Sunday, 31 July 2011

Leaving your Legacy - Write your memoirs

As a Professional Genealogist I spend many hours researching a client’s family history, identifying who their ancestors were, where they lived, what they did for a living, unearthing old photos and any other information that I can locate.  However there are still many questions I cannot answer.  I cannot tell a client the personal thoughts of their ancestor, how they met their partner? What the inside of their house looked like, how they felt about their job, what they did at the weekend and what it was really like living in those times.
So perhaps more important than any family heirloom or photo that we leave behind when we depart this world is to leave our story, our thoughts, our fears, our words.
With the interest in family history increasing every day we often find we have left it too late to speak to those who we so desperately want to know every detail about.
Do not think memoirs and biographies are just for the rich and famous, ALL of our stories and life experiences are just as valuable, if not more.
So where do I start?
Get yourself a small note book and begin to write down in point form your memories that come to mind of your childhood. Keep this notebook handy and every time a thought comes up that you want to share, jot it down. You will soon find you are ready to start writing
Remember these are your memories and your story; you don’t need to be a professional and you start writing you will find that it “flows” onto the page. 
- Describe your parents; were they warm and loving, funny, stand-offish?
- What is your earliest memory?
- What kind of adventures did you get into with your siblings or cousins?
- What clothes did you wear?
- What music did you listen to?
- What did you eat at family meals?
- What did your chores consist of?
- What was your first job?
- Where was your first house? What did it look like?
- Did you have any family pets?
- Were there any family tragedies?
- Were you named after anyone?
- Describe how you celebrated holidays or special traditions
- Describe your school life.
- What were your favorite toys or games to play?
- What did you hate doing? What did you love doing?
- What were your hobbies and aspirations?
- When did you fall in love and with whom?
- Talk about your early days of marriage, trips you went on and funny experiences.
- Discuss your thoughts about motherhood or fatherhood.
- Describe the personalities of your children and funny things they did.
- Describe homes you lived in with your kids and where they were.
- Discuss your views on life, and advice.
 There is no set format to writing your memoirs and these are just a few ideas on where to start.
What if I don’t feel I can write my memoirs myself?
Don’t worry, not everyone is confident enough nor has the time to write their memoirs.  In this case you can turn to a professional.  You can supply or your thoughts and memories and let the professional do the rest.  This shouldn’t be too expensive and the legacy you leave is invaluable.  You can view information regarding professional services at

What do I do with my memoirs once they are written?
Once you have completed your memoirs you can produce these into a book format, this can be done through various online companies or if you have used a professional they should provide various options for publishing.  You can choose to produce these as an E-Book format or a simple PDF format for easy distribution.
Once your memoirs are formatted now is the time to decide how you want these to be left.  I would recommend that you enter this information into your Will.  Whether you leave a copy to each family member, the rights and copy to a certain family member or just provide instruction as to where these are located.  Whatever you decide MAKE SURE you have provided some instruction as to their location and of their existence.
Why not produce your family tree at the same time, leaving a complete legacy for when you are no longer here.
Why not visit today and discuss how we can help you produce a complete package to leave as your legacy.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

French Ancestry

Prior to the French Revolution France was divided into provinces, now known as regions.  Then in 1789 the new government reorganised France into Territorial Divisions (departements).  There are 100 Departments in France, 96 within its borders and 4 overseas. Each department has its own archive and most important Genealogical records are kept at these departmental archives.   Records are also kept at local town halls so it is important to have a starting town or department.

The French census is taken every 5 years beginning in 1836 (earlier in some communities) which contain name of all members living in a household, dates and places of birth, nationality and occupation.  However these are not indexed and are rarely used in French Genealogy as locating names of households are notoriously difficult without a street address.

