A Shocking Family Secret and 3 Powerful Newspaper Search Tips

I used the British Newspaper Archive to make a shocking discovery in my husband’s family history was made with the help of these three powerful strategies. Read on to learn how to find more information on your ancestors in online historical newspapers. (This British Newspaper Archive link is an affiliate link and we will be financially compensated if you make a purchase. This helps support our free content like this. Thank you.)

3 powerful newspaper tips

The Research Question

Ever since I first started researching the family of my husband’s grandfather Raymond Harry Cooke, I have been aware that his mother, Mary Ann Susannah Cooke (maiden name Munns), died at a young age, around 40 years old.

What I didn’t know was how she died.

Maryann Cooke

Mary Ann Susannah Cooke

In fact, Mary Ann Susannah Cooke has been one of the most elusive recent direct ancestors I’ve pursued. Up until about a decade ago we had never seen her face.

The image of Mary Ann (above) came to us through one of Bill’s first cousins. I had tracked her down in hopes of learning more about their shared grandfather, Raymond. Once we met I was thrilled to discover that Raymond had lived with her until his death at the age of 93 in 1987.

The cousin brought with her a dusty old box of his belongings. Inside we discovered the first and only known image of Mary Ann. (Genealogy Gems Premium members can learn more about this discovery and the methodology used to find the long-lost distant cousin in the Premium video class 9 Strategies You Need to Find Living Relatives.)

On the back of this cardstock image were notes written in Raymond’s own hand. The handwriting leads me to believe he may have added the notes later in life. This meant that I needed to be especially careful as I analyzed the information as it was likely from childhood memory. 

Mary Ann Munns Cooke Back of photo

As you can see on the back of the image, Raymond states that Mary Ann died about 1915, and that her birthday was September 3. The birthday was close but incorrect. The actual recorded birth date was September 6.

The date of death was much farther off. Death records from the county of Kent show that Maryann was buried August 20, 1908, a full seven years earlier than Raymond remembered. 

It’s not a surprise that his dates were off the mark. Raymond was just 14 years old when Mary Ann died. But the question remained: how did she die?

The Search

About five years ago, after writing a blog post about the British Newspaper Archive, I decided to do some digging in historic newspapers to see if I could find anything about Mary Ann’s death in Tunbridge Wells, England in 1908. With a search of Mary Ann Cooke in the website’s powerful advanced search engine I located the answer within minutes. It was devastating.

cooke

The Courier, August 31, 1908:

“Tunbridge Wells Woman’s Sad Death: Drowned in a Water Tank. The Inquest.”

“Mr. Thos. Buss, district coroner, held an inquest at the Town Hall, Tunbridge Wells, on Saturday morning, touching the death of Mary Ann Cooke, aged 41 years, whose body was found in a tank at the roof of her house, 49 Kirkdale road, the previous day.”

Suffering from prolonged depression, Mary Ann had drowned herself upstairs in the family home’s water tank. The newspaper provided a blow-by-blow of the coroner’s inquest, and the heart-breaking testimony of her husband, Harry.

And then came the final shock: Harry and Mary Ann’s 14 year old son Raymond had discovered the body.

After absorbing the story of Mary Ann’s untimely death, I was keen to see if I could learn more about the family. This is where some very powerful search strategies came into play and helped me find MUCH more in the British Newspaper Archive.

3 Powerful Newspaper Search Tips

1. Look for Search Clues in the Articles You Find

Finding an historic article on your ancestors can feel like the end of the research road. But actually, it’s just the beginning!

Go through the article with a fine tooth comb. Make note of every http://laparkan.com/buy-sildenafil/unique detail that could possibly be used in an additional newspaper database search.  Here’s a list of what I found in the article about Mary Ann’s inquest. In the following steps I’ll show you how we put some of these into action. 

Addresses – The Cooke’s address of 49 Kirkdale Road in Tunbridge Wells, was mentioned twice within the first two sentences of the article.

Name variations – I’m not talking about a variation in spelling, although those are certainly worth noting. In the case of newspaper research I’m referring to the varying ways that people are referred to in the newspaper. In the inquest article, Mary Ann Cooke was also referred to as “Mrs. Cooke.” This got me thinking about other ways that Mary Ann might be referred to, such as Mrs. Mary Ann Cooke, Mrs. M. A. Cooke, etc. In England, a boy Raymond’s age might be referred to as “Master Cooke.” Write down all variations you find, and then continue your list by adding the additional possibilities you can think of.  

