Wednesday 18 December 2019

Another Tree Can Be a Valid Source

I’m just taking a short break from my work to write about “valid sources”. I was prompted to do this after reading an article on the Family History Daily website entitled “Another Person’s Family Tree is Not a Valid Source”, posted approximately March 2018. The article is anonymous but Melanie Mayo-Laakso is the website’s founder and editor.

The thrust of the article is straightforward, and is not challenged here: that information from someone else’s tree is very likely to be inaccurate, and that you should at least verify the information in more reliable records before adding it to your own tree. This is particularly important since providers of online family trees make it oh-so-easy to copy information into your own tree, whether accurate and relevant, or not. Quoting from that article,

The issue arises from the fact that many people don’t view the information contained in a family tree any differently than they do the data found in a record source. When they are presented with individuals from a tree that appear to match their needs they see the data as existing research and very often copy the information without a thought.

The challenge presented here is to do with the nature of a ‘source’, and that online family trees have distorted this in the minds of their users. Furthermore, to explain that family trees are “valid sources”, and that the difference is primarily in their degree of reliability.

First, let’s dispel some related myths:

  • A "source" is simply a source of information that you have used in some research, and not specifically information that you've followed blindly, or even that you agree with.
  • Genealogy is not just about discrete bits of information: the so-called “facts”.
  • No source is guaranteed to be factual, and all sources must be assessed with a critical eye some more than others.
  • Many answers will never be found directly in a single source.

Why are the associated myths relevant? Well, these points suggest that there is more, in real research, than collecting discrete “facts”. Sometimes, you need to make a case that involves looking at multiple sources, and ones that may contain conflicting information. Writing up this type of inferential genealogy is what makes the difference between information (just something a source says) and evidence (something that substantiates, or refutes, a claim you have made). NB: This is not just something that professional or academic genealogists do, but people in other fields of research as well, although their terminology may differ.

Now the problem with online trees is that they circumvent this sequence, and subscribers are led to believe that “sources” yield discrete reliable "facts", and anything that doesn't yield such cannot be a "source". These trees can easily make a connection between such a discrete “fact” and some database entry, but that says nothing more than where the information came from. Very few trees — in fact, I have never seen one — include any type of narrative explaining why a cited database entry (or image) is in any way relevant, let alone analysing multiple sources to derive a considered conclusion when there are no direct answers.

Sources may be original or derivative, where a derivative may be close (e.g. a facsimile or a scan) or distant (e.g. transcribed or translated), and so at best an online tree must be considered a derivative form that compiles information from other sources. They are no less a source than any of the other derivative sources already offered by your genealogy provider, even though their accuracy may well be poorer. But no source is guaranteed to be accurate, whether it’s a database, an online image, or even a stamped birth certificate directly from the relevant government office.

Note that a source may also be an ‘authored work’, which is a form that looks at information from several other sources, and rather than simply compiling it, it analyses the information to derive specific conclusions. The nature of these works means that they have to consider all types of source, whether original or derivative, whether reliable or sloppy, whether agreeing or conflicting, whether primary or secondary information, whether official or private information, and even including authored works by other writers.  To date, none of the genealogy providers have got their head around this concept, and how it works in the rest of the research world (cf. “Research in Online Trees”), but the principles stand.

So, to summarise, in writing up your research, you can utilise whatever sources of information that are relevant to your argument, as long as you evaluate them with the appropriate critical eye.

Tuesday 24 September 2019

Date-Range Analyser

An important addition was made, some months ago, to the Measurement Tools page on this blog. That page contains an array of tools for converting between different units and for manipulating dates in a manner useful to historical research, and it is listed in several places on Cyndi's List.

One of the original tools is a birth-date calculator. It takes someone's age and a date of recording, and calculates a range of corresponding birth dates. For instance, using information from a census return, a death certificate, a marriage certificate, or even a tombstone. Once your  data has been entered then the 'Calculate' button will display the range of possible birth dates.

The age may be provided in years and/or months, but note that a non-zero months value implies greater accuracy. For instance, 12 months is considered more accurate than 1 year. The age is normally at "last birthday", but may be "next birthday", say for the early Canadian census years. The year can also be rounded down to the previous multiple of 5, say for the 1841 census of England and Wales.

