Wednesday 1st August

(Sorry about the wonky placeholders again but the video works fine!)

Wednesday 1st August 2018 – well it is our last full day and we took ourselves off to Sanctuary Wood and Hooge Crater first. Not particularly linked to James Archibald McPhee but we wanted to visit anyway.

The museum was quaint but the glass 3-D slide machines were really harrowing as they didn’t hold back on their subject matter and due to the 3-D effect felt very real. At the back are some trenches and from the pock-marked terrain you did really get a feel for what it might have been like (although we visited in a very dry heat wave).

Sadly, the Hooge Crater has been filled in and is now part of a theme park but there is a good museum and a lovely walk which really gives you an idea as to the size of some of the craters that remain even today and how close the front lines were to each other.

In the afternoon we decided to look again for where James died. Armed with maps and Sat Nav off we set.

We drove up and down the St Julian to Ypres road but it was too busy and hot to step out but at least we’d solved the puzzle.

In the evening we returned to the Menin Gate in plenty of time and it was worth the wait. With a front row spot we had a clear view of the events, which were very moving.

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All in all it was a throughly worthwhile trip and I would recommend anyone thinking about doing it to just do it! As many of our ancestors found out the hard way…life’s too short! Please contact me if you need any information or advice.

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Tuesday 31st July – a better day all round

Tuesday 31st July 2018 – Hopefully we will have a much better day today! We are heading off to Track X cemetery first to find James Archibald McPhee’s final resting place and to lay our wreath. Before our trip I had not appreciated the sheer number of cemeteries that are around…many of which only contain a few graves and often in out of the way places. If you are visiting I would recommend you buy a decent cemetery map in advance of your trip!

We did find the cemetery and were touched but its small size and how well-kept it was. It was a really moving experience to stand at his headstone after all these years. It was very emotional and didn’t want to leave, instead we spent some time walking around and looking at the landscape. My thoughts are that he must have died within sight of this spot and I finally came to terms with the fact that we will never know for sure where and when he died. His headstone says 3 August but other records just state 31 July – 3 August.

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Before leaving we signed the cemetery register and left in a sombre but satisfied mood heading for Poperinghe. This town was relatively untouched by the bombing and retains a lovely charm about it. We had coffee in the famous La Poupee cafe where the legendary ‘Ginger’ waitress was known for cheering up the soldiers while they rested before the next onslaught.

We visited Talbot House which was a real gem of a place with a lovely calm atmosphere. Here hundreds if not thousands of soldiers of all ranks came for a little piece of ‘normality’. One thing that really touched me was the film recreating the sort of concert party they held. James was a great singer and as not a Nottinghamshire or Derbyshire man I have always thought he might well have been one of the Cuckoos who were the Sherwood Forester’s concert party. It was really moving and the whole house had a lovely atmosphere that must have meant so much to so many.

Once we returned to Ypres we then visited the In Flanders Field Museum in Ypres. Located in the grand cloth hall itself it was a good museum albeit a bit hot to be comfortable. One highlight for me was the audio-visual show they had which really did bring the progress, landscape and timeline to life.

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Monday 30th July – here we go!

(Sorry about the odd placeholder – the video is fine!)

Monday 30th July – On the first day of our pilgrimage we decided to start with the Passchendaele museum in Zonnebeke. It was a great museum with a useful audio guide included in the price. The Chateau is set in pretty grounds with paths to other areas of interest.

We decided to walk to Tyne Cot from here  but after a while we realised that the wather was a bit too warm for such adventures so returned to the car. We drove to Tyne Cot armed with my wreath and the cemetery map I had had for some time.

One of the first things we spotted was a memorial to the Sherwood Foresters which I didn’t realise was there.

The visitor centre was nice but not what I expected. It would have been nice to understand more about how the cemetery was created and the wonderful work of the CWGC. Our first hurdle was trying to get into the cemetery – we nearly had to resort to jumping the small surrounding wall but resorted to going in though the exit instead!

