Monday, 26 December 2016

80th Anniversary

Today, 26 December 2016 is the 80th Wedding Anniversary of my grandparents, Joe and Sadie Quinnin. My grandad's name was really Albert Victor, but he became known as Joe in his youth. The reason for this is subject to family lore and myth.

They married at Tynemouth Registry Office when my grandad was 27, and my grandma just 20-years-old. Their witnesses were my grandma's sister, Florence, and my grandad's brother-in-law, Bill Weightman, who had married his sister only a year before. 

My grandparents were utterly devoted to each other, their love for each other was undying. Together they had twelve children! 

In 1972, my grandad suddenly became ill. Crippled with stomach pains and other ailments, he was taken into hospital. There, on 3 August 1972, he wrote my grandma a letter. I now have the letter, which I treasure. It is written on pale blue hospital paper and is kept in a faded yellowing envelope. It reads:

Dear Sadie,
Just a line or two, to let you know I am doing fine in here. Well Sadie I went to sleep at 8-30 this morning and they woke me up at 11-20 to wash me. They gave me a good wash all over and my pyjamas were so wet with sweat they had to give me some of the RVIs.

When they got me put right they put me in a big chair at the bedside, and they put my smoking jacket on me, when they drew the curtain every one was looking at me, the nurses from the other wards were coming in to have a look at me, they were bowing in front of me and shaking hands. They were calling me Sir Albert.

Well how is every one at home. I hope you are getting plenty of rest now. Is Peg all right now I hope she still comes in to see you. Tell everyone I am asking after them. Well I think this will be all. Excuse writing as these nurses are pulling and tearing at me.

From your loving Husband
Sir Albert Victor 

Peg, the woman named in the letter, was my grandparent's neighbour.

My grandad died just over a month later, and my grandma never fully recovered. She was reunited with him in death in 1984.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Party for the Aged

"Members of St. Andrew's Methodist Church congregation entertained many of Newbiggin's over-65's at a Christmas party in the Church Hall on Saturday.
Highlight of the evening was the cutting of a cake, performed by 83-year-old Mrs. I. Oliver, assisted by 95-year-old Mr. Adam Storey. 
After a high tea the aged guests were entertained to an excellent concert, which was presided over by Mr. T. Sanderson, assisted by the Rev. A. H. Jex, minister at the church. Each of the aged guests received the gift of 3/-."
Morpeth Herald, Friday, 24 December 1948

On this day in 1948, the Morpeth Herald reported the above article. 

I know Christmas would have meant a great deal to Adam Storey, him being a devout and ardent Methodist. 

Without a doubt, Adam would have been the oldest person in Newbiggin at that time, which makes me wonder if Mrs Oliver was the eldest lady in Newbiggin. 

Adam was an extremely busy man. His diary was full most days, and he remained active and fit into his old age right up until he died at the age of 97. I imagine Christmas would be especially busy for him.

Merry Christmas and thank you for reading!

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

John Storey of Morpeth

Just a short blog post this week, and I hope it is helpful to someone out there.

Around this time every year the whole house is cleaned more thoroughly, in time for Christmas. For me, that means I sort my papers out and file away anything that I haven't already. 

Amongst some of my papers I found this certificate which I purchased back at the start of the year. It is the death certificate of John Storey, a chaise driver from Morpeth. I mistakenly purchased his death certificate believing it to be the registration of my great-great-grandfather's eldest brother, who died when he was two-years-old. Thankfully, this is the only certificate I have mistakenly bought.

This John Storey died on 3 December 1847, at the age of 66. His cause of death was stated to be concussion of the brain, which he had endured for 14 days. John Storey's death was registered the day following his death by a woman named Margaret Moscrop, from Bridge Street, Morpeth, who was present at the death.

I checked FreeReg for a corresponding burial, and thankfully there was. John Storey was buried on the 10 December 1847, a week after his death. 

That same day a death notice appeared in the Newcastle Courant newspaper, which read as follows:

At Morpeth, on the 3rd inst., John Storey, chaise-driver, in consequence of a fall from a cart.

I found John and his family living at Market Place, Morpeth in the 1841 census. He is living with Mary, twenty years his junior, and three children; Mary, John and Sarah. I don't know if Mary Snr was his wife because the 1841 census does not specify relationships.

Hope this is of help to someone out there.

Friday, 18 November 2016

GRO - My 3x Great-Grandfather's Birth Certificate

With the recent GRO index update, I was finally able to find my 2x great-grandfather's birth certificate. The new index shows the mother's maiden name, meaning those hard to find certificates can at last be discovered. It is also helpful in finding certificates of children who a couple were unfortunate to lose in early infancy, or between the census years. 

Here is the extract of my 3x great-grandfather's birth certificate: 

As you can see, when my 3x great-grandfather was registered, he did not yet have a forename. Of course, I know the name his parents later give him; John.

Interestingly, there's another box at the end which is headed "Baptismal Name, if added after Registration of Birth," which is left blank. 