The additional tool is a date-range analyser, and this brief post illustrates in what way it might be used. It is designed to compare multiple date ranges, and to look for the minimum overlap (i.e. the intersection between the ranges), or to show you the distribution of overlaps in case there are multiple peaks. The 'Analyse' button determines the intersections, and the 'Bar Chart' button then shows the distribution of overlaps graphically.

It can be used stand-alone, but it can also be used in conjunction with the birth-date calculator. The 'Remember' button on that tool will add the last calculated birth-date range to the list of ranges held by the date-range analyser.

In order to demonstrate this visually, let's introduce some example data: age information from four different documents.

Date of recording
Recorded age
Census of England and Wales
3 Apr 1881
Census of England and Wales
5 Apr 1891
Marriage certificate
1 Jul 1892
Death certificate
3 Jun 1945

Each of these can be entered into the birth-date calculator, and the 'Calculate' button pressed, followed by the 'Remember' button. All four of the potential ranges will then have been passed over to the date-range analyser.

If you press 'Analyse' there then it will determine the minimum overlap(s). If you then press 'Bar Chart' then it show the distribution of overlaps graphically, as below.

You can see from this that there are two distinct peaks. This information was once used to help prove that the data related to two distinct individuals who just happen to have the same name and lived in a similar locality.

Monday 22 April 2019

Whitwick Historical Group

Following publication of my research article Further Travels of Walking Boots (and its predecessor, Boots Made For Walking) that mentioned the Leicestershire village of Whitwick, I contacted the Whitwick Historical Group (WHG). Their invaluable help allowed me to push back even further with this 18th Century saga.

My previous article had made a tentative connection between my lineage and a prominent Hammond family of both Whitwick and the city of Leicester. The connection rested on John Hammond (b. c1796 in Whitwick), John3, being the illegitimate son of William Hammond (a woolstapler) and Sarah Knight. While the article presented evidence to justify this connection, the strength of that evidence fell below the level required for a reliable conclusion.

Maureen Partridge (WHG) provided me with copies of Leicestershire bastardy bonds related to the name Hammond for both the 18th and 19th Centuries. Unfortunately, though, they didn't include any of the names or parishes of interest, suggesting that if my tentative connection was correct then paternity may have been disputed by William Hammond.

Memorial inscriptions for members of this prominent Hammond family exist in the Whitwick St. John the Baptist church, and the following details are from the notes of John Colledge (WHG) used in preparation for his original 1964 guide book to the church, and from his updated 1994 edition.

On the south wall of the sanctuary of the south isle is a burial tablet to Alderman John Hammond (John1) and his father-in-law George Moore:

Beneath lie the remains of George Moore, gent,
who departed this life May 6, 1724, aged near 30.
Also of Ann his wife :
she died the 2d of May, 1774, aged 74.
And also of Sarah their daughter, and wife of
John Hammond, one of the aldermen of the
Borough of Leicester, gent.
She died May 26, 1768, in the 49th year of her age.
Likewise of Henry-Moore Hammond, son
of the above John and Sarah Hammond.
He died April 27, 1778, aged 35 years.

In 1974, the base of the south isle altar had to be repaired, and underneath was found four gravestones: Thomas Thorpe (1800), John Hammond (1787), William Hammond (1812), and a damaged one from 1771. During this work, the entrance to the Hammond family vault was located, but it had been filled in as part of work during 1898.

The inscriptions on the two Hammond stones were as follows:

Beneath are deposited
the remains of
John Hammond
who departed this life
7th May 1787
aged 33 years.

are deposited the
remains of
William Hammond
who departed this life
8th Nov. 1812
aged 49 years.

These are important because (a) they link the John2 and William whom were shown to be brothers in my previous article, and (b) they confirm my suggestion that William died in 1812, aged about 48 (1812-1764).

One of the men who filled in the vault in 1898 had told John Colledge that one of the four coffins was made of wood rather than lead, and had consequently perished, but it contained the body of a man with a long red beard.

