Family history research without the Internet
For those of you who have been following the roller-coaster ride of my search for my ancestors here on dadams.co.uk, you’ll know that as yet I haven’t really left my proverbial chair. All the research so far as been done on various web sites… oh, and not forgetting info from my relative Caroline (who I got in touch with via a web site). The first reliable national census was carried out in 1841, and central birth / marriage / death records started in the 3rd quarter of 1837 – this info is available on-line. There are some parish records available on-line, but there’s a lot of info missing. While Norfolk is very complete, London and Middlesex records are very infrequent. So there comes a time when you have to leave the chair and get down among the old records.
My research so far had revealed that one of my great x4 grandfathers was Russell (sometimes spelt with one l) Brown, born around 1791, a fisherman living at Fisherman’s Place in Chiswick. Fisherman’s Place was a group of run-down cottages situated very close to St Nicholas Church, otherwise known as Chiswick Parish Church. Fisherman’s Place, incidentally, was known as Slut’s Hole until they changed the name (for the better, methinks). So, was it safe to assume that the Brown family and some of my other nearby ancestors were recorded in the Parish of St Nicholas? The answer, it seems, is yes. If you’re interested, you should refer to the map in this blog post.
The web site of Chiswick Parish Church states that the church “is privileged to hold almost complete Registers and Vestry records in the Archives dating back to 1622”. And they welcome enquiries from researchers. Fantastic. I e-mailed Jane Watson, keeper of the archives, who responded very quickly and said that they would look for some likely records when they held their next research meeting. A couple of weeks later Jane replied and said that they’d found many relevent records, but the best course of action would be to contact her colleague Carolyn Hammond at Chiswick Library. Jane explained that the library’s local research room had transcripts of the parish records, and it prevented handling of the old original records. Carolyn has written a book on the history of Chiswick (you can find it on amazon.co.uk) and she invited me to meet her at the local research room where she works part-time as a volunteer. I took an afternoon off work and made my way to Chiswick.
Carolyn started by showing me an entry found in the parish’s poverty register, describing the condition of John Cotton (another great x4 grandfather), his wife Sarah and their seven children. Actually I didn’t have proof that this was my John Cotton, although research during afternoon proved this was him. This is how the entry from 6th April 1840 read…
Husband sat by fire either tipsy or sick – wife says he worked for Jessop – but out of it now – was turned away by Finch for misconduct
2 sons – 5 daughters
1 son aged 24 laid up sick for many years
One daughter seemed a tidy girl – walked lame
All brought up in Charity School – some there now cloathed
In coat club
A great start. No, seriously, for good or bad this is a piece of my family history. Carolyn then showed me how to go through the parish baptism records and I spent the next two hours searching through a hundred years worth of records. There were many successes – I confirmed that the aforementioned Russel was the son of Russel Brown and Mary Dukes, and that Russel Brown senior was baptised in 1756 (his date of birth was missing). I found Russel junior’s date of birth (14th November 1790, so just off the 1791 estimation). I found many siblings for my ancestors – these can be very useful when details about your own ancestors are missing. I also nailed down the identity of John Cotton – I’d known that was the name of my great x4 grandfather through his daughter Sarah’s marriage to James Brown (Russel’s son)… but in the 1841 there was no Sarah in the household of the most likely John Cotton. There was however a Sarah Cotton at Chiswick House, which was situated (I now know) at the end of Bennett Street where John Cotton lived. The baptism records matched up John’s children with those listed on the census, and there was a baptism record for Sarah in exactly the right year to match her age on the census and marriage certificate.
Another discovery is that John Cotton’s father, John (yes, another one) had acted as the Parish Clerk for a number of years. And just to confuse everyone, his wife was Sarah too.
Although I found a lot of details, there’s still some missing – not all the events happened in St Nicholas Parish. Marriages typically took place in the bride’s parish (as they do today) so I didn’t find some of the marriage details I hoped to. But that’s okay, it gives me something else to search for… and I now know that local resources are the things to look for.
In closing I’d like to say a big thank you to Carolyn and Jane for their dedication and time. No payment was requested, although I will be making a donation to the fund that helps to maintain the records.
…works for Microsoft as a Global Account Technology Strategist. In a former life he worked for the Lotus brand within IBM for many years. Married with one daughter and two dogs, lives in Camberley (Surrey, England), plays the guitar to a mediocre standard, and runs 10 kms and half marathons at an average speed. That’s it really.