Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Geoffs Genealogy Update 12 June 2008

Hello again.

Once again I have to report on a busy few weeks. Treeing has had to take second place to decorating over the past few weeks, as our home has been spruced up! Of course, there is a knock-on effect associated with decorating, insofar as the other regular jobs - gardening, car cleaning etc, also need to be accommodated. Thus things get a bit behind. However, the good news (so far as I'm concerned) is that we can now get back to our normal routine, and the treeing can soon assume its usual place in my agenda.

Other things have been going on as well. For instance, last Saturday was the Shropshire Family History Open Day and Fair in Shrewsbury. This was a most successful day, with plenty of punters coming through the door, many of them to listen to our two high profile speakers - Colin Chapman (he of the Chapman Codes) and Nick Barratt ( he of the BBC TV programme Who Do You Think You Are?). I think I can safely say that the day was most enjoyable for all who attended.

On the treeing front, probably the most significant recent event was my visit to The National Archives, Kew. This took place a couple of weeks ago, when I joined a coach party run by the Shropshire Family History Society. I had some pretty good results from my research that day. As ever, I went to Kew clutching a long research list, but in the event it was a source that was not on the list that gave me the greatest joy.

Whilst browsing through the TNA catalogue I did what I always do in these situations and typed into the search box the words "Robert Hanham Collyer". Given the ubiquitous nature of this man, I was not too surprised when a couple of source references appeared on the screen - both references to court cases.

RHC being the type of person that he undoubtedly was - "pushy" could be considered quite a polite term - it should not surprise anybody that he was involved in litigation from time to time. We already knew that he was cited as co-respondent in an 1877 divorce case in London, for example. Well, the sources identified by this search concerned (a) the annulment of his marriage to Emily Jeans Clements in 1873 and (b) a case in 1877 when he was sued for money he was said to owe his solicitor - a certain Benjamin Humphries Van Tromp. Imagine that, being sued by your legal representative! Many people would be embarrassed by such an event, but from what I know of RHC I doubt that he was phased by it.

By the time I had identified these papers I was running a bit short of time. I managed to read them through and then photographed them, using my digital camera. Most of the photos of the divorce court papers are quite good, and when printed or viewed on screen they can be read. However, there is one rather blurred page, and sadly that is the page that bears the plaintiff's signature.I'll need to photograph that again when I next visit TNA.

The papers include the complaint by Emily, and RHC's response. He did not deny that Susannah Hawley nee McDonald, his first(?) wife, was still alive, but said that the couple had split up shortly after their marriage in 1845, and he had believed that she had died, having been informed of her death by so-called reliable source. As he could not recall the identity of this reliable source, I am more than a bit sceptical about this statement, but it seems to have been accepted by the court, and the marriage was annulled with custody of the couple's two children being awarded to Emily. I don't imagine that the court would really have been taken in by RHC's response, but they appear to have been happy to accept it. Anything for a quiet life?

The photos of the papers for the second case were rather disappointing - quite blurred (the result of hurried photography and a shaky hand). I'll re-take the photographs on my next visit to TNA, and tell you about this case then.

Incidentally, I found out during this visit that you can get quite a decent result from photographing a microfilm or microfiche image off the screen. Maybe you already knew this, but I didn't. It certainly worked well when I tried it, having been inspired to do so by observing my fellow researchers.

In the meantime the hunt for John Bankes's parentage continues. I discovered that Hertfordshire Archives have created a magnificent index - Hertfordshire Names Online. According to Ancestors magazine it "allows researchers to search the entire index of genealogical material and documents" (June 2008 issue, p 58), and certainly it encompasses a very large range of sources, including apprenticeship agreements 1599-1903. As I know that Bankes was apprenticed as a carpenter before he went to the City of London I checked his name across all the sources in this index; he wasn't there. If the index is as comprehensive as I'm led to believe I take that as fairly strong evidence that he didn't come from Hertfordshire.

As I said, the hunt continues ...