If you rather read than listen, you’re in luck as we’ve written out the transcript of the Let’s Talk Family History webinar with Dr Nick Barratt and Mike at Reliving.
Mike at Reliving
I want to cater this session to all levels of expertise, there will be people who are absolute beginners just starting out researching their family history and I’m assuming there’s going to be a few others with a bit more experience. I’m probably in between. I’ve researched my family tree and my family history, but I can learn a huge amount more. So my first question I like to start with to Nick is, what actually got you started in genealogy? What interested you in genealogy?
Dr Nick Barratt
If I’m being really truthful, the answer is work.
It’s a slightly disingenuous answer because I’ve always had a passion for this style of history- this bottom-up approach, right from way back when I was at school. We did this field experiment, as the curriculum was changing, and they wanted much more investigative work rather than recites by rote. And so we went out to research the history of street, which meant going into the library, talking to local residents, looking at the architecture- real grounding in hands-on history. And that all sort of stuck in the back of my head, sorts of history you don’t see in the textbooks. But I mean, I’m in mainstream, but a niche academic historian at heart, that century state finance is my thing. So, trying to come up a career out of that is really tricky. I got into genealogy off the back of my BBC work, which started off as house detectives in the late 90s early 2000s, moved to a couple of other projects. And then they said that we’re doing this development piece, we think family history is interesting, there’s lots of people doing it, how do we make a programme?
Through various bits and pieces for the production company in the BBC, Who Do You Think You Are was born. And I was invited to come and do the archive research, spin up a team, create the researchers and just go and research celebrities. That was the first time- this is a really terrible confession, that was the first time I’d done any proper genealogy.
I just love that approach that you can step into a place and pick up someone’s life story dust it down, put it back together and put it into context. That’s the thing I think that really got me interested in this fusion of researching people with places, with the societal history that goes around it. You know you can research a person and it’s just an assemblage of dates and facts and figures. You can research property, put the two together and do some local and social history, then you’re telling a story. And that’s the bit that I love. So for me, the spark was lit. Yes, through the programme, partly through this love of researching. You go into an archive you never know what you’re going to find and you’re finding yourself out all the time. And so there’s a story in that, that’s really curious.
But it was this spark about animating people in a way that you don’t tend to find on traditional history. Prophecies about the great good politicians, the aristocracy, Kings, a great top-down history. For me, this forgotten story of everyday lives -and I use that word every day with great reservation because everyone is extraordinary in their own way, but being able to reach into the past and bring these people back and just dip into their lives, that is so exciting. Really interesting.
Really is fascinating. You mentioned that later on in your career that you conduct genealogy. Do you feel like that could have been something that would have been better presented in your education than it was? What was it that didn’t get you into it earlier?
There’s a generational thing that when you’re a bit younger it’s not necessarily the coolest thing in the world to do, let’s be honest. And I think that’s something we need to really challenge because it is actually fun. If you start talking about it as a detective process, then I think it becomes more exciting. What can you find? Where are the clues? How do I bring all this stuff together? Well, my great-great grandfather was born in Belarus during this… Yeah, it doesn’t quite come to life. So some of its presentational. Some of it is how we approach, research, in general, you know this excitement. It’s not for everyone. And there’s something around when you start to lose contact with generations you want to fill in the gaps. And so I do believe there is something generational about it. That isn’t to say that there’s a lot of really fantastic younger genealogists coming through, but as a demographic, it tends to be an older audience, and that’s a real shame.
in many ways, that’s where I’m excited around where the technology is taking this, because we can be creating our family history for tomorrow, now. Rather than having to go back in time and dust down the documents and try and find these fragments of lives. You think, what a transformation the internet has made in terms of access to historic content. But the tools that we’ve got to gather our lives together to record our stories, to record the stories of people once they’re still alive. I mean, how many times as a genealogist you ask “Oh, I wish I could just go back and ask that person what they were doing on that day. Why weren’t they in the house when the census was taken” for example. We’ve got the power, we’ve got the tools, we can do that now.
So I think it’s really interesting that maybe the tools and the technology might encourage a younger generation to do something a bit different to traditional retrospective genealogy in the past. And that might then help connect and stimulate people who haven’t got the bug yet to maybe share their stories. Or just reveal some of the family archives they’ve been holding all the years because they didn’t know what it was or what the relevance is. that I think is a really exciting moment that we’ve got at our fingertips.
Yeah, absolutely. the UK in general has one of the biggest intergenerational gaps, but it’s I think it’s proven that when the younger generation are given the tools or guidance to go out there and capture information from their elders that they do it, and a lot of people enjoy doing that as well. It’s interesting.
