Monday, February 19, 2018

If My Ancestor Spoke, Would I Understand?

The title of Melody Lasalle's post, "Harry Jackson, I Need to Talk to You," caught my eye this past week.  Perhaps because I've been researching a line of ancestors from England, I immediately wondered whether I would be able to understand my ancestors if I could ask them questions.  Would their accents (and mine for them) make communication difficult? 

I delight to hear accents -- from any part of the U.S., from England, or from anywhere else in the world -- and I especially enjoy hearing British accents.  But enjoying an accent doesn't mean I always understand what the speaker is saying.  Sometime an interpreter would be helpful. 

Thinking about my Northumberland ancestors and their probable accents sent me to the internet to see what an accent from that county might sound like.  I found several youtube videos and read viewers' comments who pointed out that there's a difference between the accent of a native speaker and the accent of a non-native speaker imitating the native speaker.  Based on comments, I think the three videos below were the best examples of the native language of Northumberland (excluding the even more localized accents of Pitmatic and Geordie).

This particular video, below, has 30 dialects from around the U. K. but it will begin mid-video where someone from Northumberland speaks for a minute or two.  (You can listen to all the accents by restarting the video.)

This next video comes from the British Drama Club.  It is a recording on vinyl and is a little scratchy but, in my opinion, worth listening to for the accent.

And this last video comes from the Northumbrian Language Society.  Listen closely.  Even then you may not understand all the words.

I know that language changes over time so it would be hard to definitively say that my ancestors from Northumberland sounded like any of these speakers.  No matter how much or little the language changed over nearly two centuries, I suspect that their accents would be a challenge for me to understand today.  But I'd certainly be willing to try!  I would hope my ancestors would be patient with me, too.  (For anyone interested in learning more about the language of Northumberland, see Northumbriana, website of the Northumbrian Language Society.)

So, tell me, did you catch everything the speakers said?  Or were there parts that sounded like a foreign language?

Have you ever considered whether it could a challenge to have a conversation with any of your ancestors because of accents or language?


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, February 16, 2018

William Doyle: Nothing to Go On & Next Steps

I say "nothing to go on" because there are no hints from any source I've found so far for William Doyle's birth location or his parents' names.

What I Know
  • William married Martha Reay on May 3, 1825, at St. Peter's Church in Walls End (currently Wallsend), Northumberland, England.  The marriage record indicates that they were from that parish but gives no family information.
  • Based on baptismal records, William and Martha had six children.  Four were baptized in Walls End, in 1826, 1830, 1833, and 1836.  One was baptized in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1828.  The last was born in 1939 in Bedlington after her father's death.
  • William died on September 1, 1838, in Plessey Creek, Parish of Stannington, Northumberland. 
  • A FreeReg transcription tells me that William's burial occurred on September 3, 1838, as recorded in St. Cuthbert's Church Parish records, Bedlington, Northumberland. 
As I said, there's not much to go on for further research.

What I Don't Know
  • William's birth date.  Based on his death certificate, which gives his age as 36 in 1838, I can estimate a birth year of 1802 (plus or minus up to 3 or 4 years).
  • The location of his birth.  It could have been anywhere in England, Ireland, or any part of what we now call the United Kingdom.  
  • His parents' names.  Online records have provided me with a number of infants named William Doyle, born in various parts of England with different parents.  But how would I know if any are the William Doyle I'm trying to find? 

Next Possibilities for Searching (without getting my hopes up)
  • Newspapers for an article about his death.  Being run over by a cart wheel was probably an accident but he could have been pushed; and it may or may not have happened at work in a mine.  It's possible the event would have received a line or two in a local newspaper.  The challenge is finding whether there were local newspapers at that time, whether they have survived, and, if so, where they are available.  If there were an article or an obituary, it might give names of family members.
  • Probate records.  If William had a will and it had been probated, I might find some information in a court record.  If British courts were similar to contemporary U.S. courts of the time, it's also possible William's children may have been appointed a guardian.
  • The 1841 U.K. Census may reveal other Doyle families who lived near Martha and her children after William's death.
  • U.K. Coal mining history sites may have lists of coal mining-related deaths.  
  • Dig deeper into parish records, beginning with Northumberland.  William and Martha moved several times during their 13-year marriage but seemed to stay within the boundaries of Northumberland.  It's possible William was born somewhere in Northumberland.
  • Devour Tracing Your Coalmining Ancestors:  A Guide for Family Historians (review here) and follow every lead.

I'm trying to remain hopeful of find more about William Doyle's ancestry.