Burton is a small place, just south of Bamburgh on the Northumbrian coast. it can still be found on Google Maps, and shows it has a perfect view of Bamburgh Castle. 

I have this rather funny image of my 4x great-grandmother going to Belford Registry Office, babe in arms, while her husband is out in the nearby fields. On arriving, she suddenly realises that they haven't yet decided on a name for the baby, so leaves the name blank, to be filled in at a later date. It never is!

I have ordered two other certificates which shall hopefully arrive in the coming days, and I look forward to seeing them.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Mary Ann Cotton, she's deed and she's rotten

Mary Ann Cotton, she's deed and she's rotten
Lying in a' coffin with a' belly wide op'en

This was the rather ghastly rhyme my grandma while cradling her children and grandchildren. I have known this version of the rhyme probably my whole life, although it does differ from the official version.

I was amazed to discover, fairly recently, that I have a distant connection to Mary Ann Cotton. But who exactly was she? 

Mary Ann Robson was born on 31 October 1832 at Low Moorsley, Durham, and was baptised on 11 November at West Rainton. Her parents were Michael and Margaret Robson (née Lonsdale). Michael Robson was a pitman, later described as a pit sinker. 

Mary Ann's baptism at West Rainton
(then Rainton Chapel)

When Mary Ann was still a young girl, her family moved to East Murton, where her father got a job at the local colliery. They weren't there for long when her father Michael died after falling down the pit. After Mary Ann's infamy rose, there were stories that Mary Ann witnessed her father's mangled body be brought back to the family home in a wheelbarrow, owned by the colliery. Her mother remarried to a man named George Stott shortly after, whom Mary Ann was not very fond of.

Mary Ann became known as the first and most prolific serial killer in British history. Cotton was the name of her fourth and final husband, although it was a bigamous marriage. Hers was a truly sick and horrific Victorian tale. She is thought to have murdered 21 people, including husbands, step-children, her own mother and eleven of her thirteen children. Arsenic was her poison. 

Mary Ann Cotton

Mary Ann Cotton is still a rather grisly name in the north east of England, but I doubt very many people outside of the region have heard of her. 

So how is it that I am connected to Mary Ann Cotton?

Mary Ann moved to Seaham Harbour after the death of her first husband in 1865. She soon after struck up a relationship with a man named Joseph Nattrass, who was already engaged to be married. After Joseph married, Mary Ann left Seaham Harbour. 

Mary Ann and Joseph rekindled their relationship years later, sometime after 1871. Joseph had been widowed, and was now living in a village nearby. On discovering this, Mary Ann convinced Frederick Cotton, her new husband, to move to the same village. Frederick Cotton was killed a few mere months later, and Joe became the lodger of Mrs Cotton

Joseph Nattrass may have been Mary Ann's on-off lover for a few years now, but that didn't stop him following the same fate as his predecessors. Joseph became ill in 1871, suffering with gastric fever - like all those before him, and died soon after.  

Joseph was the son of Henderson and Mary Nattrass, who had an elder brother named Michael. In 1862, at the parish church of Gateshead Fell, Michael Nattrass married a lady named Margaret Errington - Margaret's sister Isabella was my great-great-grandmother. Isabella and her husband Matthew Taylor (my great-great-grandparents) were the witnesses to the union. 

Michael Nattrass
and my aunt Margaret did not have any children, and separated only a few years into their marriage. They both met new partners, and married bigamously, but t
hey both seemed rather happy with this arrangement.

After Mary Ann Cotton was found out, her details and those of her victims were written about extensively in the media of the time. The following was written about Joseph 'Joe' Nattrass in the Shields Daily Gazette, 8 October 1872;

"Strange to say, at this period, "Joe" Nattrass, one of the men she is accused of poisoning at West Auckland, was lodging with his brother, Michael Nattrass, at the back part of the property at which she lived. Mrs Wallerson, a neighbour, is not aware that she knew Nattrass then, although she might, and he able to conceal the knowledge of such acquaintanceship from her. Joe Nattrass was married about this time to a young woman, named Thubron, daughter of John and Mary Thubron, who were then living in Back Terrace, Seaham Harbour. After his marriage he went to live at Shildon, where his wife died. He must then have gone to West Auckland, and by a singular coincidence fallen in with the woman Cotton and gone there to lodge. Michael Nattrass and his wife have since died."

Mary Ann Cotton was sentenced to death, and she was hanged on 24 March 1873 at Durham County Gaol. 

It is entirely possible that my aunt Margaret Errington knew the ill-fated Joe, and perhaps she was even acquainted with Mary Ann Cotton herself. Margaret died many years later, so must have known about the Mary Ann Cotton murders, as just about everyone in the north east would have. 

My maternal grandmother would sing her version of the Mary Ann Cotton rhyme to her children and grandchildren, whilst she cradled, rocked, or bounced them on her knee. I can only assume her own mother, Sarah Jane Taylor, sang the rhyme to her - and she possibly learnt the rhyme from her own mother, Isabella Errington

ITV have filmed a period drama detailing the Mary Ann Cotton murders - It stars Joanne Froggatt of Downton Abbey fame as Mary Ann, and airs tonight at 9pm.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

By This Misfortune

Last year I wrote a blog post on my 4x great-grandmother, Martha Robinson. Martha suffered multiple tragedies in her life, and it was important for me to document the key points in her life. 

