there had been few days without which a fire was needed to keep warm, and that the “cold was so severe that vegetation seems to have been suspended.” 2

Weather 1

From New Hampshire, the Intelligencer of 6 September 1816, reported on various places hit by the unseasonably frigid weather and the damage to the corn crops. Ending the article with, “It is probable the year 1816 will have this remarkable designation, that there has been a frost in every month of it.” 3

Weather 2

The extreme weather and resultant loss of crops forced farmers to leave the New England region. Many moved to western New York and into the Northwest Territory (covering the present states of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and northwestern Minnesota). Their migration played a part in speeding up westward expansion in the United States and shaped what became known as the American Heartland. The movement of these farming families into what is now Indiana and Illinois helped found those states. 4

Consider again Reuben Whitten sharing his wheat crop with his neighbors in 1816.  It takes on much greater significance when we understand the context surrounding his act. He very likely saved some in his community from starvation.

If your family moved from New England around 1816-1818, it is entirely possible the ‘year without a summer’ may have been the cause.  Some 15 000 people left Vermont after the summer of 1816 for places west.

Climate disasters were devastating for our farming ancestors and their communities and may be the very reason they moved, searching for better conditions in which to grow their crops and support their families.

 

 


  1. Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 9 October 2018), memorial page for Reuben Whitten (1771-1847), Find A Grave Memorial no. 19525630, citing Reuben Whitten cemetery, Grafton county, New Hampshire; Maintained by B.L. Hughes (contributor). 
  2. “Extraordinary Weather,” Hallowell Gazette, Maine, 12 June 1816, page 3, col. 1; online archives, GenealogyBank (https://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 9 October 2018). 
  3. “The Season,” The Intelligencer, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 5 September 1816, page 2, col. 3; online archives, GenealogyBank (https://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 9 October 2018). 
  4. Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org), “Year Without a Summer,” rev. 17:18, 27 August 2018. 

Seaman’s Protection Certificates – An Unusual Source

In an earlier post I compared Ancestry’s then new “U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939” to draft registrations to answer the question of whether someone who registered for the draft actually went on to serve. I used as an example, the five Zimmerman brothers, who all registered for the draft but didn’t all end up serving. One of those brothers, Charles Stephen Zimmerman, was in training with the Merchant Marines in June 1918 and therefore exempt from military service. In the course of my research into Charles and his Merchant Marine service I came across an unusual and remarkable source. A source which not only gave a physical description of Charles, but also had his thumb print, his signature, date and place of birth and current age, and best of all, his photograph. The source was Charles’ application for a Seaman’s Protection Certificate made on 14 August 1918.1

Seaman Snip Photo

Seaman Snip thumb

What are Seaman’s Protection Certificates?

According to NARA (The National Archives and Records Administration) these documents were issued during the late 18th century through the early half of the 20th century, at all U.S. ocean and Great Lakes ports, and served as a seaman’s passport. Those applying had to be United States citizens and had to provide evidence of such in the form of a birth certificate, or an affidavit by a relative or friend, or a citation to naturalization proceedings. 2 Often those documents were appended to the application. In Charles’ case, no other documents are in his file but there is a note indicating he provided his birth certificate, from the parish priest at St. Mary’s church in Stockton, California.

Seaman Snip parish priest
“Affiant produced birth cert. from Parish Priest St. Mary’s Church Stockton showing place of birth as Stockton Cal.”

The history of the Seaman’s Protection Certificate

These certificates were first issued to American sailors to prevent them from being impressed into service by British warships in the period leading up to the War of 1812. Impressment was the forced recruitment of men, practiced most often by the British Navy, into service on their ships.

During the years of American slavery, free men of color who were sailors or seamen, were also issued these protection certificates to prove they were not slaves when stopped by officials or slave catchers. Frederick Douglass himself used the ‘protection papers’ of a free man of color, a sailor, to escape: 3

