Meeting Reports

The Wharfedale Family History Group met at the Salem Church Hall on Thursday 1 February. Chairman Lynda Balmforth opened the meeting and introduced speaker Carolyn Huston, whose illustrated talk was on the subject of DNA for Family Historians.

Carolyn introduced the basic science of DNA, explaining how it is present in every human cell and how certain elements of DNA are shared with every living thing including plants, fish and birds. There is a growing interest in DNA analysis for family historians as it can be used to trace ancestral origins and ethnicity, link into one name studies, and extend family tree research. There are two main elements of DNA connected to family history: Mitochondrial DNA which traces the female ancestral line and Autosomal DNA which can be used to trace the male ancestral line. All individuals, with the exception of identical twins, carry a unique DNA pattern yet matching elements can be used to link people together (the closer the link, the closer the relationship). DNA analysis has helped illustrate the original migration of all humans from the African continent some 60000 years ago. Closer in time, it is also possible to produce a pattern of DNA ancestry relating to individual counties in the UK; for example it may show that 50% of your near ancestors (say four generations) came from Yorkshire. The further back your family goes, the smaller the percentage of shared DNA, yet it is possible to match a person to other living relatives who share a common ancestor provided their DNA is available on the same database. Haplogroups are genetic population groups of people who share a common ancestor on the female or male line.

Whilst it may be intriguing for family historians to undertake a DNA analysis it might provide much less information than you hope for as only relatively small numbers of the population are on the databases and at present there is little shared information between the companies analysing the information. It may come as a shock to discover unexpected roots or perhaps unexpected relatives. On the other hand it could possibly help break down a brick wall in your family history research. A number of different companies offer DNA testing for family history purposes and books by Professor Bryan Sykes provide useful further background information regarding DNA.

Lynda gave a vote of thanks following questions and comments from the audience. The Group’s next meeting will take place 7.30 pm on Thursday 1st March at the Salem Church Hall, Main Street, Burley when Norman Simpson will present his talk, The History of Chocolate in York. Members and non-members all welcome, refreshments provided.

The Wharfedale Family History Group meeting, held Thursday 2nd November, was opened by Chairman Lynda Balmforth who introduced our speaker for the evening, Dr Phil Judkins. His illustrated presentation ‘More Deadly than the Male’ concerned the often underestimated role of women in war.

At the outbreak of war in 1914 many women from all classes volunteered their services as nurses and often worked in deadly positions on both the Eastern and Western fronts. Dr Judkins personalised this with a tale of two such women, Elsie Knocker (later Baroness T’Serclaes) and 18-year old Mari Chisholm who continued to provide a front line dressing station in Belgium despite an order that women were no longer permitted to work near the firing line. In 1939 Elsie went on to become a senior officer in the WAAF. Many women served in the Eastern European armies during WW1. Nurse Edith Cavell was executed in 1915 for her role in helping allied prisoners of war to escape. Meanwhile at home in the UK many women undertook dangerous occupations such as munitions work. An explosion killed 35 Yorkshire women and girls at the Barnbow Munitions factory, Crossgates, Leeds in 1916. Women were also employed in manual occupations including coal heaving, forestry and agriculture.

WW2 saw an expansion of women’s wartime roles as they worked as fire fighters, mortuary workers (often collecting bodies during air raids), ship yard welders and steel workers. One unfortunate young lady Eileen Morden lost her life whilst acting as secretary to her employer the Earl of Suffolk, taking notes as he worked at bomb disposal. Women worked on the land and in industrial roles such as the completion of the building of Waterloo Bridge (sometimes referred to as Ladies Bridge) in 1939. Women also increasingly undertook highly skilled technical roles in wireless, radar and codebreaking. Women in the WAAF and ATS undertook driving and mechanical roles, including Princess Elizabeth, now Queen Elizabeth II. Russia employed women as tank crew and combat pilots during WW2 long before UK women were permitted to fill such roles. Women did fly planes during WW2 for the Air Transport Auxiliary but not in combat.

Dr Judkin personalised his talk with tales of many remarkable women and their feats, rounding up with glamorous film star Hedy Lamarr’s contribution to an invention in wireless communications technology which forms the basis of all modern GPS and WiFi systems.

President Stanley Merridew gave a warm vote of thanks. The Group’s next meeting to be held Thursday 7 December at the Salem Church Hall, Burley in Wharfedale 7.30 pm will be the annual Christmas Quiz, refreshments provided and prizes galore. Members and friends all welcome.

The Wharfedale Family History Group meeting took place Thursday 5th October and was opened by Chairman Lynda Balmforth who told us about the 10% discount on Findmypast subscriptions available through our website  Lynda introduced our speaker for the evening, Jackie Depelle who presented her talk ‘Bridging the Gap – Tracing Forwards from 1911’.

1911 is the most recent census return available to family historians who often begin their research with this resource, searching for known ancestors with their approximate or known age. This census is unique in that it provides details of how long a couple have been married and how many children they have had; providing clues to search for further information such as a marriage. Jackie describes this process as ‘working from the known to the unknown’. Parish Registers are continuing to become available online (keep checking websites for updates) and it is useful that from 1837 these contain the same information as a marriage certificate. The recently amended GRO index now incorporates mother’s maiden surnames from 1837 as well as age at death (previously only available from 1911 and 1866 respectively).

