The Poor Rate Books and Parish Vestry Minutes are often overlooked, but can be quite useful for the family historian.

They arose from the way that the parish was administered. 

Until well into the 19th century, the Church of England parishes were the main organisational unit for local government. The parish church was the administrative centre of the parish and the church Vestry was the traditional meeting place where the parish business was conducted. As a result the the meetings to conduct business came to be referred to as Vestries, and the notes recording the business that was conducted were called Vestry Minutes. Many of these record books have survived and they are generally held by the relevant County Record Offices.  Some of the more mundane business was also recorded in separate books, in particular the church accounts and the parish accounts.  The latter include the Poor Rate books which recorded the income from the Poor Rates.

Amongst the duties of the parish officers, as mandated by the various Poor Laws, was care of the poor of the parish, i.e. those that for one reason or another could not provide for themselves. Some of these people only required a little temporary help, for example if the main wage earner of the family could not work due to injury, but in other cases permanent help was needed, e.g. for the old and infirm and for the physically and mentally handicapped.

Help was administered in two ways: Outdoor Relief (sometimes known as Out Relief) was simply money, food or clothing given to the poor where they lived. The other was Indoor Relief, which was provided as board and lodging in the local poorhouse (or workhouse). 

On the Isle of Wight small workhouses were present in the parishes of Northwood (from 1728), Brixton (now known as Brighstone) and Newport (both from 1729), but workhouses were generally too expensive to be maintained by a single parish so in 1770 an Act of Parliament was passed incorporating all the parishes of the Island into a union that could build and maintain a single workhouse, or House of Industry as it became known, for them all. This was built on the site that is now St. Mary's Hospital. Significant parts of the House of Industry remain as parts of the hospital.

The expense of all the relief had to be covered by the individual parishes.  This was the purpose of the Poor Rates. This was a system whereby every householder contributed according to the assessed rental value value of their property. The rates were generally collected quarterly. For example: if a rate was set at 9d per £, then a householder in a property valued at £20 per annum would have to pay 9 x 20 = 180d (or 15 shillings).

The Poor Rate Books record these assessments and income for the parish. They usually give the names of all the heads of household along with the amount of rates they were paying.  Parish Registers of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials don't usually note where people were living within the parish so the information in the Poor Rate Books can be very useful to confirm exactly where and when a family was living in a parish. Here is an example from Calbourne in 1810:

As can be seen, for the Quarter from Lady-day to Midsummer 1810 the rate was 7d in the pound, and therefore Richard Arnold of Newbarn had to pay £11 13s 4d on his total rents of £400.

In contrast Vestry Minutes cover all sorts of parish business. Much of this is of little interest to the family historian but it does sometimes include bastardy and settlement issues. Here is an example from Arreton in 1753:

This gives confirmation that Robert Rayner, the father of Robert Rayner (who was the father of Mary Bagsters' child) has given "good and sufficient security of indemnification". i.e. He has guaranteed that the parish will not have to pay relief for the child, and therefore Robert Rayner (junior) is "att full liberty to walk where he pleases"!

Another example from the Arreton Vestry Minutes a little later:

It appears that "Mary Noris's Son a bastard and David Elsbury and his family" have become in need of parish relief but do not belong in the parish (i.e. they have no claim to be settled there) and therefore settlement orders are to be sought to remove them to their respective home parishes.

Both Poor Rate Books and Vestry Minutes are generally included with other parish records at the local County Record Office. The Isle of Wight Record Office (IWRO) parish record holdings are available at The list of parishes there gives the dates covered by the parish registers for Christenings/Baptisms (C), Marriages (M) and Burials (B) but if you click on the parish name it will give a pdf file listing all the parish records, including Vestry and Poor Rate records if they exist.

As far as I am aware, none of the Isle of Wight Poor Rate Books or Vestry Minutes have been filmed, digitised or even transcribed. The only way to check them is to go the IWRO and physically read through them (or of course I could do this for you!). Obviously, this will be a very time consuming process unless you have a reasonably good idea of which parish and time period your relative lived in.

Happy hunting!


An interesting question that I saw on a family history group on Facebook: How many people make me? If I am the product of my ancestors, with some traits from one person and some from another, then how many people altogether make me what I am?

Well, we all have two parents, and they come from four grandparents, and eight great-grandparents etc. By this reasoning, ten generations back we have 1024 ancestors, twenty generations back it’s over a million, 30 generations back it’s over a billion.

