Thursday, 26 February 2015

Another interesting word...

While transcribing my ggg-grandmother's will I came across a word I hadn't seen before. It took me a little while to decipher the hand-writing and determine the spelling and then I jumped over to Google to find what it meant. The word was coverture and it appeared in sections of the will where my ggg-grandmother was referring to her daughters. Coverture was the legal term for the concept that a woman ceases to exist as a legal entity when she is married. That is, a woman can no longer own property, and all her legal rights and obligations are taken over by her husband. Not a particularly pleasant concept - thankfully we live in a somewhat more enlightened age and concepts such as this have dropped out of regular use in most of the world. /smh

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

From the "I did not know that" dept...

Transcribing old wills can be a tricky thing. Not only do you have to decipher the handwriting and deal with a distinct lack of punctuation (and capital letters) but you also have to deal with unfamiliar words and terms. Earlier I posted a transcription of my ggg-grandmother's will, but upon re-reading I discovered a small transcription error.

Actually, the transcription error was revealed to me by an unrelated search online. I was randomly searching a new site I had discovered when I came across a familiar term used in an unfamiliar context. A lease document was labelled a "demise", which to me seemed a mistake. I Googled the word just to make sure there wasn't another meaning and suddenly all became clear. Demise in its original meaning was a legal term for a transfer of an estate or a lease. Demise as a synonym for death is actually a euphemism. Who knew?

In my defense, the difference between "devise" and "demise" in the (often flowery) hand-written script used in thee old documents is quite small, so I claim it was an easy mistake to make.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Last Will and Testament of Matilda Bannister (1808-1879)

Matilda BANNISTER (nee RAINGILL) (b. 23 June 1808, d. 4 Feb 1879) was my great-great-great-grandmother. My father was interested in Matilda's will (and her husband Amos' will too) to see if we could find any information about my gg-grandfather George Amos BANNISTER who settled in Australia in 1856. At the behest (okay, pestering) of my father I have transcribed the will as best I could. What is presented below is a raw transcription of the will, with as much (or little) punctuation as exists in the copy I obtained from the UK Government's Find a will service. (I also have a copy of Matilda's husband's will which I will post in due course.)

Presented with no further commentary (for now)...

ON the first day of April 1879,
the Will of Matilda Bannister late of
Holly House Stretford in the County of Lancaster
deceased, who died on the fourth day of February 1879,
at Holly House aforesaid
was proved in Her Majesty's High Court of Justice in the District Registry attached to
the Probate Division thereof at Manchester by the Oaths of
Herbert Bannister of Edge Lane Stretford
aforesaid Timber Merchant the Son of the said
Deceased and William Brundrit Dorning
of the Hawthorns Great Crosby near Liverpool
in the County aforesaid Cashier two of the
Executors name (in the said will) they having been first sworn duly
to administer. Power reserved of making the like Grant
to Joseph Steen the other Executor named in the
said will