Last week I discovered yet more about my resilient ancestress, and thought I'd update my blog accordingly. 

To Summarise

  • Martha was born in 1783 at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, to George and Jane Robinson (née Simpson).
  • Lost her father, three brothers and nephews to the sea one fateful day in January 1808.
  • Martha moved down the coast to Cullercoats when she married a fisherman named John Armstrong, at Tynemouth in January 1810. 
  • In April 1810, John Armstrong drowned at sea, after marrying Martha only three months before. In a cruel twist, Martha discovered she was pregnant soon after.
  • Martha returned to Newbiggin shortly after. There she gave birth to her son, George John Armstrong, in November 1810
  • Martha married John Renner, my 4x great-grandfather, in August 1817. John Renner was the elder brother of her sister-in-law, Ann Renner Robinson.
  • Martha and John Renner had three children; Ann in 1818 (my 3x great-grandmother), Edward in 1821 and Johnny in 1822. 
  • John Renner died in May 1847, and Martha's son Edward died in May 1854. 
  • Martha's youngest son, Johnny, drowned just off Newbiggin's Church Point in December 1861.
  • Martha died in January 1867 of old age. 

Last week I found that Martha applied to receive some relief from The Corporation of Trinity House of Deptford Strond, when she was widowed for the first time in 1810. The Corporation is now known just as Trinity House. Trinity House was responsible for distributing charitable funds to sailors, pilots and fishermen who had fallen on hard times, but also their widows and children, should they have any. 


It reads:

To the Honourable the Master, Wardens, and Assistants of the CORPORATION of TRINITY-HOUSE, of Deptford Strond.

The humble Petition of Martha Armstrong of Cullercoats in the Parish of Tynemouth, in the County of Northumberland, aged 28 years, and Widow of the late John Armstrong, Fisherman, humbly

THAT your Petitioner's Husband the late John Armstrong was bred and served as a Fisherman at Cullercoats many years. He and many more went off in cobles on the 6th of April last, when a violent storm arose and a Life-Boat was employed to save the People, and the Crews of the other Boats in company, but by the violence of the Waves the said Life-Boat was dashed in Pieces, when your Petitioner's Husband and many more perished! By this Misfortune, your Petitioner is left a Widow and is pregnant. 

That your Petitioner is not now able to Support her self without the Charity of this CORPORATION, having no Pension or Relief from any other Public Charity or Company whatsoever.

Your Petitioner, therefore, most humbly prays that she may he admitted a Pensioner to this CORPORATION at the usual Allowance. 


The document is dated 4 May 1810, just short of a month following the death of Martha's husband, so the situation must have been pretty dire. 

My next task is to try and find out how much the "usual allowance" was, and how long Trinity House supported Martha and her son for. I can only assume that the payments stopped when Martha married John Renner in 1817. 

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Wall Knoll

I've recently returned from a little hiatus away from the genea-world, but through that time I was away, I still made sure to check for any new records or information coming online. 

One record set I am particularly interested in is the Newcastle upon Tyne, Electoral Registers over on Ancestry. The records date from 1754 to 1974. Numerous family lines passed through Newcastle at some time or another, but the majority of my family went on to settle in the Tyneside area. 

However, I did manage to find a few ancestors listed in the registers, and to be honest I'm completely bemused by it. Two of my ancestors appear in the List of Burgesses in the 1853-1854 year. Their names were Andrew Queenan and Peter Coyle, my 4x great-grandfather and my 3x great-grandfather, respectively. 

Their entries aren't very detailed, but I am able to glean a fair bit of information from them. Both men were living in Kimpster's Tenements, Wall Knoll, Newcastle, their families occupying a room each. Back in the 1851 census, both families are listed on the same census return page, living adjacent to each other. The address is described only as "Wall Knoll," so Kimpster's Tenements is brand new information to me. 

Andrew Queenan disappears from the electoral registers after that date, so I can only assume that by the following year he and his family had moved to Philadelphia, Murton near North Shields. Andrew later died in 1859. 

Peter Coyle appears in later registers for 1858 and 1859, both times living in a public house on Sandgate. Sandgate was alongside Wall Knoll, so the Coyle family hadn't moved very far at all. The register does not say which public house it was, but I already know it to have been the White Swan. By 1861 the Coyle family were living in Philadelphia, Murton, close to the Queenan (now Quinnin) family. 

Both families were Irish migrants, paupers. I will need to do some research into how and why the two men were able to vote. 

