Else Churchill explains how to bolster your research using The Gazette and the Society of Genealogist's rich (and varied) resources.
Genealogists have long made extensive use of The Gazette, well before its digitisation.
Rich in names, The London Gazette – as the official organ of state, containing court and government announcements since 1665 – has been a fantastic source for family historians eager to add to the basic knowledge of the name, dates of birth, marriage and death on their pedigrees.
In many cases, we may not know exactly when or where an ancestor was born, or who they married or when they died, but by getting a glimpse of what they did, or what happened to them on a particular day, we can use the term used by many early genealogists – that our ancestor was ‘flourishing’ at that time or that place.
How is The Gazette a useful resource for genealogists?
The official notices are wide-ranging and cover many different strata of society. You will find notice of appointments and promotions to the church and for officers in the armed forces and militia; grants of peerages; medal awards of gallantry and citations; and of course, it’s the first place to look if you have an ancestor in the forces who was mentioned in despatches.
You can find your ancestors changing their name or being naturalised as a British subject (from 1886) (Gazette 25622). And there are innumerable references to ancestors being declared bankrupt, dissolving business partnerships or liquidating companies. Creditors petitioned the lord chancellor, who issued a commission of bankruptcy requiring the debtor to surrender themselves and their property to a commissioner – with the commission published in The Gazette.
Mark Herber, in his invaluable guide ‘Ancestral Trails’, shows typical examples from a London Gazette of 26 January 1788, reporting the appointments of Thomas Keates as the Queen’s surgeon; the Revd James Jones as archdeacon of Hereford; and William Stapleton as cornet in the 15th Regiment of Light Dragoons (Gazette issue 12958). There are also several announcements of bankruptcy, including Michael Hubert, a dealer and chapman of Liverpool, and Mark Allegre Bennett, a merchant dealer and chapman of Great Russel Street, Bloomsbury.
Clearly, 1788 wasn’t a good year to be a chapman or general shopkeeper. Creditors of John Johnson of Newton cum Larton, Cheshire and of William Dymock of Oxford Street, London were requested to present proof of debts that were due to them. There is also an advertisement seeking Abraham Green (a son of Abraham Green of Ipswich, peruke (wig) maker) which if he makes himself known ‘will hear something to his advantage’. The partnership of Andrew Primrose and John Manhull, linen draper of Putney in Surrey, was dissolved.
The London Gazette of Tuesday 4 November 1941 states that Maud Louisa Law, ‘spinster’ of Clapton in London, intends henceforth to be known as Maud Louisa Francis, while Harry Weightman of Sutton in Ashfield abandoned the surname of Weightman and adopted the surname of Waring (Gazette issue 35335).
Many appointments of prominent people who held public or royal office are recorded, without omitting to mention that George Ernest Tertious Swinfield was appointed (without competition) a postman in Leicester in 1958 (Gazette issue 41478).
The research of Ralph Hall
Many genealogists have trawled through London, Belfast and Edinburgh Gazettes to discover useful information. Ralph Hall, a member of the Society of Genealogists from 1956 until his death in 1998, was an indefatigable indexer and transcriber. One of his great labours of love was to make extracts (in pre-computer days) from The London Gazette and other 17th-century sources.
These extracts were carefully compiled on his manual typewriter, in the days before The Gazette was digitised, to create a street by street listing of Londoners. He created not only name-rich genealogical resources for family historians to draw upon, but also an insight into London life and trade in the 17th century. His labours have created some 20,000 names, which are now online for members to view on the SoG database.
While the Little London Directory of 1677 was the first and oldest published list of merchants and bankers of London, Ralph Hall pored over numerous entries from The London Gazette to create, in effect, a directory for the City of London from 1665 to 1700. He included extensive research on London booksellers, printers and signboards, and added to Gazette entries extracts from the historical survey of London, which was initiated by the then London County Council, now under the auspices of English Heritage and the Centre for Metropolitan History (with the volumes available online on the British History Online website).
There are many references to state papers domestic from The National Archives during the reigns of Charles II, James II and William and Mary (calendars can be found on British History Online) and on the State Papers Online website (institutional subscription required). Having found Mr Hall’s brief indexed entry from The London Gazette on the Society of Genealogists’ database, one can see the full, digitised entry free on thegazette.co.uk website. Thus we can find entries to Mr Pinder, ‘Coffee-man’ at the Guildhall Coffee House on King Street near the Guildhall in the 1680s (Gazette issue 2095).
Unclaimed estates and missing heirs
Innumerable publications drew on the lists of unclaimed estates in The Gazette, publishing the names that may be the missing heirs. The separate appendices in the printed Gazettes listing dormant funds in court were the source of many people thinking they might have ‘money in chancery’, as these lists were widely republished in the many directories looking for next of kin, such as that published by F. Dougal & Co, ‘Index Register of Next of Kin Notices […] who have been advertised for or are entitled to vast sums of money and property in Great Britain and the colonies since 1685’.
The republished notices are uninformative, giving little more than a surname, but they certainly encouraged many in the misguided belief that they might be heirs to fortunes. Copies of these and other such ‘next of kin’ directories are to be found at the Society of Genealogists.
The London Gazette provided many example of searches for next of kin or missing persons. In 1712, the family of Richard Horniblow were concerned. ‘Aged 22 and of a dark complection, his hair black and thin, and something distracted, he went away from his parents living at Crowle near Worcester about 22 May last, in a brown Coat and Hurden Frock. If he will return to his Parents he shall be kindly received: And if any person will give notice to Mr Matthew Worton, Bookseller at the Three Daggers near the Inner Temple Gates in Fleet Street, where the said Richard Horniblow may be spoken with, he shall have 10sh reward and reasonable Charges’ (Gazette issue 5803).
The Colonial Probates Act 1892 (royal assent, Gazette issue 26290) ensured that notice was given of the estates of British people who died abroad. As a result, many next of kin notices appear in other newspapers as well as the Gazette, commonly the Times, Telegraph and News of the World. A directory of such notices published in the News of the World between about 1906 and 1911, known as ‘Missing Heirs and Next of Kin’ was published in 1918, and a copy can be found at the Society of Genealogists. A typical notice might read ‘GRAY (William) last heard of Quay Street, Sydney, in 1879. He or his heirs may benefit by communicating with B. Prendergast, 41 Castlereagh Street, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia’. There were certainly enough missing persons being sought so they could learn something to their advantage.
And I think that any genealogist who uses The Gazette will learn something to their advantage.
About the author
Else Churchill is a genealogist at the Society of Genealogists.
The Society of Genealogists is the UK’s national family history centre. Its library in Clerkenwell holds copies of family and local history sources, finding aids, indexes, unique research notes, pedigrees and special archive collections. The library also has free onsite internet access to major genealogical databases, and many of the society’s unique collections are digitised and made available for members on the society’s website.
Genealogy help and support is offered onsite, online and via a telephone advice line and the society runs an extensive education programme. For more information see www.sog.org.uk.