The Bermondsey Hoard

A few months ago on a rainy Friday afternoon at Bermondsey Antiques Market, I was browsing the rather meagre range of stalls which had yet to pack up for the day when I was asked by one trader whether I was looking for anything in particular. I gave him my best cheerfully non-committal “just browsing” and started planning a hasty exit, but after he insisted there was “more in the van” I decided there was no harm in politely rifling through a few more boxes before making my way home. Instead, my curiosity got the better of me and I ended up spending £20 or so on a collection of early 20th Century photographs and documents, none of which featured anyone whose names I knew or to whom I had any connection. Since then I’ve started using them as a learning tool in my day job as a local studies librarian when teaching family history, because as with my mother’s collection of family records, they’ve proved a good means of showing how to build up a family tree from a relatively small number of primary sources. Here’s how I got on.

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The photographs and documents I bought had all come from the same tin box, and although they featured a number of individuals it was clear from the context that they had once all belonged to the same person. Part of the reason I decided to buy so many of them was that I was saddened by the idea of them being picked off one-by-one (most likely by television companies to be used as set-dressing, according to the seller), causing any chance of discovering the stories which connected them to be lost forever. Purchasing a decent sample of them would at least, I thought, help preserve some of this person’s story.

But who was this person? Helpfully, many of the photos featured names on the reverse, mostly written in the same hand, and among them was the postcard below featuring a little girl. On the back was written “Me (Doris) (Canada)” in the same handwriting featured on most of the other photos.

Doris Eilleen Jones 4
‘Doris’, Canada.
Doris Eillen Jones 4 reverse
Reverse of the above.

Once I’d identified Doris as the collection’s former owner, it became clear that all the other photos and documents in my possession had to relate to her somehow. A second photograph (below) in which Doris had identified herself on the reverse showed her as a young woman, while a third from around the same time showed her at the centre of a group of female friends or relatives.

Doris Eillen Jones 2
‘Doris’, c. 194?.
Doris and friends
Doris and friends, c. 194?.

The hairstyles and clothing of the women in the second photograph (always the best means of dating old photos!) suggested they were taken in the 1940s, and given her youthful appearance this would put Doris’s birth year at around 1925. Fortunately this wasn’t the only clue I had to go on, as among the records I’d picked up was a godparent’s oath which commemorated the baptism of a Doris Eileen Jones at Ilford Parish Church on 23 October 1927.

Doris Eilleen Jones
Godparent’s oath from the baptism of Doris Eileen Jones, 23 October 1927, Ilford, Essex.

This had to be the same Doris. Not only did the (presumed) birth year fit perfectly, the place, Ilford in Essex,  had appeared before as the photographer’s address on one of the later photos.

Doris Eilleen Jones 3
Photographer’s address, reads “Fisher Banks, 66 Cranbrook Road, Ilford, Essex.

With her date and place of baptism now known I was able to find the index entry for Doris’s birth certificate via FreeBMD, which confirmed her birth was registered in Romford registration district (Essex) in the fourth quarter of 1927, and that her mother’s maiden name was Woollard. As the photographer’s address on the later photo had suggested a long-term residency in Ilford, I decided to see if I could find an index entry for a marriage certificate in the same district. I set my date range between 1945 and 1957, guessing that she would most likely have married between the ages of eighteen and thirty, and among the most promising results was a record of a marriage between a Doris E. Jones and a spouse by the name of Chaplain in the June quarter of 1949. While normally an index entry alone would not be enough to prove a match, on this occasion I knew I’d found the right record because of  the photograph below.

Chaplain family
The Chaplain family.
Chaplain family reverse
Reverse of the above.

This photo had at first appeared to bear no discernible relation to Doris, but on discovering her potential marriage to a man named Chaplain in 1949 it quickly began to make sense. On the reverse someone had identified the subjects as ‘Dennis, Mum, John, Henley Road House’, but below that in Doris’s handwriting was the name ‘Chaplain’ in brackets. It would appear therefore that the picture had originally belonged to her husband and that she’d added his family name later to avoid confusion. A bit more digging via FreeBMD revealed that her husband’s name had been John G. Chaplain, identified in the photograph as the boy on the right.

