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.

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Author: fionacalder2

I am in my fifties and live in the centre of the UK, in Rutland and have been researching family history since 2000.

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