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

What Love Looks Like

It starts with Love with a capital L, hugs, kisses, hearts aflutter, can't get him (or her) of the mind, romance.  Young love, the kind of love one thinks will last forever.  I know that happened with my parents because I can see it in their eyes in photographs.

That love lasts for a few months -- or years, if a couple is lucky.  The romance dwindles and then love begins to become a steady sureness.  Happy moments and sparks of romance may continue.

Then there are three children and he and she are both tired nearly all the time.  He works turns at a steel mill, sometimes 12 hours a day, five or six days a week.  She soldiers on alone at home, keeping the home in order, the children clean and fed.  Both fall into bed exhausted.  You can see the exhaustion in their eyes.  Does love still exist?

By the time I was old enough to have an idea what love was I was certain my parents were not in love.  I didn't see them hug or kiss.  I didn't see them have conversations.  And I was fairly certain that they didn't even love each other. 

What a child knows about love comes from movies, books, and the imagination.  What married couples know about love comes from a lifetime of living together and caring for each other.  Quiet acts of selfless service, choosing forgiveness instead of offense, seeing the best in the other while ignoring (or trying to ignore) the worst, working together toward mutual goals, choosing unity over self.  One doesn't know how much work a marriage takes until married.

As an adult I know the things I saw as a child were evidence of my parents' love for each other.
  • Dad working at a hard and tiring job in a steel mill plus several other jobs to provide for his family.
  • Mom working to keep a clean and organized home and neat, tidy, well-behaved children.
  • Dad and Mom working together to live within a budget and also set aside a little for savings.
  • Dad making repairs and improvements at home, making sure everything worked.
  • Mom planning and preparing healthy and nutritious meals, packing lunches for Dad.
  • Dad always opening the car door for Mom.
  • Mom washing and carefully folding Dad's clothes and putting them away.
  • Mom and Dad both spoke quietly to each other, as far as I remember.
  • They worked together on home improvement projects without quarreling.

My parents had been married 48 years when my father died.  My mother was disconsolate and, I think, felt desolate.  My father had taken care of her in many ways, while she took care of him in other ways.  Both his care for her was gone and her ability to care for him was unneeded.  I think she mourned the rest of her life.

What does love look like?  It has so many faces, from the hearts-aflutter times, through the exhaustion and the challenges of raising and providing for a family, all the way to quiet knowledge of loving and being loved by one's spouse.  I saw what love looks like with my parents.  I just didn't realize it till I was an adult.

The day's almost over but I'd like to wish you a Happy Valentine's Day.

I'm linking this post to The Genealogy Blog Party Stories of Love at My Descendant's Ancestors.  Thanks for hosting, Elizabeth.


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Mustaches My Great-Grandfathers Wore

For Saturday Night Genealogy Fun last night, Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings invited us to find photographs of men in our ancestral families who had facial hair.  I don't have many photographs of my ancestors but was pleased to find that all four of my great-grandfathers had facial hair and that I have photographs of all of them.  Thanks for the genealogy fun, Randy.

This is William Doyle, my father's paternal grandfather.   He was born in 1863 in Northumberland, England, and immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1870.  He was both a coal miner and a farmer.  He died in 1941. This is wedding photo, taken in 1885.  He lived in Mercer County, Pennsylvania.

He wore a mustache the rest of his life because, the story goes, he'd been kicked in the face by a horse and the mustache covered the scar.  The shape of his mustache changed through the years.

At left is my father's maternal grandfather, Fredrick Gerner.  He was born in Germany in 1848 and immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1855.  Fred was a farmer and, in later years, was involved with oil prospecting.  He lived in Butler County, Pennsylvania.

Since I have but several photos of Fred, I have no idea how his mustache might have evolved through his life.

He died in 1826, probably with his mustache intact.

My mother's paternal grandfather, Henry Carl Meinzen, at left, was born in Germany in 1837, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1866.  He was a carpenter and wagon-maker as well as a gardener
and shopkeeper.

You can see that his mustache evolved over time, too, just as William Doyle's did.

The photo at left is near the end of Henry's life, in 1926.

Edward Jesse Bickerstaff is my mother's maternal grandfather.  He was born in Jefferson County, Ohio, in 1871.   He was a carpenter by profession.
In every photograph I have of him he is wearing a mustache, though you can see it changed through the years. 

Edward died in 1945.  I believe the photograph at left was taken around the time of his and his wife's 40th anniversary, in 1931.

I've been reading Victoria the Queen by Julia Baird and thought it interesting that 18-year-old Victoria loved her husband Albert's mustache so much that she wanted all the soldiers to wear them.  Oh, to be queen, to be young and in love, and to command any army!  On the other hand, oh, to be free to choose whether or not and how to wear a mustache! 

