Wilfred Francis Daggett

Chapter 1.


          As our surname was considered to be fairly unusual we anticipated that research into its former bearers might be reasonably simple. Indeed, there was no very great difficulty in tracing back to about 1800, but then details became much more obscure, with no definite lead to earlier ancestors.

          Eventually we overcame the hurdle and arrived, via a succession of generations, and many false trails, at a marriage of William Daggett in 1738 at Pickhill, a village about eight miles N.N.E. of Ripon in North Yorkshire. Prior to that date - and for many years afterwards, too - there was a large number of separate but distantly related Daggett families, concentrated in that part of Yorkshire. Many of these contained the Christian name William and so any ancestors before 1738 must be traced, not by guesswork but by processes of reasoning and what mathematicians call "the best fit". We can make no claim to infallibility!

          We started our investigation in 1979 by asking some of our older relatives for information. They provided us with the names of some of their contemporaries whose dates of birth, marriage and death we were able to find in the General register Office at St.Catherine's House, Kingsway, London.

General Register Office

          Several visits to St.Catherine's House were made to examine the very extensive indexes which had only recently been moved there from Somerset House. These list all the births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales since 1837, indexed under surnames. At first, only the Christian names were appended together with the district in which the event was registered. As time went on some extra details, such as the age at death and name of spouse, were added to the recorded information. These massive volumes are generally divided into four parts of the alphabet (like the London telephone Directories) and again into the four quarters of each year. There are, therefore, sixteen volumes covering each year. Simple arithmetic will show that, up to 1984, there are about 2350 of these enormous books for each of the three classes of entry. Each one is about two or three inches thick, bound in stiff covers with metal edges. The earlier ones are hand-written, printing being adopted for later issues. The "Deaths" section has now been removed to premises on the west side of Kingsway, somewhat relieving the pressure on space at St.Catherine's House.

          It has just been proposed by Whitehall's "Efficiency unit" to close the General Register Office and compel researchers to consult only local register offices. This would make the task well-nigh impossible because one would need to have pre-knowledge of which district contained any particular event. At the same time it is also proposed to reduce the number of local offices from 672 to 417. We hope that reason will prevail!

          A visit to the G.R.O. requires a certain amount of stamina. First there is the physical exertion of removing the volumes from the dozens of racks which occupy the room at a variety of heights from the floor. Second is the even greater moral and physical exertion of trying to lay claim - and maintaining that claim - to any small vacant space on the reading desks. Elbows are necessary here and politeness goes by the board! One's competitors can be divided into three categories. First there are the professionals who, for a fee, undertake to search out details on behalf of anybody willing to pay them. Under this heading come free-lance individuals as well as the staffs of legal firms such as solicitors who are engaged to sort out the unknown relatives of, perhaps, a testator. It would appear that a small number of young men sent by their employers to look up such particulars have formed a sort of informal club with its headquarters in St. Catherine's House. They spend a considerable part of their time (and their clients' money) in standing around discussing the latest developments in racing-cars, general political topics and how they spent the previous weekend! If they get pushed away from one of the few vacant desk-spaces they will try to regather around the small number of seats which are provided for more serious visitors.

          The second group are non-professionals who have various reasons for wanting to delve into their family history in a systematic manner; they are willing to travel far and wide in their quest for links in the chain of their forefathers. Family history is rapidly becoming a hobby to be practised by all sorts of people.

          Finally we have the casual searchers who drop into the G.R.O. to satisfy their curiosity about when Aunt Fanny died or where Cousin George was born. They are usually very hazy about names and dates and often have no idea what they are looking for or where to start. They rely heavily on the good -natured assistance given by the attendants. They usually come in droves of up to half-a-dozen at a time, plus tiny children who rush about the place screaming either in pain or just playfully. They tend to monopolise a large amount of the cramped space while one of their party does the actual business of consulting the indexes; the rest merely stand around making helpful suggestions as to where Aunt Fanny may have lived and arguing loudly the pros and cons of Jemima having been her sister!

          The gangways are very narrow and so it can take some time to locate the required index (if somebody else hasn't already got it in use) and struggle with it to the chosen reading-place. The same procedure is followed in reverse to replace the volume in its correct place (which is, alas, not always done properly) and then to select the next one to be consulted. These indexes are the first step in tracing back family details because they indicate the district in which a certain group of people lived. This is essential in carrying one's researches back to 1837 and earlier. It must always be remembered that they are only indexes to the vast collection of personal documents hidden away in the strongroom. To obtain further details - actual addresses, age and so on - copies of the original certificates can be ordered at the counter. They cost several pounds each; an outlay that can sometimes be reduced by getting copies from the Registry Office in the district where the event was first recorded. In 1984 these cost at least £5 each.