Below are a few select excerpts of what life was like living in Wall Knoll during that time:

"Maria Graham, for robbing another foreigner of a silver watch and £1 10s, at a house of ill fame in Wall Knoll, was committed for two months. - Jane Morpeth, was charged with robbing a young man named John Young, of his coat, in Wall Knoll. The case against her not being complete, she was remanded until Wednesday."
- Newcastle Guardian, 23 July 1853

"Jane Morpeth, a notorious character, was brought up for stealing £1 13s 6d from the person of Charles Porter in the Wall Knoll; but the prosecutor not appearing she was discharged." 
- Newcastle Courant, 9 September 1853

"Before Ald. Hawks. - Patrick Grant, glass-cutter, was charged with assaulting and robbing Ralph Liddell, of his watch. The complainant, while passing along the Wall-knoll, was suddenly attacked by the prisoner, who struck him, and attempted to snatch his watch from him, but, while struggling, a police-officer fortunately came up, and captured the prisoner. On examining the place, the watch was found lying on the ground. The bench, under the circumstances, fined the prisoner £3 for the assault, and in default of payment committed for two months."
- Newcastle Courant, 11 November 1853

"Harriet Edgar and Ann Wilson, robbing a Dutch sailor of 8s 6d, in a house of ill fame, in the Wall Knoll, were committed for three months."
- Newcastle Guardian, 31 December 1853

"All Saints' District, particularly Pandon, Silver Street, Wall Knoll, and the more densely populated parts of the district generally, were also in so bad a sanitary condition that parts of it could not be worse. Mr Simon enquired as to whether the excrements were thrown out in any of these places? Mr Rayne said it was so, and if Mr Simon were to walk down there at night he would most likely get a shower. (Laughter.)"
- Newcastle Journal, 28 January 1854

It is quite clear to all that Wall Knoll was a hotbed of crime, disease, filth and unsavoury characters, and this was the street in which my ancestors lived. 

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Sea Unicorn

The British Newspaper Archive have recently added a new newspaper, the Tyne Mercury; Northumberland and Durham and Cumberland Gazette. They only have early years so far, and already I have found so much. 

This is my favourite little find so far:

"On Wednesday se'nnight, an animal, supposed to be what is commonly called a sea unicorn, and measuring about 15 feet in length, was found lying on the beach between Cambois and Blyth. It had been previously washed ashore at Newbiggen, but the fishermen not knowing what it is, suffered it to be carried away by the ensuing tide."
- 23 September 1828

This particular newspaper appears to be quite fond of the word "se'nnight," which I had never heard of before. A quick Google search tells me that "se'nnight" is an old word meaning "week". 

Presumably the sea unicorn was a narwhal, a very rare sight on the Northumbrian coast. 

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

A Family Tragedy

David Wood Leslie was born on 8 December 1910, at Wemyss, near Buckhaven, Fife, Scotland. His parents were Patrick and Margaret Leslie (née Wood), who were originally from Larkhall in Lanarkshire. 

The Leslie family returned to Larkhall soon after, so it was here where David grew up. In the late 1920s however, the family moved to Twechar; a small mining village in Dunbartonshire.

When David was 22-years-old he married Rachel Hickie Burns, a local girl from Twechar, at the Roman Catholic church in nearby Croy. 

On 21 February 1937 the Leslies had a baby girl, whom they named Rachel. Sadly, tragedy struck soon after.

There was a write-up in the Kirkintilloch Gazette a week later, which went into further detail as to what happened on that tragic day. 




A tragic occurence took place at Twechar on Friday nightm resulting in fatal injuries to Rachel Leslie, the six weeks old daughter of David Leslie, miner, who had been living in lodgings at Burnbrae. The house is an upstairs one. Mrs Leslie had the little girl in a perambulator, intending to go out. There are a number of inside steps, then a landing, with other eight steps to the ground level. On reaching the landing, Mrs Leslie left the pram to return to the house, and in her absence the pram had moved and gone over the edge of the landing and down the eight steps. The infant was thrown out. It was found to be seriously injured. The child was taken to Yorkhill Hospital, where it was found to be suffering from a fracture of the skull. The infant succumbed on Saturday.

On 4 May 1937, only three days after her death, Rachel was laid to rest in the family lair at Larkhall Cemetery. 

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Good Samaritan

At St Andrew's Methodist church in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, there is a curious stained glass window.

The window depicts the tale of the Good Samaritan of Biblical fame, who is known for his sympathy, compassion and kindness.

The window at Newbiggin is special to me, as it is in fact my great-great-grandfather, Adam Storey, who is depicted as the Good Samaritan. 

The window is dedicated to both Adam Storey and Jane Mavin, his wife, who were "Most Ardent Members Of This Church."

If you look into the face of the Good Samaritan, you will be able to see Adam's kindly face looking back. The glass worker must have been incredibly skilled.

I'm very touched by the symbolism of the window. The church must have believed Adam shared the same qualities as the Good Samaritan.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The Widow of Edward Carlin - Update

Back in April I wrote about Janet McComb or Carlin, the younger sister of my 3x great-grandmother, Jane (or Jean) McComb. Their parents were James and Ruth McComb (née Duggan), who were Irish migrants.

