Using ‘ordinary’ resources to unlink the past

Back in 2001 I became very frustrated about researching my father’s family. It is an unusual name – Wigston, but I struggled to find anything much about them which was hampered by the fact that I had not been in touch with them since my parents divorce in 1962.

In an odd moment of clarity in amongst all the usual historical references I had a light bulb moment to search the online directory enquiries for my uncle who had not only an unusual surname but had two middle names. I searched, not expecting much and to my surprise on the screen in front of me was the address and phone number for my long lost uncle. Without a heartbeat of hesitation I wrote a letter to him and the response I got back was amazing. The family have welcomed me into their world and by chance my uncle was a genealogist himself so now I had raft of information about this side of the family.

My husband was furious that I has been so ‘foolhardy’ in contacting a family as things could just have easily gone a different route.

The morals of this are: don’t overlook non-genealogy tools and don’t underestimate the power of looking at the past to unlock the joys of the family of the present.

Cousins Louise and Claire Feasey pictured above.

The character that was ‘Palace Jack’

In the early stages of my research, two characters stuck in my mind – I had met them when I was a very small child and they made an impression on me – Auntie Cath and Uncle Jack – Catherine (nee CALDER) and Jack Paterson. I tracked down most of their children OK – Irwin, Laurel, Blanche, Dennis, Jackie (M) and Marjory. Three I could not name.

It was really the father, Jack (or John as no doubt he would officially be named) that fascinated me. My mother Jean (CALDER) had told me many things and I struggled to find out more about him.

All I knew was that he ran the local cinema and was an accomplished artist who liked to create murals. He also had a Stradivarius violin which he played, sort of! He was also reportedly of Russian descent which only added to his mystique!

After posting a request for information online I found his full name was John W A Paterson and so I was able to order his death notice. Not only did Graeme Wilson, Local Heritage Officer at The Moray Council send me the notice but he went the extra mile (thanks again Graeme) and looked him up in the 18 July 1970 edition of Banffshire Herald and found the an article and poem:

‘Palace Jack’ – A grand Old Personality, Pioneer of cinema at Huntly

Mr Jack Paterson, a grand old personality known in the pioneering days of the cinema in Huntly as “Palace Jack”, and still affectionately remembered as such by many of his and later generations, has passed on.

It goes on to describe him as ‘many things besides, not least a philosopher, artist and racontuer’.

From Mr G Connell, chemist, of Duke Street, Huntly, has come this appreciation of Mr Paterson:


This was a man who had Huntly at heart

And the Little Grey Toon in his soul;

This was a man who by word and by art

Made a mountain a hill from a mole.

This was a man who cold make walls live;

By the flick of an old batter brush;

This was a man who horizons could give,

To the mob in the “Tippenny Rush”.


This was a man could connive, and convince,

That each of us was twenty feet tall;

His foresight and vision, he never would mince

Till you felt that this life was a Ball,


He’s only offstage, but I’m sure that he’ll feel

He’s only aside in the wings;

And I’m sure that by now, up there, he’ll reveal

It’s about time they were changing round things!

Having spent his life at the Palace at Huntly then at the Keith Playhouse, what changes Jack must have seen – from the pioneering days where people needed convincing of the medium’s merits to the introduction of sound then colour up to the wonders of Technicolour!

jack, agnes & cath
Jack Paterson, Agnes Calder and Cath Paterson


Calder sisters and Jack Paterson
Jack Paterson, Nan Calder, Majorie Calder, Polly Calder and Cath Calder
Huntley Picture House
Residence and picture house run by Cath Calder and Jack Paterson

Huntly Palace

Some Census Substitutes

One of my favourite starting points when carrying out research are the census returns as this can give a wealth of information and will put it into the context of the connected family members (more often than not!). However, a lot can happen in the intervening 10 year gap, they are only really useful from 1841-1911, sometimes transcription errors can mislead you and sometimes people can be elusive from the census for a number of reasons. So what then?

This is where census substitutes come in. Outlined here are just a few potential sources – there are plenty more. The final list for your own research will depend on the time period in question and your geographical area.

English Lay Subsidy rolls – 1290-1334, these records contain the names of those paying tax (usually the freeholder) arranged village by village. Other lay subsidy records may not be as useful, except for 1524-5. Found in The National Archives E 179 and E 359 or your local County Record Office.

English Poll Tax Books – These provide a list of male adults over 21 eligible to vote covering the years 1377, 1379, 1381, 1513, 1641, 1660, 1677, 1694 and 1698 although not many records survive.Can be found at The National Archives E 179.

Hearth Tax – Scotland -1690’s records of those with hearths and kilns except for hospitals and the poor. They now form E69 of the National Records of Scotland

Hearth Tax – England – 1662-1689 records those with hearths due for taxation and are now held at TNA. There is a great website too.

Land Valuations – Scotland – this dates from 1854. This can tell you the owner and occupation, tenant and occupation, tax due and address. have these records available online

This is NOT an exhaustive list! Please do not comment about what I have ‘forgotten’ as I will revisit this topic in a later blog.However, I am always interested to hear from others on what they have used and found useful…or not!