          We systematically went through every volume since 1837 containing surnames beginning with the letter D. It was comparatively easy to spot the names Daggett, Daggit, Daget and so on, but we didn't realise until later that we should also have looked under Doggett and Duggett. It was when we could find no reference to our own marriage in 1958 that, in desperation, we turned to Doggett - and there it was!

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      Of course, to consult the total of something like 1750 lists of "D's" we had to make several visits to London. A total of 1830 Daggett entries were abstracted up to 1979 and kept for future reference; and this is a fairly uncommon surname! We noted 769 Births, 540 Marriages and 523 Deaths over the period of 142 years, spread all over the country. They covered areas from Exeter to Newcastle, but there were certain districts containing more Daggetts than other parts of the country. These included parts of Yorkshire (including Hull), the London area, Newcastle and Manchester; they became more widely dispersed as time advanced. The spelling varied, but by 1837 it had generally settled down into local variants. For instance, Daggatt was commonly found around Manchester, Daggitt in the Hull district as well as Beverley and parts of Cheshire, and Daggett elsewhere.

Public Record Office

      The ten -yearly national Census Returns can be examined when they are at least 100 years old. They take the form of the original books completed by the enumerators who called at each household. The information contained in them is invaluable; so far they cover the years 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871 and 1881. The original books vary in state of repair, and the standard of handwriting is very variable. Provided one has some idea of the street or parish where a person lived it is possible, with considerable patience, to find their exact address, age, place of birth and occupation.

      The Public Record Office in Portugal Street (near London's Chancery Lane) has a collection of microfilms for census returns from all parts of the country. Although there are 50 film-reading machines available to the public they are in constant use and it is necessary to wait for one to become vacant. Before that, however, one has to consult a rather complicated index system, fill in a requisition form with appropriate code numbers and then wait for the microfilm to be brought up from the depths. Then, having found a vacant microfilm reading machine - and noted how to operate it - there is no compulsion to leave until the task is finished.

      Many large libraries and some county record offices have such films for their own particular locality. There they can usually be consulted in less crowded conditions than in London and it is easier to find a relevant film because the selection is so much more restricted.

      The Public Record Office also has an enormous modern building at Kew. In it are kept extensive records of military and other official personnel and establishments. In this case it is necessary to write beforehand for a reader's ticket and also to have a pretty definite idea of what is to be searched for. The records are by no means complete particularly before about 1850 - but sometimes it is possible to find personal details of individuals who served in the armed forces and other government departments in previous centuries as well as the present one. It is rather an involved operation.After checking in at the reception desk and being given a searching look by the security attendant one goes upstairs to a very large room equipped with about forty octagonal tables, each with eight seats for visitors. First it is necessary to call at the counter at the side of the room in order to receive a seat number and a "bleeper". Having thus reserved a seat the next step is into the adjacent room where are shelf-upon-shelf of mysterious-looking large volumes labelled with cryptic numbers. There is an enquiry desk where one finds out which indexes to consult, and then after some hunting various interesting references will turn up.

      Armed with all relevant cross-references the next task is to find a vacant computer terminal in the same room. The necessary details are then tapped out on the small keyboard. This can be very confusing because the slightest mistake in the procedure necessitates a restart of the whole procedure. Having got the computer to accept the order at last, patience is required after returning to the first room and waiting for your documents to be produced. After five minutes or longer the personal bleeper will start bleeping faintly. This is your cue to go to the counter to collect the papers you want to examine.

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      After finishing with them you return them to the counter and repeat the whole process as often as you have time for. Finally, the bleeper has to be returned before you leave.

      Parish Registers

      Up till 1837 the only common sources of genealogical information are the parish registers or their transcripts, which are usually contemporary copies made for official purposes. The G.R.O. records will have shown which district may have contained the family in question. Reference to any of the published maps of parishes will enable a list to be drawn up of those to be consulted first. These ecclesiastical records are open to inspection in various places.

