Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Sampler made by my Great Great Grandmother

The Sampler made in 1806 by Frances Finch, of Swaffham, Norfolk
205 Years ago my Great Great Grandmother was nine years old - and hard at work with needle and. thread to produce a lovely sampler. The colours have faded a bit but it shows a high degree of skill. I recently found it in a cupboard, where it was stored to keep the light off it, and it reminded me that I had somewhat overlooked my own ancestors recently. So I have posted a short biography of Frances Reynolds, nee Finch, and will be making a New Years resolution to try and produce a page on an additional ancestor at leat once a month during 2012.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Some Xmas Holiday quickies

Over the Christmas period I have been involved in various social activities - including cooking the Christmas Dinner - and this is really a summary of some of the recent activities relating to my web site which did not justify a blog page in their own right. It also includes older less urgent queries which needed tidying up before the end of the year.
  • Alan wrote asking if I had succeeded in identifying the location of Britons Camp, St Albans, and says he has some military pictures that might be relevant to this web site.
  • Ann has added a further note about William Walby - and links his aunt to the Cyclist's Rest at Essendon.
  • Anthony came up with another patient at Harpenden HallElizabeth Wilhelmina Galliers Swinton, and I have also made some minor edits.
  • Barney sends me his new email address - he is quoted on one of the earliest pages on the web site - The Dangers of Internet Genealogy and also kindly provided a 1855 photograph of Gaddesden Place.
  • Cindy's William Burchmore ancestor lived in Hertfordshire at about the same time as my William Burchmore acnestor, but they are two different people. I gave her some general advice about her problem and suggested some general topics on my site which might help
  • Gary (from HALS) wrote to say he was researching Private Hertfordshire Mental Asylums for the chapter of a book - and added the surnames of some patients mentioned as being at Harpenden Hall. I forwarded the email to Antony - who used the information to provide details of two more patients.- Mary Debary and Gayford Manning Bare.
  • Gerard asked about the software I used to edit photographs such as the Fire Engines at St Edmunds College - The main tool was the "histogram Equalize" tool in Paint Shop Pro. 
  • I contacted Janet about a possible article for the Walkern History Society web site
  • Jean wrote to say how she had been distressed by visiting a relative at one of the long stay hospitals in the St Albans area, a few years ago. [Not for publication as it involved patients still living.]
  • John has some comparatively modern memories of Ardeley Bury and rather than add them to the existing page on this site I suggested he might consider posting them on Hertfordshire Memories.
  • I contacted Lottie about the possible purchase of more Stagenhoe photographs.
  • I contacted Peter about historic material being published in the Potten End & Nettleden Church Newsletter
  • Phil has recently acquired a draft text by Edward Lawrence, entitled "A Hertfordshire Man Remembers." Edward was born in 1902, possibly at Little Amwell and  the draft was written in the early 1960s. Phil is considering transcribing it to make the text more widely available, but wanted to know if it had already been published. I know of nothing and suggested that he contacts HALS
  • Stephen contacted me via Genes Reunited about a Phipson couple who married in Cleobury Mortimer, Shropshire, in 1668 who happens to be a very distant cousin of my wife. In 1988 I published a computer produced book - A Phipson One Name Study - which is now out of print - and I have suggested that the tries to see a copy through his nearest LDS Family History Centre. An exchange of emails shows he is in touch with someone who is more up to date on the family than I am.
  • Tom's relative may have died in Hill End Hospital in 1908 and if he is lucky the records may be at  HALS.
  • A message was sent to the Essendon Parish Council web site to ask them to update their link to this site.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Why didn't Jane Philbey pay William for work done?

Folio 81, W. Brown's Accounts
William Brown's  account book  (folio 81) shows that while he staked out land for sale, Jean Philbey of the Green Man public house in Tring appears not to have paid him. This is one of the interesting facts that emerged when Colin asked about Philbey, Tring, 1840-1864. It also emerges that the Mrs Jean Tompkins and Mrs Jane Philbey mentioned in TOMPKINS, Tring, late 18th/early 19th Century are one and the same person and owned land in Gravelly - where many houses were built in the mid 19th century.

[It is propose to input more of William Brown's accounts in 2012, with analysis of selected pages.]

