Saturday, 24 November 2007

The National Archives ... what's not to like?

1. It's free!
Could you ever imagine a private enterprise that would give you all these fabulous resources absolutely free? For the minor hassle of getting a reader's card the whole of the nation's history is there before you...

2. A fab building
For a modern building, TNA is just the biz. Climate controlled, Nuclear Bomb proof (so the guide said) great surrounding gardens (including a pond with a heron) and free wi-fi so you can look things up as you go along.

3. The collection.
From the Domesday book to the medal records of soldiers in WW1, there's millions of documents that you can look at. Sometimes with a sodding great seal attached.

4. The search engine.
The TNA website has a great website - go to the site (, put in your search topic (it could be a name or a place) and then see how many matches you get. Without this I would have never found the litigious Fitzhenry family of Rock...

5. The staff
Normal people. They're great. Especially the bloke who helped me roll up one of those bloody great rolls of Chancery parchments who confessed to me that he'd like to see the whole lot go up in smoke.

6. The off-site storage
The stuff that isn't looked at very often is kept in an old salt mine in Cheshire. This is naturally a good place to keep paper and parchment in. My chancery rolls are kept there. I can image that they had been down there for a long long time. To see what a fab place this is, look at

7. Parking and transport links
Remarkably easy to park right next to TNA. A 5 minute walk from Kew Gardens tube station.

8. Kew itself
TNA is in the wonderful West London Suburb of Kew. Home to the botanical gardens, near Chiswick , the home of the wonderful Fuller's Brewery (brewers of my favourite pint London Pride) and close to all points in the West of London.

9. Kew Landladies
If you're doing the archives, you need a place to stay. There's all sorts of accommodation for all types. Take your pick off this list
My favourites are Mrs Cellan-Jones and Mrs Hearn. The places are diverse (Mrs C-J's is fantastically anarchic - my room had a stuffed fox in it - and Mrs. H is clean modern lines with power shower in an Edwardian villa).

10. Local pubs
The Greyhound for choice of beer and the Botanist for guest beer and food.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

A tad more about Andrew Fitzhenry ..was he a doctor?

After doing yesterday's post , I was reading through some notes that I made at the most excellent Wellcome Library near Euston Station in London in 2005. At that time I was making notes on all the medically qualified Fitzhenrys as they appeared on either the list of Members of the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) of the Medical Directory.
An Andrew Fitzhenry is there flittting in and out of the yearly register of the RCS from 1805 (the earliest volume) until 1825. All I know is that he lived more than 7 miles outside London - the Medical Directory was very parochial, either you were fashionably in London or you weren't.

Until the late 1800s, there are only another 2 Fitzhenrys listed. Edward FH had dual qualifications - an MD from Glasgow in 1851 and a Licence in Midwifery from Dublin also in 1851. He practiced both in Liverpool and in County Wexford Ireland.

George FH obtained the Membership of the RCS in 1844 (10 years before the introduction of anaesthesia), was in Blackheath London in 1845 and then had a practice in Brynmaur near Abergavenny in Brecon Wales.

However they are all Fitzhenrys without the hyphen and unlikely to be related to my branch of Fitz-Henrys

Monday, 19 November 2007

The Fitzhenrys of Rock, Worcester Part 2

Firstly note that I've dropped the hyphen in Fitzhenry - the family didn't seem to use it when they were signing their legal documents (see picture). The other thing is to note that Ann signed the document for herself. She was the daughter of a wealthy clergy man, so unlike many women of her time she was literate. I've got so many birth marriage and death certificates where the woman's mark is just a cross.
Anyhow, a distillation of the rest of the Chancery papers. It seems that Thomas Bradley Paget and Elizabeth Paget got the declaration from the Court that they wanted and got at least some of the money they felt they were entitled to. But their victory was short lived - Charles Watkins (Elizabeth's brother and the Heir to Richard Watkins' Estate) died in 1813 and this left his two sisters disputing what remained of the father's estate with Charles' widow. Elizabeth died in November 1815 aged 27, leaving Thomas with 3 young children. Ann Fitzhenry died in 1825 (so that's all the Watkins siblings now dead) and Andrew Fitzhenry died in February 1830. Each time one of the Defendants died (or another child was born), a new Bill had to be submitted to the Court of Chancery which summarised all which had gone before and listing who the new Defendants were. The last of the Bills of Chancery that I've seen is 1831 when Andrew Richard Fitzhenry takes over the reins from his father. I have an image of Thomas Bradley Paget becoming a bitter and twisted man as the case trundled in over the decades. I know that Andrew Richard FH died in 1844 and Thomas Bradley Paget in 1846 so perhaps the matter died with them then.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

