From Crusades to Credit Cards
Issue #62 - London
The first issuance of an object known as a “travelers cheque” occurred on 1 January 1772, according to most sources. The inventor is credited as being Sir Robert Herries, a cosmopolitan globe trotter of his day. But history shows that the concept of the travelers cheque, also referred to as a “circular note,” actually began centuries earlier during the Crusades and was managed by none other than the Knights Templar.
The Travelers Cheque: From Crusades to Credit Cards
During the era of the Crusades, after Jerusalem had been taken over by Christian interests and under the rule of Baldwin II (a member of the nobility from the region now known as France), the “Order of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon” was established to help protect the growing number of European pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem. This group began with a monastic order of knights from the same region as Baldwin II. Their headquarters were literally in a former mosque that was seated on Temple Mount, hence earning the name of Knight Templars.
The main threat to traveling pilgrims making the long journey was robbery for the money they carried. The amount of money needed to travel such a long distance was sizable and in the form of coins, primarily of copper and silver, and sometimes gold. To protect the travelers, the Knights established nearly 1,000 outposts between England and the Middle East. A traveler could go to the nearest outpost, deposit their money at the beginning of the journey, and receive a letter of credit for that money. The traveler would be able to stop at the next outpost, spend whatever money they needed for food, supplies, or lodging, get a new letter less the amount spent, and continue on to the next outpost. At the end of their journey, the traveler would either be given the remainder of their money or issued with a bill. It was an ingenious system that made the Knights Templar a very powerful organization.
After the Knights Templar were banned in the 1300s after the age of Crusades had ended, the concept of a letter of credit was often used to manage money between regions when it remained dangerous to carry money. This method was cumbersome and not always honored, creating problems for travelers who may be going to a place without any “connections.” As trade and business became more fluid and international, some people required more accessible and reliable means of moving themselves and their money from place to place. One such person was Robert Herries.
Robert Herries was a Scottish-born financier who had training in Rotterdam under his uncle’s merchant business. He went on to have interests in Barcelona, Marseille, and throughout France, the Mediterranean, even in America, spreading his interests and money across the continent and beyond. He eventually moved his business to London after being invited to join Coutts and Company, where he conceptualized a way to circumvent the need for letters of credit. His personal travels surely were encumbered by needing some guarantee of service and safety, but with a travelers cheque, the document would represent actual money, and not some amount on a letter. He first issued such a note in 1769 from Coutts & Co, but just three years later, the Coutts brothers were out, and the company’s name had been changed to “London Credit Exchange Company,” and the note was good at 90 other banking institutions across Europe. This allowed for more travelers to conduct business abroad with the guarantee of money without carrying the physical money. Casual travel also became more accessible for those who had the means.
Another take on the travelers cheque was put into place in 1869 by Thomas Cook, who was a tour organizer, also based in London. His company, Thomas Cook & Son, was a travel agency that booked all-inclusive trips to various destinations, including around the world. Much like the Knight Templars’ concept of outposts along a journey, Cook established various agencies around the world, where the travelers cheques issued by his company would be good at any of the other Cook agencies, as well as some partner businesses like hotels and other venues associated with the tours.
But the man who would create a truly global standard of what we now know as the modern travelers cheque, was Marcellus Flemming Berry. He was an employee of J.C. Fargo at American Express, and in 1882, had been responsible for initiating a money order system that could be used internationally. In 1890, Fargo returned from a trip to Europe completely frustrated by the fact that his letter of credit was not honored in smaller European towns—what an affront! He tapped his employee, Mr. Berry, to devise a solution, and the modern travelers cheque was born.
The benefit of the American Express travelers cheque was that it was guaranteed globally, could be replaced if lost or stolen, never expired, and was accepted by most banking institutions, money exchangers, and even some businesses. Since American Express already had the money order business well established, the travelers cheques were easily adopted and accepted. When the broader population could travel more rapidly, readily, and leisurely, the world became accessible to international tourists. Carrying money, even in paper form, continued to be risky, but with an American Express travelers cheque, you could rest assured that you would have access to money on your trip, even if you had the misfortune of a lost wallet.
As times changed and the modern era of consumerism arrived across a vast population, businesses began to offer various means of “charging” purchases, but the first charge card that could be used at multiple places was the Diner’s Club card, which was developed in 1950. Soon, banks issued cards with revolving credit, and Visa and Mastercard were born. American Express joined in the credit card business in 1958, issuing the first plastic embossed cards in 1959. The success of the credit card industry spelled the beginning of the end for travelers cheques.
