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  1. Published on: 08/09/2017 09:53 PMReported by: rogerblaxall
    By Kate Hurst

    There’s almost a seasonal aspect to family history. The warmer months are great for exploring those churches, graveyards and maybe even an address or two that you’ve managed to decipher from a census record, and the autumn and winter are far better for staying indoors, doing the groundwork and filling in those gaps in the warmth! (Hanging onto your coat hood in the wind, trying to scribble down details from a gravestone with a biro that just will not write on the soggy pages of a notebook can soon lose its appeal.)

    Genealogy websites are big business these days; it was only a couple of weeks ago that one of the “big” ones offered free access to all their UK records for the August Bank Holiday weekend. The thing is, there’s something that the online genealogy websites like to gloss over . . . the cold, hard truth is that some records aren’t on the internet.

    Maybe you’ve had a go at researching your family history online? You’ve subscribed to a website, got all of those census records but you’ve reached a dead end. Maybe you’ve come across a problem like mine? My great-great-great grandparents were John Hurst and Susannah; he was born in Scarisbrick in about 1815, she was born in Ormskirk in about 1812, and they also managed to get married before civil registration began on 1 July 1837! So, no marriage certificate to help me out . . .

    In 1841, John and Susannah Hurst were living in Aughton with three small children - George, Margery and Joseph. (By 1851, they’d had another three.) I thought to search for other Hursts who might have been living in Scarisbrick; maybe John still had relatives in the village. He was only about 26; perhaps his parents were still alive? A shoemaker named Joseph Hurst lived at Hurlston Green, Scarisbrick; in his late fifties, he’d born in Ormskirk, and was married to Margery. That spelling of Margery seemed more than a coincidence, but I couldn’t prove anything . . .

    It was clear that the internet was not going to help me to find out about John? There was a Catholic church in Scarisbrick, but also one in Ormskirk. His children were born in Aughton and Melling, although his son (my great-great-grandad, also John) was buried at Our Lady’s, in Lydiate. Surely he and his children had been baptised at one or the other?

    That was how the Lancashire Archives at Preston helped taught me about their real story. Sure enough, John and Susannah Hurst did have their children baptised at Catholics, at St. Mary’s Church, Aughton . . . except they didn’t have six, they had ten! (Judging by the census dates, Susannah was heavily pregnant when the 1841 returns were taken, and - two weeks after the enumerator visited in 1851 - she gave birth to twins, who sadly didn’t see their second birthdays.)

    The big surprise was an extra note by each baptism entry. I thought it was funny when I ordered Great-great-grandad John’s birth certificate; his mother’s name really did look like “Susannah Hurst (formerly Hurst)”. Now the baptism record proved it. Another puzzle . . . if John Hurst has married a woman called Susannah Hurst, she’s from Ormskirk and he’s from Scarisbrick and they’re both Catholics, could they be related?

    A baptism for each was found in the registers for St. Anne’s, Ormskirk. My suspicion was confirmed; John Hurst actually was the eldest of nine children born to Joseph (the shoemaker) and Margery from Scarisbrick, and Susannah? Well, that was an interesting story, and it led me back to her husband in the end!

    When you read novels written in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, or even see TV parodies of costume dramas, it’s easy to picture the past as a straight-laced world where - ideally - one would be addressed as “Miss Smith”, possibly “Miss Jane Smith” (if you’re not the eldest sister) and only something informal like “Jenny” amongst very good friends. Yet, if you look at parish records, it soon becomes clear that even the local priest or vicar didn’t insist on your Sunday name all the time. Thanks to the registers at the Lancashire Archives, I learnt that Susannah Hurst’s parents were George and Ellen . . . but I also learnt that she was the twelfth (or thirteenth - she had a twin) of fourteen children. Over the twenty-two years that Ellen gave birth, her name alternated between “Helen”, “Nelly” and even “Eleonor”; similarly, George’s own sister Mary was

    often called “Molly” when called on to be a godparent. Obviously people did have pet names and nicknames, even in George III’s reign.

    The obvious thing to do was to look back further; maybe earlier generations of my Hursts had been baptised at St. Anne’s, too? That turned out to be the case . . . it proved that the 65-year-old John Hurst who lived with Joseph and Margery at Hurlston Green in 1841 was indeed Joseph’s dad . . . and also a younger brother to George and Molly. Their father? Well, another Joseph the shoemaker, of course!

    My first sighting of Joseph (a Roman Catholic, therefore a great sign that I was on the right track!) was a burial record on the Lancashire Online Parish Clerks website, but he died in 1819 - there was no way I’d find him on a census. By chance, at that time, Andrew (one of my fellow ODFHS committee members) wrote an article about finding wills at the Archives for our Society magazine; inadvertently, he’d just given me the key to a metaphorical treasure trove.

    If you think there’s a possibility that your ancestor (or, in fact, any Lancashire-based relation) made a will, I highly recommend a browse through the many volumes bound in green leather, just inside the gate by the Archives’ main desk. Not everyone made wills - presumably those poor unfortunates in the burial records who were “killed by a cart passing over them” never had chance to get their affairs in order, and some people simply had nothing to leave - but they’re organised alphabetically, mostly include occpations, and sometimes you can find hidden gems!

    When Joseph Hurst wrote his will on 7 January 1818, he was about seventy seven and was still working as a leather cutter. He’d been widowed for twenty-three years, and had seen nine of his eleven children reach adulthood. Two sons were priests - one in Lisbon, one in Trinidad - yet somehow he knew they were alive; he arranged for them to receive £20 each. I learnt that Joseph was friends with a William Gradwell of Burscough, saw references to property in Simmonswood, Burscough and Ormskirk. I discovered that he was living in a cottage on Aughton Street, Ormskirk with a man named William Moorcroft . . . but the best bit of all was the insight into how he lived.

    I have no idea where that Aughton Street cottage was, but I suspect it was a good size; Joseph left a “best bed” and two feather beds to his daughters Mary and Helen so he must have had space for at least three people to sleep at night. He thoughfully specified that the various hangings, bolsters, “pairs of sheets” and blankets should also be divided between his daughters. One grandson received a clock, whilst another (the Joseph who married Margery and lived in Scarisbrick) enjoyed a truly original memento . . . his grandfather’s “best red waistcoat”! No census record would have ever given me a view into the wardrobe of an Ormskirk man in the Regency period.

    You can find all sorts of resources at the Lancashire Archives; in the 1790s and early 1800s, I found Joseph Hurst in the Land Tax Returns for Ormskirk, but there are also workhouse admission registers, collections about schools, hospitals and even Lancaster Asylum. (I had the shock of my life earlier this year when I ordered the case notes for my great-great-great grandad John Worsley up, turned to the right page and saw his photograph clipped to a full description of his health, even detailing the time of his death.) Trade directories can tell you who the teachers were at different schools or how many churches there were in one town. Property leases will tell you how much someone paid up-front to lease a piece of land (usually, the acreage is given, too) and who actually owned it; tithe maps will give the exact shape and area of a piece of land, with the name of the owner, the names of the fields and the rent paid by the tenant. The options for extending historical research - whether it’s family history or local history - are endless, so if you’re interested in finding out about any aspect of Lancashire’s past, it really is worth a trip to Preston!

    The Archives are open tomorrow, Saturday 9 September, between 10am and 4pm, as part of the Heritage Open Days scheme. Further details of usual opening hours at: http://www.lancashire.gov.uk/librari...ing-times.aspx

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