Posted by: Christine | July 31, 2013

A Chance for research

A little while ago (well – several months ago) a member of Rugby Family History Group asked for some help with her research. She doesn’t have access to the internet and asked me to sort out her tree. I decided it was about time to get on with the job.

I got out the file she had given me. It was all her research, original certificates, funeral bills and a legal document to do with a will – all the things you collect when you start family history. She had done a fair bit already, there were all the Birth and Marriage certificates, step by step back to the start of registration. The family was named CHANCE and lived in  Birmingham. My mission was to discover if there was any connection with Chance Brothers, the glass manufacturers of the same area. This company produced the glass for the Houses of Parliament and the Crystal Palace and later became involved with lighthouses. Eventually they became part of the Pilkington Group.

Now one of the first things we tell beginners on our courses is, don’t try to connect your family to a more well-known person with the same name, but she asked nicely (and said she would pay for the reasearch!) so I agreed to help. Where to start? The certificates seemed to fit together OK, so I decided to look for the family in the census.

As I worked back I started to enter all the parents and children into a FH program (a good opportunity to try out the free versions of the PAF replacements I had downloaded). I soon encountered a problem. I found I had the wrong father for a child – in several censuses the child’s father was George, but his birth certificate said he was the son of Alfred. Puzzled, I carried on and in the previous generation I discovered George and Alfred were brothers. What was going on?

I compared the details on the census. In 1881, there  was Alfred and his wife Jane with one child. In the same census was George and his wife, Thirza and six children. I couldn’t find Alfred in 1891, but there was George, with seven children (some of the older ones had left home) and a wife called Jane!

Time to look at FreeBMD, where I found that Alfred had died in 1885, Thirza in 1886 and then there was a marriage for George and Jane in 1888. A lot had happened between those two censuses. This marriage wasn’t actually legal at the time. In fact the Deceased Brother’s Widow’s Marriage Act was not passed until 1921 (fourteen years after The Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act of 1907) – but these things happen. I had a bit of scandal to report!

I managed to get the family back to the marriage of William Chance to Mary DAVIS in 1802 in Old Swinford, Worcestershire. There were a lot of Chance families here but I couldn’t pin down a baptism for William. This became Tree A.

I then started on the other Chance family. Being a lot better known there were a lot of trees and information online. It all seemed to agree so I used that to construct my second tree (using a different program), which I called Tree B. I stopped when I got back to William Chance who married Frances TAYLOR in 1682. In fact there are trees online that go back even further than this, and someone suggests that the family came over with William the Conqueror. Hmmm.

Anyway, I thought this would give me enough information to see if there was a match. This family lived in Bromsgrove and there were even more families there than in Old Swinford, but still no William baptised at the right time. My final conclusion was that there might well be a connection between the families, but it would be too far back and too difficult to find, without a (very) lot more reasearch. Anyone fancy starting a Chance one-name study?

Where did I find all these baptisms and marriages to check? On of course, via the batch numbers on the Hugh Wallis website  
It was some time since I had used this website which was working again. For anyone who doesn’t know this site, you can select a County and then Parish, select the time period and when you click on the batch number it takes you to the Familysearch website. It’s also a good way of checking if there are records for the place you are interested in. I spent most of the weekend doing this and typing all the information into Excel, where I could sort it by date or name. I also spent a lot of time cursing the reversal of progress – at one time you could automatically download the whole list of entries! The other problem is that there are not many burials on Familysearch – difficult to “kill them off”

By Monday I had had enough and started writing up the results of my research. As I finished, there was a Tweet from FindMyPast – they had just added some new Worcestershire parish records. Out of interest I had a look and entered the name Chance – there were a few baptisms and marriages, but not for the places I was interested in. But there were 696 Chance burials – 124 for Bromsgrove and 134 for Oldswinford. At least I could download the list this time, but I would have to look at every single entry to see the details – I was losing the will to live!

While I was pondering this dilemma, a discussion had started on the GOONS Forum about the imminent arrival of a download button on Familysearch. In fact it appeared later that night (You need a username and password, but that is free) – I could now download all the records, 100 at a time, that I had laboriously typed in over the weekend. I gave up and went to bed.

I have now adopted a new motto:
Always put off until tomorrow what you should do today, because when tomorrow comes there’s a CHANCE you won’t have to do it after all.


  1. Lovely story – and a great motto! Thanks for sharing your research. I’m really interested in the processes and value all the information I’m getting from this wonderful community of family history bloggers.

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