Neighbors – Mrs. Pout played a vital role on the day of Mary Ann’s death, and she served as a witness at the inquest. This was the first I had heard of her, and her name definitely made it onto my list of “searchables.”

Friends and Acquaintances – The names of Donald Thurkill (an employee of Mary Ann’s husband Harry), and the various doctors (Dr. Abbott, Dr. Grace, and Dr. Nield) were among the names I noted. 

Occupations – Harry Cooke is described as a “coach builder.” Future searches of “coach builder” and “Cooke” together could prove fruitful in the future. 

After assembling a comprehensive list of additional searchable words and phrases, I headed back to the British Newspaper Archive to search those leads.

2. Look Beyond Known Names

All of the naming variations I made note of in step number one could now be put to work. But before doing so, I realized that each option I came up with could actually be searched in two ways: Cooke with an “e” and Cook without an “e”. And I knew it was worth doing, because unfortunately my own name is misspelled in print on a regular basis. 

Searching both “Mrs. Cooke” and “Mrs. Cook” resulted in even more articles. And in the article about “Mrs. Cooke,” Raymond was referred to as “Master Cooke.” Indeed, even more articles existed under that name as well. In the following example, I found Raymond’s name displayed three different ways!

newspaper name variations

3. Go Beyond People

While finding your ancestor’s name in print in the newspaper is exciting, don’t underestimate the power of searching for other bits of information. Searching for addresses where they lived can put you in the middle of a wealth of new information about your family.

It isn’t necessary to include the surname of your family. In fact, I highly recommend that you don’t. The property where they lived has a history of it’s own. Simply searching the address can give you a kind of “house history” set of search results. These articles can potentially reveal who lived there before your family, descriptions of the home and its contents, and who your family sold the property to. In both the buying and selling of the property there is the potential to learn more about your family and possible further connections to others in the transactions. 

In my case, I located an article about the Cooke home by searching the address 49 Kirkdale Road.

In the search results I discovered an article about the home being put up for sale several years before the Cooke family owned it. It was interesting to note that the previous owner had also been a coach builder, so it was a logical purchase for Harry Cooke when he decided to start up a coach building and horseless carriage mechanic shop of his own. 

The final article I found in the British newspapers was also found only by address. The Cooke name was never mentioned, but indeed it did provide the slightest mention of the family: “Owner going abroad.” This article advertised the family home being put up for sale in 1912 in anticipation of their emigration. 

1912 Going Abroad 49 Kirkdale Road

I admit I got a lump in my throat as I read of Mary Ann’s beloved pianofortes being sold. She was a skilled and talented musician who often played violin at the Tunbridge Wells Opera House and at garden parties around the countryside, and clearly she enjoyed playing the piano at home as she owned not one, but two “pianofortes.” 

With the description of the inside of the home in the inquest article, the outside of the home in the “house for sale” newspaper advertisement that Harry first responded to, and now this article describing their possessions as they prepare to move to Canada, my newspaper research painted a much more complete picture of the Cooke’s life in Tunbridge Wells, England. 

You can hear more about my search for Mary Ann’s story in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #174.

More Resources from Genealogy Gems:

I’ve written additional article here at Genealogy Gems that I think you will benefit from and enjoy:

And if you’re a Genealogy Gems Premium member you have access to my video class Getting the Scoop on Your Ancestors in Newspapers.

If you’re not yet a member, you can learn more here

Did these tips help you find your ancestors in old newspapers? Please leave a comment below. We all learn from hearing each other’s successes!

 

Beginning British Genealogy: What You Must Know to Start

With about 1/3 of Americans claiming British ancestry, chances are that at some point you will need to extend your research across the Atlantic Ocean. Genealogical research in the British Isles has some important differences when compared to the United States. Guest blogger Kate Eakman, a Senior Researcher for Legacy Tree Genealogists, clarifies confusing terms and helps you get your research started on solid footing!

Beginning British Genealogy

Britain? England? The United Kingdom?

When beginning British genealogy research, it’s important to first talk about the difference between British and English research. There are several terms which get used interchangeably but which really refer to different locations.

Great Britain is an island, the largest island in the British Isles.

On the island of Great Britain are three of the four sovereign nations which make up the United Kingdom, or the U.K.: England, Wales, and Scotland. Northern Ireland on the island of Ireland is the fourth country of the U.K.

The four countries of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Map courtesy Nate Parker.

Usually, when people talk about their British ancestors, what they really mean are their English ancestors. Although we Americans often treat the two words as interchangeable they really aren’t, and I suspect our English friends giggle a bit when they hear us misuse the words.