“It was the custom in the State of Maryland to require of the free colored people to have what were called free papers. This instrument they were required to renew very often, and by charging a fee for this writing, considerable sums from time to time were collected by the State. In these papers the name, age, color, height and form of the free man were described, together with any scars or other marks upon his person which could assist in his identification. This device of slaveholding ingenuity, like other devices of wickedness, in some measure defeated itself—since more than one man could be found to answer the same general description. Hence many slaves could escape by impersonating the owner of one set of papers; and this was often done as follows: A slave nearly or sufficiently answering the description set forth in the papers, would borrow or hire them till he could by their means escape to a free state, and then, by mail or otherwise, return them to the owner. The operation was a hazardous one for the lender as well as for the borrower. A failure on the part of the fugitive to send back the papers would imperil his benefactor, and the discovery of the papers in possession of the wrong man would imperil both the fugitive and his friend. It was therefore an act of supreme trust on the part of a freeman of color thus to put in jeopardy his own liberty that another might be free. It was, however, not infrequently bravely done, and was seldom discovered. I was not so fortunate as to sufficiently resemble any of my free acquaintances as to answer the description of their papers. But I had one friend—a sailor—who owned a sailor’s protection, which answered somewhat the purpose of free papers—describing his person and certifying to the fact that he was a free American sailor. The instrument had at its head the American eagle, which at once gave it the appearance of an authorized document. This protection did not, when in my hands, describe its bearer very accurately. Indeed, it called for a man much darker than myself, and close examination of it would have caused my arrest at the start.” 

douglass image
Example of Seaman’s Protection Certificate from 1854. Image credit: “Seaman’s Protection Certificate for Samuel Fox, August 12, 1854.” African American Odyssey: Free Blacks in the Antebellum Period, Documenting Freedom, Black History Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

According to an article in Prologue, the magazine of the National Archives, almost a third of applications were for free men of color. 4 African American research can be difficult, these Seaman’s Protection certificates can be great value to those researchers. The Prologue article is excellent and worth reading to get further information on this unusual source.

The use of these certificates as a form of identification went on until just before the Civil War and then was reintroduced for a short period during the World War 1 time frame which is when Charles S. Zimmerman applied for one.

Besides giving Charles’ physical description and date and place of birth, the certificate also indicated where Charles had trained and the ship he was expected to join. For those seamen who were not born in the United States, their certificates may contain information on where and when they were naturalized, including the names of their parents. Those who witnessed the application were sometimes related to the applicant, providing further clues to follow.

CharlesStephenZimmerman1897_military
Charles S. Zimmerman in uniform

Seaman’s Protection Certificates are definitely an unusual source for genealogists, with an interesting history. It’s worth your time to take a look and see if your ancestor may have applied for one.  Both Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org have collections of Seaman’s Certificates, search their catalogs using the keyword ‘Seaman’ or ‘Seaman’s Protection’.

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 38 prompt: Unusual Source

 


  1. “U.S., Applications for Seaman’s Protection Certificates, 1916-1940”, database with images, Ancestry.com, (www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 September 2018), application for Charles S. Zimmerman, number 9882; citing NARA; Application for Seaman´s Protection Certificates; NAI: 2788575; Record Group Title: Records of the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation; Record Group Number: 41; Box Number: 112 – San Francisco. 
  2. “Applications for Seaman’s Protection Certificates, 1916-1940”, index, NARA (http://www.catalog.archives.gov : accessed 20 September 2018), Records of the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation, 1774-1982, Record Group: 41. 
  3. Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (Hartford, Connecticut : Park Publishing Co., 1882), 223-224; digital images, Archive.org (https://archive.org/details/lifetimesoffrede1882doug : accessed 20 September 2018). 
  4. Ruth Priest Dixon, “Genealogical Fallout from the War of 1812”, Prologue. Spring 1992, Vol. 24, No. 1. National Archives (https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1992/spring/seamans-protection.html : accessed 20 September 2018). 

In the Parish Chest: Churchwarden & Poor Rate Records

ParishChestPoorLawIn the Parish Chest – Churchwarden and Poor Rate Records is the fourth and final post of the In the Parish Chest series. The other posts discussed Bastardy Bonds, Settlement Certificates, Examinations and Removal Orders and Apprenticeship records.

As early as 1572, Overseers of the Poor were appointed in each parish in England. Their job consisted of caring for the poor and keeping an account of the relief given. The Poor Law Act of 1601 gave Overseers the right to collect a poor rate from members of the parish who were considered wealthy and to disburse those funds to those needing help.

Churchwardens were expected to present any wrongdoings in the parish to the local magistrate or bishop. This would include such things as drunkenness, failure to provide for the poor or to attend church.  Those serving as Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor are mentioned by name in the records.

