Genealogy Research

Never Give Up!

Never Give Up!

For very many years I’ve searched, in vain, for a death record for my 2x great grandmother, Sarah GEMMELL. She was born in Belfast, Ireland in about 1820 and married my 2x great grandfather, James BRAID, in Glasgow, Scotland in 1847. The 1841 census showed her living in Glasgow, employed as a cotton carder.

The family was then to be found in the 1851 and 1861 censuses living in Poplar, Middlesex, England (east London, near Millwall). He was a journeyman iron moulder, so went wherever the work was.

They had five children, of which the first two died as infants.

James then appears in a marriage record, in Glasgow, in 1867. But there was no sign of Sarah. I had assumed (wrongly, as it turns out) that she likely died in London and he relocated the family to Scotland.

He appears in the 1871 census, living with his new wife and two sons (of his first marriage) in Hartlepool, Durham.

But could I find a death (or even a re-marriage) record for Sarah? No.

Then, on a whim, I thought that perhaps James had moved the family back to Glasgow, and that Sarah had died there.

Bingo! She died, aged just 38, of phthisis (a form of tuberculosis) in Glasgow in 1863. Bonus information were the names of her parents recorded in the death register as well as her actual age. Census records can be notoriously inaccurate when it comes to ages, particularly those of an earlier vintage.

Death_Sarah Gemmell_1863

So a conundrum (of a sort), finally resolved.

This is simply an example of the fact that you should never give up looking, and to always try and think outside of the box. Perseverance pays off!

Genealogy Research

Genealogy Proof Standards (GPS)

Genealogy Proof Standards (GPS)

GPSNo, not that GPS!

I mentioned in an earlier blog that a researcher should always take great care when accepting ‘hints’, as provided by some research websites. It is far too easy to accept something that is very obviously incorrect as far as your own tree is concerned.

So today I thought I would describe the standards as applied to genealogy research, as set down by the Board for Certification of Genealogists, based in Washington DC, USA since it was established in 1964.

It might be said that these 5 rules are simply common sense, and to a great extent they are, but in view of the errors I have seen myself in online trees, there are those who have not paid enough attention to them!

How Who

1.  Complete Reasonably Exhaustive Research

This means you must exhaust, within reason, all possibilities to find the information you’re looking for, which also means familiarizing yourself with what records are available and where to find them. For the beginner, it’s important to understand that while online search sites have (literally) billions of records, and you are very likely to find some of what you’re looking for, not every document or record you need will be online.

Researchers often mistakenly assume that everything they need is going to pop up when they hit the search button, which leads them to make mistakes. If a search returns a record that seems like it could be the one they want, they assume it must be because they’re not aware that the correct one is simply not indexed or available online.

If you’re searching, for example, for a birth record for your great-grandfather Arthur Greenhouse, who you think may have been born in Leeds in 1889, you can’t simply accept that the first birth record you see with that name, year and place is the correct one. There are likely to have been a number of people with that name born in Leeds (or close by) in that year. So you need to consider what further, specific, information you may already have that helps narrow your search. For instance, parents’ names and places of birth; his actual birth date (not just the year); where his parents were living at the time of his birth. Not until you have corroborating evidence can you add this specific record to your tree.

2.  Use Complete and Accurate Source Citations

To put it simply, you should indicate where your information came from, and use credible sources. Anyone looking at your tree should be able to replicate your search, and find the same information from the same source that you did.

For beginners, it’s absolutely crucial to remember that other users’ trees do not necessarily count as credible sources. It is too easy to get a little over-eager about hints from other people’s trees. Perhaps that person has already done the serious research work in illustrating some distant branches of your family. By accepting a hint, all those new people can be automatically grafted into your tree. Whilst that can be gratifying, it does sometimes mean you are unwittingly importing errors in the process.

Remember that trees are only as good as their creators. Some are worth copying and some are definitely not. You need to consider how good the information is in the other person’s tree. Is it properly sourced? Does it make sense? The best way to proceed is to try and contact the tree owner for further information, before adding it to your own tree.

3.  Analyse and Correlate

This is where you look at the information you’ve found and interpret it. How good are your sources? How reliable is the information? How was that information obtained and from whom? What conclusions or further research steps has it led you to?

If you’re relying on information from a census report, for example, think about how it was completed. In the UK, prior to 1911, all census reports were handwritten by a census taker via a verbal interview with the householder carried out at the front door. Then that record had to be subsequently manually transcribed to be made available online. So you have to ask yourself whether the names are spelled correctly; whether the ages and place of birth fit with known birth records; are the occupations shown in keeping with previous census records you may have seen; are there family members ‘missing’ who should otherwise be present (in which case you should try and find them elsewhere), etc.

4.  Resolve Conflicts

This is often much harder to achieve, but we all come across information that doesn’t make sense. For example, in one census, your 2 times great grandfather may be shown to have been born in Leicestershire in 1838; in the next, it states he was born in Lincolnshire in 1845. You need to determine which one is more correct. It could just be error(s) by the census taker – they asked for age at the census date rather than the year of birth (and often rounded to the nearest 5). Or it could have been an error during transcription of the written place names. So you need to look at other family members within the same record as well as existing known information about your 2x great grandfather before you can reach a credible conclusion.

5.  Include a Reasoned and Coherent Conclusion

How did you get from the evidence you have gathered to the conclusions you have made? The evidence must be tied together, so taking the step of documenting your reasoning eliminates the chance that you’re simply rubber-stamping a preconceived notion, or that you haven’t fully (or properly) considered all of the evidence.

