Family History Research Conference

Catholic Family History Society

NW Region

 IMGP1196Family History Research Conference


Would you like to have some help in finding your ancestors?

Please come and join us Saturday, May 12th2018, 2pm-6pm

Venue – Holy Cross Parish Hall,

370 Liverpool Rd. Patricroft, Eccles, Manchester M30 8QD


2pm     Coffee & Registration

2.30     Introduction followed by

How to start your search and carry on further

Presentation by Dr. Brenda Hustler

3.30     Discuss your own research problems with Brenda

Other help desks also available

4pm     Afternoon Tea

4.30      How to use the Margaret Higgins Database

(275,000 Catholics in England 1607 – 1840)

Speaker,  David Hustler

5-6 pm   Return to the search


                             Book with Mrs Jean Smith,

                  10 Irving Close, Woodsmoor, Stockport SK2 7DX


                                    (Tel:  0161-483-9199)

                    Cost for conference p.p  £12.00 payable in advance

                  Cheques made payable please to:  CFHS (N.W.Region)



People researching their family trees often came into the Diocesan Archives expecting us to be able to identify the final resting places of their ancestors, and even maybe to find a surviving headstone full of useful information. Invariably these individuals went away sorely disappointed, and in this article, using the town of Manchester as an example, I shall explain why.

In 1854 when the government passed the Burial Act, and the Home Office ordered the closure of inner city burial grounds, the twin towns and Manchester and Salford had six Catholic graveyards, these being – Salford Cathedral, St Mary, Mulberry Street, St Chad, Cheetham Hill, St Augustine, Granby Row, St Patrick, Livesey Street, and St Wilfrid, Hulme, and Catholic inner-city dwellers up to this point would have been buried in one of these of these grounds.

Surviving Burial Records – There only exists surviving burial registers from Mulberry Street, Salford Cathedral, and Livesey Street, and none at all from Hulme, Cheetham Hill, or Granby Row. These records, although rare do provide an invaluable amount of information.

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Surviving Grave Markers – Only St Chad’s, Cheetham Hill has any surviving grave stones.

Accessible Burial Grounds – All the burial grounds have been levelled and either tarmacked or built upon, with exception to St Chad’s, Cheetham Hill.


19th Century Attitudes to Death and Burial

 Catholic burial and the keeping of records was not undertaken in any standardised way and it only through local newspaper reports about incidents in the burial grounds at Hulme, Salford and Granby Row we can actually start to understand what was taking place in this era.

St Wilfrid Hulme

In January 1856, the parish of St Wilfrid, Hulme found itself in the centre of a national media storm when the police began investigating into the death in August 1855 of Mr John Monaghan, of Hope Street, Chorlton on Medlock, under suspicions that he had been poisoned for a £300 life insurance policy. Monaghan had been buried in the graveyard of St Wilfrid’s and on the 24th January 1856, the City Coroner ordered his exhumation, the Manchester Courier explains what happened next:

“Canon Toole, the resident clergyman, afforded every information and assistance in his power; but on going into the chapel-yard a difficulty presented itself as the Sexton could give no information as to where Monaghan was interred…Mrs Eliza King, the daughter of the deceased… was fetched and pointed out as nearly as she could the spot… and the process of exhumation at once commenced…the first grave that was opened contained a number of coffins; but, after they had all been taken out, it was found that Monaghan was not there. Five or six other graves were opened with a like result… the men continued working vigorously until one o’clock in the morning without success…” (Manchester Courier & Lancashire General Advertiser 26/1/1856)

“… On Monday morning… Mr Sturges, contractor, of City Road, was employed to take the coffins up from such a space of ground as should settle the fact beyond doubt, as to whether the body had been removed or not. At 11 O’Clock in the forenoon five men commenced taking up the coffins in the vicinity of the place pointed out… and about 20 minutes past three, they succeeded in finding his coffin”


St Augustine’s, Granby Row

In 1854, the Rector of St Augustine’s Church began construction of a new school on a portion of the burial ground, the Town Clerk visited the site and wrote:

“The foundations are being dug for an intended school… and in doing so many graves have been emptied of their coffins, which were so carelessly thrown on the adjoining surface; and a large number of coffins, of which many have only been recently interred, have been exposed to public view” (The Manchester Guardian, 5/7/1854)

