Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Rediscovering a personal story, making a Canadian connection and opening up new online records

Now here is a connection I doubt I would ever have made between two of my family and a set of new online records about London from Ancestry.

William Henry Hall on board TS Exmouth 1913-14
We had always known that my grandfather went to sea, but the reason behind the career choice and the ship he sailed on was shrouded in mystery.

Then some years ago our Elizabeth made the discovery amongst the papers of the London Metropolitan Archives of the time granddad spent on the Training Ship Exmouth which was a naval boot camp.

We knew that along with his elder brother it had been decided that his wayward behaviour needed correction and a dose of discipline which involved both of them being sent to the training ship.

Conduct on T S Exmouth
But for reasons still not clear great uncle Roger opted to go to Canada as a British Home Child while granddad did his time in correction.

Sadly the condition of the records unearthed by my sister proved difficult to read and his destination after he had completed his sentence was impossible to read.

But now Ancestry have just added the London Metropolitan Archives to their online collection and as with digital records the quality has been enhanced and we now know that he joined the SS Megantic in the November of 1914.

This was no tramp steamer and he was no cabin boy.  The SS Megantic did the Atlantic run to Canada and with its sister ship was the largest vessel on the Canadian crossing.

SS Megantic, 1909-1920s
The name comes from Lake Megantic in Quebec but that is not the only connection because in the same month and the same year his brother also crossed to Canada as a British Home Child.

Neither lasted long in their new “careers.” Great Uncle Roger after three unsettled placements on farms in NS and NB ran away to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1915 and granddad enlisted in the British Army in 1916.

Of their subsequent time in the military we know more about Roger than we do about granddad, simply because something like 60% of the British army records were destroyed in the Blitz while the Canadian ones are intact and are available online

Running out the guns, on board a training ship, date unknown
And that brings me neatly back to the Ancestry and their new offerings which include as we as the TS Exmouth Training Ship Records, 1876‑1918, Stock Exchange Applications for Membership, 1802‑1924, Freedom of the City Admission Papers, 1681‑1930, Gamekeepers’ Licences, 1727‑1839.

Now I grant you that most of us will be hard pressed to find a relative in some of these new additions, but you never know which of course is the beauty and the value of online records.

They are easy to search, often offer up quality reproductions and above all are readily accessible unlike some precious source material which only a few will ever see.

So I have no time for those who mutter darkly that such records are no substitute for holding the original, which is fine but if the original is on a dusty shelf in a university in Oregon or too fragile to be handled then give me the online substitute.

Of course there will always be a charge for many of these records but if the alternative is the cost of an air flight to North America I will happily continue my subscriptions to Ancestry and Findmypast.

Location; pretty much everywhere.

Pictures; entry of William Hall TS Exmouth, 1913-14, courtesy of London Metropolitan Archives in association with Ancestry.com the SS Megantic circa 1909-1920 from The George Grantham Bain collection in the Library of Congress and taken from SS Megantic https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Megantic  a training ship, from the archives of the Together Trust, courtesy of the Archivist,http://togethertrustarchive.blogspot.co.uk/p/about-blog.html

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