In my blog post in April I detailed the sad married life of Janet. She birthed three boys who all died in early infancy, and was widowed early. With nothing left, Janet shortly followed her babies and husband to the grave, almost like she willed herself to die.

Janet's death certificate describes her as a pauper, resident in the Govan Poorhouse at the time of her death. Her death was caused by phthisis (tuberculosis).

Janet's death certificate.

Now, with thanks to my good friend (and distant cousin!) Matt Reay, I am better able to understand Janet's final days. I now know that shortly before her death, Janet applied for Poor Relief. Matt visited the Mitchell Library in Glasgow and was very kind to transcribe the application for me. It reads as follows;


Name: Janet McCoombe or Carlin.
Residence: 15 Cleland Street, low.
Application date: 13 March 1877 11.30am.
Religion: Prot. (Protestant)
Status: Widow.
Trade: Washing and cleaning.

She is listed as being wholly disabled with no earnings besides relief.

Any family living at residence? None.
Any family living elsewhere? None.

Husband: Edward Dickie Carter (Error)

Report by Assistant Inspector Robert Davie who visited the property 14 March 1877 at 1pm:

She is aged 33 years, born at Blackfaulds, Rutherglen. Prot. She is the daughter of James McCoombe, miner, and Ruth Dougan, both dead. Her husband Edward Carlin, carter, born in Thistle Street, son of Thomas Carlin, carter, dead, & Jean Turner who is living at 34 Thistle Street, died at Thistle Street five years ago.
No family.

In present house: 5 months.
34 South Wellington Street: 3yrs 6mos.
327 Crown Street: 1yr.
34 Thistle Street: 6mos.

She is a washer certified unfit from bronchitis and fit for removal. Application is made for her admission Poorhouse having no home. - Govan Combination.

The decision of the committee: 20 March 1877 - PH (Poorhouse) Requiring treatment.

Applicant died PH 7 April '77


Poor Janet. What a life. 

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The Brown Forebears

Elizabeth Brown was born in 1848 at Widdrington, Northumberland, the eldest daughter of Robert and Isabel Brown (née Joisce). The Brown men were all farmers, but Robert spent sometime as the Widdrington baker. 

Elizabeth's baptism at Widdrington.

When Elizabeth was around the age of 21, she gave birth out of wedlock, to a baby girl named Alice. I don't think I will ever discover the identity of the father. Alice was certainly accepted by the wider family, as she was raised in the house of her grandparents. Interestingly, there was another granddaughter who lived in the household of Robert and Isabel Brown. Her name was Margaret who was born in around 1874. It could be that Elizabeth had another illegitimate daughter. 

Robert Brown died on Christmas Day 1881, and was buried with his parents in the family grave at Widdrington. Illegitimate Alice Brown was also laid to rest in the plot in 1884, when she died unexpectedly. 

Elizabeth Brown married James Bell at Morpeth in September 1876. James was a coal miner, born in New Hartley. Their child, Robert, was born the following year. 

In around the mid-1890s, James Bell became a greengrocer in Ulgham, close to Widdrington. He also found work as a rabbit catcher. Robert Bell was truly his father's son, as he also worked as a gardener and rabbit catcher. 

The Brown lineage.
Jane Mavin was my great-great-grandmother.

Elizabeth Brown was the second cousin of my great-great-grandmother, Jane Mavin. Jane was born in 1853 at Widdrington, so likely grew up knowing Elizabeth and her family. Their common ancestors were their great-grandparents, Anthony Brown and Margaret Marshall, a couple who raised their family in the small hamlet of Druridge, in the parish of Widdrington. 

Elizabeth Brown died in February 1938, a few weeks short of her 90th birthday. A rather unique obituary appeared in the Morpeth Herald in the week following her death. It read as follows;


Living in a district where changes are continually taking place there are not many individuals who may claim that their family has resided in one particular area for upwards of five centuries. Yet this unique record was revealed at the funeral of Mrs. Elizabeth Bell, who passed away on Sunday, at the residence of her brother, "Hillcroft," within six or seven weeks of her 90th birthday. A member of the Brown family, particulars of their forefathers are traceable in Widdrington parish records for almost 500 years, and many an interesting account of old customs and practices were recounted by the deceased lady as her friends gathered round a homely fireside on a winter's night. A search into the past a few years ago revealed the fact that one of her forebears had reached the age of 89, and her one wish was to live until April of this year when she herself would establish a record for longevity for the Brown family.
The interment took place in Ulgham Churchyard on Wednesday afternoon, the service being conducted by the Rev. L. Tirrell, vicar of Ulgham. ..."

I so wish I could have sat at the fireside as Elizabeth spoke of the bygone customs and our shared family. I certainly have some research to do it in the wake of this find. I have no where near 500 years of Brown history! 

Sunday, 31 July 2016

July 2016 - Blog Monthly Roundup

I've thought about doing a Monthly Roundup on my blog for a while now. We'll see how this goes - it may not be a permanent fixture! The titles of my blog posts are links. 

