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Wakefield & District Family History Society

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Last Meeting

Maps for local and family history
On Saturday 1st April our guest speaker was Chris Makepeace. Chris is a local historian and librarian who is a familiar figure at many family history fairs. He views maps not only as items that are aesthetically pleasing but as valuable resources. The latter is particularly important when modern development is taking place. Checking old maps first can often highlight problems such as old mining works, wells and springs. However, it is with regard to study of old maps that Chris believes can enhance the research done by family historians. From county and town maps from the sixteenth century to ordnance survey maps of the nineteenth century a picture can be built up of how and where our ancestors lived. The scale of these maps could range from sixty to one inch to the mile. But it is the Godfrey Edition OS maps of the late nineteenth century that Chris wanted to highlight. These are 15 inches to the mile and they show not just the streets but also individual houses; the complete track layout of railways and tramways, factories, docks and even trees are shown. These maps can produce a complete record of the places where our ancestors lived and worked. In addition the Godfrey maps are accompanied by extracts from trade directories that provide names of schools, pubs and other businesses along with the names of owners and a description of trades and associated skills. It was agreed that maps are indeed a valuable tool for genealogists. Next meeting is May 6th when Peter Higginbotham will give a talk on ‘ Children’s Homes.’
Using the 1901 census online
On Saturday 4th March Edgar Holdroyd-Doveton explained how family historians could enhance their research. Census returns provide rich detail about occupational structures, migration patterns and information about the community in which our ancestors lived. An overview showed how the information in census returns from 1801 to 1901 provided an increased amount of detail. To illustrate this the village of Meltham in West Yorkshire was taken as an example. Through the nineteenth century this village was dominated by mills that produced cotton and silk thread. Edgar took one such mill run by Jonas Brook who had houses built for his employees. Using photos and ordnance survey maps for the period plus data from the census a picture emerged of the people living in a particular street. Thus average family size could be calculated, age range of children assessed and the kind of work individuals might have done from skilled operatives to white collar workers, such as office clerks. Reference was also made to the industrial aristocracy by looking at what the census provided from one of the grand houses of a mill owner. There was a retinue of domestic staff ranging from maids to coachmen which prompted the question, were they local people or incomers? Edgar suggested that the data collected could be illustrated by means of graphs and stored using XL files from Microsoft Office on a computer. Basically what Edgar was suggesting that the more that could be learned about our ancestors’ community and its environment the more interest could be generated for the researcher rather than just concentrating on the immediate family tree. The next meeting is April 1st when Chris Makepeace will talk on ‘ Maps for local and family history.’
Rural Life and Labour
In February , our first meeting of 2017,our guest speaker was David Scriven. The premise was that most family historians will have had some agricultural labourers in their family tree. David wanted to highlight their working and living conditions and in education, leisure, pay and religious affiliations. They were part of a social structure that was hierarchical with the landowner, usually of the gentry or aristocracy down to labourers who could be women and children as well as men. The work in nineteenth century England was dictated by the seasons from sowing to harvesting and hay making. The progress from using hand tools like scythes gave way to use of horse then steam powered machinery. This plus increasing enclosure of land led to a reduction in the demand for labour. However as the century progressed the lure of the growing towns would often take up the surplus labour. A variety of skills were employed from ditch or hedge cutters to simple labour. These would determine the wages or whether single workers ‘lived in’ or were allocated tied cottages. However conditions were often overcrowded which in turn led to dirty or unsanitary conditions. Diet was also poor although the average life expectancy was often higher for rural workers than those who had left for work in the towns. National Schools were provided in which a basic education was available but were really there to make sure that social order was maintained. Church attendance was often higher in the country than in towns and the Church of England would reflect the social hierarchy in that a person must know their place. To counter this attendance at non-conformity chapels were often more popular for they were regarded as more egalitarian. Leisure activities that developed through the century were team sports such as cricket and football but there were also fairs especially at the end of the harvesting period. Then there were pubs and ale houses and then perhaps the most popular pastime would be poaching. A large number of game