The Fitz-Henrys of Rock, Worcestershire

I've been back at the National Archives in Kew revisiting some documents that I started on a few weeks ago. The Court of Chancery was where (amongst other things) Wills were disputed. Richard Watkins was the Rector of Rock in the late 1700s and died a very wealthy man in 1805. He had 3 children. Charles his son was his legal heir but he also made provision in his Will for his two daughters Ann and Elizabeth. Ann married Andrew Fitz-Henry in 1799 and inherited her marriage settlement of three thousand pounds. Elizabeth married Thomas Bradley Paget after her father had died on 7 September 1809, 2 days after her 21st birthday when she would have expected to inherit. She didn't get her money or any part of her father's estate.
This Case went on from 1810 when it was first presented to 1835. I've got as far as the early 1820's now. It's all getting pretty fraught.
The great thing for my research is the minute detail in which the family members and their relationship to each other is described, and as the case goes on births and deaths of the interested parties are recorded. This is before the 1837 watershed for the registration of birth marriages and deaths so these documents are a godsend. The downside is the huge often filthy rolls of parchment you have to go through to get the prize - never wear light coloured clothes at the Archives!
The following is a combination of the information from the Chancery Papers and from other sources
Andrew Fitz-Henry married Elizabeth Watkins 22 July 1799
Children: Ann Elizabeth 1800, Catherine 1801, Honoria (also known as Mary)1802, Matilda 1805, Andrew Richard 1807 (died in London 1844), Maria Rosetta 1808, Charles 1810, Thomas 1811, Sarah 1812 and John 1814.
Recognise any of these? Leave me a comment!

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Guardian Newspaper Archive Offer until November 30th

This may be of interest to all you family history
researchers out there. For the rest of November you can
access the on-line archive for both the Guardian and
Observer newspaper for free. Log onto the Guardian website
( and scroll right down to the bottom
of the homepage for the link. The archive is fully
searchable by keyword, and scans of the original articles
can be downloaded to your PC. The catch is that you have
access for just for one 24 hour period from when you first
log on, so make sure that you have the time to browse.
After this free taster you can choose to subscribe.

Edward Fitz-Henry and the Royal National Hospital on the Isle of Wight

In my last post, I described my great-grandfather's parents and 8 siblings all living together in a couple of rooms in Katharine Buildings. One of his younger brothers, Edward (born 1878) turned up obligingly on the 1881 and 1891 census living with the family, but then disappeared. It wasn't until I was geekily cross-referencing my Fitz-Henry index births and deaths that I realised that I had an Edward of the same age who died in the Isle of Wight in 1899. Perhaps he was in the Navy, as several of the Fitz-Henry men went on to do in WW1 and WW2, and died when on ship.

I sent off for the death certificate, and the truth was very different. Edward had been sent to the Royal National Hospital for Diseases of the Chest in Ventnor for the treatment of his tuberculosis. He had died there in October 1899. The certifying doctor (Dr. Foster) noted that he had had the disease for 3 years.

This led to a trip to the IOW to the Newport Records Office last week. What a fantastic place - one of the smallest records offices that I've been to and looking very 1950s, but crammed with lots of old reference books, card indexes and with really helpful staff. Unfortunately when the hospital was closed in 1964 only a small fraction of the records were saved for posterity. Edward's were not amongst them. However, minutes of the various hospital committees showed what the conditions were like there at the time.

