These UK Suffragette Records Tell Amazing Stories

UK suffragette records tell amazing stories about the women and men who fought the British government for women’s voting rights a century ago. Nathan Dylan Goodwin, the popular Genealogy Gems Book Club author, shares three of his favorite sources for discovering suffragette stories like the one that unfolds in his new short story, “The Suffragette’s Secret.”

Thanks to Genealogy Gems Book Club author Nathan Dylan Goodwin for contributing this guest blog post.

My new short story, “The Suffragette’s Secret,” features a fictional main character, Grace Emmerson, a suffragette living on the South Coast of England in Brighton. But many of the events and supporting characters described in the story are real. In the story, forensic genealogist Morton Farrier uses real historical documents while working in the modern day to uncover Grace’s suffragette past. Many of these historical records (over 55,000 of them) are now available online in the FindmyPast Suffragette Collection.

Morton and I would recommend spending some time browsing this fascinating collection from a pivotal moment in women’s history. Even if your own ancestors did not make the headlines, they may have been involved at a more local level. And the lives of both women and men in your family may have been affected by suffragette activity, whether or not they are mentioned by name in the records. So it is a collection definitely worth exploring.

UK suffragette records I love

1. Suffragette Amnesty register (HO 45/24665)

With the threat of war and its having become inevitable in August 1914, most of the dominant suffragette organizations, including the Women’s Social and Political Union suspended all militant activity. In response, the British government gave an amnesty to more than one thousand women (and some men) who had been arrested for the cause. Their amnesty records are part of the Findmypast Suffragette Collection and also searchable at Ancestry.com (if your subscription includes UK records).

Alongside the names of those arrested comes the date and court where the charge was originally brought – an excellent starting point for further research.

In “The Suffragette’s Secret,” I referenced the real-life case of Nellie Godfrey. In the Amnesty Register of 1914, her name and references appear thus in the image shown here (the links lead to Google Maps references of the Bow Street magistrate’s court):

Godfrey, Nellie
Bow Street 9/7/09 180.782
Bolton 8/12/1909 186.626
Bow Street 27/11/11 203.651

Taking the second reference as an example of where this record can lead, this shows that Nellie appeared on the 8th December 1909 before Bolton Magistrate’s Court. 

Searching for these criteria in Findmypast’s Suffragette Newspaper Collection brings up the following story: ‘Nellie Godfrey, of London, was charged at Bolton yesterday with throwing a missile at a motor car in which Mr [Winston] Churchill rode to his meeting on Tuesday night, and was fined 40s or seven days. Defendant went to prison. It was stated that the missile thrown was a piece of iron wrapped in a paper bearing the words “Thrown by a woman of England as a protest against the Government’s treatment of political prisoners.”’

For most of these records, further information exists at the National Archives. Prefixing the reference number with HO (for Home Office) and typing it into the document search box (HO 186626) on the National Archives website brings up a link to a document which details Nellie’s arrest and time in prison. (Unfortunately, these records are not yet digitized, but can be ordered.)

2. Calendar of Prisoners

These records, about suffragette prisoners who were tried in the London courts between 1911 and 1914, feature some of the prominent names from the movement, including the famous Pankhursts (one of whom is shown in the Calendar of Prisoners image below):

One record found in Crim 9/58 is that of Emily Wilding Davison, shown here. She was killed when she threw herself under the king’s horse at Epsom on 8th June 1913. Among several interesting details found in a document pertaining to an earlier arrest in December 1911 are to be found the following facts:

Emily Wilding Davison, 36, a tutor, arrested for ‘unlawfully and maliciously placing in a Post Office letter box a dangerous substance likely to injure the same and its contents and attempt to commit like offence.’ She was jailed at Holloway for six months.

This type of militancy, placing dye or some other kind of corrosive liquid into a letter box in order to render the letters inside illegible, was common among suffragettes and an act often making the local newspapers, which can be read about as part of the Suffragette Collection.

Further records for Emily Wilding Davison exist in the FindmyPast Suffragette Collection, including HO 144/1150/210696, which details several of her actions and subsequent convictions.

3. Suffragettes’ Complaints against Police (MEPO 3/203)

During my research for “The Suffragette’s Secret,” I visited the National Archives and accessed the Suffragette’s Complaints against Police, which was then not available online. At 286 pages, “Complaints against Police” provides an illuminating account of how the police handled a large group of suffragettes who had converged on Downing Street, intent on gaining access to the Prime Minister’s (Herbert Asquith) residence. A sample appears here, to the right.

The file includes several accounts from the perspective of the police involved, in which they all strenuously deny any harsh treatment of the women whom they encountered there. In contradiction to this are the numerous and varied statements from men and women involved in the altercation in which physical abuse and violence by the policemen was described as wide-spread, as this statement from the file attests:

‘About 2.15 in Parliament Square PC A.R.82 struck a Women’s Social & Political Union member in the face. At about 2.30 between Parliament Square and Cannon Row, almost opposite Palace Chambers, PC R.R.21 twisted the arm of and shook furiously a lady he had arrested. She was not resisting arrest. During the raid in Downing Street yesterday evening PC 449B got his knee into the middle of one woman’s back and knocked her down. PC 456E afterwards banged the same woman’s head repeatedly against the railings. I can produce my witness at any inquiry.’