I have yet to find out what ultimately happened to Doris. It seems likely that she has passed away, as I can’t imagine she’d have sold such a large collection of family photographs during her lifetime, but I haven’t been able to track down any record of a death certificate. It’s possible she’s still alive of course, but another intriguing possibility is that she emigrated to Canada, as her location in the first photograph and the maple leaf pin she’s wearing in the second suggest some kind of family connection to that place. Hopefully someone who knew her, perhaps one of her descendants, will stumble upon this blog one day.

Doris Eillen Jones 2
Doris Eileen Jones, 1927-?.
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Newspapers as an Historical Resource

Hi all, welcome to the first of what I’m hoping will be a regular series of blog posts about the characters and stories I’ve unearthed during my first five years as a family historian. My main aim is to provide a source of information for the small number of individuals who happen to be researching the same people as I am (do get in touch if you’re one of them!), as well as a place to share research tips

I’ll also be posting on a number of loosely related topics which are of interest to me such as social history, music, online resources and my work as a local studies librarian. The reblogged post below (originally published on 18 January 2015 on the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals’ Local Studies Group blog) falls squarely into the latter category, but may also be of interest to anyone wanting an overview of the range of digitised historic newspapers now available online. More typical posts to follow over the coming weeks…

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A few weeks ago I attended a half-day event at CILIP HQ on the use of newspapers for historical research. The event, organised by CILIP Local Studies Group, featured two very interesting talks by Edmund King, former head of the British Library‘s newspaper library, plus a personal account by Diana Dixon of the way local newspapers have enabled her to piece together previously untold stories from her family history.

Most of the day focused specifically on digitised newspaper databases, and in particular the British Newspaper Archive which Edmund King oversaw the creation of at the British Library. Like Diana Dixon I had used the BNA for my own family history research and at the local studies library where I work, but had not previously appreciated the full range of international newspaper databases which can now be searched online. Some of these databases mentioned by Edmund King in the first of his talks included:

  • Chronicling America – Historic American newspapers from 1836-1922, sponsored jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and Library of Congress (free)
  • Gale News Vault – A broad selection of international newspapers and periodicals (paywall)
  • Google News Archive – Google’s discontinued newspaper scanning project, whose content is still available to search (free)
  • Ireland Old News – Transcriptions of old Irish news articles (free)
  • Newspapers.com – Database of 3,400 newspapers, mainly American (paywall)
  • Trove – The National Library of Australia’s digitised newspaper collection (free)
  • Welsh Newspapers Online – Welsh and English-language newspapers from 1804-1919, digitised by the National Library of Wales (free)

Several of the above can be cross-searched via Elephind.com, which is attempting to create a single-search interface for all the world’s online historic newspapers (they have quite a long way to go admittedly, but a noble aim nonetheless). As local studies specialists we might question how useful international databases like these are to our daily work, which tends on the whole to focus on local people and events. The truth of course is that historically these ‘local people’ often moved around considerably, especially within the Empire, and events on one side of the world would often be reported on the other due to the complex web of family and business connections which linked people across the globe. Indeed, comparing the regional and international reportage of local events can often provide unique insights into these events which local sources alone could not.

Next Diana Dixon provided a very useful overview of some of the ways local newspapers can be used by family historians. In the past I had used reports of local births, marriages and deaths as an alternative to ordering GRO certificates, but had not thought to examine the long lists of wedding guests and mourners frequently included in these same reports to put together a detailed picture of an individual’s extended family and social circle.

After tea and coffee Edmund King’s second talk focused on some of the more unusual items which can be found in the British Newspaper Archive. We would naturally expect to find reports of local events, births, marriages and deaths etc., but many of the ‘lighter’ pieces can be equally revealing. These include poetry, cartoons, celebrity portraits, ladies’ fashions, maps, literary reviews, serialised novels and items of musical interest, which can all help flesh out the world in which our ancestors lived.

All of the above were all illustrated with examples, and one of the best in my opinion was a brief mention in the Oxford Journal on the 23rd of February 1765 of a visit by:

“One Wolfgang Mozart, a German boy of about eight years old…who can play upon various Sorts of Instruments of Music, in Concert, or Solo, and can compose Music surprizingly ; so that he may be reckoned a Wonder at his Age” (p. 3, col. 1).

It is inconceivable to think this wonderful description would have been found without the BNA’s search engine, and it is worth remembering how lucky we are to have such an excellent tool at our disposal.

It was a very interesting and informative day, and a great opportunity to meet with colleagues and share experiences. If there are any historical newspapers in your library’s collections which you would like to see digitised, you can submit a request on the BNA forum.