Category Archives: Uncategorized

Key Strategies for TNA and Discovery

So you want to visit The National Archives (TNA) at Kew? What to do first?

 2013-11-15 16.04.28

Your first instinct may be to go straight to the “Discovery” catalogue. This can be quite daunting, even for non-newbies and it is easy to wind up down a rabbit hole if you follow links from here.

Keep it simple: Choose one of the three options below:

  1. the Search box at the top: type one or two words or a reference number (e.g. WO 94 or “Tower of London”) and click “Search our records”;
  2. the central red “Menu” button followed by “Records Guidance A-Z”. Click the appropriate letter (e.g. M) then choose one of the keywords (e.g. Medals);
  3. the central red “Menu” button followed by “Visit Us”. You can apply for a Reader’s Ticket and order documents in advance from here.

Next steps…

  1. Search Results – If the search result gives you the option to “Browse by Reference”, click that link to see all the files that make up that series then make a note of the ones that you might like to order (e.g. WO 94/4 – “State Prisoners: Commitments and Orders 1672 to 1818”). Click “Details” under the document reference to see if it is available to download – downloads of records available online cost £3.30, regardless of size.
  2. Records Guidance – Even if you don’t normally “read the instructions”, it’s worth using these pages as each Guidance page has links that take you to the records you want to look at, e.g. after arriving on the “Medals” page, try clicking on “British Army soldiers after 1913”. When you follow the link for “First World War army medal cards” the page you arrive at contains a link to the catalogue page for WO 372. Scroll down to “Browse by Reference” as you do with search results.
  3. Visit Us – If you are a first-timer and want to view original documents, register up to 6 weeks in advance for a Reader’s Ticket; it will save time when you first visit. If you already have a Reader’s Ticket, you can order up to 6 documents in advance. Check a week beforehand whether the records you want to see are stored on-site or off-site. If they are off-site, you need to order before 11 am three working days before you visit.

What is there to see?

Original records relating to war & the armed forces, private railways & shipping, the high courts, political history, foreign & colonial affairs and public health including poor law. Browse this Subject List.

How to get there?

  • By Coach from further afield: Find out when your local Family History Society is running their next trip to be dropped at the door; or ask your local coach firm when they’re next going to Kew Gardens – TNA is only 15 minutes’ walk!
  • By Rail or District line to Kew Gardens if you can connect at e.g. Hackney, Hampstead, Richmond, Reading or Upminster.
  • By Car: Parking is limited but free. Don’t tell anyone, but last time I visited, the car park was half empty!

Do take:

  • relevant ID if you are applying for a Reader’s Ticket;
  • a blank sheet and/or A4 and A3 paper to slide between tissue-thin pages when copying records;
  • a bag of £1 coins to charge your Reader’s Ticket to print document copies;
  • a square electric adaptor if your laptop lead has a “chunky” section under the plug!

Don’t bother taking:

  • your own camera, unless you want really high quality images (in which case, put it on silent); there are eight desk-mounted cameras at TNA and images can be cleaned up and enhanced at home. Tip – when using TNA cameras, use your Reader’s Ticket (rather than a finger) to gently tap the screen when taking photos;
  • a packed lunch: the canteen-style restaurant does a good two-course meal for around £6.50.

When you arrive

  • Go straight to the cloakroom and lock up everything except your laptop, cables, phone (on silent), research materials, pencils, £1 coins, ID and/or Reader’s Ticket. Put these in one or (preferably) more of the (not super-strong) plastic carrier bags provided;
  • Go to the 2nd floor to get processed and learn about document handling if you need to get a Reader’s Ticket;
  • Go to the 1st floor and quiz staff at the Helpdesk about anything you’re unsure about;
  • When you have ordered documents, use one of several terminals around the building to check if they are ready to view – it will generally take around 40 minutes – and to see what table/document locker number has been allocated to you;
  • Reading Room security will want you to open your laptop and they will riffle through your papers and check for contraband, e.g. biros, pencil sharpeners or pencils with rubbers on the end! Be happy that they do this! You can then swipe your Reader’s Ticket to gain access.

