Wednesday, 31 July 2013

History on the television - drama or documentary?

Last week I was suffering from an excess of doing something completely normal ... celebrating a family occasion ... however on top of several previous weekends also spent celebrating the meaningful lifetime events of friends and other family members.  The cumulative overload led to four days of sleeping, crying, despairing and generally being a bit useless, followed by a week (and that's up to today) of not being quite right yet ...

I realised all was not yet even anywhere approaching right in Barnsley Archives yesterday morning when after only an hour and a half of transcribing a Non-Conformist Baptism register, a job chosen for its relative simplicity, my mind started to wander and I began to make silly mistakes. 

My problems last week were not a 'flare up'; a lot of people who do understand something about Crohn's Disease often suggest this is the main problem I have to face.  To be honest the Pentasa (slow release Mesalazine) seems to take care of most of my digestive problems as long as I'm not a complete idiot and eat or drink something unsuitable.  This has led to various doctors suggesting my illness is controlled enough to work ... err, but what about the other effects ... the tiredness and the aches and funny (that's not ha! ha! - that's peculiar) pains. 

The walk up from the bus station earlier had been a slow one ... having 15lb of laptop (and associated disability aids - angled stand, wrist rest) strapped to your back means you have both hands for holding onto stair rails and leaning on walls, but it also makes the sheer effort of walking that much harder.  Just walking into the Archives after a week 'off' was hard in a different way ... would they ask where I'd been?  Had they even noticed I'd not turned up after I'd tried so hard to establish a regular twice weekly visit?  Nothing was said (I wasn't sure whether to be upset no-one had asked or thankful ditto) and realising I wasn't 100% I chose to transcribe a nice simple list rather than the publicans' wills or Council Minutes I had been dabbling with on previous visits.

I managed another hour, but only by interspersing the transcribing with a bit of Facebook browsing (the Archives now has a working wifi system, which is a godsend), some 'I wonder if that person I've just transcribed is a member of the OH's family' side tracking and a very nice moment when I helped a visitor find out who else was buried in his grandmother's grave in Barnsley Cemetery. 

When I got home I went straight to bed and slept soundly until two nuisance calls within minutes of each other (the previous owner of our landline number appears to have been a woman of many social problems) quite thoroughly woke me about an hour later.


I still couldn't face 'working', that is doing anything on my computer, so I spent the rest of the day (when I wasn't washing dishes, feeding the OH and the cat and harvesting garden produce) watching history on the television.  An episode of 'The White Queen' (the BBC's drama about the Wars of the Roses), an episode of Philippa Gregory's documentary 'The Real White Queen and her Rivals' and the first episode of Channel 4's new drama 'The Mill'.

Elizabeth Woodville at her coronation from the BBC TV series
The White Queen (BBC)
I like a good 'bodice ripper', a historically based story with added romance, peril and women successfully overcoming the social challenges of simply being women in a previous age.  I enjoyed reading the White Queen and the other books in Philippa Gregory's Cousins' War collection and the television series is enjoyable on several levels despite knowing full well what is going to happen next.  The costumes are splendid and lavish and yet I could quite fancy a couple of the simpler frocks I've seen (if I wore frocks, which I don't).  Working out which bits the scriptwriter (and PG) have edited from actual history means I sometimes have to pause the programme and consult my tablet (the peerage.com website is handy here) and wondering exactly how they have decided to play Richard of York (played by Aneurin Barnard, a young actor who looks amazingly like Elijah Wood's Frodo in Lord of the Rings) is tantalisingly distracting.  Is he a goody or a baddy?  How on earth are they going to explain his interest in marrying the young Elizabeth of York given the effort they've put into convincing us he really loves Anne Neville.

I also enjoy most historical documentaries - recently Dan Snow's 'Locomotion: History of the Railways' and Robson Green's 'How the North was Built' have both been very good.  'The Real White Queen' suffers by comparison because there really isn't much to see on the screen as Philippa Gregory and the various other academics (seeing someone on screen whose book I have is another thrill of mine) relate the story of the Wars of the Roses.  The castles are mostly ruins, there really aren't that many portraits of people from the fifteenth century and they show very few shots of actual historical documents.  Watching another set of actresses portraying Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Neville and Margaret Beaufort when you have already got the faces of the actresses from the concurrent drama fixed in your head is just confusing.  Couldn't they have just used bits of 'The White Queen' instead?  PG emphasises the importance of the history of these women - which has up until recently been mostly ignored by the (male) writers of most history books.  I do share this sentiment and would like to see a drama and/or a documentary about another favourite of mine, Katherine Swynford, John of Gaunt's mistress and later wife and great grandmother of Margaret Beaufort.  Considering the drama is a ten parter giving us only two weeks for the real history does feel like we've been shortchanged ... couldn't they have covered some of the other women in more depth, Cecily Neville, Jacquetta Rivers, Margaret of Anjou.  Oh, well, maybe there'll be some other programmes about them, after all PG hasn't stopped writing the Cousins' War books yet!
A shot from the Mill showing a boy working on a cotton spinning machine, the air is full of dust and fluff and the sunlight beaming through the window just shows how dingy the factory really is.
The Mill on Channel 4 (picture from the Sunday Times)

'The Mill' is of course set in an entirely different era and social setting to 'The White Queen' so comparing it on costume and settings really isn't fair.  I would expect a drama set in an 1830's cotton mill to be dirty and squalid - showing it any other way would just be wrong.  The press blurb and the Channel 4 website (one of those 'modern' websites that promises a lot and doesn't deliver) suggest the story is based on actual events at Quarry Bank Mill (a place I have never yet managed to visit, but would really like to), the Sunday Times article that I took the picture above from begins to suggest that some clever reconstructions of the working machinery were necessary for the filming, but as I haven't got a subscription for the page I can't read the rest of the article - very annoying.  I have found a blog about Quarry Bank Mill, where the series was filmed, which does fill out some of the historical background to the series.

I enjoyed the first episode - I set my recorder to catch the rest - and do hope the series continues to focus on the working conditions at the mill, the social unrest of the time and the story of the child apprentices without putting in too much scandal and drama just to spice the story up.  Ever since the opening shots of 'North and South' where Richard Armitage (mmmmm!) walks through his fluff filled mill I've been aware that these places were not just dirty and noisy but also full of almost invisible dangers, the dust and the exposed machinery.  We've already had an accident to a child involving a machine and the new mechanic fits a safety guard to just one machine towards the end of the episode - and the girls are heard coughing and trying to shake the fluff from their clothes throughout the episode.  Will we hear more about the effects of this?  I suppose I'll just have to wait and see.

Here's a picture of Richard Armitage and the fluff ... just because I can!
Richard Armitage playing John Thornton in North and South (from Richard Armitage Online)
His mill seems a bit cleaner and brighter than the one l watched last night ... realism in television seems to have come on a bit in the last nine years!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

And when it all is over ... Funeral Payments then and now

I was going to post today under the header "Treasure Chest Thursday" as I had planned to examine and scan a collection of papers passed to me by my mum at the last minute as I left her house on Sunday afternoon.  I've been too tired to face the repetitive job of scanning until today, as you may have read in my posts over the past few days (here and here).  However when I started going through the bits and bobs it struck me there was a very sad theme running through them.

