Friday, 19 July 2013

Banging Your Head On a Brick Wall CAN Work

Well, actually, I got lucky. Serendipity is a great thing.

I have been researching George and William Pearce for ongoing convict blogs, trying to work out where in Somerset they came from, and, while I haven't had much luck with them, I solved a puzzle for another ancestor.

Last week I was at Wyong Family History Group, using one of their Ancestry computers, checking through their Somerset records. Firstly there was the frustration of "I have specified Somerset, UK, and you keep giving me Somerset, US results. Aaaargh!" Ancestry can be really annorying that way. Then there was the frustration of only finding what I already have (I need to rethink the search parameters). But...

I came across parish records for Evercreech in Somerset. St Peter's, Evercreech has records going back into the 1500s. It even at one point had a priest who would give a potted family history or interesting family fact with each entry. Genealogical gold. Pity we can't retrospectively make that sort of thing compulsory. Oh, for a time machine.

St Peter's, Evercreech, photo from Wikipedia
Evercreech niggled at me. Someone in the family tree has a connection with it, but I had only brought George and William's details with me (I wasn't going to be there all day). When I got home, I did a search in my file and there it was - Sarah Alicia Shepherd and her sister, Elizabeth, christened in Evercreech. Sarah's father, William Shepherd, is one of my brick walls. There is a lot of information floating around about his wife, Sarah Ann Burgess (these are my third great grandparents on my maternal grandmother's side). She was born and baptised in Market Lavington, Wiltshire. I can go back another four generations from her on a couple of lines, and three on the other ones. There is a lot about her marriage to her second husband, John Jessop, and a fair bit about all her children. But for William, all I had was his death date (8 October 1857, in Burragorang Valley), a calculated birth year of 1811 and that he arrived in Australia with Sarah aboard the Hydaspes in 1852. They were accompanied by their daughters Sarah and Elizabeth. This is outlined in Owen Pearce's book, "Rabbit Hot, Rabbit Cold" (pp.613-614), but is also part of family lore. I remember being told this by my grandmother when I was about twelve years old. I have been looking for more on William for a number of years, but it has always been a bit half-hearted because I never had much luck (well, you can see that one going round and round).

I don't have an Ancestry subscription, and wouldn't be able to get back to WFHG for several days, so I got on to FreeREG. Admittedly it's only transcripts, and it is still a work in progress, but, hell, why not? For those who don't know, this site is run by the FreeBMD and FreeCEN people, but is England and Wales Parish Register transcriptions carried out by volunteers. You can search according to Parish and/or Country and by name, with the ability to put in date ranges. It is not the same as looking at images or indeed the real thing, but it is a great resource. Evercreech has been extensively transcribed, so I started by putting in my great great grandmother, Sarah Alicia Shepherd. Remember, I had her listed as baptised in Evercreech. Um, no. Nothing. Elizabeth? Also no. Uh oh. Plus there is the problem that I put them in early in my research, when a lot of the time I didn't put in citations. University education, citations should have been second nature. Hello. What happened there? Regardless of where I got that information, it's wrong. Or there is an error or omission in FreeREG (they warn about this themselves). Guess who forgot to select Soundex? Missing this vital option, I decided to enter their parents, William and Sarah Ann...

William Shepherd and Sarah Ann Burgess, married Evercreech 12 February 1849. Better yet, it gave the name of Sarah's father (which matched the documented information I have) and, joy of joys, William's father, whose name I had never known. The bride and groom were resident in Evercreech, the groom a widow. I hadn't known that before, and no one had ever mentioned it either, not Owen, not Nanna, no one.

I did a search in the Evercreech transcripts for other children potentially of William and found the baptism of William Shepperd on 23 June 1850, to William and Anne Shepperd and the burial of William Shepherd, aged three weeks, on 30 June 1850. That's a child I previously only knew as "a male who died as a child" (RHRC p.613). I wasn't sure if this was definitely that child, but now I don't have any doubts. Finally selecting the Soundex option found Elizabeth Ann Shepperd, baptised 16 April, 1849, and Sarah Alicia Sheppard, baptised 22 September 1852. How to feel stupid in one easy lesson.