This is where treeSEARCH’s Genealogy Report truly comes into its own.

Confused? Daunted? There’s no need to be.

One simple thing you can do while researching your tree is to use the Common Sense Standard: when analysing records, be especially skeptical about adding seemingly implausible information to your tree. Families follow logical time scales. So should your tree. Whilst it’s true that sometimes families have extraordinary circumstances, that’s the exception, not the norm.

There’s a scientific principle called Occam’s Razor, which states that the most likely explanation for something is the least complicated. To apply this to genealogy, when analysing your research, the least convoluted answer is usually the correct one. 

If you have accepted and imported a hint into your tree, take some time to look at the information and how it impacts on your tree – particularly when it comes to time and place. Wrongs that may very well appear include children born before their parents; parents who are either too young or too old to be parents; too great an age difference between husband and wife; people living for too long; or children being born after their parents have died (no more than 9 months for the father!).

As I summed up my earlier blog – if in doubt, leave it out!


Genealogy Research

Diary of a ‘Red Cross Man’

Today, it’s time for something a little different (although still, of course, on the subject of ancestry).

My paternal grandfather, James BRAID, was born in 1888. Aged 26 at the outbreak of World War I and despite being a pacifist (he would not bear arms), he volunteered for service. Conscription did not begin until early 1916.

He was therefore enlisted into the 2nd Northumbrian Field Ambulance, 86th Brigade, 28th Division BEF (British Expeditionary Force) as a stretcher bearer.

At the time of his enlistment James had been married for a little over a year (to Margaret) and already had one daughter, Aline.

He arrived in France on 19 January 1915 and saw service at Ypres on the Western Front. From December 1915 onwards he was based in Salonika, in Greece, where the allied forces were fighting against Bulgaria. The war on that front ended with the surrender of Bulgaria on 30 September 1918. He was finally discharged from service on 9 May 1919.

Aged 51, James again volunteered for service in World War II (or the Great War, Part 2 if you prefer). He was wounded and evacuated from Dunkirk (along with one or two others) and after recovering, was assigned Home Defence duties around Dover and Gravesend, manning 3.7″ anti-aircraft batteries.

James died in 1951, aged just 62.

What follows are the transcribed extracts from what was left of his diary. It begins with general comments before moving on to daily recordings of life at the front.

Bread twice a week. Stew for dinner (greasy stuff) make good pig meal. Practically living on biscuits and jam – biscuits like iron. Nobody knows but the soldiers themselves what hardships we go through out here.

A pal and I got lost in Hassine (?), the first day in France. We had to sleep in a wagon on the quayside and had to wait 15 hours until a woman came and took us to our billet.  What a state we were in. The French people are very close fisted. Not a patch on the Belgians, who will give us anything. 

The first man to be killed in our Brigade was an APC man (ambulance crew), and he committed suicide. He shot himself through the abdomen. He was fed up with everything.

We got lost one day in a wood and came across some Belgian Engineers who shared their dinner with us and showed us the way back to our billet. German snipers are pretty busy round this quarter, and it is pretty risky to walk about the roads after dark.

The soldiers here don’t get a quarter of the things that are sent to them. Some of the ‘heads’ (officers) make a good thing out of them, I expect.

Our Brigade is composed of troops who have come direct from India. They are the 2nd Buffs, Middlesex, East Surreys, Royal Fusiliers and Northumberland Fusiliers. We are the only ‘Terries’ (Territorials) on this Division. It is an honour for us to be along with such experienced troops.

The roads here are in a fearful state. What with the rain and heavy traffic, it is knee deep in places. We very seldom get a chance to take our clothes off, so you may know we are just about ‘wick’ (infested) with vermin. We feel miserable. I search my shirt every day so they don’t accumulate.

What a country this is for religion. All along the road you come across crucifixes and little places like sentry boxes where people go in and worship.

The Germans have done terrible havoc to property here. It is pitiful to see the refugees leaving here. They do cheer us when we pass a train load of them.

It is a sight to see the graves of our soldiers. All have little crosses on them. One we came across had 150 Officers and men of the Warwickshires. You come across bodies here and there that are only partly buried and they look awful. 

It is very weird going to the trenches at night getting the wounded. It is pitch dark and the next minute up goes a star shell and lights the scene up for hundreds of yards, and it is just like broad daylight and we have to lie flat on the ground, and then the rifles start and my heart nearly jumped out of its socket. Have been very lucky up to now – only two of our lads being wounded and that was with stray bullets.

FEBRUARY 12 (1915): Bitter cold here today and snowing heavily. The King’s Own slept with us after being cleared in the trenches which are up to the knees with water. We got hundreds of cases of soldiers with frostbitten feet and they suffer terribly. All our work is done at night. Some wounded we come across have arms and legs blown off. I am sick of it many a time with these awful sights I see. God help the poor beggars. I have helped to bury a few up to now. It is murder in the trenches.

FEBRUARY 15: We were out getting in the wounded and we were up to the knees in water and it was awful. We could hardly walk ourselves, let alone carry the stretchers. It was pitch dark and raining in torrents; star shells were being sent up every few minutes and lighted up the ground for yards round. Shells were continually bursting over us and the ping of the bullets was enough to unnerve anyone, but we had all our work set getting the wounded away to bother about bullets. We couldn’t see a hand in front of us and we were groping our way in the dark, bent double to miss the bullets and shrapnel. I will never forget this night to my dying day. We all got a liberal dose of rum after our night’s work. We were drenched and up to our thighs in mud and water and it stank awful. 