By 1834, when the Poor Law Amendment Act came into being, parishes were grouped into Unions. A Board of Guardians was elected and were responsible for the care of the poor across all the individual parishes.  It is through these Poor Laws that our ancestors received help. Often money would be given out but the relief also consisted of providing food, clothing and work.

Who will you find named in the Churchwarden/Poor Rate Records?

  • Your ancestor if he/she was poor, elderly, orphaned, unemployed, sick or a trouble maker
  • Your ancestor if he was elected a Churchwarden or Overseer of the Poor.
  • Your ancestor if he/she was considered wealthy and was a rate payer

Examples of Poor Law records

Churchwarden Accounts – Muggleswick, County Durham.1

On Easter Monday of 1801, the inhabitants of the parish of Muggleswick, Durham, met together to elect the new Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor. This is a common entry in all Churchwarden accounts, followed by an accounting of the disbursement of funds to the poor. The outgoing and incoming Churchwardens were named as were the new Overseers and other principal inhabitants of the parish.

record-image_939N-F43C-SK(1)

Overseers of the Poor Account Book –  Helland, Cornwall.2

Thomas Pearce and William Brior were Overseers of the Poor in the parish of Helland, Cornwall in the year 1766 to 1767.  The page below shows an account of what was paid out that year. Included among the items like a pair of shoes or meat are the names of some members of the parish who received help.

record-image_S3HY-61PP-GNOverseers of the Poor – Grampound, Cornwall.3

If a person wanted to improve their property in a way which may affect the town or parish, there would have to be an agreement made between them and the Overseers of the parish. In the document below, Mr. Nicholls and Mr. Michael Croggon, Overseer of the Parish of Grampound, Cornwall, have come to an agreement regarding Mr. Nicholls request to build a drain that would go from his dwelling across town property to another garden. The request is approved subject to Mr. Nicholls paying sixpence annually to the Overseers and keeping the drain free of “any annoyance whatsoever on the property of the Town, in default of which refusal or neglect of payment of the annual sum…the drain shall and will be subject to be torn up or otherwise destroyed.” If Mr. Nicholls was your ancestor you have just been given a glimpse into his life!

record-image_S3HY-61PL-NT

Relief Committee minute books 1832-1851, Norwich, Norfolk Poor Law Union.

On 6 October 1801, John Mordy of Saint Peter of Mancroft paid twelve pounds to the Poor Law Union, being his responsibility for the “female bastard child” of Susanna Baxter. He had previously been charged with a Bastardy Bond and this is the record of him settling that responsibility.4 More information on Bastardy Bonds can be found here.

JohnMordy

On the same day, the Mayor’s request for an arrest warrant for John Malster was granted. John had left his wife and family without support and they were now relying on the parish.5

JohnMalster

Orders for placing young boys in apprenticeships were common in these Poor Law records. Below, James Berry, 14-years old, was being apprenticed to Richard Cropley, a cordwainer, until he reached the age of 21. More on apprenticeship records can be found here.6

cordwainer

Details of daily life are reflected in the Poor Law records. Most of these records are not indexed so it helps to have an idea of which parish your ancestor lived in. However, even if you don’t know exactly where they may have lived, reading through the Poor Law records of any parish will give you valuable insight into what life was like in the parishes of England during this time period.


  1. Durham, Muggleswick, Parish chest records, Churchwardens Accounts, 1801-1858, Easter Monday 1801; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:939N-F43C-SK?i=5&cat=978581 : accessed 11 September 2018), citing Family History film 004024471, image 6 of 1114. 
  2. Cornwall, Helland, Poor law records, 1753-1851, Easter 1766; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-61PP-GN?cat=502005 : accessed 11 September 2018), citing Family History film 004476779, image 1295 of 1679. 
  3. Cornwall, Grampound, Poor law records, 1671-1894, agreement between Mr. Nicholls and Mr. Croggon; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-61PL-NT?cat=502005 : accessed 11 September 2018), citing Family History film 004476779, image 993 of 1679. 
  4. Norfolk, Norwich, Poor Law Union Records, 1796-1900, Guardians’ minute books, 6 October 1801, John Mordy; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-D1DH-8S7?i=2228&cc=1824706&cat=495724 : accessed 12 September 2018), image 2229 of 3866; citing Norwich Record Office. 
  5. Norfolk, Norwich, Poor Law Union Records, 1796-1900, Guardians’ minute books, 6 October 1801, warrant for John Malster; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-D1DH-8S7?i=2228&cc=1824706&cat=495724 : accessed 12 September 2018), image 2229 of 3866; citing Norwich Record Office. 
  6. Norfolk, Norwich, Poor Law Union Records, 1796-1900, Guardians’ minute books, 6 October 1801, apprenticeship of James Berry ; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-D1DH-8G4?i=2229&cc=1824706&cat=495724 : accessed 12 September 2018), image 2230 of 3866; citing Norwich Record Office. 