The Manchester Courier went into more gruesome detail:

“There has been a considerable amount of excitement in the streets situated at the sides and back of the grave-yard belonging to St Augustine’s Roman Catholic Chapel, in Granby-Row…On Thursday, when our informant saw it, the sight was absolutely sickening… the surface was uneven, but where it was of the greatest depth showed that a thin covering of earth, not in any place thicker than a foot, had been the only covering over the bodies interned, and that they had been packed side by side, one upon another, with the upmost economy of space, until it was impossible to push a pointed instrument into the ground without meeting and adult or infant body. At one point where the workmen had sunk the deepest, thirteen tiers of these coffins had been exposed, and there seemed to be a ‘lower deep’ still, so that probably the original grave pits were sunk to a depth approaching to twenty feet… The trenches had been filled in with the foundation walls, and the space exterior to them packed in, with soil taken out, pieces of coffin, and the bones which they had contained… The term excavation cannot properly be applied to the holes we have named; there was literally no earth to cut into… it was all coffins, some in the last stage of decay, others fresher – one in the top row was not even discoloured…A most noisome smell proceeded from the pits… most of those that were quite uncovered were so tender that they that had been broken by the spades and feet of the workmen and a black unctuous matter oozed out in abundance… here and there one more rotten than the rest had given way…None at which the workmen had arrived remained intact; and wherever the eye rested, some sickening remains of mortality met it. A number of curious men and women were eagerly peering into these receptacles for the dead… a man tore up a portion of a fragile lid, and a bleached and grinning skull rolled to and fro set in motion by the force. In a corner of the yard near to the chapel… a troop of little girls, who scrutinised with keen and searching glance every hole that they could discover and seemed half inclined to venture into the pits for a rummage…” (Manchester Courier & Lancashire General Advertiser 24/6/1854)

Salford Cathedral

 “The closing of the ground by the side of St John’s Roman Catholic chapel must involve a serious reduction from the revenues of that place of worship, but the place appears to have been managed in a way which does not arouse any sympathy… they had resorted to the system of common graves in its most disgusting form, and interred bodies in a huge hole, yards wide, by yards deep, into which the sacristan might pack five hundred bodies if he were so minded, and which remained open for months”


These three incidents give us a snap shot of Catholic inner-city burials in the first half of the 19th century, by 21st century standards the lack of respect shown for the dead is shocking, but it demonstrates for us why tracing and identifying the resting places of your Catholic ancestors is very unlikely.

United Kingdom Census Records

For genealogists, the United Kingdom Census records are probably the most valuable records presently available. At the moment the census records from 1841 to 1911 are available searchable online at various commercial websites.

The next census, which was taken on Sunday 19 June 1921, is due to be released in 2022, this is despite efforts by various bodies to have it released earlier, as had happened with the 1911 census. However the official government position remained that “its intention to release the entirety of the 1921 Census returns in 2022, in accordance with the non-statutory ‘100 year rule’ which was adopted to reflect this undertaking of confidentiality”. The census when released will provide full details of the 42,767,530 individuals living in the United Kingdom at the time.

1921 Census

This however will sadly be the final census that genealogists will see for more than thirty years for a variety of reasons.

The 1931 census has been destroyed – it was being stored in an Ministry of Works warehouse that on the night of the 19th December 1942 caught fire, not as is commonly believed as a result of the blitz, but simply due to an accident. An archivist from the General Register Office who surveyed the ruins after the fire reported:

You will regret to hear that in a fire last Saturday evening which gutted the Office of Works store containing our Census records at Hayes, the whole of the 1931 schedules, enumeration books, plans of division and miscellaneous material stored in cupboards etc were completely destroyed. Mr Farrow and I went down to inspect the remains yesterday and we are both satisfied that it would be useless to attempt any sort of salvage operation; we are leaving the Office of Works to clear and dispose of the debris in any way they think desirable.

The fire was not occasioned by enemy action and how it achieved such dimensions in a store in which special hydrants had been fitted and said to have been in charge of a fire guard of 6 paid watchers, is a mystery which will need investigation. It is hardly possible to imagine a more complete state of devastation than the scene presented to us in which it was impossible to see where some of the racks had stood and where the remains were nothing more than shapeless mounds of paper rubbish dragged outside the building by the firemen who tackled the fire and where even the least damaged sheets that were recognizable were charred to the depth of two or three inches on all edges.

