Friday, March 9, 2012

St. Michaels Cathedral

St Michaels Cathedral in Coventry, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On 14 November 1940, the Germans began Operation Moonlight Sonata, which began what the people of Coventry called The Blitz. By the time it was over, the city had been almost entirely destroyed, including St Michaels Cathedral. This building was important to Alfred and Ann. On the 1861 census, Alfred and Ann and their children were living in St Michaels parish. And according totheir granddaughter, Mary Barker Edwards,  Alfred, Ann and three of their children "were singers in that great cathedral, in the choir." She said that Ann was "a good soprano and he a strong bass."
Sky view of St Micael's Cathedral in Coventry, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

After the Blitz, the city decided to leave St. Michaels as a monument to the horrific events of World War II. I’m glad they did. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Swanswell Gate

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a saga seeker is reconstructing what life was like for those we are researching. As saga seekers we must always be reminding ourselves to cast off the world as we know it and try to understand the world of the past. One of the ways we do this is by studying the community in which our research subject lived.

Alfred and Ann lived in Coventry, England for nearly fifty years.

Alfred and Ann got married in Coventry. They had their babies in Coventry. They buried their babies in Coventry. They made a living in Coventry. They educated their children in Coventry. They slept, prepared food, washed their clothes, worshipped, walked, breathed, and cried in Coventry.

So what can we learn about Coventry?

Coventry was nearly flattened during World War II, so the number of structures surviving from Alfred and Ann’s day are few.

Swanswell Gate, Coventry

Alfred and Ann were living at Swanswell Terrace when two-year-old James and baby Jane died. This is Swanswell Gate. I like to imagine that Alfred and Ann and their children knew this gate well. The wall that surrounded Coventry during medieval days was gone by Alfred and Ann’s day, but Coventry had not grown past the boundaries created by the wall so the roads still had to go through or past the gates. Can you see Ann taking her remaining children for a walk, little John asking her about that funny old tower and Ann telling him stories of Kings of England passing through that gate flanked with their guards and their grandeur. After all, the times may have changed, but surely motherhood and storytelling have stayed the same.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Kind of Town, Cov-en-try is...

Can you hear Frank Sinatra belting out “My kind of town, Chicago is…”

Can you hear Alfred Barker belting out “Myyyy kind of town, Cov-en-try is…” 

After all, he and Ann lived in Coventry for nearly fifty years.

Where is Coventry???

Coventry is located in the county of Warwick which is part of the Midlands region of England. As you can see, Coventry is happily situated between the most important locations in all of England: Downtown Abbey, Milton and Pemberly. Did Alfred and Ann ever visit Lord and Lady Crowley, John and Margaret Thornton or Mr and Mrs Darcy? One can certainly hope so.

During the middle ages, Coventry was a hip and happening place due to the great wealth brought on by the cloth trade. Coventry housed queens, hid kings, and was the location of intrigue. When Alfred and Ann married in the 1820s, Coventry had lost its luster but was still a busy town. Saga seekers love how this 17th century travel writer Celia Fiennes described Coventry:

"Coventry stands on the side of a pretty high hill. The spire and steeple of one of the churches is very high and is thought the third highest in England. In the same churchyard stands another large church which is something unusual, two such great churches together. Their towers and the rest of the churches and high buildings make the town appear very fine. The streets are broad and well paved with small stones."[1]

Sounds like my kind of town.

[1] “Some Pre-Stevens History of Coventry Weavers,” Stevengraphs Bookmarks and Postcards, (accessed February 2012).

Monday, February 27, 2012

What is a ribbon weaver?

Have you ever felt lost in a crowd?

Alfred and Ann worked as ribbon weavers in a town crowded with ribbon weavers. By the end of the 1840s, half of Coventry worked as ribbon weavers.[1]

Silk ribbons were hot, hot, hot fashion items during the 19th century. Used in clothing, shoes and furniture, silk ribbons were produced on a loom. Coventry was filled with looms, being one of the largest silk ribbon production centers in all of England. Looms were owned by individuals and operated on the third floor of the home in a glass-roofed “topshop” making ribbon weaving a cottage industry. The ‘Great Masters’ brought silk from France. The ‘undertaker’ prepared the silk and acted as a middle man, giving the prepared silk to the weavers. The weaver weaved the silk into ribbons, receiving two thirds of the undertaker’s money. Entire families worked in the manufacturing process, and according to the 1841 census, so did Alfred Barker’s. 