Figure 1 – Plan of Whitwick St. John the Baptist church.[1]

I had previously identified the parents of John1 Hammond as a William and Catherine, and that John1 was baptised at Leicester St. Martin. This was confirmed by information provided by Maureen:

"William Hammond became a member of the council in 1702, a chamberlain 1706 and an alderman 1712. By his wife Catherine, who died in 1733, he had several children. Some of his descendants were living later in Whitwick, co. Leics. Ald. Hammond died 3 and was buried in St. Martin's churchyard 5 January 1741-2 aged sixty three, M.I. to him and his wife formerly to be seen there. Administration of his personal estate etc. was granted at Leics, 6 January 1741-2 to his son John Hammond".[2]

The only plausible identification I could find for Catherine was Katherine Blount of Little Dalby, 24 miles E. of Whitwick, who married a William "Hammon" on 16 Feb 1703.[3] This identification of Catherine works in terms of dates, and sheer number of children (the extract did say "several"). The following is a list of the children baptised to William and Catherine "Hamond". Note that the naming of one son as "Blunt" (an alternative spelling of Blount, with both being pronounced the same in Britain) fits with her maiden name and so confirms that these are the children of that pairing.

Given name
Archive ref
25 Nov 1704
4 Dec 1704

28 Oct 1705
30 Oct 1705
DE1564/1, p.137


1 Dec 1706
11 Dec 1706

31 Oct 1707
4 Nov 1707

2 Jun 1708
8 Oct 1708
DE1564/1, p.139

6 Sep 1709
18 Sep 1709
Buried 10 Oct 1711 aged 3
22 Aug 1710
30 Aug 1710
DE1564/1, p.140

1 Dec 1712
5 Dec 1712

21 Jan 1713
16 Feb 1713
This child can be matched with John1
22 Jan 1714
5 Feb 1714
DE1564/1, p.143

Table 1 – Children of William Hammond and Catherine Blount.[4]

The administration document of William's estate is transcribed as follows:

Know all men by these present that Wee John Hammond
of the Burr or Leicester Hosier & Joseph
Denshire of the same Brazier
are held and firmly bound unto Dr Richard Grey official
of the archdeaconry of Leicester
in the sum of one thousand pounds
of good and lawful Money of Great Britain to be
paid unto the said official or to his
certain attorney his Executors Administrators or Assigns to which
payment will and truly to be made Wee Oblige our selves and each
of us by himself for the whole our and
each of our Heirs Executors and Administrators
firmly by these presents sealed with our seals dated the sixth
day of February in the fifteen
year of the Reign of our sovereign Ld. George the 2d by the Grace
of God of Great Britain France and Ireland King Defender of
the Faith and so forth And in the year of our Lord one thousand
seven hundred and forty one [1741]

The Condition of this Obligation is such that if the above bounden John
Hammond and lawfull son and Administrator of all and singular the goods Chattells
and credits of William Hammond late of Leicester Deceased do
make or cause to be made a true and perfect Inventory of all and singular the Goods Chattells and
credits of the said deceased which have or shall come to the hands profession or knowledge of him
the said John or into the hands and profession of any
person or persons for him and the same so made do exhibit or cause to be exhibited into the Registry
of this court at or before the last day of
April next ensuing and the same goods chattells and credits and all other the goods
chattells and credits of the said Deceased at the time of his death which at any time after shall come
to the hands or profession of the said John or into the hands and
profession of any other person or persons for him do well and truly administer according to
law And further do make or cause to be made a true and just accompt of the said administra-
tion at or before the last day of February 1742 and all the rest and
residue of the said Goods Chattells and Credits which shall be found remaining upon the said
Administrators accompt the same being first Examined and allowed of by the Judge or Judges for
the time being of the said Court shall deliver and pay unto such person or persons respectively as the
said Judge or Judges by his or their decree or Sentence pursuant to the true intent and meaning of a
late Act or Parliament made in the two and twentieth and three and twentieth years of the reign
of our late Sovereign Lord King Charles the second (Intituled An Act for the better settling
of Intestate Estates) shall limit and appoint And if it shall hereafter appear that any last Will
and Testament was made by the said deceased and the Executor or Executors therein named
do exhibit the same into the said Court making request to have it allowed and approved accord-
ingly if the said Jn. Hammond above bounden being thereunto required do render
and deliver the said letters of Administration (approbation of such Testament first had
and made) in the said Court then this Obligation to be Void or Else to remain in full force and Virtue

Sealed and delivered being first                          John Hammond
duly Stamped in the presence of                           Jos Denshire

P. Stephens
Dep ty Reg.[5]

Notice that this identifies John1 as a "hosier" in 1741.

