Blog

  1. Old (& New) Family Photographs: Clues to Past and Future Family History

    I have been hooked on history, especially family history, since I was a child. For many years I concentrated on finding out more about my Mum’s side of the family, while my Heritage family history remained a mystery since my Dad never spoke about his family. All I knew was that he had a sister in New Zealand and had had an elder brother called Ron who was killed in WW11. His silence spurred me on to find out more.  One afternoon I secretly ventured into our attic to see what I could find. Among suitcases, Christmas decorations and old kitchen utensils, I found several boxes of old books, some of which had the name of Dad’s brother inscribed in the front. Even better, however, was the box stuffed full of memorial cards and old family photographs! Memorial cards were popular in the 19th and early 20th century, being sent to friends and family after someone had died. They usually provide vital information about the deceased including full name, date of death, age and burial place. The wodge of cards I found were later to provide many clues for building my family tree while the photographs were (like most old family photos!) all unlabelled and very frustrating.

    I sat for some time staring at the faces of the people in the pictures, wondering exactly how they were related to me and what their names were! Most of these were group photographs taken at weddings and a precious memory of each event, but also a record of so many of my relatives. When I was older I plucked up the courage to ask my Dad about his family and to my surprise he didn’t mind talking about it at all! (‘You never asked’, he said!) We spent an afternoon going through each of the photographs and he told me the name of all those relatives he remembered and I duly wrote them in pencil on the back. These days of course I use an acid free archival pen!

    Earlier this month I celebrated my 50th birthday! While on the one hand I wanted to celebrate successfully reaching such an advanced age, I was also determined to combine it with a family reunion, concentrating (due to space restrictions) on my maternal family. It seemed that the only time we all got together was at funerals. With all the invites sent, I waited impatiently to see who would be able to make it. A few people, sadly, could not make the chosen weekend, but twenty nine relatives could and, together with many friends and colleagues, we had a truly wonderful weekend blessed with ideal weather conditions for an outdoor party!

    Much interest was stimulated by the family tree chart, showing how we are all descended from James Postlethwaite Wilson and Mary Dickinson. Another success was my request that each relative bring a family photo of a common ancestor or relative. This revived many old memories as did a wonderful cine film of a 1957 family wedding. We spent hours re-running the five-minute film and identifying family members past and present! A few photographs remained tantalisingly unidentified or undated and for these I shall be engaging the services of Jayne Shrimpton to help identify them with her brilliant photo dating and analysis service. You can learn more about photo dating through Jayne’s many books, while she also writes a very informative column for Family Tree Magazine.

    Remembering future generations is just as important as looking back in time. Our ancestors often left a healthy paper trail for us to follow, but those who come after us may find it much more difficult as our trail becomes increasingly digitised. Will our digital photographs be passed on to later generations? Will they be labelled?

    My party was an excellent opportunity to make a photographic record of so many family members. Here I would like to thank Mia Bennett for spending much of the weekend snapping away in a series of informal but also formal group shots.  These are currently being printed out and labelled so that in times to come, everyone will know who we were and what we looked like! My favourite shot (below) was our attempt at a Victorian non-smiling pose. If you look closely you will see that not everyone managed not to smile but this picture, together with the other photos, are a great record of a wonderful day and will help provide a paper and digital record of our present-day family.

    Victorian Style Group Photo crop

  2. Farewell to Cumbria

     

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    Appleby St Lawrence

    For the last week my husband and I have been relaxing on holiday post-WDYTYA! Our favourite place is Cumbria, where we both have long established roots and, although we were staying in Appleby-in-Westmorland, as usual we ended up roaming all over the county from East to West, North to South (Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire North of the Sands – with bit of Lancashire proper too!) – walking, relaxing and exploring churches and churchyards. Just what I needed after after all the work involved in preparing for WDYTYA.