In the Parish Chest: Apprenticeship Records

ParishChestApprenticeship

This is the third post in my In the Parish Chest series. You can learn about bastardy bonds here and Settlement Examinations & Removal Orders here.

Was your English ancestor an apprentice? Apprenticeships date back to as early as the 16th century when young boys were formally bound to a master, usually a craftsman, who would teach the apprentice his trade. From 1563, the Statute of Apprentices made apprenticeships mandatory for anyone who wanted to take up a trade. This meant that no one could call themselves a Master of a trade without serving a 7-year apprenticeship.

Commonly, it was the child’s father who would put him up for an apprenticeship. It was more financially feasible for many poor families to apprentice out a child than to raise him.  In 1601, authority was given to the Overseers of the Poor for the parish, to locate an apprenticeship for any children who were orphaned or considered a pauper.

Although most apprenticeships were sought within the parish, there were times when the Overseers of the Poor would advertise in the local newspapers as seen below:1

Newspaper1

Overseers Apprenticeship Registers

Once an apprenticeship was secured for a child, the Overseers of the Poor would write down the details in an Apprenticeship Register. They would record details such as the date of the indenture, the name of the apprentice, their age, their parents’ names and abode, the name of the Master and his or her trade and residence, and the terms of the apprenticeship (in years). The register would be signed by the Overseers of the Poor and the Magistrate giving consent.

Below is an example of an Overseers Apprenticeship Register for Rothwell, West Yorkshire.2  On 12 October, 1802, 11-year old Sarah Fothergill was apprenticed out to Nathan Nichols, a farmer.  Her father was David Fothergill and her mother was noted as dead. The family’s residence was noted as ‘no settled place’. Sarah would be apprenticed to Nathan Nichols for 10 years, until her 21st birthday.

Apprenticeship-1

An Order of Indenture would then be created by the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor and presented to the Justices of the Peace for their approval. The proposed Master will have been interviewed as to his circumstances and character as well as the parents of the apprentice, if they were alive. The Overseers would recommend that the indenture be made.

In the example below dated 12 December 1818, a father, John Hollingrake has put up his son, William Hollingrake, as an apprentice. The order states that “William Hollingrake, a poor child, which its parents are not able to maintain” is proposed as an apprentice to Thomas Sutcliffe, a spinner, of the parish of Langfield, West Yorkshire. The Order of Indenture is signed by the Justices of the Peace and an Indenture is made.3

41440_1831101881_2383-00006

The Apprenticeship Indenture was a legal document setting out the terms for the apprentice and the master.  The age of the apprentice is given and the length of the apprenticeship. William Hollingrake’s indenture states he was 12 years and four months old and would serve as an apprentice to Thomas Sutcliffe until he was 21 years old. Thomas Sutcliffe is to teach William a trade, and “find, provide for, and allow unto his said Apprentice, sufficient wholesome and competent Meat, Drink, Washing, Lodging, Apparel, and all other Necessaries…during all the said Term.” The indenture also states that should Thomas Sutcliffe die within the period of indenture, the agreement would terminate within three months of his death. For the apprentice, they were bound to serve their master and willingly perform his duties and be a “good and faithful Servant”.4

41440_1831101881_1912-00008

Interestingly enough, on the same day, 12 December 1818, William’s younger brother, John Hollingrake, only 9 years old, was also apprenticed out to John Baron, a weaver. Two years later, on 19 August 1820, Betty Hollingrake, just turned 9 years old, was apprenticed out to Abraham Sunderland, also a weaver. And four years later, Abraham Hollingrake, aged 9, was apprenticed out to James Barnes, a weaver.  All were children of John Hollingrake, living in the Parish of Langfield, West Yorkshire.