The next census, due to have been taken in 1941, didn’t happen due to the War, although in 1939, the government department tasked with issuing National Identity Cards did construct a register of every person in the country at the time. Parts of the 1939 register is available online at Find My Past, but only the entries related to individuals born over 100 years ago, or who had died prior to 1991, however if you can prove the death of an individual since 1991, you can request their record to be opened.

1939 Register

Thus the next available census will be that taken in 1951, which not be available until 2052, another 34 years, leaving a massive gap for genealogists, that we will never be able to fill.

GRO PDF Certificate Trial

Since 12 October 2017, the General Register Office (GRO) has been piloting a new service for genealogists ordering birth and death certificates online.

Previously the only option available was to order the certificate and wait for a paper version to arrive in the post, the cost being £9.25 for standard delivery, or £23.40 for express next-day delivery.

The pilot service gives the option instead for a PDF version of the certificate to be made available online for a lower cost of £6. When your order is available from your GRO account, you will receive an email, and you will then able to view and download the certificate on your computer.

This example shows a PDF I ordered last week of my Irish Great Grandfather’s death.

Screen Shot 2018-01-10 at 16.46.00The original plan was to pilot the service for three months and then to assess the demand. The pilot has now been extended, and hopefully it will become a permanent service and will extended to include other certificates, such as marriages.



A new publication is being proposed under the title


Defining period

 Beginning     1791 Relief act legalisation of chapels and priests. English Catholics cut off from the continent English Clergy trained in England, decline of seigneurial influence. Chapelbuilding. Disputes between laity and clergy at local level. Local anti Catholicism. Rising wealth of urban middle class, urban poor, spread of schools, Sunday schools. English Catholic printers popular press. education,

End 1840 By then preparations were in hand for the restoration of the hierarchy, the Bishops had taken over Catholic Poor school education, arrival of active (not contemplative) religious orders from France and Ireland. New orders being established for work among urban poor and education. Church building enters a new phase

Defining areas to be studied industrialising towns.

Defining population to be studied lay middle and working class Catholics. Other work is in progress on religious, clergy and aristocracy.


If anybody is interested in participating or contributing to this project, please contact Marie Rowlands at


English Catholic Nuns in Exile 1600-1800 A Biographical Register

‘English Catholic history is, unavoidably, family history’ wrote Francis Young in his book of the Gages of Hengrave in 2015. Nowhere is this more obvious and centrally important than in the establishment and funding of the English convents in exile 1600-1800, and the associated colleges that continued to train priests. The final output of the long-running AHRC-funded Who Were the Nuns? project, led by Dr Caroline Bowden, was published on 30 October by Occasional Publications UPR, Oxford (Prosopographica et Genealogica vol. 15). English Catholic Nuns in Exile 1600-1800, A Biographical Register, edited by K. S. B. Keats-Rohan, was foreseen as the ‘book of the database’, when work started at QMUL in 2008. Once the project was finished and the results available as a live online database in 2012, Katharine Keats-Rohan started work on converting a print-out of the online prosopography into a printed biographical register. Much of the work of connecting the nuns and recreating their extensive family and spiritual networks was originally provided online by a series of pdf genealogical tables produced by Katharine, using a Family Historian database. The database was based on information taken from convent sources, but because of the vicissitudes of convent history, especially the fraught conditions of the re-migration to England c. 1790, data about family was sometimes missing. Such gaps were occasionally filled by recourse to notes in editions of the text by Gillow and others. The genealogies were built from skeletons usually derived from Visitation records such as are frequently printed in many books and articles on recusant families. As work progressed on the Biographical Register it became painfully clear that many of the (often very valuable) footnotes by Gillow and others produced more questions than answers, and that any charts based on Visitation material needed a root and branch re-examination. The result was a systematic exploitation of the evidence of Wills, initially as a means to provide accurate family reconstitution. Very soon it transpired that Wills provide key evidence about the way that the religious life of both nuns and their priest brothers was funded by families acting both as small nuclear groups and extended networks of cousinship. As a result, many of the gaps in the convent data, such as parentage, baptismal name, and sometimes even dates of death as well as birth, have been discovered and incorporated into the fully revised and extended text. In addition, all the original genealogical charts have been completely revised and many additional ones added, all provided in individual annotated charts in 303 separate tables united in a fully searchable Appendix, provided as a pdf on a CD insert.

