Case Studies

The Reed Family History Book


William Reed Business Media is a family business established in 1861 and best-known for publishing The Grocer. Over the years the family had acquired a tremendous number of family documents ranging from account and staff books through to family bibles, scrapbooks, letters and diaries. The Reed family tree was well-documented back to 1831 when the founder of the company, William Reed, had been born.


Although the business was already well-documented I was asked to write a book about the family itself which could be preserved for posterity and given to family members. The family also wanted suggestions on how to collate and preserve their documents for the future.

In order to do this I was required to do the following:

  • Assess all the documents held in the family archives with a view to incorporating the information about them into the book. These were contained in numerous boxes and filled two board-room tables.
  • Verify and add to the information already known about the family
  • Trace the Reed family further back in time
  • Produce family tree charts and select suitable images to use as illustrations in the book

End Product

Using a wide range of sources from parish, manorial and probate records through to land records, newspapers, census returns and even records from York Racecourse I was able to build a highly detailed history of the Reed family, not only adding to what was known about the family but pushing the family tree back to approximately 1680. The end result was a book of 45,000 words which the family then published privately at their own expense.

I also made several voice recordings, which included much of the family's oral heritage, and suggested ways in which the family could ensure copies of all their photographs and other memorabilia were protected for the future.

A copy of the book, the voice files, plus the hundreds of documents I had acquired during my research were saved digitally to onto DVD and in the cloud.

Tracing a family in parish registers, including the father of an illegitimate child.

The client asked me to find out more about the parents of his great great grandfather James Sisley. From research in other records, he already knew that James was born about 1829 in Pembury, Kent. However, James' marriage certificate showed his father not to be a Sisley at all but a man called James Barns.


Since James was born before the start of civil registration of births, marriage and deaths in 1837 I located his baptismal entry which, showed that he was the illegitimate son of Mary Sisley. The question now remained as to the identity of James Barns. Was he really James' biological father or could he have been his foster father or the husband of James' mother following her later marriage?

Searches in the Pembury parish registers revealed that Mary had had another illegitimate son called John a few years before, while she had finally married a man called John Taylor in 1831.

A search in the Kent History and Library Centre archives catalogue showed that Pembury had relevant surviving poor law records for this period. Making a search in these, I located records relating to regular maintenance payments made by two men in order to support Mary Sisley and her children. One of these was a man called Henry Baldwin and he had fathered her first child, but the second was a man called James Barns who was indeed the biological father of James' Sisley!

I also carried out further research on the Sisley line, tracing this back to the late seventeenth century.

Tracing a Client's Birth Family

My client was born and adopted in the 1950s. He had had a very happy upbringing with his adoptive parents who had moved to the USA from England when he was very young. He wanted to know more about his birth parents, in particular his mother and what had happened to her. His adoption file gave little more than the names of both his parents and an address for his mother in the 1950s.

Despite having little to go on and a surname which was relatively common, I was able to trace a marriage for his mother a few years after his birth. She had actually gone on to marry his birth father and the couple had then had several other children. After considerable thought and discussion about possible consequences for both my client and his birth family, my client then decided he would like me to contact his birth mother on his behalf. This was done in such a way that she would not be put in an awkward position should she not welcome contact.

Once contact had been established she told me she had been waiting for this moment for forty years, never daring to dream it would really happen. My client's family were overjoyed to have found him and after many emails and telephone conversations he was finally happily reunited with them the following year during a visit to the UK.

Before considering whether to try and get in touch with a birth family it is important to consider the consequences this may have for you and also for your birth family. Not all such stories have happy endings like this one and this is something that I discuss with all clients before making a decision as to whether contact should be attempted. Contact is usually best made through a third party.

Breaking Down a Kentish Brick Wall


Using online sources, the client had traced her family tree back to her ancestor Sarah Streatfeild who married Thomas Gough in Southwark, Surrey on 27 November 1788. This showed that Sarah was from Sevenoaks, Kent. The marriage entry also recorded Sarah's father, John Streatfeild, since he had given consent to the marriage, due to Sarah's young age.

Despite locating several baptisms relating to children named Bridget, Mary, Deane and Henry Streatfeild, all children of John Streatfeild and who were likely to be Sarah's siblings, the client was unable to find a baptism for Sarah. However, she had found a likely marriage for John Streatfeild, to Mary Fletcher in 1760. The couple married by licence and information from the accompanying marriage allegation indicated that John's mother was called Mary Merrit.

Although Streatfeild is an unusual name it is extremely localised in this area of Kent and there were several men by the name of John Streatfeild likely to be Sarah's father. It was important to identify the correct person and find evidence to prove which branch of the family Sarah belonged to. The client also wished me to locate Sarah's father's baptism.