Some interesting facts on Apprenticeships:

  • An apprenticeship was for a period of seven years but many children were apprenticed at very young ages and often spent nine or ten years with their master. The 1563 Act determined that apprentices were bound until they were 24 years old, but this was later reduced to 21 in 1768.
  • During the Indenture period, the apprentice could not marry or start his own household. He could not gamble or visit a public house (a place selling alcoholic drinks).
  • The Stamp Act of 1709 put a tax on the Indenture and this practice lasted until 1808. Due to this practice, apprenticeship records were recorded more centrally. This is why it is often easier to find records in the period 1700s to early 1800s than after 1808. However, parishes were exempt from having to pay the tax with the result that their apprenticeship records were not recorded or accounted for in any central manner.
  • Persons aged 12-20 could not refuse an apprenticeship if a householder of sufficient means demands it, unless they are already apprenticed elsewhere. If they did refuse an apprenticeship, they could be imprisoned.
  • The Justice of the Peace was the only person who could break the agreement between apprentice and master. However, many apprentices ran away from masters who mistreated them. These masters advertised in the newspapers for the return of their apprentices. Many times a physical description of the apprentice can be found in the advertisement as seen below.

Below is an example of a newspaper advertisement asking for the return of two apprentices who left their master “without sufficient cause”.5

Abscond

The information you might find on your apprentice will vary from document to document. You may find the names of the parents enabling you to move back a generation in your research. You will often find an age given of an apprentice, allowing you to calculate an approximate year of birth. You will find the trade learned which may help in distinguishing your ancestor from someone else with the same name. You may learn, as in the Hollingrake example above, more about the family structure, including siblings.

Apprenticeship in the United States

There are several extant records for Indentures and Apprenticeships in the United States. A search on FamilySearch.org for ‘apprenticeship’ in the Keyword search box on the Catalog page will result in a list of over 1,400 hits for both the United States and England. You can refine your search further by entering a location. For example, “Apprenticeship Alabama” will result in 13 hits.  The same search terms can be used on the other genealogy research sites to locate records there.

An excellent article on the history of apprenticeship in the United States can be found at the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.


  1. “Parish Apprentices,” Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, Yorkshire, 28 November 1801, page 2, col. 3; The British Newspaper Archive, (http://BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk : accessed 4 September 2018). 
  2. West Yorkshire, England, Rothwell Parish, Parish and Township Records Register of Apprentices, 1802-1809, unpaginated; images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 3 September 2018), images 7 & 8 of 11, line 3, entry for Sarah Fothergill, 12 October 1802. 
  3. West Riding, Yorkshire, England, Langfield Township, Apprenticeship Indentures; images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 3 September 2018), order of indenture for William Hollingrake, 12 December 1818. 
  4. West Riding, Yorkshire, England, Langfield Township, Apprenticeship Indentures; images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 3 September 2018), indenture of William Hollingrake, 12 December 1818. 
  5. “Apprentices Absconded,” Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, Yorkshire, 12 September 1801, page 1, col. 2; The British Newspaper Archive, (http://britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk : accessed 4 September 2018). 

In the Parish Chest: Settlement Examinations, Settlement Certificates, Removal Orders

ParishChestSettlement

As we learned in my last post on bastardy bonds, parishes in England did not want to be financially liable for the support of individuals or families settling within their boundaries who could not provide for themselves.

In England, the Poor Relief Act of 1662, also known as the Settlement and Removal Act came into being.1 The Act established the parish to which a person belonged. This was his ‘place of settlement’ and would indicate which parish was responsible should he at some point need to rely on the parish for help.  Many of the poorer individuals and families moved from parish to parish to find work which was acceptable only if they had a Settlement Certificate that stated that their parish of settlement would take them back should they have no means of support.

Below is an example of a Settlement Certificate issued by the Churchwarden and Overseers of the Poor in the Parish of Ashurst, Sussex for John Pollard and Sarah his wife on 22 November 1786.2 The certificate states that the Pollard’s are legally settled in the Parish. This allowed John and Sarah to move to a different parish in search of work. Should they not find employment and become ‘chargeable to the new parish’ (meaning they needed poor relief) the certificate assured the new parish officials that their parish of settlement would take them back and support them.

