BSO#1 – AFFHO Congress2015 – Day 3 – Part 1


Another day dawned, the birds were singing…and I’m afraid I decided to sleep in and miss the morning Keynote address which was “Meeting people at war: writing war on the home front” by Michael McKernan. Ah well. The rest of the day was just as informative as the previous days and once again, I’ve had to split my notes into two parts. So let’s get crackin’…

Session 1: Bankrupts and insolvents in mid-19th century England – records and sources – Sue Reid

Sue Reid is a very experienced family history researcher who is the Vice-President of the Queensland Family History Society and currently the Queensland Councillor for AFFHO.

I was really looking forward to this session as I knew we had a few bankrupts in our family tree back in Britain. I already have a few mysterious newspaper notices but don’t have the foggiest idea about what they actually mean. So it was with great anticipation that I went to this session hoping that all would he revealed…

The first thing I learned was the difference between “bankruptcy” and “insolvency”.

  • Bankruptcy: A legal process applied to a person unable to pay their debts.
  • Insolvency: Inability of a debtor to pay their debt

The main difference between the two was that bankrupts were not imprisoned while insolvent debtors could be imprisoned. Bankrupts also had to be a trader which led to some insolvents being rather creative with the truth when describing their occupation so they could avoid prison.

What was really scary was that an insolvent could be imprisoned indefinitely which could sometimes mean for life. Often, the insolvent debtor, being the so-called main “breadwinner” of the family, would take their family to live in the prison with them. Such situations were mentioned frequently in nineteenth century literature. I remember reading historical novels which mentioned ne’er-do-well family members being rescued from the “sponging house”.

Certainly, it was a well-known theme used by Charles Dickens in his novels. Sue encouraged us frequently throughout the talk to read one of Charles Dickens’ stories which tells the tale of a commercial traveller who became an insolvent debtor and was imprisoned. The story gives a clear and disturbing insight into just how easy it was to fall into insolvency as well as the living conditions of the debtor’s prison. You can find the three-part story online in the book “All the Year Round: A weekly journal” (1867, VOL. XVIII) on pages 92, 105 & 136.

The laws started changing in 1813, with the Insolvent Debtors (England) Act which created the Court for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors. This was because the prisons were too overcrowded with people imprisoned for debt! The court closed down in 1861 and, finally, in 1869, they stopped imprisoning people for debt completely.

Sue went into more detail regarding the legal processes and how debts could be settled. Such as where courts set payments, called “dividends”, which are to be made by a debtor. For example, a dividend could be set as two shillings and six pence in the pound to be paid to creditors. Eureka! My newspaper notices mystery solved! I was wondering what they meant by “dividends”. Here’s one of the notices:


Bankrupt Dividend Notice for Samuel Hill of Topsham, Devon. “Classified ads.” London Gazette [London, England] Jul. 21, 1789 – Jul. 25, 1789: n.p. Issue 13116. 17th and 18th Century Burney Collection (Gale Group).; Downloaded 25 April 2014 via National Library of Australia online access.

On an interesting note, Sue mentioned that it was common for bankrupts and insolvents to escape their debts by moving to various French ports. One of Sue’s ancestors instead chose Jersey. There are many famous examples of this, including George “Beau” Brummell, the ultimate authority of men’s fashion in Regency England, who exiled himself to France to avoid debts and prison in England. So, if your ancestor disappears for a time, you might consider whether they temporarily or permanently exiled themselves.

Sue went into a lot of other important and interesting detail. However, you can make a start by looking up the two main sources of information for finding your bankrupts and insolvents; namely articles and notices in newspapers (mainly The Times and the London Gazette) and The National Archives (UK). Check out the TNA (UK) 0nline guide to Bankrupts and Insolvent Debtors for more information.

Session 2: A different kind of DNA talk – Colleen Fitzpatrick

I know, I know…Another DNA talk? But this was Colleen Fitzpatrick! After her previous thoroughly enjoyable talk, I couldn’t resist.

Colleen went into detail about DNA and genetic genealogy which made a lot of things that Kerry Farmer talked about in her talk a lot clearer. It was incredibly helpful. I know it was probably very basic stuff but everyone kept talking about DNA letters (e.g. AG and so on) and I didn’t know what it meant. Now I know, for example, that A is adenine and G is guanine which are some of the molecules that form part of DNA.

Anyway, Colleen has a very relaxed and humorous style and is very adept at explaining quite complex subjects at a simple level that made it much easier for us newbies to understand. And have some fun along the way.

Colleen showed us various methods to help manage and analyse your DNA results and matches. For example, Colleen is the administrator for the Fitzpatrick DNA project with about 250 members. With this many DNA sets to analyse, Colleen uses Cladograms to represent the Y-DNA results so as to make it easier to visualise how various people may be related. Using this method, Colleen was able to group certain results together and link different groups of Fitzpatricks geographically which would otherwise have been difficult to identify.

Overall, it was a great talk and confirmed for me that genetic genealogy is basically a full-time project in itself!

If you would like to read more about Colleen’s work, check out her blog called Identifinders’ Blog.

Session 3: Mapping our families – putting them in their place – Cora Num

Cora’s talk was about using modern mapping resources to enhance your family history research. Maps help to give context and depth to your ancestors’ lives.

Cora listed lots of different useful sources, many of which can be found on her website, Coraweb,  and are well worth investigating. In particular, Cora reminded me about the National Library of Australia’s Map Collection which includes “over 600,000 maps from early European charts to current mapping of Australia, in print and digital form”! What a fantastic resource!

Another example is Clare GenMaps which is a great online mapping tool for those with an interest in research located in County Clare, Ireland. You can use this tool, for example, to overlay a number of different types of historical maps of County Clare, such as the 1842 Ordnance Survey Maps, onto modern maps. Useful for identifying townland boundaries and links to lots of other historical and archaeology information on the site.

One of my husband’s ancestors listed a different address every time they had a baby and their business address in the city directory also kept changing. I mapped out all the addresses on an old map of the city and found that the moves were not as dramatic as I first thought. Each move was within a few kilometres of each other but it was fascinating to see it all mapped out. Why did they move so often? Another question for my “to do” list.

Did you have ancestors who loved to roam the world? Or were, perhaps, a little unwise with their finances?

Title Image: “OrteliusWorldMap” by Abraham Ortelius Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

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