What a life. We do our best and no mistake. There is no one more eager for peace than our own troops. Poor chaps in the trenches; I wonder how they stand it. They come into hospital in batches and with the mud and blood caked on them they smell terrible.

You can imagine our job. It is only occasionally they get a chance to bury the dead, and the corpses lie in the trenches half full of water. It gives the men poisoned feet. We have dozens of cases of it and it is awful to see them suffer. It will give you an idea what conditions they labour under. They go to the trenches for 48 hours and sometimes they don’t get relieved for 10 days or more, and they are beat to the world. 

We have had dozens of cases of men shooting themselves in the hands and feet, just to get out of it. You can’t imagine at home what it is like, but seeing is believing.

We get wounded from the trenches and carry them for about 2 miles over hedges and dykes up to where our ambulance cars can wait, and they take them direct to the hospital. We are dead beat after a hard night’s work. It is trying, as we are always under fire and have to keep dropping down to keep out of sight. We went into a barn one night and there were 3 wounded and 10 dead in it and we had to get them out. We were only 300 yards from the German trenches and the bullets were thudding in the walls outside, all the time. I dreaded going out on my way. We got through all right.

We were playing football one day when a German aeroplane appeared above us. Our own airman spotted him and our artillery shelled him and the lumps of shell fell into the field and we had to scatter, double quick.

FEBRUARY 27: We had a marvellous escape. Our stretcher squad (4 of us) had just left the barn where we got a patient, when a shell came and blew it to atoms. We were covered with debris. They don’t recognise the Red Cross here, as they fire on us at every possible chance. We put one chap in the stretcher shot through the spine.  We just got him lifted when he gave a groan and died. Officer said “just put him to one side and get another” – so matter-of-fact.

Life is nothing out here. They think more about a horse. What awful sights we do see; some places we come across resemble a shambles (slaughter house).

The people in England don’t realise the sufferings of the soldiers out here. One soldier strangled himself with his lanyard rather than go back to the trenches again. One of our motor ambulances was blown up the other night by a shell. Many a time I wish I had a rifle so that I could have a pop at the cowards. We carry no arms of any kind, and we are at the snipers’ mercy. They are up trees and lying hiding about, just on the off chance of picking you off.

FEBRUARY 24: Heard that I had another daughter (Doris, born 20 February). We had our first casualty – one lad being shot through the ankle. One trench which we go to get the wounded is called the ‘Death Trap’ on account of the number of lives lost there. They shelled the road where our ambulance wagons were standing and one poor chap out of the Kings Own had his head blown clean off.

It is snowing heavy here today and it is about 4” thick. Very pleasant (I don’t think). My feet are about frozen off and we write home telling you we are all right and not to worry, and we are miserable and just about frozen to death. My feet have never been dry since I left England, as we are constantly over boot tops in water and mud. Just fancy, we haven’t had a change of clothing for 8 weeks and they say we get plenty. The people send them to us, but goodness knows where they get to. Somebody must make something out of them.

We are billeted in an old barn with half the roof missing (it happened to be in the road of a shell). We can hardly sleep, what with the cold and the noise of the artillery. It is a sight to see our troops coming out of the trenches after they have been relieved, they are ragged and covered with mud and only a quarter of those that went in, many a time. It is murder and I am heartsick of it.

We just about live on jam and bread and stew every dinner time (greens and meat). We had an Officer and a Sergeant wounded by bullets, both shot in the stern.

I had a pal who got his foot blown off at Ypres and his mate killed during the bombardment. 

We had another shot in the ankle and one night I will never forget to my dying day, 4 lads were putting a stretcher in a car when a shell struck it. It killed our 4 lads, wounded both drivers, killed another lad who was a wagon orderly, and also killed the wounded man on the stretcher. I don’t know how we got through the night. How I prayed to God to keep me safe.

Since being out here I have seen 4 aeroplanes shot down by our troops. They are a sight worth seeing. We were at Hill 60 – a very big battle – and we brought out over 100 wounded from the trenches in broad daylight. There were men lying about, blown to bits. God, what a sight it was. We go through Ypres right up to Zonnebech (Zonnebeke), St. Julien (Sint Juliaan) and St. Jean (Sint Jan) to get the wounded. You will have seen these places mentioned a lot in the papers.

Western Front, 1915-1918

The Germans shelled Ypres and we had to clear. They put hundreds of shells into it and we lost a lot of troops. In one place a number of Royal Engineers were asleep after a hard night’s work, when 5 shells dropped amongst them and killed 10 outright and wounded 40. We brought them in and the shells were flying all round. We were out all day in the streets getting in civilians and soldiers.

The Germans were shelling us with those 17” shells. What a sight when they burst. You could put 2 tram cars easily into the hole they make (15’ deep and about 20’ across).

It is terrible in Ypres. There isn’t a house left standing, and dead horses and carts strew the roads and the stench is awful, as it is very hot now. It gives me the creeps to go through the place, as they always shell it on account of our troops going through, and we just have to run the gauntlet.

Ypres was the scene of much of the bloodiest fighting of the war. Three great battles were fought for its possession.

APRIL 22: A terrific battle took place (the Battle of Gravenstafel Ridge). The Germans used poisonous gas, and the French, who held an important position on the left of the Canadians, had to retire. The Canadians saved the situation, but at terrible sacrifice. They lost about 3,000, but saved the day. The British lost a battery of 4.7” guns and the gallant Canadians re-took them, but the Germans had blown them up. You never came across such brave troops. Everyone likes the Canadians. They made their name that day. Hundreds of Canadians were asphyxiated.