Effects under £3000. No Leaseholds.
    Extracted by Taylor Kirkman + Colley


This is the last Will Testament of me Matilda Bannister
of Holly House Stretford in the county of Lancaster Widow. I give and bequeath unto
such of my daughters Sarah Elizabeth Dorning and Eliza Ellen Stenhouse Matilda
Louisa Bannister and Julia Steen as shall be living at my decease all my wearing
apparel bed linen and table linen jewellery and personal ornaments between and amongst
them in equal shares the same to be divided by my executors hereinafter named whose
decision shall be final and conclusive on all parties  I give and bequeath to my
daughter Matilda Louisa Bannister the sum of one hundred pounds free from legacy
duty if she shall not be married at the date of my decease  I give devise and bequeath the
rest residue and remainder of my real and personal estate whatsoever and wheresoever
unto my son the said Herbert Bannister of Edge Lane Stretford aforesaid my son in
law William Brundrit Dorning of the Hawthorns Great Crosby near Liverpool and my son
in law Joseph Steen of Castlebar Mays Ireland their heirs executors or administrators
according to the nature and tenure thereof upon trust to sell the same either together or in parcels
and subject to such conditions as my said trustees in their absolute discretion shall think
fit and to stand possessed of one eighth part of the proceeds thereof upon trust for [the] my
granddaughter Anne Jones if she shall attain the age of twenty one years or marry
under that age absolutely and free from the debts control influence or engagements of
any husband which she may have and as that her receipts in writing notwithstanding
coverture shall be a good discharge for the same and as to one other one eighth part
thereof upon trust for my son George Amos Bannister of Melbourne Australia and
as to one other eighth part thereof upon trust for my son the said Herbert Bannister
and as to one other one eighth part thereof upon trust for my daughter the said Sarah
Elizabeth Dorning absolutely and free from the debts control interference or engagements of any
husband which she may have and so that her receipt in writing notwithstanding coverture
shall be a good discharge for the same and as to one other eighth part thereof upon
trust for my daughter Eliza Ellen Stenhouse absolutely free from the debts control interference
or engagements of any husband which she may have and so that her receipt in
writing notwithstanding coverture shall be a good discharge for the same and as to one
other one eighth part thereof upon trust for my daughter Matilda Louisa Bannister
absolutely free from the debts control interference or engagements of any husband which she
may have and so that her receipt in writing notwithstanding coverture shall be a good
discharge for the same and as to one other one eighth part thereof upon trust for my Daughter
Julia Steen absolutely free from the debts, control interference or engagements of any
husband which she may happen to have and so that her receipt in writing notwithstanding


coverture shall be a good discharge for the same and as to the remaining one
eighth part thereof upon trust for my grandchildren Laura Ellen Lomax Bannister
Raingill Parker Bannister and amos Stuart Bannister or such of them as shall be living
at my death in equal shares  I devise all estates vested in me as trustee or mortgagee unto
the said Herbert Bannister William Brundrit Dorning and Joseph Steen there heirs
executors and administrators respectively according to the nature and tenure thereof
and subject to the trusts and equities affecting the same respectively  And I hereby declare
that the receipt or receipts in writing of the trustees or trustee for the time being of this
Will for the purchase money of the property sold or for any moneys stocks funds or securities
which may be paid transferred or made over to him her or them in pursuance of the
trusts of this my Will shall effectually discharge the purchase or purchases or other the
person or persons paying transferring or making over the same therefrom or from being
concerned to see to the application or being answerable for the misapplication or non-
application thereof  And I declare that if the said trustees hereby appointed or any of
them or any trustees or trustee to be appointed as hereinafter is provided shall be
or be desirous of being discharged or refuse or become incapable to act then and so
often the continuing trustees or trustee for the time being and for this purpose any
retiring trustee shall if willing to act in the exercise of this present power be considered
a trustee may appoint any other person or persons to be a trustee or trustees in the place
of the trustees so desiring to be discharged or refusing or becoming incapable to act and
upon any such appointment the trust premises shall be so transferred and
assured that the same may become vested in the new trustee or trustees jointly with
the remaining or continuing trustee or trustees or solely as the case may require and
every such new trustee shall both before and after the said trust premises shall have
become so vested have the powers authorities and discretions as if he had
been hereby originally appointed a trustee and I declare that the trustees or trustee
for the time being of this my Will shall be chargeable only with such moneys as
they or he respectively shall actually receive and shall not be answerable the one for
the other of them nor for any Banker Broker or other person in whose hands any
of the trust moneys shall be placed nor for the insufficiency or deficiency of any stocks
funds shares or securities or otherwise for involuntary losses and that the trustees or
trustee for the time being may reimburse themselves herself or himself out of the moneys
which shall come to their his or her hands under the trusts aforesaid all expenses to be
incurred in or about the execution of the aforesaid trusts or any part thereof and
I appoint the said Herbert Bannister William Brundrit Dorning and


    Joseph Steen Executors of this my Will In witness whereof I the said
    Matilda Bannister have hereunto set my hand the thirteenth day of august one
    thousand eight hundred and seventy six.
Signed by the said Matilda Bannister in                |
the presence of us together and present at the same    |
time who in her presence at her request and in         | Matilda Bannister
the presence of each other have hereunto subscribed    |
our names as witnesses.                                |
    H. G. Sutton, Solr, Manchester
    Joseph Boyer, Clerk to Tindall, Varey and Sutton, Manchester
        Proved at Manchester the first day of April 1879 by the oaths
        of Herbert Bannister the Son and William Brundrit Dorning
        two of the Executors to whom Administration was granted
        Power reserved of making the like Grant to Joseph Steen the
        other Executor
The Testatrix Matilda Bannister was late of Holly House, Stretford in the
County of Lancaster, Widow and died on the fourth day of February 1879 at Holly
House aforesaid
        Under £3000 No leaseholds

