GeneaBloggers

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Feeding the Trees



Having just attended RootsTech 2017, I feel compelled to compare the state of genealogy with my previous observations and viewpoints, as reported last year in Evolution and Genealogy. What has changed, and in which direction? I will also make some concrete suggestions to the industry that could go a long way to averting the headlong demise of online genealogy.


Compost frenzy
Figure 1 – Compost frenzy.

RootsTech 2017

This year’s Innovator Showdown semi-finalists presented products with the following functionality: photograph/image tagging and organisation, indexing, DNA triangulation, transcription, stories and memories, celebrity/friend tree matching, and newspaper research. That’s quite a broad range, and by itself doesn’t give away much in terms of trending. Some of the products were specialised, but others offered insular functionality, divorced from complementary functionality elsewhere — a point that I also mentioned last year. You would be forgiven for asking why can’t I have that, together with that, and inside this?

The overall message of RootsTech was still about stories and memories, and I’m totally on-board with this, but it is just the tip of a bigger requirement involving narrative. I applaud any change of focus away from raw data on trees to descriptive and audiovisual media that real people can relate to — allegedly allowing us to become heart specialists — but narrative (as favoured by humans but not by software designers) has many critical uses that were not addressed at the conference. More on this in a moment.

On the Wednesday (Feb. 8th), there was a session entitled “Industry Trends and Outlooks” with a panel that included Ben Bennett, Executive Vice President of International Business at Findmypast, and Craig Bott, co-founder, President and CEO of Grow Utah. Their particular comments were enlightening about current thinking in the commercial sector.

Ben acknowledged that not everyone wants to build a tree (or at least not just a tree), and that companies needed to understand their “customer context”. He was making the point that there is a mass market — apparently 83M people in the US interested and willing to pay — that involves a broad range of skills and interests, so how do you engage it. He suggested that products needed differentiation, with functionality aimed at the requirements of their particular customer group. I’m sceptical of this suggestion since it could be interpreted as different skills and depth of work translating into functional differences rather than user-interface (UI) ones; does the fact that some people write or research better than others necessarily mean that they’re the only ones wanting to do it?

Ben also acknowledged that good ideas don’t just come from within companies, and that they [Findmypast] are looking externally and willing to talk about new innovation. I believe this meant demonstrable products rather than written ideas, but it’s probably as close as we can expect to outreach so I wholly welcome his comments.

Craig talked about new technology in the areas of OCR and handwriting recognition — functionality that we all want — but also went on to describe neural networks being applied to the identification of named entities and semantic links. What this means is being able to pick out personal names, places, dates, events, etc., from digitised text, and also the relationships between them: biological or social relationships between people, origin or residence of someone, and dates of vital and non-vital events. Well, I have to repeat something that I’ve said elsewhere: it’s people that perform genealogical research, not software. Highlighting named entities could be an aid to newspaper research, but the researcher would be analysing the text, and across multiple documents rather than just one at a time.

My take on all this is that the large companies feel obligated to throw technology at genealogical (and historical) research, but the more fundamental issues of real research are not being addressed, or even acknowledged.

Fundamental Failings

I make no secret of the fact that I dislike online family trees as they’re currently implemented. They do not capture history, they make it far too easy to connect the wrong dots, and they’re an inappropriate organisational structure (i.e. they should be simply a visualisation of lineage). I’ve justified these points in previous posts, but let me summarise some of their basic failings that really need tackling.

a)    They are person-centric when it is time to enter data. For instance, in order to enter all the people in a given census household, it is nearly always necessary to start with each person in the tree, and then add each so-called “fact” and associated source to them. This is quite laborious as you really want to work from the census household rather than from the tree, and you have to frequently re-consult and re-describe the same document. If you want to attach an image of some document, say because you have a paper copy that’s not online at the current host site, then you’ll also be forced to attach it multiple times (hopefully not independent copies).
b)    When a source is added to a “fact” then it is a direct connection with nothing in between: no analytical commentary; no transcription; no justification for why it’s appropriate to the selected person; and no explanation as to why the name might be slightly different, or the date-of-birth implied by an age slightly different, from your conclusions. A consequence of this is that there’s no way to determine how a given conclusion was reached by someone.
c)    There’s no obvious way to add material that relates to multiple people. Photographs and document images are obvious examples, but the same problem relates to stories/memories, transcriptions, and any researched histories of your ancestors.
d)    There’s no obvious concept of ownership in a unified family tree. While still controversial in some quarters, most users do want this. As I mentioned last year, certain contributions should be immutable, but which? While a mere collection of “facts” can have no ownership (and cannot be copyrighted either), authored works such as research articles and personal memories must have.
e)    There will always be multiple possible conclusions in unified trees; anyone disputing that needs to understand the concept of evidence better. If there are no controls then there will be edit wars, and potentially loss of valuable contributions, but what form should they take? Throwing complicated technology at this in order to support multiple versions of the “truth” isn’t necessarily the right solution, and we need to take a step back and look at the dynamics of real research. Consider: what we’re doing isn’t always what we think we’re doing.
f)     Copying is made too easy in online trees, either from someone else’s tree or from material found elsewhere. In an ideal world then it should not be necessary, but these trees offer no alternatives. Their lack of functionality may even force users to put certain material elsewhere, thus leading to other users feeling they have to copy rather than cite or link-to it. This all means that errors, or even tentative conclusions when a researcher hasn’t yet finished, will replicate like a virus. It also means that the provenance of a contribution is lost, and there can be no attribution to the original author, contributor, or owner.

While I dislike trees,[1] I do acknowledge the investment that sites may have in that paradigm. So what can be done to address these failings, and help trees evolve to meet more of the requirements of that mass market?

Layer Cake

The scheme I want to suggest to companies that host online family trees involves using separate layers. Back in Our Days of Future Passed — Part III, I explained how the STEMMA data model has two notional sub-models: conclusional and informational. The old GenTech data model also had separate sub-models, although its equivalent to informational was termed evidence. STEMMA purposely uses the term informational as its sub-model includes the information sources and the possible analysis of that information, irrespective of whether it contributes evidence relevant to some conclusion.

