Research Co-ordinator's Report
By Toney Storey
This article was originally published in the December 2001 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.
Looking back on recent years I believe there are three crucial elements that have brought us to where we are today.
Firstly there’s our website. Worth twenty minutes of anyone’s ‘surfing time’, since its introduction it has become our main source of new leads and new members. The website is the first impression people get of the Sole Society and we know how important first impressions are. Thanks to Tim Soles for creating and maintaining the site and thanks also to those who have contributed material and photographs.
Secondly, for existing members, particularly those less active ones, it's by our journal, Soul Search, that we are judged. I think we’d all agree that the content and production standard has reached new heights – and we have the prizes to prove it!
So Tim, almost single-handed it seems sometimes, has done wonders for our image. But I know that he would be the first to agree that image only takes you so far. Potential new members might be attracted by our website but they won't join unless they're persuaded we have something to offer them, some substance behind the gloss. For a family history society that substance is knowledge, expertise and ongoing research. That’s where I come in and, far more importantly, that’s where you come in.
The third essential component in our success was the introduction of a research standard designed to ensure a consistency of research development across the four name groups. Working towards that end, our research objective last year was that by today we would have a complete database of births, deaths and marriages from the GRO for the period 1837-1950. In particular, work was needed on Saul and Sewell. We completed all but a few years, which although short of our target was still a magnificent effort.
Three years ago, the Society could claim to have 30,000 events on computer. This was a reference to the IGI data we held on a fairly basic database. At that time the majority had not been charted. Since then, those events have been used to produce family charts all of which are on computer. To put the GRO project into perspective, in the last two years the volunteers have extracted over 60,000 entries from the registers of births, deaths and marriages: that’s an additional 60,000 plus events recorded and available to our co-ordinators and our members. I think that’s a tremendous achievement. I’ll ensure over the next few months that any loose ends are tied up, but now I want to draw a line under the GRO work and move on to our next project, which promises to be a lot more interesting.
Prior to 1858, although Canterbury and York were the main centres, it was possible to prove a will in any church diocese the length and breadth of the country. However, wills since 1858 have been kept and recorded centrally in what we’ve come to know as the Somerset House wills index. The index is not only very informative in itself but copies of the index are available in County Record Offices and the larger libraries. So we have a lot of information, widely available and freely available. The Society’s research project will therefore be to copy all entries of interest to us covering the period from 1858 to 1950.
The Sole group, thanks to Fred Sole, have already extracted details of Sole wills. In addition, I have carried out a pilot scheme for the Saul group. My thanks to Norman Saul for his assistance. Based on the number of deaths from the GRO index for that period I estimate there will be approximately 450 Saul wills and 1500 Sewell wills. To obtain a copy of a recent will, one since 1858, costs £5, which might be good value if it's your own family but is not cost-effective for the Society, particularly as the Somerset House index is in itself sufficiently detailed to give us what we need.
As an example, this is an entry from 1882:
27-April, the will of Isabella Saul late of 7 Wood Street Doncaster in the county of York who died 3 November 1881 was proved at Wakefield by John Saul of Doncaster stonemason and James Saul of Nottingham builder, sons. The estate was worth £54 14s 11d.
You will notice that the index gives the actual date of death, unlike the GRO index, as well as addresses, names and occupations of executors or next of kin. Occasionally it gives personal details that remind you that these aren’t just names but real people.
See if you can tell me what these next three entries have in common.
1864, 27 April – William John Saul late a lieutenant in Her Majesty's 88th Regiment of Foot who died 30 July 1863 at sea, was proved by the oath of Julia Annie Saul of Claremont Villas, Morton Road, Bootle near Liverpool in the county of Lancaster, widow, the relict, one of the executors. Effects under £800.
1859, 29 August – James Murray Sawle late of the parish of Falmouth in the county of Cornwall, accountant, who died 29 January 1859 at Loanda on the west coast of Africa. (mentions brother Robert Sawle, attorney’s clerk, of Huntley Street, St Marylebone, Middlesex.) Effects under £300.
1870, 4 October – Stephen Sawle formerly of Falmouth, Cornwall but late of Cardiff in the county of Glamorgan, master mariner, who died 3 August 1870 at Taganrog in Russia. Proved at Llandaff by Jane Sawle of 35 Adam Street, Cardiff, relict, sole executrix. Effects under £200.
The answer is that none of the three deaths appear in the GRO index. The chances are that if one of these appears on your family tree you’d long since given up hope of ever knowing what happened to them. Well now you know!