Manorial records – Introduction

I used to think that manorial records were cloaked in mystery and intrigue which were very unlikely to be of any interest or use to someone like me who descends from lots of ‘Ag labs’. However, these records are very overlooked and can provide information that cannot be found anywhere else.

These records are court rolls, surveys, maps, terriers, documents and books all relating to the administration of the manor dating generally from the time of the Norman Conquest until the 20th century.

First step is to find the manor, which may not have been a neatly defined piece of land but can be a collection of pockets of land in different parishes. Using gazetteers such as Kelly’s or by looking at an ordnance survey map (current or historical) you can normally identify some candidates for the area you are looking for. You could even try to track down the current Lord of the Manor in case they still hold some records, although most of them have now been transferred to archives and record offices.

The next step is to consult the TNA’s Manorial Document Register, but be aware that not all counties are covered.I would also check online and in person at the relevant County Record Office.

So, what can these records tell you? The most useful source is likely to be the court rolls which can trace ancestors from their first tenancy to the last held by their ancestors. Some properties remained in the hands of the same family by copyhold tenure which provides an undisputable line of pedigree. The court rolls will also include the names of jurors who were respected and established members of the community. This often indicates a family cluster living in the manor at a specific date in time which is really useful, especially where other records are missing or to help fill any gaps.

My own research includes the Wigstons of Leicestershire and an example (although not particularly helpful to me!) of a Wigston appearing in the Barwell manorial records is as follows (precis) –


Dated 1845

Includes John Wigson as the foreman

It links Thomas Grewcock to his wife Sarah at this time.

They were admitted as tenants to land ‘formerly in the tenure or occupancy of Widow Grewcock afterwards of David Grewcock and then of John Bennett and John Goddard.

It also tells us that they include two cottages or tenements recently built on the land which are now occupied by Thomas Peace and Jane Sapworth.

It also mentions George Grewcock who was a builder and his wife Elizabeth requesting admittance to the property.

My advice would be to look into these records, don’t discount them as they can help knock down that wall and make huge strides in your research from one set of records.

Your local county record office – your new best friend

I did a lot of my early research online because it was in Scotland and I am in England. however, once I got involved in English research I had to be brave and face the record office in Leicester. 

Originally my impression was that it was a scary place full of people who knew tons more than me, I’d look and feel very inadequate, I’d have to wear silly Minnie Mouse gloves. Not the case! For your first visit I would be sure to check the open times and they are not always open your typical open hours. It’s a sad fact that with so much on the Internet and not much promotion done to encourage people to use the facilities, they are reducing their hours and may one day end up closing to the public altogether. Use them….or lose them!

When you go initially, take various forms of ID so you can get a readers card and ask one of the staff to at least give you a bit of a tour. You won’t remember where everything is but it might just get you started on your first visits.

Once in the library there are often resources such as micro film or fiche, books and maps all there for you to use. For items called up from the vault, you generally need to fill in a slip with the reference numbers and description and submit it to the staff who then tend to bring the documents out in batches. You can’t be vague about what you want – they need the exact details (which they will help you with) and will only bring 3 documents to you at a time.

My top tips are:

  • Use these facilities!
  • Ask the staff but be clear on the detail. Asking “I’m researchin my Smith family tree where do I find them all” isn’t going to endear yourself to them (I have often heard these types of requests, much to the amusement to the old timers)!
  • Don’t take things at face value. By that I mean I have done research using one particular resource and thought I had exhausted it then found some additional, relevant material elsewhere. Sometimes asking the same question of two different members of staff provides added value.
  • Take all your info with you in case you find something relevant to another part of your research while you are there

Finally, you can take in your laptop and they will usually have wi-fi. You will only be allowed to take in pencils for writing – no pens allowed! You normally have to leave your bag at reception and if you want to take photos you usually need to ask permission on a document by document basis and will need to buy a licence (£5 in Leicestershire).

My advice is….go, try it, enjoy the results!

Hello world!

Well, this is the beginning of a brave, new world for me…blogging!

I have been inspired to start a blog having just qualified at the Institute of Genealogical Studies (IHGS) and wanted to share some of the discoveries, advice, pain and success stories that I come across with my own research and those that I carry out on the behalf of others.

Since 2000 I have been researching my family tree and luckily for me, most of the research was Scottish which does make life easier due to the amount of online material available. Originally, I naively wanted to got back and as wide as possible so that my daughter would get a sense of her roots and her background. After driving the family mad with my new obsession, I then had a ‘lightbulb’ moment looking at the wall of family tree I had printed out and added to. I realised it had become a bit meaningless as they were just names and dates on pieces of paper.

I then chose a much more satisfying tack by revisitng family groups or members who had something unusual or intriguing about them and decided to dig a bit more to bring these people to life to the point where I started to get a feel for what their lives were like when they were living.

While taking this new route I realised that I was probably missing alot of valuable information that was out there somewhere but I did not know where to llok or what I was likely to find. That is when I chose to take the qualification route and started working towards starting my own business when I retire (I am not there yet, folks!).

Over the coming weeks and months I will be posting a range of content which I hope you will find useful and will share with others. Any feedback is welcome but at this stage I cannot take on any individual projects or queries – I’ll let you know when!

Happy hunting folks

Fiona Calder
My family and I (me in the middle!)