On 20 May I visited The National Archives at Kew, travelling on the coach that is so splendidly organised by Shropshire Family History Society.
I have been visiting Kew for about 20 years, on and off, so you would think that I know the ropes pretty well. I like to think that is the case, but unfortunately I still get caught out by something nearly every time I go there, as you will see…...
Unfortunately, my TNA reader's ticket had expired last November. The tickets last for three years, and quite rightly the people at TNA needed to see some id from me before mine could be renewed. My frustration was that I knew the details of some of the sources I wanted to look at, but could not order them in advance because my ticket had expired. If you are able to order documents in advance they can be made ready so that you can plunge straight into them on your arrival, thus saving about 40-60 minutes of valuable research time.
The renewal of my ticket was my first priority on arrival at TNA at about 10.30 am. I had with me my two items of id and sought the renewals desk. When I originally obtained my ticket the desk was on the ground floor, easy to find as you entered the building. Although there was a queue of people seeking tickets TNA had several staff on hand and the queue was dealt with very speedily. Between then and now, however, TNA has had to make economies and reorganisations, and the current system left much to be desired. The location of the tickets issuing desk has been moved to the second floor, and it is now in a room that seems not large enough to enable people to queue in reasonable comfort. There was only one person manning the desk, and as it was taking about 7 minutes to deal with each case, we punters stood to lose a significant amount of valuable research time. There were about seven people in front of me, so you can see that I stood to lose about 50 minutes before I could even order my documents!
We Brits are great at queuing, and we all stood there chatting and behaving ourselves. After a while one of our number politely asked the chap on the desk if a second desk could be opened up. He made a quick phone call and after a few more minutes a reinforcement arrived. This young man did not look too happy, however. He barked some instructions to we queuers, adopting a tone that I thought totally unnecessarily stern, and in so doing he certainly ruffled a few feathers. However, we all bit our tongues, and it has to be said that his arrival did speed up the process of issuing readers’ tickets. He dealt with my case, actually, and I emerged with my new ticket after about 35 minutes.
Off I strode, to order my first three documents, eagerly tapping my fingers on the keyboard. I had decided that my priority was to investigate Michael Bayly Smith’s career working for the Great Western Railway in the mid 19th century, and ordered two of that company’s Registers of Clerks – sources refs RAIL264/3/20 and RAIL264/1/25. I also ordered another item – a bit of a mystery item – that I had identified in the TNA Catalogue. I’ll come to that later.
On being informed that the pieces I had ordered would be ready for my use in about 40 to 60 minutes, I decided to spend the interim period by looking up some wills in the Calendars of the National Probate Office. This I did with some success, and after 45 minutes I made my way to the original documents reading room to see whether my documents were ready.
As I went through the scanner that we all have to pass through on entering and leaving the reading room I was sternly reprimanded by the person who checked my papers. My offence? The pencils I was taking into the original documents area had erasers in the ends! I knew that erasers are a taboo in this area, but had overlooked the fact that my plastic cased pencils had erasers in the ends. An error, certainly, but surely not worthy of such a severe telling off as I received!
The crisis was resolved by the simple expedient of removing the offending items from the pencils and leaving them on the lady’s desk. I was advised, none too graciously, that I could collect them on my way out.
I eagerly collected the first of my documents and quickly found the entry relating to Michael Bayly Smith (abt 1828-1873). It was written in a very fine hand, and recorded his postings from 1846, when he joined the company as a young man, to 1862, when he resigned from the company. This record shows that he served at a number of stations, starting at Gloucester, then continuing at Trowbridge, Melksham, Warminster, Chippenham, Chester and Wolverhampton. In 1846 he earned £70 per annum as a passenger clerk and by the time he left the company he was employed as a goods agent, earning £155 pa. As well as annotating the details of these pages, I photographed the relevant pages of this source. This is one of the very good aspects of TNA. They will let you use a digital camera to photograph items, so long as you don’t use a flash and you only use the images for private study. They even provide camera stands to enable you to take your photographs. Excellent.
We know that by the time of the 1871 census Michael had married, and was living in Brixton, South London. He was then working as a Railway Superintendent of Goods Traffic, but we don’t know how long he had been in London, or where he had been during the years between 1862 and 1871, except that he was married in 1870, at St Saviour, South Hampstead.
Sadly, Michael died in 1873, aged about 45.
