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?