During the decade of the 1990s, digital banking became the new standard in most of the world, meaning travelers could easily use a variety of card services at automatic tellers and in most points of sale. American Express even created a pre-paid card that worked similarly to travelers cheques but with the additional security features of pin numbers and eventually chip technology. Some people surely still used traveler’s cheques for the purpose of having “cash” on hand at a destination in case some miscommunication happened to limit access to the card.
The end of an era has arrived, however. American Express quietly discontinued the sale of its famous travelers cheques in March 2021. There was apparently no press release to the public at large, but some banks stopped accepting them for cash exchange. The cheques are still valuable for the face value, and American Express will continue to honor them. But now, your credit or debit card can be used internationally, most likely. Just let your bank know that you are in travel mode before you go.
Five new collections were recently added to the collection of British Newspapers on FindMyPast.
Not genealogy-related, but interesting nonetheless - Raining Fish in Texas? What’s behind rare animal phenomenon? The stories our great-grandpa told us when we were children could have actually been true and not a yarn he wove to impress the children.
Warwickshire Deaths and Baptisms are unique to the FindMyPast site and are included in their vast array of workhouse records.
Anglican Parish Registers
As parish registers are often the only source for establishing generational links and confirming familial relationships for ancestors who resided in England until civil registrations began in 1837, it is important that family historians have a broad understanding of who and what information that can be found in these records, as well as how to access them.
During the early 16th century, the Church of England, also known as the Anglican or Episcopal Church, separated from the Roman Catholic Church following a dispute with King Henry VIII. Soon thereafter, in 1538, a law was established which required that the parish priests record all baptisms (sometimes referred to as christenings), marriages and burials for which they officiated. However, widespread compliance was not achieved until as late as 1598, when bishops’ transcripts (annual copies of parish registers sent to the archdeacon or bishop) were first required. The acts were recorded on blank pages and there was no consistent manner for the recordings from parish to parish, or register to register for that matter. In some instances they were listed in separate columns on the same page, while in other registers they were grouped by act in different parts of the book, or in other instances they were grouped together and recorded chronologically.
Around 1754 a new law was enacted which required that marriages and marriage banns —prerequisite public proclamations of intent to be married— be recorded in their own separate books. Pre-printed registers came into use beginning in 1812. These pre-printed pages provided prompts for the priests to fill in required information. As such, the minimum information recorded became more standardized. The parish registers remain fairly comprehensive from the latter half of the 16th century through the onset of civil registrations in 1837, with the exception of two periods of unrest, one in the 16th century (1553-1558) and one in the 17th century (1642-1660), which lead to lapses in the maintaining of records.
The registers were largely written in Latin, the basic genealogically pertinent key words, phrases and numbers necessary to comprehend the historic registers can be accessed on FamilySearch. This valuable resource also provides guidance on the characteristics of the language, including inflections, gender classifications and tense.
When undertaking research in the parish registers of England, a basic understanding of the geographical hierarchy of the church is helpful. The parish is the basic unit, however, parishes were sometimes divided into smaller units called chapelries. The smaller chapelries held the same authority as their mother parishes, as such they also maintained their own registers. Though these registers were created at the chapelry level, the records are still referred to as parish registers. Parishes were sometimes grouped together into rural deaneries and those deaneries were part of a diocese, which fell under the jurisdiction of a bishop. In turn, the dioceses are divided into two provinces, the Province of Canterbury and the Province of York, with the former encompassing the majority.
Ancestors may have visited any nearby chapelry or parish and the locations where acts for a given family may vary, even if the family did not change residences. In addition, parochial boundaries have changed over the centuries, so it is important to review maps of the pertinent time period(s) to aid in determining where records for your ancestors may have been created. A great resource for pre-1882 parish boundaries and details on starting dates for registers by parish, as well as details on churches can be found in the Phillimore Atlas and Index Registers. Multiple editions have been created over the years and are widely available at local libraries. Color-coded maps from this collection are also available on Ancestry.com.
Another important element that family historians should take into account when researching in parish records are changes to the calendar system utilized during the given time period. Calendar modifications took place in Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries resulting in some register entries having dual-date recordings. Further information regarding the calendar modification in our article The Lost 11 Days, which details the transition from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.
There were several types of records created in the Church of England that hold genealogically-pertinent information and they include:
Baptismal or Christening - The act of the initial rite which an individual receives in the Church of England. The ceremony is normally performed soon after birth; however, in some instances the act does not take place for weeks, months or even years. The baptismal registers may include information such as the parish name, baptism date, child’s given name, names of parents, name of priest and post-1812 the residence and occupations of the parents.