Farming at Libury Hall, Little Munden

A very nice discovery - a postcard of bringing in the harvest at Libury Hall

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Biographies of Preston WW1 Soldiers

Philip has alerted me to the fact that on the Preston site there are biographies, often with photographs, of the soldiers from Preston who died or survived the First World War.He added that his uncle, Ernest Wray was the first man from Preston to die on the battlefield. I have added a link on my Preston page..

The Essendon Pages have been updated

The Essendon pages have been upgraded as part of the plan to improve the layout of small town and village pages, with the inclusion of a dedicated menu, and extra external links. This will make it easier to slot in new material as it becomes available.

Wigginton War Memorial & Revised Village pages

When posting pictures of Wigginton's War Memorial I decided to upgrade the Village pages by adding a proper menu, adding some modern photographs of St Bartholomew's Church and linking in the pages on Champneys and the Cow Roast. Some additional external links have also been added.
St Bartholomew's Church

Wigginton War Memorial
Other War Memorial Pictures

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

H V Leménager - An early Hertfordshire Photographer

Henri Victor Lemenager (1822-1912) was born in Paris, but came to Bushey to teach French in a small private school, married and started a family. The date of his earliest family is not known but by 1866 he was described as a photographer In 1870 he provided photographic illustrations for a book on Rickmansworth, and by 1872 had moved to 16 High Street, Watford. However in 1887 he emigrated to the United States.

I illustrate the biography with four carte de visite, each mounted on a different printed card and I am looking for more information to put the backs into date order.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Flaming Boxing Day Surprise.

WARE Hertfordshire postmark 1907 on a faded interesting RP but untitled

The above advert appeared on ebay just before Christmas. Just because the card was posted in Ware doesn't mean that the picture was local to the Ware area or even from Hertfordshire. While the RP (real photograph) was very faded the architecture was clear and there appeared to be some people milling around. I thought it might make a possible mystery photograph for this web site - as some of you might recognise the building. So I put in a bid and won it for less than £2 (including postage). 
     The card arrived with the last batch of Christmas cards before the holiday. During a break in activities I slipped back to the computer to give it a quick scan - and put the digital image through the Paint Shop treatment. 
     And I became really excited when I discovered what the people were looking at ...
To find out what I found look below the fold.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

It was a real Aylesbury Duck ...

9.30  on Christmas Day
13.00 on Christmas Day
14.00 on Christmas Day

Menu: Roast Aylesbury Duck with Carrots, Brussels Sprouts with Sweet Chestnuts, Red Cabbage with Apple, Asparagus Tips, Onion, Roast Parsnip, Roast Potatoes, Pigs in a Blanket, Chestnut Stuffing, my own special Orange Sauce, and Gravy made from the Duck Giblets. The slices of Orange were a last minute addition using fruit already in the kitchen.

100 years ago Aylesbury was renown for its ducks - and I am sure that my Aylesbury ancestors would have often eaten them. Now there is only one farm which still produces this lovely bird. On Friday we picked up our bird from a nearby village shop and this morning my wife and her sister set off to church leaving me to do all the cooking - in a small kitchen where I had never cooked before.  Much to my surprise I got everything timed to perfection and the only problems were that the stuffing stuck to the tray and we forgot the onion - which had been cooked inside the duck.

Christmas Day and History

Whatever you believe, contemporary Roman accounts tell us that if the story in the Bible is true in its reference to Herod, we can be certain that Jesus was not born exactly 2011 years ago today. What billions of people celebrate as the birth of Christ is a nominal date chosen to represent a historically important event where there is insufficient evidence for precision.

So, whether you agree with Linus or not, enjoy the day in the way that you personally feel is the most relevant to your beliefs. Remember, when the celebrations are over, and you return to family history, that you cannot expect to find reliable records taking your ancestry all the way back to Adam. Family History research is a wonderful way to relax - as long as you don't get distressed when your research is blocked because no precise records exist. Remember that part of the fun is that history is full of uncertainty, and there are often different ways of interpreting the material that has survived.

