From Dorset to Ireland - with free cow

We often think of people in the 19th century moving from Ireland to England to find work. However, as this item published in the Blandford Parish Magazine in 1884 shows, it wasn't all one-way traffic....

"The Rector has received the following letter from Ireland and thinks it may be of service to many who may be desirous of bettering their condition.

Land Corporation of Ireland, Limited
12, Molesworth Street,
May 4th, 1884
Rev Sir,
In addressing you I must ask your pardon for troubling you. But I am an assistant Manager to the above Company who are principally engaged in working farms which tenants have been evicted from for non-payments of rent, and which would lie idle here if not for this company, as the veto of the Land League prevents Local men who have not the courage of their opinions taking them. We employ a large number of labourers on them, but we have to obtain them from a distance, and I am given to understand that in your district Agricultural Labour is plentiful and not too well paid. Perhaps you may desire to benefit some of your parishioners by informing them that we can give con­stant employment all the year round, and that our rate of wages varies from 15/- to 10/- a week, with a House and Garden free and an allowance of fuel, with permission to keep a cow on the farm, or if the family cannot buy a cow the Corporation lend one. On our part we require steady active men accustomed to all ordinary farm labour and able to read and write, we pay the expenses of all the working members of the family's over to Ireland and the man's wife if married. But at the same time it is only right to remark, that the occupation is not a popular one in this Country though no danger to life or limb is to be apprehended to men who keep sober, yet their social life would be rather dull till they had made their way. If you would be kind enough to inform your parishioners of this letter and its contents, I would feel much obliged."

Filling in Census Forms

I often see discussions on genealogy message boards about misunderstandings occurring between householders and census enumerators when census forms were completed, especially due to problems with literacy.

I'm just indexing some parish magazines from 1881 for Burwash in Sussex, and there is an interesting article about the 1881 census results there.

The article includes the following ....

"In1871 .... 490 schedules were used, and of these the enumerators had to fill up 132, the persons with whom they were left not feeling competent to fill them up themselves. Among the younger part of our population however, a great improvement since 1871 is reported in the number of scheduled filled up by the householders personally."

I'm not sure how literacy levels in Burwash compared to elsewhere, but this statistic gives an interesting insight into the possible reason for the strange things we sometimes find on the census pages!

Indexing vs. Scanning

Some Yesterday's Names parish magazine CDs contain detailed name indexes, detailing each reference to a name, with transcriptions of some articles, whereas others contain just a simple name index plus scanned images of the magazine pages.


Well, when I started Yesterday's Names, I thought long and hard about scanning versus indexing, and I eventually decided that even if I went for scanning, I would still want to include a name index. The reason for this is that people aren't necessarily where you might expect them to be, and in almost every index I've created I've found references to people who don't live in the parish being indexed. In addition to the index on each CD, I also have a mammoth master index of all the names in all the indexes I've produced - very useful for tracking missing ancestors or for one name studies! One day I might even make it available on-line.

The decision about whether to scan as well really depends on the quality of the magazines for the parish. These documents are over a hundred years old, and were often printed on coloured paper. The quality of the paper is also very variable, often now very fragile, and in some cases the magazines have been bound so tightly, it would be impossible to scan them without removing them from their binding. The worst thing though is trying to get a decent quality scan with faded print on coloured paper (the colour often differing on each page!).

So - if the pages are of a fairly uniform background colour, the print is reasonably distinct, and the paper will stand up to it - then I'll scan the pages and accompany them with a simple name index. If the pages aren't easily scannable, then I'll do a detailed name index, extracting as much of the information about each name reference as possible, and adding in transcriptions of a selection of articles.

So now you know!

I wish George Baxter was one of my ancestors

When ploughing through parish magazines, I sometimes find stories about interesting and unusual characters who I wish I was related to. It must be wonderful to find ancestors who were very active in their community, made a difference in some way, performed some heroic deed, or were just plain eccentric!

One character who I am particularly fond of was a chap called George Baxter, who I found in a Kilburn parish magazine from 1896.

George didn't perform any heroic deeds, and died in a very tragic way. But the way in which the clergy described him in his obituary in the magazine creates the impression "reading between the lines" that he must have been quite a character! Read this and see what you think .....

"Death has been busy in our congregation during the past month.
On Saturday, the 12th, it pleased God to take unto himself the soul of our brother, George Baxter. Not twelve months ago he was well known amongst working-men as an Infidel, having for more than twenty years used his influence against the Lord Jesus.
It was during the months of October and November last that God wakened him to a deep disquietude of soul. He sought the Lord and he found Him, and ever since he has distinctly and definitely identified himself with Christ and His cause in Kilburn. He manfully testified amongst his friends for the Lord Jesus, and for the last nine months was seldom absent from any of the Services in our Church. On Friday, 11th, he was run over by a brewer’s dray on the Kilburn High Road, and received such severe injuries that he died a few hours after his admission into St. Mary’s Hospital. We saw him in the hospital in the evening. He was quite conscious. He knew he was dying. We questioned him about his hope in Christ, and his last words to us were a distinct declaration of unswerving confidence in his God and Saviour. On Saturday, 19th, the Phoenix Lodge men, with whom he had been associated all his life, brought his remains to St. John’s Church, which was well filled by working people, who joined most reverently in our solemn Burial Service. The remains were then brought to Willesden Cemetery."

If you're related to George in some way, do please let us know!