You mentioned about the detective kind of side of genealogy, and that’s what fascinates me. Understanding or finding something that I never knew about my grandparents or my great grandparents, etc.
I actually watched an interview the other day and you were talking about your great uncle. I need to know more about this story if you could share that with us that would be fantastic.
I never met him, he died in the early 30s. He was a shadowy figure- no kids that we know of. We have no stories about him. And in many ways, it was more interesting to older generations of my family because there was these sort of vague recollections. With me, it was just another name.
And then came the revelation, based essentially on a speculative search of the National Archives discovery catalogue. His name popped up with a file that was particularly exotic. – I have worked at the National Archives; I know what the files look like. But KV 2 is a really intriguing one because it related to the intelligence services, in this case, MI5. So I immediately said, “fantastic, my Great Uncle is James Bond. This is great!” And then I looked a little bit more closely about the piece of the series that he was in, and it was MI5 monitoring people. So he wasn’t working for MI5, he was under surveillance. So when you go through the file, this incredible moment the 14th of July, when surveillance is first imposed on him, which led us to understand that he had formerly worked in the Foreign Office, the communications department, and had been up to no good. Quite what that no good was, only emerged when the research got deeper and darker and the backstory started to appear. It was a really tricky piece of research because a lot of the records from that period had been destroyed. I suspect because of his activities. He had been selling secrets to the Russians from the late 20s. But he was doing it anonymously to get some money to support his lavish lifestyle. He had married a widow who is much older than him, who seemed to have had lots of money but that was all tied up in trust funds for her kids. So they wanted to live this luxurious lifestyle but there was no cash and his salary wasn’t supporting. So he told this stuff to sell later. But then when they blew his cover they worked out who he was, they thought he’s even more valuable than we thought because he’s in the Foreign Office. Long story short, he turned to drink. The Russians were squeezing him. And then one day off the surveillance he was found dead in his house. While allegedly suicide but no one quite knows. The Russians blame the Brits, the Brits blame -for some reason the Germans- they weren’t involved. Anyway, and that’s the story, my uncle was a Soviet spy before the Cold War.
And what research techniques did you use?
I went back to basics, I looked at the standard family history, I wanted to get some sense of who he was, where he came from what his background was like so that I could establish him and look at his roots. He came from fairly humble family backgrounds. His parents had moved from the northwest to London, they were teachers, very respectable. But his career was accelerated, so I wanted to know why he went to private school. And then found another branch of the family who was in the colonial service and that dropped back and managed to get some money. So the family history really underpins the story, and it grounded him in a place in time.
Then I started to look at his career because the KV 2 file at the National Archives had an outlined career going into the civil service. So I thought okay, are there any exams that would have been at that time? Do the record survive? And lo and behold I had his exam results. So that was quite nice.
He’s gone into the army. So to track down his military service records again at the National Archives, before being picked up and getting involved with the peace negotiations so he was sent to Paris. When he came out of military service, he got blown up so he was a war hero and I think this was how they rewarded him giving this prestigious commission, helping with the peace negotiations in early, 1990s. So every step, was this fusion of family history with context, with some of the International stories, and you’d have to go up and down. A lot of it was also secondary reading because I’m not an expert in early 20th-century espionage or the diplomatic corps. So, yeah, behind me I’ve got a whole stack of books that I read and picked up, and in there was an interview with the Russian handler that’s been assigned to him. After the Russian handler had come out as one of Stalin’s gulags he had been imprisoned. And so there was this fantastic transcript from the other side, which is in no other archive. So you have to really get into the story, get into the subject, think around corners and apply those research techniques that any historian would do. Secondary source reading, primary source, better genealogy international context. I just go hunting for the records wherever you find them. And there was so few this period. It was really frustrating because he had such a chequered past should we say, there were no family archives whatsoever to look at. Normally if you’re researching, my family member there might be something a photo snippet. Nothing at all. It’s like he was airbrushed out of the family story. The first time I saw what he looked like was when I opened up that KV 2 file, and there was this photo, which had been extracted from a distant right to the family which we didn’t know about, and also his old passport photo. It looks uncannily like me, which is a bit alarming. Yeah, you come face to face with your great uncle, for the first time.
Have you come across any kind of extraordinary stories that may not be within your own family but from speaking to other historian’s or genealogists?
Oh, all the time. Whenever I do talks back in the old world we would meet in a room and chat, face to face. I genuinely used to say I could do a Who do you think you are episode with any single one of you in the room.
