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.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

And Then There Were Two

Ann stood before the tiny casket, disbelief washing over her as she watched the vicar close the lid over the gray face of her baby girl, so perfect in form, so perfect in loveliness. Having had a difficult time recovering from the death of her toddling, round-cheeked James just two years earlier, Ann failed to control the tears coursing down her cheeks. Her remaining two children wiggled and squirmed, wanting to explore the giant playground that was the inside of the Holy Trinity Church. Four-year-old Alfred pulled at her skirts and one-year-old John bounced on her hip.
Alfred stood next to her, clenching his jaw, his knuckles white and his fists clenched. His chest rose and fell with unusual rapidity. The vicar’s words had infuriated her husband. John Davies was generally so kind. Present at so many of their life-changing events, Vicar Davies had married them, had performed the baptism of Alfred, and of James and of John and had helped them bury James. How could the vicar be so callous as to remind two grieving parents that their precious infant daughter had not been baptized? God had not allowed baby Jane to live and had not given them enough time to get her baptized. Ann questioned bitterly this precept of church doctrine. Surely His heavenly system was better than what John Davies had presented…

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Young Motherhood

By the time Ann Morris was 21, she was a newlywed and the mother of an infant son.
By the time Ann Morris was 22, she was a wife and the mother of two young sons.
By the time Ann Morris was 25, she was a wife and the mother of three young sons:

Alfred               baptized 29 May 1823
James              baptized   9 Nov 1824
John                baptized 20 Nov 1827

There is a three year gap between James and John. What about the have-a-baby-every-two-years rule? The baptismal records were searched and there were no other children listed for Alfred and Ann during those years.

In the parish records book, just after the baptism records are the parish burial records.
(Cue up tense, anxious music)

What will be discovered in the parish burial records between 1823 and 1827…

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Previously on Saga Seeker

To recap, we have learned from primary sources that:

Alfred and Ann were married in Coventry in1823.
Their son John was born in Coventry in 1827.

Yes, but how do we know that Ann was pregnant on the day of her marriage?

Back in 1820s England, it was customary for couples to have babies every two years. So it would be logical that John was not Alfred and Ann’s first child. Because they were married in Holy Trinity Parish in Coventry and were still living in Holy Trinity Parish in Coventry three years later as indicated on John’s baptismal record, looking at the Coventry Holy Trinity Parish bishop’s transcripts from 1822-1827 for other children of Alfred and Ann would be a great way to spend 30 minutes. And since the microfilm of the parish records for those years and that location is already cued up, let’s roll!

Upon scrolling through the parish record, we find this:
Church of England, James Barker baptism, 9 November 1824, Coventry, Warwickshire bishop’s transcript for Holy Trinity Parish, FHL microfilm 0502211

And we find this:
Church of England, Alfred Barker baptism, 29 May 1823, Coventry, Warwickshire bishop’s transcript for Holy Trinity Parish,, accessed October 2011.

Aren’t parish records lovely, what with the parent and child’s names recorded so clearly?
These two parish baptism records reveal that:

baby James was baptised on 9 Nov 1824
baby Alfred was baptised on 29 May 1823

Alfred and Ann were married four months earlier on 27 January 1823.

Moment of Clarity Back in 1820s England, marriage was viewed as a series of events involving the engagement, the announcement, the ceremony and consummation. Remember in Sense and Sensibility when everyone was so worried that there was “an understanding” between Mary Ann and Mr. Willoughby, and when Mr. Ferris had to continue on with his marriage to Miss Steele because of a secret engagement even though he no longer loved her? That “understanding” and that secret engagement was just as binding in a court of law as was the marriage license. Because of this, the ceremony was viewed as just the final event and the engagement was as big a marriage event as was the actual marriage ceremony. Pre-marriage-ceremony consummation was widely practiced, as seen in the parish records where so many babies were born shortly after their parents’ marriage.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Saga of the Search

Ann was pregnant? Before she was married? How do we know?

Well, next to Alfred and Ann’s grave markers in the Willard Cemetery is the tombstone of J. N. Barker.
Grave marker of John Newman Barker, Willard City Cemetery, Willard, Box Elder, Utah.

As you can see, the inscription states that John (his full name is on the other side of the tombstone) was the son of Alfred Great and Ann Morris Barker. Conducting a search at in Historical Records for John Newman Barker (life event: birth; birthplace: Coventry; year: 1827), brings us to this page:

At the bottom of the column it says “source film number,” meaning this information came from an extracted record stored on a microfilm. But there is no way to click on the film number to see the source of the extracted record (are you reading this, I.T. guys at FamilySearch…). Thankfully, overcoming great obstacles is what saga seekers do best. So, copy the film number, go to FamilySearch catalog and under “Search” click the “Film Number” option and paste in the film number.