When information is cleanly separated from conclusions then it provides a natural distinction for controlling changes to the corresponding contributions.  Conclusions — which includes names, dates, and relationships in the online tree — would be editable by anyone, whereas information — which includes personal stories and memories, photographs and images of documents, source analysis, research, and proof arguments — would be editable only by the respective contributor (or possibly some registered agent, such as another family member).


Conclusional and informational layers

Figure 2 – Conclusional and informational layers.

If someone had uploaded a photograph then a person in the tree could be linked to it, and although the link might be changed by anyone, the photograph could not. Similarly, if someone had uploaded their written research then conclusions on the tree could link to its relevant parts, and although those links could be changed by anyone, the original article could not.

I’ll expand on how this would work later, but first I want to point out an important subtlety: the arrows in this diagram are shown as down-pointing, from the conclusions to the associated information (including evidence). This would not be visible to the end-user since a connection is simply that (with no direction), but it is important for the purposes of change-control. If the source of the link was in the conclusional layer then it could be edited by all, but if it was in the informational layer (i.e. up-pointing) then it would be classified as part of the information source, just as we treat opinions in an authored work.

This may sound as though it offers redundancy rather than flexibility, but the distinction will become clearer as I progress.

Source-based Input

The following example is from the 1861 census of England and Wales (Piece: 2560, Folio: 23, Page: 6), and represents the household of 8 Homleys Court, Heaton Norris, Stockport, Cheshire. It was used as an example on the STEMMA site because it contained a number of errors, errors that had to be explained before identification of the persons could be made. The family name was incorrect, relationships were ambiguous, ages were wrong, and place names were wrong. Simply connecting “facts” on a tree to this census page would be silly as there would be so many discrepancies.

Name
Relation
Condition
Sex
Age
Birth Year
Occupation
Birth Place
Samuel Bradley
Head
Married
M
30
1831
Nail Maker
Belper, Derbyshire
Mary Bradley
Wife
Married
F
24
1837
Cotton Weaver
Lougborough, Leicestershire
John Bradley
Boarder
Married
M
26
1835
Slater
Belper, Derbyshire
Selina Bradley
Boarder’s Wife
Married
F
22
1839
Doubler (Cotton)
Belper, Derbyshire
George Bradley
Boarder’s Son
-
M
3
1858
-
Heaton Norris, Lancashire
Table 1 – 1861: Household of Samuel Bradley. Extracted and corrected details.


1861: Household of Samuel Bradley. Cropped image
Figure 3 – 1861: Household of Samuel Bradley. Cropped image.

For a user-owned tree, using the informational layer provides the currently missing place to extract the details and to explain why they might be incorrect. This alone would prevent users trying to create multiple birth events when sources disagree, but it would also provide them with a chain of explanation that they could follow at a later time.

It would also allow the user to work with, and from, a document in a source-based manner, thus making their data entry more efficient. Any analytical commentary and citation (should one be needed) would be in one place that could be linked to all the relevant tree entries.

In a unified tree, adding a copy of an image (or a hyperlink to an online version) only need be done once, but the extraction of details and the associated analysis might be done by different people. In other words, there could be multiple contributions that don’t exactly agree. This is in the nature of research and it must be accommodated.

The case of a document transcription is analogous since one version may be more precise than another, or may have interpreted hard-to-read text differently, or may have added annotation clarifying some aspects.

Authored Works

Authored works, including personal stories/memories and research articles, are crucial for capturing history. The mere inclusion of these would provide additional source material that could make the overall experience in online trees much richer. Research material willingly shared by those who make that effort would also serve to help those who can’t or won’t. Currently, anyone wanting to share such material has to use a separate blog (as I do) or some personal Web site; simply dumping your work in a plain-text area, with no formatting, no tables, no pictures, and probably attached to a specific point in some tree, just doesn’t cut it in the real world.

This scheme would make it much easier to accommodate material that relates to multiple persons since it is not hung directly from any one tree branch.

A point I hinted at earlier is that the author of such works is making connections — opinions — that identify the persons referenced in various sources. Taking one of my articles as an example (Jesson Lesson), this makes a case for various family relationships and their vital events. So how would this get connected to a unified tree; how would my up-pointing opinions relate to the down-pointing conclusions on the tree?

Well, remember that what we’re doing isn’t always what we think we’re doing. The researcher will have put together the details and relationships of a small group of people, but they haven’t slotted them into any global tree; that’s manifested in the conclusional layer. Also, their opinions may differ from those of another researcher and so the final conclusions must arbitrate based on their narrative explanations.

STEMMA would rely on semantic tagging (i.e. mark-up) embedded within the text to identify individual references, but that would be too complicated for most online trees. Imagine, instead, that each work was annotated with a piece of structured meta-data[2] that enumerated the (possibly multiple) names of the referenced people, their relationships, and their vital events. This would represent the opinions of the author and so would be an immutable part of each work — effectively up-pointing connections, although we won’t use them like that.

The meta-data would be cataloguing the works as complete units rather than their individual references but there are some advantages to that. In fact, this is the same meta-data concept that I described in Blogs as Genealogical Sources, and so it would also cope when the authored work is published elsewhere, including blogs and even traditional books.


Meta-data for local and remote articles
Figure 4 – Meta-data for local and remote articles.

That article about using blogs as sources made the point that this meta-data should be created by the respective author — not by some neural net software trying to second-guess them — and that it could support even the most complex of genealogical searches that these sites have. In this scheme, it summarises the details that the article has found or derived in its narrative.

Maybe surprisingly, when a humble photograph is added to the informational layer then the situation is analogous to that of these authored works: the contributor may have identified the people present in the shot, but we all know that old photographs often get mislabelled. How nice, though, to be aware of who made the identifications, and how. If two people have differing information for the same image then we can arbitrate using their explanations.