record-image_S3HY-6XG3-VSH

Should an individual or family move into a parish without a settlement certificate and then need to rely on their new parish for support, a Removal Order would be prepared. What is great for genealogists is that the family is usually named, sometimes even ages given, as well as the name of the parish they had come from or to which they legally belonged.  In the example below, William Aldridge, his wife Elizabeth and their son, Elisha, have become or are deemed likely to become ‘chargeable to the Parish’ of Sherringham, Norfolk, where they are currently living. The Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor of the Parish of Sherringham have reported the family to the Justices of the Peace for Norfolk county. The Removal Order states that William Aldridge’s last legal Settlement was in the Parish of Blickling, Norfolk and that the family is to be returned there. Further, the Removal Order reminds the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor of the Parish of Blickling that they are to receive and provide for the Aldridge family who are legal inhabitants of that Parish.3

Aldridge

As part of the process of determining whether an individual or family had a legal right to settle in a parish, an examination by the Churchwarden or the Justices of the Peace often occurred. During the examination the individual would have to provide evidence of their claim to legal settlement in the parish. They were asked where they were born, about their parentage, their work history and their movements around the country.

So, what were the terms under which someone could settle in a parish?4

  • Be born into the parish.
  • Have lived in the parish for forty consecutive days without complaint.
  • Be hired for over a year and a day that takes place within the parish – (this led to short lengths of employment so that settlement was not obtained).
  • Hold an office in the parish.
  • Rent a property worth £10 per year or pay the same in taxes.
  • Have married into the parish.
  • Gained poor relief in that parish previously.
  • Have a seven-year apprenticeship with a settled resident

Settlement Examinations vary greatly but they often contain information that is of great value to a genealogist.  Take the incredibly informative settlement examination of Mrs. Mary Bird on 7 March 1825.5

The Settlement Examination of Mrs. Mary Bird

S2_GBPRS_NORFOLK_NRO-PARISH-CHEST_IMAGES_PD_PD-658-71_411553800578S2_GBPRS_NORFOLK_NRO-PARISH-CHEST_IMAGES_PD_PD-658-71_411553800579

Mary Bird was living in the Parish of Sherringham, Norfolk in 1825 when she became in need of financial help from the parish. The resulting examination before the Justices of the Peace is full of information on her very interesting background.  Take a look at the genealogical gems found in Mary’s examination:

  • She states she is about 32 years old, giving a clue to her year of birth
  • She was born in Bombay, East Indies where her father was stationed as a soldier in the Bombay Artillery
  • At age 14, she went into service for a Mrs. Monroe in Bombay. She was with Mrs. Monroe for between two and three years
  • She was married at about age 16 to William Neal, a private in the 17 Regiment of Light Dragoons stationed at Bombay
  • Two years into the marriage William died
  • Mary lived in Bombay for another year before marrying again, to Thomas Bird, a corporal in the 17 Regiment of Light Dragoons
  • Mary and her second husband Thomas Bird returned to England about six years ago
  • Thomas Bird was discharged at Chatham in Kent
  • Six months later, Thomas Bird reenlisted with the 19th Regiment of Foot. Mary and Thomas resided together, moving around England and Ireland to wherever the 19th Regiment of Foot was stationed
  • On 1 January 1825, Thomas Bird was discharged at Limerick, Ireland at his own request
  • Thomas Bird left Mary in Limerick, Ireland for an undisclosed period of time after which Mary stated she joined him in Dublin for about a week, after which Thomas again left her
  • Mary stated that Thomas told her she should go to ‘the place he belonged’ which was Sherringham in the county of Norfolk and that she has not seen him since that time
  • She stated she traveled from Dublin to Sherringham arriving on the past Tuesday, having with her a child between the ages of 8 and 9 years who was born in Bombay about a year into her marriage to Thomas Bird

After giving this testimony and making her mark, it seems that the Justices of the Peace wanted further evidence of her claims. The next document found is an extract from the Registry of Marriages 19th Regiment of Foot.6

S2_GBPRS_NORFOLK_NRO-PARISH-CHEST_IMAGES_PD_PD-658-71_411553800580

More genealogical gems here!

  • Confirmation of Mary’s married name (from her first marriage) and that she was a widow
  • A more exact place of marriage as Kaira, Bombay, India
  • An exact date of marriage of 19 May 1816
  • The names of two witnesses to the marriage

The marriage extract is not an original document but it gives many clues to aid in a hunt for the original.

And finally, Thomas Bird’s birth in the parish registers for Sherringham was located. An extract of that entry is noted with remarks by the Vicar that certifies it to be a true and correct extract from the Registry of Baptisms in the Parish of Sherringham in the County of Norfolk.7

S2_GBPRS_NORFOLK_NRO-PARISH-CHEST_IMAGES_PD_PD-658-71_411553800585

It would appear that Mary Bird satisfied the terms for being able to legally settle in the Parish of Sherringham by her marriage to Thomas Bird, who was born in the parish.