    Certified to be a correct Copy


Thursday, 19 February 2015

Abbott government wants to abolish the Australian census to save a few dollars

An article in The Age today made me stop and ponder - what will the genealogists and historians of the future think about the Abbott government's plan to scrap the 2016 Australian census? The census costs a lot to operate and process. In 2011, the cost for the Australian census was about $440 million. The upcoming 2016 census is going to cost even more, as it will be the first Australian census to be done primarily on computer, so the Australian Bureau of Statistics has been updating their systems to cope.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, Prime Minister Tony Abbott will make the decision based purely on monetary terms. This is a PM who has manufactured a "budget crisis" to justify his cuts to healthcare, education and welfare, while at the same time cutting the carbon tax (which the government's own figures suggest was working to reduce emissions) and mining taxes and completely ruling out making multinationals pay their fair share of tax or staying out tax roots for the wealthy.

There are arguments for and against scrapping the census, but as a budding amateur genealogist, I am thankful that the early UK censuses were done and that the results were kept. I have found a lot of my ancestors by searching the census. Will genealogists in the future have these resources available, or will there be other sources of information that will make the census irrelevant to them?

Is the census a relevant tool these days? Will the information collected be relevant to researchers in the future? I really don't know, but I am afraid that the decision will be made by the wrong people for all the wrong reasons.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Tasks for the next week...

I have had a few tasks dumped on me for the next week or so. I knew this was coming, but I would have liked to have avoided it for now, but what can you do?

My father has asked me to transcribe the wills of my ggg-grandfather and ggg-grandmother which we recently obtained. He struggles with the handwriting, the lack of punctuation and some of the arcane language used, so he wants me to transcribe and translate the wills so he can work out what they are telling us about our family. There certainly seem to be a few interesting suggest of information to be gleaned from these documents, so it's not as if I wanted to avoid this task forever, but I really didn't want to do it right now.

I also want to scan and transcribe the book (or at least parts thereof) we received, Old Stretford, Reminiscences of the Past Half-Century by Sir Bosdin Leech. This is an interesting read and it has a lot of colourful stories about the town of Stretford and the people, including some of our ancestors and other relatives. Again, not something I had planned to do so soon, but I started reading it and somehow this task bubbled its way near the top of my list. ;^)

Of course these transcription tasks mean I have to put my Genealogy Log on the back burner for a week or so, but these things happen I guess...

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Free UK and NZ records at this weekend!

Once again Ancestry are throwing open their site. have tweeted that they are offering free access to all their UK records this weekend. If you have UK ancestors, now is the time to try to dig up as much info on them as possible!
And in a second tweet, have announced that all their New Zealand records will be free this weekend too - this time in honour of Waitangi Day.
This presents quite the quandary for me - I have a LOT of research still to do on my UK ancestors, but I also have a line that comes from New Zealand, plus I want to make some inroads with my Genealogy Log tool... I guess a few hours on Ancestry won't hurt? ;^)

Friday, 6 February 2015

Re: Development blog posts

Now that I have a domain name for my genealogy tools, I will be swinging this blog back to its original focus - my Bannister family research efforts. I will be posting all future genealogy tool development posts over at It is possible some development posts will be posted here, but the bulk of them will be over at their new home. I am also gearing up to get back into research-mode - I would like to be more methodical and thorough, tracing one ancestor at a time, but I admit this will be hard as I get distracted too easily and will inevitably go back to a scatter-shot approach. Whatever I do, I do promise to be more rigorous and more diligent with recording my sources and applying the GPS when and where possible.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Welcome to the blog!

<< Cross-posted from the blog >>

Welcome to the blog! On this blog I will be discussing the suite of genealogical research tools, how they are used, how they are being developed and any plans to extend or enhance the range of tools available.

