Saturday, 27 April 2013

Questions to ask...?

When we begin researching our family history one thing we must do is talk to older relatives, they will have snippets of information that will really help you in the process of researching your family tree.

If you are just starting out it can be overwhelming to go and see and elderly relative you may not have seen for many years to ask questions about their family, so below are a few questions you can ask to get the conversation rolling.

Questions to ask?
  • What were the names of your parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles?
  • When were people born?
  • Where were people born?
  • Where did people live?
  • What jobs did they do?
  • Was "Polly" their real name or a nickname?
  • What were they like?
  • What did they enjoy doing?
  • What did they look like?
  • Do they have any old photos you can scan or take a photo of?
  • Was there a family bible?
  • Did they fight in the world wars? If not was there a reason they were exempt?

Great, Great, Great Uncle Ted with a work mate

You may find people are happy to talk about their family and come out with facts you would never have thought to ask, but other people may find their family background painful and not as willing to talk about it. Remember to be sensitive as you are talking about ancestors as older relatives will remember them and may even still be grieving for them. There can be facts in which you find interesting but to another relative they can be shameful, especially if great uncle Albert was a bigamist or spent time in jail.

Always take notes as you are chatting or even take something in which you can record the conversation to listen to at a later date. It is amazing what you forget afterwards or may get facts mixed up later on. Verbal facts will later need to be verified with records, do not take your relatives memories as fact until you have found records to back up your evidence.

My great, great grandparents
Edward Davidson & Martha Davidson nee Hair
Looking at old photos with elderly relatives can trigger memories and can help you put faces to names for future generations.

Important facts which you will require about each person are:
  • Name
  • Birthday
  • Year of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Date of marriage
  • Place of marriage
  • Date of death
  • Buried or cremated? If buried, where?
  • Occupation

TOP TIP: Do not delay speaking to relatives, as time goes by facts are forgotten, elderly people can develop dementia or even pass away unexpectedly which can leave a wealth of information lost for future generations.

Copyright © 2013 Ruth Hogan

Saturday, 20 April 2013

My ancestor was an OIL MILLER...

Working oil mill granitstone
(Image link:, Author: Peter Forster, 26 Oct 2009, accessed 9 Feb 2014)

An oil miller is a person who worked in a mill where seeds were crushed to produce oil.

The oil would be used in many industries, from food manufacturer for margarine etc, to the paint industry, to soaps and linoleum manufacture.

The main seeds which would be used would be rapeseed, corronseed, copra, palm kernel, soya and some other minor oils.

My ancestors who were Oil Millers were from Hull in East Yorkshire, a large port town. You can read their story on the Davidson page of my blog in Chapter 10 and a little in Chapter 9 also.

The oil industry was big in Hull, East Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Liverpool. The large ports would be a place in which the seeds could be imported and later the oil or products manufactured from the oil could be exported.

There is a great website about the Oil Seed Crushing Industry of Hull, East Yorkshire by Paul Gibson and it is well worth a good read if you are interested in the history of this occupation.

Copyright © 2013 Ruth Hogan

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Help required...what is the occupation?

Old handwriting can sometimes prove hard to read and I am struggling with this census image, which means I need YOU!

Can you tell me what Martha Davidson's occupation is on this census return?

Click the image to enlarge it

Please leave a comment if you think you can figure out what it says, thanks in advance for all your help.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

My ancestor was a SMITH...

(Image link:,
Author: Jeff Cubina,  3 Aug 2008, accessed 9 Feb 2014
Smith is a worker of metal, they would use tools to hammer, bend and cut metal. The word is derived from "smite" which means to hit.

In the Medieval period, prior to the Industrial Revolution, each village would have a "village smithy" but factories and machinery would eventually take over in the mass production of these goods.

Other types of smith occupations: 
  • farrier - a person who shoes horses
  • blacksmith - a worker of iron or steel
  • forger - a person who shapes metal by heating and hammering
  • hammersmith
  • whitesmith - a worker of tin or pewter, but mainly done with cold metals
  • silversmith - a worker of silver
  • goldsmith - a worker of gold
  • gunsmith - a worker of guns

Copyright © 2013 Ruth Hogan

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Origins of Surnames in the UK

I love discovering the meaning of names as I believe that we are not given names by chance, but our names impress on our identity of "who we are" and who we become.

Surnames started to become more commonly used from the Middle Ages when the population of the UK grew and there would often be many people known by the same forename, eg John, William, Sarah, Elizabeth etc. In conversation people needed to be able distinguish between which John you may have been conversing about. Perhaps we were talking about John the son of William - John Williamson, John from Bradford - John Bradford or even perhaps John the baker - John Baker.

Surnames are derived in different ways and these are the most common types of surname:
  • Patronymic - name of the father. 
  • Metonymic - occupational surname.
  • Matronymic - name of mother. 
  • Locational - named after the place a family came from.
  • Topographical - names derived from geographic features perhaps near where they lived.
  • Sobriquet - nickname Redhead, Littlejohn may have derived from someone who was very tall, Caesar meant "hairy", Armstrong
  • Papponymic - grandfather's name - often Irish in origin "Ua, Ui or O" & grandfather's name

Patronymic surnames are derived from the name of their father.
Davidson Crest

Many of the patronymic surnames are obvious as they end with -son if they are derived for the English, for example, John's son = Johnson or William's son = Williamson. Sometimes spelling have been altered and changed, for example, Thomas's son = Thompson or Thomasson.

There are a number of patronymic surnames in England which are also derived from other languages.
  • From the French and the Norman Conquest, these often begin with Fitz- which is derived from the French "fils" meaning "son". For example: Fitzjohn = son of John & Fitzgerald = son of Gerald.
  • From Gaelic, especially found in Scotland and Ireland, names beginning with Mac- or Mc- as "mac" is the Gaelic for son. For example, MacGregor or McGregor = son of Gregory.
  • From Old Irish, the prefix O'- means descendant (or grandson - see Papponymic). Originally it was written in Irish as an O with an accent above it but when the names were anglicised it was mistaken for an apostrophe.
  • From the Welsh, we have "ab" or "ap" meaning son which in many cases was dropped altogether but there are a few examples in which it remains, ab Owen = Bowen, ap Rhys = Price or ap Richard = Pritchard. The more modern patronymic names from the Welsh solely added an "-s" at the end of a name, for example, Edwards, Williams or Jones which are all really common surnames in Wales even today.
  • From the Cornish, similarly to the Welsh or originally from the "Breton" language, "map" was used as prefix like "ap" as above but also in Cornish is found the suffix "-kin" as in Tompkin = Thomas's son.

It is common for Jewish families to have Patronymic surnames, often in England they have been anglicised over the years - David's son = Davidson, from David in the Old Testament.

Fletcher - arrow maker
Metonymic surnames are occupational. They are derived from the person's occupation, which may seem simple with names such as Baker, Smith or Farmer, but what about the older occupations we know longer have such as Fletcher = person who made arrows or Fowler = bird catcher.

There may also be spelling variations for the same surname such as Smith, Smythe, Smithe, Smithie, Smyth etc, but they are all derived from the same root.

Smith is the UK's most common surname as most villages or even towns would have only had one smith who would have been well known by many of the villagers. In conversation in the Middle Ages if we would have referred to John the smith, most people would have known who you were talking about. The occupation was probably passed down through the family from father to son as well, so the trade would have been in one family, the Smith family.

Matronymic surnames are derived from the name of their mother. These are much fewer than the patronymic surnames but some survive.
  • Ibbetson = Ibb's son, Ibb being the shorten nickname for people named Isabel.
  • Beaton derived from the first name Beatrice.
  • Megson = Meg's son, Meg being the shorten form of Margaret.

Locational surnames are names which are derived from place names. There are a few different types of locational surnames:
Bolling Hall, East Bowling, Bradford, West Yorkshire
(Image link:, Author:
David Spencer, 18 July 2005, accessed 15th Feb 2014
  • A person who moved to live a different area was named after the place they were originally from. For example, John Bradford may have been from the city of Bradford in West Yorkshire or the many other little towns and villages throughout the country which take this place name. The place name Bradford is originally derived from the "Broad-ford". Another example of this is, Granville a name derived from a place in France called "Grainville-la-Teinturiere" which is thought was brought to England during the Norman Conquest.
  • The other type of locational surname might be someone who owned the land of a certain place. For example the Lord of Manor of Bolling Hall in East Bowling, Bradford was named William Bolling in 1316. The name Bolling has derived to Bowling over the years.

Topographical surnames are names derived from geographical features such as Hill or Underwood. Some topographical names might not be so obvious, for example:
  • Penver is derived from the Cornish for "big hilltop".
  • Lund is derived from the Norse for "grove".
  • Dale a name which is derived from the Scandinavian "dalr" meaning valley, but even today "Dale" is still a commonly used word in some local northern dialects to mean valley.

Sobriquet surnames are names derived from nicknames.
  • Some may be literal nicknames such as "Redhead" for someone who has red hair.
  • Some may be a little more sarcastic in tone such as "Littlejohn" for someone who may have been actually very tall.

Papponymic names are from their grandfather's name. Often the Irish in origin, "O'-" meant grandson, so O'Brien, is either a descendant of Brian or a grandson of Brian.

We do not understand where many surnames are now derived from as their meanings have been lost or been distorted by accents, dialect, differences in spellings and even differences of language (Welsh, Gaelic, English, Norse, Manx, Cornish).

Some surnames are more common in different parts of the country than others, which could denote that the name commenced in that particular area of the country. There are surname distribution maps available online to search for your surnames on, to discover which areas of the country the name was more common in at different points in history. These can be found at: RootsUKPublicProfiler & Ancestry.

The knowledge of whether your surname is Norse or Cornish etc in origin can also help you know whereabouts in the UK your surname may have originated from.

To find out the origins of some of the surnames in my family, see the Davidson page - prequel for the name Davidson, Chapters 5 for the surname Redwood, Chapter 9 for the surname Hair, Chapter 11 for the surname Seddon & Chapter 12 for the surnames Kay & Peacock.

Copyright © 2013 Ruth Hogan