Two British regiments went to reinforce the Canadians left flank and when they rushed up and gave three cheers to the gallant Canadians. We dressed 320 cases that day and there were only 6 of us and our Captain, and he praised us for our hard and good day’s work.

Ypres is one mass of ruins and blazing, not one single building being left intact. What a sight, and the stench from dead bodies is awful.

Canadian forces at the Second Battle of Ypres, April 1915. Painting by Richard Jack.

MAY 8: We had another 2 lads wounded with shrapnel, which makes our casualties 22. Thank God I am fortunate up to now.

MAY 9: Our men retired from Zonnebeke and Sint Juliaan (the Battle of St. Julien) about 2 miles (a pre-arranged plan). I expect the Germans will make a lot out of it. The Germans lost 1000’s and a few of our Regiments – the Dublin Fusiliers, Northumberland Fusiliers, Suffolk and East Surreys, Welsh and Kings Own, Yorkshire and Lancashire, all suffered severe losses. 300 of the Suffolk were surrounded, so they surrendered.

When we left Ypres all along one street was blazing and we had to dash through with the cars. What an exciting 3 minutes, as the street was full of shell holes and we could hardly bear the heat. It was the sight of a lifetime. All the ruins and dead horses lying about and one (?) was burning. If I had had a camera it would have been a photo that everybody says would have won that big money prize offered by one of the newspapers, for photos direct from the Front.

The Germans bombarded our trenches all day and there were more killed than wounded. The wounds were awful. One Captain in the Dragoon Guards had his arm blown off; another had the cheek of his backside blown off and a leg broken, and another, a leg off.  Our Dressing Station was like a shambles.

MAY 11: Four of us had to go to a Dressing Station to bring the wounded away at a place named St. Jean.  All Ypres was ablaze and we had to dash through. The heat was intense. It was a wonder the car didn’t catch fire. Came back and formed a party to bury 10 men. We put them all in a large shell hole, all in a heap, including an Officer. Some had laid 9 days and the stench was dreadful and it was about 1 in the morning. That is only one of the bits of our unpleasant task.

We were at that terrible battle for Hill 60 and we were bringing in the wounded in broad daylight, a thing we had never done previously. We had hundreds of wounded to bring away from the trenches and dugouts. Men were blown to bits and lying in all directions, every few yards.

My God, it was awful. I counted over 100 dead bodies just lying where they fell, all blown to atoms nearly, with the shells.

MAY 15: Came out of action for a well earned rest and I came across my old Battery, and had a good time with them again. Hope and Neasham. They were surprised to see me out here. We are resting at a place called Watou, about 14 miles from Ypres, and it is lovely.

MAY 19: We have left Watou after 3 or 4 days rest and are now in France again at a place called Herzelle (Herzeele). It is about the fiftieth village we have been billeted in. When I was at Hill 60 I got two German shell noses which I am keeping as “souvenirs”. We are having hot weather again after 2 or 3 days of heavy rain. We’re getting very moderate grub now.

MAY 22:  We are on the move again, leaving Herzelle at 1 o’clock and passed through Watou, La Beale (l’Abeele) and Boschoen (Boeschepe), for a billet near Poperinge, and arrived at 6 o’clock. It was terribly hot and we had full kit on, so you may know how we felt. It was 14 miles.

MAY 23: Italy declares war on Germany.

MAY 24: One of our sections went into action for the first time after our rest (the Battle of Bellewaarde Ridge), and they had one man killed and one wounded. The Germans had been using that infernal gas all day, and our troops suffered terribly, especially the Northumberland Brigade (the Old Castle Eden), had big losses, and also the rest of the 5th DLI (Durham Light Infantry).

MAY 25:  We were getting wounded in at Zillebeke, south east of Ypres. We had to get the wounded out of the communication trenches and we were only 100 yards from the firing line; the bullets were flying all around and digging in the ground around us with a thud.

While there the Germans made a charge and our men waited until they were up to the wire entanglements, which are just in front of the trenches, and then they opened fire on them, the German dead were piled in heaps. What with the rapid rifle fire and the machine gun fire, it was awful to witness, and it was moonlight at the time. The German star shells were falling at our feet. They are like a rocket and make a large flare.

MAY 30: We left Boeschepe for Watou again for a rest.  We were resting a week ago but were called up in reserve, as there was a big attack on Ypres. Fine weather.

JUNE 2: Had some sports in which I won a stretcher race. Lovely weather prevailed.

JUNE 3 / 4: Are busy preparing a Hospital in Watou, scrubbing out and whitewashing, etc. Very hot weather.

JUNE 6: Scorching hot, and the first batch goes on Leave. Having very hot weather up to the 9th, when we had thunderstorms and terrific rains. Nothing much doing. I forgot to put in that on the 3rd we saw a Zeppelin and it was making for the Coast, and I expect England was its destination. Nothing doing much, as we are resting and having fine weather.

JUNE 18: Today is very hot. The second battle of Ypres lasted from April 21st to May 13th. It was terrible Lena (James’ sister Florence), and I have never seen so many dead and wounded during the whole War. We were worked to death, nearly. One day and part of another, we were dressing wounds for 26 hours without a spell and had nothing to eat. 

Well, Lena, we have moved again. Now about 15 miles away and we aren’t half tired, as it is roasting hot, and landed at a place called Boeschepe in France, and we opened another Field Hospital. Over 60 tents, in an ideal spot, in a valley surrounded by trees and we can see Diksmuide in the distance. There are cherry trees and grapes growing all around. It is lovely.