      The Society of Genealogists in Kensington has an extensive collection of copies of parish registers from all over the country which members of the public can examine on payment of a fee of the order of £8 per day (1983). Most original registers are no longer with the incumbent of each parish church but have been deposited centrally in each county - usually at the County Record Office attached to the main headquarters of the county council. Some authorities will allow a perusal of these originals but in the majority of cases it is copies that are easily available. Sometimes a charge is made. Many larger public libraries also have printed copies of the registers coming within their area. Sometimes only hand-written or typed transcripts are held, and the extent of indexes to family names varies. All of such copies introduce the risk of error and so in the most important instances it may be advisable to ask for an entry to be checked in the original register. Even these are not infallible because they were at the mercy of the parish clerk's competence!

      A common form of record available to the public is the microfilm. These films are usually copies either of the original registers or of transcripts written out at intervals for submission to the bishop. Illegibility or the difficulty of reading untidy ancient writing is compounded by the occasional section of a register being completely missing.Sometimes only one page has been lost or is badly stained, sometimes pages or entries are in the wrong order. Often the clerk would jot down the details of a marriage or a baptism on an odd piece of paper and then enter them later in the official register out of sequence. It is very rare to find that a microfilm has been indexed and so there is no short cut to tracing a family over a long period - each and every entry has to be scrutinised.

      In most offices microfilms are stored according to a simple reference system. But the first step is to reserve a microfilm reader - a sort of optical enlarger - for a few hours. It is best to find one away from direct daylight so that the images are sufficiently bright. These machines vary from place to place but they are all equipped with a couple of winding handles to enable different parts of the film to be viewed. Some have facilities for varying the degree of magnification and for increasing the brightness of the lamp. Most also have a simple adjustment for refocusing after the warmth in the machine has caused the film to move slightly.

      The original registers may date back to 1558 when most parishes began keeping these records. The condition of the earlier ones, say up to about 1750 or even 1800 varies tremendously. Some are perfectly legible and leave no doubt about the information contained. Others might be quite illegible because the writing was poor, because the ink has faded or because dampness and other deteriorating influences have damaged the page beyond all recognition. The amateur may also find the calligraphy of a former era difficult to decipher, but reference to any of the works on that subject, together with practice in reading old manuscripts, will help to overcome that problem.

      The microfilms of parish registers are variously produced by county councils and other interested organisations. The chief of these is the Church of Latter-day Saints of Salt Lake City.

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      These Mormons are greatly interested in the history of families and they have, for some years, been engaged in many countries (particularly Britain.) in carrying out a gigantic survey of such records. They have microfilmed an enormous number of parish registers or transcripts which they have then extracted, computerised and filmed on microfiches. The latter are sheets of film not much bigger than a postcard, each containing hundreds of references to alphabetically indexed family surnames. Each county has been treated separately. These micro-fiches are to be found in the reference departments of some large public libraries and county record offices, together with a suitable enlarging machine that enables them to be studied. In addition it is possible, for quite a small sum, to purchase printed copies of these enlarged records for permanent reference. The Mormons are in the process of updating the information (so far they have not included burials) by adding further parishes every two or three years. Again, resulting from the fact that these copies are some stages removed from the original registers, there are occasional errors and some duplication, questionable spellings and so on.

      In the past people were far less mobile than today; so, having located a parish in which a family resides, it can often prove possible to go back for several generations before finding no earlier entries of interest. It is then worth examining the registers of neighbouring parishes. In this way a whole area may need to be investigated and odd places even further afield may need looking at for specific events - particularly marriages where the bride may have come from some distance and would generally have been married in her own parish.

Other Sources

      Some of these are merely indexes to various aspects of parish records; others are of a purely secular nature. Local trade directories from about 1800 onward exist for many towns and villages. Land-owning families may have left a collection of estate papers and other legal documents which can be found in the appropriate county record office. Quarter Sessions records include references to all sorts of criminal proceedings, civil litigation and licences granted to innkeepers. Cemeteries may have indexed lists of burials. There are limited lists of marriages drawn up by Boyd for the period 1539-1837 in ten volumes, while Paver collected details of marriage licences between 1567-1714. Some libraries have an Index to families which have already been the subject of genealogical investigation. Others, such as Shrewsbury and York, have a good collection of local newspapers going back to before 1800. Another most important aid for the family historian is the collection of Wills that can be consulted in various places. They are often indexed and can produce useful particulars of the deceased person's relatives and friends. Some Wills have Inventories attached which are lists of their former owner's belongings drawn up by the executors.