Collaboration

Having source information, source analysis, and even authored works, in the informational layer would provide a rich substrate to feed the tree-based conclusions. Edit wars and accidental loss of data are avoided because the main user contributions are in the informational layer. But there will still be differences of opinion since nothing is certain when looking at past events. In this scheme those alternatives could co-exist with virtually no effort, but which do the conclusions point to?

What the scheme affords is the ability to arbitrate on the quality of some research, or other contribution, and not simply on the preponderance of conclusional instances.[3]

I now want to extrapolate to see how far it might be possible take this scheme. Back in What to Share, and How - Part II, I presented a diagram explaining about joining STEMMA contributions together to automatically form a tree. Well, the same principle could be achieved using the contributions in this informational layer when they have the appropriate meta-data attached, as described above. In other words, if all the contributions were in unanimous agreement then construction of the tree could be automated.

But what about when they disagree, as is the normal case? This was a concern that I had in the aforementioned article, but when compared with the current situation of disagreeing contributions, these would be backed up by material whose quality could be used for arbitration. Not only that, this arbitration could be achieved using the ubiquitous Like button, stressing again that those differing opinions would all still be available, and nothing would be lost or discarded.

I hasten to add, here, that any implementation should avoid the temptation to use the researcher’s reputation, whether based on their ‘likes’ or their external persona. When a name is recognised then it might be tempting to ‘like’ their research without actually reading it. I know through experience[4] that an amateur who is driven to solve a mystery that’s very close to them, without the constraints of time and money, can make a better job than a qualified professional.

This may be a step too far in evolving shared trees since it would mean a quite different way of working for users. But the use of a Like button can still be employed to rate contributions in the informational layer.

Conclusion

This categorisation and separation of data contributions is something I already do in STEMMA; however, as I’ve presented here, it does not mandate the STEMMA data model. In fact STEMMA’s very broad micro-history scope would be (currently) inappropriate for those sites hosting family trees. What I’ve done, here, is to explain the principles in terms that apply to online trees. FamilySearch are quite close to this already since they have a separate memories area with different change-controls. The connections between this area and their unified tree would need work, and their narrative contributions would need some form of mark-up (not just plain ASCII text), but these are doable. Rather more effort would be required to handle the analysis and extraction facilities for source-based input.

So what’s different here? Isn’t this an obvious approach? Maybe it is in retrospect, after reading this article. Fundamentally, it breaks with the traditional notion of a tree as the organising structure within the software. If the industry can move beyond that then it would help with engaging that mass market and its many requirements — ones that I believe are actually common to us all, but maybe to different depths.

For me, personally, it’s not just about a revenue stream; it’s about giving users what they really need, it’s about the reputation of genealogy as a pursuit, and it’s about leaving a valuable legacy for future generations.



[1] I am interested in lineage, but also family history and micro-history; a tree merely visualises that lineage, and is inappropriate for organising any type of history.
[2] Structured usually means XML these days, and that’s good for handling user maintenance operations. If they are going to be searched or manipulated in bulk then a database derivative will probably be required.
[3] I use this term deliberately since there are generally few independent conclusions, but many replicated instances of those same conclusions.
[4] My entry into genealogy involved solving a family mystery, and hence fulfilling a promise that I made to my mother. I was told, by a professional, that it was impossible; it took me several years but I succeeded and so changed a number of lives forever.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Jesson Lesson



I’ve been nibbling away at one of my many brick walls, and felt that it was time to write something up. People performing pre-civil registration research in England and Wales will easily relate to the problems I describe here. Although solid progress was made, there are still parts for which I feel that I may be painting a story rather than uncovering one — you be the judge.

The research relates to my Jesson line during the early 19th Century, and in particular to Thomas Jesson, the grandfather of the Mary Jesson researched in A Rich French Actor; one of my g-g-g-g grandfathers.

My friend Peter Lucas has been conducting a One-Name Study (ONS) on the Jessons for many years (see http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/jessonfamily). We have pooled our knowledge on several occasions, but we both knew that there was something missing in relation to Thomas.

The Problem

Thomas was born around 1792 in Sapcote, a small village about 10 miles SW of Leicester. He was baptised on 14 Apr 1792 to a Thomas and Rebecca Jesson at Sapcote All Saints.[1] His mother was Rebecca Gent, and his parents were married in the same parish during 1790.[2] Thomas married a Mary Bentley on 11 Mar 1822,[3] and they had two sons: William (b. c1822)[4] and James (b. c1824)[5]; in both baptism registrations the “Quality, Trade or Profession” column reads “Frame knitters” — the plural indicating that this applied to both parents. The trail then goes cold for a long time.

Sapcote All Saints church
Figure 1 – Sapcote All Saints church.[6]

The next appearance of the family is in Nottingham, about 40 miles north of Sapcote, in the 1841 census.

Name
Sex
Age
Birth year
Occupation
Place of birth
Thomas
M
45
1796
F.W.K
Notts.
Rebecca
F
40
1801
-
ditto
James
M
15
1826
-
ditto
Table 1 – 1841: Jesson family. Milk Street, Nottingham.[7]

There was now a problem because his wife was named Rebecca (not Mary), and there was no sign of William.

The 1851 census confirmed that James (the eventual father of the Mary mentioned in my pervious article) and Thomas were both from Sapcote, and were both framework knitters. There were no alternative identifications possible, given their combined details, but where was William, and who was Rebecca?

Name
Role
Status
Sex
Age
Birth year
Occupation
Place of birth
Thomas
Head
Married
M
58
1793
Framework Knitter
Sapcote, Leics.
Rebecca
Wife
Married
F
51
1800
-
Hinckley, Leics.
Table 2 – 1851: Household of Thomas Jesson. 5 Castle Court, Nottingham.[8]

Name
Role
Status
Sex
Age
Birth year
Occupation
Place of birth
James
Head
Married
M
27
1824
Framework Knitter
Sapcote, Leics.
Keziah
Wife
Married
F
24
1827
-
Tewksbury, Glos.
Thomas
Son
-
F
5
1846
-
Nottingham
Mary
Daughter

F
2
1849
-
Nottingham
Table 3 – 1851: Household of James Jesson. 4 York Place, Nottingham.[9]

There was no obvious death registration for the son, William. Also, there was no preceding marriage visible for Thomas and Rebecca, and no obvious death registration for Mary. So was Rebecca a new wife or a pseudonym for the same one (Mary)?