We are now at Monte Cat. It is a large monastery and a Bavarian Prince was killed there. It is a lovely place and you can see for miles around, just like being on Roseberry Topping (a local landmark in North Yorkshire’s Cleveland Hills). Having delightful weather.

We still hear the rifle and artillery fire and see the shells bursting at night. It makes a fine picture.

JUNE 24: Our Nursing staff went to Bailleul to open a Big Hospital. During the last 3 weeks there has been a great move of Cavalry and they are all massing round the Ypres District. There is a big battle pending and it is likely to come off at any minute. We will be in the thick of it. We are quite prepared for it. Our men have dug yards and yards of trenches and barbed wire entanglements in case they have to fall back.

JULY 10: Since June 24 we have done nothing but fatigues (Hospital). We have to shave every morning. Just fancy, being as strict as that and on Active Service too.  Having very warm weather with an occasional shower. No matter where you look here, you see hops growing to make beer. They look queer. There are hundreds of poles about 3 feet apart and all connected by wire, and the hops grow up these poles, along the wire, and they are now about full grown and they do look well. The air is tainted with them, and they have such a beery smell. The cherries are quite ripe now and the pears and apples are coming on also. We will do them justice; presently.

JULY 16: We went into action again at a place called Kemmell (Kemmel) and things are very quiet there. I was the first one picked to go to the trenches, and we got 11 cases of wounded. We were soaked to the skin as it was raining all day and night, and I was drenched to set off with.

JULY 19: We saw several German aeroplanes hovering round our Lines and at night there was a terrific German Artillery bombardment round Dichibusch (Dikkebus). What a sight it was seeing the shells burst. It was awful, but yet a fine sight.

There were dozens of shells of all sizes and every time a “coal box” burst there was volumes of dense black smoke rose up. While I am writing this, they are still bombarding and I can see them easily, as I sit on the grass. I saw 4 German aeroplanes today and our aircraft guns shelled every one, but were not lucky enough to bring one down.

JULY 20: Our airmen very busy over the German Lines. Saw 5 up at once and the Germans didn’t half shell them, but all to no effect. You talk about maneuvering; they can nearly do what they like with their machines. They dive down a hundred feet or more and then off again in a circle and then they will descend in spirals and nearly turn over, and it is a fine sight, I can tell you. The Germans have been bombarding again today and sent several “coal boxes” over. Our airmen chased a German Monoplane Taube (Dove). Had the hardest luck not bringing it down. On guard at night.

25,000 of Kitchener’s men came through our District, so the big move will soon be coming off. They were all North Country Regiments viz. West Riding, Manchester, Yorkshire, Lancashire, 9th Northumberland Fusiliers, Royal Engineers and RAMC. It took them 3 hours to go through our Village and there was one continual string of troops and Transport wagons.

JULY 22: We had to leave our billets again to make room for Headquarters of Kitchener’s Army, and we are now at West Houtre (Westouter), 4 kilometres distant, and it rained all the way.  After we left La Kleit (Klijte), the Germans dropped 2 shells near our late billet.

JULY 24: We moved again to Zoere (le Seau) and from there, in the course of a few days, we are going to Armentierres (Armentieres).

Arrived at Zoere and was out at the trenches at night and we had to carry the wounded 1 1/2 miles through a communication trench, as it was exposed to rifle fire above ground. We had 7 cases and we finished about 2 o’clock in the morning and were ready for our sleep. We have an observation balloon over our billet and I wish it was shifted, as the Germans send a few explosive shells over every day, trying to bring it down.

JULY 25:  Got C.B. and fined 5 francs for ‘lifting’ 1 pear off a pear tree!  Justice.

JULY 27: Very quiet.

JULY 28 – 31: Great activity in aeroplanes. Witnessed several air duels.

JULY 30:  There was a heavy bombardment. Canadians taking 3 trenches. It is a sight seeing the shells burst at dusk.

AUGUST 2 (Bank Holiday): We had a walk to a place called Bailleul, 5 km away and had a good time. It has about 10,000 people and has not been shelled by Les Allemandes (Germans). While we were at the trenches getting the wounded, one of the Germans threw a note into one of our trenches and it said “Look out for August 3rd”; and on the 3rd one of our trenches was blown up and there were 17 casualties. The trench contained the Welsh Regiment. It is pouring in torrents and last night 2 of our cars got stuck in a ditch near the firing line, so our lads had to carry the wounded fully 3 miles and only 2 bearers to a stretcher (very hard work).

AUGUST 7: We took 1,000 yards of German trenches at Chateau Hooge and there was terrific bombardment through the night, when our artillery blew the German trenches.

AUGUST 8 – 11: Very quiet, excepting great activity with our aeroplanes.

AUGUST 11 – 20: Heavy artillery duels all along our Front, and we had Taubes over every day, and it was quite exciting to watch them.

AUGUST 22: Very hot. We have 3 German aeroplanes over our Lines. We had an open air service in the field where we bivouacked. We had the Brigade Band in attendance and had just finished when 3 large shells dropped in the next field to us, and I can tell you they caused quite a stir and we all got the wind up. It properly unsettled us all, as it had been so quiet.

SEPTEMBER 1 – 3: Wet weather.  Heavy bombardment on both sides.

SEPTEMBER 4: Our heavy artillery bombarded German trenches. What a terrible racket, as there was a heavy artillery battery next to our billet.