Because we do all have these extraordinary people. The trick is just spotting and identifying them and bring them back to life. I remember doing it, it was on the spur of the moment I was doing a piece for It was a radio DJ, and he just sort of thrown something out there that I’ve got no interest in my background at all. so I said let’s have a look. And within three generations back after a couple of hours of searching just online with all sources. We found a real story of tragedy, where the mother had died and the kids were put into the workhouse really early. They had these conditions and it had been inspected and the conditions were appalling and, that was a shock because the story in this guy’s family history was that he was descended from Italian princes. Of course, that was completely subdued. Then when I looked on the other side, by finding a gateway ancestor- someone who is known and is researched- we found he was connected or descended from Edward 1. So he was royalty, but not in the way he thought.
I mean, I’m not as hung up about finding a royal connection. But some I like finding, as I said those moments that you would never normally expect to find unless you’d go looking for those records. And there are all sorts of moments where you find bigamy and illegitimacy, scandal and crime and criminality and there’s actually more of that than you’d expect, but often it’s those humble lines that I find the most extraordinary because no one bothers to think about what it’s like. Agricultural labourers- I’m sure we’ve all got them in our family. And as soon as you find ag lab on the census, you can almost hear the collective, “It’s an ag lab and the soulless lump”, and you think “How am I going to find it?” -Actually there is so much that you could learn about the agricultural labourer. What was their working conditions like? What sorts of tools and machinery might they have used? Was there some sort of local circuit, some micro economy they could have been involved in? Where were they living? Who in their circle of friends? Did they itinerate around because they have no fixed home? What was the manner like? And that sort of microhistory- as the phrase is- is fascinating, because they’re airbrushed out. Like I was saying previously, it’s those ordinary lives made real that makes them extraordinary. It was one of those little nuggets that you would never normally see. It’s storytelling, isn’t it, you’re telling the story that no one else tells.
And that’s it, we have the same, where we believe that ordinary people become extraordinary. And quite often it’s sad but most people don’t realise it until it’s too late. That’s why it’s important to record lives now, not only your own story but your loved ones.
If I could just share a story on that level. I love telling stories.
But there was a project and this goes back to the point about younger generation tools and technology. There was a project that a friend of mine, Colin McFarlane- an actor, sets up making history. And the idea was that if you give kids the right tools and the right motivation, they will tell extraordinary stories. There was this one guy who wasn’t necessarily enjoying school, didn’t enjoy the teaching techniques. But it lit him up, this idea that he could sit down and talk to his family.
And, for whatever reason, his family never talks about the past. So we’ve recorded them, and interviewed his dad saying, “yes well you know we lived in Lincoln but do you know you’re Irish?” He said, “what Irish? No, you never said that!” (The guy is called Liam but we label that to one side). Two generations back in the 70s- so it’s not going way back into the mists of time- In the 70s, Liam’s granddad had been working in a pub in Londonderry – Derry- during the troubles and one of his regulars just nipped outside to say goodbye and got shot.
And that made Liam’s grandad decide this isn’t safe to bring up a young son. He got in the car, packed all their possessions, drove through the night, got to the port ended up in Liverpool. Carried ongoing, ended up in Lincoln settled and didn’t speak about it. This is the first time he found this. And, you know, it was really emotional looking on-screen as Liam’s dad is talking about this. He [Liam] then persuaded his family to go back and visit the same places. Because he’s creative, he then overlaid that with newsreel footage and some really haunting local folk music. And he created this powerful film that told a story of the troubles. There, a family’s journey in a way that’s left the audience genuinely moved to tears, which screen these films at the British Film Institute in London. The power of that storytelling. A very standard story through the eyes of a younger person but through that Oral History, leading to records, lead to ancestral tourism, visiting the place, wrote it all together. And that little insight into one family’s experience at the trouble gave people far greater understanding, proximity, empathy, call it what you will, than any professionally commissioned piece. It was incredible. That’s the sort of power that these ordinary lives met extraordinary people have.
Yeah, absolutely. And that all goes back to family history and education. Encouraging the younger generation to be part of this and understanding there’s a lot of social and economic benefits to the younger generation, understanding their heritage. So what role do you believe family history has in education.
I think it’s really important, but it does come with some challenges because as we know not everybody has a story that they feel comfortable about researching or sharing. They might come from a broken family, a family that might be fostered or adopted, you know, there are all sorts of challenges we can’t just say let’s go do family history and it’s all going to be good.
But it does allow an approach to who you are. And actually, many of the groups I’ve just mentioned, have support which is akin to a sort of profiling of backgrounds and understanding and access to one’s identity. That is very close to what I would call a modern started genealogy. And this also I think plays out particularly well the storytelling approach when we work with communities with lots of different migrant stories.