Widened searches of Somerset threw up heaps of results through which I sifted. Nothing more for William and Sarah Anne or Anne, but lots of other Williams with other wives. I could rule out a few because of location. Time to get smart. And a lesson in how it pays to look at the original or at the very least at an image of the original.

Did you know that State Records NSW has digitised immigrant ship lists? You can't search by name, but you can search by ship. And you can search their immigrant database by name, which should give you a ship and a year (and a reel number). The ship lists are great. You look for your ship in the list (arranged by date) and then you get the full immigrant list for that ship. They are in alphabetical order by surname, so it isn't too bad finding someone, just be prepared to go page by page, as you would with a microfilm. They are all handwritten, recorded at the actual time, so sometimes it is fun working out what a word is, and it is complicated by accents and spelling, but that's half the fun. And the information you can get is worth a little bit of thinking time.

I have used the shipping lists a fair bit, and know that one of the things listed is native place. As I couldn't find Sarah Alicia and Elizabeth in FreeREG, I thought why not look at the Hydaspes list to see what it says about the girls. Oh dear. Yes, William and Sarah Shepherd, but both originating from Kent, and moreover, no children. The records for the immigrants are fairly meticulous, and children were ALWAYS listed, no matter how young. So, either my great great grandmother and her eleder sister were born in Australia rather than England, or this is the wrong Shepherds. Back to the immigrant database - the only William Shepherd to come out came on the Hydaspes. The database is a little annoying in that it doesn't have a Soundex option or similar. So I wrote down all the different spellings I could think of for Shepherd and then searched each individually. SHEPPERD (got that William Jnr's Evercreech records), SHEPERD, SHEPPARD, SHEPHARD, SHEPARD, SHEPPART, and so on. Luckily I had a date to stop - November 1853 when son William Henry was born at The Oaks, out near Camden, NSW. There were still a few results, however, under a number of spellings. Back to the ship lists to go through each one.

This sort of back and forth sifting does pay off. It IS worth the effort. Look who I found aboard the Bolton, arriving 23 July 1853:
Australia. "Online Microfilm of shipping lists." The Bolton. State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood. Digital images. NSW Government. State Records. : 2012
The birth place of wife, Anne, was the clincher, and there are Elizabeth and Sarah, down the bottom, with their ages corresponding to what I actually know from death certificates. Remember William was listed as a widow at his marriage to Sarah Ann? Those three older children must be from that first marriage. And all those lovely places of birth. But where the hell is Lamyert?

I don't know if you watch Time Team, the archeaology program. But Prof Phil Harding on that is from Somerset. So if you look for clips from the series, you'll hear the sort of accent William Shepherd had, which explains why his native place is written as "Lamyert" rather than the actual "Lamyatt".

Back to FreeREG. I found John, born to William and Caroline Shepherd, baptised 5 September, 1841 in Lamyatt. Albert Henry I found at Shepton Mallet, born 13 March, 1845 and baptised 27 April, 1845. Mary Jane I eventually tracked down being baptised in Pitcombe on 22 October 1843. These places are all fairly close together. No marriage for William and Caroline as yet, although FreeBMD has a possiblity in April 1840 in Wincanton. However, I did find Caroline's burial, 6 October 1848 in Pitcombe, Somerset. And here is where it gets interesting.

Caroline died early October, 1848. William and Sarah Ann were married 12 February, 1849, four months after Caroline died. William and Sarah Ann's first child, Elizabeth, was baptised on 16 April, 1849, six months after Caroline died. Oookay.

It's easy to see that there is more to do, and much more to look for. When I am back in WFHG, I'll look at the 1841 and 1851 Census records (I found William, Caroline and John in 1841 transcripts on FreeCEN). Then there are Ancestry and FindmyPast to check. When I finish this blog I'll have a look at FamilySearch. But, hey, there are enough bricks removed from William's wall that I can see where to look and who to look for. Every little bit helps.

This process made me remember a number of important things:
Always select Soundex if it is there as an option
Always look at an original document if you can or, failing that, at an image of the original
Be prepared to backtrack
Be patient and check things thoroughly
Have a look at where places are, particularly in relation to each other
Don't be half-hearted
Don't give up

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