So Happy Christmas to you all

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Xmas Challenge: The Lunatics at Harpenden Hall 1851-1901 (and the modern mentally ill at Xmas)

For the Mentally Ill in Hertfordshire
In the Christmas "Competition" I pointed out that nothing was know about the mentally ill patients at Harpenden Hall, except for the often incomplete entries in the census returns. (See Early Mad Houses of St Albans and Harpenden). The results were very satisfactory  - See The Patients at Harpenden Hall, Harpenden, 1851-1901 - thanks very much to the efforts of Anthony - who came up with certain and possible identifications for 14 patients - while I added one who was only identified on the census by the initials M.A.S.
      Two had been cared for by the Rumball family for at least 40 years and all would appear to have come from well-to-do families. It very much illustrated the point that mental illness can strike anywhere, and if you had enough money there were homes where you could be looked after in a civilized manner for a fee. I am sure that the residents of Harpenden Hall had an enjoyable time at Christmas.
     As a result of the challenge I have made a donation of £50 to The Herts Mind Network which we found so helpful when first Lucy died, followed fifteen years later by Belinda. This donation brought the total to £847 (+ £40 sent separately) which means the site collection has only £113 to go to reach the £1000 target for 2011, but only a week to do it.
     So if you haven't already done so there is still time to make a  donation - which is particularly relevant at Christmas time. Many of the modern mentally ill live on their own and have, because of their illness, lost contacts with family and friends. Some may not even get a Christmas card - much less a roast turkey or a tree with presents round the base. In addition there will be many families which be aware of the empty chair at the Christmas feast. And if you have found the site useful don't forget to put a present "under the Christmas Tree" for the mentally ill in Hertfordshire.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Offley pages have been upgraded

The Offley pages have been restructured to provide a dedicated menu with several new internal and external links.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Edward Wilson, Haileybury Pupil from 1868-70

Edward Holmes Wilson

Some time ago I recorded an interesting collection of photographs of pupils and staff at Haileybury College, obviously collected by a pupil who was there at the time, and now dispersed. Margaret has kindly provided additional details of Edward Holmes Wilson, whose mother was the daughter of Samuel Holmes, a famous mayor of Liverpool. She also revealed that while he did go to Australia, he returned to the Isle of Wight to resume work as a solicitor.. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Improved interface for Broken Links

Over the years this site has grown and there is now a continuing process to restructure the pages. There are many links to the Genealogy in Hertfordshire web site on other web sites, or published in books and magazines, and some of these links no longer work. If you have used an out of data link you would have go a "404" error message.

But no more. You will now get a friendly page which allows you to re-enter the site and look for the information you require. To see the error message you will get click HERE.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hertfordshire People, December 2011

The  December issue of Hertfordshire People (the Journal of the Herts Family History Society) contains the usual collection of interesting items and I have chosen a few to mention:

  • A Life of Adversity - The Life of James Gayler looks at the short life of a Much Hadham man who appears as a 25 year old Chelsea pensioner in the 1861 census.
  • There is a useful note pointing out the reasons why the Herts Family History Society's 1851 census transcription (available on CD) is more accurate than the commercial versions.
  • There are articles on St Mary, Northchurch; St George, Anstey; St Mary, Meesden & St Giles, Wyddial, in each case with a picture.
  • There is an article on the Arms of Aldenham School
  • Future Meetings
    • 28 January - Dickens' London 
    • 25 February - Dating Old Photographs
    • 31 March - What Happened to Lucy?
    • 28 April - A.G.M

Monday, December 19, 2011

Some WW1 Officers in Watford

A group of 24 officers photographed by Coles of Watford - almost certainly the First World War. Their cap badges show they came from at least 5 different regiments - although the only badges I can recognise are the Coldstream Guards and the Welsh Guards.  Are they a group of comparatively minor wounded at a local military hospital? Look at an enlarged view - with very high definition pictures of the medals and let me know if you can help identify the group. Perhaps one of your ancestors is in the picture

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Possible Suffragette Links to Sawbridgeworth - Who was K. E.?