At this point we realise there is a flaw in this reasoning. If we just consider someone in the UK then going back 30 generations, say about a thousand years, the population was only about 1.5 million ( ). You may say that there has been some immigration, but there hasn’t been that much. Besides, how far back should we go? Another 10 generations and we would be at over 1000 billion, more than the entire population of the earth.

This flaw in the argument is called ‘pedigree collapse’. It arises because at some, possibly remote and unknown level, some of your ancestors are related. They may share common grandparents, or great-grandparents, or more remote ancestors, and as a result each generation will have less ancestors in it than a strict doubling would suggest.

For example, in the case where your parents are first cousins, they share common grandparents (see ). So you will still have four grandparents but two of these are siblings, and have the same parents. Therefore you will have only 6 great-grandparents rather than 8.

And there is that question of how far back do we go. Do we go back as far as the dawn of homo sapiens? Or do we go back further, after all, even the first homo sapiens had two parents? With no clear idea how far back to go, and an indeterminate number of ancestors at each generation, is there any other way that we can approach the question?

We need to consider how our characteristics are passed down. It's all in the genes.

It is estimated that there are about 19,000 genes in the human genome ( In the human chromosomes these are duplicated with one copy in each pair coming from the mother and one from the father. So we could say that the maximum number of people that make us is around 38,000.

Can we refine this number further, or maybe set a minimum number? Biblical literalists would say we get everything from one couple around 6000 years ago. Surprisingly, modern science indicates a similar tale. Some of our DNA is only passed down from our mothers. This is known as Mitochondrial DNA. There is also DNA in the Y-chromosome that only exists in males and is inherited from their fathers. Both these types of DNA are passed down unchanged, except for the occasional mutation, from one generation to the next. Studies of these two types of DNA indicate that all humans are descendants of a single female ("Mitochondrial Eve") who lived between 99,000 and 148,000 years ago. Similarly, all men are descendants of a single male ("Y-Chromosomal Adam") who lived between 120,000 and 200,000 years ago ( )

This does not mean that we are made up from DNA from just two individuals. There is a lot of other DNA besides the mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA. All this means is that there is some of Y-chromosomal Adam's DNA in all men, and some of mitochondrial Eve's DNA in everyone.

I have seen it suggested that, as there are 23 pairs of chromosomes in humans, the number of individuals that make you is about 46. That would imply that by the time you get back to your 4xgreat-grandparents (64) your genetic make up includes no contribution from some of these individuals. However, this would only be the case if each complete chromosome was passed on unchanged, i.e. if, for each pair of chromosomes, an individual only passed on to their offspring either the version of the chromosome they received from their mother or the one they received from their father. This is not what happens. In each chromosome pair one chromosome is the version of that chromosome received from the individual's father and the other is from the mother. When the pairs split to be passed on to offspring, the DNA strands mingle and recombine such that each chromosome that is passed on contains bits of the version inherited from the father and bits of the version from the mother. So the rate at which ancestor's DNA vanishes from their descendants is actually very low. (see for a better explanation this)

I have also seen it stated that there is a significant chance that two individuals will not show up as DNA matches in genealogical DNA testing even if they share a common ancestor ten generations back. But this is not because they don't have any shared DNA but rather that genealogical DNA testing actually only looks at a small fraction of the total DNA.

So the only reasonable answer to the original question is that you are made up of contributions from an awful lot of your ancestors. Research them diligently and respectfully. The chances are that all the ones that you can identify have helped make you what you are.





A subject that seems to cause much confusion in the family history community is relationships. Most people are comfortable with the terms “parent”, “sibling”, “grandparent”, “uncle”, “aunt”, “nephew”, and “niece” but can find “cousin” a little confusing. This is because it is a more general term and can cover a number of different relationships.

In the most general sense “cousin” has been used to mean any relationship, especially one that doesn’t have a more specific name. In modern times the term is more specifically used for a relationship where the two people share common ancestors that are grandparents or further back.

The most common usage is to refer to the children of aunts and uncles. Strictly these are more correctly referred to as “first cousins”. There are also “second cousins”, “third cousins” and so on. Any of these terms can also be used with the phrase “once removed”, or “twice removed” etc. This tends to be where confusion starts to arise. The term “cousins” can refer to any or all of the these relationships, but usually implies “first cousins”.

First cousin” is the term for children of aunts and uncles. It follows that the common shared ancestors for this relationship are the grandparents. If A and B are first cousins then they share a common set of grandparents.





