Expand your search

My great great grandfather, Samuel ETHERINGTON, was a “brickwall” for many years. For only 1 of his children could I find a baptism (in 1859) and that document referred to “Samuel Etherington, engineer”. Every other reference was to “Samuel Etherington, builder”.

Except one – when his daughter Emily married in 1883, her father was named as “Samuel Etherington, baker”. I could not find Samuel born, married or died, nor immigrating – he just seemed to be there, fathering children. I tried all sorts of spelling variations, hunted him through directories, electoral rolls and every other source I could find. I followed the family’s rates payments to local councils. I learned a lot about his life – but not where he was born or died.

Eventually I expanded the search and started researching everyone surnamed ETHERINGTON in 19th century Australia, placing them in families and looking for a Samuel. (Fortunately the name was not too common.) When that didn’t solve the mystery, I expanded the search further, looking for those families’ origins back in England. I found one possibility – Thomas ETHERINGTON (who migrated from England to Sydney) had had a brother Samuel born in England, whose death I could not find.

By this time Internet bulletin boards and email lists were available. Wherever I could, I posted queries – did anybody know anything about this English ETHERINGTON family of Thomas and Samuel? Eventually somebody saw my message who knew someone who knew something – and he put me in touch with a lady in England who held family documents which explained the puzzle.

This lady’s ancestor had received a letter from Australia in 1903, from a Henry HOLMES, who wrote – “you don’t know me but I am the son of your brother Samuel ETHERINGTON, who has been living here in Australia under the name of Samuel HOLMES”. Henry HOLMES was the oldest son of Samuel and Hester HOLMES. With that clue, things started falling into place.

Samuel HOLMES, baker, had 6 children surnamed HOLMES with Hester HOLMES. Samuel ETHERINGTON, builder, had 8 children surnamed ETHERINGTON with Sarah EVERETT. I’m guessing that the dual lives must have been revealed at some point, hence the ETHERINGTON daughter’s marriage certificate, naming Samuel ETHERINGTON as a baker, just before Samuel ETHERINGTON disappeared from the records.

It appears that Samuel eventually abandoned the ETHERINGTON family and moved away with his son Henry HOLMES, until his death (as Samuel HOLMES) in 1903 in Bombala (southern NSW). In 2003 I visited England and saw where Samuel was born in Bermondsey – later that same year I visited Bombala and saw his grave.

Because I had hunted so hard for Samuel, for more than 10 years, I eventually knew a lot about him. When I found that bankruptcy file (mentioned in an earlier blog post) for Samuel HOLMES, it included the signature of Samuel HOLMES, baker. The English ETHERINGTON family had a prayer book inscribed by Samuel ETHERINGTON – what do you think of the 2 signatures?

Signature of Samuel HOLMES

Samuel Holmes


Samuel Etherington

30 September, 2010 at 5:01 pm 1 comment

Debtors Prison

According to the Research Guide “Bankrupts and Insolvent Debtors:1710-1869” on the website of The National Archives (UK):

Until 1841, the legal status of being a bankrupt was confined to traders owing more than 100 pounds (reduced to 50 pounds in 1842). Debtors who were not traders did not qualify to become bankrupt, but stayed as insolvent debtors. Responsible for their debts but unable to pay them, they remained subject to common law proceedings and indefinite imprisonment, if their creditors so wished. … Insolvent debtors were held in local prisons, and often spent the rest of their lives there: imprisonment for debt did not stop until 1869.

Another ancestor of mine, Abraham WOOLF was imprisoned in the Debtors Prison, as this entry from the London Gazette of 1841 shows:

London Gazette 12 March 1841

London Gazette, 12 March 1841, p692

Shortly afterwards he came to trial, and fortunately his petition for release was granted. The following entry in the London Gazette gives more background about him – that he was currently a “General Dealer and Cigar Maker” and formerly a “Cigar Dealer and Ladies’ Shoe Maker”, as well as recent addresses:

London Gazette 30 April 1841

London Gazette, 30 April 1841, p1135

In the documents at the National Archives in Kew, London, I could follow the progress of his imprisonment, petitions and release, however even the information available online on websites like The National Archives (UK) and The London Gazette tell me more about the life of this ancestor.

29 September, 2010 at 10:40 am 1 comment

Even the price of his braces

I was searching State Records NSW (the NSW Government archives), looking for background information about my ancestor Samuel HOLMES (otherwise known as Samuel ETHERINGTON – but that’s another story).

A “keyname search” (searching almost all the digital indexes) of the NSW State Records led me to the Insolvency Index, which informed me that Samuel HOLMES, a baker of Sydney, was declared insolvent in July 1862.

Insolvency was the inability to pay your debts, and was originally treated as different to Bankruptcy, which involved a  person’s assets being administered and distributed to creditors. Insolvency doesn’t appear to have been particularly unusual – at least not amongst my ancestors – some of whom were declared insolvent or bankrupt a number of times in their lives.

Finding someone’s name in an index should only be the beginning of the story. Almost invariably the full document holds more information than the index entry.