The four countries of the U.K. have some similarities but many important differences, and that is equally true for genealogical research. Rather than trying to explain all of those differences, this post will focus on English research.

One last thing to keep in mind when we talk about genealogical research in England is that today the country is divided into counties, which are sort of the equivalent of states in the U.S. Older records might refer to those counties as shires, and over time the borders have shifted, shires and counties were added, divided, or absorbed into each other. So a good map or two will be a useful tool to keep handy while you research your English ancestors.

Usually, when people talk about their British ancestors,
what they really mean are their English ancestors

What do you know?

Before beginning British genealogy research and making that leap across the pond, it is a good idea to consider what you already know about your English ancestors. Of course, you have a name, and you probably have an approximate date of birth.

  • Were you fortunate enough to find the name of a town or county where that ancestor lived or do all of the census reports and vital records simply say “England”?
  • If the ancestor arrived as an adult, what occupation did he pursue?
  • When did he or she arrive in the U.S.? Are there any clues on the passenger list to tell you where to start looking?
  • Once you have reviewed all of the information you have already acquired about your English ancestor, it’s time to start your research.

Beginning British Genealogy Research with the Census

The first step in most genealogical research is to study the existing census reports. Designed as a means to count the population for a variety of years, the census of Great Britain (including Scotland) is taken every ten years with the earliest records available in 1841. Due to very restrictive privacy laws, the most recent census available is from 1911, with one really valuable exception being the 1939 Register, available at FindMyPast.

Used for genealogical purposes, the census can give a snapshot of the family at the time the census was taken, as well as provide invaluable information such as the birthplace of the individual being recorded, occupation, birth year, and familial relationships. Elderly parents, or widowed mothers, aunts, or sisters, can be discovered living with younger members of the family.

Drawbacks of using the census for genealogical purposes include inaccurate name spellings, inaccurate age reporting, and inaccurate assumptions made by the enumerator. Another thing to keep in mind is that in the 1841 census the enumerated rounded down to the nearest five years the ages of people over 15. So a person who was listed as 25 could have been 25 through 29 years old.

It is important to remember that for the census reports through 1901 the enumerator copied the household information into books, and these copies are what we have today. Of course, when information is copied it is susceptible to error. The person who completed the census form may have had difficult-to-read handwriting, or the enumerator may have entered things on the wrong line. The individual reports have been kept for the 1911 census and offer a greater likelihood that the information they contain is very accurate.

An example of a transcription from the 1891 English Census from Familysearch.org.

Detailed transcripts of English census records are available for free on FamilySearch and the images can be found for a fee at FindMyPast.

It is important to remember that for the census reports through 1901 the enumerator copied the household information into books, and these copies are what we have today.

Civil Registry of Vital Events

All English births, marriages, and deaths were required to be registered in a civil registration office beginning in July of 1837. In addition to the records themselves, there are indices which list the name of the person who was born, married, or died, the place where the event was registered, and the quarter and year in which the event occurred. Because the General Register Office (GRO) will only search one year on either side of the date provided, it is best, but not required, to include the index information when ordering documents from the GRO.

Free BMD is a free database which allows you the most freedom to search for the birth, marriage, and death index record of your relatives. You can enter whatever information you know including the place where the event happened, a specific year or range of years, age, and mother’s maiden name.

Depending on the time period, the index may be handwritten or mechanically printed. The information can then be used to order a copy of the actual record from the General Register Office (GRO) in England for about $10 per record.

An example of handwritten (left) and mechanically printed (right) birth index entries. Photos courtesy https://freebmd.org.uk.

The information contained in birth records includes:

  • Name, date, and place of birth;
  • Father’s name (if given at time of registration), occupation; and
  • Mother’s name, maiden surname.

The parents’ places of birth were added after 1969, and the mother’s occupation is listed after 1984.

Marriage records include:

  • Date and place of marriage;
  • Name, age and marital status (spinster/bachelor, widowed, divorced) of the bride and groom;
  • Occupation and usual address;
  • Name and occupation of the fathers of the bride and groom, with a note if either man was deceased at the time of the marriage;
  • Names of the witnesses;
  • Name of the person who solemnized the marriage.

Death records in the United States are often relied upon to provide the names of the parents. English death records do not include that information and therefore are not as useful for genealogical purposes. Each death record includes:

  • Name, date, and place of death;
  • Date and place of birth (before 1969 a certificate only showed age of deceased);
  • Occupation and usual address;
  • Cause of death;
  • The identity of the informant.

There are other records available, which we will talk about in a later post, which can be used to find and trace your English family members. The largest group are the religious records, and sometimes those can help you extend your family back in time to the 1600s – 400 years or more!