Thomas died on 8 Jul 1855, aged 64, of dropsy [abnormal accumulation of fluid beneath the skin and in the cavities of the body] at Castle Court, Howard Street. His occupation was “Stocking framework knitter”, and the informant was Ann Herod of nearby Milk Square, who was present at the death.[10] To make things worse, I could see no subsequent death or remarriage for his Rebecca.

This is the sort of problem you leave until a (very long) rainy day.

Rebecca Jesson

Well, that rainy day arrived — we get a lot of them here — and it began with finding when Rebecca died. Although she did not show up in the civil registration index, she did show up in the burial register of Nottingham’s privately-run General Cemetery, along with her husband, Thomas.

Name
Burial
Death
Frank Wright
7 Apr 1905
Unrecorded
Charles R. Wheatley
3 Mar 1892
Unrecorded
Rebecca Jesson (aged 72)
17 Feb 1869
Unrecorded
Thomas Jesson
11 Jul 1855
8 Jul 1855
Table 4 – Burial register details for Rebecca Jesson.[11]

The other two deceased are not relations that I am aware of.

By that time, civil registration of deaths was well-established, so where was Rebecca? The dates from the burial register eventually allowed me to identify her GRO index entry as “Rebecca Lesson” (as in my title),[12] and this was how it was recorded in the original index (i.e. not a subsequent transcription error). Interestingly, the new GRO index of civil registrations[13] has the same error, and this suggests that the original registration had some horrible error.

The newspapers came to the rescue in finding their marriage.

On the 26th ult. [26 Jul 1845], at the Superintendent Registrars' office, Radford, Mr. Thomas Jesson, Milk-street, to Mrs. Rebecca Burdett, of Carrington.[14]

Carrington was a hamlet about 1.5 miles north of the town centre. As well as showing that their marriage occurred some time after they were living under the same surname (see 1841 census, Table 1), and not in any church, this notice is interesting because it referred to Rebecca as “Mrs”. If she was a widow then it is very likely that Thomas was also widower, and that his first marriage had ended. His son by that marriage, James, married Keziah Chandler only the following year, in 1846.[15]

In many cases of a deferred second marriage, it was because the participants in the first marriage had simply separated, and they had to wait for a period of seven years to elapse with no contact before legally remarrying. However, this option wasn’t available until the offence of bigamy in England & Wales was redefined in section 57 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 — it didn’t apply in this instance, and so the first wife of Thomas (Mary) must have died.

The marriage certificate for Thomas and Rebecca confirmed that she was a widow, and that her father, John Quaile, was a frame-smith. One of the witnesses was the Keziah Chandler that Thomas’s son (James) would soon marry; the other being a Jeremiah Butler.[16] It was then possible to show that Rebecca had previously married a Thomas Burdett while still living in Hinckley, in 1818.[17]

Hinckley (the birthplace and marriage-place of Rebecca) was a village only 5 miles to the west of Sapcote. Not only was it associated with framework knitters, it is reputed to have been the first location where textile employees started destroying the machines that were taking their jobs — actions that were later to become the Luddite movement during 1811–1816. Their common origin and widowed status would easily explain how they met, but Thomas’s younger sister, Maria (see below), was baptised in Hinckley so their families must have known of each other.

Loughborough

In order to locate candidate deaths, I used the National Burial Index (NBI)[18]. This provides a comprehensive list of known burials in England and Wales, and it allows searches by birth date when a burial date is unknown.

Searching for “W* Jesson”, born 1822±1, there was only one candidate showed up in the whole database: Wm Jesson, buried 12 Jul 1835 at Loughborough All Saints parish, Leicestershire. Loughborough is a small town about 20 miles north of Sapcote, and was well-established in the domestic knitting industry that this Jesson family worked in.[19]

Loughborough All Saints church
Figure 2 – Loughborough All Saints church.[20]

Performing a wider NBI search for all Jessons who were buried in the same Loughborough All Saints parish revealed only four entries:

Burial
Given name
Age
Equiv. birth year
4 Sep 1834
Mary
34
1800
12 Jul 1835
Wm [William]
13
1822
18 Oct 1835
Hy [Henry]
3
1832
28 Feb 1836
Maria
4
1832
Table 5 – Jesson burials at Loughborough All Saints.

Mary is a very strong candidate for Thomas’s first wife because of her age, but could Henry and Maria have been twins belonging to the same family; it would have been a tragedy indeed to have so many losses in just 18 months. Could an infectious disease have ravaged the family?

The death of William was reported in the newspapers, and confirmed that the father was a Thomas Jesson.

On Wednesday [8 Jul 1835], the son of Mr. Thomas Jesson, aged 13 years.[21]

So could the parish registers shed any further light on these deaths? Mary’s entry confirmed that she was the wife of a Thos. [Thomas] Jesson,[22] and presumably the same one as William’s father.

As expected, William’s entry confirmed his father as a Thomas Jesson,[23] but it didn’t mention any mother; with other entries involving children, the register indicated “son/daughter of father & mother”. This strongly suggested that Thomas was widowed, and so was the same Thomas as the husband of Mary in the earlier entry — remember that we are dealing with only four Jesson deaths in this parish.

Both of the entries for Henry and Maria similarly identified the father as Thomas, and with no mother.[24] Thomas had a younger sister named Maria,[25] so Henry might have been named after a relative of Mary’s.

Part of this deduction rests on there being just one Jesson family in Loughborough at that time. Findmypast’s Leicestershire databases confirmed that there were only these four Jesson burials in Loughborough between 1805 and the end of that century. The situation was similar with baptisms, where there was just one in 1844, and with marriages, where there was one in 1828 and one in 1848, but we’ll come back to these in a later section.

