If you can’t locate your seafaring ancestor during World War One, then he may have been part of the Royal Naval Division. The men of this division were deployed like soldiers but had their origins in the Royal Navy. To successfully trace an ancestor, it’s important to understand something of the RND’s origins and organisation.
Recently I was doing some research on soldiers, sailors and airmen within the newly published World War Two prisoner of war records on TheGenealogist.co.uk and I couldn’t help but notice how so many of the British and Imperial prisoners of war held by the Germans were mostly young men at the time of their captivity. Also quite evident was the fact that the majority of the officers held were not of a high rank. Not a surprise, I thought, as the generals were probably all safe at home. I stopped in my tracks, however, when I came across a record for a British major-general held in one of the camps for officers in Germany. This surprise discovery made me wonder what I could find about this particular officer’s story.
There were things that I heard and was willing to accept, like ‘duck’ as a term of endearment. But railways before trains? Like ships before seas, impossible. I never asked. It was said in the same tone as when they asked my mother if I still wasn’t eating mashed potato.</p> <p>Ancestors were conjured as a rebuke. Ancestors didn’t cry when they fell over, they got up early in the morning and they scrumped apples, not biscuits, when they were hungry. And, being dead, they never did anything as daft as move south.
Afew hundred years ago suicide was not only illegal; it was thought to be selfmurder and a heinous crime indeed. In Old English law the legal term for the crime was felo de se, Latin for ‘felon of himself’, and according to the law a suicide’s property was confiscated to the detriment of relatives, and a suicide was buried with a stake through the heart at night at a secret location with no mourners or clergy present. Someone who was not mentally competent, however, was not considered a felo de se, and as the 19th century approached coroners’ juries increasingly ruled self-killings to be the result of insanity, thus enabling relatives to inherit property. Even so, up until 1822 the property of a suicide could still be taken by the crown and throughout the 1800s attempted suicide was very much a crime.
Nowadays the O’Neill surname is one of the top ten names in Ireland; and an ambitious and truly exciting project instigated by the current generation of the clan hopes to record as many of the existing O’Neill families as possible – across the globe – in the next 14 months. The ancient clan claims descent from Conn Ceadcathach (Conn of the Hundred Battles), the second century High King, and on to the legendary Niall Noígiallach (Niall of the Nine Hostages), the High King of Ireland from 377 to 404 AD; indeed, legend suggests that it was Niall of the Nine Hostages who captured a young slave on a raid in Wales and brought him to Ireland. That slave would later escape, and go to become Ireland’s patron saint, St Patrick.
Like trousers, covered in the March issue, breeches are an outer bifurcated garment. In classical Rome the word bracchae described the shapeless trouser-like leg coverings worn by northern European ethnic groups, while medieval males wore braies – shortened trousers, kneelength drawers or breeches – under the tunic. The word ‘breeches’ derives from Middle English breech and Old English bre-c or bre’c – terms for various legcoverings.
Among the many records to be found on The Genealogist’s website (www.thegenealogist.co.uk, under the Occupations tab) are those of the Royal Aero Club (RAeC), the national body for air sport in the UK, founded in 1901 as the Aero Club of Great Britain. For the descendants of early aviators of the golden age of flight, when the romance, adventure and danger of flight firmly caught people’s imaginations, RAeC records can provide valuable details of careers. In the first year of RaeC’s aviator certificates being awarded, 45 men were successful; by 1918, around 6,300 pilots were holders, which shows just how quickly flight was developing. Of the original 45, six were killed in flying accidents early in their careers.
Family history should reveal more than facts and dates, lists of names and places – it should bring ancestors alive in the context of their times and the surroundings they knew – and research into local history records is one of the most rewarding ways of gaining this kind of insight into their world. That is why Jonathan Oates’s detailed introduction to these records is such a useful tool for anyone who is trying to piece together a portrait of family members from the past. In a series of concise and informative chapters he looks at the origins and importance of local history from the 16th century onwards and at the principal archives – national and local, those kept by government, councils, boroughs, museums, parishes, schools and clubs. He also explains how books, photographs and other illustrations, newspapers, maps, directories, and a range of other resources can be accessed and interpreted and how they can help to fill a gap in your knowledge. As well as describing how these records were compiled, he highlights their limitations and the possible pitfalls of using them, and he suggests how they can be combined to build up a picture of an individual, a family and their place and time.
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