In this case Samuel was also declared bankrupt (in December 1862), and corresponding notices appeared in the NSW Government Gazettes of 1862. The Government Gazette notices were as business-like as any government notice, but the real gems were discovered in the original documents. Those documents can be seen at the Western Sydney Records Centre (of NSW State Records) at Kingswood. In Samuel’s Insolvency file were all the invoices he could not pay.

If Samuel knew in July 1862 that he would be unable to pay his bills, it does not seem to have curbed his spending, as  his September 1862 quarterly account from the David Jones (department store) indicates. This invoice includes: 6 white shirts (3 pounds), 6 Cambric handkerchiefs (1 pound, 5 shillings), 1 pair of braces (4 shillings)  – and even a bottle of scent (another 4 shillings).

Such documents tell so much more about this ancestor (and his fashion sense!) than an unemotional announcement of his debts, and certainly rewarded the effort of obtaining the original records behind the index entry.

Quarterly account from David Jones, 1862

Invoice from David Jones, September 1862

28 September, 2010 at 11:14 pm Leave a comment

Google News Archive Search

I have used Google News for some time, but only recently discovered Google News Archive Search – available at http://news.google.com.au/archivesearch/

An Advanced Archive Search allows you to select a particular date range. You can choose a particular publication (or even just enter the word ‘Sydney’, to check publications with that word in the title). Once you have the search results, a timeline lets you focus on the particular decade of interest.

I searched for “hay simpson” – an ancestor who played Ned Kelly (in the 1934 film When the Kellys Rode) and then was lost at sea when he tried to sail from Lord Howe Island to Sydney. Most of the results found were from The Sydney Morning Herald in the 1930s, reviews of performances and then the search for the missing yacht. However one article was from 2003, when Simpson’s niece found a suitcase of film photographs during a renovation.

Another useful search was  for all of the words scriven and cooperstown. My husband descends from the SCRIVEN family, and one of that family (Elizabeth SCRIVEN) married Alfred Corning CLARK of Cooperstown (son of the founder of the Singer Foundation) and I thought that family were likely to be well-reported in the press.

You don’t need celebrity ancestors to find them mentioned in newspapers, and Google’s News Archive Search is another way to find interesting background stories about family members.

28 September, 2010 at 8:58 am 1 comment

Convicts & Prison Hulks

I made another discovery today, again in Ancestry.com This time I was searching the recent addition to Ancestry’s convict records, the “UK Prison Hulk Registers & Letter Books, 1802-1849”. I found my 4g.grandfather!

Convicted of bigamy, in fact Thomas MILLS married 3 times. He married first to Sarah CUTTRISS / CUTTRESS in 1805 in Ely, then (as Thomas MILLER) he married Rhoda WINNELL in 1813. Finally (as Thomas Ward MILLS) in 1825 he married Ann POCKNELL, before he was taken to Newgate Prison in 1827. (At his trial, when asked about his 3rd marriage he said that – having deserted his 2nd wife – years later when he wrote to her and she didn’t write back, he assumed she was dead and so felt free to marry again.)

There’s a wonderful record of his various trials in the Old Bailey Online records in 1827 (real “he said, she said” comments). Thomas was finally found guilty and sentenced to be transported for seven years. However he never arrived in Australia – three years later he petitioned for pardon and that pardon was granted.

In the collection of UK Prison Hulk Registers on Ancestry.com, it was exciting to actually see the record of him in the hulk York, which was moored in Portsmouth Harbour. According to this document, he served 3 years 11 months and 18 days of his sentence before he was pardoned. The UK Prison Hulk Registers are digitised copies of documents held by The National Archives (UK) in PCOM 4 & HO 9.

This was another reminder about new digitised collections making it easier to access copies of original documents.

Incidentally, Thomas’ son (Robert MILLS – aka Robert CUTTRESS) was convicted of “poaching with a gun” and was transported to Tasmania. Digitised copies of many Tasmanian convict records can be found online at http://www.archives.tas.gov.au.

York prison hulk

Thomas Ward MILLS, prisoner on the York hulk

27 September, 2010 at 7:09 pm 1 comment

Alien Arrival document

I was preparing to teach a class about Ancestry.com & this prompted me to look at some collections added recently. I was most excited to find the arrival into England of my 3g.grandfather, Samuel SHUTER, from what is now Poland.  I have probably looked for that record, on and off, for about 15 years, but had eventually decided that I was unlikely to find a shipping record from continental Europe to England.

Anyway, I found him – amongst the UK Aliens Entry Books, 1794-1926. The first document was his Certificate of Arrival, 14 Feb 1846, from HO2, certificate 95. The second document was his subsequent arrival on 25 Sep 1854. (HO3 piece 75) This latter was in a book of correspondence, and now I will try to determine if I can obtain a copy of the correspondence referred to in this index.

Anyway, it’s a reminder to me of the new collections being added to sites like Ancestry, and the value of trying to keep checking new collections added.

Samuel Shuter arrival in London

Arrival Certificate, 14 February 1846

27 September, 2010 at 5:05 pm 1 comment

Newer Posts

Discoveries and musings of a family history researcher and instructor - including tips and hints.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 69 other followers



%d bloggers like this: