Tag Archives: Find My Past

Parish Registers for Westminster

This is a little guide to the parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials held at City of Westminster Archives Centre.  On our website under “Researching your family history at the Archives Centre” you can find a list of our Information Sheets and other useful information.

Information Sheet 1 lists the registers we have for Anglican Churches in Westminster. Most of these are available to view on microfilm (for reasons of conservation) in our Searchroom, but they have also been digitised and are available to search and view online on the Findmypast website.
Registers for the Anglican churches in Marylebone and Paddington are available to view on microfilm copies here and on the Ancestry website because the original registers for these are at the London Metropolitan Archives.

Both Findmypast and Ancestry are available on the public computers in all Westminster libraries and on Wifi to users in libraries with laptops.  More detailed indexes to our holdings can be found in the Archives Searchroom.

The earliest registers date back to Henry VIII and the establishing of the Church of England. Thomas Cromwell issued an order to every parson, vicar or curate to register every wedding, christening and burial within their parish in 1538.

Title page of our earliest register for St Clement Danes 1558. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Title page of our earliest register for St Clement Danes 1558, volume 1. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The oldest registers for Westminster are for St Margaret, Westminster starting from 1539 followed by St Martin in the Fields 1551 and St Clement Danes and St Mary le Strand in 1558.

Baptism entry for Robert Cicil (Robert Cecil, Statesman), 6 June 1563. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Baptism entry for Robert Cicil (Robert Cecil, Statesman), 6 June 1563. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

In 1597 paper registers were found to be deteriorating.  An order was issued for them to be on parchment or vellum.  Old register were to be copied from at least 1558. There was also an order for a second copy to be made and sent to diocese and these are known as the Bishop’s Transcripts.  This was to prevent the temptation of later tampering of the registers.  You can find these copies for Westminster registers on the Ancestry website taken from the copies sent to the Bishop of London.

Burial entry for Elinor Gwin (Nell Gwyn), 17 November 1687. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Burial entry for Elinor Gwin (Nell Gwyn), St Martin in the Fields, 17 November 1687, volume 17. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The years 1642 – 1653 are sometimes known as the civil war gaps due to the upheaval of the monarchy. From 1653 a civil register was introduced which reverted back to the clergy when the monarchy was reintroduced in 1660. Another important date to point out is 1752 when the calendar changed. Before this date the year started on Lady’s Day, 25 March.

Marriage entry for Percy Busshe Shelly, 24 March 1814. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Marriage entry for Percy Busshe Shelly, 24 March 1814, from St George, Hanover Square, volume 23, showing an example of a marriage entry before introduction of civil registration. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The Hardwicke Act for marriages was introduced from 1754. Marriages had to be registered in a separate register to baptisms and burials, before this one register could contain all three. It was also expected to eliminate clandestine and irregular ceremonies; only Jews and Quakers were exempt.  All others including Catholic were supposed to take place in licenced Anglican churches and printed paper registers were introduced. You could marry by Banns or Licence and needed the marks or signatures of two witnesses.

An example of a baptism entry page from St James, Piccadilly, showing the printed paper registers used after 1813. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

An example of a baptism entry page from St James, Piccadilly, showing the printed paper registers used after 1813. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Rose’s Act was passed in 1812 and introduced printed standardised registers for baptisms and burials.

An example of a burial entry page after Rose’s act of 1813 from St Martin in the Fields. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

An example of a burial entry page after Rose’s act of 1813 from St Martin in the Fields. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

From 1 July 1837 the civil registration for births, marriages and death starts in England and Wales.

Marriage entry for Theodore Roosevelt, 2 December 1886. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Marriage entry for Theodore Roosevelt, 2 December 1886, St George, Hanover Square, volume 85 (after civil registration). Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Parish registers still continues. The marriage entry in the parish register does correspond to the same format as the General Register Office certificate, but the parish register will have the original signatures of the groom, bride and witnesses, if they could write their own names.



How Westminster Libraries’ resources helped me to trace an elusive artist

'A view from the artist’s studio', print by Jessie Beswick

‘A view from the artist’s studio’ by Jessie Beswick

Recently I found this engraving in a junk shop. The print was crudely held in place with a sheet of cardboard and peeling masking tape. The frame was immediately recycled, the backing replaced with acid free mount board. However I must thank the anonymous framer for their work in keeping the print in its frame but also more importantly for scrawling in ballpoint ink biographical and geographical information about this print titled ‘A view from the artist’s studio’.

The writer also stated that the artist – Jessie Beswick – was a sister of their grandfather. Without this information this would have simply been a pleasing anonymous town view from a window.

Not so useful was the difficult handwriting which made interpretation difficult. Luckily from this text there was no ambiguity in interpreting the picture’s location, King Street Chester. What were more problematical to read were the artist’s maiden and married surnames which meant using possible name variations in any search for this artist!

With no stated date on the print it was not a just a case of Googling a name and finding her. Even if I was confident with the surname spelling of Beswick I found a number of alternative individuals with this name. I suspected that ‘my’ artist was active before 1945, on the basis that the writer was two generations younger than the artist and had written the information relatively recently – ballpoint pens did not come into mass use until the late 1950s. Another fact which proved to be a red herring in an initial search for her in Chester Street directories (located in the City of London’s Guildhall Library) was to assume that the King Street studio was her residence. In fact it turned out from census and other evidence that Jessie Beswick resided at other addresses in Chester.

It was time to bite the bullet and use Westminster’s ‘In House’ online resources for family history, Ancestry and Find My Past.

Having two surnames to deal with, I first checked marriage records using Find My Past. Success: after several false hits I found the marriage of Jessie Beswick to Walter W White (Walmsley-White) in Chester in 1914. The record usefully included her parents’ names and her age, thus narrowing down by date any census searches for further information. The 1901 census found her, aged 15, residing at her parents’ house. The 1911 census entry usefully reminded me that the census is a record of household occupation on a specific night which is not necessarily the home address. A Jessie Beswick was staying with friends in Lancashire but I am convinced that this is the same person as her occupation is listed as an artist and the birth year and place of birth matches the previous census entry.

I have mentioned my problem of reading original handwriting. Transcribed entries from the census enumerator returns can also provide evidence of transcription errors. Jessie’s name had been transcribed as ‘Lessie’ in Ancestry’s 1891 census entry for the Beswick household.

Find My Past also has a useful facility to search selected local newspapers. An October 1915 issue of the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette reports on a local art exhibition which was

“strengthened by the contributions of some new members, and a new feature is collection of etchings by … Jessie Beswick (Mrs. Walmsley White), the latter lady being also represented in the oils section by two excellent studies of Brittany”.

Confirmation of the move was found when I used print resources at Westminster Reference Library’s Art & Design Collection. Post 1914 entries all list Jessie Walmsley White with a Devon address and prior to marriage her maiden name together with a Chester address. With this information it is reasonable to date this print between 1900 and 1914.

Royal Academy Exhibitors, 1905-1970The first resource I used was Royal Academy exhibitors, 1905-1970: a dictionary of artists and their work in the Summer Exhibitions
Vol. 6: SHERR-ZUL. 

This dictionary revealed that she had paintings exhibited in three separate exhibitions. Unfortunately the dictionary does not include illustrations but listed the botanical subjects of these works.

On a previous visit to Westminster Reference Library I had noticed a long run of annual directories: The Year’s Art: a concise epitome of all matters relating to the arts of painting, sculpture, engraving and architecture. 

The Year's Art, volumes 1908 - 1913

The Year's Art, 1915At that point I had not discovered her birth date and confirmation of her surnames, so I hadn’t plunged in with a systematic search of these volumes. Now, armed with this information, I returned to consult this series. Her first entry occurs in the 1909 edition. Usefully, an artist’s entry includes their home address together with the location of any exhibited work in public galleries. Her address details from the 1915 edition confirm the permanent move to Devon.

Find My Past was also used to find her death record. Luckily my assumption that she had remained in Devon was correct and I found her death record. Jessie died in 1961 aged 75.

Having tracked down this artist my next quest is to find further examples of her work, either in a gallery or improbably lurking in another junk shop.


The 1939 Register on findmypast

Great news everyone: the 1939 Register is now available when you use findmypast in the library – without the need to pay!

Family group, circa 19391939 was the year that Great Britain entered the Second World War. At the same time the government was already almost prepared for the next Census, due to take place in 1941. The worry of the impending crisis and this coincidence meant that they chose to create a national register on 29 September 1939.

This Register was similar to a Census, but differed in a few ways. Most obviously, the date is not a Census date – the Census is held every ten years, the previous ones in the 20th century being 1911, 1921 and 1931. It was also not called a census but a register. The Register holds the details of 41 million people, each of whom would have been issued with an ID card at a time of rationing etc. The details they had to submit to get this ID card, including name, address, marital status, occupation and date of birth are held on this register. The register is described by Find My Past as “one of the most important documents in 20th century Britain”.

Having been scanned by findmypast it was made available on a pay per view basis in September 2015. However, it is not until now that it has become available to general subscribers, and this of course includes library users in Westminster. In some ways we are very privileged to be able to view the register. If it were a Census we would be unable to view the entries until 100 years after it took place. The 1921 Census will be the next Census available after the 1911 Census, this will not be viewable until 2021 at least. Nevertheless, findmypast has put in some regulations as to which records are available. The main limit is that you will be unable to view ‘records of people younger than 100 and still alive, or who died after 1991’; it is possible to challenge this on a case by case basis. More information is available on the Find My Past site.

Family group, circa 1939You can use findmypast in every Westminster Library and at Westminster City Archives, along with Ancestry.
These are just two of the many amazing online resources available to readers to help with their family history research and any other studies and research they wish to undertake.


The Dickens Connection in Marylebone

Charles Dickens - carving at Ferguson House (detail)Recently I noticed the name plaque “Copperfield House” erected on a building at the junction of Beaumont Street with Marylebone High Street. It was named after the Dickens character David Copperfield which was one of six novels written between 1839-51 at the house 1 Devonshire Terrace, situated a few hundred meters away:

1 Devonshire Terrace, where Dickens lived, from Marylebone Road (Image sourced from The Victorian Web)

1 Devonshire Terrace, where Dickens lived, from Marylebone Road (Image sourced from The Victorian Web)

Despite protests, this house situated on the south side of Marylebone Road was demolished in the late 1950s to make way for an office block, Ferguson House. To get some idea what this house’s interior might have looked like, why not visit the house he occupied in Doughty Street WC1?

St Marylebone Church and back of Ferguson House

The Dickens household moved to Tavistock Square in 1851 with the ending of the Devonshire Terrace lease. 1851 was a traumatic year for Dickens – it included the death of his father, his wife’s illness and the death of their youngest daughter Dora in April, so it was not surprising that he did not renew the lease. The rate book entry includes the hand written comment “house empty from November 1851”.

Conveniently this year coincided with a national Census, so I visited Westminster Archives to consult the microfilmed Census enumerator returns for a snapshot of the household. To my surprise the Devonshire Terrace household on Census night only consisted of the Dickens children, who had been left in the care of a cook, a nursery maid and also a wet nurse for seven month old Dora. Where were the parents? Using Ancestry and Find My Past I found them. On Census night Charles Dickens is listed as a visitor at an address in Keppel Street, Bloomsbury, attending to his dying father. His wife Catherine, suffering from a nervous condition, was at Malvern taking the water cure. She was in Malvern when her daughter died two weeks later.

It is worth braving the Marylebone Road traffic fumes to visit Ferguson House at number 15 for the unexpected sight of a huge panel sculpted by Estcourt J Clack (1906-1973) commemorating some of the characters Dickens created while resident Devonshire Terrace – including David Copperfield.

Ferguson House plaque featuring Dickens characters

The parish church was used for a baptism scene in his novel Dombey and Son. You can read this scene on pages 12-13 of a pdf Full History of the Church guide on the St Marylebone Church website.

10 Norfolk Street (now 22 Cleveland Street W1)

Dickens’ father John was born in Marylebone and had been baptised at the previous Marylebone Church, situated immediately to the south of the current church. Dickens also had a number of relations on his mother’s side who lived in the Marylebone and Oxford Street area. Thus it is not surprising that when his parents first moved to London from Portsmouth in 1814 (when Dickens was two), they lodged in the Marylebone/Fitzrovia area at 10 Norfolk Street (now 22 Cleveland Street W1). Although the family initially resided here for two years, Dickens returned to the same house in 1829. He gave this address as his residence when he applied for a reader’s ticket at the British Museum in 1830.

North of this house, the St. Marylebone and St. Pancras parish boundary ran north south following the line of an ancient track Green Lane which with urbanisation became Cleveland Street. At the junction with Tottenham Street the boundary veered off south east thus incorporated Dickens’ house within St. Marylebone. A subsequent amendment of administrative boundaries has meant that the Camden and Westminster boundary now continues along the line of Cleveland Street south towards Goodge Street so that this house now falls within Camden.

Parish Boundary - Cleveland Street

The former boundary is graphically illustrated by this image of a 19th century St Pancras parish marker placed on the side wall of a house on Tottenham Street. Note the “plaque wall” continues as the back wall of number 10 Norfolk Street. The blank wall meeting it at right angles on the right of the image is actually the side of Dickens’ former residence.

A good description of the Norfolk Street area and local observed influences upon his works e.g. the Cleveland Street workhouse, are highlighted in a recent book Dickens and the workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London poor by Ruth Richardson. The book also includes several recent photographs of the house interior which has not been greatly altered since.

The author describes how she identified the house from using a number of sources including maps and rate books held at Westminster Archives (see a previous blog on this work). Note that there has been some controversy over the author’s claim that the house location was unknown. Several people have pointed out that it was accurately located in several previous Dickens’ studies. What is not in doubt is that the book and controversy has resulted in the house being recognised by the Dickens Fellowship who has now erected a blue wall plaque on the house front. The book also describes the successful preservation campaign to save from demolition the adjacent Cleveland Street Workhouse building, the probable inspiration for Oliver Twist.

Ruth Richardson also found several local names that are linked with characters. For example Bill Sykes and Sam Weller have their real life name counterparts in two local shop keepers. William Sykes was an oil lamp oil seller and also within this street was a shoe seller Dan Weller. These links were highlighted in a Guardian interview with Dalya Alberge dated Thursday 2 February 2012. This can be read using the 24/7 newspaper resource NewsBank (log in with your library card number).

Charles Dickens is not the only major Victorian novelist with Marylebone roots. His great friend the novelist Wilkie Collins was born and lived much of his life in the Marylebone area. There is a recently erected Westminster green plaque to mark the site of his birth on the block of flats at 96-100 New Cavendish Street.

Both authors are included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Charles Dickens surprisingly also merits an entry in the Contemporary Authors literature resource. You can access both these reosurces from home with your library card. Finally, both authors’ writings are discussed in the multi-volume Nineteenth-century literature criticism series held at Marylebone Library. This is a valuable resource for literature students and anyone else interested in researching a specific author and their work.

Finally, an exciting Dickens discovery was announced in July 2015 by The Independent. Dickens was editor of a journal “All the Year Round”. A researcher, after purchasing bound volumes of this journal, found that these were Dickens’ own copies and they had a number of handwritten annotations identifying the anonymous contributors to the journal who included major authors such as Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins and Lewis Carroll! You can read more about this discovery on Library Press Display or NewsBank (log in with your library card).


The Great War and your ancestors

"The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time" - Sir Edward Grey, August 1914

2014 marks 100 years since the outbreak of World War I. This centenary anniversary has made remembrance even more poignant.  Remembrance Sunday in November helped mark the event which brought an end to this conflict.

There is more we can do to remember though; we can look at how the war affected the lives of our families back then, which is what I and several others did at a recent session using the Ancestry Online database in Kensington Central Library. This resource is available in libraries in Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham.

Ancestry home page - accessible on library computers in Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham

Ancestry home page – accessible on library computers in Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham

The pictures we built were often very interesting viewing Census records as well as military records which allowed us small insights into people’s lives. But it was often also very sad – families left without sons (in one instance losing several within a very short space of time) and fathers listed and remembered on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website. It made us think of how sad it must have been for them, and their friends as well.

Luckily these online resources make it easier to look back and see what our family did during the war (and before). Whether it is from the medals they won, who they served with, or information from the CWGC website, which lists 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars.

As well as family history records for the British Isles there are other records from the same period around the world, including Canada, the USA, Germany, and France.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website can be accessed from anywhere and can provide a lot of information – more than you’d expect. And there are many instructional books available which can help you search through records and find out more about the Great War.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission home page

Commonwealth War Graves Commission home page

You may find newspaper resources interesting and useful in building a picture of the time and possibly a picture of your ancestors too. The Times Digital Archive is the most popular of these but there are other newspapers available in Westminster. The Gazette (official public record) also allows you to search for medals awarded.

Another online family history resource which is available in Westminster Libraries is Find My Past: this contains some different records to Ancestry.


This post was first published on the RBKCLibraries blog.

Blessed by a visit from Brian

If you’ve just watched the latest ‘Who Do You Think you Are?’ featuring Brian Blessed, did you spot your friendly local archivist Alison, helping him to uncover his humble roots?