SEPTEMBER 16 – 18: We had to go in the trenches and dig 4 dug-outs to be used as Aid Posts, as all suitable houses had been blown to atoms. Queer job, as the bullets were whistling round us all the time and we couldn’t see what we were doing, only when the star shells went up and then we could see only too well.

SEPTEMBER 19: Up at the trenches again, making a dug-out, when we were shelled; 1 shell hitting the top of the dug-out we were in. It was courting certain death to put your head above the parapet.

SEPTEMBER 22: We left our billet at Zoere on the 22nd and marched 11 kilometres to a place called Merville in France. Very hot weather. We left Merville and marched 22 kilometres to Bethune near La Basse (La Bassee) on September 25th. We left Bethune on the 26th and had dinner at a place called Sailly-Labourse and I think we are bound for Arras. We have advanced all along the Line and they are bringing in hundreds of German prisoners.

From La Bassee to the Champagne District we have advanced 5 miles on a 12 mile Front, and the French and English combined have taken 12,000 prisoners. We have them on the run. We left Sailly-Labourse on the 28th for Cambrin and we got shelled on the road; 20 shells coming over in about 5 minutes.

SEPTEMBER 27:  I was helping another ambulance (Kitchener) and we had hundreds of wounded to deal with. We are now round La Bassee (the Battle of Loos) and we have advanced several miles, but it has cost us huge numbers of men. We have the Guards Brigade up here and also the Scots and both have been about wired out. It is awful. We live in dug-outs and the shells are bursting all round. 

While our transport was leaving, the last billet we had was shelled on the road, 25 shells coming over in no time, and 2 horses were killed and lumps of earth were flying round us. I was lying in a ditch for safety.  Another lucky escape.

There are 3 Batteries of RGA (Royal Garrison Artillery) in the vicinity of our dug-outs and the noise is deafening.  A Corporal and I are in charge of this dug-out and we look after any wounded (walking cases) and make them a hot drink. We are 6 miles away from our pals and get rations sent up every day to us. It is lonely, but we don’t mind as long as a shell doesn’t drop on us. I am in the best of spirits.

SEPTEMBER 28 to OCTOBER 3: We are bombarding the German lines heavily. We left Cambrin, where we had been in the thick of the fighting and proceeded to Burnettes (Busnettes) via Bethune, where we stayed 2 days and then off we go again.

OCTOBER 10: Paid a visit to Lille, a big French town.

OCTOBER 16: We left Burnettes to take up a Hospital in Bethune, a very large town and constantly being shelled, it being near La Bassee.

OCTOBER 18: Took over another large Hospital (to clean it out). Left 3 days later and took over another Hospital in Bethune, and then we left there the day after and marched to Hooges (Hinges) – 4 kilometres. 

Left Arras, entered Marseilles on OCTOBER 26 after 56 hours on the train. Lovely scenery.  Marseilles, I can hardly believe my eyes gay life with a vengeance.  Had a bath in the Mediterranean and it was lovely. We left Marseilles after being there 5 days (and having the time of our lives) and embarked on the 30th October in H.M.T. “Karoa” (Glasgow), and I think we are bound for Egypt or Serbia.

HMT Karoa

First day on board, lovely weather and we are all lying about the deck and the Mediterranean is as smooth as a pond. It is ideal. Ship has hardly a roll. Brilliant sunshine and we are watching the porpoises, which jump out of the water.

NOVEMBER 1 / 2: Rough weather and I am nearly dead with sea-sickness. 6 of us were on night guard in case of submarine attack, and if we got the signal, our job was to switch on all the lights.

NOVEMBER 2:  At 2 in the morning we passed Malta. We get butter, bread, tea and porridge every breakfast, and roast and vegetables for dinner, and butter, bread and jam for tea, every day.

NOVEMBER 3 / 4: Lovely weather and it is scorching hot, and we are lying all over the deck, basking in the sun.

NOVEMBER 5: We arrived in Alexandria and the boat was surrounded by the natives begging. It is glorious. 6 days at sea. At night you would think the sea was an incandescent light, as it is full of phosphorus.

NOVEMBER 7: Marched to Camp, just outside the City.

NOVEMBER 8 – 14: Hot weather and bathing 3 times a day. Having the time of our lives. Only drawback is, we haven’t had a Post for 3 weeks.

DECEMBER 4: I am very bad with dysentery, but of course, I tell you I am all right.  I am very bad (motions) 20 times in one day. Still very hot through the day. Have had no letter from Mother (his wife, Margaret) for 5 weeks. I had to go into Hospital on December 4th, with a touch of Dysentery.

DECEMBER 13: Still in Hospital, and I have lost about a stone. Weak as a kitten; cheeks sunk right in; feel very bad too.

DECEMBER 19: We left Egypt in the S.S. “Kingstonian”, which has a gun mounted astern. We had Christmas Day on board, going through the Aegean Sea. Delightful scenery. Ship torpedoed only 30 miles from us on Christmas Eve. We arrived in Salonika on Christmas morning. Left the ship 2 days after for our Camp outside the Town.

SS Kingstonian – later torpedoed by U-68 on 11 April 1918

The original Diary is now lodged at Leeds University – it was sent to Peter Liddle at the University in April 1994. It now forms part of the “Liddle Collection” – the 1914 – 1918 and 1939 – 1945 Personal Experience Archives, available for scholarly research.

James BRAID, 1940


Genealogy Research

Family Migrations

One of the greatest ancestral influences is migration.

It may be migration within a country (from one city or region to another), or on a grander scale still – movement between countries and even continents.

As mentioned in an earlier blog, my own family has made these exact moves in just the last 200 years – moving from the Scottish lowlands to the highlands, then south to London, north again to Yorkshire and finally across the world to New Zealand and Australia!