Birth, Death and Marriage records mainly date from 1792. Known in France as Registres d’├ętat-civil (records of civil registration) they are held at the Le Mairie (town hall) where the event took place. The department archives hold duplicates of these after 100 years. The registers include wide margins which often records extensive information on an individual.  A birth record may hold margin notes including marriage date, date of death and the place the event took place.  Many of these are now online free of charge along with other departmental archives and Decennial Tables (a ten year alphabetical index from 1793, of births, marriages and deaths registered by the Mairie), although many are images of the original books and are not searchable, (no more time consuming than searching microfilms and you can do it from home!)  Copies of civil records can be ordered from the local Mairie. Any records less than 100 years old are not available to the public due to French privacy laws and you will need to contact the local Mairie to make any requests.

Outside of France the best source of these civil records is the Family History Library in Salt Lake City who have microfilmed civil records of about half of the Departments in France up to 1870 and Decennial Indexes for nearly every town in France. You can search for which microfilms are held online at the Family History Cataloug.
Prior to 1792 parish registers are the most valuable genealogy resources. In France these date back to as early as 1334,  these contain as a minimum, the names of people involved, date of even and sometimes parents’ names, ages, occupations and witnesses.   Parish registers prior to 1792 are held by the Archives Department ales, although some small parish churches still retain these old registers.  Some parishes no longer exist and now belong to a neighbouring town so always check the neighbouring parish if you cannot locate a record. Most departmental archives will not perform parish record research for you but many of these records are now available on line at the Family History Library and other sources.

Parish records after 1793 are held by the parish and you will need to contact the local Diocese who is often happy to help for a small donation.

France also holds well maintained cemeteries.  Cemetery management in France is seen as a “public concern” and so legible inscriptions survive from as early as the 18th century. Cemetery records again can be found at the local town hall.

French Military records can be located at the Army and Naval Historical Services in Vincennes, France and records survive from the 17th Century and can include names of a serviceman’s wife, children marriage and names and addresses of next of kin.  However, French privacy laws mean these are not accessible to the public from 120 years of the soldier’s birth, so are rarely used in French genealogy.

Links: (search birth, death, marriage by department)
French civil and Parish Records:
French National Archives:
Map of French Departments:
Cyndi’s List -

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Medal Reunited Project

The Medal Reunited Project began in May 2011 after a client had asked me to try and locate their ancestors service medals from the Great War 1914-1918. Scouring the internet I came across various "half hearted" sites that enabled users to post names they are researching or sellers to post what they had. With no real advertising of these sites and with no incentive to dealers to advertise they success rate I can only assume is not great.

The Medal Reunited Project began actively sourcing who had what and who was looking for who. A database was established and a searchable list produced for those sourcing particular names to search and identify those medals located.

In June 2011 the project signed up to help support the exceptional charity Help For Heroes, with regular donations from money received for the project being made.

The project continues to go from strength to strength and now lists over 3000 medals located and growing at a rate of 150 new medals per week!

The project has focused on British WW1 medals but aims to expand to include various allied medals, WW2 and other campaigns in the near future.

The project is membership based and a small membership fee is required to help maintain this worthwhile project.

To view more details or the project itself please visit  The Medal Reunited Project.

Thank you to everyone who has supported the project so far.
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

The Do's & Don'ts of Internet Genealogy

Internet Genealogy – The Do’s & Don’ts

The internet is a vital resource for anyone tracing their family history.  It is full of valuable information available to view at any time of the day and night and all from the comfort of your own home. No need to spend hours travelling up and down the country to try and find the location of that important piece of information you seek.

However, this wealth of information so easily available can come at a price.  With the rush to publish genealogical records online can result in inaccuracies. Incorrectly transcribed names and dates and also information missed completely.  For this reason I have put together some simple dos and don’ts to aid in your online journey into the past.

DO: Talk to Living Relatives

Valuable sources of information that cannot be found online are the memories of those who were there or who now hold vital family documents and information passed down through family lines.  Sitting down and talking with these family members can often identify that burning question that the family have been wanting the answer to or can help in confirming your research when you come across a piece of information that confirms what you have discussed.