    Celia

    Celia Heritage

    I also spend time in both Kendal and Carlisle Record Offices searching for my own ancestors in manorial records. My visit to Carlisle RO was my first since its relocation and I was very impressed! A lovely purpose built, yet tasteful, building with efficient knowledgeable staff and even car parking! A rare treat these days. My only gripe with Cumbria Archives is that if they had to reduce opening hours to four days a week why must all the record offices shut on the same day (Monday)? A real pain if you are visiting for a week and want to carry out some serious research. At least closing some on Mondays and some on Fridays, for example, would give the non-local researcher a better opportunity to utilise all his or her time.

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    Lamplugh churchyard

    Some other highlights of our holiday were churchyards at Lamplugh where many of the older gravestones are wonderfully preserved such as the one shown here for Margaret Burnyeat who died, aged 72, in 1724 ; also Moresby on the West Coast – an impressive church standing near the cliff edge looking across to Scotland and surrounded again by many well-preserved graves, many marking those killed in the local mines.

    We took our fond farewell of Cumbria a couple of days ago to return home to Kent. Hopefully we will be back ‘up North’ before too long.

    Moresby

    Moresby churchyard

  3. WDYTYA – A week on and the first set of photos!

    My eight talks over and now just over a week on from WDYTYA Live 2015 I am now pleasantly relaxed after several days off! Here are some mementos of three very enjoyable and successful days.

    Apart from some acoustic problems in my talk How Far Did Your Ancestor Travel on Thursday (caused by the fact that the NEC microphone headset in SOG 2 did not adjust down small enough to fit my head!) all my talks ran smoothly, were well-attended and very well-received.

    Tweet-up

    Tweet-up No 1!

    The highlights of the exhibition for me were my final talk on the Saturday in SOG 1, which was packed with over 270 people, and catching up with friends and colleagues in our many ‘tweet-ups’ and evening ‘genie’ gatherings. Also the fact that my health is now so greatly improved from a year ago. Last year I had to take regular breaks back at my hotel in order to carry out all my commitments and during my seventh talk on day three I can remember wondering  whether I would make it to the end with out passing out! At that time I had just been diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a disease of the connective tissues, which was leaving me increasingly exhausted and in almost constant pain. Thankfully, following my diagnosis, I was lucky to receive some very supportive treatment from a great physio and also CBT pain therapy. A year later, following an intensive exercise routine,I find myself so much fitter and stronger –  and by talk number eight this year I was still enjoying myself! I could not have been more pleased!

    Genie Meal!

    If you could not make the NEC, I will be giving my talks I’ve Lost My Ancestor Before 1837 and How Far Did your Ancestor Travel again on 30 May in Petersfield, Hampshire as part of a one day seminar with Les Mitchinson. For further details see http://www.mitchinsongenealogy.com/tuition/course-dates.Handouts for all my talks are also now available: those for TheGenealogist at www.thegenealogist.co.uk/celia and those for the Society of Genealogists (along with handouts from many other speakers) at www.sog.org.uk.

  4. Ready for WDYTYA Live NEC!

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    Tomorrow sees the first day of the hugely popular WDYTYA Live Family History show and this year, for the first time, the venue is the NEC in Birmingham.

    I arrived at the NEC at lunchtime and spent some time exploring the venue which is in Hall 2 of the NEC. Unlike Olympia the hall is on one level but it is well laid out and there is easy access from both the airport and train stations.

    The picture below will give you an insight into the amount to work that goes into each exhibition and at 4pm on Wednesday the hall is still being transformed into tomorrow’s show ground!

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    Meanwhile I am prepared to give eight talks in total – twice daily for TheGenealogist on stall 500 where at 12 0′ clock and 2pm each day  I will be talking about (among other things) tithe records and apprentice records, and other occupational sources. At 3.15 on Thursday I am speaking on migration within the UK for our pre-19th century ancestors in the SOG 2 arena. You may be surprised at just how far your ancestors travelled before this date and this may account for many of your ‘missing’ ancestors. At 3.45 on Saturday my last talk (SOG1) will look at how to trace those missing ancestors before 1837. In between you can pick up copies of the revised edition of my book Tracing Your Ancestors Through Death Records at the Pen and Sword stand (402).

    All set and ready to go! Roll on tomorrow!