British genealogy research has a firm foundation of a “Big Four” of essential resources: Church Records, Censuses, Civil Registration and Probates. (Personally, I feel that probates aren’t used nearly enough, but that’s a story for another time.) These records are a powerhouse for blasting through information, especially in the 1800s. It’s for that reason that new researchers are usually sent to these records, and why more experienced researchers tend to fall into a researching rut.
Now I’ll spare you the well-discussed topic of humans and habits and get to the point. These records work as far as birth, death, marriage and household records go. However (yes, here’s the however – there’s always a however), those records only hint at the life of the people in that family and can be a rather narrow way to know your family. So, for all the British researchers out there, I would like to introduce you to a few lesser-used sources. These sources will help you flesh out your ancestors and, hopefully, collect more pieces of the puzzle that are their lives.
Let me illustrate with a case study, which I will present in a series of blog articles. For that purpose, I would like to introduce you to the Heathwaite family. John Heathwaite was born to John and Isabella Heathwaite in 1843 in Burnley, Lancashire, where his father ran an Eating and Beer House. His wife, Ada Phelps, was born in 1852 in Gloucester, Gloucestershire to John and Sarah Phelps, both Gloucester locals. John and Ada married in 1878 in Devonshire and a little over a year later in East Stonehouse their first child, Ada Alice, was born. Ada Alice was the oldest of their twelve children and one of the only four that survived.
The Heathwaite family lived in East Stonehouse while John was off at sea as a Private in the Royal Marines. After his release, the family moved to London, where John was the night watchman in the Sandrigham buildings, Saint Anne Soho. Some time before 1901 he is listed as a General Laborer. By 1911, wife Ada was living alone, working as a charwoman. The family appears in every appropriate census as well as civil registration.
Now that I’ve told you the particulars of this family, I will show you in future articles how a few lesser-known sources helped me to get to know the Heathwaites better.