The letter from my aunt asking my grandfather if there was any insurance to cover the death of my great grandfather ... the dingy brown note from the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance granting my grandfather £25 for the funeral of my grandmother in 1960.  The pink Prudential Assurance payments book where my grandmother carefully paid 1/- (one shilling) a week towards her life insurance.  The newspaper cutting reporting on my father's eldest sister's funeral in 1946 - when she was just twenty years old.  An unexpected expense for the family at that time I'm sure.

And in a separate envelope, fastened together with a still shiny pin, the various bills and receipts for my grandmother's funeral, including two bills from the Annfield Plain Co-operative Society for her funeral tea. 

Two bills on headed paper from the Annfield Plain Co-operative Society listing bread, cakes, meats and other things for a funeral tea
Bills from the Co-op for my grandmother's funeral tea


They had ham and tongue sandwiches on white and brown bread with assorted cakes and tarts, plenty of tea to wash it down and some beetroot and pickles on the side to spice things up a bit.  I wonder if the tea was held in the Co-op rooms or at a family home. The whole of the funeral appears to have been arranged by the Co-op as there is another headed sheet for the main funeral expenses and a reference to them on the receipt from the Crematorium.
A colour photo of the relocated Annfield Plain co-op store at Beamish, a two story stone building with a four plate glass windows and three entrances, clothing, food and hardware.  A glass canopy ties the shop fronts together and the road in front is cobbled with inlaid tracks for the trams.
The Annfield Plain Co-op now in the Beamish Museum

(In a complete aside, it is the old Co-op building from Annfield Plain that they moved to Beamish in the 1970s - so the building we visited on our recent holidays might be the very one from which these bills originated!)

I've chosen these items to illustrate my blog post today because they are the least personal items in the collection, and in a way, among the most poignant.  My mum had married my dad the year before, my grandmother knew I was 'on the way' as my mum put it and that news had made her happy before she died.  My dad and his surviving sister were only in their twenties when their mum passed away, and my aunt is still alive and may well read this post so do I want to make sure I don't say anything that could be at all construed as disrespectful.

The funeral tea alone came to £4 14s 5d if my pre-decimal maths is still OK.  That's a fifth of the money my grandad received in the form of the Death Grant.  Once you add in all the other expenses it is clear that the puny £25 allowed in those days was nowhere near enough to cover even a modest funeral.  
Printed form listing grants payable on death under National Insurance
The back of the Death Grant form in 1960

And as you can see from the back of the Death Grant form above £25 was the maximum payment, young people and for some reason people who were over a certain age when National Insurance came in (if I'm interpreting section (3) correctly) were entitled to far less.  This suggests that the amount was dependent of contributions to a certain extent and I think implies that there was no means testing of the payment.  I may be wrong ... this is not a very easy topic to Google and the papers of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance have not been digitised by the National Archives.  It does look like it was one of those payments that was reviewed fairly frequently and possibly continued until the mid 1980s.

Of course any Death Grant was better than nothing, which would have been the situation prior to the expansion of National Insurance in 1948.  This is no doubt why my grandmother paid her 1/- a week to the man from the Pru.  That paid out a reasonable sum to my grandfather according to the receipt in the collection, enough I think to cover the various expenses again if my adding of l.s.d (pounds, shillings and pence) isn't letting me down.

It looks as if my grandfather also had an account with the Pru, in the collection is a memo from them on much brighter paper with a coloured heading, well my grandfather survived his wife for another nineteen years and things had come on by 1979.  I wonder what the Death Grant was then and if my dad, being fully employed at the time, was able to claim it?  I hope my grandfather's insurance covered the costs - there are no further bits of evidence in the collection but my mum did recall my dad complaining that he had to pay an extra week's rent for my grandfather's council house as he "hadn't given notice of the death", erm, how exactly is one supposed to give a week's notice of a sudden death?  So council bureaucracy hasn't changed then!

All this made me wonder what happens today in this climate of benefit cuts and squeezing of the poor and middle classes.  It seems I am not the only one to be worrying about this; the Citizens Advice Bureau have recently published a report on current Funeral Payments from the Social Fund and a leading financial advice website reports that the take up of pre-paid funeral plans is triple the number sold ten years ago.

The average funeral today, according to the CAB, costs £3,284 and yet the average payment from the Social Fund is £1,241.  Bear in mind that these payments are now only made to people on qualifying benefits, income support, income related ESA and JSA and so on, thus to the very poorest people in the country and I wonder how on earth they are expected to make up the shortfall?  The option of a 'pauper funeral' so much mentioned by Dickens and on television programmes like 'Who do you think you are?' does not exist these days. 

For people whose income is just above the benefits threshold it must be much, much worse.  They would have to bear the whole cost of a loved one's funeral, which, let's be honest here, no-one would want to skimp on, and as the CAB point out in their report is a "classic distress purchase", made in a rush with no time to shop around or think about the alternatives. 

Both my mum and my mother-in-law have invested in a pre-paid plan for their funeral arrangements, not only do they now not have to worry about whether their families will be able to afford the expense, but they also get to specify what type of funeral they want - a bit like putting it in your will I suppose.  Looking at the various figures on the web I think the OH and I had better put some money aside for ours, when and if we ever sell the other house that is and have a few brass buttons to rub together - currently I think there might be room for us under the vegetable plot ... we can't afford a patio!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Work Capability Assessment - or how to lose all your self respect and worth in 20 minutes

I keep a box file with all my medically related papers stored in it, starting with my very first hospital appointments back in 2004 and including the recommendations for occupational therapy assessments while I was still working  and carrying on with various hospital appointments, results of tests and so on  for the past nine years (my god, has it been that long?) ... unfortunately when you've been tagged as disabled and unfit for work by your GP and various consultants the file stops getting any fatter, which is a problem when you get the dreaded form from ATOS.  
A man wearing dark glasses and seated on a mobility scooter holds a placard reading "We are not robots!! ATOS computers decide our futures in 45 minutes".
Anti-cuts demonstrators picket ATOS (from the Guardian website)

The disability activists and advice websites recommend you include all the relevant paperwork with your form - your GP is supposedly sent a letter asking for their opinion, but apparently many do not complete and return them - pressure of work I suppose.  When my form turned up a few weeks ago I had nothing new to send them ... I would cross my fingers and hope that this doesn't matter as I'm obviously (well to anyone who has bothered to take notice) not getting any better, however as crossing my fingers would probably set off a painful bout of cramp in my hands I won't bother. 

I've just retweeted a post from Sue Marsh - the wonderful Diary of a Benefit Scrounger lady - which links to an article she has written that appears on the Guardian website - that's where the picture above comes from.  It's all about the problems with the Work Capability Assessments and I won't go into detail here, but please go and read it yourselves.  The article contains a variety of links to supporting articles, I particularly (enjoyed is not the right word, although it seems to flow here, it really doesn't do justice to the way the piece made my skin crawl) read with interest the transcript of the questioning of witnesses for the Work and Pension Committee in 2011 where the then Minister of State for Employment, Chris Grayling, outlines the reasoning behind re-examining everyone on Incapacity Benefit and moving them onto Employment Support Allowance.  I haven't read it all yet (it is very long) but by the time I'd read and reread him stating that people will get support to get back to work I had to stop and calm down and write this blog post to try to get my feelings straight.

