Canal Boat families
A small selection from the Dudley Mercury dates 1887 to 1890.
Do you have canal boat ancestors?
If so you have probably already discovered the difficulties in tracing them!
Well. I'm no expert, but I do have canal ancestors, and I hope that some of the lessons I've learned in trying to trace them might be useful to other people.
This site has now been up and running in its present form for just over three years, so it is early days yet. If you have any information which would add to it, please get in touch, and I'll try to include it if I can. I would particularly love copies of old photos and such like - I am rather short of photo material, which would make the site look much prettier!
Thank you to Hazel for this wonderfully evocative picture of the Willington canal family. Hazel's husband and I share a set of Gx4 grandparents in Samuel Harrison and Judith Brooks of Bedworth, One of Samuel and Judith's daughters Sarah married John Seymour, and another, Betsy, married Thomas Willington.
One of the things I've found useful in tracing my canal boat ancestors is newspaper articles, which can be pretty informative, giving details such as who the individual worked for, where they were living, and so forth. I started to collect newspaper articles about boat families, then began to realise that the archive of articles gave a lot of information about the way boatmen lived, the kind of information which wasn't really readily available elsewhere. Hence this site.
The photograph is of Annie Maria Hatch nee Seymour, daughter of George Seymour and Ellen Musson, and Granddaughter of Richard and Mary Seymour. When Richard's first wife, Tryphena nee Northwood died, he married again to a widow, Mary Thompson nee Walker, and George was one of two children born to the couple.
Canal families, in some ways, lived apart from the rest of society, and because of this, they tended to intermarry, so that if you find one canal family in your ancestry, you will likely find more.
And to anyone who has the Hinmans, the Seymours, the Harrisons, Mussons, Northwoods, Underhills. Swifts, Fradleys and Cawleys on their family tree, hello. distant cousin!
This fabulous photo is of Elizabeth Seymour nee Lloyd, the wife of Richard Seymour. Elizabeth died on October 27th 1915 and is buried at Clayton-le-Moors Cemetery. Thanks to Josie for sharing this.
You have probably noticed that this site is presently very much a work in progress, and I'm afraid that it may take me some time to put all the material together. In the meantime, I hope you will find something of interest here.
Thanks to Albert Barratt for the photo of his great grandmother, Hannah Barratt, nee Sergeant, the wife of John Barratt. Albert believes the older lady on the photo is Hannah's mother, but her name at present is not known. If anyone can link with this family, Albert's contact details are on the "Names, contacts and photos" page.
I'm sorry if the area which is of particular interest to you has not yet been covered, but it is always worth checking in all the newspaper archives for any names of interest. Most local papers reported national news as well, and major cases get a mention pretty well everywhere.
In a conversation with one of my fellow researchers, he said to me "Some people don't like admitting they have canal boat ancestors. They're a bit ashamed of them, you see".
Ashamed! For why?
Or another comment. "When I found out my family were Canal people, I thought - Oh no! But the more research I did, the more I realised how wrong I was."
For me, the situation was different. I was brought up knowing that my mum's family had worked "on the boats" . My Great Grandfather lived til mum was in her teens, and he had been born and brought up on a canal boat. He had told her stories, which she passed on to me. The surprise for me was the way in which some regarded boatmen, something which became apparent as I looked at the way stories about boatmen were reported in the news.
Well, my Mum was proud of her canal ancestors. And so am I. Bohemian, maybe. With their own rules and their own customs. Hard working, resilient, determined, and able to overcome difficulties which we can barely imagine. And no more lawless than much of the working class in the same time frame.
And one comment made consistently by all the reformers and journalists who describe, sometimes with horror, the lives of canal boatmen and their children, was that, given a choice between being the child of a boatman and a child living in an East End slum, they would choose a life on the boats any day. Boat children might have to work for their living, and might live in cramped conditions, but they lived life in the fresh air, and rarely went hungry.
So you too should be proud of your canal family. I hope you are able to find some record of them on this site.
And one thing you can be sure of.
The search for your ancestors will never be boring, and you will learn a great deal about a great many things. And you may well be surprised at your admiration for your ancestors and their way of life.
So enjoy the voyage of discovery.
Finally a word of thanks. It would not have been possible to collect and analyse these newspaper records without the British Newspaper Archives (www.britishnewspaperarchives.co.uk), who have digitised many local and national newspapers, and who have allowed use of their material for non commercial purposes.
Thanks are also due to the British Library Archive available online.
These newspaper archives open a window on the world, and are an endless source of fascination. Above all, they allow a level of understanding of how our ancestors lived and worked which is simply not available elsewhere.
A quick note about photographs. I have been very short of photographic material. Firstly I would like to thank anyone who has allowed me to use their precious family photographs, or who has agreed to allow me to use information from their own websites. Like many others, I have used pictures uploaded by others. If I haven't given credit for any picture I've used, then please let me know, or if you are unhappy with anything please let me know too.
Spellweaver-online Canal boat ancestors