Thanks for the genealogy fun, Randy.


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Byker-Hill, Northumberland

The place names in England -- names like Byker-Hill, Walls End/Wallsend, Ponteland, Spittal -- are interesting and curious to me.  They were the locations where my ancestors were born, baptized, married, lived, or died.  I can't help wanting to know more about them. 

In the 1800s, Byker-Hill (or Byker Hill or Byker) was located east of Newcastle upon Tyne in Northumberland.  Historically, according to the website Byker Lives, there were several coal pits there as well as quarries, brick, lead, and glass works, flax mills, and a tannery.  Byker is now a geographic area within the city of Newcastle.

Among my Northumberland ancestors, Byker Hill is the location of several events.
  • Elizabeth Thompson was born in Byker Hill in 1817, according to the 1871 and 1881 U.K. Census.  Elizabeth married Robert Laws in 1834.
  • William and Martha (Reay) Doyle lived in Byker-Hill when their son, William, was baptized in 1828.

These two couples are in-laws.  In 1863, Elizabeth Laws, daughter of Robert and Elizabeth (Thompson) Laws married Andrew Doyle, son of William and Martha (Reay) Doyle.

While researching Byker-Hill I came upon a song by that title.  It should have been no surprise that it was about coal miners.  The nearest I could come to learning its origin was that it was a folk song, written in the early 1800s.  It's probable that my Doyle and Laws ancestors heard and perhaps even sang "Byker Hill."  I share this in honor of the men in those families who were all "collier lads."  (Sing along if you like:  the lyrics are below the video.)

            Byker Hill

            If I had another penny
            I would have another gill
            I would make the piper play
            The Bonny Lass of Byker Hill

            Byker Hill and Walker Shore
            Collier lads for ever more
            Byker Hill and Walker Shore
            Collier lads for ever more

            When first I come down to the dirt
            I had no trousers and no pit shirt
            Now I've gottin' two or three
            Oh Walker Pit's done well by me.


            The pitman and the keelman trim
            They drink bumble made from gin
            Then to dance they all begin
            To the tune of Elsie Marley


            Geordie Charlton had a pig
            He hit it with a shovel and it danced a jig
            All the way to Walker Shore
            To the tune of Elsie Marley


            Oh, gentle Jenny's behind the barn
            With a pint of ale underneath her arm
            A pint of ale underneath her arm
            And she feeds it to the baby


As is true of many folk songs I found three or four variations of lyrics and more than a few extra or alternate verses.  You can see several variations here.

How I wish there were photographs of Byker-Hill from the 1800s.  I would like to know what it looked like.


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Martha (Reay) (Doyle) Richardson's Cause of Death

Yes, that U.K. GRO death certificate I was waiting to look at last week was for my third-great-grandmother, Martha (Reay) (Doyle) Richardson!  She was the daughter of Robert and Mary (Bell) Reay and wife of both William Doyle and Thomas Richardson.  She was born on November 7, 1809, and died on February 4, 1869 -- 149 years and one day ago.

U.K. GRO Death 1869 certificate of Martha (Reay) (Doyle) Richardson

Below is a transcription of Martha's death record from the U.K. GRO Office, Registration Year 1869, Volume 10B, Page 215.
Superintendent Registrar’s District   Morpeth
Registrar’s District   Bedlington
1869.   DEATHS in the District of Bedlington in the County of Northumberland
No.   105
When and Where Died.   Fourth February 1869 Bedlington Colliery
Name and Surname.   Martha Richardson
Sex.   Female
Age.   62 Years
Rank or Profession.   Wife of Thomas Richardson a Coal Miner
Cause of Death.   Chronic Bronchitis 6 months Certified
Signature, Description, and Residence of Informant.   X “The Mark” of Thomas Richardson Present at the Death Bedlington Colliery
When Registered.   Eighth February 1869
Signature of Registrar.   Robert Harbottle Registrar

Notes and Comments
Martha was born on November 7, 1809.  Her age at death was 59, not 62.

Chronic bronchitis, Martha's cause of death, is one type of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).  It is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes which are the airways to the lungs.  Chronic bronchitis causes coughing, difficulty breathing, and produces more mucous than usual.  In our day, it can be the result of smoking and exposure to smoke from cigarettes as well as from any other lung irritants.  (Information here and here.)  Martha was the daughter and wife of coal miners and lived in coal mining communities from the time she was a child.  It's possible that coal dust was a primary contributing factor to her having chronic bronchitis.