The list of freemen for the city of Leicester contained some important entries:

1721 Oct 21
William Hammond, mayor
1721 Dec 7
William Hammond eld. s. of William Hammond esq., mayor of Leics.
1737 April 21
John Hammond  2nd s. of Mr. Wm. of Leics. furrier
1757 Sept. 16
Henry Moor Hammond, s. of John of Leics. p. to Henry Gutteridge of same, brazier from 25 March last
1763-4 Sept. 29
Henry Moor Hammond, eld. so. of Mr. John of Whitwick Co. Leics. furrier
John Hammond s. of John of Whitwick Co. Leics. gent p. to John Coleman of same, tallow chandler and ropemaker from June 24 last £25
Table 2 – Freemen of the city 1196–1770.[6]

Jan 24 1789
William Hammond, 3s of the late Mr. Ald. John Hammond late of Whitwick, decd.
Table 3 – Freemen of the city 1770–1930.[7]
[a] This entry appeared in both the index of 'Parents and Masters' and the index of 'Freemen and Apprentices' within the volume.

These documents contain many instances of the abbreviation "p. of ..." and "p. to ...". In this context, the 'p' is short for "prentice", which is an archaic form of apprentice.

From this, we can see that William, his son John1, and his son Henry Moore, were all furriers. This is not in conflict with the previous identification of John1 as a hosier since a furrier is simply someone who sells, makes, dresses, or repairs fur garments. Also, we can see that John2 was a tallow chandler (maker of candles from animal fat) and rope maker.

The 1789 entry in Table 3 is important because it identifies the William who undertook the 7-year indenture of apprentice John Bonnett in Loughborough in 1796. Looking at the "Britain, Country Apprentices 1710-1808" database on Findmypast showed only the 1796 data already reported in the previous article, and no other William Hammond as either master or apprentice in Leicestershire.

Nearby Charnwood Forest was host to many mature deciduous trees, but by the end of the 18th Century most had been felled to supply wood and charcoal for the Industrial Revolution, leaving empty areas of pasture and moorland.[8] The land played host, though, to commercial rabbit warrens, and the rabbits would frequently escape their confines to compete with domestic stock for the limited grazing. In 1740, freeholders and commoners of Whitwick petitioned the Earl of Huntingdon to reduce his warren at Tin Meadow. In 1744, a further petition reminded the Earl that no action had been taken, and this resulted in a dispute between the petitioners and the warrener, a Mr. Hammond [almost certainly William, the father of John1].[9]

According to John, the Whitwick tallow chandlery factory was built just outside the village in about 1740, and had passed from John Coltman to John2 Hammond (son of John1, furrier) in 1767 upon the death of the former. The factory was on the outskirts because of the terrible smell associated with the process of making candles from animal fat.[10] It had occurred to both John and I that the rabbits may have supported both local industries: furriers and tallow chandlers, with the waste carcasses being processed after skinning. I did wonder whether rabbits would have enough fat on them, but then I came across the following useful information which confirmed that it was possible:

Fat from goats, sheep, llamas, alpacas, deer, moose, elk, caribou and other ungulates is hard and when rendered is called tallow. Fat from pigs, bear, and rabbit is soft fat, and when rendered is called lard. Fat from poultry such as duck, geese, and chickens is called “schmaltz” and is soft, almost liquid, at room temperature. The fat is rendered the same way regardless of the animal that it comes from. Softer fats render faster.[11]

These rabbit warrens are still visible as a series of rectangular mounds in an area known as (unsurprising) Warren Hills, just slightly to the east of the junction between Abbey Road and Warren Hills Road.

Figure 2 – Warren Hills, Whitwick.

