Family History Matters 
 The blog of the GSV 



New group for Victorian and Tasmanian family history and old maps of South West England

Bill Barlow
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The eight discussion circles convened by the GSV include one on South West England (SWERD) and a new one for Victoria and Tasmania. These Discussion Circles are a great way to share your queries and pool your discoveries.


The Victoria and Tasmania Discussion Circle has just been started. It meets monthly on the 4th Friday of the month at 10.30 am to 11.30 am and is convened by Ruthie Wirtz. Their next meetings are on Fri 28 June and then Fri 26 July. All GSV Members can take part at no cost - it is part of your membership benefits. Ruthie can be contacted at



[ Courtesy of Libraries Tasmania Online Collection Item no. PH30/1/2067 ].


At the May meeting of the South West England Research and Discussion Circle (SWERD) they explored the maps of that region. Stephen Hawke, SWERD convenor, reminds us that:


'Maps are a vital (but sometimes under-used) resource for our family history research. Accessing a series of maps produced over decades or centuries is an important part of understanding your ancestors' 'places'. They can reveal changes over time that would have impacted on your ancestors' lives.  For example, in Somerset, a mere forty year span between two maps (1782 and 1822) held at GSV gives evidence of the draining of the Levels, the rapid development of coal mines and the growth of towns. Other features of maps such as new roads, turnpikes, canals, railroads etc. provide clues as to how your ancestors moved around the county or further afield. Estate and tithe maps may help pinpoint your ancestors' homes and the land they worked. 


Where were the markets, the pubs, and the schools, the cemetery used by your ancestors?  Where were the mills, mines, ports and factories that provided work for your ancestors?  A little delving and study of old maps can answer many questions and open up new ideas for researching your ancestors' lives.' 


In other recent meetings they have discussed the Widows of Cornwall, Devon & Exeter Industrial & Reform Schools, Dorset Machine Breakers, local history resources and the Bristol Hearth Tax.

SWERD next meets on 12 July.

Moonrakers and Bristolians, SWERD is expanding.

Bill Barlow
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Breaking news!

The very popular GSV Discussion Circle - SWERD (South West England Research) - is expanding its area of interest to include Bristol and the landlocked county of Wiltshire. Bristol is a populous city and ceremonial county. 


'The local nickname for Wiltshire natives is apparently Moonrakers. This originated from a story of smugglers who managed to foil the local Excise men by hiding their alcohol, possibly French brandy in barrels or kegs, in a village pond. When confronted by the excise men they raked the surface to conceal the submerged contraband with ripples, and claimed that they were trying to rake in a large round cheese visible in the pond, really a reflection of the full moon. The officials took them for simple yokels or mad and left them alone, allowing them to continue with their illegal activities.' (source: Wikipedia)

So anyone with links to Bristolians and Moonrakers will find this Discussion Group, which meets next on Feb 12 very welcoming.



Ref. Wikipedia contributors. "Wiltshire." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 11 Jan. 2021. Web. 2 Feb. 2021.)

Image: Cherhill White Horse, Cherhill, Wiltshire, England (Sw8 at the English language Wikipedia, C-C-A - SA 3.0 licence)


Back to school - for grandparents too!

Bill Barlow
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GSV Events in February 2021

Now that the kids are back in school - actually in school this year - we grandparents (and others) are free to catch up with our events.


You will have recently read that the Society is moving its Centre during February. During this period our events will continue via Zoom. We have a packed and varied program of events, which are open to all GSV Members.

All are listed on our website.


Writing Course 

As previously advised Margaret Vines is conducting her very popular writing course in 1.5 hours sessions over three days – 1, 8 and 15 February. Bookings are limited so investigate the event page and book before it is too late. If you miss out this time, join the Writers Group for encouragement and assistance.



The classes conducted by our librarians Linley Hooper and Meg Bate cover digital topics of interest to family historian. Assistance with your Scottish research is also available.


The various Discussion Circles such as the Writers, DNA Study Group, Counties of Northern England, South West England Research, London Research, British India and the Victoria/Tasmania Circles will all be conducted during the month. These events are open to all Members.

SWERD meet on Feb 12 and have now enlarged this group to include Bristol and Wiltshire.


The Good Oil 

The next session will be held on 19 February. Come along with an item of family ephemera and share the story behind the item. This is an open group where we share our experiences and seek assistance to further our family history research. Everyone is welcome.