The above picture, showing a suffragette May Day parade, possibly in 1909, was posted in the Rogues Gallery some time ago.  Maureen is researching Emily Wilding Davison who was killed by the King's horse during the Derby in 1913. She is currently trying to identify the suffragette known only by her signature, K. E.  She was the person that sent the above card to a Dr. Frank Brickwell. It turn out that Emily was in or near Sawbridgewortj as a child. (circa 1880?) and may have met K. E. there. In addition there is a strong family connection between Frank Brickwell and Sawbridgeworth. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Domestic Violence in St Albans in 1820

Further to the post on The Goat Public House, Sopwell Lane, St Albans, Jon has drawn my attention to the following entry on the St Albans Quarter Sessions Rolls for 1820:
"The Complaint and Information of Ann Dolling the wife of William Dolling of the Parish of St. Alban, labourer, taken on oath this 20th. Sept .. This complainant saith that her husband hath for some very considerable time now treated her very ill violently assaulting beating her and threatening to take away her life. That last night her husband swore that he would murder her and she is, from the violence of his temper and his being greatly addicted to drinking, very much afraid that he will --- --- to his bloody threat unless he be restrained by law. This complainant prays surety not out of malice but solely to guard her life from the effects of her husbands murderous threat."

Friday, December 16, 2011

William Walby's Inquest, 1890 and Warren Wood, Hatfield

Following on Ann's recent query about William Walby (see  Was your ancestor a game keeper?) there have been three relevant updates:

  • Ann has provided the press cutting of William Walby's inquest - when it was determined that he accidentally shot himself. The account is a very good example of how Victorian inquests were conducted. I have added brief noted on all the people involved.
  • The inquest shows that William Walby's employer was Charles Butler, of Warren Wood.  I have added a copy of a photograph and biography of Charles Butler from the book Hertfordshire Leaders together with a picture and further information on Warren Wood house.
  • I have added to the original posting a map of Hoppett's Wood showing where William Walby's cottage was.
In addition Ann has reported that William's father-in-law, William Webb, was also a gamekeeper and was the principle witness in a 1853 murder, an account of which appears in the Brookmans Park Newsletter.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

Was your ancestor a gamekeeper?

Ann's ancestor, William Walby. was an gamekeeper who was living in Hoppetts Wood, Essendon, somewhere near Camfield Place, and asked for details of his employment. I oint out that gamekeepers were licensed and suggest that there a a number of ways in which records of gamekeepers may be recorded which do not apply to the average estate worker. See Walby, Essendon, c1875-1890, gamekeeper for full details. (Beatrix Potter wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit while staying at the Camfield Place.) 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

One Place Studies - North Mymms, Preston and Therfield

If you are very interested in the people who used to lived in the place where your (or your ancestors) live you may want to set up a one place study. Sites are intended to include transcripts of censuses and other lists relevant of genealogists. Currently there are three such studies running for Hertfordshire (all accessed from the relevant palace page on this site) .

  • The excellent Preston web site is run by Philip Wray and contains extensive indexes and much historical information.
  • The long menu to the left on the Therfield site run by Martin Hagger reveals a wide range of transcribe goodies that makes me wish I had an ancestor with connections in the village.
  • The North Mymms site contains the contents of many books relating to North Mimms and much other historical information - but does not include (as far as I could see) any census or other transcriptions of lists of names of the former inhabitants.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

John & Alfred Hopkins, Hoddesdon Photographers

John and Alfred Hopkins were Hoddesdon photographers and I have found an early carte de visite produced under the name Hopkins Bros. In addition I have noted that Alfred Hopkins exhibited his Patent Simplex Slide and Reversible Camera Back at the 29th Exhibition of the Photographis Society of Great Britain in 1884.

I would be interested to hear of other examples of their photographs and wonder if any examples of their camera back survive.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Even this faded card can tell a story

This sad looking card was recently advertised on ebay, and I decided it required a makeover.  So I brought it and subjected it to the Corel Paint Shop treatment. 

A tweak here and a zap there and the image was transformed - as you can see below the fold.

Don't forget the context ...

Last week we had the monthly meeting of the local U3A (University of the Third Age) Genealogy Group, and several of the queries were ones which might have been answered if the questioner had taken a better look at the document containing a reference to their ancestor. 

In one case it related to the identity of the witnesses to a couple of marriages a generation apart.  What can happen is that many marriages may have been witnessed by the church wardens - rather than by relatives or friends of the couple. It is therefore worth looking at adjacent marriages in the same register - and if the same witness names keep turning up they were probable not relatives of any of the couples.