What a treasure trove of genealogical information available in one Settlement Examination!

Where to find Settlement Certificates, Settlement Examinations and Removal Orders

They are always found on the county level in England in Parish Chest records.

In FamilySearch.org, the search term ‘Settlement Certificates’ will result in a long list of records containing settlement certificates, removal orders and settlement examinations. Adding in a location such as ‘Settlement Certificates Durham England’ will bring up a list of those records in that geographic area.  FamilySearch.org seems to have the best collection of these parish chest records although Ancestry.com and Findmypast.com also have several record sets containing parish chest records. Use search terms such as ‘settlement certificate’, ‘removal orders’, ‘parish chest’, ‘settlement examinations’ and/or ‘poor relief’.

Searching directly on a county record office website is also a good way to find these types of records as can be seen in the screenshot below of the Durham County Record Office. However, most of these are not digitized and will mean either a visit to the individual record office or ordering a copy of the record online.

Screenshot 2018-08-29 14.48.30

 


  1. Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org), “Poor Relief Act 1662,” rev. 14.39, 30 July 2017. 
  2. Parish of Ashurst, Sussex, Settlement Certificate, FamilySearch (www.familysearch.org : accessed 29 August 2018), 22 November 1786, John Pollard and wife. 
  3. Norfolk County, Sherringham Parish, Parish Chest Records, 1300-1900, Removal Order for William Aldridge and family, 13 February 1755; images, Findmypast (www.findmypast.com : accessed 28 August 2018). 
  4. Marjie Bloy, Ph.D., The Victorian Web (http://www.victorianweb.org/history/poorlaw/settle.html : accessed 29 August 2018), “The 1662 Settlement Act.” 
  5. Norfolk County, Sherringham Parish, Parish Chest Records, 1300-1900, Examination of Mrs. Mary Bird, 7 March 1825; images, Findmypast (www.findmypast.com : accessed 28 August 2018). 
  6. Norfolk County, Sherringham Parish, Parish Chest Records, 1300-1900, Examination of Mrs. Mary Bird, 7 March 1825, containing marriage register extract for Thomas Bird and Mary Neal on 19 May 1816; images, Findmypast (www.findmypast.com : accessed 28 August 2018). 
  7. Norfolk County, Sherringham Parish, Parish Chest Records, 1300-1900, Examination of Mrs. Mary Bird, 7 March 1825, containing birth register extract for Thomas Bird on 19 March 1793; images, Findmypast (www.findmypast.com : accessed 28 August 2018). 

Does it make sense?

question-2309040_1920

We’ve all seen them. Family trees with children born to a mother who died before their birth, or three children born in the same year and linked to the same parents (and they are not triplets). People marrying at age 10, and women having babies in their 70s.

As we research, it is essential to ask ourselves, “Does this make sense?”. I recently came across some research done on my 5th great grandfather, Edward Bellis, on Familysearch. I have not been able to identify his mother yet but I do have his christening record for 1735 identifying him as the son of Edward Belis. I was surprised to see that someone had identified his mother and had added the new parents’ marriage document as proof of not only the marriage but as a source for Edward’s birth.

If the person who had added the mother and the marriage record would have stopped and looked at the dates, they would have seen immediately that something wasn’t right.

Screenshot 2018-07-30 15.33.18

Look at Edward’s christening date. Now look at the supposed parents’ marriage date. A couple marrying in 1737 would not have had a child christened in 1735. If by some chance the child, Edward, was actually the illegitimate son of Edward Bellis, from before he was married to Anne Williams, the record would show it as such. In the 1700s, church officials would write in the birth as illegitimate on the record itself as can be seen below, on the same page as the register showing Edward’s christening in 1735.1

Edward Bellis

The above is a simple example of why it’s important to pay attention to dates and to stop and ask ourselves, “Does this make sense?”.

 


  1. “Wales, Flintshire, Parish Registers, 1538-1912,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/KCRJ-SJQ : 11 February 2018), Edward Belis, 16 Aug 1735, Baptism; from “Parish Records Collection 1538-2005,” database and images, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : 2012); citing Holywell, Flintshire, Wales, The National Archives, Kew, Surrey.