Monday, 16 April 2012

N is for Names and Newspapers - A to Z Genealogical Challeng

Ros at has come  up with the idea of an A to Z genealogical challenge for the month of April.  It soon got me thinking, so here are my contributions.

N is for:
Names - i have always been fascinated by the fashion of Christian  names, from the 17th century Puritan influences that made popular  Faith, Hope,  Charity and Patience to the current resurgence of Biblical names such as Daniel and Noah.  In the 19th century,  many a child was named Albert after Queen Victoria's husband, or Florence after Florence Nightingale.
Maria Rawcliffe

I like the old fashioned name of Jennet which features in my family and have always wondered at my great grandmother's name of Maria.  It seemed rather exotic for the daughter of an Ag. Lab when her sisters were more mundanely called  Anne, Jane, Margaret, Martha, and Alice.  Then I read in "The Guinness Book of Names" by Leslie Alan Dunking, that Maria was 15th in the list of popular girl's names in England in 1850. 

For family historians,  the traditional naming pattern of Scotland and the north of England can help  confirm if you are on the right family i.e. eldest son named after paternal grandfather, eldest daughter after maternal grandmother, second son after maternal grandfather, second daughter after paternal grandmother.  Though it can lead to a proliferation of the same  name across a large family of sons and cousins - in one of my branches there were 6 John Brynings alive   in 1797 - grandfather, one  son and  four grandchildren of sons.  A clear head needed to identify "your" particular one!

This tradition seemed to die out at the turn of the 19th-20th century when other names appeared that did not survive too long beyond the early decades - Ethel, Doris, Edith, Winifred, Olive, Gertrude, Hilda and Elsie.  In my husband's family c.1908-14.  three daughters were christened Ivy, Lily and Violet.  

Elizabeth and Margaret abounded in my school classroom - royal influence no doubt. In the  Scottish Borders, surnames can  be adopted as Christian names, so it is not unusual to get a Scott Elliot and an Elliot Scott.

I could go on for ever!  I like to keep an eye out for the more unusual names - one being an Amethyst who, despite her opulent  sounding name,   was unfortunately  an inmate in the Jedburgh Poorhouse.  A fellow researcher in my local archives made sure we all knew his delight at finding an Horatio in the family in the early 19th century -  named after Lord Nelson he liked to think.    

Newspapers  -  I love browsing through old newspapers.  They are goldmines, full of snippets of information that give a contemporary  eye view.  This is not textbook history but it is full of vigour on many varied aspects of life at the time for ordinary people.    

My local archive centre holds 25 titles of local newpapers, with the oldest dated 1804. The earlier local newspapers contained little local news, but were full of headlines on “Foreign Intelligence”, “London Intelligence” and “Colonial News” with reports on parliamentary debates, court cases, military campaigns, society events, royal visits etc. Local news usually featured under a heading for the individual town or village.

After the Newspaper Stamp Duty was abolished in 1855, the prices of newspapers dropped and towns rushed to print their own. As national newspapers emerged in the later 19th
century, local papers concentrated more on events in their immediate area.

Wedding dress - 1879  
No doubt because of the cost, notices of births, marriages & deaths were often short merely stating - “On the 1st inst, a son named...."with the mother’s name not always given.  Entries from the landed gentry and professions inevitably predominated.  Reports on weddings and funerals and obituaries of prominent people were often lengthy.  Death notices came from a more varied background and could include information on the circumstances of death.

Accident reports were graphic.  Reports during the First World War are particularly poignant as pages were filled with profiles of casualties. 

Advertisements, generally on the front page for maximum impact, offer a valuable source of information on all aspects of life. In “The Kelso Mail” of January 1804 the main advert informed readers of the signals that would be made across Berwickshire and Roxburghshire on the enemy’s fleet appearing off the coast”, with the threat of a Napoleonic invasion.

Regular features throughout the years included railway timetables, market prices, local shipping agents offering passages to America, Canada and Australia, notices of farm sales, balls and talks, bankruptcies, tradesmen, and new arrivals at shops from the latest novel by Charles Dickens to India rubber boots!.

You can spend many an hour browsing through old editions and are bound to find something quirky  to enliven the writing of your family history.  

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