And thinking of this making history project again, we went into schools in London, and we’d have classes of 30 where they were 21 different languages and 21 different migrant stories, what they share in common was the classroom in the patch of land, and actually it was a very different style of family history that I think lit up that room because it was experiential. And it wasn’t necessarily about talking around one’s family connectivity. It was often, some of the cultural family history that was been brought down into that space. So, one of the films was around the traditional dress. And because three generations had moved across, two generations and other third-generation was going to school and hadn’t been born in Britain. They were able to reflect on their parallel lives. If my family hadn’t moved across by now I’m 12, I’m getting ready to get married. And it just the little insights like that cultural connection in schools, it doesn’t have to be “Right now we’re going to go on to Ancestry to find my past or family search and we’re going to build a family tree”, and this is wonderful to have a cultural family history that firstly, allows us to understand different contexts and stories that is so powerful. I think we can all learn from that approach about how we approach history, more now than ever with all of the challenges to the traditional whites Anglo-centric view of history in our schools. And the fact we airbrush out all of these other experiences to the detriment of the people who feel that they’ve been excluded, and to the societies that are now having to wake up to this approach. It gives ownership it gives empathy, it gives a real sense of belonging, that all of our stories matter. Just because it doesn’t necessarily map onto this narrative that’s here at the top, actually, all of our stories matter it’s a really democratic approach to seeing that patchwork approach of how we form, communities, then they form nations. It’s really compelling. And that’s why I think it’s important that we take this approach into schools, rather than what I would call the traditional nuts and bolts. Let’s go back, 30 generations.
But the family history in schools is so, so important. I was actually in Canada summer side the beginning of the year. And one of the secondary schools where they run a social study programme where they get the children to go out into the community and interview, a lot of the older generations and it was fantastic the information they were gathering. Quite often that the conversations would go off on a tangent, but still it was this engaged close intergenerational gap and they will learn a huge amount, and there’s a gentleman in America called Steve Franklin. He’s running this current project on the back of meeting a 94-year-old lady of whom he got along really well with. And she said to him, when I turn 100 I’m going to invite you to my hundredth birthday party. And he didn’t actually talk that much over the next six years, but sure not Six years later, he received an invite through his post. And he flew across America and went to this lady’s birthday party, dancing with her and family, and he got on with her so well. She’s such a fascinating person, he decided he wanted to interview, he came up with 100 questions, and sat her down and recorded this interview, and he asked every single question. And he learned so much from that one sitting he decided he was going to interview every centenarian in America. And so he’s up to over 500 now. And he’s archived all of these videos on a website called 100wisdom.com
But, he’s using this archive for the good, for gathering knowledge and understanding how they’ve lived their lives and there are quite a few common traits that centenarians experienced. But it’s this kind of knowledge that can be used in schools. And, and for the younger generation just to learn and develop from.
I think that it’s really powerful. It can be used in schools, can be used as academic research is that fusion between schools into a higher education that often gets lost and there’s so much that we could learn from our family historian communities about providing new stories. I was really struck about the impact that this approach can have on young people. Again I’ll share another story. This isn’t necessarily a family history story but I think it has enough elements to make it relevant. So Ryde is on the Isle of Wight, and it’s got a cemetery and the cemetery was being vandalised. And a lot of the local residents were really concerned. The kids were just using it as a hangout, because there’s no one else to go. They wanted to capture the names of the people on those headstones before they were eradicated. So got a little bit of money from the council, a couple thousand, no more than that. And they ran a transcription project and they captured that data, then they published it on their own website- not sold off to another organisation, and they wrapped it around with a bit of social history. They found that as a result of doing that, large numbers of people began booking into Rydes, not during the peak season when all the tourists and the music festival folk are there, but actually in the shoulder and off-peak season to come and visit the community. Not just to see the grave but to understand the context, so they created their own mini ancestral tourism economy. That was then showing that there were greater hotel bookings, greater restaurant bookings, the local council felt this good. And then they decided to renovate the two chapels in the graveyard so that these people had a place to go. And that’s where the social heritage group formed and they were able to then populate that with stories. But then the other one was turned into a graveyard classroom. And the kids were brought in and they were taught, not just family history and local history, but a whole range of other skills, numeracy, literacy, Creative Writing, ICT, they did nature walks, they did art lessons, and they really showed the value of this resource. Immediately the vandalism stopped. Which then allowed the younger folk to be exactly those sorts of volunteers to go and help create oral histories from older folk in care homes, which then formed part of the website which then brought more people in. It pumped this incredible Social Engine, that showed young people, the value and benefits of treasuring these assets, we’ve got them infused in history and then created more content, an amazing project.
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. So that sounds great. We need some in our country. In terms of being a bit more present, COVID has obviously affected education in schools and, the lives of children. Recently, for my son, in particular, it’s almost forced him to understand a bit more about the family, he’s talking to me a bit more. When I get him off his mobile phone.