      The Marriage Licences and their accompanying documents are sometimes held by county authorities or the local depository of church records. When available they will give the age and occupation of the parties concerned. Marriage certificates and entries in the parish register in more recent times are signed with the names of witnesses, often close relatives of the chief participants.

      Churchwardens' Account Books may provide further details of the life of an individual. They can give a clue to a person's occupation as well as an insight into the cost of various services and commodities in times past.

      Some county record offices have well-indexed catalogues of all sorts of legal documents in their area. Agreements between landowners and tenants, Apprenticeship indentures and many other transactions can be found. We have found the Public Library at Shrewsbury and the Wakefield County Archives Department very well equipped in this respect.

      The many Yorkshire offices that deal with historical matters publish from time to time booklets based on documents in their keeping, supplemented with material from national archives.Other counties may do likewise and have for sale catalogues of their own collections of records.

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      Most counties have at least one permanent antiquarian or archaeological society, the transactions of which can be found in libraries. For 20th century information it may be possible to consult early volumes of the telephone directories. The present-day distribution of surnames can, of course, be easily identified from these sources. In addition there are many national "single-name" societies and also county Family History societies, all of which are worthy of support and are very helpful to the researcher.

      We have been fortunate enough to spend a large part of our annual holidays for some years in various buildings housing historic records of Yorkshire.

      The North Yorkshire County Record Office at Northallerton has provided the main sources for our information, for here are to be found copies of most of the parish records of that area. Northallerton Public Library also has a collection of printed transcripts, a number of books on the history of Yorkshire and a copy of the Mormon microfiche for the County.

      In York City we have visited the Minster Library and spent very many days in the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research. This is housed in the ancient Hall of St.Anthony's which is now part of the University of York. Here original wills, marriage licences and other documents can be examined, and there is an extensive collection of transcripts of parish registers, mainly for the southern half of the county, either in print or on microfilms. The Borthwick has its own collection of books and journals in its Gurney Library, including transactions of historical and ecclesiastical societies from all over the country. Finally, York City Library has duplicate copies of many of the county's parish register transcripts as well as its own large collection of specialised books. The Local Studies section of the Reference Library has a complete issue of annual volumes from local history societies that refer to York and its environs.

Some Personal Comments on Family History Research

      Having spent about ten years researching the antecedents of our joint maternal sides of our families, we have now been engaged in tracing the Daggetts for the past six years. Soon after we started this latter we were delighted to make contact with John Douglas Daggett of Reigate who had already spent many years in amassing his own family history. Although we have been unable to find any link between our two families he willingly supplied me with a great deal of information that he had collected incidentally and which has been of enormous help in my own studies.

      The Christian names of individuals can provide unexpected links. In former times (before about 1800) such names were limited usually to one per person. They tended, and still do to a lesser extent, to run in families. If there were more than one family with the same surname in the same place at the same time it is sometimes possible to separate them from one another by testing the hypothesis that children tended to be named after their parents or grandparents or some other close relation.

      One is often asked whether one has found any "skeletons in the cupboard". The answer is likely to be "Yes" in going back over several generations in any family. Our forebears were no more and no less virtuous than present-day people and we cannot be blamed for their indiscretions! The amount of personal detail concerning the lives of our ancestors (except in the case of more "important" persons) is rather sparse and so most of their private lives remains unknown to us.

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THE BORTHWICK INSTITUTE OF HISTORICAL RESEARCH is a research institute of the University of York specialising in the study of ecclesiastical history, in particular the administrative and legal history of ecclesiastical institutions within the northern province.

      The records of the archbishopric of York, deposited in the Institute, date from the pontificate of Walter de Gray (1215-1255) and concern both the diocesan and the provincial activities of the archbishops. The Institute also has custody of the Church Commissioners' records for the secular estates of the diocese of York, mainly in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire; the probate records of the diocese; the archives from Bishopthorpe Palace; parish records from many of the churches within the modern archdeaconry of York; and a few private deposits of a non-ecclesiastical nature. The contents of the archives undoubtedly provide a great fund of material for the history of the North of England during 700 years and are a valuable source of information for ecclesiastical, social, economic and local historians. Futher details of these records can be found in the Guide to the archive collections in the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research published by the Institute.