This description of the disease, below, comes from the January 7, 1860, edition of the British Medical Journal in an article written by Henry Duncalfe, Esq., entitled, "On the Pathological Conditions and Treatment of Chronic Bronchitis," part of which is available for view here.

The first division of cases [of chronic bronchitis] to which I will direct your attention are characterised by frequent, violent, and protracted paroxysms of coughing, but attended with a slight amount of expectoration; the expectorated fluid being usually clear, thick, and gluey, holding in suspension small, roundish, tough, and greyish pellets, which from time to time become disengaged from the bronchial tubes.  The pulse is generally hurried; the skin warm and dry; there is a general tendency to waste, with impaired appetite, and sometimes entire aversion to food; but, from any little irregularity, or exposure to cold, the skin becomes hot, the tongue dry, and patients have a great desire for cold drinks.  The expectoration then becomes more copious and frothy; and these acute symptoms do not readily yield to treatment, but gradually diminish in intensity till the disease imperceptibly runs into its ordinary chronic form.  "One attack leads, under favourable circumstances, to another.  The chronic state is increased, both in extent and virulence, by the supervening of every acute attack; and such frequent revival of the disease tends materially to impede recovery.  The disease, when protracted, brings about certain changes of structure, which operate as exciting and sustaining causes of the original affection, implicating other organs, and exhausting that innervation of the respiratory apparatus which is essential to health and life."  The breathing is laboured,....

Today there is treatment for chronic bronchitis and medications to ease the pain but in Martha's day, there was probably little that could have been done for her.  It sounds like a painful death.


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Strategies for Ordering the Correct U.K. GRO Birth or Death Record (when you have too little information to know for sure)

There are times when it can be a challenge to order the correct birth or death certificate from the U.K. GRO (General Register Office) Online Ordering Service.  You need to know several items of information, some of which you may not have and which you hope to obtain from the certificate itself.   

The GRO search engine requires three specific pieces of information about your ancestor.
     ▸ Surname at death (or birth)
     ▸ Gender
     ▸ Year the death was registered within a 2-year range
 There are boxes for you to include optional information.
     ▸ Forename (first and/or middle) at death
     ▸ Age at death
     ▸ Quarter of death
     ▸ District where death was registered
     ▸ GRO Reference (Volume and Page) if you have them

The more of the above information you already have about your ancestor -- and the fewer guesses you have to make -- the more successful you will be in ordering the correct record. 

If  you have too little information about your ancestor, use every resource available to find enough information to narrow the possibilities.  Here are some strategies and resources that have been helpful to me.

Determine the Last Location Where You Found Your Ancestor Alive. 
  • Be as specific as possible.  It's not enough to know to know the county, or even a city in that county.  Search deeper to find, if possible, a more specific location.  Old census records will name the county; they may also give a parish, a township, a town, a city, a municipal borough, hamlet, ecclesiastical district, and/or etc.
  • Look at maps of the time period to determine how and where the locations overlapped.
  • Search google for more information about the history of the location.  Wikipedia sometimes has specific details about locations in England and how and when boundary changes occurred.
  • As much as possible narrow the location to the smallest geographic area, be it township, city, town, etc.

Use Church Parish Records to Help Locate Your Ancestor.
  • FamilySearch has an excellent selection of parish records available online.  Use the catalog to search location.  Be sure to check whether digital images of microfilm are available online at home or at a FamilySearch Center.  Also check whether microfilms are digitized and, if so, whether they're available for home viewing and/or are indexed.
  • Use FreeReg in conjunction with parish records at FamilySearch.  FreeReg offers partial transcriptions of parish records of baptisms and burials by county.  Search by name, year range, county, and/or record type. 

Look at Other U. K. Birth and Death Indexes before Going to the U.K. GRO Index.
Some indexes give more or different information than others.  Use as many as you can find.

Remember that the age in any index or record could be off by several years.  Names could be misspelled or suggest spelling variations.

After you narrow down the details of your ancestor's birth or death, head over to the U.K. GRO Index, log in or create an account, and click through to the index you'd like to use.

If you need basic information about using the U.K. GRO online record ordering service, see Paul Milner's excellent blog post, NEWS: New GRO Birth and Death Indexes and Digitized Certificates for reduced price – short time only, at Paul Milner Genealogy.  It was written a number of years ago when the GRO first initiated the limited-time pilot program for purchasing digitized certificates.  The dates in the post are not accurate but the rest of the information is.  The GRO is currently offering digitized certificates for a minimum of 9 months from October 12, 2017, which means until at least July, 2018.

Now, because I didn't do enough research the first time, I have available to anyone who wants it, the death record of Martha Richardson, widow of William Richardson.