Marriage - Mandates for the recording of the marriages or weddings of couples began in the Church of England in the early 16th century, but were not always restricted to those who followed the Anglican faith. Marriage registers represent the most comprehensive coverage of the population of England between the years of 1754 and 1837, when a law required that all couples in England to be married in the Church of England, regardless of their personal denomination. Sometimes referred to as wedding registers, the records may include details such as parish, date of act, full names of the bride and groom and name of priest. Post-1754 marriages could also include the full names of witnesses to the marriage and banns or license. Banns, formal proclamations of the intent to marry, were required beginning in 1754, and largely include the same information as the marriage register. Though banns are not technically a parish register, they are often found in the collection with the parish registers.
Burial - It has been common practice throughout history that burial takes place within a few days of death. Non-Anglicans were often interred in Anglican cemeteries (churchyards) until the late 1800s as there were no cemeteries for their own religious faiths. In addition to the parish name, date of burial and name of the deceased, burial registers may include the name of the priest and, after 1812, the age and residence of the decedent at death.
Parish Chest Records - Though not technically considered a parish register, parish chest records were maintained at the parish level and as they can be genealogically-pertinent, deserve to be mentioned. Parishes became the geographic unit for not only ecclesiastical records but also civil records. This led to records dealing with both legal and civic matters to be commonly kept at parish churches, most often in a strongbox or chest. Thes holdings may include records such as vestry minutes, apprenticeship records, settlement and removal records and bastardy bonds, potentially among others. As chest records can encompass a variety of record types and topics, it is best to search for specific record types as opposed to parish chest records.
Parish register indexes are available through Ancestry.com and FamilySearch, while the actual register images can be found on FindMyPast or at the Family History LIbrary in Salt Lake City. Though they have their limitations, parish registers and related records can hold the key to unlocking numerous generations of your English family tree.
Learn more about The History of Parish Registers in England and Wales in this article from our archives.
Past Issues Worth Reading
The Lights of Christmas - Read Here
The Unsung Hero of Aviation - Read Here
Arrested for Wearing Pants - Read Here
The Standardization of Time in 1883 - Read Here
The Al Capone Takedown - Read Here
Prohibition - Read Here
The War Years - Read Here
Parker’s Ferry Ambush - Read Here
Polish Immigrant Ancestors - Read Here
“You Say You Want a Revolution..” - Read Here
The Antebellum South - Read Here
European Romanticisms in Association (http://www.euromanticism.org : accessed 28 December 2021), “Herries & Co. Circular Note.”
Robin Saks Frankel, Forbes Advisor (https://www.forbes.com/advisor : accessed 27 December 2021), “When Were Credit Cards Invented: The History of Credit Cards.”
Lady Edith Haden-Guest, The History of Parliament (https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org: accessed 27 December 2021), “Herries, Sir Robert (1730 – 1815), of Richmond, Surr.”
Martha (customer service representative), American Express (World Financial Center, 200 Vesey Street, New York, New York 10285), interview by Amy Barth, 28 December 2021; transcript privately held by Amy Barth, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Manchaca, Texas, 2021. Martha spoke from personal knowledge when asked about discontinuation of American Express Travelers Cheques.
Numismatic News (https://www.numismaticnews.net : accessed 27 December 2021), “ Coming Demise of Traveler’s Checks.”
Peter Preskar, History of Yesterday (https://historyofyesterday.com : accessed 27 December 2021), “Knights Templar — Warrior monks of Christianity.”
The Saturday Evening Post (https://www.saturdayeveningpost.com : accessed 29 December 2021), “Vintage Ads: Travel in the 1950s.”
Traveling-cook.com (https://traveling-cook.com : accessed 27 December 2021), “Who Invented the Traveler’s Checks? History of Tourism.”
Traveling-cook.com (https://traveling-cook.com : accessed 28 December 2021), “Thomas Cook & Son in the History of Tourism.”
University of Hawaii Federal Credit Union (https://www.uhfcu.com : accessed 27 December 2021), “Travelers Cheques Discontinued.”
FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org), "England Parish Registers - FamilySearch Historical Records," rev. 08:55, 20 April 2021.
Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org), “American Express,” rev. 03:49, 17 December 2021.
“Great Britain, Atlas and Index of Parish Registers,” digital images, Ancestry.com (https://ancestry.com : accessed 30 December 2021), Somerset Parish Map; citing, Cecil R. Humphrey Smith, The Phillimore Atlas & Index of Parish Registers (Chichester, England: Phillimore & Co., 2003).
FamilySearch Wiki (https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/File:004635024_00050_Devon_Marriage,_1664.jpg : accessed 30 December 2021), digital image of parish register, 1664 marriage, Newton-Ferrers, Devon, England, “File:004635024 00050 Devon Marriage, 1664.jpg;” image uploaded by user Ridgew.