Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Latest News from the Genealogy Front

For health reasons I need to keep my stress levels down, and while running this site is meant to be a way of relaxing, it can take over - and hence become stressful. Taking a break over the Jubilee Celebration Weekend has helped, and thanks to all of you who sent me encouraging messages.  However progress on getting my library/office straight has been slow and must remain a priority - but can become stressful if I try to rush at it. For this reason posts may be a bit erratic during June, and you may get more recent photographs from the Tring area (with larger images on Geograph) and more old post cards, etc. with minimal support text. There will be less in-depth analysis, and the backlog of outstanding issues will be handled at a comfortable pace. 

Some recent correspondence ...

A supporter of this site wrote: I hope you can take some time out to relax a little and, first and foremost, enjoy this weekend. I am a relative newcomer to your website and it has been of immense assistance to me. I have made a contribution to your charity, anonymously. For reasons which do not matter, I have a close personal affinity with it. Another wrote: I'd like to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this site. I really hope to see the same high-grade blog posts by you in the future as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has encouraged me to get my own, personal website now. Such messages are always appreciated - especially when I am feeling stressed and become depressed.

Some time ago Bob drew my attention to the book Memories of a Whitwell Woman - How We Lived in Whitwell from 1911 and during the 1914-18 War by Jessie Peacock Sansom. (see Whitwell page). He now writes to say she died in 2005 aged 103 and wonders what happened to the originals of her photos? When old people die, unfortunately, only too often do their precious photos get trashed, burnt etc. how many times have I come across this. Her historic photos of Whitwell from her book can be scanned, but they have come out rather not the best. Bob notes that a copy of the book is available for sale online at an outrageous price and suggests Her book should be made available online. Who knows who and where she might still be of help to far flung descendants like she was to me. I am quite sure that she has no descendants interested in maintaining copyright. - [Now, with people living so long, valuable historical documents can be lost or dispersed by being sold by dealers on ebay when the owner develops Alzheimer's and have to be moved into a home, and their house and contents sold to pay the nursing home bills.]

Jacob Reynolds
Last December I reported on the British Newspaper Archive and published an initial assessment, which included a mention of my Great Grandfather, Jacob Reynolds, and the link with J. B. Lawes of Rothamsted, Harpenden. As a member of the Hertfordshire Library Service I can now download pages from the Archive for free and in May I carried out a detailed search for advertisements linking the Finch family of Swaffham (Jacob's uncles) with sales of Lawes' superphosphate fertilizer. It was clear that I needed to visit the Rothamsted Research Library but before I could draft a letter requesting access I got a query from John in which he said: I am an ex-employee of Rothamsted but still spend much of my time here, mainly digging into the archives. With a colleague I am transcribing Lawes diaries (dating from 1847), in which the name 'Finch' appears quite frequently. We are fairly confident that this was Henry Young Finch because he died in January 1858 (Lawes attended the funeral). The name Finch reappears subsequently but at the moment we have no idea who that was. We are increasingly puzzled by the professional relationship between H. Y. Finch and J. B. Lawes, and would like to know more about that between HYF and the Finches in Swaffham. Needless to say there has been an excited exchange of correspondence and I hope to visit Rothamsted in the near future to see the diary and discuss related matters. Watch this space ...

I had two queries about comparatively modern events which are not really covered by this site and in both cases I was only able to give very general advice. Margaret wanted to know about the burial of her grandmother who died in Napsbury Mental Hospital in 1959 (see also The Long Stay Mental Hospitals of the St Albans Area) and any relevant records may still be with the National Health Service. Sylvia wanted to know about her mother, who went to school in Hertfordshire in the 1950s, and all I could do was to suggest she approaches Hertfordshire County Council about relevant school and social service records which would not be open to the general public.

Following the query about Buntingford Pictures lost in Fire, Keith has sent me a more recent picture to augment the one he sent with the earlier query Mystery Photo, Letchworth, circa 1910.

Philip writes: There has been a recent development at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS). A project has been financed by a National Cataloguing Grant administered by The National Archives (TNA). This enabled them to employ an extra member of staff to work solely on 125 uncatalogued boxes in the Hawkins (solicitors of Hitchin) collection. The result is that after several years, a large holding of material can now be accessed. (On 16 October at HALS, Gavin Henderson is to deliver a lecture on 'Hawkins, lawyers of Hitchin'.) He continues: I am not sure who has been the more frustrated about the situation hitherto - the archivist who has material that cannot be produced to the public, or the researcher who would love to get their hands on uncatalogued documents. I have been advised that opportunities to acquire extra funding for projects as large as Hawkins do not come along very often as there is such stiff competition for limited funds and that sadly with only a limited number of professional staff at HALS this work can be very slow and makes almost impossible the task of tackling a collection as large as Hawkins. During a recent visit to HALS, one couldn't help but notice that there were two new large collections of papers handed in to staff.

I am not immune from errors and Robert kindly pointed out that on the recent post Some Quickie Answers ... I had mistyped called someone John Walker when it should have been John Wheeler. Diane also picked me up for typing the wrong century when posting about a complex situation in NORRIS, Berkhamsted and Northchurch, 18th Century. Definitely a sign I was trying too hard and needed a break.


  1. Jessie Peacock Sansom was born at Tewin 10 January 1902 daughter of Walter and Rachel Peacock. They had moved to Whitwell by the 1911 census. In 1927 she married Reginald E. Sansom. She died at Whitwell 2 April 2005 aged 103. There is an obituary at
    It runs over two pages so click the arrow at the bottom to go from page 2 to page 3.

  2. This article from Hertfordshire Life (cannot see a date but it is recent) confirms the watercress connection and offers name and address of family that might know of the photos and/or give permission to publish excerpts from Jessie Peacock Sansom's book: "Another vibrant part of village life is Nine Wells Farm on the edge of Whitwell which has been growing watercress for nearly 200 years. It is now only one of two such farms in the county, selling its produce far and wide as well as at local farmers' markets. Named after its nine wells that provide vital fresh spring water, the farm's growing process hasn't changed since the day it started. The ownership of the family-run business is passed down to each generation, and is currently owned by brothers Ron and Patrick Sansom.
    Thelma Sansom, 65, who has lived in Whitwell all her life, has helped out on the farm since marrying Ron."


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