If you want the PDF file please contact me.  Maybe this is your ancestor.  (She's definitely not mine.)

Happy searching to you.


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


A few days ago I ordered from GRO what I hope will be the U.K. death record for my third great-grandmother, Martha Reay Doyle Richardson.

I just received an email telling me that . . .

. . . my GRO PDF is ready!

I'm prolonging the anticipation until tomorrow because we're celebrating a birthday tonight.

If this is truly my grandmother's record, I want to savor and enjoy the experience of opening and reading it.

Do you ever do that?  Normally, I would rip into that email and PDF just as if I were a kid and it were were a Christmas gift!  Oh, the anticipation!


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Martha (Reay) Doyle Richardson and Family in the 1861 U.K. Census

I've been following Martha (Reay) Doyle Richardson in U.K. Census records.  In 1861 she and Thomas, along with three children and a boarder, were living in Bedlington Colliery, Bedlington Parish, Morpeth, Northumberland.  They are family 32 on this census page.

1861 U.K. Census wqith Martha (Reay) (Doyle) Richardson and husband Thomas Richardson Bedlington, Morpeth, Northumberland

This is their family.
   Thomas Richardson, head, married, male, 50, coal miner, born Northumberland Spital
   Martha Richardson, wife, marrried, female, 52, born Northumberland, Wallsend
   Thomas Richardson, son, male, 12, coal miner, born Northumberland, Bedlington
   Mary Richardson, dau, female, 9, born Northumberland, Bedlington
   Wm Rowell, boarder, unmarried, male, 26, coal miner, born Norfolk

Notes and Comments
In the previous census, Davie was an 11-year-old coalminer.  Davie is not recorded in this census with his family.  He may have married, moved away to work in a different coal mine or different profession, or he may have died.

In this census, Thomas, who was 1 in 1841, is now 12 and working as a coal miner.

It's likely that Davie, Thomas, and Mary are all the children of Martha and Thomas and not Martha's stepchildren.  It's possible that having the names of these children may help me find further information about Martha.  I hope to find a civil death record or a parish burial record.

I'm also on the trail of Martha and Thomas's marriage record.


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Martha (Reay) Doyle and Family in the 1851 U.K. Census

In my search for my second great-grandfather, Andrew Doyle, as a child, I hoped I would continue to find his mother, Martha (Reay) Doyle after her first husband's death.  I'm grateful she didn't desert her children or send them to live with relatives.

Martha appears in the 1841 U.K. Census in Bedlington Township, Durham County, with her children Jane, William, Lawrence, Andrew, and Martha, ages 15 to 2.

In the 1851 U.K. Census, Martha is found as the wife of Thomas Richardson, living in Bedlington Cotts, West Sleekburn Parish, Morpeth, Northumberland. 

The relationship listed is to head of household.  Their combined families looks like this:
    Thomas Richardson, head, married, male, age 40, Ditto [coalminer], b. North’d Spittle
    Martha Richardson, wife, married, female, age 43, b. North’d Wallsend
    Jane Doyle, stepdaughter, unmarried, female, age 25, b. North’d Wallsend
    William Doyle, stepson, male, age 23, Ditto [coalminer], b. North’d Wallsend
    Henry Richardson, son, unmarried, male, age 18, coalminer, b. North’d T[???]mouth
    Robert Richardson, son, unmarried, male age 16, coalminer, b. North’d T[???]mouth
    Andrew Doyle, stepson, unmarried, male, age 16, coalminer, b. Durham Medomsley
    Martha Doyle, stepdaughter, female, age 12, scholar, b. North’d Bedlington
    Davie Richardson, son, male, age 11, coalminer, b. North’d Morton
    Thomas Richardson, son, male, age 1, b. North’d Bedlington

Notes and Comments
North'd is the census taker's abbreviation for Northumberland.  It makes sense in the same way Penn'a is sometimes seen as the abbreviation for Pennsylvania.

In the early 1800s Bedlington was in the country of Durham but became part of Northumberland in 1832.  Even after that time Bedlington's county is sometimes recorded as Durham.  Read more here.

Since Martha was not enumerated with a husband in the 1841 U.K. Census I can guess that she and Thomas Richardson married between 1841 and 1851.  I suspect that Davie Richardson is Martha's stepson but that young Thomas Richardson may be hers and Thomas's son.

With these dates in mind my next search is to find a marriage record for Martha Doyle and Thomas Richardson.  Since Martha was living in Bedlington in 1841 and she and Thomas were living in Bedlington in 1851, I'll expect to find a marriage having taken place in or near there or, at the very least, somewhere in Northumberland.


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.
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