My first blog post this month was a sad one. It detailed the suicide of a cousin on my mother's side of the family. It was particularly heart-wrenching as the poor lady's 11-year-old son was interrogated at the inquest. Naturally, he would have been grieving, and I don't think it was very fair of the coroner. 

The coroner's questions implied that he believed Mrs Ellen Gray committed suicide, after having a row with her husband, as he asked that particular question more than once. 

I ended the post by saying that another tragedy hit the family in later years. I will write that post soon, and publish next month. 

The second blog post this month was dedicated to a complete mystery in my family history. It concerned Catherine Queenan, an elder sister of my great-grandfather, Martin Quinnin. 

Catherine was baptised as an infant, then totally disappeared. There is no birth certificate, no death certificate and no burial. She is a complete conundrum. 

I personally suspect she died as a baby, but can find no proof of that. If she did survive childhood, there is certainly no marriage certificate or death certificate for an adult Catherine. 

The next blog post this month was a little study I conducted into my more recent ancestors. By recent, I mean back to my great-great-grandparents on all sides of my family. I made a chart and looked at numerous sources to deduce whether or not my ancestors could read and write.

Some ancestors were easier than others, for example I know one wrote his own will. The majority came from civil registration documents, where I checked the informants of events and if they signed their name or with a X. 

It was nice to see some progression in regards to learning to write with some of my ancestors. One of my Scottish grandmothers was the informant on most of her children's births. It was interesting to see her write her new married name incorrectly at first with her first few children, then be able to perfect her signature with her last children. 

I also colour coordinated the chart, with different colours meaning different birth countries, and whether there was a factor in that. It was interesting to see that my ancestors of Irish descent were often less likely to be able to write. 

A Family Gold Mine

Now you may notice there is no link attached to this blog post, and nor are you able to find it on my main page. Sadly, I made a rookie mistake. 

Whilst going through my drafts and published posts, I clicked delete on what I thought was a very old post - it wasn't. Sadly I have deleted my most recent post, one which I enjoyed writing. 

Thankfully I keep all my notes, so will write this one again. It should be up in a few weeks time. For the short time it was around, I received some nice feedback on it. 

Blogs I've Enjoyed This Month

  • Kindred Past - This blog only has five posts currently, but I can't wait to read more. I have enjoyed everyone so far. The latest 'Hide and Seek with Harry' was particularly well-written, and I really empathise with how aggravating it is when an ancestor just can't be found. Very relatable. 
  • Dunfermline Men Who Died During WW1 - This is a brand new blog! The blog plans to highlight the lives of the men of Dunfermline and West Fife who died fighting in WW1. The first (and currently only) blog post features a young man who received the Victoria Cross. It's a very good read. 
The blog post next Wednesday will concern the Browns; an old Northumbrian family who have lived in one particular area for centuries. I am lucky enough to be descended from them. Until then... 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Writer's Block: Which of my Ancestors could write?

I decided an interesting idea would be to see who in my more recent ancestry could read and write. 

On civil registration documents in the UK, the informant of the event was required to either make their mark (a cross, X), or sign their name. A lot of information in the chart I prepared is taken from birth, marriage and death certificates from my own family 

The 1911 census returns were the first to be filled in by each head of the household, and so this is often be the first time someone will see their ancestor's full signature. If the head of the household was not able to write, then someone in the family, a friend or a neighbour was allowed to fill in the form on their behalf. 

First things first, obviously I can read and write. My parents can, my grandparents could, and so could all of my great-grandparents. 

Ticks denote they could read/write.
Crosses denote they could not.
Thanks to Crista Cowan from Ancestry, AKA the Barefoot Genealogist for sharing the chart, and giving me the initial idea.

I have somewhat neglected looking for my ancestors in school records, so I'm not sure if they will exist in places. A fairly recent record set published on Find My Past were the National School Admission Registers & Logbooks from 1870 - 1914. I found a lot of relatives in those records, but not many direct ancestors.

One I did find was my great-grandmother, Minnie Metcalf (written above as MM 1893 in the fourth column), who attended the Crofton Temporary Infants School in Blyth, along with her younger sister Nellie.

My great-great-grandfather, Adam Storey (written above as AS 1853), could read and write. He probably attended the Church of England school at Newbiggin, as did his siblings. I know Adam was a highly intelligent and educated man, who aspired to become a solicitor. He was an apprentice to a solicitor in Morpeth for a short while after leaving school. Adam's wife Jane Mavin (written above as JM 1853) could also read and write. 

As an added extra, I also coloured the boxes to show where my ancestors were born. Red for England, Dark Blue for Scotland, Green for Ireland etc. The Orange is for my paternal grandmother, born in Australia, and the Light Blue is for my great-great-grandfather, William James Rudd, who was born in Virginia, USA. 

Looking at my paternal grandfather's side of the family, it is clear that the previous few generations were all born in Scotland. Charles Leslie and Agnes Carroll, my great-great-grandparents (written above as CL 1858 and AC 1865, respectively), were not able to write. They were both children of Irish immigrants, so it is not a big surprise to me at all. 