But what, in your opinion, how do you feel COVID affected family history and, you know, the interest of time in history, I guess, and how do you see it being reflected upon it in the future?
I think this is one of those moments in history where generations to come will be asking what did you do during the pandemic?
And in many ways, we will have some of that information in the form of social media, and some of the rich media content that schools have now encouraged our young folk to create about us, diaries, for example.
And we have, I think I’ve from personal and experiences of friends, talked to each other a lot more than we ever used to, we’ve stopped taking each other for granted. It’s been challenging there’s a huge issue around well-being and mental health and even greater issue around the impact on the economy, this is all still to come. This is before we’ve even really worked through the current implications of lockdown, and the clinical side of the pandemic. This is all still to come. Because we know what happened after 1918/19 Spanish flu pandemic, you see some of those echoes through history. But I think what it has done is get us talking and getting us appreciating those moments. That we had the fact that you couldn’t go and see family for months and hug people, still can’t in certain circumstances. I don’t think I’ll ever take people for granted again in the same way. I FaceTime my mum, every single day. and normally, I might pick up a phone once a week, because we’d see each other at weekends, you took it for granted.
Now I think we are sharing some stories. And because we’ve had to cancel our holiday abroad, we’re now looking at something that’s a bit more relevant and meaningful so we might do days out. We want to take a trip to Norfolk, where her side of the family comes from, visit some of the ancestral places. And the kids are more interested, they are asking us more questions. The flip side is that they’re using their technology an awful lot more. I mean I haven’t been off a screen for hours at a time.
But I think it’s about how we have encouraged them to challenge us about what’s relevant. What they find interesting might not be what we find interesting. I was always struck even before the pandemic, about the way their handling of history was very different from ours. And one of my kids, asked me if I remember the war, I was a little bit taken aback by that, “the Falklands war?” They said “no no no no no no the Great War?” “How old do you think I am? You know seriously, how old you think I am?” They’ve got no sense, but they are asking those questions. They really upset my mum and what they asked, “did you see Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War?”. But you know, I’d rather have that curiosity than not. I think it is about encouraging them to see our experiences as history.
There isn’t anyone in secondary school who can remember the fall of the Twin Towers. You know, they’re all now at university, it’s a scary thought! It’s still fresh in my mind. These defining moments. They are only now really captured in newsreel footage there’s been far more media obviously. But in our minds and in our experiences, and so we’re encouraging them to ask us more questions.
I am concerned about, what the disruption COVID is going to have on our communities, particularly the most vulnerable people. And we do run the risk of losing something precious, but amidst all the turmoil that I suspect is to come. I might be wrong; I’d like to be wrong.
And that’s again why we need more of these social projects that allow us to reconnect with each other with our place, our relevance, and make sure that we’re using tech appropriately to capture these moments. I mean, not just because you’re hosting it, but I genuinely think Reliving is just a fantastic opportunity to do that. It genuinely is that sort of feeder into a people’s archive. It’s community groups into capturing these moments that, hundred years ago, if we’d have had this stuff around the time of the first great pandemic of this period, we’d have known pretty much what to do. We would see all these problems; we would understand the experiences; you might have pre-empted some of the mental health problems. It’s just an interesting thing.
It really is. I think almost all generations are using tech more throughout COVID and lockdown. You have almost had to in a way, to communicate with other people in other households.
But then you potentially on the other flip side we’ve got the kids that are just glued to social media because that’s the only way they can communicate. so it’s difficult. From what I’ve seen, and the people in my network, they’ve definitely been more interested in their family, and you hit the nail in the head when you said that you just can’t wait to give your mum or your grandparents a hug.
You talked about, we need more societies and more historical societies or heritage societies. Are there any current ones that you can advise our audience to be part of?
And any societies that would help them in their search from history or genealogy?
There are three groups I think we should talk about.
One is the family history society movement, and the family history Federation is the umbrella organisation where you can find out where the nearest family history society is to you. There’s that sense of meeting up with likeminded folk who are fascinated by the past, but also you’ll find them around the country around the world. So you can get into that local expertise if you need help researching your family.
But I also like to promote alongside the family history groups the British Association for local history, because you can’t do people without place and vice versa. So there are really interesting groups out there. We’re looking at local history and heritage on the ground, literally on the ground, archaeology. Oral history society, Fabulous for getting techniques about how you record stories how you access your histories. And for me, one of the really interesting that works is the community archives and heritage group. And these are looking at really small community archives that are gathering together a whole bunch of stuff, I mean you can only describe it as stuff. It could be personal memorabilia objects and artefacts, media clips. It’s just really rich but what I love about them is that it’s often the sort of constituency or group or community that are excluded from State Archives. You’ll find stuff nowhere else. There are really brilliant examples there.