Prior to the invention of the steam engine and the development of railway networks, people basically remained in, or nearby, the rural villages and towns where their families had lived for countless generations.

After the Industrial Revolution, there was increasing movement to the cities as employment opportunities in new-fangled industries grew and agriculture declined. Subsequent to that was the huge increase in international migration, helped in no small way by wars and pestilence. Families now had options!

This large-scale global movement of populations has had a profound effect on where and how people live, giving rise to entirely new branches of the family tree growing far from it’s original roots.


The above chart shows population movements since the 1700s. In particular, note the areas enclosed by the dotted lines – North America; eastern and southern parts of South America; Australia and New Zealand; and far eastern Asia. These regions have received great influxes of migrants out of (mainly) Europe, people who would have been seeking a better life for themselves and for future generations.

It is this movement of people which makes the genealogists task much more interesting, let alone complex.

Most people will know whether their families migrated, especially if it took place in recent history (within 2 or 3 generations). Others may not know exactly when a migration occurred, but will know by their family names that they likely originated in some other far flung country. Still others may have families that migrated more than once, just to help complicate the picture.

More recent migrations (within the last 200 years) will most likely be documented in one way or another – ship passenger lists, arrival and departure lists, convict transportation lists (for our Australian friends!) and the like.

Discovering the details of a migration can yield enormous results – broadening the ancestral profile for your family in ways you may never have guessed.

Genealogy Research

Never Worry About Asking For Help

For anyone just starting to research their family tree, it can be a very daunting prospect. There are many important questions that need to be answered, even before you begin:

  • Where do you look?
  • Which websites should you use?
  • Should you join any of the web-based genealogy research services?
  • If so, which?
  • How should you organise your research activity?
  • How will you know if someone you find is truly an ancestor?

Then, once your search is underway, you have to determine how you are going to record your results and then document them so they can be shared with other family members.

None of these are easy questions, and there are no simple answers.


However, treeSEARCH is only too happy to provide advice and guidance, whether you’re beginning your research, have questions about where to go next, or have got stuck.

This advice is provided at no charge (we like to help!).

And if you find it all too hard (and believe me, many do), treeSEARCH can always undertake the investigative work for you (and for this, of course, we do charge!).

In any event, please feel free to contact treeSEARCH – we’re always pleased to hear from fellow researchers.


Genealogy Research

Field Trips

Although my ancestral investigative activity is (usually) limited to searching online records, there are times when it is necessary to make an actual site visit to seek out historical records that are not available online and to get a broader perspective of the lives and times of your ancestors.

A classic example of where this is often necessary is in Scotland.

Although many records are available on line, there are very many more that are not. As Scotland has historically been a net exporter of people, particularly to Canada, US, Australia and New Zealand, a major ‘industry’ has developed in Scotland over recent years, catering to the desire by descendants of Scots to discover their Scottish ancestry.

So there will always be cases where McMohammed must go to the McMountain.

My own Scottish voyage of discovery took place in 2008.

I flew into Glasgow with my favourite airline (Emirates) and drove on to Inverkeithing, a small town on the north side of the Firth of Forth in Fife (try repeating that rapidly – part 1), opposite Edinburgh. It was there that my 3x great grandfather, John BRAID (c1785-bef.1841) married Mary JACKSON (c1785-bef.1858) in 1807.

I was seeking records of their births and marriage and any records of the births of their children. At the time, I knew of just three – Janet, born in 1815; Jane, born in 1817; and James (my 2x great grandfather), born in 1822. I was also looking to find any other male Braid descendants, as they are rather thin on the ground (see below).

Unfortunately, the Inverkeithing church was closed for refurbishment (and had been for a while), so I was unable to find whether any records were held there. The local librarian referred me to the Fife records office in Dunfermline, and there I found a few grains of gold. Although there were no formal birth or death records, there was a microfiche of a register showing rentals by the church of shrouds for funeral services. These showed the services for three Braid children (named Janet, Anne and Mary) all in the month of February 1814 (two on one day!), but no record of where (or even if) they had been buried. No further information could be found.

The staff at Dunfermline referred me to the Scottish Genealogical Society, in Edinburgh. So a quick trip across the Firth of Forth from Fife (part 2) to find that they could not provide a great deal of assistance. However, since I already knew that the family had moved north (to Ross & Cromarty), they recommended that I visit the Highland Archive Centre, just outside of Inverness, as well as the records office in Dingwall.

I began in Dingwall, where the staff were able to search Scottish census records to a depth that I’ve never been able to achieve with online records. After discovering new names, places and dates I went on to the Highland Archive Centre to investigate further. And here lay the motherlode.

Thanks to some extremely helpful staff, and three visits over three days, I was able to find parish records for the births of 12 children to John and Mary! Only four made it to adulthood: Janet (1815-1866), Jane Gordon (1817-1893), James (1822-1900) and Mary (1831-1911). The others either died in infancy (confirmed by records), or no further records exist (which probably means the same thing – death records are very rare in Scotland).

So after the births of the first 5 daughters – Anne (1805-bef.1811), Janet (1807-1814), a second Anne (1811-1814), Mary (1813-1814) and a second Janet (1815-1866), and the subsequent deaths of the first four girls, the family (John, Mary and the surviving daughter Janet) moved to Resolis (on the Black Isle), in Ross & Cromarty, north of Inverness (apologies for the lack of alliteration).

View from the ruins of a folly built above Evanton, Ross. In the background is Cromarty Firth and the Black Isle.