Keep your Reader’s Ticket handy at all times. You will need it to:

  • Charge your card with money to print document copies;
  • Check terminals to see if documents are ready to view;
  • Enter and exit the Reading Room;
  • Order documents from computer terminals;
  • Gently tap the screen when using TNA cameras!

Enjoy your Visit! Or if you cannot get to The National Archives yourself, contact Woods for the Trees and we will be happy to do TNA research for you.



The “London Omnibus” Approach to Research!

London Transport Museum
London Transport Museum

Tracing your family history tends to be something you’ll do “when you have time”. It can take time to discover those family gems. Managing your time well will get you to “Eureka” faster!

It’s not necessarily productive to spend one entire day a fortnight on your family history research.

Set aside at least three 45 to 60 minute sessions a week; three or more a day if you have more time, Stick to the time limit! Make detailed notes on your results and write yourself clear instructions on what you want to achieve in your next research session.

I allocate time in between online research sessions so that my brain has chance to let new information sink in and so I can get clear on next steps. On the other hand, I don’t want to wait a week or a fortnight before my next research session or I will lose the thread!

Like the London Omnibus, it might seem slow, but it will get you there and you can enjoy the journey!

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If you really don’t have time, you can still begin the journey: Woods for the Trees can find your family or house history for you.

Before Your House Was Your Home…

Was your house always a house?

Avebury Manor, Wiltshire
Avebury Manor, Wiltshire

If your house was built in the 19th century or earlier, it may have been:

  • an industrial building like a mill

  • commercial premises like a bakery, shoemakers or an inn

  • a chapel or place used by religious groups

  • a barn or farm building

  • a school or schoolhouse

In 1881, the “Old Manor House” at Avebury was a private boarding school.

1881 Census - Old Manor House, Avebury

1881 Census – Old Manor House, Avebury

Who lived in your house and what did they do? Contact Woods for the Trees to find out!

Avebury Manor, Wiltshire
Avebury Manor, Wiltshire

Unlock Your House Secrets!

Does your house have a story to tell?

Cotswold Cottages
Cotswold Cottages

Stephanie Woods creates House Histories as well as Family Histories. Find out:

  • About the people who owned and lived in your house and their stories

  • What happened in and around your house 100, 200 or more years ago

  • What changes your house has seen in that time.

A house history is a fabulous gift for a family member or for yourself. Contact Steph to arrange your free consultation.

Use GRO to Grow Your Female Line


Who is the earliest married lady in your UK tree? Was she born after 1837? Use General Registration Office (GRO) records to trace more of your female ancestors!

1. What Was Her Surname? – If you only know her husband’s name, follow these steps to discover her birth surname:

  • Helena Logan circa 1930
    Helena Logan circa 1930

    Go to the search page at FreeBMD.

  • Select “Marriages”.
  • Enter her first husband’s details in the “Surname” and “First Name” boxes. Be sure to get these the right way round!
  • Enter her first name in the “Spouse First Name(s)” box.
  • Enter a date range.
  • Leave the other fields blank.
  • Make a note of the most likely results. including the District, Volume and Page. If there is a pair of spectacles next to the results, click on “Info” to see an image of the index page as an extra check!

2. Have I Got the Right Marriage? – If you think you have found the right marriage but are not sure, order the marriage certificate for £9.25. Yes, it costs money, but if you don’t, you risk collecting the wrong ancestors! You will need to register if you have not ordered a certificate online before and you’ll need the District, Volume & Page . Check out the GRO guide to marriage certificates.

3. What is the Bride’s “Condition”? – The “Condition” column on the marriage certificate tells you whether she was e.g. a spinster or a widow. If she was a widow, the certificate may just give her surname prior to this marriage. Go back to Free BMD to look for her previous marriage:

  • Select “Marriages” again
  • Enter her previous surname in the “Surname” box.
  • Enter her first name in the “Spouse first name(s)” box  and
  • Enter a date range.
  • If you get too many results. narrow them by District, but if unsuccessful, repeat the search for neighbouring Districts as well as the most obvious one.