The following vital-event yearly data for the associated Leicestershire hundreds illustrates how small these communities were.

Year
Hundred of Sparkenhoe[a]
Hundred of West Goscote[b]
County summary for Leicestershire
B
M
D
B
M
D
B
M
D
1821
915
249
551
1128
372
622
5074
1598
3046
1830
888
217
606
973
345
704
4956
1502
3461
Table 6 – Vital-event statistics for Leicestershire Hundreds.[26]
[a] Sparkenhoe: 50 parishes, including Hinckley and Sapcote.
[b] West Goscote: 31 parishes, including Loughborough.

Framework Knitters

This was a very poor, and much-abused, profession; labour costs were deliberately kept low as the masters could easily employ new labour. The knitters toiled 16–18 hours a day, and had to pay for their own yarn, replacement needles, and the rent on their frames — irrespective of whether they were using them. Worse still, they were paid by the article rather than by the yard. Living on the bread-line, in near poverty, it is hardly surprising that the Luddites reacted, as they did, to mechanisation taking away their work and making their plight all the worse.

Around the time that Thomas may have moved to Loughborough, 1833, framework knitters were petitioning the government for controls to protect their livelihood, including a minimum wage.

Lord R. [Robert] MANNERS presented a petition from the framework-knitters of Loughborough, complaining of distress.

Mr. GILLON presented a petition complaining of distress from the linen weavers of Forfar, and praying for a law providing that henceforth the linen weavers might be paid by the yard for their work. If something were not done on the subject he should, next session, call attention to it. -- Petition referred to the committee on manufacturers.[27]

Nothing came of this, and a subsequent petition in 1843 additionally made mention of the bad practices they were subjected to.[28] Eventually, a Royal Commission enquired into the conditions of framework knitters in 1845.

The following article appeared just the month after that first petition, and nicely summed up the mood in Loughborough.

On Monday [26 Aug 1833] evening, a meeting of persons engaged in the lace trade was held at Loughborough, and they agreed to subscribe in aid of the fund to prevent the exportation of machinery.

A notice has been issued by the framework-knitters' committee at Loughborough, stating that all persons found begging in the name of the "knotted branch of framework-knitters," are imposters [sic], that branch having a dependency of their own, and caution the public not to relieve any one.

The jurneymen [sic] lace hands of Loughborough have formed a union for the purpose of supporting each other when out of work. A great many have come forward, and in the course of a fortnight it is expected they will all join.[29]

The “knotted branch” appears to have been a sick society: a sort of friendly society where a group of people shared a percentage of their earnings to ensure their mutual welfare in cases of sickness or unemployment.[30] This particular one was Leicestershire-based and was mentioned in the newspapers as early as 1825, but there were others around the country, and related to several professions.

The way these societies also controlled their combined labour paints them as prototype trade unions, which were technically illegal at that time; it wouldn’t be until the Trade Union Act 1871 that unions would be legalised. For instance, "...a great number of workmen in the Silk Knotted Branch still continue out of employ, in consequence of refusing to work at an abatement of sixpence per pair. They hold out principally because of the very high price of provisions, and every other necessary of life”,[31] and “The journeymen belonging to the Silk Knotted Branch in Nottingham, Mansfield, and Ilkeston, still continue out, in consequence of the hosiers not complying with what the hands think a just and reasonable request”.[32]

Interestingly, poor law unions only came about the year after the above Loughborough article as a result of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834. Before that time, individual parishes had to administer poor relief rather than through unions of parishes.

Potential Conflicts

The presence of so few Jesson events in Loughborough should make it easier to identify relationships; however, there were a small number of other references that required explanation. None of these were in the same decade as the four burials, but they were in neighbouring decades and so it was necessary to establish whether they were related, and whether there might have been more than one Thomas Jesson. The following table enumerates a range references derived from various Ancestry vital-event databases (not images) on 26 Jan 2017.

Name
Date
Details
Harriet Jesson
25 Jul 1807
Baptised in Loughborough All Saints.[a]
12 Feb 1828
Married John Plowright at Loughborough All Saints.[b]
Abraham Jesson
1840
Civil death registration in Loughborough district.[c]
Maria Jesson-i
17 Jun 1844
Baptised to George and Sarah at Loughborough All Saints.[d]
Maria Jesson-ii
5 Dec 1848
Married Thomas Smith at Loughborough All Saints.[e]
Phoebe Jesson
19 Jan 1846
Baptised at Loughborough Emmanuel (not All Saints) to Samuel and Sarah.[f]
Jane Jesson
1848
Civil marriage registration in Loughborough district.[g]
Ann Jesson
1849
Civil death registration in Loughborough district.[h]
Table 7 – Other Jesson references, from Ancestry vital-event databases.
[a] “England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975”; FamilySearch, 2013.
[b] “England, Select Marriages, 1538–1973”; FamilySearch, 2013.
[c] “England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915”; citing Q1, vol.15, p.145; FreeBMD, 2006.
[d] “England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975”; FamilySearch, 2013.
[e] “England, Select Marriages, 1538–1973”; FamilySearch, 2013.
[f] “England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975”; FamilySearch, 2013.
[g] “England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915”; citing Q4, vol.15, p.249; FreeBMD, 2006.
[h] “England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915”; citing Q3, vol.15, p.89; FreeBMD, 2006.

Harriet’s baptismal surname is transcribed as “Jepson” on Findmypast, but the image confirms her as “a bastard of Ann Jesson”.[33] On her marriage entry, the witnesses were Mary Jesson and Thos. Linaker. Harriet signed her surname as “Geson”, but Mary signed correctly.[34] There’s no further sign of Ann in this parish. The Mary could have been the one who died in 1834, and that would suggest a connection between Ann and Thomas, but I didn’t manage to prove to disprove this.