Special Interest Groups:

The Irish Ancestry Group will meet on 13 February. This group is open to all members and especially those with an interest in Irish family history research.

The International Settlers Group for those researching non-British ancestors will be held on 20 February. Four of the members of this group will talk about their ‘Most Interesting Ancestor’.


Introducing our GSV Member Societies

This is a new series of monthly events where our Member Societies across Victoria are provided with an opportunity to talk about their resources and expertise. On the 25thof this month The Lilydale and District Historical Society will introduce themselves and outline their resources many of which are not available elsewhere.


Talks – We have a program of five talks this month:

· 4 February – Carl Villis from the National Gallery of Victoria will talk about journey of discovery that led to the reattribution of the NGV’s 16thcentury portrait of Lucrezia Borgia.

· 9 February – Alan Rhodes will talk about DNA Auto Clusters – learn how to group your matches into clusters likely to share common ancestors.

· 11 February – Louise Wilson will discuss researching people would arrived in NSW well before 1850 and how to find the resources to support that research.

· 18 February – Steven Haby of the Prahran Mechanics Institute will explore the development and impact of the railways in Melbourne and Victoria across the 19thand 20thcenturies.

· 23 February – Alan Rhodes with introduce the website Gedmatch. 


All events may be booked through the GSV Members section of our website. Upon registration you will receive and email containing the zoom meeting details.


Join in, enjoy and discover something new.

Rebellion in south-west England

Bill Barlow
Expiry Date


All that British history you dimly recall from school days can be brought alive as you dig deeper in your family roots. Were your ancestors rebels in the Glorious Revolution? Today Stephen Hawke from GSV's SouthWest England Research and Discussion Circle (SWERD) gives us a quick refresher before that group's coming meeting.


The Glorious Revolution of 1688 was a pivotal event in English history, bringing to an end the reign of the Stuart Kings and their moves to absolute monarchy.  Although the Glorious Revolution was a near bloodless affair (unlike most revolutions), the major precursor to the events of 1688, the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685, was blood-soaked.  The Duke of Monmouth was defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor in Somerset, his fleeing troops were slaughtered and the aftermath was the Bloody Assizes of 1685 - all these brought a huge death toll to the south-west counties.  The Bloody Assizes ended with mass executions and transportion to virtual slavery in the Caribbean of men from many towns and villages across the counties of Devon, Dorset and Somerset.  There were national scandals over the retribution meted out to women who had peripheral connections to the rebellion, including England's last beheading and burning of women for political crimes.  The poor schoolgirls who came to be known as the Maids of Taunton were brutalised, but at least most of them survived to eventually see their tormentor, James II, leave the country in disgrace.

Portrait of Judge George Jeffreys 1645-1689 - the 'hanging judge' of the Bloody Assizes, by Johann Closterman.


The rebellion and Bloody Assizes left scars on the psyche of the people of the south-west that endured for generations. Records have survived which detail the names, home-villages and outcomes for thousands of people from Devon, Dorset and Somerset who were swept up in the turmoil of the Monmouth Rebellion. 

The SWERD meeting at GSV on Wednesday 13 June at 12:30pm (GSV members only) will discuss the rebellion, how you can ascertain whether your ancestors were rebels and the impact it had on their lives. 

Stephen Hawke 


Victorian workhouses and the new Poor Law

Bill Barlow
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By Stephen Hawke

The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was squarely aimed at driving down the cost of relief for the poor. New purpose-built workhouses would contain and control the poor throughout the United Kingdom. The conditions for paupers prepared to enter the workhouse were to be worse than those of the poorest free labourer outside the workhouse and only those entering the workhouse would be entitled to succour from the parish purse. The workhouse was to be so repellent that only those who lacked the moral determination to survive outside would be prepared to accept relief in the workhouse.

Families were broken up and segregated. Communication between family members in the separate wards was largely prohibited. Meagre diets, harsh conditions and corruption resulted in national scandals.

In the often highly moralistic tone of the times, one aim of the new Poor Law was to make the workhouse consequences so dire for unmarried mothers that they would be deterred from unwanted pregnacies. This provision proved a step too far and was repealed in 1844.