I have personal experience of this exercise ... when my sick pay from work ran out I applied for and received the first (assessment) stage of Employment Support Allowance, I was very happy to get something, coming from a very work orientated family background (if you don't work you will starve and it will be your own fault) it felt reassuring that the government accepted that I couldn't work through no fault of my own.  I took my box file of medical records to the first appointment with ATOS in 2010 and was put into the Work Related Activity Group. 

Bear in mind that at this point I was actually still employed and in the process of being 'terminated' as Sheffield Hallam University so kindly put it in their letters.  The Occupational Health doctor at SHU had recommended I be given early retirement due to ill health, but the pension authority doctor had disregarded that and stated I would get better with some exercise therapy and cognitive behaviour therapy (ah, one of those doctors who doesn't believe in the side effects of Crohn's Disease or in Chronic Fatigue or Fibromyalgia and who had actually NEVER met/examined me personally).  SHU, who had done everything in their power since I first became ill in 2004 'to make reasonable adjustments' to my working as recommended by the Occupational Health people, wouldn't/couldn't employ me any longer ... so who was actually going to give me a job then? 

I assumed (stupidly) that I would be given some help and advice on getting a nice little part time job that I could manage - no more than three hours a day, with a very short journey to work, or home working, for no more than three days a week and with an employer who didn't mind me being incapable of anything at all for days on end if I made a mistake in the 'pacing' I was trying to work out and overstretched myself.  Ha, dream on!

I had set up my own 'plan' the previous year when it became apparent I was going to have to leave SHU - I had applied and been accepted for a PGCE at the Barnsley campus of Huddersfield Uni.  I hoped I might be able to get some part time work teaching IT or history or something similar.  I see in the report from the second ATOS meeting (the one with the nurse where she asks you the same questions the doctor had already asked the month before) that I was also considering voluntary work to attempt to work out what exactly kind of and amount of work I was capable of.

I started to have the monthly meetings at the Job Centre - I was still technically employed by SHU who were having trouble getting rid of me as, having taken advice from knowledgeable friends I was refusing to resign.  I wanted that pension or alternatively redundancy due to changes in working conditions ... ah yes, while I'd been off sick they had moved my whole team to an office over a mile away from the railway station and the rest of the Uni, my commute had just added another bus journey and there were no 'suitable adjustments' that could be made to assist me in that.

The Job Centre lady applauded my good sense in trying to retrain as a teacher and basically put me on the back burner - she even offered to interview me by phone every month until I pointed out that as part of my rehabilitation it was useful to have an excuse to come into town every now and then or I'd never leave the house.  She thought voluntary work was a good idea but gave me no advice as to how to find any.  She did advise me to apply for Disability Living Allowance - which was a daft suggestion - of course I didn't get it, I was nowhere near limited enough in my mobility.  Box ticking I suppose.

Things did not go well with my Uni course, frequent absences from my placement when I was ill led to complications with lesson planning and caused inconvenience to my mentor and the team at the Adult Education Centre where I was working.  I could manage the academic work, I could just about do that at home in my own time, but I was rapidly falling behind in the teaching hours required to qualify.  I was still being seen by the Job Centre advisor and (you'll never believe it but it's true) still technically employed by SHU!!!

Then they asked me to go for another ATOS medical March 2011 ... I had recently lost my father, I was getting behind on my Uni work and I was being pressured by my placement to do more and more hours ... I was struggling with SHU to try to get some closure on the whole redundancy issue (they had 'forgotten' to include the holiday pay I was owed) ... I was stressed and very ill.  I took my husband along for support (that's physical support he literally had to hold me up!) ... he was shocked at the brevity of the interview, he hadn't really understood my explanation of the system and he (and his mum) expected that I would now be put into the Support Group as I had proven I couldn't work, not even part time as demonstrated by my failure to keep up the required hours on my placement.

Nope, they still put me in the WRAG.  I had to go back to the lady at the Job Centre again and explain about my failed course and my redundancy fight and everything ... at least I still got the ESA money ... she couldn't help me - she said she only needed to see me every three months as nothing was going to change - er? What about the help to get me back into work that as a person in the WRAG I was supposed to get? 

Another ATOS exam in September 2011, why are they getting closer together?  Do they think I'm likely to have got better?  I wish someone would tell me if that's the case!  WRAG again ... and no Job Centre appointments this time.  What?  So ATOS think I'm capable of some work but the DWP can't see the point in trying to 'support' me ... if I'm that ill why aren't I in the Support Group?

Then it all became clear ... the letter arrived informing me of the changes to ESA which we would be coming into force in April 2012.  I'd well and truly had my year's worth of ESA and as a person in the WRAG I wouldn't be getting any more.  There was no need to try to find me work or give me advice - I wouldn't be getting any money from them, so I was 'off their books' as it were. 

Come April 2012 the big fat form for claiming Income Related ESA dropped through the door, no point filling that in, the OH works full time.  Meanwhile SHU's dithering with my holiday pay meant that my tax had gone all wrong and I now owe the Inland Revenue over £500 that I haven't got.

No money ... an absence of cash, an inability to buy books or music, or even worse clothes and shoes without asking the OH for the money.  Or personal products, or a photocopy in the Archives or a 50p tea/coffee sub at the Local History Group ...

I am ill ... I can't work ... when I overdo it like I did last weekend I can't even cook and clean for the OH to 'earn' my keep.  All because a man with a computer says I am capable of (or will be capable of) some kind of work at some point provided I am given 'suitable support'. 

That'll be the support and advice I haven't had for well over twelve months now ... 

I rang them at the beginning of this year to just check they were actually paying my National Insurance contributions as I hadn't heard anything for so long.  I was assured that I was still in the WRAG and still covered.  Then in June the big ESA50 arrived ... will an 'invitation' to an assessment be following soon?  It's been six weeks since I sent the form back and I've heard nothing so far.

Please ATOS and the DWP, this time either declare me too ill to work and give me back the self respect you've torn away from me in your 'assessments' over the last three years or make some serious attempts to find me a job that allows me hold my head up and buy some new underwear.  Because I'm fed up of this ... and everything.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Tombstone Tuesday - World War One Soldier's Story - John Thomas Johnson from Monk Bretton, Barnsley

I'm feeling a bit better than I did yesterday so, having been woken by the very small amount of rain at 4:45am, I'll have a go at another World War One Soldier's Story to get back up to blogging speed.  I have done a few of these now all of which can be accessed from the list on the World War Soldier's Stories tab at the top of this page.  This post has also been labelled Tombstone Tuesday, which is a Geneabloggers prompt.  More Tombstone Tuesday stories from around the world can be found here.