Abraham was 90 years old, and buried on 10 Mar 1840 in the parish of Whitwick, St John the Baptist, about 7.5 miles west of Loughborough. Ann was also 90 years old, and buried 3 Jul 1849 in the same parish.[35] Hence, neither was associated with the Loughborough All Saints parish. Oddly, Whitwick St John is in the registration district of Ashby de la Zouch rather than Loughborough. The answer is that their abodes were both given as Grace Dieu, famous for its priory, which is an extra-parochial tract included in the Belton parish for statistical and civil registration purposes; Belton does fall within the Loughborough district.

The younger Maria-i was baptised to George and Sarah Jesson, residing on the Nottingham Road. George was a butcher.[36] When the older Maria-ii married Thomas Smith, she was also living on the Nottingham Road. Although her father was also a Thomas Jesson, he was a publican rather than a framework knitter. Witnesses were a James and Mary Twain.[37] The fact they were living on the same road strongly suggests that these Marias were related.

Phoebe was baptised at 40 years old. Findmypast records her name as “Phobe Jepson” (rather than “Phoebe Jesson”, as on Ancestry) and in this case the image confirms this to be correct; the surname clearly contains a “ps” rather than a long-s, and can be contrasted with the subsequent entry, for “Wesson”, which does show a long-s.[38] Hence, Phobe/Phoebe is a red herring.

Jane (a “minor”) married William Norman Bramley junior on 24 Oct 1848 in the parish of Sheepshed (now spelled Shepshed),[39] about 5 miles west of Loughborough. She is not associated with Loughborough All Saints.

So, we have two Marias to check further, one of whom had a father named Thomas Jesson. Looking at the 1841 and 1851 censuses, we find them both in the same family. The older Maria-ii being the daughter of Thomas and Dorothy, and the younger Maria-i being the daughter of George (son of Thomas and Dorothy) and Sarah.

Name
Sex
Age
Birth year
Occupation
Place of birth
Thomas
M
40
1801
Publican
Leicestershire
George
M
15
1826
-
ditto
Timothy
M
10
1831
-
ditto
Christopher
M
8
1833
-
ditto
Walter
M
7
1834
-
ditto
Table 8 – 1841: Household of Thomas Jesson. Nottingham Road.[40]

Name
Sex
Age
Birth year
Occupation
Place of birth
William Seale
M
30
1811
Ag. Lab.
Leicestershire
William Ward
M
20
1821
Brick layer
ditto
Dorothy
F
40
1801
-
ditto
Maria
F
14
1827
-
ditto
Table 9 – 1841: Household of William Seale. Nottingham Road.[41]

Name
Role
Status
Sex
Age
Birth year
Occupation
Place of birth
Dorothy
Head
Widow
F
50
1801
Retired Innkeeper
Long Clawson, Leics.
Nathanial Spencer
Visitor
Married
M
20
1831
Solicitor writing clerk
Not known
Table 10 – 1851: Household of Dorothy Jesson. Rushes.[42]

Name
Role
Status
Sex
Age
Birth year
Occupation
Place of birth
George
Head
Married
M
28
1823
Master butcher
Loughborough
Sarah
Wife
Married
F
30
1821

ditto
Maria
Daughter

F
6
1845

ditto
Mary
Daughter

F
5
1846

Nottingham
Table 11 – 1851: Household of George Jesson. Sparrow Hill.[43]

A scan for all the Leicestershire baptisms for a Thomas and Dorothy confirmed the above relationships — although no baptism could be found for the older Maria-ii — and revealed that all the children were baptised in Long Clawson, about 14 miles east of Loughborough, contrary to the 1851 census information for George, but matching the birthplace of their mother, Dorothy. Also, it revealed that Walter was probably baptised Arthur, and this would explain why there was no subsequent mention of Arthur and no baptism for Walter. These conclusions were also in broad agreement with Peter Lucas’s ONS (p.F4).

Name
Birth
Baptism
Sarah

23 Dec 1820
George

21 Jan 1822
Thomas

21 Sep 1823
Richard Fisher

17 Jul 1825
Christopher
01 Sep 1832
24 Sep 1834
Arthur

24 Sep 1834
Table 12 – Baptisms to Thomas and Dorothy in Long Clawson.[44]

Hence, this Thomas Jesson was not present in Loughborough before 1835. He clearly could not have been the husband of Mary, and the burial entries for William, Henry, and Maria (Table 5) indicated that their father was a widower.

There were no other Jesson vital events recorded in Loughborough during the 1830s decade, other than the four burials, and it would appear that there was just the one family there. There were Jessons there during the 1820s, and Jessons who migrated there from Long Clawson just before 1841. What this analysis shows, though, is that the Thomas Jesson identified in each of those 1830s burial register entries must have been the same one.

Where Next?

There are few records that might directly identify this Jesson family because their short residence in Loughborough was pre-civil registration and pre-census. Trade directories, military records, and (online) criminal records shed no light on the subject. There was a census on 30 May 1831 but it consisted of numbers derived from church records and registers, and used for population statistics.[45]

Given the tragic family situation, Thomas may have been struggling, and may have received relief from the parish or a poor law union. Loughborough’s poor law union came into existence on 9 Sep 1838,[46] and the Leicestershire Records Office online catalogue suggests records from 1837 (their ref. G/7); however, they confirmed that there are few surviving poor law records from this period, and that they could find no mention of a Thomas Jesson. Their workhouse records only begin in 1913.

Although they appear to have been the only Jesson family in Loughborough during those years, it is possible that a married female relative of Thomas may have moved there with them. The FAN Principle could be applied to family members of both Mary Bentley (origin currently unknown) and Thomas in order to determine if they were in Loughborough too.

Conclusion

Thomas and Mary were framework knitters back in the village of Sapcote. When Thomas came to Nottingham, he remained a framework knitter in 1841 and 1851. On his death in 1855, he was a “stocking framework knitter”. His son, James, also had the same profession, and many of James’s children were associated with lace and general hosiery. This work was clearly an important part of their life for several generations.