At our SWERD meeting on Wednesday 9 May 12.30 to 2.00 pm at GSV we will discuss the impacts of the workhouses and the Poor Laws on the lives of our southwest  England ancestors, as well as the resources available at GSV and online to aid your research.  A grim but fascinating subject! 

Our SWERD meetings are free for GSV members and copies of presentations and meeting notes are provided to GSV members who join the discussion circle's email list. 







Historic Somerset records donated to GSV

Bill Barlow
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Rev Dr Warren Bartlett OAM with Somerset records, 2018.


The GSV has received a very generous donation from a retired member, Rev Dr Warren Bartlett OAM. 

Warren has donated around 50 volumes of historic records for Somerset (including some for Dorset and Devon), which were produced over many decades by the Somerset Record Society.  The volumes include transcriptions of rare and now lost collections of wills, Tudor tax records, lists of rebels from the southwest and much, much more.  Warren has also donated a large number of Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries journals.  The volumes and journals are a treasure trove of resources for Somerset and southwest England researchers.

Some examples from the collection that Warren is donating are:

Somerset Wills - pre-war transcriptions of some 1,200 Somerset wills that were subsequently destroyed in the bombing of Exeter in 1942;

The Monmouth Rebels, 1685 - details of around 4,000 people from Somerset, Dorset and Devon charged with treason and similar offences after the failed rebellion against James II in 1685.  Many of these people were executed or transported as 'slave labour' to the Caribbean; and

Two Tudor Subsidy Assessments for the County of Somerset: 1558 and 1581-82 - which lists the names, villages, details of land values or goods held and tax payable for thousands of Somerset people who were subject to tax by Elizabeth I.

These will be available in the GSV Education and Research Centre as soon as they have been checked and catalogued.  Follow the GSV blog and Ancestor for more news about this.

GSV is very appreciative of this donation to its Collection and expresses its thanks publicly to Warren for his great generosity in sharing this resource.


Stephen Hawke

Convener, GSV South West England Research & Discussion Circle (SWERD)




The old Poor Laws (pre-1834) and Southwest England

Bill Barlow
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Vagrant being punished in the streets, woodcut c. 1536 (Source unknown)


1547 - the new reign of the boy-King Edward VI was marked with a draconian approach to controlling the kingdom's poor.  Penalties for the purported 'work-shy' such as whipping and leg irons were nothing out of the ordinary, but the new law extended this to branding with the letter V (for vagrant) and being made a parish slave for two years.  Recalcitrant vagrants faced lifetime slavery or hanging.  Children could be seized without their parents' consent or knowledge.  Those charged with enforcing the law faced severe penalties if they failed to mete out these punishments. Hard and dangerous times indeed.

We'll be discussing the old poor laws (pre-1834) and their impact on our ancestors in south west England at our SWERD meeting this Friday, 13 April, 12:30 to 2:00 pm at GSV (GSV members only).  A vast array of records were created in administering the poor laws and we'll discuss how you can access these to find fascinating new insights into your ancestors' lives.  Our May meeting will focus on the impact of the new poor law, 1834 onwards, the era of the notorious Victorian workhouses.
Stephen Hawke
Convener, SWERD - GSV Southwest England Research and Discussion Circle

The DNA of Cornwall: talk at SWERD

Bill Barlow
Expiry Date

South West England Research & Discussion (SWERD) is one of a number of Discussion Circles that the GSV hosts for its members. These are part of the annual membership and there is no limit to the number you can participate in, beyond your own time. Doing your own research can be exhilarating but having the chance to share your problems, and findings, with others is even more fun.

This report of the recent SWERD meeting - Wednesday 14 March 2018 - from Stephen Hawke gives a good idea of the value of this circle on South West England. [Bill]


Meeting Notes

  1. Introductions

    We had a very full house, with 45 attendees at the meeting (including four new SWERD members and some visitors from the DNA discussion circle).
  2. Presentation – Dr Joe Flood - DNA and Genealogy: The DNA of Cornwall

    Dr Joe Flood is both the Administrator of the Cornwall DNA projects on the FamilyTreeDNA website and also runs a One Name Study on the Coad and Coode surnames. DNA research has been particularly useful in resolving brickwalls and establishing global connections for the Coad and Coode family researchers. Joe’s presentation included interesting anecdotes on the family myths, surprises and new social connections found through combining the One Name Study and DNA research.