Choosing to write this particular story was prompted by an email from a distant family connection who is, rather less distantly, connected to John Thomas Johnson.  I wrote a version of this story some time ago and it was published in the October 2010 edition of the Barnsley Family History Society.

Military Medal Winner from Monk Bretton

Several summers ago, my first dabble into recording gravestones was as part of the Barnsley Family History Society's project to transcribe the stones in Monk Bretton Cemetery.  A CD or DVD was planned containing images of the stones and all the transcriptions - so far only part one has been produced which covers the churchyard and any memorials in the church itself.

I was allocated Section H of the cemetery to transcribe - which at a few hours a week perched on my little three legged stool did take me several months - amongst the more ordinary stones containing a simple list of family names I came across a very clear inscription to a soldier who died in the First World War recorded on a stone along with inscriptions commemorating his parents George and Ann Johnson and his sister Jane.
An arch topped gravestone set on a plinth in grass - the inscription is given below in the text.
The Johnson family Gravestone in Monk Bretton Cemetery


The stone read:

In Loving memory of
Ann the beloved wife of George Johnson
Who fell asleep April 9th 1911 aged 56 years
Thy purpose long we cannot see
but all is well that's done by thee

Also JOHN THOMAS JOHNSON
8th K.O.Y.L.I. son of the above
who died from wounds received in
Action in France, June 6th 1917
Aged 22 years Thy will be done

Also Jane beloved daughter of the above
who died May 22nd 1923 aged 36 years
Also the above named George Johnson
who died 22nd February 1924
aged 71 years



It struck me unlikely that John Thomas Johnson was buried in the plot, but rather that this inscription was added to give the family somewhere local to remember him.  When I got home that afternoon I checked the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website and soon found the entry for John Thomas who was actually buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery in Belgium, about 12km west of Ypres.  The entry confirmed that his parents were George and Ann Johnson and gave an address of 11 Day’s Croft, Monk Bretton.  It was also confirmed that John Thomas had served with the 8th Battalion of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, but I also noticed that he had the letters MM, standing for Military Medal in the Awards section of the entry.
John Thomas Johnson's Medal Card (from Ancestry)
I was able to find John Thomas’s medal card on the Ancestry website.  He was listed as a Private on the CWGC site but this card  stated that he was later an Acting Sergeant.  It confirmed his Military Medal and it was also recorded that he qualified for the 1915 star and the Victory Medal. 

Johnson, John Thomas.  MM Corpl (Acting Sergt).  No 16000, 8th (Service) Battn the Kings Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry).
John Thomas Johnson's entry from De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour (from Find My Past)
A general search on Google brought up the information that John Thomas was listed in De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour, which can be accessed via Ancestry and Find My Past. This entry gave me a picture of John Thomas (who looks very young) and a short obituary.  He was awarded his Military Medal for gallant and distinguished service in the field on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Somme.  This item confirms that John Thomas was the youngest son of George Johnson of 11 Day's Croft, Monk Bretton by his wife Ann, with the added detail that Ann's father was James Kitchen. 

John Thomas was born in Monk Bretton at the beginning of 1895.  His family lived in 4 Garrison Houses in 1891 and 11 Day’s Croft in 1901 so I am not certain precisely where he was born.  He had four brothers and four sisters.  They must have been quite crowded in 1911 as John Thomas’s married sister is living with her parents at 11 Day’s Croft along with her husband and two children, a total of ten people in five rooms.  At the time of this census, John Thomas is sixteen years old and a Pony Driver in a coal mine. His mother Ann died seven days after the census was taken and is the first of the family in the plot at Monk Bretton.

I must confess that since writing this article nearly three years ago my references have failed ... I quoted a piece from the Great War Forum for the following movements of the 8th (Service) Battalion of the King's Own Light Infantry, commonly known as the KOYLI, but on checking it this morning it is a dead link.  However there is lots and lots of information about the KOYLI on the forum, you do need to register to search it, but Google searches  often provide random hits without registering.

According to his obituary, John Thomas enlisted on 4th September 1914.  He would have been just nineteen.  His battalion was formed in Pontefract in September then moved to Aldershot in December, by August 1915 they were in France. 

After an older neighbour Thomas Knight was killed in September 1915 John Thomas Johnson wrote to his widow and the letter was subsequently published in the Barnsley Chronicle.  The Memories of Barnsley magazine print an occasional series of 'Letters from the Front' and I spotted the name 'J T Johnson of the KOYLI' in the piece about Thomas Knight.
A snip quoting a letter from John Thomas Johnson expressing his sorrow on the death of his friend Thomas Knight
Snip from Memories of Barnsley Issue 15 Autumn 2010 p.13

John Thomas' letter goes on to express the general feeling of the time, that men who did not sign up to fight were slackers, note that he comments that dying fighting for King and Country was a noble and heroic action.  We have to remember that the war had only begun just over one year previously, conscription was yet to come and most people expected it would be over very soon.  After events of the following summer the attitudes of the soldiers and the people back home began to change.

On 1st July 1916 the 8th KOYLI attacked the Authuille Wood, 5km north of Albert.  As the waves of soldiers crossed No Man’s Land they lost 50% of their number, including all officers.  There was close quarter fighting in the German second and third lines and some NCOs were later reported to have led renewed attacks.  Only 110 men survived of the 659 who had gone into action.  This was the day when John Thomas earned his Military Medal.  He was mentioned in the London Gazette Supplement on 1st September 1916.

His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to award the Military Medal for bravery in the field to the under mentioned […] non-commissioned Officers and Men. 16000 L/C J.T. Johnson. Yorks L.I.

His battalion continued to fight on the Somme until the middle of October when they were transferred to the Ypres sector.  The village of Lijssenthoek was close to the front line at Ypres but out of range of the German artillery, so it was used as a casualty clearing station.  The cemetery there is the second largest Commonwealth cemetery in Belgium.  We can only assume that John Thomas was carried back here from wherever he was wounded before he died on 6th June 1917.  This date fits with the build up to the Battle of Messines. Artillery bombardments had started on 31 May 1917 with the first attack taking place on 7th June, the day after John Thomas died.  His battalion took part in the attack and lost another 250 men and two officers.

Meanwhile at home in Monk Bretton the family had suffered another tragedy, Nellie Jobling, John Thomas’s three year old niece had suffered fatal burns whilst playing with matches in January 1915.  It was reported in the Barnsley Chronicle that her mother, John Thomas’s sister Ellen, had been upstairs with her poorly five year old sister at the time.  Nellie is also buried in Monk Bretton cemetery, in an unmarked plot adjacent to the Johnson grave. 

I have not yet found any evidence that any of John Thomas’s brothers also served in the war, but as so many of the World War One records were destroyed in the blitz in the Second World War this is not unusual.  In my recently compiled list of WW1 prisoners of war I have found a George Henry Lane from Day's Croft who was interned in Holland, but no mention of any absent Johnson men. We can only hope that the rest of the family came through unscathed. The inscription on a stone in Monk Bretton cemetery is a poignant reminder of those many thousands of men who left their homes never to return.