When I went to look at the second source I found that I had been given the wrong document! I don’t think I had ordered it incorrectly, but maybe I had. Anyway, on trying to re-order it I found that somebody else was using it at that time. Can you believe that? Out of all the documents in TNA, two researchers wanted the same item at the same time! More frustration!
When I told the young man on the desk in this department he was most helpful, and said he would try to intercept the document before it went back to storage. I should leave it about an hour and then go back to him. More delay! I went off to my lunch.
I soon ate my lunch, and was ready for the fray again. However, the requisite hour had not passed since my conversation with that nice young man, so I decided to go and look at that other (mystery) document. This was the first of several documents I had identified in the TNA catalogue that related to Antonio Da Costa (abt 1783-1850). Antonio married Sarah Love Hunt, a Bankes descendant, who was a daughter of William Hunt (b abt 1763) and Sarah Love (b abt 1763). William was a son of Thomas Hunt the lawyer (abt 1723-1789) and his wife, Mary Jacobson (abt 1737–bef 1806).
Anyway, the Da Costa name is sufficiently exotic to fascinate Mrs GC immensely, so I feel it my duty to find information about them when the opportunity arises. Hence my interest in source ref C205/2/72, which is described in the catalogue as “Aliens named: Antonio Da Costa: Middx temp George IV”.
I had no idea what I may find in this source. I know that Antonio was foreign. In the latter years of his life he was Brazilian Vice Consul in London, so I surmise that he may have been born in Portugal. If only he had lived an extra year, I may have found his birthplace on the 1851 census, but no such luck - for him or me!
I know that from 1792 aliens were forced to register with a Justice of the Peace where they resided, and believe that there were further laws passed in the 1830s to force people born abroad to register on arrival in the UK, but my knowledge on these matters is sketchy, to say the least.
Anyway, on opening the box containing the document I had ordered I knew I was facing a problem. The bundle was enormous! How somebody had ever managed to fit it into the box I shall never know! Furthermore, on first sight “my document” appeared to be missing – at least, it certainly was not in its correct place in the bundle. Eventually I found it, but in doing so I had to disturb all the other parchments in the bundle, making the task of putting them back in the box even more formidable!
The document consisted of two very large hand written parchments. It appeared that some London gentlemen were making a complaint against our Antonio, saying he owned property on Claremont Terrace, Pentonville, London that he was not entitled to own. I had lost so much time already that I really did not have time to do justice to this document. I decided to photograph it and study it later, at home. The photographs were duly taken, and I intend to go back to this source when time permits. However, I then had the task of getting the bundle back into the box.
I did try – honestly!
Unfortunately I found the task impossible, and it was with some embarrassment that I went to the documents desk seeking assistance. The chap there sent me over to the enquiries desk, and the man there tried to send me back to the documents issuing desk! I felt like a tennis ball, being despatched across the room by these two individuals! Finally, the man on the enquiries desk came and looked at my box and my bundle. He agreed that my task was pretty much hopeless, and moved the documents and box into the documents issuing area, for somebody to sort out.
Now I went back to look at RAIL264/1/25.
This time the document was there. Actually, it really repeated the information I had gleaned earlier in the day, from source RAIL264/3/20, so it didn’t take me long to complete my work with it. I photographed the relevant pages of this source, and went back to the fiche readers to further search the wills calendars, collecting my erasers en route.
TNA has a great many computers available for use, and it is well worth using them while you are there. You can use them to search among the many TNA records that have been placed on line by commercial firms, and the beauty is that you do not have to pay for looking at these records. As there were quite a number of non-conformists among the Bankes descendants, I decided to round off my day by looking at the non-conformist records that are online at http://www.bmdregisters.co.uk/. I found a number of relevant entries, but the one that gave me the greatest pleasure was the marriage of John Price (abt 1720-1756) to Deborah Rand (abt 1721-abt 1765). Deborah was a grandchild of John Bankes's half brother, Joseph Rand. These people were not my direct ancestors, but over the years I have been in contact with many people who are descended from them, and I have been seeking this record for about 15 years. They were married at the Fleet Prison in London on 19 October 1745 (source ref RG7/222, fo 27).
Our coach left TNA at 5 pm sharp. I had spent a very busy day, with many frustrations but also a fair amount of success. In spite of all the hassles I look forward to the next trip to TNA in September. At least then I shall be able to order documents in advance of my visit!