Another similar problem can occur if your ancestor has a puzzling occupation. In some cases he did a specialist job in a local industry - and the occupations of others living in the same street will jelp to identify the industry - and hence lead to an understanding of what your ancestor did. (For instance I have come across a "rag sorter" in an area where many neighbours worked in the paper making industry.)

On other occasions a large family in a small house may "lend" some children to the less crowded house next door - or perhaps your ancestor married a girl from the same street.

It is very easy for beginners to metaphorically rip their ancestors names from old records without realising that there may be other clues to who their ancestors were, and what they did, in the same documents,

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Genealogists' Magazine - December 2011

This is the Journal of the Society of Genealogists and records three more Hertfordshire books (Pevsner, The Buildings of England - Hertfordshire, 1953 edition; Evans, Pagent of Letchworth 1903-1914; Lewer, The Lea Valley Footpath Guide) added to their extensive library.
   It has the usual interesting papers - although none are specifically linked to Hertfordshire. However I am sure that I will find the information in Tracing Anglican Clergy ancestors online useful.
   There is also a special ticket rate for members at the Who Do You Think You Are? event in London on 24-26 February and the magazine gives details of the Society's involvement.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Major update to Walkern Pages

Janet is in the process of developing  a web site for the Walkern Historical Society and I am sure all visitors to this site will wish it well. My Walkern page had got somewhat untidy and relevant links were sometimes hard to find, so I have used the opportunity to upgrade the Walkern pages on this site.
The main changes are as follows:

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How sound are the foundations of your research?

Copy of a recent email I sent in reply to a query which failed to include any source, etc., information - and which covers matters relevant to many questions I get.


   Thank you for your query about  XXXXX.
   You don't state your sources in your email, or indicate whether you have properly checked out the information or whether you are just relying on something you have found on the Web.  A quick check of the "facts you have supplied suggests that the references to XXXXX come from a source which is well known to be unreliable and there is no point in me trying to answer a question unless I am convinced its foundations are sound. Let me explain:
   The references to XXXXX at "XXXXX" appears to come from the International Genealogical Index (IGI) which was available online on the familysearch web site until recently. The information you quote is "no longer there" although it can be seen by selecting the button for the earlier site. The problem is that the IGI is the records of retrospective baptisms of ancestors by the Church of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) and consists of two different sources. The most important, for genealogists, is that they computerised a very large number of parish registers in order to save the souls of people who had never had the opportunity to join the Mormon church - and this information is usually pretty accurate. However the IGI also includes family trees created by Mormons of their own ancestors - and many of them seemed to have been more interested in saving the souls of as many "ancestors" as possible than in getting things right. If a name looked as if it might be the one they were searching for they would link it in, and they would also create entries based on what they thought might have happened. For instance if someone was married in a parish they would create an extra entry, with a guessed birth date, suggesting they were born in the parish.
   Many beginners, who have not yet learnt the importance of verifying the sources, have assumed that "If it is on a computer it must be true" and duplicated the errors.  Submitted family tree entries on the IGI should never be assumed to be correct unless the information is verified from reliable independent sources (NOT from a family tree which has itself taken the information from the IGI). It may be possible to see the original documents from which the IGI was based on a microfilm at your nearest LDS Family History Centre - and from this you may be in a better place to assess the accuracy of the data. It is obvious to me that, for example, the reference to  XXXXX being born at XXXXX is one of these invented entries, where the person concerned did not know which of two parishes was involved, assuming that either were correct.
   May I suggest that you revisit the main web site and from the menu in the left hand column select  "Genealogy Topics" and then select and read the following advice pages:
   I am sorry to disappoint you over the possibility of errors in your research, but I feel it is better to let you know so you have the chance to correct them.
   All the best in your future family history research.