It is a breathtaking sight once you enter the cemetery. However, the experience was marred by two further issues: the numbering of the rows is somewhat random and neither of us could figure it out, the second challenge was that we could not get our bearings as to where the map I had related to the arrangement of headstones. Somewhat hot and bothered I then looked at the map with fresh eyes. Oh dear! because I had grown up always believing James was in Tyne Cot it had blinded me to the very clear title of the plan I had….he was in Track X cemetery which is not part of Tyne Cot at all…it is somewhere completely different!

Our next stop was to find where he fell…but that was not straight forward either! A kind person had done some research for me on where and exactly when he died and gave us a location which we visited today. however, looking at the landscpe, maps and other information we had this turned out not to be correct.

Hopefully a more successful day tomorrow!

On our way!

Sunday 29th August 2018 – After an early start we are on our way across the channel. We had booked with AFerry and somehow along the way had picked up an extra passenger in the form of a pet. I have no idea how the additional passenger got on the booking but as I was not going to pay £10 to alter the booking I was prepared to live with the consequences. Luckily DFDS were not expecting us to have a pet so I am now suspicious that it was a ruse to gain an extra £10 off us!

We arrived at hotel Ariane in Ypres about 4pm and were impressed by the hotel and its close proximity to the centre. Ypres itself is a really pretty city which has somehow retained its medieval feel despite being pretty much obliterated in WWI.

We went early to the Menin Gate (so we thought) and were really surprised at the amount of crowds gathering so early! It was very moving but sadly we didn’t get the best view so will try again another night.

(sorry for the odd formatting of the video again!)

Giving that bucket list a good kicking!

28 July 2018 – Since a small girl I have always been aware of our very own war hero, James Archibald McPhee, my great grandfather. I grew up knowing he had fought in Ypres and lost his life in the battle of Passchendaele with his final resting place in the huge Tyne Cot cemetery.

Since starting my own family tree in 2000 I have often returned to this character to find out more. Luckily his military records survived providing lots of useful information to help bring him alive. I have his dead man’s penny and various anecdotal details about him: he was a signwriter by trade but was well-known locally in Glasgow for his singing prowess.

A few years ago my mum booked to go on her own on an organised tour to visit his final resting place at Tyne Cot. Sadly she broke her ankle and couldn’t go. She never did make the journey due to illness so I have felt a really strong desire to visit on both our behalfs.

In this and the following blogs are my video diaries, thoughts and tips.

(sorry the video placeholder is the wrong format – the video itself runs fine!)

Family tree Insights – a day in the world of #Manorial Records

I thought an insight into what a typical day of a genealogist looks like would be of interest. In this case it involved additional research for the #Wigston’s in #Barwell, building on the information already gathered, dating from around 1806-1852.

Not all research can be done online, unlike the impression of many popular TV family history programmes, sometimes success comes with some good old fashioned paper-based research. My first step was to establish if Barwell was a Manor which I had researched previously by searching online, which indeed it is. The next step had been to check The National Archives’ (TNA) Manorial Document Register which identifies the nature and location of manorial records – after all there is no point in searching for something which doesn’t exist!

Sadly, #Leicestershire had not been part of the set computerised so I submitted a query email to TNA who identified two sets of documents that exist for the period I was interested in. My next step was to check the online catalogue of the Leicestershire County Record Office and this confirmed the documents which the TNA had listed…plus many more.

Armed with this background information my day starts with a trip to the Leicestershire County Record Office in Wigston. For those that have not visited it before, it is a real treasure trove and well worth the trip. You will need to take some ID with you to gain entry and don’t be afraid to seek guidance from the staff.

Using the document references established online I then requested the documents of interest, two at a time. These manorial records are really useful as they contain records of (amongst other things) tenancy transfers through the generations and court hearings in the days before local government and a national legal system. It takes time to go through each of the documents which can be lengthy, written in poor handwriting and use unfamiliar language.