Always  be respectful,  it is easy to get caught up with the excitement and enthusiasm to obtain information and forget that the information you are trying to obtain is personal to the family member and may hold some very emotional memories.  Do ask questions but don’t push too hard.

DO NOT: Publish Information about Living Relatives Online

When publishing your research online, utilise your software’s privacy settings to ensure your living relative’s information is private.  Your relatives will not be thrilled to find all of their personal information online.

DO: Look for Source Documentation

There are many sources of information across the internet but just because it is on the internet does not mean it’s true.  Confirm the original source of the information.  Most online databases will contain a source link or will provide the original source information.  Ensure you document both the original source and the internet source where you found the information. This will provide a trail for you to confirm the accuracy and for you to view the original source if required.

DON’T: Rely On One Information Source

Just because you have entered a search for information on an online database and it returned no record does not mean the information does not exist. Transcription errors and the limitation to what information is available on sites can mean more extensive research is required.  Always cross check with more than one online resource, another site may hold the information you are looking for or may hold a completely different set of records you never knew existed.

DO: Take Time to Visit Archive Centres and Libraries

Libraries and local archive centres hold a wealth of information.  With the digitization of many records your local archive centre may hold information from all around the country not just your local area.  You can normally view what information is held where on the internet and if possible go and spend some time in one of these establishments.  Not all the information they hold can be found on the internet and can only be viewed in these centres.  If you get a chance to view an original document it will provide a different kind of satisfaction to that of the internet. To discover what other information is out there will bring a whole new dimension to your research.

DON’T: Rely on Others

Online forums and published family trees can instantly provide you with missing information or provide a complete line of your family tree. However, there is no guarantee of the accuracy.  If you find your family tree already published online decide if you wish to view it or continue to find the information yourself.  There is a certain degree of satisfaction to finding out this information yourself and approach with caution and decide if you wish to copy someone else’s research or continue  your own.  If you do decide to use this information check for the sources and confirm the accuracy, do not just assume because it is online that it is correct or that nothing has been missed.

DO: You’re Homework

Taking time to research some background history of the time, job or location of an ancestor can help us to understand the information we are viewing, it can also help to identify what information we want to find or where it may be held.  Doing some homework on what resources are available or what records could exist can save time and effort and the need to keep revisiting your research each time you discover a new source that is available.

DON’T:  Become Complacent

After spending months or years researching your family history it is easy to believe we know everything there is to know and become complacent in our research.  Internet Genealogy is advancing on a daily basis, new records and sources are appearing all the time and it is important we continue to educate ourselves and advance our research as we go. As our family research advances so must we.  Talk to experts in the field, professionals genealogists, local historians, archive centre managers,  they can often give advice on where your research should  go next, also Subscription sites and Genealogical publications offer a wealth of advice and information and also highlight new developments and  any launches of new online resources.

DO: Enjoy Yourself!

Despite the hours and hours of time and effort in your research it is important to step back and remember why we do it.  The reward of tracing your family tree, finding out new information and the answers to those family mysteries easily out ways all the effort you have put in. Talk to others about your research, be it your new friends you have made along the way or an update to family members on your progress, this is where you will refresh your passion and enthusiasm you have for genealogy and show you how much you have achieved.

