Friday, 9 August 2013

Who do you think you are?

George W. Bone's enlistment papers in 1889
Wednesday night I saw the episode of the BBCs Who do you think you are? featuring Minnie Driver.

It followed her attempts to find out more about her family and especially her father who had never spoken of his war service. He had, in fact been decorated for his conduct at the Battle of Heligoland Bight in 1939.

Family history is not always as fascinating.

Sometimes you will find generations of Agricultural labourers. There are some nuggets that really catch your eye - or someone who was involved with a major event. Unfortunately this is fairly rare.

Often all you will be able to gain is a snap shot of life from a census, get an idea of age, occupation, dates of birth/marriage/death etc. you can pad it out with some research into trades. For example my Second Great Grand Aunt Ada Williams was a machinist at Chatham Dockyard Ropery according to the 1911 census.

A visit to the site or reading up on the subject would give you a clearer idea of what life entailed for her.

As someone with a fascination for military history I find myself looking at the Soldiers and Sailors in the family - two of whom paid the ultimate price and died for their nation. My Great Great Grandfather George W. Bone who fell in the Boer War and my Great grand uncle Donald Homersham who was killed on the Somme in October 1916 three months after being awarded the military medal for bravery.

When reading around the subject of trench warfare and of the hot bloody fields of South Africa it is easy to draw comparisons to the lives of your family and wonder if they felt the same way or saw the same things.

Despite the frustratingly small amount that can be available for lower class families through history, there is a lot for you to find out, more than you would think. With all the genealogy websites out there it is really easy to get started and to map your family tree out.

As a starting tip I'd suggest you try and get as much starting information is possible such as your parents, grandparents and if possible great grand parents to give you as good a starting position as possible. As Censuses have a 100 year shelving period so the most recent you can get hold of is the 1911 and goes back as far as 1841. Beyond this you have to rely on Parish records for christenings, marriages and funerals which creates a sort of glass ceiling that only those with time and money to go in search of these records.

The other glass ceiling is the pay wall that plagues users. I've tried to do as much for free as possible but I'm hitting the pay wall and hitting it hard. There are a couple of documents that will clear up a lot of questions and the question of how George William Bone died during the Boer War. I do find it fairly frustrating but there it is.

It is something that is fascinating and is a worthwhile thing for at least one person in the family should undertake at some point. It is a sad fact that so much information about our ancestors are lost and anecdotes only last a few generations. 

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