Brian Blessed at Westminster City Archives for Who Do You Think You Are? August 2014. L-R: Alison Kenney, Brian Blessed, Stephen Miller

Alison Kenney, Brian Blessed and Stephen Miller at Westminster City Archives for Who Do You Think You Are?

City of Westminster Archives Centre was pleased to help with piecing together the part of the tale that took place in London, and very much enjoyed Brian’s company as we delved into the story of his great-great-grandfather Jabez.

Incidentally, there’s some discussion about whether this name should be pronounced Jaybeez, Jabberz or a range of other variations that were used throughout the programme – if any historical name experts have a view on this, we’d love to hear from you!

We take up the story as the four orphaned Blessed children are ‘removed’ from Portsmouth just days after the death of their father (their mother having died a few months before). They arrive at the St Martin in the Fields parish workhouse on 11 November 1822. The eldest, Martha (14), is described as ‘an idiot’ in the terminology of the day, so Charles, aged 8, was perhaps the senior child. With them they brought Jabez, aged 6, and Elizabeth, just 22 months.

The Blessed family admission record at St Martin in the Fields Workhouse, 1822

Workhouse life was harsh and one can only imagine what state they were in when they arrived and what befell them next, as Martha was dead within eight days and Elizabeth within the month. Jabez was sent off to an ‘Infant Poorhouse’ north of London, returning to St Martin in 1825 after Charles had already been apprenticed to a shoemaker in Vauxhall. Jabez, perhaps wisely, ran away in 1827… and the story goes on from there, up and down the country from Northumberland to Brixton via Lincolnshire.

Brian was shown a map of the St Martin’s workhouse in Castle Street, on the current site of the National Portrait Gallery. He was particularly interested in the location as he has done literature readings and other performances at St Martin in the Fields Church opposite, never knowing of course that his close relative had lived so nearby.

It is thanks to the sterling work of the Archives Centre volunteers that this vital piece of information was so straightforward to find, as they have created an index of the workhouse admissions books. The Poor Law records for the St Martin in the Fields parish are some of the best sets of records in the country, and will soon be available via the Westminster Collection on Find My Past.

Brian Blessed had stated that he was looking for “humanity” and humble backgrounds, and he certainly found them in the streets of Victorian Westminster.

[Alison and Ali]

Find Your Past with findmypast

Hugely popular database Find My Past has recently made fundamental changes to its search interface. To make the most of this amazing resource, free from your Westminster Library, read on…

Auntie Nora? Family history resourcesThere are increasing numbers of datasets available to users. One set close to home is that from the City of Westminster Archives Centre. These are in what is referred to as The Westminster Collection and are absolutely invaluable if you want to find out about any relatives who perhaps lived, worked or had a major life event in Westminster; maybe they got married here!

Accessing Find My Past in Westminster Libraries

Find My Past can be accessed from the computers in any Westminster Library. Furthermore, access is now automatic but you must follow these instructions:

  • From the start page, go to Online Resources > Family History and follow the link to Ancestry and Find My Past.
  • This will take you to the Online resources page where there are links to both Ancestry (which can also be used in any Tri-Borough Library) and Find My Past.
  • When you follow the link to Find My Past (you can also enter the web address: www.findmypast.co.uk) you will then be able to perform a search straight away, either from the main page or from one of the options referred to later on.
  • When you see a result that interests you, you can see more (for instance the original image) by clicking on the link. You will be taken to a page with a few options. The one you must choose to make sure you remain logged in is: “Continue as a guest”.
  • You may then continue using Find My Past without having to choose this option again.

Recommended ways of searching the new Find My Past

You may find that searching from the first page is not ideal as you may end up with too many results to sift through. What we recommend you do if this is the case (don’t be afraid to try all sorts of methods, by the way) is to go to the Search records menu and either choose to search within one of the general areas, for example Census, land & surveys, and fill in the more complex search form where you can add more criteria. Here you can also choose specific datasets such as the 1911 Census – but this isn’t the only way to search specific Censuses etc.

You can also select A-Z of record sets and either flick or search through to find what you wish to look at eg: a census, electoral register. Each one will have a different search form and may be easier or harder to find records. Some, such as the 1901 Census, may even allow you to search for different things such as addresses. But whatever you do, we encourage you to spend as much time as you wish using both Ancestry and Find My Past in conjunction with one another and…

findmypastIf at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again!