Beginning British Genealogy Important Take-Aways…

  1. “Great Britain” is an island. “The United Kingdom” is a country. And “England” is a country. Normally, when people are talking about their British ancestors they are referring to their English ancestors.
  2. England has counties, or what used to be known as “shires,” which function sort of like our states. The borders have changed over time, as have some of the names, so use a map when necessary to verify where you are researching.
  3. Census records are available from 1841 through 1911. Really good transcriptions are available for free at Family Search, or on the for-fee site Find My Past. And remember that age idiosyncrasy about the 1841 census.
  4. Finally, civil birth, marriage, and death records are available from the GRO. You can use the index listings to find the most likely match for your ancestor, and those can be found online at Free BMD.

Have fun and good luck finding your English ancestors!

 

Kate Eakman is a Senior Researcher for Legacy Tree Genealogists, a worldwide genealogy research firm with extensive expertise in breaking through genealogy brick walls. 

Click here to learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team.


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Search Canadian Passenger Lists for FREE at Library Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada, the Canadian national archive, holds original passenger arrival records. You can search a massive index to them on their website for free.

 

Canadian Passenger Arrival Lists: The Good and Bad News

There’s good news and bad news for those searching for Canadian passenger arrival lists. 

The Bad News:

You won’t find a lot of Canadian passenger arrival lists before 1865. There are no comprehensive nominal lists of immigrants arriving prior to 1865 in Canada according to the Library and Archives Canada. Unfortunately, those lists didn’t generally survive.

Those that have can be scattered amongst various French and British collections.

French Passenger Lists to Canada

“Les passagers du Saint-André : la recrue de 1659” is among the French resources at the Library and Archives Canada.

Visit the Passenger Lists page at the Library and Archives Canada here for details lists, years and microfilm numbers.

Good news:

You will be able to find a lot of records after 1865.

And the news gets even better. These records can easily be found online!

“The passenger lists are the sole surviving official records of the arrival of the majority of people accepted as immigrants in Canada,” says a Library Archives Canada webpage. “The passenger list is a list of immigrants arriving at an official port of entry on a particular ship on a given date. 

Advertising attracting immigrants to Canada

Newspaper advertising was used to attract immigrants to Canada

Information Found in Canadian Passenger Lists

Generally speaking, each manifest provides the following information:

  • the name of the ship
  • port(s)
  • date(s) of departure and arrival in Canada
  • names
  • ages
  • sex
  • professions or occupations
  • nationalities
  • destinations 

The earlier lists aren’t always so detailed. But in some cases, other lists have information about the travelers’:

  • health
  • religion
  • previous travels to Canada
  • family members
  • and how much they carried in their wallets.

Where to Search for Canadian Passenger Lists 1865-1922

Start your search for free in the Passenger Lists, 1865-1922 collection at the Library and Archives Canada website. 

The city of Quebec, the major arrival port for many years, is covered for nearly that entire time span. 

Quebec City - Major Arrival Port in Canada

Quebec: Major Arrival Port in Canada

If you find it easier to search for these records in genealogy websites (so you can attach them to individuals in your tree), or if you’re specifically looking for passengers whose final destination was the U.S., check out these databases:

Canadian Passenger lists, 1881-1922 at FamilySearch. 

The database includes records for Canadian ports:

  • Quebec City,
  • Halifax,
  • St. John,
  • North Sydney,
  • Vancouver
  • Victoria
  • U.S. ports for passengers who reported Canada as their final destination.

Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935 at Ancestry.

Quebec ports are included for these time periods:

  • May 1865–Jun 1908,
  • Jun 1919–Jul 1921,
  • Apr 1925–Nov 1935.

U.S., Passenger and Crew Lists for U.S.-Bound Vessels Arriving in Canada, 1912-1939 and 1953-1962 at Ancestry.

Nearly 100,000 records of travelers to the U.S. via Canada are recorded for the ports of:

  • Montreal
  • Quebec
  • Saint John
  • New Brunswick
  • Halifax
  • Nova Scotia
  • Vancouver
  • British Columbia
  • Victoria
  • British Columbia
  • Toronto
  • Ontario
  • Quebec
Mixed group immigrants, Quebec

Mixed group immigrants, Quebec

More Great Canada Genealogy Resources

We have several more resources to assist you in your Canadian family history research. 

  • Click here to learn why Quebec Church Records are a Great Place to Look for Ancestors.

Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church, Basse-Ville (Lower Town). Wikimedia Commons image; click to view.

 

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