Mound no. 8 on this map corresponds to the location 52°43'50.3"N 1°19'17.3"W on a modern aerial view of the area. The general area is raised with the peak at about 240m elevation, and it is scheduled to be a heritage monument (list entry number: 1018001). It is currently a small nature reserve with public footpaths.

Figure 3 – Warren Hills nature reserve, 2007. Photo credit © Mat Fascione (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Incidental finds in the records include the following 1730 Leicestershire reference: "Hammond Samuel, son of William, Leicester, Leicestershire, furrier, to George Langthorne, 30 Apr 1730 [dead], Curriers' Company".[12] Leather was softened or beaten by people called curriers, or gurriers. Note that tallow can also be used for leather conditioners, and to make soaps.

Also, the following reference to William Hammond as a furrier in a 1708 document relating to the mortgage of land in Frolesworth, 20 miles S. of Whitwick.

Description    Mortgage in sum of £265
i. Wm. Hammond of Leicester, furrier and Benj. Gutheridge of Leicester, hosier
ii. John Ayre of Leicester grazier
One messuage in Frowlesworth with 1½ acres of land in occ. of Anne Wikes, wid. and a close of land divided into parcels called Two Green Ways, The Pessell Slades and Pessell Leys containing 22 acres adjoining the road to Hinckley formerly in the occ. of Wm. Wikes of Leicester, yeo.
Consideration: £250 and 5s.
Recited: Mortgage 3 March 36 Chas.II [1684], Lease and Release, 31 January 5 Anne [1707]
Date    1708
Extent 1 item
Physical Description           parchment
Access Status           Open [13]

In conclusion, we've established a further ancestral generation of the Hammond family, and confirmed that the William Hammond teaching the trade of woolstapler to John Bonnett in Loughborough during 1796 was the brother of Alderman John Hammond (John2 in my previous article) of Whitwick, and hence the father cited in the marriage of John3 Hammond. None of the other source information encountered was in conflict with the material of my previous article.

What we have yet to confirm is that John3 was born to Sarah Knight.

My special thanks to Maureen Partridge and John Colledge of WHG for their help and effort in finding more source material and in providing me with much local information.

[1] Janet Cartlidge, Saint John the Baptist Church: Some of its history (Pukka, Nov 2015).
[2] "Roll of the Mayors and Lord Mayors of Leicester 1209 -1935", Leicestershire Record Office, p.299; extract provided by Maureen Partridge.
[3] Little Dalby Parish (Leicestershire), Marriage Register; “Leicestershire marriages”, database with images, Findmypast ( : accessed 15 Apr 2019), entry for William Hammon and Katherine Bloant [Blount], 16 Feb 1703; citing archive ref. DE2702/1; Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland.
[4] Leicester St Martin Parish (Leicestershire), Baptism Register; “Leicestershire baptisms”, database with images, Findmypast ( : accessed 15 Apr 2019), entry details as per tabluation; Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland.
[5] "Leicestershire Wills And Probate Records, 1500-1939”, database with images, Findmypast ( : accessed 15 Apr 2019), entry for William Hammond, 1741, gentl of Leicester; citing archive ref. 1741 (A-S); Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland.
[6] Freemen of the city of Leicester 11961770, vol.1, Henry Hartopp ed.(pub. for the Corporation of the city of Leicester by E. Backus, 1927-33); abstracted from the borough records.
[7] Freemen of the city of Leicester 17701930, vol.2.
[8] John Crocker, Charnwood Forest: A Changing Landscape (Sycamore press, 1981), p.78
[9] Ibid, p.82.
[10] John Colledge, "The City of Three Waters: The Tallow Chandling Business ... 1, 2", unpublished notes; hand-written copy provided by Maureen Partridge, 21 Feb 2019.
[11] "Easy Guide to render fat into tallow", Joybilee Farm ( : accessed 16 Apr 2019).
[12] "London Apprenticeship Abstracts, 1442-1850", database, Findmypast ( : accessed 16 Apr 2019), entry for William Hammond, 1730.
[13] "MORTGAGE OF LAND IN FROLESWORTH", item description from online archive catalogue, Record Office of Leicester, Leicestershire, and Rutland ( : accessed 16 Apr 2019).