Free Parish Magazine Extracts

Because I have a mortgage to pay, I have to charge for the Yesterday's Names CDs that I produce. But there are a few individuals and organisations with web sites that contain extracts from old parish magazines, that are free to access.

Listed below are links to a selection of free sites that I've spotted, but if you find any others, do please add them to this post, or email us at and we'll add them to the list.

Parish Magazines for family history

Since a lot of my genealogical ramblings revolve around old Parish Magazines, I thought I'd better explain a bit more about them.

The Yesterday's Names CDs that I produce are mostly indexes of names, plus basic details, extracted from Victorian parish magazines. Sometimes, if the volumes of magazines are suitable, the CDs include scanned page images from the magazines.

So what are Parish Magazines?

In the 1860s, bishops started to promote the idea amongst their clergy that using a magazine to communicate with their parishioners would help them to maintain regular contact. Gradually this idea was implemented - more successfully in some parishes than others - and today it is the norm for parishes to regularly publish magazines. In the Victoria era though, a lot of initial attempts at publishing parish magazines faltered for economic reasons. Generally, parishioners were charged about a penny for each monthly copy, but this often wasn't enough to cover the costs of production. A number of centrally produced publications started to appear - e.g., Home Words, Church Monthly, Parish Magazine - and these were used as the main content of the local magazines, with the parish just producing a single sheet "wrapper" for the magazine, with this containing all of the local church news. The number of magazines produced in each parish varies greatly - some large parishes produced thousands of copies each month, whereas some small parishes only produced 50 copies per month. Consequently, survival rates of these old magazines are very variable.

How can old Parish Magazines help with family history research?

All magazines are different, and their style and content varied greatly, depending on the whim of the vicar or (more usually) the curate who edited them. So some of them are more helpful than others for genealogy researchers.

First and foremost, even if your ancestors aren't specifically named in the magazines for a parish in which they lived, the magazines can still give you a flavour of what their lives were like. But if your ancestors were active within the parish, then the magazines could contain a treasure trove of information. Once you've traced the basic details of your family history, references to them in parish magazines might give your more of an idea of what your ancestors were up to in between those precious census snapshots and birth, marriage and death registrations that are often all we know of them.

Typically, old parish magazines contain a selection of the following types of information of genealogical interest:-

  • Parish register extracts : Details of baptisms, marriages, and burials. Sometimes only names are given, but frequently the baptism references also include names of parents and addresses, and burial details usually include age. For residents heavily involved with the church, there would sometimes be a detailed obituary included in the magazines.
  • Donations : The Victorians were great at cataloguing things, and they excelled themselves in their parish magazines by listing all of the donations made by their parishioners to the various church funds and appeals. Obviously, these lists usually only include people who were able to afford to give money to the church, but if your ancestors are listed, together with the sums they gave, this can give you an insight into their wealth and social standing.
  • Clergy and church officers : As you'd expect, parish magazines contain a lot of detail about the activities of the Vicar and the Churchwardens. So if you have an ancestor who was one of those, they can be an absolute goldmine.
  • Prizes : Many parishes named in their magazines the children at Sunday School who won prizes for attendance or examinations. The day schools were also managed by the church, and had regular inspections where the children were tested on their religious knowledge, and again the prize winners were often named in the parish magazines. It was also not unusual for parish magazines to publish details of winners in the local flower shows etc., and winners of other types of award are also sometimes included - for example, the Highgate parish magazines contain great detail about the competitions held by the local Rifle Volunteers.
  • Parish Events : Before the advent of television, parish life included many organised entertainments and group outings. The descriptions of some of the entertainments can be very enlightening if you are lucky enough to find an ancestor mentioned. The descriptions of what they sang, played, or recited can sometimes be very illuminating! Some magazines describe parish cricket matches in great detail, others describe in detail the church decorations made by various church helpers. There are also descriptions of meetings held by various groups such as Mothers Meetings, Band of Hope, chess clubs, debating societies, Bible Classes, Girls Friendly Society, and various others.

As I already said though, each parish magazine had a different style, and some contain much more information of interest to a family historian than others. But all of them give a unique insight into parish life.

Hello World!

Setting up a blog seems like a good idea so that I can have some kind of place where I can answer questions about the family history CDs I publish under the Yesterday's Names brand name, based primarily on information extracted from Victorian parish magazines, as well as share news about them.

I also like the idea of being able to share my discoveries about my own family history - as anyone who's ever researched their family history knows, it's a never-ending journey, and new discoveries appear when you least expect them.

And last, but not least, as soon as anyone I meet discovers that I am allegedly a "genealogist", they immediately tell me their life stories. For example, the lady behind the counter in the bank yesterday casually asked me what I do for a living. When I told her what I do, she insisted on telling me that she knew nothing at all about her mother's origins, and (despite the queue behind me) went on to give me chapter and verse, and ask whether I could help. I confess I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff - it makes a change from extracting parish magazine data - which is why as soon as I got home I couldn't resist delving into the bank clerk's history. So I think this blog will also contain quite a few ramblings about these diverse bits of research that I keep finding myself doing.

I find that whether I'm ploughing through parish magazines, researching my own family history, or delving into the past for other people, there's always something new to learn. So hopefully through this blog I'll share some of that with anyone who's interested.

Of course - I do have a mortgage to pay - so I'll no doubt be mentioning my web site occasionally... - and there will be the odd advert appearing on the blog - and no, I'm sorry but I'm not enough of a sucker to research for free the family history of everyone who asks me as a result of this blog! But I will try to share some learning and experience, and help when I can.