Sure enough. This film contains a bishop’s transcript for Holy Trinity parish in Coventry for the year John Newman was baptized. Shazam! As much fun as it would be to drive back to the Salt Lake City Family History Library, let's see if BYU has the film. Go to, click on “FHL Films and Fiche at BYU”.

Paste in the film number and find that BYU has a copy. Yeah!
And this is what was on microfilm 502270:

Church of England, John Barker baptism, 20 November 1827, Coventry, Warwickshire bishop’s transcript for Holy Trinity Parish, FHL microfilm 0502211

Look at all the GLORIOUS information found on this original record – baptismal date, parent’s names, abode, profession and vicar. I love the Church of England for requiring registration of infant baptisms  – and in preprinted books!!

How does this record lead us back to Ann’s predicament on the day of her marriage?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

And They Lived Happily Ever After

Ann fastened her heavy wool cloak under her chin. She hated to cover her wedding dress, a beautiful periwinkle silk with short puffed sleeves and a feathery shawl borrowed from her sister Charlotte. Worried that the dress would get spoiled in the short walk to the church, Ann glanced out the frosted square window and noted the steel gray sky and the large snowflakes floating down to the muddy puddles icing up on the cobbled street.

But no matter. Alfred was waiting for her. Perhaps not even a little mud would ruin the day. After a night of fitful sleep, Ann felt sluggish, and she feared her father’s pinched frown. She wished her sweet mother were still alive. She would have understood.

Ann fingered the silk ribbon before fixing it in her hair. She had met Alfred because of silk ribbons. She smiled thinking about the summer of working side by side with him at the mill. Alfred could weave silk ribbon better than anyone.

A kick from a little unseen foot jolted Ann back to the present. She pressed her hand against her swelling belly and told her unborn little one to behave. This was going to be a big day for mummy and papa…
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
What?? She was pregnant? I thought in the olden days people didn't engage in premarital hanky panky. Such falderal wasn’t tolerated during the reign of King George IV. Or was it…

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Goin’ to the Chapel and We’re Gonna Get Married

Church of England , Alfred Barker marriage, 27 January 1823, Coventry, Warwickshire bishop’s transcript for Holy Trinity Parish, FHL microfilm 0502210

Analyzing primary source documents is like the butter fudge frosting on Magelby’s Chocolate Tower Cake – the best part of genealogical research. Alfred and Ann’s marriage record reveals these elements:

Age:  From their grave markers we know that Alfred was born in 1795 and Ann was born in 1802, so Alfred was 28 years old and Ann was 21 when they were married.

Residence:  To get married in Holy Trinity Parish in Coventry, Warwickshire both had to be residents of that parish for three weeks.

Status:  This was Alfred’s first marriage (he is a bachelor) and Ann’s first marriage (she is a spinster).

Banns:  They were married by banns, meaning that for three Sundays before their wedding, their engagement was announced in their home parish, eliminating any impediments.

Literacy:  Because this is a bishop’s transcript, Alfred’s signature is in the transcriber’s         hand. Ann marked with an X, indicating she did not know how to write.

Witnesses:  Wm Gregor was probably a parish clerk, appearing as a witness at other January marriages in that parish. John Bright’s identity is unknown. Perhaps he was a friend.

John Davies: Standing before the high alter in the Coventry Holy Trinity Church, John Davies married Alfred and Ann amid family and friends.

What the bride was wearing: If only the bishop’s transcript had a line for that, then we’d really be somewhere.

Where Alfred and Ann were married Holy Trinity Church Check this out!

Thursday, January 26, 2012


In this picture we are approaching the mecca of all saga seekers:


The stomach quivers and the palms sweat with excitement that builds with every step that brings one closer to the repository of all genealogical repositories.

Saga Seekers have been known to plan entire summer vacations around this facility. Saga Seekers have been known to enter this building and not emerge for hours, days and even weeks, famished and sleep-deprived, but clutching to their breast--primary source documents!

 We hope for the same as we enter these doors.

And make our way down, down, down, into the deep recesses of the library and onto the British Isles floor. We make our way past the friendly faces at the information desk and over to the “stacks”. We know and understand this official terminology because we are saga seekers. Our courage does not fail us as we wonder at the immensity of the microfilm collection,

understanding that each drawer could contain information about our people. We train our focus on the task at hand, finding 0502210.

