Saturday, 25 May 2013

An unexpected find can change your research entirely...

Graveyard of the church in Ripley village nr Harrogate
A few months ago, I had a lovely email from a distant cousin who is also interested in researching her family history. She had a found a photograph on the internet of the grave of a common ancestor of ours, James Poole.

I already knew some information about James Poole:-
  • Born c1837 in Bradford, West Yorkshire to Joshua Poole and Sarah nee Messenger.
  • In 1841 he lived on East Brook Lane, Bradford with his mother, step-father and half-siblings.
  • In 1851 he lived on Manchester Road, Bradford with his mother, step-father and half-siblings and the family were employed in the woollen industry.
  • Married Sarah Hannah Rooks in 1858 at Bradford Parish Church.
  • In 1861 he lived at 17 Royal Street, Bradford with his wife and was employed as an iron pudler.
  • In 1871 he lived at 35 Birk Street, Bradford with his wife and four children and he was employed as an engine man.

James disappears to the records after the 1871 census and I had presumed
that he had probably died, but had never looked very hard for a death record for him.

The web link my distant cousin sent me ( revealed some very interesting information about the latter days of our ancestor that neither of us had previously known. The inscription on the grave stone (found on stated:

"In loving memory
beloved wife of JAMES POOLE,
who died May 17th 1922 in her 82nd year.
"At rest"
husband of the above,
died at Melbourne, Australia.
son of the above, 
died April 8th 1948,
aged 87 years."

James had emigrated to Australia ALONE, leaving his wife and children behind in Bradford. He left the UK from Liverpool in 1874 and latterly died out there in 1882 in Melbourne, Australia.

Finding this grave stone has given me new avenues of research to investigate and has created more questions that now need answers:

  • why did he go?
  • was he a convict that was transported to Australia?
  • why did he go alone?
  • was he trying to seek his fortune?
  • did he miss his children and wife?
  • did they not have the money to follow him?
  • how did Sarah Hannah manage alone with four young children?
  • as well as many more.......?

Onwards we go with the is addictive and you never find the end!!

Copyright © 2013 Ruth Hogan

Saturday, 18 May 2013

My ancestor was a BOOTMAKER...

Gedera Historic Museum - Shoemaker
(Image link:, Author:
Dr. Avishai Teicher, 1 June 2009, accessed 9 Feb 2014
In the early 19th century most high streets had a cobblers shop, where footwear was made and repaired. Everyone would visit this shop to buy their footwear or have them repaired as well as pick up other items made of leather or products for looking after their shoes such as wax and polish.

All footwear was handmade until the industrial revolution when the process became mechanised and it became cheaper to mass produce shoes.

In 1851 it was the third largest manufacturing industry in the UK, which means that most people will have at least one person in their family tree who worked in the footwear manufacturing trade.

My great, great grandfather, Frederick Sutcliffe was a boot maker all of his life. He started his career as a journeyman which meant he had completed an apprenticeship and was fully educated in the trade but not yet a master. Later in his career he was a boot riveter which was probably a part of a factory line in the production of footwear.

Becoming a cobbler or shoemaker was a perfect trade for a man who had limited mobility or a disability as it did not involve a huge amount of physical labour as many other occupations did.

 Other occupations within the trade:

  • cobbler - traditionally mended shoes
  • shoemaker - made shoes
  • bootmaker - made boots
  • cordwainer or cordiner - produced high class shoes

Occupations within the mass production of footwear:
  • Pressman - operated a press to cut the leather
  • Prickers - would make holes in the leather
  • Bottom fillers - filled the bottoms of shoes in the finishing process
  • Skivers - used a tool to cut or split leather
  • Rough-stuff worker - cut the soles and heels
  • Finishers - polished and finished off the footwear
  • Hand craftsmen
  • Clickers - cut the uppers of the shoes from the sheets of leather

Copyright © 2013 Ruth Hogan

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Divorce records...

Divorces are widely accepted today but in the 1800s they were relatively uncommon. The process of filing for divorce was much more difficult and complicated. 

A brief history of divorce in the UK:
  • Before 1857, divorce was mostly only available to men and had to be granted by an Act of Parliament, which made the process very expensive. Technically you were not permitted to remarry neither (unless your name was King Henry VIII!).
  • In 1857, the Matrimonial Causes Act meant people could divorce through the courts, which allowed ordinary people to file for divorce. You had to be able to prove that your spouse had committed adultery and a woman had to prove their husband had committed adultery plus incest, cruelty, bigamy, sodomy or desertion. It would have gone through an Open Court and only the High Court in London could grant a divorce
  • In 1923, a private member's bill made it as easy for women and is was for men to file for divorce, solely on the grounds of adultery.
  • In 1937, divorce was allowed on other grounds, such as drunkeness or desertion, but you could not file for divorce within the first three years of marriage.
  • In 1969, the Divorce Reform Act was passed which enabled couples to divorce after being separated for two years, but fault did no longer have to be proved.
  • In 1984, it was introduced that you could file for divorce after being married for one year instead of three years.
  • Until 1996, men favoured better financially in a divorce. It was decided that assets should be divided more fairly and the contribution of the "homemaker" was better recognised.