I have had an interest in genealogy for over 10 years, but the bug really bit about four years ago. I started finding my way in the world of genealogy by searching the internet for interesting resources, before discovering and a host of other great sites. Most of my early "research" was merely collecting names and dates, with very little (okay, no) rigour as I was excited at the prospects of filling in the boxes in my family tree software. As my tree grew I started to notice some irregularities in my data, for example my cousin had one date of death for an ancestor, but I found a completely different one - which of us was correct? I reached a point where my tree had diverged slightly from my cousin's tree and more significantly from other trees I had discovered on the internet.

Eventually I decided "enough is enough" and put my tree aside and started from scratch, this time trying to be a bit more diligent with my data. I kept using family tree software however. The second attempt at my family tree wen somewhat smoother, and I was able to collect some more data that helped me deal with the inconsistencies I found, but I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the software I was using. I felt constrained by the Person -> Event -> Source structure of the various family tree apps I tried and none of them seemed to be particularly useful when dealing with conflicting data.

One particular niggle was that traditional family tree software appeared to have no way of dealing with "working data". I found several source documents referring to the death of a potential ancestor, but I couldn't pinpoint exactly which ancestor they referred to - was it my gggg-grandfather, or his son, or his nephew? Using traditional family tree software, I would attach this event to multiple people, but it was messy and when I refined my data more and found more sources, it was a pain to delete the event from people and add new data, not to mention the history of my research was being lost - sure I could delete the "wrong" event from a person, but where was the traceback showing that I had considered this possibility?

Then there was the fact that I was amassing a large collection of source documents - parish register scans; census documents; birth, marriage, death certificates; newspaper articles; etc - but really had no way of managing these documents, nor any way of managing the data I could extract from these documents.

I was starting to get very fed up with the research tools provided by traditional family tree software vendors. Really, most of the research is done outside the software and all the family tree software expects is for you to enter names, dates and places. I thought there must be a better way.

So I started to embark on a self-education campaign - try to learn as much as I could about "real" genealogy. During this time I discovered about proper citation of sources (something I had been incredibly lax about doing), the genealogical proof standard and "evidence-based genealogy". I had been thinking "there must be a better way" and now I had discovered that there was! What I had been doing up until then was "conclusion-based genealogy" or "person-based genealogy" where the focus was on filling in the boxes in your family tree software, but what I wanted to do was "evidence-based genealogy" or "source-based genealogy" where the sources become the star and sources are analysed and interpreted to prove the conclusions you made about the people in your tree. Weighing up various pieces of evidence, determine the likely accuracy or veracity of the information in your sources, considering conflicting information and coming up with sound reasoning for your conclusions sounded like a better way of doing research.

Armed with a new way of thinking, I decided it was time to restart my restart of my tree, only this time with a lot more rigour. Being a software developer, I also decided to scratch an itch and create my own tools to help with my research efforts. Tools that will help, not hinder, rigorous genealogical research. I have in mind a whole suite of tools, ranging from research planners and logs to source analysis tools and source transcription and management tools. Over time I will reveal my plans for each of these tools, but for now I am starting with a simple research log tool.

My genealogy research log tool will be a web-based app that will help users track their research sessions. I m developing the tool using Ruby on Rails and hope to have a preview version available in a month or so (time willing) and it will be hosted on the website. When the log tool is finished I will then start on another tool in the suite and eventually I hope to have a fully featured toolset that other genealogists can use to aid their own research.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Domain name registered...

I came up with the ideal name for my genealogy log app and decided to register the domain name now, before someone else jumps on it. Oops. Too late. 8^/ It seems someone else thought the name was a good one and registered it some time ago - it's just a pity that they haven't done anything with it and just have a default registry landing page there. Oh well, that made me put my thinking cap on and  I have come up with a better name,, which I promptly registered. The name has only just been registered, so there is nothing there yet but I promise I will get something up ASAP.