This Suffragette Collection from FindmyPast contains a wealth of information useful to genealogists, social historians and those interested in women’s history. Other records available include cabinet papers, the treatment and force-feeding of political prisoners and various actions and imprisonments of the women men and men involved in the fight to gain the ability to vote.

Nathan Dylan Goodwin is one of our favorite Genealogy Gems Book Club authors! He’s a must-read for anyone who loves a good mystery–especially when the solving is led by a skilled (and very likable) forensic genealogist. Nathan first joined the Genealogy Gems Podcast to talk about his book The Lost Ancestor, but he now has several Morton Farrier, Forensic Genealogist books out. The newest one is a 2-for-1 bonus: “The Suffragette’s Secret,” the short story, is published with his new full-length book, The Wicked Trade. Click on these titles to order them–or check out all his books (and other great titles) on the Genealogy Gems Book Club webpage.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Genealogy Mystery Series to Die For: Genealogy Gems Book Club

May is Mystery Month, so the Genealogy Gems Book Club is spotlighting a favorite genealogical mystery series writer: Nathan Dylan Goodwin. In his latest, forensic researcher Morton Farrier finally confronts his own past.

We first met British novelist Nathan Dylan Goodwin when we featured his novel The Lost Ancestor in the Genealogy Gems Book Club. The hero, Morton Farrier, is a forensic genealogist. He’s dogged, thorough and totally likeable. Morton now appears in an entire series about his research adventures–both his professional ones and his personal ones. We think they’re all worth reading! Enjoy them individually–or grab the value bundle on Kindle.

Here’s the lowdown on the full series or Morton Farrier mysteries, in order:

Hiding the Past. In this debut novel, we meet British genealogist Morton Farrier. He’s tenacious and thorough, qualities that make him an excellent investigator–but put him in danger when he starts investigating the mysterious identity of Peter Coldrick. Despite the clear danger to himself and his tough-and-adorable fiance Juliet (a police officer), Morton won’t back off. Meanwhile, he learns a startling truth about his own roots.the lost ancestor genealogy gems book club

The Lost AncestorMorton is hired to find out what happened to his client’s great-aunt Mary, who disappeared without a trace a century ago while working as a maid at a grand English estate (gotta love the Downtown Abbey-style drama!). This is the book we featured in the Genealogy Gems Book Club, which Nathan talked about in the Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 180 (free excerpt) and the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast #124 (subscriber-only).

The Orange Lilies: A Morton Farrier novellaMorton confronts a long-standing mystery in his own family–one that leads him just a little closer to the truth about his personal origins. This Christmas-time tale flashes back to Christmas 1914: World War I, to a turning point in his relatives’ lives. Don’t miss it!

The America Ground. A no-man’s piece of land–formed from the sea as Hasting Harbor silted in–became home to a lawless neighborhood where a woman was killed more than 180 years ago. It falls to Morton Farrier to uncover her story. Distracted by the unfolding mystery of his own parentage, he doesn’t realize the danger he’s unwittingly stumbled into until it’s almost too late.

The Spyglass File: A Morton Farrier novellaA client’s unknown past leads Morton to a young woman’s secret mission during World War II. Her name ends up in the mysterious Spyglass File, a subject so dangerous that Morton has bad guys after him as soon as he starts prying. He may or may not get kidnapped right before he’s supposed to marry the lovely Juliette. Meanwhile, Morton anguishes over the continuing mystery of his own roots.

The Missing Man. Morton Farrier can’t wait any longer: he must unravel the mystery of his own past. Who is his American father and why did he disappear from his mother’s life, despite letters evidencing his devotion? What, if any, role did a devastating house fire play in his disappearance? Morton and Juliet head to the east coast in the United States to confront surviving relatives, learn what they can about Harley Jacklin and help Morton come to terms with whatever he discovers.

Nathan joined us for a great conversation on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #124. Click here to learn more about joining Genealogy Gems Premium website membership or click here to hear a free excerpt in Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 180).

What does Nathan Dylan Goodwin read?

On his must-read list of genealogical fiction are two we’ve mentioned on the Genealogy Gems Book Club page:

The Marriage Certificate by Stephen Molyneux. Peter, a genealogy buff, buys a marriage certificate on display at an antiques gallery. He begins researching the couple with an idea of returning the certificate to them. Eventually he uncovers several secrets, one with some money attached to it, but others are also chasing this money. Surprise twists bring the story into the present day and Peter has a chance to become a hero.

genealogy gems book clubThe Forgotten Garden, a novel by Kate Morton. Recommended by a Gems fan. The premise was inspired by Kate’s own family history: “A tiny girl is abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913. She arrives completely alone with nothing but a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a single book—a beautiful volume of fairy tales. She is taken in by the dockmaster and his wife and raised as their own. On her twenty-first birthday, they tell her the truth, and with her sense of self shattered and very little to go on, ‘Nell’ sets out to trace her real identity.”

genealogy book club family history readingKeep up with great reading recommendations like these ones! Follow the Genealogy Gems Book Club. Click here to see what else we’ve recommended.

Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 124: Ancestry, Book Club Interview and More

Genealogy Gems Premium podcast episode 124If there’s a theme for Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 124, it’s travel! (Which works for us here in the U.S., where we are enjoying summer vacations.) Our ancestors sure traveled, and sometimes a paper trail followed them. In this episode you’ll hear Contributing Editor Sunny Morton’s interview with Phil Goldfarb, author of two volumes on U.S. passport applications. More episode highlights include:

  • genealogy book club genealogy gemsThe exclusive Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin, author of our featured title, The Lost Ancestor (The Forensic Genealogist);
  • Another tip for photographing headstones on your trips to the cemetery, whether your own relatives’ or for sites like BillionGraves;
  • Follow-up tips on saving your data at Ancestry and navigating the remodeled Ancestry website;
  • An easy, inexpensive family history craft that would be perfect for a family reunion this summer.

liesHere’s a teaser from our conversation on passport applications: People lied on them, including those who became famous. Clara Barton lied about her age and Harry Houdini said he was born in the U.S., when he was actually born in Austria-Hungary. Also, passport applications can be an excellent place to learn an immigrant’s date of arrival in the U.S., the ship they arrived on and the court and date of naturalization.

Did you know that Genealogy Gems Premium members have access to our full archive of Premium podcast episodes, as well as hours’ worth of exclusive video tutorials on genealogy research skills, using online records and harnessing powerful technology tools like Google searching, Google Earth and Evernote for genealogy? Click here to learn more about Premium membership for yourself or for your genealogy society or library.

As always, our Genealogy Gems flagship podcast remains free, thanks to your support and purchases you make through the links we provide (like for the books we recommend on this page).

Interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin: Genealogy Gems Book Club

Nathan Goodwin logo

As part of our Genealogy Gems Book Club, author Nathan Dylan Goodwin joined us on the Genealogy Gems podcast to talk about the newest book in The Forensic Genealogist series: The Lost Ancestor (The Forensic Genealogist series Book 2).

In our interview, Nathan talks about how his intrepid genealogist hero, Morton Farrier, tracks down years-old family mysteries while dodging threats and evil glares of his nemesis librarian at the local archive. He explains more about the Downton Abbey-type setting  for The Lost Ancestor’s ancestral tale. And he comments on the challenges of trying to come up with genealogical mysteries that have such consequence for the present that they inspire a backlash of modern crime.

You can listen to a meaty interview excerpt in the FREE Genealogy Gems podcast. The full-length interview (click here) is available in the Genealogy Gems Premium podcast. (Click here to learn about Premium access to an enormous members-only digital archive of Premium podcast episodes and full-length video classes on Lisa’s most popular topics.) Want to read the book? Click here to purchase it, and you’ll support the free Genealogy Gems podcast. (Thank you!)

Genealogy Gems Book Club Genealogy Family History

New Genealogy Gems Book Club Pick: The Lost Ancestor

the lost ancestor genealogy gems book clubWe are excited to announce the newest featured book in the Genealogy Gems Book Club: The Lost Ancestor  by Nathan Dylan Goodwin.

This is the most recent book in the genealogical crime mystery series by the British author.  It’s classic genre fiction, so much fun to curl up and get lost in! The hero, Morton Farrier, is a forensic genealogist who occasionally takes on a job that leads him into dark and dangerous corners of the past and the present.

In this book, Morton is hired to find out what happened to his client’s great-aunt Mary, who disappeared without a trace a century ago while working as a maid at a grand English estate. We follow Morton to his favorite research haunts, envy his research budget (vital records by express mail!) and wince at the lumps and risks he takes as he uncovers the truth. It’s so fun to read, that when I finished I immediately read the other titles in the series (Hiding the Past (The Forensic Genealogist) (Volume 1) and the novella The Orange Lilies: A Morton Farrier novella
).

Hear a little more about this book in the free Genealogy Gems podcast episode 178.  Next month, Lisa and I will talk about some of our favorite parts of the book. In June, the author will join us on the podcast for an exclusive interview. So start reading and stay tuned!

Genealogy Gems Book Club Genealogy Family HistoryDo you love to read? Do you enjoy family history? Then you should definitely be enjoying our free, no-fuss, no-commitment Genealogy Gems Book Club. We feature our favorite novels and non-fiction titles that we would recommend to anyone who enjoys reading about history and family identity, relationships and history. Click here to see titles we’ve featured in the past and hear our interviews with the authors.

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