Author Archive
Who do you think you are to make judgements?
Posted on: November 24th, 2016 by pj

Another season of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ is about to start on British TV and so begins the yearly ritual of me shouting at the screen.  I’m a family historian so, naturally, I’m drawn to the only program that’s directly about my hobby but the format drives me crazy.  It’s not even the frustration of seeing the ease at which the celebrity’s researchers can access obscure archives and flit from country to country, that’s just envy.  It’s the judgments.  One or two facts are revealed about an ancestor who lived 200 years ago and that person is either a hero and the celeb is ‘so proud’, pause to wipe a tear away or, and less likely, they are an out and out villain and the celeb is so ashamed.

Another alternative is the redemption episode, where initially we are led to believe that evil lurks in the celeb’s ancestor but then an explanation for their bad behaviour is revealed and it’s all okay again.  Surely we are more sophisticated these day to realise that somebody who does ‘good work’ or signs up to fight in a war is not necessarily a ‘good person’?  In fact, charitable work can be a cover for some of the most disturbing personality disordered and deviant criminals in history.  Jimmy Saville, anyone?

It’s not a bad human trait to want to imagine the best in people but we need to be realistic about judging people who lived decades or even centuries ago based on very few facts.

However, I admit, I do struggle to practice what I preach.  I recently came across a report of my great uncle Herbert Howard Sanders in a newspaper article. In the early 1920s, he had been sentenced to hard labour for viciously beating his wife.  Given that wife beating was almost acceptable at that time it must have been a particularly serious assault and I started to look for reasons why this might have happened.  (I really didn’t want him to be a ‘bad ancestor’!)

World War I had ended in 1918.  Maybe shell shock?  I searched the records and sure enough, he had signed up in 1914.  Okay, this was promising but then I discovered that he had never left the country and was dismissed a few months later due to ‘not likely to become an efficient soldier’.  This code covered a multitude of reasons from having a stammer to flat feet and medical conditions that had not been picked up or overlooked at the per functionary medicals given at mass sign-ups in the early days of the war.  So no shell shock then.

I saw that he had died young, in his 30s, in Warwick, some way away from his home place in Coventry and I ordered his death certificate.   I discovered he had died at Hatton County Lunatic Asylum and his illness was a result of syphilis. 

Easy to make judgments now and speculate about his short life but I really don’t know anything about him and his circumstances, just those few cold facts.  I can neither be proud or ashamed, just sad that it didn’t end well.  We could speculate on our own lives and pick out a singular ‘good’ or ’bad’ incident that, seen in isolation, could define us for future generations.  Now that is scary!

I really hope the celebs in this new series of WDYTYA will not be so quick to make judgments about the strangers in their past.  If they do listen for faint cries from me shouting at the TV….. “but you DON’T KNOW THAT”!!

William Rainbow, non-conformist?
Posted on: June 23rd, 2013 by pj

If you’ve been here before you’ll know that I’m forever going on about my ‘brick wall’ William Rainbow.

I know that he married Phoebe Taylor in 1736 and he worked in Cotesbach, Leicestershire.  His name also appears in the account books of Cotesbach Estate (held by the Cotesbach Educational Trust) as a tenant farmer and he is also recorded as being Overseer of the Poor and Constable of the parish. On his daughter’s birth record it states William Rainbow of Shawell (the next village to Cotesbach) so I can only assume that he was born there. I have no knowledge of his birth date or parentage.

Recently I was fortunate to see scans of the original parish records of Shawell, dating back to 1558. I was excited. If William was born in Shawell then surely his birth would be recorded? Nope. The only record is of his marriage to Phoebe. If he definitely came from Shawell then why wasn’t he in the records? I knew John Rainbow, William’s son had been a founder member of the non-conformist church in Lutterworth so maybe the non-conformism had its roots further back in the family. If there was no established church though, how would I be able to find out?