However, it was worth it as I found a John #Wigson as the court foreman in 1845 (spellings often vary from place to place and over time), Jane Wigston who was a widow in 1794 and another John Wigston (might be the same one) who is described in 1806 as a framework knitter married to Amey, who occupies an orchard which he took on from Thomas Robinson.

John and Amey were new to me so when I returned home in the afternoon I used the information from the manorial records to look them up in the 1841 census online and sure enough they were there living with Elizabeth Mires. Compared to later census’ 1841 is light on detail so I searched a later one, 1861, and found John living with Elizabeth Mires who turns out to be his unmarried niece, who is deaf.

From one piece of preparation work, a visit to the County Record office and then some online follow up research I have been able to define four or five new candidates to join up with the other research on the Wigston’s of Barwell. Sometimes you put in the hard work and get nothing and other times you unlock a raft of invaluable information. This was a comparatively small victory but valuable none the less.

Juggling between tools can break down genealogical brick walls

Sometimes when researching your ancestors, it can pay dividends to step away from the usual census and parish records and think about context, using one or more alternative tools.

In the case of Stamford, I recently carried out some research where I learnt some useful additional information using an online old OS map website, the 1891 census return and Google maps with its handy Street View functionality.

The National Library of Scotland have done a fabulous job of digitising many maps including a collection of nearly 90,000 Ordnance Survey 25 inch to the mile maps of England and Wales, which date from 1841 to 1952. These maps are of particular interest as they are detailed topographical records that include features such as civil and municipal boundaries, individual buildings, street names, railways, industrial premises, rivers farms and even ruins. The first edition maps were coloured and even included details such as what material the building was made of.

The maps are searchable as individual sheets using a zoomable map of England and Wales or using the search facility. It’s worth a visit at www.maps.nls.uk/os/25inch-england-and-wales .

Although there is a modern map overlay feature, I prefer to use google maps to search for street names and to use Street View. By seeing the actual modern-day location, you can get a sense of the level of wealth of the area and likely industries present where buildings have survived and what happened to roads that have ‘disappeared’. Using this approach is particularly useful when used in conjunction with the census enumerators route, which is outlined on the first page of each enumeration district.

In the case of some recent Stamford research, I referred to the OS 1886 25 inch to the mile map and one thing that struck me was that I was completely unaware that there had been a castle in Stamford at that time. Obviously, some road names were a bit of a clue but in 1886 it was still present as a ruin but is now sadly the bus station.

I then referred to the enumerators route in the 1891 census which states for Lincolnshire, All Saints, District 3: “All that part of the parish of All Saints Stamford comprising Rutland Terrace, Austin Street, Austin Friar’s Lane, Hopkins Hospital, Melancholy Walk, Meadow Cottages, Thompson’s Court, Kings Mill Lane, St Peter’s Vale, Bath Row no 7 to17 inclusive, Sheep Market No 8 to 19 inclusive, Castle Hill, St Peter’s Street S, St Peter’s Hill W, All Saints Street S, Mallory Lane, Red Lion Square Nos 8, 9, 10 and 1 to 5 Red Lion Street. The whole in the Parliamentary Division of Stamford”.

Using this information, it is possible to map the route the enumerator would have walked, although not all this route is on the OS 1886 map, it still served the purpose I needed it for.

I was looking for Mallory Lane which does not feature as a named road on the 1886 map and I drew a blank when searching on Google. However, Google Street View gave me the breakthrough I was looking for. By following the Enumerator’s route, I knew roughly where it would have been and by looking at the current Street View from All Saints’ Street, there it was: a little street sign for an alleyway!

The family I was looking for lived at no 1 and thanks to the enumerator’s route I can pick out the actual house on the 1886 OS map. By the size of it, it is a modest dwelling which fits with the occupation of House Painter who lived there with his son, daughter-in-law and their family of four children. It must have been quite a squeeze!

By using the census, OS maps and Google together it can really help to break down some brick walls in your research and add some context that is hard to obtain through any other route.