Locating Evidence of Sarah's Parentage

Looking at the baptisms for the four children to John Streatfeild I noticed that there were all baptised in the nonconformist chapel at Bessels Green, indicating that the Streatfeilds were not members of the Church of England. Despite a full search of all surviving nonconformist baptism and birth registers no baptism for Sarah was forthcoming. Many nonconformist baptism registers do not survive and this no doubt accounted for Sarah's missing baptism.

I noticed, however, several Streatfeilds burial entries in the Bessels Green registers which had not been indexed by the genealogy company who put the registers online and which had therefore not been picked up using the website's search engine. These included a burial entry for 'Mrs Streatfeild and her child'. This entry was undated, but came between two batches of burials dated 1768 and 1772, meaning the burials must have occurred in 1769, 1770 or 1771. There were three further burials for Streatfeild children as follows none of which had been indexed by the genealogy company.

  • Buried A child of John and Mary Streatfield
  • Buried Mrs Streatfield's child 7 Dec 1766
  • Buried The child of John and Mary Streatfield 18 October 1765

It was very likely that the entry for Mrs Streatfield related to Mary (nee Fletcher) buried about 1770. This would mean that John was a widower by 1772.

Although no baptism for Sarah was available, a search of probate records revealed the will of a Mary Merritt in 1786 which supplied the necessary information for proving the client's pedigree beyond doubt. From what Mary had written in her will, we could now be certain that Sarah belonged to the family group headed by John Streatfeild and Mary nee Fletcher, with four siblings baptised at Bessels Green. The will also stood as proof that Mary Merrit was John's Mother. Mary had remarried after the death of John's father, Henry, but had been widowed again by the time she wrote her will in 1786. Despite the lack of surviving baptism entry for Sarah this meant it was still possible to confirm the names of both her parents by dint of the research done and thus to add another generation to the family tree with certainty.

Since I knew John's mother was called Mary, I was then able to identify the correct baptism for John Streatfeild out of several baptisms for boys of this name in the area in the late 1730s and early 1740s. Finally the marriage of his father Henry Streatfeild to Mary Wells was located in 1729 in Sevenoaks as well as the baptisms of seven other children to this couple.

Tracing the Jones and Rees Family History

I was asked to trace the family history of the Rees, Jones, Woods and Cummins family as a birthday present for the client's father. While the family predominantly came from Wales, there were also roots in Cornwall and Lancashire.

Working with surnames such as Rees and Jones can present problems since people with these surnames proliferate and it can be hard to identify the correct person in records. I knew from census returns that the client's great grandfather, William Rees was born in Llangyfelach, which was covered by Swansea registration district at this time. Even so there were three entries for a William Rees born in this registration district within the expected date range. By studying and comparing in detail all the records I was able to identify the correct birth entry out of these. This told me that William was born on 23 March 1891 at Tyrpenny, the son of Robert Rees and Ann Rees nee Morris. Robert Rees and many of the client's other ancestors worked in Welsh tinplate works across Wales. I provided the family with background information about the different roles each played within the tin works, also pinpointing their migration from Llangyfelach to Llanelli.

The family history report, family trees and copies of all documents found were presented digitally by means of a file sharing system so that the client could download all the information to his own computer.

An Anglo-American Family History

My client was in possession of a lengthy family tree which had been passed round the family for many years. This traced his pedigree from a John Zachary who arrived in the USA in 1699 back to London in the 17th century and then to 16th century Kent. The client asked me to verify the English portion of the tree and then to see if further contextual information could be found about the family.

Verifying the tree using original documents and online sources not only showed that the surname had evolved to Zachry from Zachary and Sacre, but also revealed that the ancestor who had settled in the USA had been linked to the wrong Zachry family, thus calling into question the validity of the English portion of the family tree.

Work was undertaken in parish, probate records and guild records to determine the true identity of John Zachary and tie him in with the correct family.

At the client's request I not only provided transcriptions of all the Zachary/Sacre wills that had been found but also constructed a spreadsheet showing details for all people with the Zachary/Sacre surname which I had come across during my research and the source of each piece of information. This was to act as a future reference point for anyone else studying the family and would accompany a booklet about the Zachary family which the client then wrote based on my own research reports.

Ancestral Tour of Kent and London

I later devised and accompanied the above client and his wife on an extensive two-day ancestral tour, visiting many of the places associated with the Zachary family in both Kent and London. He received an illustrated booklet describing each stage of the tour which would act as a memento of the two days.