A Soldiers Life For Me - The Story Of Joshua Thomas Ropkins

November 1918 and The Great War has ended, as many rejoice that 4 long years of heartache and loss are over and thousands of hero’s begin returning home, one such hero has lost his fight for life, a hero who’s service to his country saw him taken prisoner of war, action in the trenches and spanned nearly 20 years, now ended alone, unmarried and childless.
Joshua Thomas Ropkins was the 5th Child of George Ropkins a London jeweller and Elizabeth Becckon, born in January 1881; he grew up in an area of Islington described by Charles Booth in his 1898/99 poverty maps as ‘Fairly Comfortable’.
Unlike his siblings, his father’s trade was clearly not for Joshua.  His brothers and sisters had seemed content to follow their father and to work in the Jewellery trade, but Joshua’s destiny lied elsewhere and he wouldn’t have to wait long to begin his journey. 
On the 11th October 1899 war was declared in South Africa for the second time, by December the British forces has suffered numerous defeats to the Boers. In 6 days of battles between the 10th-17th December, British forces has incurred terrible loses.  The public’s opinion back home was one of gloom and embarrassment, not since the Napoleonic wars had Britain experienced such defeats.  This was not a feeling that lasted long, by the 18th December the government had relented to mounting pressure of volunteers trying to sign up for service that they finally relented.  It was realised that a need for mounted infantry was a necessity and the government called upon the volunteer force of the Yeomanry.  A Royal warrant was issued on the 24th December 1899 for existing volunteer County Yeomanry regiments to form new companies of around 115 men each, to be known as the Imperial Yeomanry.
The Royal Warrant stated:-

1. Her Majesty's Government have decided to raise for active service in South Africa a mounted
infantry force, to be named "The Imperial Yeomanry".

2.  The force will be recruited from the Yeomanry, but Volunteers and civilians who possess the
requisite qualifications will be specially enlisted in the Yeomanry for this purpose.

3.    The force will be organized in companies of 115 rank and file, 1 one captain and four subalterns to each company, preferably Yeomanry officers.

4.     The term of enlistment for officers and men will be for one year, or not less than the period of the war.

5.    Officers and men will bring their own horses, clothing, saddlery and accoutrements. Arms,
ammunition, camp equipment and transport will be provided by the government.

6.    The men to be dressed in Norfolk jackets, of woollen material of neutral colour, breeches and
gaiters, lace boots, and felt hats. Strict uniformity of pattern will not be insisted on.

7.    Pay to be at Cavalry rates, with a capitation grant for horses, clothing, etc.

8.   Applications for enrolment should be addressed to colonels commanding Yeomanry regiments, or
to general officers commanding districts, to whom instructions will be issued.