The aim of the hospital was to cure the patients of TB - terminally ill patients were not admitted. The patient was referred to a selected group of physicians on mainland England. If, after examining the patient, they agreed that the disease was curable they were admitted to the hospital. The treatments were more based on good sea air and nutritious food as there were no effective antibiotics at that time. Each patient had to pay 10 shillings a week for their upkeep - this was twice what my g-g-grandfather was earning. However, the money brought in by the patients' fees was a small fraction of the cost of running the place and the Hospital relied heavily on charitable donations. The bills for food and coal were enormous (four boilermen were employed to keep the furnaces stoked all day every day, and during the winter they burnt several tons of coal a day).The patients were diligently weighed twice a week to make sure they were putting on weight. Many were discharged with "Cured" triumphantly written at the foot of their notes.

I was also thwarted in finding any records of where Edward may have been buried - again the staff of the Newport crematorium who administer the records for the old Ventnor cemetery were very helpful, but we found no trace of him.

So I left the Island with more questions than I had answered
1. Who referred Edward to the Hospital?
2. More importantly, who paid for his hospital fees?
3. Where is he buried, and is it possible that the family had him brought back to London for the burial?
4. What happened to Dr. Foster? In the minutes of the Hospital House Committee it is recorded that he left suddenly in January 1900 for unnamed reasons without serving a term of notice and was therefore not paid!
Answers to any of these questions gratefully received!

Thursday, 8 November 2007

You wouldn't want to start from here...

Where does one start with what is mainly a family history blog? Just like in the old joke about asking directions, "You wouldn't want to start from here". Each story has a prequel, side shoots and a huge cast list. In future, this blog will be the material for a proper web site, where the lives and stories of the cast of thousands, all be explained. In the meantime though, random chapters will appear on this blog. If you recognise or are related to any of the people, add a comment to let me know who you are - we may well be related!

So randomly, to start, this photo is of my great grandparents Thomas Fitz-Henry and Rebecca (nee Lamb). It was taken in the late 1920s at the Katharine Building Tenements near St Katharine's Dock, London where they lived. The photo was taken by their youngest son Jim on a Box Brownie camera, and this along with a collection of photos and negatives was found in his house on his death in 1999.

The family had lived in the tenements virtually since they were erected as suitable dwellings for the East End's "deserving poor" in the 1880s. Only persons with a regular wage and who had a respectable family life were allowed to live there. One of the women who collected the rents and ensured that the tennents kept to the rules was the social commentator Beatrice Potter who married Sydney Webb. Beatrice kept a log of the families that lived in the Tenements and much of what I know of this phase of their lives comes from this journal. More about the social engineering project that was Katharine Buildings in future blogs.

The family moved into the tenements from Denmark Street on October 4th 1886.His father John was a coalwhipper in the docks earning 5 shillings and 6 pence a day, and mother Caroline was a tailoress There were 8 children - Thomas was the eldest (1870), then Caroline (1873), John (1876), Edward (1878), Elizabeth (1880), Henry (1882), Annie (1884), and Amelia (1886). Beatrice Potter's journal comments "The house is generally untidy, partly from the mother being at work, happy-go-lucky sort of people"

"Tom was at home out of work for along time. When he found work he married unknown to his parents - being only 18. Mother wishes they were all married."

Thomas married Rebecca Lamb in her home parish of St Thomas', Bethnal Green on February 5th1888 and for the first few years of their married life they rented rooms in various locations in London's East End. Their first child Rebecca was born in July 1888 and died in November 1889 of bronchopneumonia. Thomas James was born in 1890 and died aged 24 of a brain haemorrhage in 1914. Caroline was born in September 1891, but died in October 1892, again of bronchopneumonia. By this time Tom's family had moved back into Katharine's Buildings where they stayed until they moved out to Dagenham in the 1930s. Mary Ann was born in 1893 and John Lawrence in 1895. There was then a 6 year gap until my grandfather Henry was born in 1901 and then 12 years until the birth of James (Jim) who took the photo.