keepers were employed and these were to be feared. The penalty for poaching could be very severe with transportation to hanging! There was often social unrest which led to arson, riots, damage to farm machinery and maiming of cattle. These were due to poor pay prospects and living conditions. Unionisation of farm workers did not always help and although wages did improve in some parts of the country elsewhere they could be‘locked out’or even transported to Australia as in the case of the Tolpuddle Martys in Dorset. David’s talk did end on an optimistic note in that as the twentieth century progressed conditions in Poor Law Houses improved as did wages and the introduction of pensions while a small number of labourers were fortunate in obtaining their own small-holding. Next month meeting is March 4th when Edgar Holdroyd-Doveton’s talk is ‘ Using the 1901 census online.’
Captain Cook's Computer
On Saturday 3rd December Wendy Wales was our guest speaker. Last year her book ‘Captain Cook’s Computer’ published which is an account of the career of William Wales of Warmfield near Wakefield. Wales accompanied Captain Cook on his second voyage around the world was chosen because of his ability in mathematics and astronomy. Wendy talked about the resources she used to describe how a person of humble beginnings set off on foot for London in the 1750s who would later become a leading figure in the development in marine navigation. This was a period known as ‘The Age of Enlightenment’ when great strides were being made in the new sciences. William’s education was apparently gained at Heath Academy at Warmfield and at the local grammar school. Once in London William found worked for a publishing firm, then spent some time as a teacher before going on to get a position at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Here he became familiar with the work of John Harrison of Wragby near Wakefield who was working on a chronometer in order to determine longitude at sea. What became increasingly clear to Wendy during her research was of the number of Yorkshire men, and in particular from the Wakefield area, who had also set off for London in order to further their careers. There was George Holdroyd who accompanied William to London. His father was a Wakefield clock maker but had become a plumber and was to work for the Royal family. Then there was Charles and Joshua Green related to William through marriage. Charles became an assistant to the Astronomy Royal while Joshua went was a co-founder for Leeds Pottery. John Smeaton of Leeds a civil engineer who developed a portable observatory for William Wales which was first used on a voyage to Canada to observe the transit of venus in 1769. William’s career eventually took him into education when he became a master at Christ’s Hospital School in London where his skills in maths, astronomy and navigation helped others in their careers such as his nephew John Wales who became a midshipman for the East India Company and later the first Marine Surveyor General for India. Wendy’s work on her book has meant a great deal of thorough research with many contacts made throughout the world not least with the valuable help from the Captain Cook Society. There will be no meeting in January but we resume February 4th when John Goodchild will talk on ‘ Slavery in the West Riding.’
Finding Uncle Harold
‘ Finding Uncle Harold.’ On Saturday 5th November we had the military historian Tim Lynch whose ancestor, Harold Wiseman from Keighley, fought and died in WW1in 1918. His records, like many others, were destroyed during the Blitz of WW11. Only a picture of him in the local newspaper survived along with a description of Harold’s background. Tim wanted to find out more. His talk showed how this could be done. Generally the WW1 medal indexes survived and these provide a regimental number. From this could be determined the battalion he served in. This can help in determining an action that such a battalion was involved in from the War Diaries that were written by a responsible officer involved in the action. Records of other casualties that were in the same battalion may have survived and would help to build up a picture of an action in which Harold and others were involved. Tim was particularly interested in the local background of these lads. What was the attitude taken locally and nationally towards men in the army; how men were allotted to a particular battalion based on status, education and occupation; at what age or even height and physical condition a recruit was that determine how or where he was allocated. Tim was also interested in their training and what happened to these young men when first sent to the Front. What he wanted was to become familiar with ‘his-story’ rather than just ‘history.’ Tim stressed the importance of the ‘archaeology ‘of war that is the use of imagination through more personal approach. The research led to the publication of his book ‘They did not grow old.’ This is a detailed account of the conditions that these men had to endure and written in such a way that the reader cannot fail to become emotionally involved. It also leaves one in no doubt of the thorough research undertaken and knowledge of the subject by Tim Lynch. Next meeting is December 3rd when Wendy Wales will talk on her book, ‘ Captain Cook’s Computer.’ This is an account of local man William Wales who accompanied Captain Cook on one of his voyages. Enquiries to Ron Pullan: ronaldpullan@hotmail’co.uk

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