4. Who’s Baby? – If the condition of the lady is “Spinster”, write down her maiden name. Go back to FreeBMD, select “Births” and enter her full birth name. Enter a Date Range. The results list will again give you District, Volume and Page. Make a note if you want to order the certificate! For some years, the search results will give you her mother’s maiden name as well.

Grandma Betty Youlden's Shop early 1960s

Grandma Betty Youlden’s Shop early 1960s

5. Diversion! If she was born before 3rd April 1881, take a look at the 1881 UK Census. Results for the 1881 census index can be viewed on Ancestry for free. Who was she sharing her home with?

6. More About Her Mother – Once you have her mother’s name from her birth certificate or from the census, check the date of this information. If it is after 1837, go back to step 1 and start over for her mother!

The earlier you go the less detail you will find in GRO and census records, but your research doesn’t need to stop there! More Anon!

For more help tracing your female line, contact Woods for the Trees or read more of Steph’s Family History Blog!




Six Reasons You Didn’t Find Your Ancestor

Lost and Found

Ancestor-hunting can be thrilling, but it is often frustrating because some of them refuse to be found! Here’s some possible reasons:

1. You looked on the “wrong” website – Just because you didn’t find them on one website doesn’t mean there’s no record. Record coverage may be incomplete on one site, so try searching on another. Also check out the card catalogue on Ancestry to look at specific record collections.

2. The index is wrong because of transcription errors – My great grandfather George Young showed up in Walsingham, Norfolk because of a mis-spelling of Wolsingham in County Durham! 

3. You looked under the “wrong” name – Your female ancestor may have married twice or married “late”, so think carefully about the other surname possibilities. Members of the aristocracy may appear under their birth surname or their inherited title. Christian names can be tricky too: a girl baptised Elizabeth might  be called Betty on her marriage certificate.

Thomas STEVENS, residing in Westport St Mary, Wiltshire, states in his settlement examination of 24th July 1777 that “…he is about twenty six years of age, was born in the parish of Polt’s Cray in the County of Kent…” WSHC Ref 1589/74A A-H.
Thomas STEVENS, residing in Westport St Mary, Wiltshire, states in his settlement examination of 24th July 1777 that “…he is about twenty six years of age, was born in the parish of Polt’s Cray in the County of Kent…” WSHC Ref 1589/74A A-H.

4. You looked for them in the wrong place – Our 18th and 19th century ancestors often travelled more than we realise. Read here about Thomas Stevens, residing in Westport St Mary, Wiltshire in 1777. And your family members will not necessarily re-appear in the same household at the next census; perhaps they went to live in the workhouse, with other relatives or into domestic service.

5.  You gave up too soon – Your ancestor may not be top of the Ancestry results list. Be methodical and persevere. And stay alert by only searching for one hour a day over 3 days instead of 3 hours all at once.

6. You didn’t try offline – Many records, especially before 1837, are still not online. Try searching the vast Family Search indexes for your ancestor’s baptism, marriage and burial. Use what you find to guide you to the actual registry entry in the county record office.

To get help finding your “missing” ancestors, contact Woods for the Trees or read more of Steph’s Family History Blog!



Great Ways to Work the Long Days!

Summer Solstice may have passed but we still have many lovely long energy-filled days to get really productive! Here’s some ideas to really “work” them!

Work The Long Days!
Work The Long Days!

1. Get up at 5am and start work before 6am. Use the first hour for creative work (with pen & paper?!): your blog, marketing plan, brainstorming…

2.  Work in 60 or 90 minute chunks with short breaks in between. Make a generic daily checklist & write down start & finish times next to each item. 

3. In your breaks, breathe, go outside or take a walk then make a call or a coffee.

4. Change to a different checklist item or aspect after each break so you don’t get stale.

5. No e-mail or social media for the first 2 to 4 hours of the day! Do you dare? 

6. Meet up with someone you love spending time with for a relaxed coffee or meal to share ideas and ask for feedback.

7. Turn off gadgets one hour before bedtime. Make an evening diary entry of what you achieved today. Highlight on a new checklist what your priorities are for tomorrow. Ponder and make a couple of memos to self. Sleep well!