Cultural heritage, who are based in Scotland Glasgow, I think, and they have chronicled, two/ three generations of oral history from Ugandan Asian refugees or migrants who’ve come into Scotland’s established tech community. You won’t find many records, but you’ll find this rich, bank of interviews where they have taken the time to sit down and understand what experiences they face when they first came into that community, wonderful stuff lots of other examples of those micro-histories, micro-communities that have self-organised their archive, given themselves voice, because no one else is giving them that opportunity.
I’ve browsed that website myself is fantastic. There are hundreds, hundreds of archives that I didn’t know existed
There sort of a feud between archives, museums and many libraries. They don’t really care what they call the institution, ‘archive’ just happens to be the word that they using. But again, I think that sort of terminology doesn’t help if they’ve had to do things slightly differently to the state system it’s because their collections don’t fit, their protocols don’t fit. The more we try and squelch them into conformity that doesn’t give them the freedom to tell their stories in the right way you lose that, they won’t do it. There is a real lesson about that ground-up approach.
Give them the tools though. Give them the tools and a little bit of cash, they go a long way like the Ryde social heritage group, they built, built, built on a couple thousand. There are so many of these projects. Lanagwent Reach is a wonderful example, where the local community had been reflecting their own stories and had been creating a micro museum around community engagement, social history, family history, gathering the stories of the residents together, so they haven’t lost that. Wonderful stuff, all going on out there. They all sit just to one side of the normal infrastructure we would go to when looking for information. All of those organisations will help you find the materials that simply aren’t going to be online, and aren’t necessarily going to be in the local library or the county archives.
But you’re right that those local community archives they don’t have a huge amount of funding if any, at all. And I think what we need is for people to be part of the groups and community archives.
so everyone who’s listening. Please go on to the community archives and heritage website. Have a browse for your local community archives and reach out to them it’s really worth doing.
And with people and platforms, volunteers to contribute will provide some support. I think it is, you know, if we are going to change the narrative of our collective stories, which we call history at a national level, we are going to have to find a way of bringing these resources together so a new generation of academic historians can gather this hitherto lost story, of us and of our people, of our nation and communities. Then they can start to rebalance the history books. They need access to stuff too, not just for us as interesting searches. so that we can really recalibrate the story of us. That’s really exciting, you know people’s archive or whatever you want to call it, that for me has to be a way that we can link all these stories together and give them power and relevance.
We have about 20 minutes. So let’s go through some of the questions that were sent in via Twitter., I have six questions here I’m just going to read them out as they presented.
The first question is,
Q1. So I‘ve got back to the beginning of the Parish registrars which is 1556, and exhausted early wills. How do I get back any further?
Okay, to have got that far back is an extraordinary achievement and provided all the links are verifiable then that’s quite something. A lot depends on the status of the people your researching. We talked about memorial records earlier, and that is the way society was organised from 1066 after the Norman conquests, to as late as the 1920s.
So manors and the local administration of manors for most people were the way that local communities would organise with the Lord of the Manor. Land parcelled out to tenants and to the subtenants, and people would then work for those tenants, and that’s how things work. The manors would then get brought together to create states. So the records and the administration of how all that worked are kept usually in county archives, there’s a large collection of National Archives- some are in private hands. There’s the manorial documents register which you can access via the National Archives website. And this will take you to all of the administrative records where names of people are kept in just prolific numbers. If you had someone who was a manorial tenant, if they held land according to the customs without getting too technical, they had to apply to the court, this is the way everything was administered to be admitted as a tenant. There’s a record of that but it will often refer to the last time that land was held by the family. You can, and I have got into one of these manorial records and found that a sense of land –through the same family for 300/400 years. And many of these pre-date the Sixteenth century. And there are all sorts of records as well that will help you with this.
Lots of the government records at the time are stuffed full of the names of our family, often with pedigrees and connections. Legal records, vast amounts of disputed wills, inheritance, you’ll find in some of these government and the royal court. The Crown would often interact with local communities and people would come forward with witnesses or inquiries would be held. Like I said status is key, If you were a major landowner you may have an inquisition post-mortem- not to find out how you died, but to find out what land you held and what right to the crown you could extract in terms of money.
There’s a vast mass. We could spend an hour talking about how you search ancestors before the 1600s. That’s just a flavour, there’s a lot of stuff online, I would suggest, you know, go to the National Archives it’s quite a bit up there. County archives they’ll help with manorial records.
But it does depend on status, and also the further back you go you have to be really careful because there was no consistent spelling of names and places. Lots of the records are in Latin, the dates aren’t necessarily uniform. There are a whole bunch of stuff like that.
