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Friday, 27 September 2013

Tracing Your Ancestors' Childhood reviews

 'Sue Wilkes has produced a very detailed book on how to trace your ancestors’ childhood...The book is divided into two parts. The first is in chapters, each dealing with issues that might affect a child’s life; e.g. The Poor Law, Growing up at Work, Education and, very topically, Children in Wartime. This detailed book will help to provide a broad brush picture of life for your ancestors as children in a particular period. The second part of the book is a Research Guide which lists many of those Archives and Repositories. It lists useful addresses, twelve pages of web-sites (some free!), Education Sources and more, under helpful group headings...definitely one for your bookshelf to dip into now and in the future as a reference source'. Ann Gynes, FFHS, December 2013. 

'Over the years, many books have described how children and young people lived in the past. Many others have  shown us technically how to trace the lives of our ancestors of one sort or another.  This book does both, pulling off the now fashionable - and, it must be said, deeply satisfying - meshing of the two genres of social history and genealogy with aplomb.
While Wilkes helpfully begins by recapping on the basic genealogical sources (censuses, certificates and parish records), these soon take an almost subsidiary place among a panoply of other illuminating records from the archives. From cradle rolls and vaccination records, to school exemption certificates, apprenticeship books and records of transportation, 19th and 20th century sources for the study of childhood and youth seem endless...
The eight chapters of part one, themed around different aspects of social history, are vibrantly written, peppered with examples and 'case studies' of real youngsters who grin or grimace briefly at us from the records.
The second half of the book is an unrivalled resource pack for the family historian on the location and accessibility of relevant archives and repositories, as well as list of useful websites, addresses and places to visit...
While child mortality is obviously discussed, the emphasis here is on the way young people of the past survived and triumphed over their varied early experiences, to the point where they grew up and were able to become our ancestors'.  Ruth A. Symes, Who Do You Think You Are?, November 2013.

Monday, 2 September 2013

When Did Your Ancestor Leave School?

The school leaving age in the UK has changed to 17 years; there's more info here.  The age when your ancestor was allowed to leave school and start work was critical for working-class families if they were on the breadline, because then young people could earn a full week's wage for the family. Boys from more affluent homes could go on to university if their parents could afford it; it was not until the late 1870s that the first women were permitted to study for a degree.

If you are trying to trace your ancestor's childhood, then it's a good idea to check what the school leaving age was at the date you are interested in, because that will determine whether you should look for school records such as registers, or employment records, e.g. wage books.

But there may be a period of overlap because children who reached a set educational standard were allowed to work part-time, and you may find school exemption certificates (above) amongst family papers or in local archives.

You may be surprised how young your ancestor was when they began full-time work; the 1918 Education Act raised the school leaving age from 12 to 14.  As late as 1861, although the minimum age of starting work in a coal mine was nominally age twelve, ten- to twelve-year-old lads were permitted to work underground if they had a school certificate to prove that they had reached a sufficiently high standard of literacy.


Section of a school exemption certificate dated 4 April 1894 permitting a Manchester schoolchild to work one day per week. 

Girl with slate and schoolbook.  Early twentieth century postcard.  Author’s collection.

Collier’s phthisis. A Manchester doctor’s sketch of ‘black lung’ from a 65 year old collier. Reports of the Factory Inspectors, 31 October 1871.