The rain has turned to a thunderstorm with accompanying heavy rain, very good for the garden and cooling us all down a little I hope.  The cat has retreated to the spare bedroom and hopefully after I've checked this I will also return to my bed.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Paying back the spoon overdraft after three weekends of social interaction

There has been a largish (that really doesn't look like a proper word!) gap since my last post.  I've been a bit busy ... too busy as is now obvious.
Spoons (found on Google Images)

Currently wondering whether there is any point in getting out of bed and dressed ... depressed, well yes, probably - and the OH too by the look of his Facebook post from last night.  He went out campaigning (for that read delivering beer mats or magazines or otherwise promoting CAMRA) last night and returned to his house (yes we have two, please will someone buy the other one, please) to find he had no food but porridge.  It is not like the OH to moan, he must be really upset.
 
"Something has to give.
Been out tonight to do some campaigning stuff costing me about £15. Something I am passionate about, however I come home to a house with no food.
I am living at this house because Barnsley Council charge 150% council tax on empty properties.
Its not a second home, its actively up for sale.
Myself and the wife are in separate houses and I am the only one with a wage to supporting both.
I now go to bed with no food and look forward to porridge for breakfast.
I know people are much worse off than us but something is going to have to give.
If my hobby was collecting stamps I would have sold them by now."

I am doing the washing, but as the sun has not appeared over Barnsley this morning it's going on the indoor lines so that's not given me a reason to get dressed.  I turned off the alarm at 9am and didn't go to the Cudworth History Group ... far, far too tired to cope with explaining MS Access to elderly people this morning.  I've made it as user friendly as I can ... if they don't know how to work it they'll have to ring me.

The cat is in ... no she's out ... or is she in ... oh, heck I don't know!

I feel as if my legs and arms are wrapped in lead rubber - that stuff that they used to put on your lap when they X-rayed your extremities.  I can't think complicated things through and my knees and ankles are clicking ... I can't stay awake for long and there's a funny fizzing feeling in my back and neck. 

It is all self inflicted, however (well maybe not my illness although I know people who think I'm swinging the lead) as in the last couple of weeks we've been to a wedding, a birthday, a meeting and a graduation and visited my mum twice.  We have another birthday and a wedding this weekend.  All close friends' or family celebrations, should we not participate in these just because I'm ill and can't hold down a job or the housing market is in a depression and the other house has been up for sale for 18 months?  Should I not try to help my elderly mum with her gardening jobs - she's 75 for heck's sake, she can't do it all herself!

In a few weeks time we are due to go to London to volunteer at the Great British Beer Festival - we get our accommodation on expenses but we still have to pay to get there and for our food whilst there.  Did I mention our bank account was already in the red and the OH only got paid a week ago?

This will be my last year at the GBBF, I've already announced my decision to resign to the Working Party (the organising committee) - the rate I'm going I won't even last the week out.  But once I'm there I would have to stay as we need both of us to work to pay (claim expenses) for the hotel room we've booked and we can't afford a train fare to send me home anyway.  So expect a mega spoon crisis at the end of the month - hopefully the adrenaline will keep me going through the essential stuff.

The OH has just arrived home (it's lunch time) to scrounge a sandwich.  I'll go and put another load of washing in ...

Published this post and then spent 10 mins correcting the typos and spelling errors - told you I was tired!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

A Search for POWs completed and Lewin Green revealed as William Lewin

Nothing in this world is perfect ... least of all old documents.  I suppose genealogy as a hobby wouldn't be half as interesting (and addictive) if the answers were just available at the drop of a hat,  ... although I have sometimes overheard people coming into various Archives where I've been sat with my head in a microfiche reader who ask such daft questions you just know they expect the Archivists to open a drawer and their whole family tree will be laid out for them, just like it is on the telly!!

Today's challenge, or disappointment if you prefer, was that the 1918 Absent Voters' Register is not complete in the vital element I was using to extract the Prisoner of War information. There are gaps of five, five and two blank pages, out of a total of 119 pages, where the handwritten amendments have just not been made.

Now although this means that my collection of 141 POW's names is not comprehensive, it is still very useful and I won't let myself get downhearted.  In addition when I was going through the filing cabinets at the Cudworth History Group last week I am sure I spotted a transcription of an Absent Voters' List there - I just have to find it again tomorrow when I'm not rushing to find something else!  The Register I've been looking at in the Archives covers from Darton and Mapplewell to Monk Bretton, but Cudworth used to be a separate electoral area so it wasn't in the book. 

I have also transcribed another 52 names of men who were Absent on military service in any shape or form who may be connected with the OH's family tree.  I already had a few names and I used some of them as examples of the kind of information I was collecting in my post a few days ago

Today's great discoveries have been two men who served in the First World War under different names from the ones I have for them in the family tree.  
Regiment or Corps: Cameron Hlrs Regtl No. 50579 Rank: Pte Surname: Lewin Christian Names: William Permanent Address: No 28 Albion Road Stairfoot Near Barnsley
A snip from William Lewin's Statement as to Disability (from Ancestry - WW1 Pension Records)

William Lewin is the half brother of the infamous (in our family anyway) Edith Alice ... she of the family who are a little 'economical' with the truth for several generations.  I wrote about Edith Alice here and here and had my story about her published in the Barnsley Family History Society journal too!

To cut a long story short Edith Alice's mother Minnie bore her out of wedlock, then married twice, adding more children to her family each time.  In addition her first husband had several children to his first wife who Minnie inherited so to speak.  William Lewin is one of these step children.

A greyscale picture of a long row of three story terraced houses.
Albion Road, Stairfoot, Barnsley (from YOCOCO)
The family lived at number 28 Albion Road at Stairfoot, a long block of three story houses which were demolished in the 1960s.  I had previously found an entry at this address in the 1919 Register of Electors for George and Minnie Green, Edith Alice's step father (#2) and her mother; but also listed in the house was a Lewin Green - who was at that point a mystery to me.

Minnie's second husband had been Henry Lewin - but he had died in Rotherham in 1901 fortunately for me AFTER the census had been taken.
1901 census for the Lewin family at 10, Ct1 Doncaster Road, Wath upon Dearne (from Ancestry)
The census shows Henry aged 40, a Colliery Sinker, his wife Minnie aged 30 (she's a dreadful liar, she's actually about 25 here), a son William (this is our man), a daughter Alice (the Edith Alice of my previous story) and another daughter Ada.  As if that wasn't enough they also have a Boarder, an Irishman called John Scully aged 40 who, as he has the same Colliery Sinker job title, may be a workmate of Henry's.  Alice has taken her step father's name and if you didn't know any better you might think that Minnie had borne all three children - maybe that's why she added a few years onto her age to give precisely that idea?

My problem always was to link the mysterious Lewin Green to anyone I knew who could have been living with the family and who would have a reasonable claim to that pairing of names.

Today I solved it ... the entry in the 1918 Absent Voters' Register gave just one name for the address 28 Albion Road in the Hunningley Ward of Barnsley; No. 5767, Lewin Green, Regimental Number 345562, Rank Pte, Regiment RWK.