Joe’s presentation covered three broad topics (all with fascinating case studies, charts and research findings):

Firstly, we covered the use of autosomal DNA research – this included commentary on the relative costs and ‘usefulness’ of the offerings from the various DNA test providers. This aspect of research is particularly useful for confirming family connections and uncovering ‘new’ cousins.

Next we turned to Y DNA research – the research that follows the male-line. Again, this has proved very useful for resolving brickwalls and Joe provided examples of successes in extending and joining the various Coad/Coode family trees.

The research pages Joe administers on the FTDNA website currently have 600 members on the Cornwall project (autosomal DNA research) and 120 members on the Cornwall Advanced Y DNA project. Joe advised that there is also a project page for those with Devon origins. These projects are free to join (after you’ve done your DNA test), the data and discussion sections are a great learning tool and they provide the opportunity for feedback and help from very experienced researchers. I’m a fan – I joined both projects with my DNA test results a few months ago and straight up connected to some ‘new’ third cousins here in Melbourne who’ve provided fantastic photos (late 19th and early 20th century) and new aspects to our shared family history.

The final section of Joe’s presentation turned to some of the deep ancestry material, including the DNA connections of some members of the Cornwall DNA projects to the Beaker people who settled in Britain and Cornwall several thousand years ago. This aspect of the research has also found some pockets of ‘very rare DNA’ amongst some members of the Cornish Advanced Y DNA project. Joe is keen for more of us with Cornish heritage to join the FTDNA projects to help expand his and your research and findings.

I’m afraid my notes are not doing Joe’s really interesting presentation justice. Fortunately, Joe has made a copy of the presentation available to SWERD members and it has plenty of detail in the slides to show the depth and detail you can take up in using DNA research.

I’m also aware that this is a complex area and to help you through that complexity GSV is rolling out a number of new education sessions on different aspects of DNA research. There are some details in the current issue of Ancestor and keep an eye on the GSV website for updates. These will be popular, so make sure you register ASAP for these to secure a place. The first session is on 17 April – you can book for this through the ‘All Events’ section on the frontpage of the GSV website.

At the meeting we passed around the very large book Joe has written – Unravelling the Code: The Coads and Coodes of Cornwall and Devon – and descriptions of the book and on-line purchases are available through

Joe has uploaded his presentation to his webpage (address as below) and from a quick look he has other papers of interest to DNA researchers on his page as well:

I also want to acknowledge Joe’s dedication and generosity in providing his presentation at GSV. He is still recuperating and went above and beyond the call of duty in providing us with his very informative presentation. Thanks also to one of our members who saw to Joe’s safe homeward journey. 

  1. Next meeting

    The next meeting will be held on Friday 13 April 2018, 12:30 to 2:00pm. The discussion topic will be 'Our poor ancestors', with a focus on Poor Laws and workhouses in the southwest.  Many of us had ancestors who were subject to the Poor Laws or who spent time in workhouses and we’ll look at the materials available to research their lives.  Start thinking on what you know of your poor ancestors in the southwest and how you've researched them, and come along to join in a fascinating discussion in April. If you are not a GSV member, join up and join in!

    Stephen Hawke, SWERD Convenor

Discover the '1696 Association Oath Rolls for Cornwall' at GSV

Bill Barlow
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GSV has purchased a wonderful new publication to help our Cornwall researchers.  The 1696 Association Oath Rolls for Cornwall lists around 11,500 Cornish men who took an oath in defence of the realm following a failed assassination plot on the life of King William III.  The rolls list the men by parish/town as well as two extensive lists of tinners.  Some effort was made to group men by family, which may provide new insights for your research.  The publication includes a comprehensive introduction to the events of 1696 and the analysis of the rolls by the editors.

The SWERD meeting on Friday 12 October (12:30 at GSV) will discuss the background to the Oath Rolls and how this new resource can be used in your research.

We will also be discussing resources to help you research ‘the times’ of your ancestors in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset.  How can you find out about local events that directly impacted their lives?  What are the best and/or your favourite books and other records covering the histories and events in the four south-west counties?  We'll prepare a list of the resources discussed at the meeting for future reference in your research.


SWERD is a group for GSV Members. Find out more on our website and it's not too late to join GSV and SWERD before this interesting session on Friday.