The Grove, Watford, in 1818

I have added a print of The Grove, Watford, home of the Earls of Clarendon. I believe it comes from Picturesque Rides and Walks and is dated 1818.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The British Newspaper Archive is up and running

At long last there is a goodly collection of local newspapers available online in digital form - and earlier today I had a online session to see how well the search facilities work. I was very impressed and have written an account of what I found. The current collection (less than 10% of the planned total) includes two Hertfordshire papers, and two that included parts of Hertfordshire in their normal coverage.  I was able to fill a missing gap in the career of my Great Grandfather - and there is much more information which relates to the "artificial fertilizer" connection. I have also discovered another ancestor whose move to Hertfordshire may  have been caused by bankruptcy.
     This is an essential resource for the serious family historian - so let me know how you get on - by adding your own experiences as a comment to this blog. Your comments will help other people to make the most of this exciting new web site.

Why are Birth, Marriage and Death certificates so expensive.

If you buy a UK birth, marriage or death certificate directly from the government the current cost is £9.25 and this can be done online. However there are many genealogy and other sites which will place your order for you in return for a high premium! Such sites are often quite secretive about how much they charge until you have typed in your order - although I must praise official-certificates, as it is easy to find out that they charge £16.95.  (The basic rule is that if the URL does not end in you are almost certainly being charged well over the basic price for a certificate.)

But £9.25 is still very high and the reason is that the government will only provide certified copies - which are official legal copies of the type you need if, for example, you are applying for a passport, or if you are trying to prove that you are the heir to an unclaimed estate. The fact that your great great great grandfather is not eligible (for reason of death) to be able to apply for a passport makes no difference  - the govermnet will not supply a simple photocopy of the original register entry - it has to be certified ...

At the moment there are two e-petitions asking for the law to be changed so that genealogists can get simple copies at a lower price, rather than certified copies. If either of these petitions gets 100,000 signatures the government has to take notice - which unfortunately doesn't mean they have to change the law. 

If you would like certificates to become cheaper sign both the following petitions:

Saturday, December 3, 2011

More Evidence of Medieval Fields at Tring Reservoirs

Very Low Water Levels at Startops Reservoir, near Tring, December 2011
The dry stream trench in the foreground is main inlet stream - the overflow from Marsworth and Tringford Reservoirs - both of which were low. When full the water would be up to the dam - which holds back Marsworth Reservoir.
In October I reported on the very low water levels at Wilstone Reservoir and how they had  revealed evidence for an ancient ridge and furrow system. In the centre of this picture you can see the same parallel lines of slightly darker vegetation which is all that is visible of a medieval ridge and furrow field, possibly associated with Marsworth village.
Continued below the fold, with more pictures

Software Problem "Tell Me"

There is currently a fault with the "Tell Me" facilities on the main site, which will be corrected as soon as possible. In the meantime you can still contact me by posting a comment on this blog (make sure you provide an email address if you want a reply) or by using "Ask Chris."

Stagenhoe Park Photographs saved for posterity

Earlier this year Lottie contacted me to say she was researching the history of the gardens at Stagenhoe Park for the Hertfordshire Gardens Trust and was looking for pictures showing the gardens and park. In October I spotted and purchased a page of four photographs showing the gardens and some of the avenues of trees for sale on ebay. An investigation showed that the pages came from a book of 25 pages or more of photographs of Stagenhoe Park, and activities taking place there such as people sitting outside the house, playing cricket, croquet, and football. A number of groups of people carry dates around 1910.

Lottie and I have now purchased 11 pages of pictures that are mainly relevant to the house, gardens and park and after Lottie has finished her research they will be passed to HALS for proper archiving. I will also be posting a selection of the photographs on this site.

By the time we had realised what was going on several pages had already been sold which were relevant to the Gardens study. - If you were one of the people who purchased these pictures we would love to hear from you.  

Why was Barrack Row, Aldbury, so called

Rita wanted to know why an early 19th century row of workmen's cottages were known at "Barrack Row" at Aldbury. They were built when the Earl of Bridgewater made many other changes in the village and were also known as "Slated Row" because they were among the first buildings to be roofed with slate - brought by the recently opened Grand Junction Canal. While there is a suggestion about the change of name, I feel it is not completely satisfactory. Anyone got a better idea?