      The Institute's reference library, the Gurney Library, which is available for use by students, contains approximately 10,000 books and is a specialised collection with particular emphasis on church history and adminstration and canon law, having additional sections on archive administration, palaeography and diplomatic. There is also a growing research library of microfilms.

      The Institute publishes the following series:

Borthwick Papers: studies concerned with the ecclesiastical history of the north of England and other aspects of the history or historiography of Yorkshire (under the imprint of St Anthony's Press).

Borthwick Texts and Calendars: editions, calendars and handlists designed to make the archives more widely known.

Borthwick Wallets: guides to the handwriting and content of records.

Borthwick Institute Bulletin: an annual publication containing an annual report and articles on aspects of ecclesiastic alarchives.

Occasional publications.

Catalogues are available on request.

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      It is quite common to find people re-marrying several times as a result of general poor health or epidemics leading to the early death of one spouse. We frequently meet cases of children being born less than nine months after the marriage of their parents. We also find parish registers giving the baptism of a child whose unmarried mother is given as the sole known parent; sometimes a suggestion is made as to the probable father. In our own family there is a sudden break in the male line which shows that we are not, speaking strictly in a patronymic society, really Daggetts at all! My ancestor William IV was born in 1774; his mother was Elizabeth Daggett (her maiden name) but there is no record of who the father might have been. It appears that Elizabeth did eventually marry some years later. We thought that a similar state of affairs had existed when an earlier William Daggett was baptised in 1700 as the son of Ann Daggett. According to one copy of the transcripts her husband had died two years previously, which led to grave doubts as to the legitimacy of the son. But later reference to the photocopy of the original transcripts cleared up this point because Ann's husband really died only four months before the new baby arrived. This piece of research was further confused because of the system of reckoning dates at that time.

      A trap for the unwary - and a complication in noting dates - is the calendar change that took place in 1752. This change, from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, was effected in the Latin European countries in1582 and some other countries adopted the scheme at various intervals after that. Some nations in Eastern Europe and in the Far East made the change as recently as the 20th century, so Britain was by no means the last to go over to the New Style, as it was called. In September 1752 it was necessary to drop eleven days altogether so as to bring our reckoning into line with that of our neighbours. Before then the ecclesiastical year used to be numbered from 25th March. The first three months, January, February and March were counted as the end of the previous year.

      In other words, instead of each year starting on 1st January it started on 25th March. So that an event dated say 5th February l698 would have actually occurred, according to the New Style, on 5th February 1699. The 5th April or later month in any year would have corresponded with our present dating. It is, therefore; rather disconcerting to find that, as an example, a child was born on 20th December 1720, only to be buried later on 7th February 1720! There was, of course, much opposition to the New Style because people thought they had been cheated out of eleven days of their life! Frederick, in "The Pirates of Penzance" suffered similarly when he found that he had been born on 29th February. He thought he was 21, but he was told he had passed only five birthdays!

      There are some events that seem never to have been recorded at all or perhaps they took place in a parish well outside the area of our investigations. For the appropriate year or periods we have searched the registers of something like 100 Yorkshire parishes, mostly within the area between York and Northallerton, and to a large extent east and west of that line. Any clue to a possible event elsewhere has also been followed up. For instance, at one time we had a hunch that Filey might be the seat of an early William in our family line. That coastal region of Yorkshire - as well as the Hull district and some others - was the home of several concentrations of our namesakes (with alternative spellings) but we found they did not fit into our own line.

      Now this account is not exhaustive; it merely mentions most of the facilities we ourselves have made use of.

      It has been found that, until this century, people had been in the habit of quoting their age to the nearest even figures, or even in some cases to the nearest round ten. Taking this fact in conjunction with the loose way in which some transcripts have been prepared (i.e.without always knowing whether dates are Old or New Style), some latitude is necessary in translating the apparent year of an event unless other adjacent entries help to relate them. It must be remembered, too, that a baptism did not always take place immediately after the birth of a child. Although only a very few days usually separated the two happenings, it could sometimes be some weeks - or even years in rare cases - before a child was baptised.

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Next Chapter 2

      The information we have gathered is the best that is, available at present and is generally all that can be found. However, at some future time it may become possible to extract even more detail from illegible sources or, who knows, some entirely new fount of historical information may be found. In that case a future researcher may be able to substantiate our own conclusions or, conceivably, come up with an entirely different interpretation. For the present, though, we are satisfied that the present account is the best that can be done with our present knowledge.

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