I came across a paper by R.H. Evans Nonconformists in Leicestershire in 1669.  He refers to an inquiry about conventicles which was ordered by the Archbishop to examine all parishes and record if any unauthorised religious meetings were held there along with the names of the ‘heads and teachers’.     I didn’t expect to find any mention of Shawell so I was surprised to see this:

“Shawell: An unlawfully assembly held in the afternoone in the said parish church without my knowledge about two monthes since to the number of 40 or thereaboute this by Mr Campian as I heare and ejected minister of the meaner sort.  William Astell Rr of Shawell”

40 people seems a respectably sized meeting considering that Shawell is a small village.  So I’m assuming that the Rainbows were part of this rebellion in Shawell (how cheeky to hold their meeting in the CHURCH!) – it would certainly explain their non-appearance in the parish records.  More research needed.

Rainbow One Name Study
Posted on: March 8th, 2013 by pj

I’ve just registered the surname Rainbow with The Guild of One-Name Studies.  Not exactly sure what I’m letting myself in for but first off I’m researching ways to display current and future data, probably on a separate website.

The error of our ways
Posted on: October 5th, 2011 by pj

I’ve only just started using Family Tree Maker.  I think I may have used it for a while years ago but quickly moved on to other software.  Recently I bought the app for my iMac and overall the program is not bad.  However, there is one feature that I love and which horrifies me in just about equal measure and that’s the ability to take information from other people’s public trees.  This is very seductive and when I click the little shaking leaf on some of my ancestors I have found they also live in many other trees.  Further investigations have revealed parents, siblings and whole new lines.  Wonderful!  One further click and I can merge that information with my own tree.  However, this is only a positive addition when the source information is included and can be verified.  Otherwise this is all just guesswork.  If you can’t verify the information you may as well leaf through a phone book, pick out a person at random and add them to your genealogy database.

I was concerned about inaccurate information being passed on via the Internet around 8 years ago when I discovered that someone had erroneously merged two Rainbow families in Tasmania.   This was included in a family tree that was posted on a geocities website and then spread around the web very quickly.  I was not able to contact the author of the original tree directly but I posted the mistake to several genealogy forums and, over time, the mistake appeared less and less in other’s researchers trees.

I’m concerned that with the advent of software like FTM our mistakes will be promulgated more frequently and will be harder to rectify, such as this one that I discovered recently.

I casually began investigating my father’s maternal line and with the help of FTM was able to tap into other’s research to go back a little further.  There were many trees, over a dozen, who had information about this particular ancestor, lets call her Emma.  I was surprised and not a little excited to see that she had been born in a small village in France after generations of the family, both before and after Emma, all living in the same Worcestershire town in the UK.  Eight family trees included the French information but with no source cited.  I messaged all eight authors asking if they could give me any clue of where this exciting information had come from.  I had a reply from one saying she couldn’t help because she had just ‘copied it from another tree.”  My guess is that there was an original mistake and its just spread.

I love that technology has opened up so many doors to family historians and allowed us to move forward with our research in giant strides instead of what was often mind-numbing tediousness of pre-internet days.

On balance I think we’ve gained much more from sharing information than we’ve lost  but I still have this nagging worry that the ease of new technology may be encouraging a new generation to believe that genealogy is all about copying information from the internet and in the near future many family trees will be a mess of guesswork and replicated errors.   What do you think?

October 1841
Posted on: October 1st, 2011 by pj

170 years ago this month Jabez Rainbow lost it.

He had taken a room at The Boot public house in St. Albans, Herts, England for a night with his girlfriend, Jane Pearce.   Jabez was a soldier and stationed in the town working as part of a recruitment team.  He was billeted at another pub a couple of streets away but occasionally took a room at The Boot to be with Jane.  On the morning of 3rd October 1841 while Jane was sleeping he took his shaving razor and calmly sliced her throat.  Needless to say this woke Jane who, at first, appeared not to feel pain but rather a choking sensation and as she put her hands to her throat felt them “go right in” to her neck.  A violent  struggle ensued with Jabez straddling Jane who silently (her vocal chords had been severed) kicked and hit out at Jabez gaining more wounds to her hands, arms and legs.  It was over as quickly as it started with Jabez suddenly releasing her, running to the door of their room and calling down to the landlord, “Murder” and “Come take me.”

There are several surprising elements to this story.  One is that Jane survived her injuries, thanks to the prompt attention of a surgeon who lived nearby and another is that she appeared to express no anger towards Jabez at his trial.   The case itself caused a sensation in the town with crowds gathering,  all eager to see the victim as she arrived in a carriage, escorted by the police and her doctor.