Maybe I can put some more information on the website?
Yeah, I’ve got a slide deck that I can share.
Q2. How might I research possible ancestors in France, who might be Huguenots who fled during the 16th century?
Okay, so I’ve got Huguenot ancestors. There’s the Huguenot society has gathered together, family histories, pedigrees, and associated material, wills, records of worship, and they have a library which is part of the special collections at University College London. Those records are at the National Archives. You can access them there. That will give you the pedigree of how this country with possibly a link as to when and where they came over. A lot came over after the revocation of the edict of Nantes in 1685, fleeing persecution. An early wave came over in the 16th century, again during the French wars of religion when Catholics were fighting Huguenots and lots of people came to this country as we were seen as a safe haven.
The story about migration has always been with us. Those are the sorts of records you can look at.
Getting back into France is potentially more challenging, but just like here we have regional based Surnames, so the Huguenots society can help you track some of those surnames back into particular regions in France.
Their archive system is broadly similar there’s the Archives Nationales in Paris. You’ve got lots of departments in France, they will have their own Regional Archives. Sometimes you might find local archives as well.
Q3. I’m trying to make a link between my Jacob family and the Quakers. I have always been told this is where our family come from. How do I research this? They have contacted the Quakers.
There is a Quaker family history society. If you contact them at QFHS.co.uk they might be able to help with some of the tips and tricks about getting enough information to get started. A lot will depend on the location of the collected information looks like. They may well have some of their own records that they can help with. But as with many nonconformist registers were gathered up in the 19th century so some of those records are also available on commercial websites and research guides on the National Archives.
Q4. Advice for looking for a missing father on a birth certificate.
Oh, that’s a biggie, isn’t it? We don’t know anything about dates we don’t know about circumstances.
Okay, so the missing father could be for a variety of reasons. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that there is illegitimacy. It could just be that for whatever reason, the father wasn’t noted or recorded. Look for a baptism, look to see whether or not there’s a married name linked in there if the mother was the informant, had she married or not. If she hadn’t, and it started off back there was a concern that this was a burden on the local parish or union. You know, you might find that the local folk, tried to encourage marriage, it may happen just after the birth. You might find the name of the potential Father there.
You could go looking for bastardy orders, which would have held the marriage have tried to find some way of extracting money to support the local parish in the upkeep of the single mum and the child. So there’s a variety of things there. There tend to be court sessions, so you need to go to the county archives for that. It would be useful to know what the mother was doing, whether she was in service, you know that typical story where the service maid is impregnated by the son of the Lord of the Manor or whatever. Sometimes you find that if that’s been recognised through the life estate there might be some provision made through education, through status, through the commission of the army. There could be some position found in the household if it’s a daughter. A whole range of things there’s clues there but it is really tricky.
I suppose you could almost look for a DNA test if it’s more recent, and see if you can find other branches of the family that connect. There’s this huge genealogy field opening up and people are finding very extraordinary connections. I’ve got a very good match story up with my background, with my grandmother; illegitimate but we actually did find the father’s name. It just turned out to be the wrong Father, we don’t really know. The DNA takes us to one place and the documentary has taken us somewhere completely different. So I’m now back to square one trying to unpick that for a long time. We had a fictitious name on her passport. That isn’t anything like the name on her birth records, and that was overseas as well. So it’s the whole mess.
So I do sympathise, but those are some tips that you need to think about when the record was created. If you go far enough back you might struggle to find and make really clear DNA connection, while taking into consideration some of those other social techniques.
Thank you. And it was just it’s just so everyone’s aware there is a Q&A box at the bottom if you want. If you have any questions, feel free to type them in there while we have another two or three to go.
So the next question:
Q5. One side of the family appears to be only children, which makes things harder to find. Any tips for only children, who have only children, who have only children.
I’m not sure what the problem is, on tracking only children back, it sounds like they’ve established the link.
The thing with only children is that may not actually be only children, they may be the only surviving children. That’s a really important point if you’re looking on the census returns you might need to do some patent searching every 10 years. It may just be that two or three children are born and died in that 10-year window. 1911 is a great place to start because there you will find not only the number of children alive, but the number of children born within the marriage, so then you can do the math and work out how many died in the era.
And again, I’m not quite sure what the problem is other than it gives you less to go on in that you don’t have any naming pattern. But often, if it is a pattern of only children in the family that is genuine, you’ll find that there are unusual middle names of association, to keep the name passing down, because there’s a sense of, “well I’m only going to have one child I need to get my mother’s maternal name in”. But I’m not sure what the problem is whether you’ve got one or fifteen, you’re still going to have to follow the same techniques of genealogy. You just might have fewer clues to find more uncommonly named siblings. I can understand how it might complicate, but there are no specific challenges as such, no shortcuts.