To find out what Steph’s doing during the long days, visit Woods for the Trees or read her Family History Blog!



Six Free Ways to Find Canadian Emigrants and Emigrées

Whether your ancestor was forced to leave or chose to emigrate to find a better life, here are some great free ways to find family who went to settle in Canada.

Did your ancestor leave Scotland in the Clearances? Click on this photo of the Emigrant Stone at Cromarty to visit The Highland Clearances site, which has some great background information to get you started.


1. Passenger lists of ships arriving in Canadian ports from 1865 to 1935 can be searched for free on Ancestry.

Royal George Passenger List August 1912
Royal George Passenger List August 1912

2. After they arrived, did your ancestor see better opportunities in America? Search Ancestry’s free list of Border Crossings to the US 1895 to 1956.

3. Check out the Library and Archives Canada guide to Canadian Soldiers of the First World War and Search service files.

4. Enter your ancestor’s name in the search box at the easy to use Immigrant Ancestors Project.

5. Looking for a Home Child shipped off to Canada between 1869 and 1930? Search Immigration Records for Home Children online at the Library and Archives Canada.

1921 Census of Canada - Page for Montreal
1921 Census of Canada – Page for Montreal

6. Was your family member living in Canada in 1921? Enter what you know in the free Ancestry search page for the 1921 Census of CanadaThen review possible candidates using the Birthplace column.

Click here to ask Woods for the Trees to find your Canadian Emigrants and Emigrées.

Wiltshire Militia

Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre (WSHC) has a nice selection of records relating to men who served in the Wiltshire Militia (Ref:1589/46) especially for substitutes. From 1757 onwards, those chosen by ballot were compelled to serve, but they could instead provide a substitute or pay £10 towards the provision of one:

  • In 1798, Robert NEWMAN, substitute for Joseph Butler HANKS in the supplementary militia “…hath left Mary his Wife and one Child, born in Wedlock, and under the Age of ten years…unable to support themselves”. The Overseers were ordered to pay Two Shillings weekly.

    Robert NEWMAN, serving as substitute for
    Robert NEWMAN, serving as substitute for Joseph Butler HANKS, 4-May-1798
  • After a month serving as substitute for Thomas YEO in 1803, Joseph SMITH had “not been disapproved of and discharged by the Commanding Officer”. Presumably Thomas could not provide a substitute himself and as he was “not possessed of lands…” of a sufficient value (£500), it was ordered that the sum of five pounds, being “Half the current Price paid for a Volunteer” be found from either the parish Volunteer rate (if there was one) or the Poor rate.

    Joseph SMITH, serving as substitute for Thomas YEO
    Joseph SMITH, serving as substitute for Thomas YEO, 9-Jun-1803

A handwritten “Warrant” dated 2nd November 1780 states that Benjamin MORGAN, “private Soldier in the Wiltshire Regiment of Militia, in Captain St. John’s Company” is “disabled by sickness to march” and that the Churchwardens and Overseers should pay him the sum of “Two Shillings and eleven pence per week…till he is able to march or till this Warrant shall be countermanded.”

Warrant for financial support of Benjamin Morgan: unable to march due to sickness; dated  2-Nov-1780
Warrant for financial support of Benjamin Morgan: unable to march due to sickness; dated 2-Nov-1780

WSHC also has, as part of its holding for the Savernake Estate, records of the Wiltshire Militia including Muster rolls and Returns of Strength from 1758 onwards stored under reference 9/34.

The National Archives at Kew (TNA) have a good Research Guide to Militia. Records of Militia Regiments for 1759 to 1925 are held at TNA under reference WO68. Militia and Volunteers’ Muster Books and Pay Lists for 1778 to 1878 are held at TNA under reference WO13.

Ask Woods for the Trees to research your ancestors in the Militia. Read our other family history blog posts here.