The hardcover book, ISBN 978-1-900934-14-5, in A4 format, contains 708 pages as well as the 323-page Appendix on CD, and is available from the publisher for £75, plus carriage (by courier) at At a substantial weight of 2.1 kg, interested buyers outside Europe will need to negotiate the delivery cost before purchase.


The Margaret Higgins Database

HigginsOn the 7th October 2017, Catholic historians from across the country gathered in London to attend the launch of the Margaret Higgins Database by Brother Rory Higgins.

The Database provides records of approximately 274,500 persons found in the many ‘Returns of Papists’; 1705-6, 1711, 1735, 1745, 1767 and 1780 plus other sources listed at the end of the 30 page introduction. For each entry in the database the following facts may be available:

  • Year
  • Surname and Forename(s)
  • Status / Occupation
  • Age (Yrs)
  • Length of Residence
  • County / Country
  • Parish / Town / Street
  • Birthplace / Source-1
  • References / Source-2
  • Notes & Comments

The amount of information given varies and it is rare to find that all of these fields contain information for an individual. The data has been compiled over very many years by Brother Rory Higgins FSC of Australia and other members of the Catholic Family History Society.

The database is available on CD through the Catholic Family History Society and can be purchased through GenFair

CFHS NW Region Conference

Catholic Family History Society

North West Region Conference


Saturday 28th October 2017, 11am


Fulwood Methodist Church

Watling Street Road





On Saturday 28th October, the North West region of the Catholic Family History Society will be hosting a mini conference at Fulwood Methodist Church.


The speakers on the day will be


Peter Park MA FSG, on the topic of ‘Between the lines: what the records don’t tell us’



Lawrence Gregory MA, on the history and development of Catholic school archives, and their uses for genealogists.


Registration on the day will commence at 11am, with lunch at 12.30.

The AGM will be held at 1.45pm

Please contact Diana Henaghan to book a place

0161 483 7372

Heritage Open Days 2017

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Heritage Open Days 2017 will be taking place between the 7th and the 10th September this year.

As usual many Catholic churches are opening their doors giving people the opportunity to explore buildings usually kept locked while not in use. Please consider making use of this opportunity to support these sites.

For more information consult the Heritage Open Days website



Hurst Cross, St Christopher RC Church

Sefton Park, Liverpool St Clare’s RC Church

Liverpool, St Francis Xavier’s RC Church

Old Swan, Liverpool, St Oswald’s RC Church

Wallasey, Ss Peter & Paul’s RC Church (The Dome of Home)

St Helen’s, Holy Cross & St Helen RC Church

Darwen, Sacred Heart & St Edward RC Church

Over Darwen, St Joseph RC Church


Stockport, Our Lady & the Apostles RC Church



County Durham

Old Elvet, St Cuthbert’s RC Church

Old Esh, St Michael’s RC Church


Hull, St Vincent’s RC Church

Hull, St Charles Borromeo RC Church


Old Gate, St Robert of Newminster RC Church

Tyne and Wear

Gateshead, St Patrick’s RC Church

Sunderland, St Ignatius the Martyr RC Church

Wallsend, Our Lady & St Columba RC Church

Blaydon on Tyne, St Mary & St Thomas RC Church




Launceston, St Cuthbert Mayne RC Church


Bath, Eyre Chapel


Calne, St Edmund’s RC Church




Reading, St James RC Church

Reading, Sacred Heart RC Church


Colchester, St James the Less & St Helen’s RC Church


Bishop’s Stortford, St Joseph’s RC Church


Folkstone, St Peter’s RC Church


Effingham, Our Lady of Sorrows RC Church

Effingham, St Teresa’s RC School

Woking, Holy Cross Chapel




Gloucester, St Peter’s RC Church


Newcastle under Lyme, Holy Trinity RC Church

Burslem, St Joseph’s RC Church

Stoke on Trent, Sacred Heart RC Church


Birmingham, St Chad’s Cathedral

Birmingham, The Oratory




Grimsby, St Mary on the Sea RC Church