So, and then the last question here:
Q6. So is it possible to discuss adoption? How can you look into finding the birth parents? My friend’s grandma adopted in England. Her parents came from Ireland, in the early 40s. I understand that they came from Ireland to Liverpool due to child adoption laws.
So adoption has only been a formal process since the 1920’s. 1927 in England, 1930 in Scotland and 1931 in Northern Ireland. But I don’t think it was until 1953 in Ireland. So there are lots of challenges around when and how you could adopt. So, in that sense, if someone’s coming from Ireland to England where they couldn’t adopt in Ireland, there’s a formal process in England.
But I guess that’s my question in that space. Were they formally adopted? There’s a lot of informal adoption, that went on before the National Adoption Register which was created. It was often brokered through churches or children’s homes; they probably wouldn’t leave a record. Or if It is, it’s much harder to find. If there is an entry on the register, then you will have enough information hopefully, to try and find birth records. But the birth record, in this case, is back in Ireland. So, you’re going to have to try to work backwards, as well as working forwards, there is some sensitivity about this.
So, if adoption has taken place file the process that was set up in 1927 there would be casefiles papers, health locally, the individual would have a right to access those papers to find out more about their birth parents, but this would have to be done with the right level of mediation and support first. So there is a right to see this, but equally, there are steps to protect both parties. It’s highly sensitive. There are various organisations that will help with this process. Janet King who I have worked with in the past has run families in time. Having come from an adoption service background, she now helps people with the research, and also the engagement with some of the red tape and the policies, protocols that you need to go through first.
So it is possible. Very sensitive. But it does depend on those particular circumstances, whether its formal or informal. Formal there is a chance and informal I think it will be quite tricky.
And the question is coming just live.
Q7. I have a birth in Northern Ireland in 1852 with the name of the reputed father on the birth certificate, is there any way to confirm more details of the Father by way of records? The child did take the fathers surname.
So, again it comes back to a marriage, a lot of the Irish records really only kick in from 1864, but marriages are from 1848 so you might see whether there is a marriage just before or just after the birth to legitimise the child. I’m assuming this is some form of illegitimate case. It’s hard to tell from the question. But Irish records are sketchier and it is much harder because you don’t get census returns until 1901. So you might take a pun and see if the family survive that long.
If there’s enough of a social standing you can go into other records. So, Griffiths Valuation looks at landholding and fills some of those census gaps. There’s a lot of records there around townships, where people lived. The 1850s is a difficult time because you’re still coming out of the worst of the social and economic impact of the Potato Famine, with lots of migration. People leaving the countryside to go into towns. So there might have been a movement away from where they had been living before. Or the other complication is if you’re looking for birth, you’re actually looking for baptism. And you need to know if it’s Church of Ireland or whether it’s Roman Catholic. If it’s Church of Ireland, you may have a chance of looking at parochial level records. If it’s Roman Catholic, those records are held with the parish priest who may not give you access to them. There are some routes, but it is very much local research, you have to go local, few of the records like that survive online. So go back to Ireland!
Q8. Another question has just come in actually, They’re struggling to find history in Northern Ireland, the grandmother’s siblings in the 1900s.
Again, given the political divide in Ireland in the 1920s, you need to go to the South for quite a lot of those early records. There is the Ulster Historical Foundation that looks after the North and has done quite a lot of research, not just in the existing records, but also for the social history around it. So, they can help have some of that.
And that’s it.
Just to give everyone a bit of an idea of what we’re doing at Reliving. We’re very passionate and have this passionate ambition to help people record their lives and also the lives of their loved ones. Now before it’s too late.
We kind of touched upon this in conversation today. Just so all the audience members, you can download our application through the iOS, Apple store or Android store, and you can also log in to our web which is Reliving.co.uk. We have some really, really good tools for you to record your life, and others, such as a daily journal, a family time capsule to create the family tree imported by
GEDCOM and share it with your loved ones. But also we have a fantastic interview tool which brings up question packs that either you can create or you can use form other historical societies, interview your loved ones, and all of those interviews can be stored and shared with family members.
So please check us out on our website. Nick, thank you again so much for your time. Today has been an absolute pleasure, really insightful I’ve learned a huge amount, especially about Northern Ireland, and Ireland. And thanks to everyone who’s joined us today. We (Reliving) will be running these monthly webinars. I’ll send you a notification for our next webinar. We’ll have many guests hopefully we’ll have Nick back to join us again. And we’ll go over different topics. If you’ve got any ideas, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, that will be fantastic.