Here John was a brewer and cooper, as he is described on the birth records of his subsequent children: Jane Gordon (1817-1893), Eliza Montgomery (1819-?) and a second Mary (1821-bef.1831), all born in Resolis.

James BRAID (my 2x great grandfather) was born in 1822 in Poyntzfield, a farming estate just up the road from Resolis, and where the distillery was located. The original manor house has been subdivided into holiday lets.

Following the discovery, seizure and forced sale of the distillery equipment (Inverness Journal, 23 July 1823), the family moved further north to Tarbat, Portmahomack, where 2 further children were born: Alexander Muir (1824-?) and Henrietta (1826-?).

The family is next found in Maggot, Inverness, where the last of the Marys was born (1831-1911).

Mary (John’s wife) appears in the 1841 census, living in Gilbert Street, Inverness (on the north bank of the River Ness). She is described as a widow living on her own means (I am advised that this just means she was independently wealthy), so John must have died sometime in the intervening decade after daughter Mary was born, but no records have been located.

When Mary married (in 1858), John and Mary are both described in the marriage register as being deceased.

I was disappointed not to find further records for the other children, as their given names create more questions than answers: Jane Gordon; Alexander Muir and Eliza Montgomery – these middle names could all be surnames – ancestor family names, family friends or benefactors/employers perhaps?

Great great grandfather James made it into the local press twice – Inverness Courier, 15 October 1845: he was named as one of several as being ‘most meritoriously active and useful’ in saving life and property in a large fire between Inglis Street and Theatre Lane, Inverness. Six months later, the other end of the scale – Inverness Journal, 24 April 1846: he was charged with mobbing and rioting (potato riots) and assault, at the Inverness Circuit Court (one of five so charged). A year later, James was married and had moved to Tower Hamlets, East London.

So the net result of my visits to all of the (Scottish) locations involved in the Braid family’s peregrinations was a greater number of names, dates and places to investigate further! Needless to say, I subsequently discovered, investigated and documented the marriages and children (and their descendants) of those that did survive (Janet, Jane and Mary) and have even made contact with the Australian descendants of Mary (she and her family emigrated to Sydney in 1865).

However, no further surviving male Braids came to light. My 2x great grandfather James BRAID (1822-1900) was the only surviving male of his generation; his son, my great grandfather, David Alexander BRAID (1857-1938), was one of five children – two died in infancy, and the second surviving son did not marry (or have children). David Alexander had two sons, one of whom married but had no children; the other, James BRAID (1888-1951) is my grandfather. He also had two sons, James and John, both of whom married and had one son. Both of those sons (one of them being me, of course!) also had a son, but neither of them have had any children.

So in a few short years (relatively speaking – literally!), the male BRAID line will come to an end. Fortunately, a number of children born to Braid wives over the years and generations have been given the name Braid as a middle name, so it will live on.

One highlight of the visit (apart from the excellent results and the warm welcome from (it seemed) everyone in Scotland, but certainly the staff at the records offices in Dingwall and Inverness), was the discovery of the Glenmorangie and Dalmore distilleries, located on Dornoch Firth and Cromarty Firth respectively. A bottle or two of their product made it into my bag for the return flight.


As a side note, whilst in Dunfermline I visited the tomb of Robert I Brus (the Bruce) (1274-1329), that rather famous King of the Scots with a thing about spiders.

Robert I Brus (1274-1329)

It wasn’t until some few years later, after very lengthy research into my mother’s side of the family, that I discovered that he is my 1st cousin 23x removed! Who knew? Robert Brus’ grandfather, also Robert Brus (1210-1295) is my 23x great grandfather. ‘Tis a small world – but that’s another story.


Genealogy Research

Famous Links, Anyone?

I refer, in my website’s Home page, to the possibility of finding a link to a historical figure, whether famous or infamous, during the course of any genealogy research. The chances of such a discovery are often better than you may think.

Whilst researching my own family tree, I did just that. Usually, I don’t put much effort into indirect relationships, such as the marriages of cousins and uncles/aunts.

But now and then, I get a bit carried away and a trigger name pops up.

My 1st cousin 4x removed, William CARTER (1823-1905), married Margaret DAVISON (1827-1895) in 1848. She was the daughter of John DAVISON (1798-1868) and Elizabeth Cook FLECK (1797-1858) who were married in 1825.

The names Cook and Fleck rang immediate bells for me – one obviously, the other not so.

James COOK, RN

James COOK, (1728-1779) has always been a bit of a hero for me, not just because he had such an influence in the more recent (European) histories of New Zealand and Australia, and his almost superhuman voyages of discovery, but also because he hails from North Yorkshire, where much of my father’s side of the family originated (after they left Scotland, that is).

Cook’s Three Voyages

So discovering the use of the name Cook piqued my interest. The Fleck name, however, was even more interesting.

I already knew that Margaret COOK (1742-1804), James’ younger sister, was the only member of the Cook family (James’ had 7 siblings) to have married and had children and subsequent descendants. None of James’ own six children, with his wife Elizabeth BATTS (1742-1835), lived long enough to marry – in fact Elizabeth outlived them all, surviving to the ripe old age of 93 .

Margaret COOK married James FLECK (1739-1817) in 1764. They had a son, also James FLECK (1765-1828) who in 1794 married Margaret ROWNTREE (1772-1798). Their daughter, Elizabeth Cook FLECK (see above) clanged the bells.

So that makes James COOK the 2nd grand uncle of the wife of my first cousin 4x removed. We’re almost brothers.