And here it is, in this drawer!

Now the anticipation builds. We stake out our favorite microfilm machine affectionately named Clarabelle,

ignoring the gaping mouth of the terrifying contraption on the other side of the isle,

and thread the reels. Yep, this is the right one.

Spin and spin and spin the handle until we come upon the 1823 marriage section of the bishop’s transcript. And there it is, larger than life: Alfred and Ann’s marriage record!

The realization that Alfred and Ann were real, living, breathing people who walked on the earth and left behind records of their life thrills the saga seeker clear down to the core.

Now, what does this record tell us about them?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Clues, Magic Numbers and the IGI

In the movie National Treasure, Nicholas Cage goes into a great and spacious building and steals a document, one that will give him clues to finding the treasure. We are going to do the same thing, only happily, the documents in the building we are going to can be copied.

But before attempting to steal the Declaration of Independence, Ben and Riley come up with a plan. We must do the same.

THE PLAN:  Look in the IGI to see if any records for Alfred and Ann have been extracted.

Using the IGI through Classic,

(To get to Classic, click the blue "previous site" button on At Classic, click “Search Records” tab, click “Advanced Search,” click “International Genealogical Index” tab.)

we get this:

Clicking on item #6 produces this:

Shazam! Here is a film number for an extracted marriage record. Clicking on 0502210 reveals:

The number 0502210 is a call number for a microfilm containing the Bishop’s transcripts for Holy Trinity Church in Coventry from 1662-1848. Didn’t that monument in the Willard City Cemetery say that Alfred and Ann were married in 1823 in Trinity Church Coventry? Perhaps the microfilm will contain an original record of Ann and Alfred’s marriage! Write down that magic number: 0502210 and Off We Go!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Without a Doubt

Parked right next to Ann Morris's grave marker in the peaceful Willard City Cemetery is one of those tower monuments, a piece of carefully crafted stone that rises five feet or more, its shadow blending in with the shadows of the Rocky Mountains that soar above the cemetery. This tower has engravings on all four sides,  and this one in particular catches the eye:

The words confirm that Alfred Great Barker was indeed the husband of Ann Morris, married Feb. 27, 1823 at Trinity Church Coventry. A quick search for Ann Morris on in the public member trees produced this photo:

While the public member tree did not cite a source for this photo, adding flesh and eyes and hair, and a prim little sour expression to the name on the grave marker adds an exciting, new dimension.  Who was Ann Morris and her husband Alfred Great Barker? What peaks and valleys did this couple live through together? Were they madly in love or merely tolerant of one another? Are there ways and means for finding clues to fill in the information of their lives? Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Girl Next Door

If we pan out from Alfred's grave marker, we find something very significant. Right next door, or rather, right next grave, is a similar grave marker, that of Ann Morris.

Grave marker of Ann Morris Barker, Willard City Cemetery, Willard, Box Elder, Utah

Ann's grave marker tells us that she was the wife of A.G. Barker, that she died 24 years after Alfred and that she was born at Norwich, England. Because of the proximity to Alfred's grave, the assumption can be made that "A.G." on Ann's marker refers to Alfred Great. But is there a way to be sure? Stay tuned...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The End of the Story

Although Julie Andrews sang that starting at the very beginning is a very good place to start, in the case of Alfred Great Barker, starting at the end will be better. Here was the end for Alfred:

What this grave marker reveals is that June was a significant month for Alfred. He was born June 3rd 1795 in Northampton, England and died some 78 years later on 8 June 1873. Because this charming grave marker was located in the Willard City Cemetery off of Box Elder County's "fruit highway" in northern Utah, the assumption can be made that he died somewhere close by and then was buried in Willard, Box Elder, Utah.

Stay tuned to discover who was buried right next door...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Saga: More than a game

The summer National Treasure was released on DVD, the movie showed in backyards across my neighborhood. Sitting under the stars on a big picnic blanket with a bowl of buttered popcorn watching Nicolas Cage run through the streets of Philadelphia with the Declaration of Independence strapped to his back was thrilling. A story about treasure, history and family is hard to beat. Which is why seeking after the saga of the family is so much fun. What is a saga? Isn't that a video game? Oh no, my friend, saga is so much more.

So stay tuned as we strap on our backs the saga of the Alfred Great Barker family and run through the streets of time to find the hidden encryption, the decaying document and the ambiguous artifact that will piece together the glory that is this ordinary family.