Searching on Ancestry I found nothing for surname Green and this Regimental Number and the site won't let you search for just a number, however the TNA website page for the WW1 Medal Cards  does and one of the hits (numbers are repeated in other regiments and when a soldier changed regiment he changed numbers too - it's all very confusing) was for a William Lewin.  Once I had found a hit for his card on the TNA I could nip back to Ancestry and download it for nothing (as part of my subscription).

A pinky red pre-printed form with Lewin, William his Corps, Rank and Numbers noted in heavy blue ink.  See text below.
The top section of William Lewin's Medal Card (from Ancestry)
The number on the Absent Voters' Register is the middle one of the three William Lewin was allocated at various times.  The RWK in the listing had been a red herring - William had actually enlisted in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (well, it was only one letter out) and for some reason given two numbers whilst in that regiment.  He had ended up in the Cameron Highlanders (as we saw in the first image I posted) with a different number again.  He was awarded both the British and Victory medals so he did serve abroad.

Using the name William Lewin and the Regimental number I searched Ancestry again ... this time I got a hit in the WW1 Pension records, which is the source of my first image above.  As his address is clearly given as 28 Albion Road, Stairfoot, Barnsley this confirms that William Lewin IS Lewin Green. 

But why the change of name?  The names in the Register are those given by the householders of men absent from home at the point the register was compiled - in other words George Green supplied the name Lewin Green for his step, step son.  Was this a way of 'claiming' William for his own by giving him his name?  William himself obviously enlisted under his real name - did he continue to use it after the war?  Or did he become Lewin Green as his step father seems to prefer?

William's claim for a war pension on the grounds of his bronchitis were rejected and I can see from the other records that he served in Egypt and then France.  He was in trouble for 'disobeying a lawful command' more than once which earned him terms of Hard Labour and Field Punishment.  There is a note at the foot of one page in his record dated September 1918 that reads, 'To No 5 Military Prison', but I think this was a posting as a guard as the terms for his previous misdemeanours had all been served by then.

I can't find any further mention of either William Lewin or Lewin Green in Barnsley after 1919.  Where does he go? 

There was another man whom I spotted today using a slightly different name for his wartime service, but that was just a change of first name from Moses to Walter, no change of surname - maybe he never liked Moses and took the chance when he left home to change it.  He was born in 1899 so he must have enlisted quite young and he would only have been 19 at the end of the war - changing your name like this does sound more like a fairly normal boyish whim than the rather odd arrangement described above.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Moderate - not a description but an unusual surname

A couple days ago I posted an item about digitising newspapers and one of my examples concerned the tragic death of Jeremiah Moderate aged sixteen who was knocked down by a train in the course of his duties as a telegraph clerk.  It occurred to me that despite occasional side references like this and one article about Uncle Joe Moderate quite some time ago I have hardly touched on the history of my most unusual family name.
A greyscale photo of four people.  An elderly man with a very bushy mustache, a young girl with a big bow in her hair, a man in his twenties seated on the arm of a chair and in that chair an elderly woman, very smart.  All are wearing dark coloured clothes.
The Gibson Family after 1918
This is a picture of my grandmother, the small girl stood in the middle, her parents and brother.  It must have been taken after 1918 because grandma is wearing the locket that had belonged to her next oldest sister Winnie who died in the influenza epidemic of 1918 aged just seventeen.  My grandma was Doris Gibson, born 1907 in Wallsend, Northumberland, so she is about eleven or twelve in this photo.  Her father was Thomas Harle Gibson, born 1864 in Longbenton, Northumberland and her mother was Mary Jane (maiden name Moderate) born 1865 in Carlisle, Cumberland.  Robert Ernest Gibson, her brother, was born in 1897 in Hebburn, Durham and had served in the First World War losing a leg my mother says. 

Thomas and Mary Jane had eight children in total, that I know of, my grandmother being the youngest.  Somewhere I have a piece of that good quality pinky purple writing paper that my grandma preferred with a list of all the birthdays for her immediate family ... I don't know exactly when I found out that great-grandma Gibson's maiden name was Moderate, but it was something I knew before I started researching family history seriously. 

In fact this very name is probably the reason I did start. 

When asked by my then partner's mother (AM) many years ago what family names I knew of I mentioned Moderate along with Fiddler, Bunn and some others.  She leapt upon Moderate commenting that it was a very, very unusual name and well worth researching.  She lent me some Open University books from a course she had just completed (DA301, Studying Family and Community History: 19th and 20th Centuries) a newish course in the mid 1990s.  I was hooked ...

All my researches point to the English Moderates being descended from just one man, John Moderate born around 1777, a mariner, who died in January 1825 in Maryport, Cumberland.
A Google map snip showing the coasts of Cumbria, southern Scotland, eastern Northern Ireland and the top of the Isle of Man
Map of the northern part of the Irish Sea (from Google Maps)
Since then I have found other families with the Moderate name in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Donaghadee near Bangor in Northern Ireland (the extreme east coast of Ireland) and in Kirkmaiden, in the Rhinns of Galloway (the extreme west of Scotland), Ballantrae (again the western coast of Scotland) and another in Workington, Cumberland, just down the western coast of England from Maryport.  The distribution of these families around the fairly tight area depicted on my map snip above still suggests a common root to me.  After all, a friend from Northern Ireland once told me that Irish emigrants to Scotland used to row back to Ireland for church services, so they can't have considered a bit of sea a barrier to social activity.
 

John Moderate married a local girl, Jane Ritson, in Crosscanonby, just north of Maryport, in 1804.  They had four children, but only one, the first Jeremiah Moderate, born in 1810 in Maryport, survived to have a family of his own.  With John dying well before even the 1841 census I have no way of determining his place of origin.  When he marries Jane in 1804 one of the witnesses appears to be a William Moderate, so he wasn't alone in England at that point, however the only further hits for a William are two children in Workington in 1809 and 1811 to himself and his wife Grace.  Then William, Grace and their family disappear from the English records.  Do they die, return to their place of origin, be it Ireland or Scotland or emigrate?  Another mystery.

John gives his occupation consistently as Mariner at his marriage and the baptisms and burials of his children.  However I am aware of no records for sailors that start as far back as the first couple of decades of the 19th century.  Registers of Merchant Seamen don't commence until 1835.  So that's another dead end.

Various theories over the past twenty years have suggested that the name comes from the idea of Moderators in the Scottish church or that the family may have been immigrants from France whose name was mis-transcribed by an English clergyman or other official.  I'm tending towards a seafaring family from Ireland who spread outwards from there.  Before that, who knows?

When I compiled a list of the Moderates in the English telephone book in 1996 I got no more than eighteen different addresses, plus a couple of strays in Aberdeen, Scotland and Bangor, County Down, Ireland.  Writing to all the English hits I received sufficient replies to link each and every one of the eighteen to each other and all of them back to John Moderate in Maryport in 1804.

