Upset with the Ancestors – Don’t be!

Ancestors are the family you get to know without the inconvenience of having to visit for Sunday lunch – George Revere

Do you ever get really annoyed with your ancestors? I mean it’s not a calculated ploy on their part, I’m sure. They didn’t set out to deliberately aggravate you or even mildly exasperate you, but I’m sure like me you have ended up cursing them for all their lackadaisical efforts at keeping even the most basic of records. I mean how hard could it have been, just to keep just a few fundamental records for your descendents, not that difficult surely? I’m not talking about the basic building blocks of genealogy, the Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates, the Census, they speak for themselves. I’m talking about all the other more personal objects, the letters, the family bible, medals, household bills, wage slips, pretty much anything that could have helped us, the interested progeny, to more thoroughly record their lives.

And to be perfectly honest, they weren’t that great at the basics either. How many times have you trawled through the Census or the BMD registers, in the hunt for that elusive name? What do we blame it on, laziness, illiteracy, ignorance, cost? To tell the truth it doesn’t really matter because in reality it could have been anyone of those reasons plus a hundred more. What it does mean though is that we, the descendant or genealogist, are left picking up the pieces to try and solve the puzzle another way and to be honest that’s what makes our profession/hobby so fascinating.

But this did get me thinking, are we any different? What have you put in place to make sure your descendants have it a bit easier? Sure, the Census is a lot more detailed now, but the 2011 version could well be the last one, and that won’t be available for 100 years! Birth, Marriage and Death certificates are compulsory now, unlike the first 37 years of registration, so that is an improvement, but how much will they cost? What about letters or diaries? Our ancestors, despite my previous procrastinations, did actually write to each other and keep diaries about their daily lives and those that survive are a great source of information. Do we write letters? Well not so much, we most likely use the modern equivalent, email, texting and any number of social media platforms. In essence we are communicating through the power of the written word, albeit mostly in sound bites. These basically are small chunks of information that if put together would create such a vivid picture for our descendents that they could actually walk side by side with us on our journey. How great would that be?

Of course the only problem is what happens to these small, almost insignificant chunks? They are out there, on some unknown server on the other side of the world, but have you got them, have you stored them anywhere? I know I haven’t! I’ve been on Facebook for 10 years now; I’ve been on Twitter for 7 years and how many emails have sent in the last 15 years? I have nothing, nil, nada, zilch, up to this point I have totally let my descendants down, everything I have ever sent electronically is now floating in the ether somewhere probably never to be retrieved. It’s sad and I imagine this is the same for most of us.

However there is hope out there, if you are so inclined. For all your big social media accounts, you can now download archives, usually from the settings page. There are any number of tools that will allow you to save your info, as well as organisations dedicated to help you or your company save all that precious data.

So when you next can’t find that elusive ancestor, just reverse the situation and think what you are doing to preserve your memory, what you need to save and how you are going to save it. And then make an effort to keep those electronic chunks of information. Remember; think of your descendants like you wish your ancestors had thought of you.


Can we prove your rumour?

Family Rumours – The Tale of William Mason Jerome

A rumour is like an itch, it just has to be scratched – George Revere

Family rumours are notoriously difficult to prove or disprove. Like Chinese whispers they are generally embellished to the point of bearing no resemblance to the original fact. But somewhere, within that rumour, there just could be a little glimmer, a little piece of information, which can lead you to discover the real truth. So do you remember that intriguing tale that your Granddad told you as a youngster, well we have had some success at either proving or disproving rumours and would love to get our teeth into your family rumour. You just never know what or where it might lead you too.

As an example, one such rumour we did prove, started off as a couple of lines in the written memories of a great great aunt, Dora who was born in 1888 and died in 1980. It went as follows:

Dora’s Uncle Joe Jerome was the brother of Sam Jerome Jnr. Their father was Samuel John Jerome who married Elizabeth Mason – the grandparents of Dora. Uncle William Jerome, Sam’s eldest brother, was in the Merchant Marines. He jumped ship and stayed in America, in Virginia, Dora thinks that everyone was so ashamed of him! (For jumping ship).


Not much to go on, but in checking the 1861 census we find that Dora’s father had an older brother called William Mason Jerome, aged 10. He seemed to disappear after that, of all the entries for William Jerome in the 1871 census only one appeared to be a likely candidate. There were no probable entries at all in the 1881 census or beyond, he had disappeared. On closer examination of the 1871 census, the name was correct, but had no middle initial, the age was wrong but the birthplace was right. He was shown to be in the Royal Navy, lending credence to the naval connection, and based on the Royal Alfred in Bermuda.


A visit to the National Archives proved fruitful, we managed to find William’s Continuous Service number and from that his entry in the Muster of the Royal Alfred in 1872. This showed his date of birth as 24th Oct 1848, our William was born 24th Oct 1850 as proved by his birth certificate, and also that he had the middle initial of M, thus confirming that this was more than likely our William. But perhaps the most telling entry in the Muster was in the discharge column, namely Run, Halifax!

So our William had deserted in Halifax, Canada, now we would try to find where he went. As Canada was still part of the Empire and under British jurisdiction, the assumption was made that he would have travelled to the United States. Assumptions are a dangerous thing in genealogy but they can make good starting points and it seemed reasonable in this case as he would want to get away from the scene of the crime!. A search of the 1880 US Census turned up a number of candidates but the most likely one was a William Jerome, b. 1852, but in Ireland. Right name, wrong birth year and birth country, but a starting point. It showed him as living in Clinton, Massachusetts, married to Catherine Jerome, also from Ireland. Others living at the address included amongst others, William’s mother-in-law, Mary O’Malley and William and Catherine’s son, Henry. It was still a massive hypothesis to assume that this was our William and we had a few other William Jerome to check up on if this proved wrong. The next step was to consult the Massachusetts archives which does have online index, enabling us to get the required details to send away for the marriage record of William and Catherine. This was done and obviously given the distance between us and Massachusetts took some time. In the mean time we continued to search the records over here in case he had made his way back to England, and a little snippet of information did turn up in the form of a newspaper clipping from William’s hometown of Portsmouth. It was the announcement that on 1st Oct 1877 William Masn Jerome, son of S J Jerome, had married Kate O’Malley in Clinton, Massachusetts. A short time later the record arrived from Massachusetts archives confirming this. We had found our William!

William and Kate had two more children, William and Mary. Unfortunately Henry died before his first birthday and we have been unable to trace Mary. But we followed William through the US Census records, he married twice, having a daughter with his second wife, called Betty, she married and had three children. Through the power of the internet and a good deal of researching we are now in contact with some distant cousins and have actually proved a family rumour to be true.