Major Upgrade of St Pauls Walden Pages

To accommodate additional material the old St Pauls Walden page has been split up, and new pages added, as follows:

  • The "Home" St Pauls Walden page now has a comprehensive menu, including new external links. There are also picture links to the associated pages. There is a description of the village from 1880.
  • The pictures of All Saints Church has been brought together on a single page.
  • There is now a separate page for St Pauls Waldenbury - the childhood home of the Queen Mother.
  • The page for Stagenhoe Park includes some new pictures of the gardens. See separate Blog.
  • The hamlet of Whitwell is now integrated with the parish pages.

Friday, December 2, 2011

2011 Xmas "Competition - Who was in the Harpenden Hall Asylum?

Chris Saunders sent an interesting extract from the London Gazette of 1870 relating to the Early Mad Houses of St Albams and Harpenden. On looking at the page I realised that it was an early page which had been prepared when the 1881 census was available on CD, the St Albans census was available in book form - and there were no censuses online. I decided to update the page to include the more recently available material and this gave me an idea for a "competition" in the run up to Christmas.- so here goes ...

Between 1851 and 1901 there was a private lunatic asylum at Harpenden Hall, and in each of the censuses there were at least 4 patients in residence, Sometime their names are given, but in other cases only initials. Some were present in more than one census. 

The challenge is for visitors to this page to identify how many of the patients can be at least provisionally identified (with supporting information from other sources as appropriate) and post your findings as comments to this blog. Some patients may be quite easy and some are almost certainly impossible.  The "prize" is that I will donate £2.00 to this site's mental health appeal for each patient where a reasonable identification has been made as to the identity of the patient - and £5.00 in each case where an initials only patient has been identified. I will make even higher donations for particularly interesting sources - such as the discovery of a will making provision for a mentally ill relative.

Suggestions close by 25th December - which will allow me to pay the forfeit before the 2011 online collecting box closes at the end of the year. I will bring all the responses together early in 2012, with acknowledgement the those of you that made me donate!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Practice your ability to read old handwriting

A simple starter - click on the image to get a larger version. It is a receipt from 1782 and records the payment for some land in Bendish, a hamlet in St Pauls Walden. To see a transcript click here. All four people named in the document have been identified.

Donate now to help reach the Mental Health target

Christmas is often a time of sadness and stress for people with mental health problems and so far this year the fund raised by this site to help the Hertfordshire Mind Network has (by December 1st) raised £767.63 towards a target of £1000, If you have found this site useful during the year why not 
The online charity collection box will even claim back Gift Aid if you are a UK tax payer) and we can still reach the 2011 target. In our household we will be very much aware that Lucy and Belinda will not be at the family get together over the Xmas holiday..

Report on November Activity

The decision three months ago to "export" the former newsletter to become a separate blog site seems to have worked well. Usage is steadily increasing (none in August, 864 page views in September, 1358 in October and 1684 in November) and I have now opened up the comments so that anyone can make a comment directly to the blog, although I still prefer direct family history questions to go via the Ask Chris facility on the main site. Definitely the blog has made communication between me and my audience far more effective. The instantly available statistics gives me instant feedback on the items which are proving more popular and the easy management interface makes it easy to control the many cross links between the two sites. I was interested to see that the most popular blog is the one on Buying Hertfordshire Wills Online with a running total of 122 separate views - and surprised at the popularity of A Book on Gustard Wood, Wheathampstead, with 70 views.
     One feature which many of you appear not to have taken up - perhaps because you have not realised it was there - is that if you are a regular visitor you can enter via the blog at and you can follow the blog - meaning that you are automatically notified of new posts.
    The main site has undoubtedly benefited from the changes, and during the month many of the updates have been linked to the First World War. I am also speeding up the process of tidying up the pages on the smaller towns and villages as this simplifies the interface between the blog and the main site. Unfortunately this could mean that some links from other web sites to "deep" pages within my web site will not work and I am looking into ways to reduce the resulting errors messages.
    The overall usage of the main site is virtually unchanged from last year (up to 20,670 visits from 20436, which is not really significant. While the number of different visitors has slightly fallen this actually means that the number of repeat visits during the month has risen form 5062 to 5877.  This could actually be due to the changes in Google which could have had the effect of sending fewer misdirected accesses to the site, while more people who find it useful are finding it more easily. I will look at this trend in more detail in the end of the year report.
    If you have any comments on how you find the current blogger interface works for you, it would be helpful if you could make a comment below.