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Monday, 24 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

I would just like to wish all my friends and readers a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I hope everyone has a lovely peaceful time with family and friends.

Illustration of a Regency country dance, Hugh Thomson, The Graphic Christmas Special, 1889. (Author's collection).

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Men of Steel

My latest feature for the January issue of BBC Who Do You Think You Are? magazine focuses on researching Sheffield steel-worker ancestors.  Technological innovations in steel-making such as the Bessemer process transformed the fortunes of towns like Sheffield and Barrow-in-Furness.

In Sheffield, the Lower Don valley was a hive of industry, bustling with noisy, smoky iron and steel works. In 1872, three Sheffield works had Bessemer converters: Henry Bessemer & Co,
John Brown & Co. and Charles Cammell & Co. Men and boys worked in the large steel firms.
This was an especially interesting feature for me to write, because my Hollis ancestors lived in Sheffield.

Images from the author’s collection:
Bessemer converter at work. Work and Workers, T.C. and E.C. Jack Ltd., c.1920.
Scene in a Bessemer steelworks.   How It Is Made, Thomas Nelson & Sons, c.1910

Monday, 10 December 2012

Sir Patrick Moore

My family and I were deeply saddened by the news of Sir Patrick Moore’s death yesterday.  I feel I have lost part of my childhood.   My interest in astronomy was fuelled by the Sky at Night, and all the incredibly exciting events of my school years.  Our generation grew up during the great age of space exploration: the moon landings, the Voyager missions, and the Space Shuttle launches, to name just a few landmark events of the past half century. 

Sir Patrick was always there to entertain with his boundless enthusiasm and passion for astronomy, and to help explain what had happened if things went tragically wrong.  He could always be relied on to clarify the most obscure technicalities of the subject without ‘dumbing it down’ for the television audience.  And he was always keen to emphasize that you do not need to buy any expensive equipment to enjoy the wonders of the night sky, and that even amateur astronomers could make a valuable contribution to science by making careful observations.  Amateur astronomers have discovered new comets and supernovae.

Sir Patrick’s moon maps and observations were so precise and detailed that they were used by NASA when the moon landings were being planned.

Sir Patrick’s work was an inspiration to millions of astronomy fans. I do hope that the Sky at Night programmes will continue, so that more generations will be inspired to gaze up at the heavens, and wonder...

Images from the author’s collection:
Cover page of a Moon landing special souvenir issue of the Stockport Express, 1969.
The author’s observations of the Moon with a small telescope in 1975. 
 The planet Saturn in 1872. Sir R. S. Ball, The Story of the Heavens, Cassell & Co., 1893.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

TheGenealogist's SmartSearch and Death Records

TheGenealogist has just added another 14 million death transcripts to its database (now 26 million death records from 1960-2005), and you can use the website's amazing SmartSearch facility to explore your ancestors' records quickly and easily back through the generations. 
Here's an example courtesy of TheGenealogist team: the tragically early death in 1977 of  legendary T-Rex guitarist and vocalist, Marc Bolan, who died when he was only 29.  Marc's real name was Mark Feld, and we can use this to search the death records (above).

The ‘SmartSearch’ facility on theGenealogist allows us to jump straight to his birth record, which then links to his parents and potential siblings.  I am told that Mark didn’t have a brother or sister (although see comment below) but we can find full details of his parents Simeon and Phyllis, including their marriage record (left) which allows us to move onto the next stage of the family tree.

By Christmas, the team hope to have transcribed the death records back to 1930 giving even more access to data for the family historian.
Are these wonderful new ways of searching the records a blessing? They could potentially save you hours of wasted time and pots of money. Or do you prefer the thrill of finding out the links of your family tree by yourself? I'd love to know what you think!

All images supplied courtesy of TheGenealogist.