The first time I came across a divorce record whilst researching my family history was a few weeks ago when researching a distant cousin's husband, Victor Rettich. As his name did not seem English I wanted to see if I could find any migration records for him initially, so I put the details that I had about him into the Ancestry search engine and flicked through the records that it brought up. The divorce case was one of the first records to show up so I had a nosey and found out some inspiring information about their family...

...firstly the documents included their marriage certificate.

Marriage certificate of Emily Davidson & Victor Alexander Rettich (Click the image to enlarge)

Victor was a lamp manufacturer, the son of a gentleman and Emily was the daughter of an engineer Henry Davidson (he was the brother of my great x3 grandfather). They married on the 30th June 1889 at which Emily's parents and elder brother were the witnesses to her marriage with Victor, so one would presume they were happy with the match.

Nearly four years later, Emily filed for divorce and below are the details...

Details of case - page 1 (Click the image to enlarge)

...the first page tells us details about their wedding date and the children they had together, Veneta Annie Octavia Rettich born 6th April 1890 and Victor Henry Albert Rettich born 11th August 1891 who died at three months old.

Details of case - page 2 (Click the image to enlarge)

The second page goes into details about her claim for divorce...
...Victor committed adultery with Georgiana Borritt and other women
...he was violent towards her
...he left her for days without any provisions and no money for buying food.

Emily wanted a dissolution of her marriage, custody of her child and maintenance for her and the child.

A divorce was eventually granted on the 3rd December 1894.

The divorce papers

It is a very interesting but upsetting read, as it shows much detail and insight into their family life.

Her divorce was one of just 369 granted in the UK in 1894, a rare event in comparison to 2010 when there were just under 120,000 divorces granted in the UK. (Reference: Guardian - Divorce rates)

Emily would have had to bring up her daughter as a single mother with the stigma of being a divorcee, not an easy thing to do in Victorian England.

Copyright © 2013 Ruth Hogan

Saturday, 4 May 2013

My ancestor was a SHIPBUILDER...

Pizarro Shipbuilding
(Image link:,
User: Before My Ken, accessed 9 Feb 2014
In Britain we have a huge legacy for ruling the waves, which is all due in part to the ship building industries of the coastal towns of Great Britain.

Most port towns in some point in history was involved in ship-building of some type. Some towns became well known for specific types of boat building, for example, Whitby in North Yorkshire was well-known for the manufacture of flat-bottomed coal carrying vessels. Their flat-bottoms allowed grounding on sandy shores.

Often your ancestors who worked within the ship-building industry would have moved from one ship building town to another once a project had been finished and work became sparse in that town. The shipbuilding families would often move as a large collective group from one port to another in order to source work.

There were many skills and occupations that were required for building a ship and here are some of them:
  • shipwright - a carpenter who was skilled in carpentry required for building and repairing boats
  • ship's carpenter - similar to above
  • shipping joiner - a joiner who worked on the ships (a joiner who traditionally join the wood & a carpenter would fit it)
  • cabin fitter - would fit the interior of a ship
  • shipyard sawyer - a person who would cut or saw the wood to the required lengths for building
  • caulker - a person who made the wooden hull of a ship watertight by filling the spaces between the planks with a mix of tar and chopped up old ropes known as oakum
  • chandler - a fitter of candleholders and lamps for the ship's lighting system
  • stair railers - specialised woodworkers who crafted stair rails
  • stagers - a person who constructed wooden scaffolding for the ship to be constructed on
  • welders & rivetters - a person who constructed the ship by assembling metal sections together
  • boiler maker - a constructer of boilers for the ships
  • platers - a person who fitted metal plates to the outside of the ship
  • holders-on - a person who held the rivets in place
  • My great grandfather, Walter Davidson with
    his work mates on the docks in Hull
  • red leader - painted the raw metal with lead oxide to protect them from erosion

In my family I had many boiler makers and rivetters who initially worked in Poplar, London in the early 1800s and moved to Hull in mid 1860s. Later my great, great uncle would move to Sunderland to continue with the ship building industry there. Their story can be read on the Davidson page of my blog in especially in Chapters 3, 4, 7, 8, 13 & 14.

Some of the information for this blog post was taken from a booklet produced by the Your Family Tree Magazine called A day in the life of a... WORKING ANCESTOR (Oct 2012).

Copyright © 2013 Ruth Hogan