A few years ago I started to take an interest in my roots. Wondering where I came from, just where did I get that taste for real ale, gardening and the ability to program a computer? Just who did I inherit these big ears from?
It wasn’t easy getting started. I was brought up by my paternal grandparents having, as a small child, been taken into care. That was in the mid-1970s, a time when things were kept quiet and not talked about. I knew very little about my father and nothing at all about my mother, save for her name.
When I was about nineteen I bumped into someone in a pub, as you do, who turned out to be my mother’s younger sister. From there I met my mother and her mother, but soon lost touch again and by the time I started to take an interest in genealogy I was into my forties, my paternal grandmother had passed away and my grandfather was quickly succumbing to dementia.
My aunts, who I was brought up with and look upon more as big sisters, knew a very little about our roots and a cousin had dabbled in online genealogy, but there was little definitive to go on so I took it upon myself to dive into the world of online family history and set up an Ancestry.com account. I was hooked immediately and quickly started to build my tree, but I’ll go into the specifics (and the pitfalls) of that later.
Soon after that I volunteered at the local archives, The Treasure House in Beverley, to research the lives of local men who had served in the Great War. I learned a massive amount about researching people doing this and received a lot of help with my own genealogy research. The people there are so knowledgeable and helpful that a lot of what I’ve discovered would never have come to light without their help.
That’s not to say that the internet is not helpful though, on the contrary, it’s packed with information and many, many people who give up their time to maintain online archives, transcribe local parish records etc. Some offer researching services for a small fee that help you get to places you just couldn’t reach normally, such as Australia and the US.
But, when it comes to tangible evidence of your forbears, you can’t beat your local archives. There’s nothing quite like turning over the pages of a parish register that was started in the 16th century, half written in English and smattered with Latin, or discovering a two hundred year old map, hand drawn and watercoloured, twelve feet long and five feet wide, and realising that it was made by your very own 6th great grandfather. Except perhaps being shown a photocopy of another one drawn by his father thirty years earlier (the original is held by the Borthwick Institute in York).
I’ve discovered criminals deported to Australia, a grandfather who emigrated there and great uncles who went there to make their fortune in the 1860s, one of whom met a rather abrupt end. I’ve found a 5th great grandmother who travelled the world with the 34th Regiment of Foot as the 18th century gave way to the 19th, had five children to three husbands on three different continents and made her way through wars and battlefields to settle in Bridlington. I learned about an entire family of 19th century cab drivers, I’ve found shepherds, soldiers, thieves, fishmongers, gardeners, cordwainers, farmers, rich men and paupers.
Perhaps most surprisingly is the fact that the vast majority of my ancestors, with a few rare exceptions, all come from East Yorkshire, which makes the local archives a very valuable resource indeed. The big ears though, they’re from my paternal grandfather, and his line comes from Wiltshire.
Now, it is time to admit that, while I do seem to have a knack for genealogy, I am far from being an expert. I have no research or history qualifications. I’ve not got a Phd in anything at all. I am a computer programmer by profession, before that I was a welder. I’m just someone who took enough of an interest in something to learn how to do it.
The purpose of this blog is, as well as to show off what I’ve found (there’s no point dragging all those skeletons out of the cupboard if only I get to see them), but also to act as a primer of sorts, to show others that you don’t need to go to university to find out what your great, great grandad did for a living, or spend a fortune paying someone else to find out for you. A lot of the research I do costs nothing at all but time and the only ability you need is a little common sense, that and the willingness to listen to sound advice.
So that is what this blog will be. Future posts will be about what I find and how I found it. I may go back a little and pick out some of the more interesting things I’ve already discovered and I will be dropping in posts about the WW1 Lives Project (see the main menu).