As an example John and Jamie are my cousins because John and Mary are grand parents to all of us.

Similarly, “second cousins” share a common set of great-grandparents. “third cousins” share common great-great-grandparents, “fourth cousins” share 3xgreat grandparents and so on. i.e. “Nth cousins” share a set of (N-1)xgreat grandparents.

But what if A and B are not of the same generation? For example, if A’s grandparents are B’s great-grandparents? This where the “removed” part comes in. The number of times removed is the number of generations difference between A and B. Thus in this example A and B are once removed.

In a case like this the greatest confusion arises from considering whether A and B are first cousins once removed or second cousins once removed. Logically, from A’s point of view the shared ancestors are grandparents and thus the relationship is first cousin, with B being one generation further down the line (i.e. once removed). From B’s point of view the shared ancestors are great-grandparents and thus the relationship is second cousin with A being one generation up from him (i.e. once removed). In the past this may have been expressed as “second cousin once removed upwards”. Both views are equally correct.


These days the usual convention is to describe the relationship using the lowest cousin number. So in the case above the relationship between A and B would be first cousin once removed.





Extending the previous example, the famous singer Dame Clara Ellen Butt is Frances' first cousin because James and Mary Ann are grandparents to them both. But from above you can seen that Frances is my great-grandmother and thus James and Mary Ann are my 3xgreat-grandparents.  Dame Clara Butt is therefore my first cousin three times removed, because I am three generations below Frances.

The final complication that I shall mention is the case where only one of the grandparents is shared, not both.  This happens when the shared grandparent has had children with two different partners. In this case the relationship can be described as "half-", but often this complication is ignored.

So to recap:  If two people share common grandparents then they are first cousins, if they share great-grandparents they are second cousins, if they share 2xgreat-grandparents they are third cousins and if they share Nxgreat-grandparents then they are (N+1)th cousins!  If the number of generations is different down each of their lines from the shared ancestors, then the lowest cousin number is used and the difference in the number of generations is the number of times removed.

I hope that all makes sense!



In genealogy discussions on the Internet, for example in fora or Facebook groups, the subject of copyright sometimes arises. It usually crops up in relation to either family photos that have been uploaded to the web or to images from genealogy websites (such as Ancestry or FindMyPast). So I thought it would be worth outlining the rules on copyright.

In the UK the law covering copyright is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988 as amended by later legislation. The entire Act can be viewed at  It covers pretty much anything that is a photograph, sound recording, artwork, film or written words. For convenience I will refer to all of these as works.  The main purpose of the Act is to protect the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) of the copyright owner, by not allowing other people to copy the work except as allowed by the copyright holder.

According to the 1988 act (as amended), copyright belongs to the creator of the work, or if they were employed to create the work then it belongs to their employer. Note that if someone commissions a freelance creator, then the copyright belongs to the creator, not the commissioner. Copyright lasts for a long time.  We are mostly concerned with photos and writing here, and the copyright in these lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years.  To be precise it expires 70 years after the end of the calendar year in which the creator dies. If the creator is unknown then copyright expires 70 years after the work was created, or if it has been made public in that time then the copyright expires 70 years after the work was made public.  There are a couple of special cases: If a work is produced by the Monarch or somebody working on the Monarch's behalf, then the work is Crown Copyright. Similarly if the work is produced on behalf of Parliament then the work is Parliamentary Copyright. Crown Copyright can last up to 125 years from when the work was produced and Parliamentary Copyright lasts 50 years.

However, prior to the 1988 act different laws would have been in effect. These may affect both who owns the copyright and how long it lasts. An excellent summary is available at The chief changes have been that:

  • prior to 1st July 1912 the photographer owned the copyright unless they were commissioned to take the picture in which case it was the commissioner who owned the copyright.
  • between 1st July 1912 and 31st July 1989, the person who owned the material on which the photo was taken (e.g. the negative) also owned the copyright, except that in the case of commissions, the commissioner owned the copyright.
  • for photos taken prior to 1st June 1957 the copyright expired 50 years after the end of the year in which they were taken, except that if the copyright was still in force on 1st July 1995, then it was extended to the photographer's life plus 70 years. In some cases this copyright extension was available even in cases where the copyright had already expired in the UK, but not in some other EEA country.
  • for photos taken between 1st June 1957 and 31st July 1989 the copyright duration depends on whether they were published before 1st August 1989. If they were published the copyright expires either 50 years after publication or 70 years after the death of the photographer, whichever is later. If they were not published, the copyright expires either 70 years after the death of the photographer or on 31st December 2039 whichever is later.
  • for photos taken after 1st August 1989 the copyright expires 70 years after the end of the year in which the photographer dies.

