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Why are you a family historian?


Super Moderator
Staff member
Intrigued to know what motivates people to start the journey to uncover their ancestors. Is it plain curiosity, a search for identity, or what? I started out simply to build a family tree as a record (purely factual) but soon found myself absorbed in trying to find out what these people were like and how they lived. And what a journey it's proving to be ........... Viv

Ray Barrett

For me Viv,it was an accident.My wife's cousin sent my wife information on family matters (my wife had no interest).However, the way she sent this info.was to our son's computer,and he didn't want it cluttering up his business computer,so he put it all on an old laptop, and gave it to me.With the information that there were 120 documents on this laptop...and I didn't even know how to switch it on.:rolleyes:
Well,the outcome was I became hooked,love all the detective work that goes with it,and have learn't so much about "real people" social history.:)


Super Moderator
Staff member
Yes I too love the detective side of it. It's exciting when you get a snippet of info that leads you into all sorts of areas of research. I write letters (yes with a pen and paper!!! Remember them?) to an elderly relation who drip feeds me little pearls of info. How I look forward to receiving those letters! It's re-awakened my interest in history - a subject I was turned off at school. And it's great to have such an absorbing hobby. Viv.


The buck stops here
Staff member
I put it you, me lord, that we do it because we are all caring, sharing people with one foot planted in the present and the other planted suarely in the past.
If we don't do it, who will ?


I started in 2003 when my daughter in law asked if she could see our family bible. My son said Mom you should do your family history. Within two days we had found so much info I was hooked. I could never imagine in my wildest dreams having the information and photo's I have now. Like Vivienne I have an elderly relative who feeds me info which I then research but the 'inside' information she has given me would be lost forever. I send her a letter with a s.a.e and always get some wonderful gems on the return. Well worth the stamp....lol


master brummie
Mine was started to give my daughters and son an idea of their heritage and also Dad commenting on where his family were from on our way on holiday.
It was only supposed to be a quick look, but as with a lot of people I got totally hooked.
I am trying to write it all into my last years birthday present, a lovely big illustarated Family Bible, but also into a lovely heritage book and a hand-made record book.
No doubt when I have done this, I will be researching again, I would love to get into the Birmingham library at some point, but am not sure how to do it, as although we have a B postcode it doesn't count as a resident!!


Brummie by marriage
I started looking into my husband's family when our son asked "Why is Barrett my middle name?" .
Having sorted out that side of the family, I thought I should even things up and look at my side so that the children and grandchildren have a balanced picture of things :)


master brummie
My eldest son, who is now 24, was asked by his junior school teacher to do a family tree for homework, for which he required my help. I asked him how far he had to go back, to which I got the usual helpful response.." dunno " !! So I thought I'd ask some questions of family members, as I only really knew as far back as my grandparents.
Mom told me what she could remember and my one Nan told me a little but then said, "as for the rest, let sleeping dogs lie ".. that always intrigued me and so I did a little digging of my own. The more I found the more my addiction grew and I have been "feeding my habit" ever since, not only with my own tree but with doing them for friends too.
Its a good job my son was happy with a chart going back to his Gt Grandparents otherwise his teacher would still be waiting for his homework !!


Kiwi Brummie Admin' Team
Mine was started at school with an interest in History and then on to doing a university cause here in NZ on history, reading as many history novels and books as I could find on the subject... then a long came the idea of researching the family... to give my son and daughters an idea of their heritage and so that unlike myself they would be able to tell their children the names of their grandparents and where they and in turn their parents lived and originated from... then I got hooked and because I'm inherently nosey started helping others find out their roots. :) I just love it as I've mentioned before on other threads it's like doing Jig- saws something else I like doing when young.


master brummie
A thousand years ago we 'knew who we were' because the bards sang of our family lineage in the mead-halls.
Now, it's as Postie says: if we don't do it, who will?


Sue its no problem to search at Central Library you need a reader ticket so just take a photo and some form of identity. It only like going to a record office but with more info.


Super Moderator
Staff member
I've amazed myself at the pleasure to be had from rooting around to find the smallest bit of evidence. It's taken me into areas of business history, geography, marine history, architecture, photography......... The list goes on. The most bizarre experience so far must be wandering around a Liverpool cemetery with a gravedigger in a snow blizzard trying to find an ancestor's grave ! I started out doing all this simply to pull together a family history but it's grown into this colossal 'library' of info. Is anyone writing up or planning to write up their history? I'd like to and wonder if anyone has any helpful tips on getting started. Viv.


master brummie
.... Is anyone writing up or planning to write up their history? I'd like to and wonder if anyone has any helpful tips on getting started. Viv.
The wife of a second cousin, once removed, sent me mother a copy of her family history report containing the sections about my mother and grandmother. Mom sent me a copy and after a quick glance I tossed it onto the mountainous keep pile. There it lay gathering dust until my beloved grandmother was taken away when I remembered it and thought "I'll have a go at that". Now I'm hooked.

The above report was done in a descriptive style, a bit like a magazine article I suppose - very readable but not much detail. I recently did my own version which was a bit techy in that for each person I had a small summary paragraph with pictures followed by the transcripted details of all the certificates and censuses I'd found for them and their children plus a link to a representative song or film clip that reminds me of them or their job (eg some of my female relatives were interviewed for the 1842 commission on children and women in mine work and The Unthanks version of "The Testimony of Patience Kershaw" is based on a similar case) - this format is not very approachable for the casual viewer as too much detail. There are pros and cons to each approach.