Now that I have a domain, I have a whole set of new tasks to add to my todo list:

  • Sort out some hosting for the site
  • Create a development blog (I will probably just mirror this blog there for the time being)
  • Create some kind of landing page, with details about the tools project, etc
  • Finish the genealogy log tool and get it on the new site!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Another will arrived

The second of the two wills I ordered online arrived today. This was my ggg-grandfather's will and a quick scan of the document looks quite interesting. Of course I really don't have the time to transcribe (and translate) the nine pages just now, but my dad has read through both the wills I have recently received and together they shine a little light on a particular family story about my gg-grandfather and great-grandfather.

Overall I am reasonably happy with the UK probate seach website. Sure, the search sucks and the ordering process could be improved, but the site is quick to respond to complaints and according to the response I got they acknowledge these shortcomings and are working to fix them. But if you can identify the documents you want (possibly by using Ancestry's search) then the £10 cost is reasonable and the turn-around times are tolerable at just under two weeks. The scans are quite clear and very readable. When I do get back to doing my research I will happily use this service to order other wills.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Two exciting new documents have arrived!

Well, when I say "new", I really mean "new to me." ;^)

The first document to arrive was a book titled Old Stretford - Reminiscences of the Past Half-Century by Sir Bosdin Leech. This is a copy of the original small booklet produced by Sir Bosdin Leech in 1910 - only a small number of books were originally printed privately, but this is one of a number of copies produced by The Lancashire Library. The pages have been photocopied and bound in a hard cover and the book is therefore in reasonably good condition. What makes this book so special and worth tracking down? For starters, it is a snapshot of life in the town of Stretford in Lancashire, where my family hails from. Secondly, several of my ancestors and their families are mentioned in the book. While some of the included "reminiscences" are of dubious provenance, the book should still flesh out some of the stories of my ancestors and will at the very least provide a number of additional pointers for future research. For example, the book contains a stories about the Stretford Gas Company and the Stretford Omnibus Company, both of which deserve some serious follow-up research. Sir Bosdin's recollections of these events may be clouded and muddy, but knowing that there are stories linking my family to these companies at least gives me a pointer to possible future research efforts.

The second document has only just arrived - my ggg-grandmother's will. It has been just on two weeks since I ordered this will for my father. I have downloaded the will, printed a copy out and handed it to my father. I will be trying to avoid looking at it for a while - I have too much else on my plate - but I did give it a quick glance. ;^) We're still waiting for my ggg-grandfather's will, but I expect that will arrive in the next day or two.

So many interesting documents and here I am on a self-imposed research ban! How will I cope?!

Am I overcomplicating things?

I have spent a few days researching user authentication and authorisation[1] models in Rails for my genealogy log tool. I was looking for the ideal tool (or set of tools) to add to my project to take care of the "heavy lifting" involved with managing a user's access to their data and no-one else's. I studied different authentication gems (as add-ons are called in the Ruby world) and decided to use a simple, clean gem called Sorcery and have spent the past two days looking for authorisation gems to restrict access when I finally asked the questions I should have asked up front: What exactly do I want this tool to do? And, Am I over-complicating things?

The answer to the second question is: Of course I am over-complicating things! It's what I am best at. The first question is a bit trickier to answer, but it is where I should have started, so let's give it a go...

What do I want the genealogy log tool to do and how should it work? A person should be able to register as a user of the tool by providing some basic details (name, email, etc) and then should be able to log into the system to keep track of their genealogy research sessions. Once logged in, a user should be able to see their previous sessions, search previous sessions and create a new log session. Optionally, some or all of the data should be able to be exported in a variety of formats. Users don't need to be assigned variuos roles and they don't need to be able to see other users' data - all that needs to happen is that logged in users can view and edit their own data. So authentication is required so users can log in; and basic authorisation is required so a user can see only their data and no-one else's. Something this basic can be done without any third party tools.

The only exception I can think of is that I would like to leverage existing authentication providers like Twitter, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, etc. by allowing users to log in with their Twitter account for example. This can be done using a technology called OAuth but it is really just a "nice to have" feature which I can add in later if I really want to go that route.

So for now I am going to put aside thoughts of using third-party authentication and authorisation engines and will simply roll my own.

[1] Authentication is proving a user is who they say they are - ie, logging in using a username and password - and athorisation is making sure a user is allowed to perform an action, or see some data.