My other great-great-grandfather, William McLean (written above as WM 1874) could not write. He signed with an X on numerous civil registrations, and so was obviously unable to even sign his own name. Interestingly though, his wife Marion Richmond (MR 1878 above) could sign her own name. In the early years of her marriage, Marion could be found signing her name as "Marion McClen."

My two great-great-grandparents born in Ireland could not read or write either. Martin Quinnin and Barbara Coyle (MQ c.1838 and BC c.1841 respectively) were both born in Co. Sligo, and came to England during the potato famine. It is no surprise to me that they were illiterate, as they were the children of impoverished labourers. They both signed their marriage certificate with an X. 

Similarly, my maternal grandmother's grandmother's were illiterate also. Matthew Taylor and Isabella Errington (MT 1838 and IE 1841 above) were both born long before education was made compulsory in England, and so I never expected them to be able to read and write. 

As for two of my great-great-grandmothers, I just don't know if they were literate. I can guess that Ann Jane Knox (written above as AK 1874) could write, as I have found school records for some of her siblings. As for Jane Barrass (JB 1853), I just don't have any evidence. I believe one of her brothers wrote and signed his own will, so I could maybe guess that she could, but I'm just not certain.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Catherine the Conundrum

This isn't going to be a normal blog post, where I detail interesting or exciting stories I have discovered whilst climbing my family tree or travelling through my ancestor's lives. This blog post is dedicated to a particular person in my tree who is a complete mystery. 


Catherine Queenan was born on 12 March 1863 to Martin and Barbara Queenan (née Coyle). I don't know where exactly Catherine was born, but she was baptised on 5 April 1863 at St Cuthbert's Roman Catholic Church, North Shields. Five of Catherine's siblings were also baptised at St Cuthbert's, North Shields, and as these particular siblings were born in the Murton area of Northumberland, I think I am safe to presume that Catherine was also born there.

Catherine's baptism is in Latin, as customary for Catholic registers at the time. Her Latin name is Catharina.

As far as I'm aware, Catherine was the fourth child born to Martin and Barbara, the fourth of a total of thirteen children.

One of the most confusing (and slightly annoying!) things about this particular family, is the way in which their surname changed throughout the years. They are Queenan for the first few years in England, which then named to Quanan, Quinan, Quinin, with the final product being Quinnin. Martin Queenan's brother later went by McQueen. I have also found this family under the name Quin. 

Catherine's baptism in Latin.
The only record I have found which shows
she actually existed.

The only record I have of Catherine's existence is her baptism. There is no birth or death registration at all. As she was baptised in North Shields, Catherine's birth should fall under the Tynemouth district - but alas, there is no birth or death registered for her at all. 

Sadly, Martin and Barbara lost a good number of their children in early infancy. These children were mostly buried at Cowpen near Blyth, in the Roman Catholic church there. I can find no burial of a Catherine Queenan or any variations of that name.

Going back over the lack of civil registration documents for Catherine, it actually turns out that Martin and Barbara were already in the habit of not registering their children. The Queenan's first two children were registered where they were born. Then came Martin born in 1861, not registered; the above Catherine born in 1863, not registered; and then Ellen/Helen/Eleanor born in 1865, not registered. The latter died in 1871, but her death was registered.

The next child born to Martin and Barbara was Jane, born in 1867. She was registered under Jane Quinin. Thankfully, every child after was registered. 

I'm quite conscious of the fact that perhaps Catherine was not the name she used. Martin and Barbara had another daughter in early 1871, who was baptised as Birgitta - Latin for Bridget. The 1871 census was taken shortly after, and it is quite clear that the new baby is named Bridget. Then ten years later in the 1881 census, there is a Barbara in Bridget's place! The newly re-christened Barbara goes about her life as a domestic servant, then marries and has children, and sadly dies in childbirth at the age of 33. I have been able to trace her through the years. 

I wondered if anyone had any ideas about Catherine? I think I need fresh eyes to look over this, as I believe my eyes are growing weary to it. It would be fantastic if something could be found, for the sake of closure. I am almost absolutely certain that Catherine died in infancy, like so many of her siblings - I just can't find the proof.

Thank you for reading! 

Until next week... 

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Suicide at Seaton Delaval

Mary Coyle and Michael Convey were married on 12 October 1857 at the Roman Catholic chapel in Felling, near Gateshead, Durham. Mary was the younger daughter of Peter and Mary Coyle, and the sister of my 2x great-grandmother, Barbara Quinnin. 

Both families were living at Bill Quay, where they worked as labourers in the different works in the area. The Coyles had only recently moved out of the Sandgate area of Newcastle, where Peter was an innkeeper. Peter was now working in the nearby chemical works at Bill Quay, a stark contrast to his former occupation. At that time, the Quinnin family were still living in Sandgate. 

Mary and Michael went on to have at least nine children in different colliery towns and villages north of the Tyne. They went back to Sandgate, Newcastle, then onto Benton, Backworth, Wallsend, Howdon and finally Hartley, close to where Barbara and the Quinnin family were living.