9.    Qualifications are: Candidates to be from 20 to 35 years of age, and of good character. Volunteers or civilian candidates must satisfy the Colonel of the regiment through which they enlist that they are good riders and marksmen, according to the Yeomanry standard
This was a call that Joshua could only aspire to. The early contingents of the Imperial Yeomanry were made up mainly of socially superior, ‘well to do’ gentleman, who gave their wages to the Imperial War Fund, paid for their own passage and equipment and were even willing to buy their own horse.
By Early February the ‘New’ Imperial Yeomanry began arriving in South Africa and began to make its mark.  This success was short lived.  Along with the decision to send home a contingent of the volunteer force, the educated men of the yeomanry being snapped up for officers positions in the regular forces and mounting  casualties and medically unfit men, the Yeomanry numbers began to drop alarmingly. A second contingent of Imperial Yeomanry would need to be recruited.  
Recruitment began in 1901, this time Gone were the Patriotically motivated educated men and in  was new force of working class men, encouraged  by a 5 shilling a day wage (as opposed to one shilling per day in the infantry).
This was Joshua’s chance, perhaps it was the wages or his patriotism that made him sign up, but whatever the reason a new challenge in a faraway land was now a reality. By the time of the 1901 census on the 31st March, Joshua was marking his occupation as Imperial Yeomanry.  The 1901 recruits had been hastily trained in Aldershot, between January and February, with the idea the real training would begin when they arrived in South Africa.
Joshua was assigned to the 94th company. 24th Metropolitan Mounted Rifles, when they formed in March 1901 in London.  They left for South Africa on the 11th April.  Shortly after arriving Joshua was assigned to the 2nd Battalion 103rd (Warwickshire) Company.  The medal roll for the 2nd Boer war shows that by the 9th September 1901 Joshua was entitled to three medal clasps after already seeing action in Orange Free State, Cape Colony and Transvaal regions, but there would be one moment during Joshua’s time in South Africa that would stand out amongst the rest.
In the Autumn of 1901 Joshua’s company were under the control of Lt-Col W B Hickie in the western Transvaal, about 870 men were engaged in covering the construction of Blockhouses(a small, isolated fort in the form of a single building) to secure supply routes and to cut off enemy movement, along the Schoonspruit river.  On the 13th November 1901 Joshua‘s unit was camped at a Farm, Brakspruit, north east of Klerksop.  Sent out on reconnaissance with 84 other officers and men Joshua’s unit came under attack by a 300 strong Boer force. Ten men were killed, eleven wounded and 64 were taken prisoner to the Boers 4 men killed and eight wounded.  Amongst those captured was Joshua.  Although it is unclear how long he was held captive, many prisoners escaped or were simply released due to the lack of holding facilities, we can be sure that the fear experienced during this time would have stayed with Joshua his entire life. Perhaps the only part of this experience that he could be thankful for was that his treatment may have been better than the Boers themselves experienced if captured in the so called “British concentration camps”.
The war ended on the 31st may 1902 and Joshua returned home.  The Government had learned some valuable lessons through the contribution of the Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa, that volunteers could server alongside regulars with few problems.  This would become vital in just over a decade when a new threat arose and a huge volunteer force left the UK to fight overseas.
Upon his return Joshua soon began life working in the family trade and by 1911 was working as a self-employed “dealer in Common Jewelry”, living alone at Rowton House Lodging House in Hammersmith, a hostel built by the Victorian Philanthropist Lord Rowton to provide decent accommodation for working men, and just 3 years later he had left the Jewellery trade and found himself still unmarried and working as a Barman.  These circumstances may have played a vital role in the decisions Joshua made next.
On the 4th August 1914 the United Kingdom declared war on Germany, just two weeks later on the 18th August, Joshua Ropkins once again was volunteering for active service.  Described on his service record as 5ft 4 1/2, Grey hair and Hazel eyes, Joshua was now 33 years old, although listed on his service record as having the appearance of 29. 
Joshua enlisted for The Hussars of the Line and was assigned to the 11th Reserve Cavalry on the 24th August 1914 and then in June, the 3rd (reserve) battalion Hampshire Regiment, based in Winchester as a depot and training unit. Joshua remained on home soil until he set sail for France from Southampton on the 27th July 1915 as part of the British Expeditionary Force where he joined the 1st Hampshire Regiment.
After just 3 months on the front line, the conditions took their toll on Joshua.  He was taken sick with Bronchitis on 9th November and transferred to the 19th Combat Service and Support Battalion away from the front line where his condition worsened.  He was eventually transferred to the No 5 General Hospital in Rouen’s where he made no improvement and was transported back home to England on the 24th November 1915.  He remained hospitalized until February 1916, where the introduction by Sir Alfred Keogh (director of army medical services) of Command Depots saw him transferred once again.  These command depots were large convalescent camps, setup to try and free up hospital beds, they were designed for rehabilitative training of soldiers not yet fit enough to return to their unit but not in need of hospital care.
Joshua’s condition never improved and finally on the 27th June 1916 he was discharged medically unfit and began receiving his Chelsea pension as an outpatient.
His discharge records show he was suffering from Chronic Bronchitis. The condition was not credited to his service and it is stated that it originated in civil life, however aggravated by his active service through constant exposure to cold and wet an insight into the horrendous condition on the front line. Although this statement appears to be a contradiction to his attestation records which showed him “fit” for service.

Joshua spent the next two years alone in East Ham before his condition finally ended his life, aged just 37, on the 17th November 1918, just 6 days after the end of “The Great War”. Perhaps he found comfort in knowing he had survived long enough to see the end of the war, his second in such a short life.  He had done his part; he had served His Queen, His King and his country and with this knowledge could finally rest in peace.

A Hero Returns - Article Link