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.
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.
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.
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.