I was very pleased to receive the replies to my letters all those years ago (seventeen years have since passed!) and I hope I managed to interest one or two of my distant relatives in their own family history.  I was sent dates and names and in one memorable package an original indenture for a great-great uncle on his apprenticeship to the Co-op in Walker, Northumberland in 1880.  Needless to say I copied that precious document to the best of my ability at the time and carefully returned it to its owner.  Thank you so much for that.  I even had a phone call in 1997 from a relative in Northumberland who already appreciated her Moderate legacy to the extent of preserving the name as her middle name after her marriage.  I reunited my grandmother with her cousin Neville, whom she hadn't seen since he was a toddler - he and my mum kept in touch until his death only a few years ago.

Thanks to one and all for all your help back then - I'm sorry I let the exchange of letters dwindle when I had to go back to full time work - if anyone even vaguely Moderate related would like to get in touch again I'm still here and I have time on my hands once more!

Monday, 15 July 2013

It's a Heatwave - Official. Keeping my mind busy ... or overdoing it?

I just had a very surreal experience with Blogger ... all my fonts and tools were invisible when I opened a new blank page to start writing ... maybe the heat is affecting the web too?  After I cut and pasted a snip of code from a previous blog to get the tags for the font right it suddenly popped back to the proper view of the writing page.  Ooh-er!

Anyway, dodgy IT aside, things are hot and sticky here in Barnsley.  The temperature has stayed in the high 20s since last Sunday and although it's great for drying my washing and lovely for the people who have pools or can get to the beach for the rest of us it is just a bit too warm I'm afraid. 
Logos for CAMRA and U3A

I'm currently feeling very twitchy, I can't settle to watch television with the OH, I keep thinking there's something I should be doing.  I've had a busy day, a first visit ever to a U3A meeting (it was local history, so not that strange really, quite familiar actually - but definitely a tick for a first visit to the community centre at Burton Grange) followed by a quick trip around Iceland (which has a new branch in Lundwood, the bit on the other side of the road from Burton Grange).  This afternoon I was kept busy typing up the minutes from a CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) meeting we (the OH and I) attended on Saturday, helping a friend with a family history query (what is the history of the chapel in Buckley Street in Barnsley?), doing my washing and hanging it out, preparing the meal for this evening, and doing some advance planning for our summer break.
Colourful Great British Beer Festival Logo by Christine Jopling, the Lion and Britannia having a beer leaning on shield with a pint in the middle and a crowned CAMRA logo on the top.
Some people take a holiday over the summer, the OH and I go to London for a fortnight and work as volunteers at the Great British Beer Festival - the biggest pub in Britain for five days!  Having been sent some advance information I've been drafting my tannoy (public announcements to the visitors) script for the sessions when we are open to the public.  I did at one point feel the whole afternoon was just too full of stuff that I needed to get on with and had to take a step back and have an ice cream! 

Now I don't know what to do - well, I do - write a blog post about why I think I'm so twitchy!

My cat, who as you know if you've read many of my previous posts, likes keeping me awake at nights, has decided to spend twenty-four hours outside, preferably with as much of her body as possible spread out on a cool piece of concrete or dry soil.  This, theoretically, means that I should be sleeping better however I woke as usual several times in the night and at 4am my mind was buzzing so much I wrote down what I was thinking in a attempt to empty my mind and get back to sleep.  Even so it took an hour, a pain killer (painful knees and ankles last night - probably after the gardening at my mum's), and a several games of Spider Solitaire before I dropped off again.

What was I thinking?  Well my notes (which are a bit scribbly and hard to read now, nearly 18 hours later) say that I was particularly enjoying the feel of the fresh clean sheets (the OH and I made the bed up when we came home from my mum's), that the cat was out, so I didn't need to worry about her, and that by 4:30am it was beginning to be daylight again.  Several cocks were crowing over in the allotments behind our house and a pigeon was joining in the chorus.  That the pain in my left knee and the pain in my right ankle were the worst, however the ache in both my shoulders was annoying too.  That I was a bit worried about going to the U3A meeting by myself, or oversleeping and being late for it.  That I was upset about having to ask the OH for the £1 for the sub for the meeting (he did give me £2, so I have some change for the Cudworth meeting on Wednesday).  That today's tea (that's our evening meal, when the OH gets home from work) will be lentil risotto - because we need to go shopping and the cupboards are a bit bare.  That on the bright side it is the OH's pay day today - so we can afford to go shopping soon. All my money from my mum this month is going on my Ancestry subscription which is due at the end of the month.  I know it sounds like a luxury, but I use it so much ... I've cut back on everything else, honest. 

I wrote that it was nice to find out on Saturday (whilst at a meeting in a very hot attic in Lincoln) that a friend reads my blog posts and follows me on Twitter so she doesn't miss any.  But that it was sad that I had to announce that I need to give up something that's been important in my life for the last twenty-one years because of my health. 

And I squeezed in at the bottom of the page (after I'd given up trying to sleep and gone to make toast and see if the cat wanted to come in to keep me company) that the cat likes toast crumbs, even more than the chicken scraps we'd fetched from my mum's for her.  Daft animal!

I think I'm trying to do too much again, I need to pace myself, slooooowwww down, take my time - especially in this heat.  But how do I do that?  Whenever I stop doing I think I'm neglecting something that needs to be done ... tomorrow I might go to the Archives (at least it's cool in there) and on Wednesday it's the Cudworth History Group and on Thursday the Archives again, Friday is my daughter's graduation (I'm sooooo proud!) and at the weekend another trip to my mum's. 

Too busy ... must slow down ...

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Digitised Barnsley Chronicle coming soon to Barnsley Archives (and the tragic deaths of Edward Hayes aged three and Jeremiah Moderate aged sixteen)

The big question when I enter the Archives at the moment is, "Has the Barnsley Chronicle arrived yet?"  Since the re-opening as part of Experience Barnsley a couple of weeks ago we have been eagerly awaiting the chance to view the full collection of the Barnsley Chronicle newspaper in its new format.

Word has been going around the local and family history communities of Barnsley and the message is beginning to get back to me via unexpected routes ... "Did you know ...?", well yes I did and do and I can't wait!! 

Since I moved to Barnsley about ten years ago and started researching the OH's family history and developing a knowledge of Barnsley history in general (the Aspects of Barnsley series of books are really good for getting to know the place) I have used the Barnsley Chronicle on microfilm to search for more detail on family news and events.

Here's a particularly harrowing example from 1924:
 
Newspaper Cutting: Text below
Barnsley Chronicle 9 August 1924 (from Barnsley Archives)

"Swallowed a Halfpenny

Singular Death of a Monk Bretton Child
 
At the Barnsley West Riding Police Court on Tuesday morning Mr C J Haworth (District Coroner), held an inquiry into the death of Edward Hayes (3), son of the late James Hayes and Mrs Benson of 12, Chapel Street, Monk Bretton, who died on Saturday after swallowing a halfpenny.
Thomas Edward Benson, step-father of deceased said that when he went home on Saturday afternoon he found the child on a couch.  Artificial respiration was being applied, but the child died shortly afterwards.


Ernest Schofield, miner, 10 Chapel Street, Monk Bretton, said that at about 3 o'clock on Saturday afternoon he saw deceased in the street in the arms of a man named Noah Clarke.  His face was blue and he appeared to be choking.  Witness say a halfpenny come from the child's mouth and fall on the ground.

Noah Clarke, 14 Chapel Street, Monk Bretton, said he saw the child choking in the street and picked him up.  He hit him on the back and according to the previous witness it was then that the halfpenny dropped out of the child's mouth.

Dr E Walsh of Cudworth said when he arrived the child was dead.  He made a post mortem examination and found no trace of injury or disease.  In his opinion, taking into account the evidence he had heard, the cause of death was suffocation.

Benson, re-called, said he gave the child a penny on Saturday and he brought home "spice", having a halfpenny change.

The Coroner, recording a verdict that "the child died through misadventure from suffocation by swallowing a halfpenny whilst at play", remarked that what Clarke did was the best thing possible.  One would have thought after this that the child would have come round, but unfortunately it did not do so."
 

Notice how the cutting is crossed through by vertical lines - these are scratches on the microfilm from running it through the readers hundreds of times.  The thicker ones almost obscure some of the words.  I hope that the new digitised version will be a much clearer copy, we have been told that it will be searchable, however this does depend of the capability of the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) used and the condition of the images that are scanned by the software.

Here's an example, from the newspapers on Find My Past (and the British Newspaper Archive) of what results you get from a scan of a poor image:

of Mr. Jeremiah Moderate, OI bort tim e d* * tfS 1< and has only been employed; a ve ved & Bridge, was as soon as P O9 ? bad * mary, where it was found tna V. bc dy. ™ injured in the lower part oi recovery is entertained.
 
Now admittedly the name of my relative, Jeremiah Moderate, is clear - I wouldn't have found the reference if it hadn't have been - however the rest of the item is completely mangled.  It should read something like this ...
 

"of Mr. Jeremiah Moderate, of Abbey Town, Carlisle, and has only been employed a short time at Apperley Bridge, was as soon as possible conveyed to Leeds Infirmary, where it was found that he had been very seriously injured in the lower part of the body. No hope of his recovery is entertained."
 
When we look at the actual image we can see why the poor OCR may have occurred - the page was not laid flat and the letters to the right are warped out of shape.  


Newspaper Cutting: Shocking Accident to a Carlisle Youth near Leeds
Manchester Evening News 18 July 1885 (from Find My Past)
Similar problems with the OCR occur if the page is damaged or creased, or if the ink has been smudged.  And old style fonts ... ah well, although I would be the first to admit that the ability of OCR to recognise printed words has come on in leaps and bounds since I first used it over fifteen years ago, the programs still have trouble with excessive serifs on fonts - that's the little squiggly bits at the top and bottom of letters - plus in the really old newspapers a letter 's' looks like a letter 'f' - and there's not a lot you can do about that!
Newspaper Cutting, very old fashioned font - text below
Newcastle Courant 30 May 1778 (from British Newspaper Archive)


"Last week, at Sunderland, Mr John Elstob, a Landwaiter in the Customs there, to Miss Hen. Brown, daughter of Mr Nicholas Brown of the Customhouse in that port; a young lady possessed of many valuable accomplishments, with a handsome fortune."

becomes in the search text,
 
"SundeVknd, Mr JohnElftob, ?? in the Cuftoms then to Mifs Hen. Brown, daughter of Mr Nicholas Brown of the Ctiftomhoufe tn dittfort; a young Lady ?? of many valuable ?? with a handfome ..."
 
So let's cross our fingers that the new digitisation of the Barnsley Chronicle will avoid all these pitfalls and people will be turning up in droves to discover their ancestors' goings on!  Don't forget to make a booking - it could get very busy! 

Monday, 8 July 2013

Researching Barnsley WW1 POWs using the Absent Voters Registers

Just before I started writing this blog last year I discovered an item in the Barnsley Chronicle from 1918 listing known Prisoners of War (POWs) from Barnsley and district. I recently wrote the story of one of these, Riley Smith, whose name and story interested me particularly.  Now that Barnsley Archives has reopened and has a digitised copy of the Barnsley Chronicle it will be even easier to find information on these Barnsley men.
A snip of the top of the article on the Barnsley Prisoners of War
Barnsley Chronicle 24 August 1918 (from Barnsley Archives)

Last week, on my first proper researching trip to the Barnsley Archives since the Experience Barnsley Museum opened, I consulted the 1918 Absent Voters Register.  This is a listing just like a standard electoral roll but it contains the men who were missing from their homes when the 1918 electoral roll was drawn up.  It is organised by wards and streets within wards with all printed entries appearing on the left hand side of a double page spread.  For each street the men are listed by house number, so sometimes you get more than one name against a house number suggesting a family connection.

The following are a few entries I found for the OH's family when I first consulted this source several years ago.

[Number in List] Name [House Number] Military Details/Handwritten entry on Facing Page
East Ward Polling District 2b
Pontefract Rd
[298] Duncan Cyril [25] 10885 Pte RAMC / 95 Field Amb BEF
[299] Duncan Horace [25] 1434 Cpl 13th Y&L / BEF

South East Ward Polling District 8h
Sheffield Rd
[2410] Duncan James Stevens [242] 15923 Gnr HMS Attentive II / GPO London
[2411] Staples Arthur Rice Vivian [242] 625401 Gnr 309th (HAC) S Batt / BEF
[2412] Duncan Frederick [242] 099572 Pte 801st MT ASC / PA


As you can see for each man we get his Regimental Number and Regiment or other military location.  Cyril and Horace Duncan are the brothers of Reginald Duncan, whose WW1 story I wrote some time ago.  They are both listed at 25 Pontefract Road which was in the East Ward of Barnsley.  Cyril was in the Royal Army Medical Corp and Horace served in the 13th York and Lancaster, the 1st Barnsley Pals.  The final piece of information for each man is a handwritten entry on the facing or right hand page of the book.  This appears to be an indication of the forces postal address or general location of the man.  So BEF is British Expeditionary Force; James Stevens Duncan is in the Navy, his entry is care of GPO London.  I haven't worked out what PA means yet, as noted after Frederick Duncan at 242 Sheffield Road, but other terms I have seen include Home Defence and Depot.  Interestingly Arthur Rice Vivian Staples (wonderful name!) married a Duncan, the sister of Frederick and James - I suppose his home address may have been that of his wife, Ethel, who was staying with her parents for the duration of the war, rather than his own parents in London.  This is a perfect example of using this register to demonstrate family links.

I also noticed that Prisoners of War are indicated in this handwritten column.  I have set myself the task of noting each one who appears in this source and comparing them against the list from the Chronicle.  As the Electoral Roll was in use after October 1918 it seems likely that there might be men mentioned in it as POWs that are not on the list from August which appeared in the Chronicle.

Other entries in the handwritten column note men who were missing or who had been killed since the list was compiled.  I have even noticed a mention of a deserter - thankfully not a man who was connected to the OH's family as far as I know.

My only regret is that the boundary of Barnsley at the time did not include Cudworth and some of the other outlying areas, so this source, the Absent Voters Electoral Register, will only help me identify men whose home addresses were in the immediate Barnsley area at the time.