So, if somebody complains that a family photo that they have uploaded to Ancestry (for example) has been copied by someone else who didn't ask permission, what is the situation in copyright terms?

Well, if they are the copyright holder then you might think they have a valid complaint.  But, of course, it is not quite that simple.  Ancestry, FindMyPast, Facebook and similar sites have terms and conditions that will include clauses that:

  • allow them to copy anything you upload to other users (their sites wouldn't really work if they couldn't do this!)
  • require you to be the copyright holder (or have the copyright holders permission) so that you can permit them to copy anything
  • prohibit you from uploading stuff that you are not copyright holder of unless you have the copyright holder's permission

So in our example the person may complain of the copier's lack of manners, but in legal terms they have already given permission for the photo to be copied by the simple act of uploading it in the first place.

Note that on a site like Ancestry, for example, which allows you to set your tree (and its uploaded data) to public or private, the above is true regardless of the setting. I.e. Even if your tree is private you are granting permission for photos to be copied by uploading them. The terms and conditions do not make a distinction between uploads to private and public trees.

And if they did not actually take the photo themselves, then they are unlikely to be the actual copyright holder.  In which case they are the ones at fault and liable to be sued by the copyright holder.  Although it is worth stressing at this point that only the copyright holder can take action for infringement, so that is very unlikely to happen.

This is because, in the common situation where the creator of the work has died, the copyright will have passed according to the Will or usual rules of Intestacy, if there was no will.  As copyright is unlikely to be explicitly mentioned in a will it will have passed to the beneficiary of the residue.  So in practice it is likely that the copyright holder will be unaware of the fact that they are the copyright holder! It could also be argued that the copyright goes with the negatives, but in most cases the negatives have probably been lost or destroyed. Of course, if it has been more than 70 years since the photographer died then the copyright is expired and image is in the public domain. It is worth noting here that the term "public domain", in the context of copyright, has the specific meaning of "out of copyright". Anything on the internet may be publicly available but that does not make it public domain in the copyright sense. It is still copyright.

With images from websites that might be copied and uploaded to other websites the situation is slightly different.  Most commercial websites, such as Ancestry or FindMyPast, will claim to be the copyright holder (or an agent of the copyright holder) for any images or transcriptions that they serve up.  They will therefore not be happy if someone posts on Facebook, or elsewhere, whole images, screenshots or whatever that have been obtained from their site.  The law (and the commercial terms and conditions) allow for some uses of copyright material.  So typically making copies for your own private research or posting a snippet of an image to see what other people think it says will be allowed.  The posting rules for most Facebook groups or other fora usually reflect this.

Now, some people might think "but the Crown Copyright on this page of the 1881 Census has expired, so I can post it", but of course it is not quite that simple.  Even if the copyright has expired, there are a couple of other factors to consider.  The presentation of the image may itself be copyright, in the same way that the typographical layout of a book has a separate copyright to the content.  Anyone can produce their own editions of public domain novels, for example, but you still can't copy someone else's edition.  The only real grey area is the case of a copy of a public domain work, for example a photo of an old painting or a scan of an old photo.  If the copy is a straight mechanical copy of the original then there is no doubt that the copy is also public domain. However, if the copy involves artistic, or creative changes to the original then it may be claimed that it the subject of a new copyright. That would be an argument for the courts to decide, and each such case would be made on its own merits. See the official UK Government guidance at .

It goes without saying that transcriptions are separately copyrighted works.  But facts are facts and are not subject to copyright, so provided that you write them out yourself that's fine.

Be careful out there!


I thought it might be useful to write a few notes for people wishing to visit the Isle of Wight Record Office (IWRO) in order to find out more about their Family History.

As most people will be aware the IWRO holds a wide variety of local historical documents and research resources.  A look at their website will give a good idea of the items held.  One of the links there is to their Family History Research Guide ( ), which it is certainly worth reading in preparation for your visit.

The IWRO is located on Hillside, between Fairlee Road and the Quay in Newport (See ) and is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 9am until 12:25pm and from 1pm until 5pm.

So what will you find when you visit the IWRO?