When I redo my report I will create a separate document (rather than all in one) for each person for easy access. I will also reduce the image sizes so the document doesn't become too big. I will also redo the summary into a more narrative style. That's the plan anyway....
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When my sister and I opened our shop in 1997, just after Dad had died, we decided to call it 'Lonsdales', which was Dad's middle name. Over the years, several people asked where the name came from, and knowing that it was a 'family' name we started digging to find where the name 'Lonsdale' came from.......... and the rest, as they say, is history.

What a shame all the older generation had gone by then, so we've no-one to ask - all we've had to go on was our own memories of comments made over the years, an old battered photo album (with no flippin' names on the photos), and an army paybook belonging to g. grandfather. Thankfully, one side of the family developed the habit of using maiden names as middle names for their children, so we've been able to make educated guesses which came up trumps.

Like others, we've gone off at a tangent, exploring such diverse occupations as bell founding, bonnet making, mariners , brass founders etc.
We've discovered the purchase of a manor house, and connections with America's founding fathers - alongside bigamy, illegitimacy and transportation!!

Absolutely hooked now, and of course, the story never ends does it? There's always the next generation beyond the one we've just found..............

Knowing where we came from has, I think, been a great leveller, seeing how tough life was for our ancestors - I'm so glad we started.


master brummie
I started because I remember. many years ago, (probably early 60's) my mum saying that we had a viscount as a relative.

I never thought much about it until about 5 years ago, when I started wondering who he was. I Googled 'Viscount Alexander' and the first link was to wikipedia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._V._Alexander,_1st_Earl_Alexander_of_Hillsborough if anyone is interested!

His mother was Eliza Jane Thatcher (my surname!). I thought 'This looks promising'

Eliza Jane was the sister of my Great Grandfather so the relationship was closer than I ever imagined.

I recently bought a biography of him 'Winston Churchill's Favourite Socialist', a real 'local boy makes good' book.

I'm hoping to make a trip to Cambridge University soon, where they have a repository of his documents, diaries and other things from when he was in the Labour Government and Coalition Government during the war.

All this from one little thought... 'I wonder who he was'


master brummie
I only started because my brother passed the job over to me when I retired, if I had known how much time and money it was going to cost me, I think I might have told him where to go.

Of course, I have loved every minute of it, and am still researching the "Black Country" side of the family that we never knew existed, the Chambers and the Colliers.


master brummie
I wonder when we decide the point at which we started being 'family historians'. I could say that it was when I rifled through my maternal grandfather's box of papers and photos, which is when I started writing things down. Since the internet made it possible to find out dates and records more easily and quickly, I have made great strides, having left it alone for the years inbetween, when my children took up so much of my time, followed by studying for a degree then building a career. But you know, I have mulled over Viv's question and I think I became a family historian in those far off days when I used to sit and talk with grandparents about what things were like in their day, and listen in on my mum and her sisters talking about their memories and amusing anecdotes of our family. So I would have to say that the seeds were sown from the time I learned to eavesdrop without being noticed!


master brummie
I started in 1999 by accident. My aunt's daughter-in-law had done a little, but will not buy certificates (by her own admission, too mean) and I was asked to check an entry in St Martin's Baptisms. I went to the library, and when I could not find the answer I wanted, I asked one of the librarians. 'Have you tried the GRO?' she said. I immediately felt very foolish as I did not know what the GRO was, at that time. Once I was shown how to search, but now knowing where to start as I had not been given firm details, I decided to look for my gt grandmother's death, as I knew when my gran was born, and that her mum had died when she was just four. Once that certificate was purchased, I was well and truly hooked. We did not know anything about my gran's father, nor did she, but we found that he had died two years prior to his wife. I went back a little, not expecting to find much, as I had been told my gran's father had come from Ireland. I was totally shocked when I found he came from Cheltenham! It took me quite a time to find out why that rumour existed, it took me to the gallows at Warwick Gaol. Since then I have developed a huge interest in all my lines and have so much paperwork I really don't know what to do with it. My search has taken me to several places in England, and also to Australia, where I went to meet distant rellies in 2005. A wonderful hobby, I really don't know what I would do without it. The ironing might get done on time, though.


Gone but not forgotten. R.I.P.
I started when my Mom & Dad passed away within 3 months of each other in 1984-85 but only in a fashion. But seriously when my younger Sister died a couple of years later and realise that we were the next generation and my Children needed to know. Something I never thought to do.


Ex-pat Brummie
I started shortly after Alf in 1988, something that I had been meaning to do for several years. The trigger was a new member of the company that I worked for who happened to be a Brummie and had been researching his TYLER family for several years, and then interest from another member anxious to learn something about his EASTWOOD roots. So the three of us would traipse off to St Catherine's House periodically. I later discovered the facilities of my local LDS Family History Centre, before starting to make trips further afield.

Some years later I set up my website as it seemed a pity not to share my, by then, considerable store of information. The site gets about 75 hits a day and whilst most take the information without leaving any sort of message, I make on average about one new friend every six to eight weeks. I'm more than happy with this as I have acquired quite a bit of information that I would not have gained from anywhere else.

If you don't already use a genealogical database to store your information, I suggest you do. I prefer Brothers Keeper as it is less cluttered than many others, and almost all will allow you to store pictures, scanned documents, and audio files. (You know, those rare recordings of relatives now long gone. What, you haven't got any!!! :shocked: Get recording now - a simple microphone plugged into your computer is all you need. It's nice to know what granddad sounded like as well as having a few pictures of him!) :)

Maurice :cool: