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). 

RootsTech 2019

RootsTech registration opens tomorrow, on 20 September 2018, and a tentative schedule has just gone up. It’s subject to change but take a look and see the incredible variety of classes that will be offered!

2019 will be my 5th year attending RootsTech and my first year as a RootsTech Ambassador. I’m excited to see what’s in store. A few weeks ago, RootsTech announced that they would be expanding to London in 2019! What an incredible opportunity for those who live in the UK and Europe to experience RootsTech for themselves. You can find more information here.

Have you attended RootsTech? Thinking about going in 2019?  Here are my Top 5 reasons to attend RootsTech:

 1.  Making connections. RootsTech 2019’s theme is “Connect. Belong.” There is nothing more exhilarating than being in a place with thousands of other people who share your passion for genealogy, and feeling like you are where you belong. But even more than that, RootsTech brings together family and friends…those you know, and those you discover. For the last three years, RootsTech has been the meeting place for myself and my good friend, Kandace. We met about 18 years ago in Colorado as new moms with baby boys. Our families grew and we moved to different states but stayed in touch. In 2016, I invited Kandace to attend RootsTech with me and a tradition was born. Every year since we have met in Salt Lake City to attend RootsTech together. Connecting is what RootsTech does so well.

RootsTech-us

2.  With over 300 classes to pick from, you will find one that suits you perfectly. From beginners to those who are advanced researchers, RootsTech offers a great variety of classes. Challenge yourself to learn something new.

rootstech-class
3.  The Expo Hall. Hundreds of vendors, offering just about everything you can think of to do with genealogy. Be sure to allow yourself a good chunk of time to visit the Expo Hall. There is so much to see, so many vendors to talk to, presentations to attend and swag to collect. It’s one of my favorite things about RootsTech!

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4.  Keynote Speakers. Be inspired by interesting and engaging keynote speakers. Two of my favorite speakers from 2018 were Scott Hamilton and Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. I look forward to hearing who the speakers will be for 2019!

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5.  Proximity to the Family History Library. RootsTech takes place at the Salt Palace Convention Center, only a block from the Family History Library. Spend some quality research time here among the thousands of records and books. Each year I fly into Salt Lake City a day or two before RootsTech starts so that I can work in the Library.

FHL-collage

I hope you’ll join me at RootsTech 2019!  Registration for RootsTech 2019 opens tomorrow, 20 September 2018. Register early to take advantage of early bird pricing! Look out for the free RootsTech pass I’ll be giving away on my blog.

And for more information on everything RootsTech, check out the Road to RootsTech 2019 here.

 

 

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!

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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: 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

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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). 

The Youngest Among Us

“I will lend you, for a little time,
A child of mine, He said.
For you to love the while he lives,
And mourn for when he’s dead
.”

Edgar Guest (1881-1959)

It is always difficult to comprehend the deaths of the youngest among us. All of us have come across sad family stories. When they involve the death of a baby or young child, we mourn a little with our ancestors. Such is the story of Isabel Bowes Bruce, my second great-grandmother. Isabel married John Bruce in 1864 in County Durham, England.  Isabel was 19 and John was 21. They began their married life in the small mining village of Tudhoe where a new coal mine (Tudhoe Colliery) had opened in 1864. John began work there as a miner.

On 4 May 1866, Isabel gave birth to their first child, a baby girl they named Margaret. Between 1866 and 1876, Isabel and John had six children. Sadly, within that same time period, they buried four of their children, three of them were less than a year old. Isabel was often heavily pregnant at the time she was burying one of her babies.

  • Margaret Bruce, born 4 May 1866. She died 13 months later, aged 1 in 1867. Isabel was about 8 months pregnant with their second child.
  • Thomas Bruce, born 23 July 1867. He died 7 months later in February 1868.
  • Margaret Bruce, born 14 May 1869. (My great-grandmother, she died aged 80.)
  • John Thomas Bruce, born 3 Jan 1873. He died at 2 months old in March 1873. Isabel was pregnant again within a month or so of burying John.
  • William Bruce, born Oct. 1873. (My great grand-uncle, he died aged 85.)
  • John Bruce, born 1876. Died, aged 11 in 1887.

Isabel herself died before she was 40 years old, by 1884. Her husband John remarried in March 1884. The marriage certificate states he was a widower. I am quite sure that burying so many of her babies must have taken a toll on Isabel.

In what seems a sad coincidence, Margaret Bruce (born 1869), my great-grandmother, would have the same experience her mother had. She would bear 6 children between 1889 and 1899, four of which she would bury before their second birthdays.

MargaretBruce1869_photo-croMargaret Bruce Thomas (1869-1949)

 

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 32 prompt: Youngest

Music and Miners

In the coal mining districts of County Durham, England, in the 19th and 20th centuries, almost every colliery (coal mine) had a colliery band. Bands were sponsored by the local mining communities and were a source of great pride for the working men who played in the band and the community who attended their performances. These were brass bands with brass and percussion instruments. My father was about 15 years old when he joined the New Herrington Colliery Band in Houghton-le-Spring, County Durham in 1950.

Dadwithtrumpet
My father, James, on the left with a friend and fellow band member.

Formed in the 1900s, the New Herrington Colliery Band became a military style band after the First World War.1 Financial support for the colliery bands came from the coal miners themselves. In 1934, the New Herrington Colliery Band was supported by subscription and a levy of a penny per fortnight from the Herrington Colliery miners.2

Band
New Herrington Colliery Band, 1953. Photo courtesy of The Internet Bandsmen Everything Within (www.ibew.org.uk). Used with permission of site owner. Copyright unknown.

Although most of the pits in County Durham have now closed, there are some colliery bands in County Durham and other parts of England which still play on today. One of the most well-known is the Grimethorpe Colliery Band in South Yorkshire. Formed in 1917, the band is one of the most successful and long-lived brass bands. They were the focus of the 1996 British film, “Brassed Off”, which showcased the bands’ struggle to survive after the closure of their pit.

And if you feel like getting your toes tapping, just click below and hear the Grimethorpe Colliery Band playing the William Tell Overture.

 

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 29 prompt: Music.

  1. Gavin Holman, Brass Bands of the British Isles, a Historical Directory (N.p.:n.p., March 2018), digital images, Google Books (http://books.Google.com : accessed 5 July 2018). 
  2. “New Herrington Band,” Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, County Durham, 13 March 1934, page 4, col. 1. 

Let’s Call him James or maybe … James?

name-tag-3

My father is James Thomas

My grandfather is James Thomas

My great grandfather is James Thomas

My great great grandfather is William Thomas

My great great great grandfather is James Thomas

My great great great great grandfather is John Thomas

My great great great great great grandfather is James Thomas

With the exception of William born in 1834 and John born in 1769 there has been a James Thomas in every generation of my direct line since 1731.  And if we look at all the children of my direct line ancestors, there has been a James Thomas in EVERY generation since 1731.

They did live in different places so that should make it easier to distinguish them, right?

My father is James Thomas, b. 1935 in County Durham

My grandfather is James Thomas, b. 1894 in County Durham

My great grandfather is James Thomas, b. 1864 in County Durham

My great great grandfather is William Thomas, b. 1834 in Cornwall

My great great great grandfather is James Thomas, b. 1808 in Cornwall

My great great great great grandfather is John Thomas, b. 1769 in Cornwall

My great great great great great grandfather is James Thomas, b. 1731 in Cornwall

Not so much.

They had different occupations by which to distinguish one James from another…

With the exception of my father and grandfather, all were coal miners.

That didn’t help.

And Thomas is a rare surname in Cornwall, right?

An article from Who Do You Think You Are? magazine cites a study commissioned by the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site (CMWHS) and done by genealogist Stephen Colwill into the spread of Cornish surnames around the UK.1 Stephen Colwill concluded that, “The three most common Cornish surnames are Williams, Richards and Thomas.”

It’s certainly an interesting experience researching my Thomas roots in Cornwall and County Durham. I have to admit I kind of love that there is a James Thomas in every generation. And I am not one to buck tradition. So I named one of my sons…James.

 

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 25 prompt: Same Name.

 

 


  1. Rosemary Collins, Who Do You Think You Are? (http://www.whodoyouthinkyouaremagazine.com/news/your-surname-cornish : accessed 23 June 2018), “Is Your Surname Cornish?”