From the front door, go through the hallway and through the door marked "Search Room".  As you stand in the Search Room doorway you will see that there is shelving and a short passageway to your left. The passageway leads to a smaller room with the microfilm reader/printer, the toilets and the staff only areas.  Then along the left hand wall there are filing cabinets followed by more bookshelves, and then in the far corner the Enquiries Desk, where you will need to sign in.  The staff are lovely and very helpful.  If you are not sure of anything ask them and they will sort you out.  Along the back wall are more Book shelves.

To the right of the Search Room doorway there are more shelves, and then along the right hand wall more filing cabinets followed by a large table reserved for the use of maps and then another table, a display and a computer.  Down the middle of the room are two large tables with chairs.  Sign in and take a chair.

The primary records for Family History research are the Parish Records, in particular the Parish Registers (PR).  These record all the church baptisms, marriages and burials, and in some cases the records go back as far as the mid-16th Century.  The Parish Registers are generally large volumes and the older ones are rather fragile.  If they were consulted very frequently they would soon be badly damaged and entries could become lost or illegible.  For this reason most of them have been micro-filmed. They have also been indexed.  These index entries form the bulk of the main Name Index which is in the filing cabinets on the left when looking from the door. The index is in the form of cards with a separate card for each record that has been indexed.  The cards are filed by name and then within each name there are first all the baptisms from the PR, then all the marriages followed by all the burials.  There are then cards for miscellaneous records.  These are mostly land and property transactions.  Within each of the four sets of cards, the cards should be arranged in chronological order.  These cabinets contain entries up to 1900.

Each card that corresponds to a PR entry is actually a full transcription of the entry, except in the case of marriages.  Marriages before 1754 are full transcripts, but between 1754 and 1837 witnesses are not included on the cards and it is not indicated whether the bride and groom signed the register or made their mark.  After 1837 the marriages are simply indexed, but for this period photocopies of the registers are available in ring binders for each church.  These can be found on top of the filing cabinets.

If you take out a bunch of cards to check through at the table, make sure that you get a marker tab from the Enquiry Desk to mark where you have taken the cards from so that you can put them back in the right place!  Also take care when working through them to keep them in chronological order.  Note that, as in any transcription, the Name Index may contain a few errors.  If you want to be absolutely sure of your facts you should check the actual entries in the registers.  This usually involves obtaining the relevant microfilm from a member of staff and taking it to the microfilm reader/printer.  If you plan to do this you should book the use of the microfilm reader/printer before hand.

The last cards of the Name Index and others for the period after 1900 are to be found in the filing cabinets on the other side of the room.  There are also separate indices filed by Place and Subject.

If you wish to check what periods are covered by the Parish Registers, or wish to see what other Parish Records are available, there is a handy webpage at Clicking on any name in the parish list there will open a catalogue of all the Parish Records for that parish.

The shelves between the filing cabinets and the Enquiry Desk contain general reference books relevant to the Isle of Wight, and in particular a selection of Trade and Street Directories covering the late 18th to the mid 20th century.

The shelves to the right of the entrance contain binders with catalogues of the various collections held by the Record Office.  An online catalogue of the Record Office holdings can be searched at the National Archives website.  Select the "Discovery" search engine and click on the "advanced search" link ( ) at the bottom of the page is a "Held By" field.  Select the button for "Search other archives" and type "Isle of Wight Record Office". Then use the search and date boxes further up the page.  Using the online catalogue before you visit can save you time at the Record Office.

If you find references in any of the catalogues to documents that you think may be of interest to you, then make a note of the reference number. Go to the Enquiries Desk and fill in a request slip and the document will be retrieved from the store and brought to you.  If you wish to capture images of any documents, then talk to a member of staff for advice.  Some documents can be photocopied for you, but often a digital camera/phone picture is more convenient.  There is a fee to pay either way.

Finally, I should make mention of the Family Files.  These live on the shelves to the left of the entrance.  There are two distinct sets of these. One is family history research that has been deposited with the IWRO by individuals or which has been compiled by Record Office staff as paid research.  This set lives in box files on the lower shelves. The other set has been deposited by the Isle of Wight Family History Society (their Pedigree data, compiled by their members).  It lives in green boxes above the box files.  There is a blue binder that contains indices for both sets, with the IWFHS one at the back.  If you are lucky you may find the family you are interested in has already been researched by someone and your questions are answered here!  It's always worth checking anything you find here.

I hope you find these notes useful and that you enjoy your time at the Isle of Wight Record Office.