Mary and Michael's eldest daughter was Ellen, who was born in 1860 at Newcastle. Ellen was married in July 1878 at Willington Quay, to John Gray, a miner originally from Cheshire. I can assume that both her parents were deceased by that point. Shortly after their marriage, the couple moved to nearby Seaton Delaval, even closer to Ellen's aunt Barbara. Together they had six boys and all was well, until tragedy struck.

"An inquest was held at Seaton Delaval yesterday by Mr J. R. D. Lynn, coroner, touching the death of Ellen Gray (29), who, as reported in our columns yesterday, drowned herself in a pond on Saturday night last. - John Gray, husband of the deceased, said he went to bed about 4:30 on Saturday afternoon and woke up at 8 p.m. His wife was then washing the children and crying. She afterwards kissed the children and attempted to leave the house, but he prevented her. She then tried to get out by the window, but he got hold of her skirt. She said "Let me alone," and went out through the window. He did not see her again until she was brought in about half-past ten, dead. - In cross-examination, witness acknowledged finding a bottle containing gin in the house, but emphatically denied either striking his wife or using harsh language. - Robert Sturrock, gasman, said he was getting his supper about 8:30, when he heard cries of "Oh! My!" proceeding apparently from a pond within 30 yards of his house. He flung the person (he did not know whether it was a man or a woman) a rope, but no effort was made to catch it. - Robert Dixon, miner, said he launched a raft and found the body about half-past ten, in six feet of water. - Michael Gray, 11 years of age, son of deceased, said he went for some gin after his father went to bed; but to all questions as to whether his father and mother had quarrelled he answered, "I don't know." - The jury found that "deceased had committed suicide whilst in a state of temporary insanity."

And so, the Gray boys were now motherless. John Gray eventually did remarry and had more children, but not for some years. I'd like to think that my 2x great-grandmother Barbara stepped in and helped to care for her great-nephews, but sadly this is something I shall never know. 

This wasn't the last tragedy to hit the family, but I shall save that story for another post. 

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The Farmer's Wedding | Wedding Wednesday - GeneaBloggers

At the start of this month my blog was added to GeneaBloggers' Blog Roll. You may have noticed the little GeneaBloggers badge on the right hand side there - worn with pride. Intertwining Branches appears there amongst 3000 other blogs dedicated to genealogy and tracing your family tree, and I would strongly encourage people to go over there and support fellow genealogists. GeneaBloggers can be found at

One brilliant aspect of GeneaBloggers is the list of blogging prompts they have. I'm not a daily blogger, but some of the prompts have given me ideas about future posts. Today I have chosen Wedding Wednesday. In this instance I know relatively little about the wedding itself, but know a fair amount about the bride and bridegroom. 


Matthew Barrass married Kate Younger in 1889 at St Alban's church, Earsdon. Matthew was a farmer, resident at Field House, Killingworth. He was a widower. Kate was the daughter of John Younger, also a farmer, who lived at Burradon House, Burradon.

Matthew is a distant relative on my mother's side of the family. He was a grandson of Alexander and Sarah Barrass, my 5x great-grandparents.

Matthew's first wife was named Mary Blagdon. Her father was a shipowner and chandler, a dealer in supplies and equipment. They married in 1868, but had no children. Mary died in 1887, presumably at home at Field House. Matthew married Kate Younger two years later.

The marriage notice published in the Morpeth Herald.
Notice no actual date of marriage is given.

Matthew and Kate went on to have three children; Matthew Edwin, Elsie Kate, and Mary Beatrice. By the time young Mary was born, the Barrass family had moved from Field House, Killingworth to Tritlington Hall near Morpeth. There Matthew died on 18 October 1894. 

The Tynemouth Board of Guardians met fortnightly, and at the next meeting one of Matthew's closest friends gave a touching eulogy:

"The Chairman said he was sorry on that occasion to call attention to the sad loss the Board had sustained in the death of Mr Matthew Barrass, which had taken place since their last meeting. He had the pleasure and privilege of knowing Mr Barrass for over 30 years, and had many opportunities of observing him. He always found him a sincere and most estimable gentleman, a straightforward man of business, and a generous friend, especially to the poor living in his neighbourhood. He had been a member of that Board for about 12 years, and was a most diligent and useful representative. He was also a member of the Assessment Committee, and his sound common sense had been most valuable to its members on many occasions. He represented upon that committee the farming interest, which was often in difficulties, and appeals in connection with agriculture were well understood by Mr Barrass. He moved that the clerk be instructed to forward a letter of condolence and sympathy to Mrs Barrass and family. - The Mayor seconded, and Mr A. Bolton supported the motion which was carried. Mr R. Simmons, of Forest Hall, was elected member of Assessment Committee in the place of the late Mr Barrass."

Kate Younger's family still own the farmhouse at Burradon, and it is known in the locality as Younger's Farm. 

An interesting little anecdote worthy of a mention is that my mother, her siblings and her aunts all picked potatoes in Mr Younger's fields, obviously having absolutely no idea of the connection!