The village of Sapcote was not generally associated with knitting, but the small town of Loughborough certainly was. I believe that Mary had twins, Henry and Maria, in 1832, and that this forced the need to find more productive work. Loughborough had organised support for this profession in terms of sick societies, and possibly unions. Whether the twins were born just before or just after their move is less important than the fact that extra mouths would need to be fed. The absence of any baptisms for these children supports a move from one parish to another having taken place around the same time.

It would then seem that tragedy hit the family within a couple of years with four members, beginning with Mary, dying in only 18 months. It is highly possible that some infectious agent took hold of their household but I could find no mention of epidemics in the town. During the period 1813–1830, 21% of Leicestershire deaths occurred in infants less than one year old, and 34% in children less than four years old.[47]

Sometime between 1836 and 1841, Thomas and his surviving son, James, moved a further 20 miles north to Nottingham, an industrialised town that was renowned for knitting, hosiery, and the lace industry — it would have been hard to remain in Loughborough after those events, and Nottingham was booming. In Nottingham, he met Rebecca Burdett, a widow who was born and married in Hinckley, just 5 miles from Sapcote, and where his own sister was baptised.

The names Mary and Rebecca both recur in later generations, and James’s eldest daughter was named Mary, after his mother (see A Rich French Actor).

An interesting aspect of this research is that it’s more about history than lineage. Thomas and Rebecca were too old to have children; William, Henry, and Maria all died as youngsters; and the family was only in Loughborough for a relatively short period of time. No tree can capture this type of history, or distinguish the known from the inferred. And DNA is of no help.