Jabez escaped the capital indictment and was ordered to be transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) for 15 years for the offence of wounding.  Although the case was widely reported in the press there are many questions that arise from reading the articles for example, why did his friends and Jane all say they had never seen him drunk and yet on his convict record he states that he had been drinking for several days?

I don’t have any photos of Jabez but the image below is an impression of what he may have looked like based on photos of other family members and a comprehensive written physical description on his convict record, eg nose – broad, mouth – large, etc.


Jabez is my 3rd great grand-uncle. His background, trial and life in Tasmania form part of my book ‘Chasing Rainbows’.


Wordless Wednesday
Posted on: September 28th, 2011 by pj

Hilda Margaret Wilkins (1906-1992) , my grandmother.  Taken in 1931, the year before she married my grandfather, Leonard Rainbow.


Not a Rainbow
Posted on: September 19th, 2011 by pj

My Dad was a posthumous baby.  His own Dad died in 1929 from influenza, at the young age of 33, just five months before Derek was born. What seemed extraordinary to me growing up is that Dad knew nothing about him at all, only his name – Walter. He’d apparently never asked questions about him or even seemed interested to know about this missing part of his life.

By all accounts it was a tough childhood. Two elder brothers and later a half brother, the four boys were brought up during chaotic times by their mum, Amy in the slums of wartime Coventry. Dad didn’t tell us much about those times except that he and his mates jumped up and down with sheer delight when they discovered that German bombers had scored a direct hit on his school during the Blitz. Being an 11 year old during the war wasn’t all bad, I guess. I know he was evacuated several times to the country and stayed with families that were, according to my Dad, too posh and/or too strict and he ran away and back to Coventry every time. As far as I can tell the rest of the war was spent with the four Sanders boys running half-wild, playing on bomb sites around the city while Amy held down a job at the local munitions factory.

The image below is part of collection of digital scrapbooking pages that I put together several years ago and this particular page includes three school photos of my Dad. I’m intrigued that, even living on the poverty line Amy managed to afford to buy school photos. I definitely recognise my Dad in the first photo, not so much in the second….but the last photo is very much Derek, trying to be serious and not to break into a laugh. Its a look that strikes as chord with me as I remember him trying to tell me off for some childish misdemeanour and not quite managing the straight face. My Dad died in 2005.

Cotesbach Heritage Open Days 2011
Posted on: September 18th, 2011 by pj

It’s twelve months since I first became involved with Cotesbach Educational Trust based at Cotesbach Hall in the leafy lanes of  Leicestershire, UK.  I blogged about it at the time and since then I have been ensnared volunteered to help digitise some of the archives, specifically boxes of 200 year old sermons.  Most Wednesday afternoons estate manager, Sophy Newton and I can be found poring over these dusty documents – Sophy reading out details of dates, places and first lines as I type them into the database.

Sophy Newton, estate manager and acting director of Cotesbach Educational Trust with visitors outside Cotesbach Hall

The author of some of the sermons and Sophy’s direct ancestor was the Rev. Robert Marriott, estate owner and Rector of  St. Mary’s in Cotesbach.  My ancestors, William Rainbow and his son John, lived in the village during the same period.  William Rainbow was Overseer of the Poor and both William and John were Constables of the parish.  Their signatures appear in the estate account books, claiming expenses for their work and on lease agreements for farmland.   What is extraordinary for me is the realisation that it is very likely that this business would have taken place in the same room where Sophy and I work on the sermons, recreating a family connection over 200 years later.

The coachhouse at Cotesbach Hall, soon to be restored and extended to house archives.

Cotesbach Educational Trust was formed to restore three dilapidated buildings in the Estate grounds.  An 18th century schoolroom is to be used as an educational resource and in addition a milking parlour and coachhouse will become a cafe, meeting area and housing for the archival material that has been discovered at the Hall, dating from the 16th century.

An old fashioned sermon

Last weekend the Estate was open to the public as part of the national Heritage Open Days project and I did a couple of stints of greeting people in the schoolroom which was fun.  There was a re-enactment of a 200 year old sermon in St. Mary’s church, across the road from the Hall and guided tours around the house and gardens. I met several people who knew the Lutterworth Rainbows and had memories of their bakery which was fascinating and I even sold a couple of books !  Photos taken by my husband Graham.