Perhaps one of our members is about to find out she has a many-times great-aunt who eloped with a soldier only to die en route to India. Perhaps one of you is missing a great, great uncle who it turns out was a missionary who sailed to the South Seas only to be eaten by cannibals.
Now let me tell you a sad little tale about a Cornish fisherman. It’s 1878. Thomas Sawle lives in Gerrans, on the Roseland peninsula, a lovely part of Cornwall but life is hard if you earn your living from the sea. Thomas is proud to call himself a master mariner. He lost his young wife just eighteen months ago, leaving him with their only child just a year old, a son they named Andrew. The boy is now two and a half but life’s a struggle. Thomas has to go to sea in all weathers to earn a living and he leaves his son with his wife’s father – there’s no-one else. Imagine him kissing his son goodbye and trudging down to the harbour. It is the first day of March 1878. Perhaps the sea was rough that day, perhaps a storm was brewing off shore, but Thomas was never to return. The little boy has lost both his parents and he’s not yet three years old.
How do I know all this? – From the wills index. Probate was granted to the boy’s grandfather as the boy’s only living relative. It’s like a plot from some historical romance, Poldark perhaps, but Thomas and young Andrew aren’t characters in a book. They were real people. I wonder what became of the lad.
I hope you’ll agree that the Somerset House wills index is a goldmine well worth our attention. I still need volunteers to help so please think about it. The wills project is not the first and won't be the last time I ask for volunteers. All these sources are valuable and vital to keep us moving forward and the bigger the pool of volunteers the lighter the load. Those of you who have helped in the past will know that I ensure that the volunteers are the first to benefit from any new research and every member of the team is copied in to everything the team produces.
Once we’ve finished extracting the wills, there’s still a lot of information out there waiting to be discovered.
A question for those who know a bit about football. Who scored the winning goal in the 1967 FA Cup Final? Spurs beat Chelsea 2-1 and the winning goal was scored by Frank Saul. An Essex Saul, I believe.
Another question – Who was the first motor car driver in the UK to lose his life in a road accident? In February 1899 that dubious distinction went to Edwin Root Sewell, aged 31. Another Essex man, born in Great Baddow, near Chelmsford. Edwin’s great granddaughter has been in correspondence with us.
Future research will certainly include the Public Record Office at Kew. We need to take a close look at what we can usefully extract. The National Newspaper Archive at Colindale is another target. It would be extremely useful if we had a volunteer with easy access to north-west London.
As for storing and distributing all this information, I foresee a time in the not too distant future when the Sole Society issues a compact disk to each member. A single CD can contain the equivalent of about 400 floppy disks.
Imagine receiving a CD ROM with your journal, The complete GRO index entries for your name, the IGI, family charts, wills index, extracts from the burials index, Boyds and Pallots marriage indexes and so on. Census extracts perhaps? We’d have one disk for the Soles, one for the Sewells, and so on.
Sounds a bit futuristic? Well we’ve been beaten to it! At least one other member of the Guild of One Name Studies has already issued a CD ROM to its members. It’s in the form of a website that you can browse for different information, including births, deaths, marriages, memorial inscriptions and so on.
How long before we get an e-mail from one of our members – ‘My wife’s a member of the Blanchard Society and they’ve sent her a CD ROM with all the information there is on Blanchards. When are you going to issue one for Sewell?’
So when are we issuing a CD ROM for each of our surnames? That depends firstly on the committee agreeing to do it. After that it depends on you. I believe that with your commitment and enthusiasm we could produce the first disk in the next year or so, say three years at most for all four names. Admittedly a year or three behind the Blanchards, but they only have to worry about one name!
I hope I’ve given you a glimpse of where the Sole Society is heading. Please offer to help. We need to press on with the wills project and ensure that each of the four surname groups have fully complied with the research standard, so there’s a lot to do before we can think about CD ROMs. Have a word with me or mention to your surname co-ordinator that you’d like to help in some way.
My thanks to those who have helped us to get this far. Without you we wouldn’t have a society at all, let alone a successful one. I hope that you’ll continue to help us on this and future projects.
The CD ROM project has been agreed by the committee and initial planning for the project has started. Due to the huge volume of work the first release is not expected to be available to members until the latter part of 2002.
Members who heard the presentation wanted to know the fate of the young orphan Andrew Sawle. His marriage is recorded in the last quarter of 1899 at the age of 24. No record of his death has been found in the GRO index up to 1950, so there is every chance that he had children of his own. A happy ending!
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