[1] Sapcote Parish (Leicestershire), Baptism Register, page and entries unnumbered, baptism of Thomas Jesson, 14 Apr 1792; “Leicestershire baptisms”, database with images, Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk : accessed 19 Jan 2017); citing archive ref. DE933/2, p. 19; Record Office for Leicestershire.
[2] Sapcote Parish (Leicestershire), Banns of Marriage, p.25, no.97, Jesson-Gent banns, 15 Jun 1790; “Leicestershire banns”, database with images, Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk : accessed 19 Jan 2017); citing archive ref. DE933/5; Record Office for Leicestershire; banns is not proof of a marriage by itself, but the subsequent children are proof enough in this case.
[3] Sapcote Parish (Leicestershire), Marriage Register, p.21, no. 62, marriage of Thomas Jesson to Mary Bentley, 11 Mar 1822; “Leicestershire marriages”, database with images, Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk : accessed 19 Jan 2017); citing archive ref. DE933/6; Record Office for Leicestershire.
[4] Sapcote Parish (Leicestershire), Baptism Register, p.26, no. 206, baptism of William Jesson, 17 Sep 1822; “Leicestershire baptisms” (accessed 19 Jan 2017); citing archive ref. DE933/4.
[5] Sapcote Parish (Leicestershire), Baptism Register, p.30, no. 235, baptism of James Jesson, 28 Jul 1824; “Leicestershire baptisms” (accessed 19 Jan 2017); citing archive ref. DE933/4.
[6] Sapcote All Saints church, taken 5 Jun 2012; image credit: Poliphilo; [CC0]; via Wikimedia Commons.
[7] "1841 England Census", database with images,  Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 19 Jan 2017), household of Thomas Jesson (age 45); citing  HO 107/870, bk.5, fo.14, p.20; The National Archives of UK (TNA).
[8] "1851 England Census", database with images,  Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 19 Jan 2017), household of Thomas Jesson (age 58); citing  HO 107/2132, fo.226, p.2; TNA.
[9] "1851 England Census" (accessed 19 Jan 2017), household of James Jesson (age 27); citing  HO 107/2132, fo.254, p.6.
[10] England, death certificate for Thomas Jesson, died 8 Jul 1855; citing 7b/99/389, registered Nottingham 1855/Sep [Q3]; General Register Office (GRO), Southport.
[11] The central database for UK burials and cremations”, database with images, deceased online (www.deceasedonline.com : accessed 19 Jan 2017), entries for grave of Rebecca Jesson, 1869, Nottingham General Cemetery, grave ref. /10659.
[12] Transcribed GRO Index for England and Wales (1837–1983), database, FreeBMD (freebmd.rootsweb.com/cgi/seach.pl : accessed 20 Jan 2017), death entry for Rebecca Lesson [Jesson]; citing Nottingham, 1869, Mar [Q1], vol. 7b:180.
[13] The UK General Register Office (GRO) is responsible for civil registrations of births, marriages, and deaths (BMD) in England and Wales. It maintained quarterly paper-based indexes of registrations from 1837 to 1983, and several databases of their transcriptions exist, such as the popular FreeBMD. During 2016, the GRO published wholly new indexes of births and deaths based on the previous work of the abandoned DoVE project. These newer indexes are formed from the registrations themselves rather than being derivatives of the previous indexes.
[14] “Married”, Nottingham Review and General Advertiser for the Midland Counties (1 Aug 1845): p.4, col.1.
[15] Nottinghamshire Family History Society (NottsFHS), Parish Registers Marriage Index, CD-ROM, database (Nottingham, 1 Jan 2013), database version 3.0, entry for James Jesson and Kessiah Chandler, 15 Aug 1846, Nottingham St Paul Parish. FreeBMD (accessed 20 Jan 2017), marriage entry for James Jesson and Kessiah Chandler; citing Nottingham, 1846, Sep [Q3], vol. 15:822.
[16] England, marriage certificate for Thomas Jesson and Rebecca Burdett, 26 Jul 1845; citing 20/834/104, registered Nottingham 1845/Sep [Q3]; GRO.
[17] Hinckley St Mary Parish (Leicestershire), Marriage Register, p.108, no.324, marriage of Thomas Burdett to Rebecca Quail, 4 Jul 1818; “Leicestershire marriages” (accessed 30 Jan 2017); citing archive ref. DE1135/17.
[18] Federation of Family History Societies (FFHS), National Burial Index for England & Wales, CD-ROM, database (www.ffhs.org.uk, 2010), third ed., viewer 1.21; hereinafter cited as NBI.
[19] Dr Denise Amos, "Framework Knitters", The Nottingham Heritage Gateway (www.nottsheritagegateway.org.uk/people/frameworkknitters.htm : created 18 Dec 2010, accessed 20 Jan 2017).
[20] Loughborough All Saints church, taken 17 Feb 2008; image credit: Tim Heaton; [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]; via Wikimedia Commons.
[21] “Leicestershire: Died”, Nottingham Review and General Advertiser for the Midland Counties (10 Jul 1835): p.2, col.4; place not given, preceding two entries occurred on the Monday and Tuesday in Loughborough.
[22] Loughborough All Saints Parish (Leicestershire), Burial Register, p.87, no.694, Mary Jesson, 4 Sep 1834; “Leicestershire burials”, database with images, Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk : accessed 21 Jan 2017); citing archive ref. DE667/22; Record Office for Leicestershire.
[23] Loughborough All Saints Parish (Leicestershire), Burial Register, p.118, no.937, Wm [William] Jesson, 12 Jul 1835; “Leicestershire burials” (accessed 21 Jan 2017); citing archive ref. DE667/22.
[24] Loughborough All Saints Parish (Leicestershire), Burial Register, entries: p.125, no.991, Henry Jesson, 18 Oct 1835 and p.133, no.1058, Maria Jesson, 28 Feb 1836; “Leicestershire burials” (accessed 21 Jan 2017); citing archive ref. DE667/22.
[25] Hinckley St Mary Parish (Leicestershire), Baptism Register, p.6, 4th entry on page, baptism of Maria Jesson, 28 May 1796 (b. 25 May 1796); “Leicestershire baptisms” (accessed 19 Jan 2017); citing archive ref. DE1135/9.
[26] "England and Wales, Parish Register Abstract, 1831", digital images, Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 25 Jan 2017); hundreds of West Goscote (p.163, img.176), Sparkenhoe (p.165, img.178), and county summary (p.167, img.180); although the 1831 census (taken on 30 May 1831) was published in 1833, the publisher is unidentified.
[27] "House of Commons, Monday, July 22", London Evening Standard (23 Jul 1833), p.4, col.1.
[28] Wanda Fraiken Neff, Victorian Working Women: An Historical and Literary Study of Women in British Industries and Professions, 1832-1850 (Taylor & Francis, 1966, first published in 1929), p.90.
[29] "Derbyshire: Incendiary Fire", Nottingham Review and General Advertiser for the Midland Counties (30 Aug 1833): p.3, col.3.
[30] “To The General Public”, Leicester Chronicle (4 Jun 1825): p.2, col.4, the table of sick societies contributing loans and donations.
[31] Derby Mercury (8 Jun 1825): p.3, col.3; reprinted from Nottingham Journal.
[32] The Town News”, Nottingham Review and General Advertiser for the Midland Counties (19 Feb 1836): p.3, col.1.
[33] Loughborough All Saints Parish (Leicestershire), Baptism Register, p.116, entries unnumbered, Harriet Jepson [Jesson], 25 Jul 1807; “Leicestershire baptisms” (accessed 26 Jan 2017); citing archive ref. DE667/5.
[34] Loughborough All Saints Parish (Leicestershire), Marriage Register, p.55, no.164, marriage of Ann Jesson to John Plowright, 3 Jul 1849; “Leicestershire marriages” (accessed 26 Jan 2017); citing archive ref. DE667/15.
[35] Whitwick St John The Baptist Parish (Leicestershire), Burial Register, entries: p.157, no.1256, Abraham Jesson, 10 Mar 1840, and p.9, no.70, Ann Jesson, 3 Jul 1849; “Leicestershire burials” (accessed 26 Jan 2017); citing archive refs. DE1760/15 and DE1760/20.
[36] Loughborough All Saints Parish (Leicestershire), Baptism Register, p.135, no.1075, Maria Jesson, 17 Jun 1844; “Leicestershire baptisms” (accessed 26 Jan 2017); citing archive ref. DE667/9.
[37] Loughborough All Saints Parish (Leicestershire), Marriage Register, p.50, no.99, marriage of Maria Jesson to Thomas Smith, 5 Dec 1848; “Leicestershire marriages” (accessed 26 Jan 2017); citing archive ref. DE667/18.
[38] Loughborough Emmanuel Parish (Leicestershire), Baptism Register, p.75, no.599, Phobe Jepson, 19 Jan 1846; “Leicestershire baptisms” (accessed 26 Jan 2017); citing archive ref. DE2594/1.
[39] Sheepshed Parish (Leicestershire), Marriage Register, p.154, no.307, marriage of Jane Jesson to William Norman Bramley junior, 24 Oct 1848; “Leicestershire marriages” (accessed 26 Jan 2017); citing archive ref. DE610/20.
[40] "1841 England Census" (accessed 27 Jan 2017), household of Thomas Jesson (age 40); citing  HO 107/595, bk.8, fo.45, p.26.
[41] "1841 England Census" (accessed 27 Jan 2017), household of William Seale (age 40); citing  HO 107/595, bk.8, fo.45, p.26; same building as household of Thomas in previous note.
[42] "1851 England Census" (accessed 27 Jan 2017), household of Dorothy Jesson (age 50); citing  HO 107/2085, fo. 327, p.27.
[43] "1851 England Census" (accessed 27 Jan 2017), household of George Jesson (age 28); citing  HO 107/2085, fo.190, p.3.
[44] “Leicestershire baptisms” (accessed 27 Jan 2017), search criteria surname=Jesson, father=Thomas, mother=Dorothy.
[45] “Census records”, The National Archives of the UK (www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/census-rec ords/ : accessed 24 Jan 2017).
[46] Peter Higginbotham, “Loughborough, Leicestershire”, The Workhouse: The Story of an Institution (www.workhouses.org.uk/Loughborough/ : accessed 24 Jan 2017).
[47] Calculated from county statistics in the “England and Wales, Parish Register Abstract, 1831” database, p.167, image 180, table of burials by age.