Sophy and visitors talk about some of the archives on display


The Tech Savvy Genealogists Meme
Posted on: September 16th, 2011 by pj

As I’m coming to the end of my latest university course AND finished my book I’m hoping to devote a little more time and energy to genealogy starting with blogging and a meme is great place to jump back in.  Thanks to Geniaus for the meme and  Nuffield Genealogy for the link.

“I invite anyone with an interest in genealogy to participate. If you don’t have a blog and wish to participate you can write them up on Google+ or post them as a note on Facebook.  Or you can just create your own document to keep track of your own goals.”

Which of these apply to you?

The list should be annotated in the following manner:

Things you have already done or found: bold face type
Things you would like to do or find: italicize (colour optional)
Things you haven’t done or found and don’t care to: plain type
Feel free to add extra comments in brackets after each item

Which of these apply to you?

  1. Own an Android or Windows tablet or an iPad (love, love, my iPad)
  2. Use a tablet or iPad for genealogy related purposes (several trees and three genealogy apps)
  3. Have used Skype to for genealogy purposes (great for Transatlantic calls)
  4. Have used a camera to capture images in a library/archives/ancestor’s home  
  5. Use a genealogy software program on your computer to manage your family tree (currently Reunion, MacFamily Tree and testing FTM atm)
  6. Have a Twitter account (@pjscribble)
  7. Tweet daily
  8. Have a genealogy blog    (’re on it!)
  9. Have more then one genealogy blog
  10. Have lectured/presented to a genealogy group on a technology topic
  11. Currently an active member of Genealogy Wise
  12. Have a Facebook Account  
  13. Have connected with genealogists via Facebook 
  14. Maintain a genealogy related Facebook Page Chasing Rainbows
  15. Maintain a blog or website for a genealogy society
  16. Have submitted text corrections online to Ancestry, Trove or a similar site
  17. Have registered a domain name (I think I have about a dozen!)
  18. Post regularly to Google+     (fast becoming my social media of choice)
  19. Have a blog listed on Geneabloggers
  20. Have transcribed/indexed records for FamilySearch or a similar project
  21. Own a Flip-Pal or hand-held scanner  – (love my little hand held scanner)
  22. Can code a webpage in .html   – (probably a bit rusty but I could do it)
  23. Own a smartphone 
  24. Have a personal subscription to one or more paid genealogy databases
  25. Use a digital voice recorder to record genealogy lectures (I have one, but never been to a genealogy lecture!)
  26. Have contributed to a genealogy blog carnival
  27. Use Chrome as a Browser
  28. Have participated in a genealogy webinar
  29. Have taken a DNA test for genealogy purposes 
  30. Have a personal genealogy website
  31. Have found mention of an ancestor in an online newspaper archive (I can get lost in newspaper archives for days!)
  32. Have tweeted during a genealogy lecture
  33. Have scanned your hardcopy genealogy files
  34. Use an RSS Reader to follow genealogy news and blogs
  35. Have uploaded a gedcom file to a site like Geni, MyHeritage or Ancestry
  36. Own a netbook
  37. Use a computer/tablet/smartphone to take genealogy lecture notes
  38. Have a profile on LinkedIn that mentions your genealogy habit
  39. Have developed a genealogy software program, app or widget
  40. Have listened to a genealogy podcast online.
  41. Have downloaded genealogy podcasts for later listening
  42. Backup your files to a portable hard drive
  43. Have a copy of your genealogy files stored offsite
  44. Know about Rootstech
  45. Have listened to a Blogtalk radio session about genealogy
  46. Use Dropbox, SugarSync or other service to save documents in the cloud (Dropbox, Google Docs)
  47. Schedule regular email backups
  48. Have contriibuted to the Familysearch Wiki
  49. Have scanned and tagged your genealogy photographs
  50. Have published a genealogy book in an online/digital format (in print too!)
Live blogging from the Heritage Open Days event at Cotesbach Hall.
Posted on: September 10th, 2011 by pj

This is the 18th century schoolroom