A major resource for bridging the gap between 1911 and the present day are electoral registers. Many of these are available on the main family history websites and can be useful to track a person forwards until a likely time of death. Online newspapers can provide valuable information about a person’s death and the British Newspaper Archives website enables an advanced search facility. It is also worth visiting the National Newspaper Archive at Boston Spa (as not all newspapers have been digitised). Wills are also very useful for bridging the gap and it is worthwhile searching the National Probate Index on the main family history websites or the government website Findawill. A successful search will give an accurate date of death. The 1939 Register is another important tool with its subsequent annotations of ladies’ married surnames. The National Archives website offers a very useful podcast on the 1939 Register.

Jackie went through a number of other very useful resources as follows: passenger lists, military service records, Army register of soldiers’ effects (Ancestry), Red Cross lists, burial records (recommended Deceased Online website), Yorkshire Indexers (for memorial inscriptions), library catalogues, Trade Union registers, hospital records (National Archives), school records, and Deeds Registries. It can be useful to look at online family trees (without assuming they are correct) and a Google search can be interesting too. This list is not exhaustive but Jackie gave us plenty of ideas to keep us busy. Her talk was illustrated throughout with the results of her search into the life of a UK citizen interned in Germany during WW1 which was most interesting.

President Stanley Merridew gave a warm vote of thanks. We have been delighted to welcome a number of new faces to our group recently, why not come and join us and see if we can help with your family history queries? The Group’s next meeting takes place Thursday 2 November at the Salem Church Hall, Burley in Wharfedale 7.30 pm when Phil Judkin presents his talk ‘More Deadly than the Male’. Everyone welcome, refreshments provided.

in the family wayThe Wharfedale Family History Group met at the Salem Church Hall, Burley on Thursday 4th May. A brief AGM saw the re-election of existing committee members with the exception of Derek Wrathall who retired following 16 years of dedicated enthusiasm. Chairman Lynda Balmforth then introduced our speaker for the evening, social historian and author Jane Robinson whose illustrated talk ‘In the Family Way: Illegitimacy between the Great War and the Swinging Sixties’ related to her most recent book of the same name (ISBN-13: 978-0670922062).

Jane’s initial insight into this tricky subject began with the revelations of a member of her own family. The lady concerned, born in 1949, was separated from her parents and siblings at a very young age when it became known that her father was in fact married to someone else and not to her mother. Following mistreatment with various foster families she was cruelly singled out as illegitimate when she went to live in a children’s home (left behind to clean their shoes when the other children, presumably orphans, were treated to an outing). Children such as her were often placed with prospective adopted families on approval and she was eventually officially adopted into Jane’s family.

This harrowing account of the harsh effects of illegitimacy upon young children led Jane to seek out other stories and many people came forward in response to an advert she placed. In true ‘Long Lost Family’ tradition many stories of long guarded traumatic and guilty secrets were revealed with the assurance of anonymity. One of the most harrowing concerned a teenage girl in the 1960s who was left pregnant following an assault. She was unable to discuss this with either her parents or her loyal boyfriend and to avoid the shame of her condition she ended up alone far from home in a London hospital where she gave birth to twins. Despicably, she was forbidden to mix with the other ‘respectable married mothers’ and was sent home alone. Tragically neither child survived nor was any compassion shown towards her, leading to years of subsequent grief and guilt.

Not all Jane’s stories were sad, as one woman revealed how her illegitimate baby was born in a mother and baby home run by kindly nuns. The atmosphere was both cheerful and respectful towards the unmarried mothers and she returned home to her parents when her daughter was considered too unwell to be adopted. Happily the little girl prospered and following a period of resilience towards disapproving neighbours, mother and daughter were accepted in the local community and benefitted from a close relationship thereafter.

Jane explained how attitudes towards illegitimacy have changed over the centuries from open acceptance during the Middle Ages to more censorious following the Reformation and introduction of Parish Registers which formalised birth and parentage. Later Poor Law legislation helped to further ostracise unmarried mothers moving on to a general attitude of disgust in the Victorian era. Surprisingly disapproving attitudes seemed to peak in the aftermath of WW2 when the model family was seen as perfection and any situation not conforming to this ideal was considered degenerate. Some families even admitted their daughters to asylums on the grounds of moral insanity.

Thankfully society today has largely moved away from such negativity to a point where illegitimacy is hardly commented upon at all. However many family historians are confronted with the stigma and secrecy surrounding illegitimate ancestors making research difficult if not impossible. Jane’s talk was both interesting and moving and prompted stories of illegitimacy from members of the audience. President Stanley Merridew gave a warm vote of thanks.

The group’s next meeting will take place Thursday 1st June 7.30 pm at the Salem Church Hall, Burley when Stanley Merridew will present his talk ‘Beyond the Obvious’. Everyone welcome, members and visitors, and refreshments will be served.