[1] Amie Wiberly, “Some Background History,” Woven Threads Project, (accessed February 2012).

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Snapshot of 1841

Thirteen years after the death of their baby girl Jane, we find Alfred and Ann still living in Coventry. Their address within the town had changed, as well as their family.

On the census, Alfred was 48 and Ann was 40. Living with them was John who was 15 and a ribbon weaver. The newest members of the family were
Thomas            10 years old, not born in Warwickshire
Martha             6 years old, born in Warwickshire
Ann                  3 years old, born in Warwickshire
Rosetta            6 months, born in Warwickshire

Additional exciting details in the census about Alfred and Ann and their family:

John had survived childhood.
Alfred supported his family by working as a ribbon weaver.
The family was living on Brick Kiln Lane in St Michael’s Parish in Coventry.
The oldest son Alfred was absent on the day of the census.
There is a four year gap between Thomas and Martha.
Unlike his other siblings, Thomas was not born in the county of Warwick.

Imbedded in this census was negative evidence about James (who died at age 2) and baby Jane. The negative evidence was their absence from the census, insinuating that those two burial records could indeed have been about Alfred and Ann’s children. If James and Jane had lived, they may have been on the census. It’s a stretch, I know. More evidence is needed.

Monday, February 20, 2012

I will always love you

No, this is not a post about a singer who had an incredible voice and sang a song called I Will Always Love You. It is however about a deep and abiding love all saga seekers have for one particular primary source. I think it is safe to say that we saga seekers are madly, hopelessly, head over heels, crazy in love with it. Our hearts skip a beat, our heads become dizzy and the hairs on the back of our necks tingle with excitement just at the sight of it.

Of which primary source do I speak?

Oh how I love thee census. Let me count the ways:
A census is a snapshot in time.
A census reveals juicy, delectable tidbits of information.
A census gives us names.
A census gives us birth dates and places.
A census gives us relationships.
A census gives us occupation, residence, literacy, wealth.

I could go on and on forever about this true love.

And here, for your viewing pleasure, is the 1841 Snapshot In Time of Alfred and Ann and their family:

1841 England Census, Alfred Barker household, Warwickshire, Coventry, district 8, folio 35, page 25,, accessed September 2011.

Each piece of information about the Alfred Barker household glitters like diamonds and rubies and sapphires and emeralds, sparkling and shining in the warm rays of glorious sunshine, as beautiful as a finely crafted piece of jewelry.

Phew. Such poetry about a census.

Stay tuned for analysis of this treasure…

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Just the Facts Ma’am

I know, I know. The previous blog post was pure fiction and aspiring professional genealogists should just stick to the facts. But this aspiring genealogist imagines that these subjects of research, these people discovered in primary sources and attached to impersonal dates and places, were living lives and experiencing emotions not too unlike those experienced in today’s modern world. Every now and then it is fun to think past the raw data and do a bit of storytelling, helping those not thrilled by genealogy to feel the awe of the astonishing facts that we saga seekers find in family history. At RootsTech, Ian Tester proclaimed that family historians are craftsman, and encouraged saga seekers to take raw material and add creativity, “transforming the bare facts of genealogy into the astonishing tale of you and your family.”

So here are the primary sources backing up the “astonishing tale” of Ann and Alfred’s saga presented in the previous blog post.

This burial entry was found in the Holy Trinity Parish bishop’s transcript in the city of Coventry in the county of Warwick:

Church of England, James Barker burial, 19 October 1826, Coventry, Warwickshire bishop’s transcript for Holy Trinity Parish, FHL microfilm 0502211.

And so was this one:

Church of England, Jane Barker burial, , 23 October 1828, Coventry, Warwickshire bishop’s transcript for Holy Trinity Parish,, accessed October 2011.

The shortcoming of the burial records is the limited information given about the deceased, so only presumptions can be made that these children were Alfred and Ann’s. Future research will include looking for additional references to these children as well as looking for other Barker families residing in the Holy Trinity Parish at that time.

Suffice it to say, one-month-old Jane was probably buried before she was baptized, and James’s age at his death lined up with his baptism date.

So Alfred and Ann’s saga fills out more. They were married in that big, beautiful church and four years later had buried half of their children beside that big, beautiful church.