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Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Family History - Why I Started Learning About My Ancestors

As a child, I was always interested in history. It was my favourite subject at school and I enjoyed learning about the riots of Wales, such as the Rebecca Riots (when men dressed up as women to attack toll booths which charged them obscene amounts of money to pass). My biggest regret was that we didn't learn about the first and second World Wars (my GCSE history was all about China, which I'll admit I wasn't interested in, not when Britain itself has so many wonderful tales).

I was also very close to my grandparents. My granddad spoilt me, I admit it. I was the first girl in the family for 3 generations. My granddad had one brother and my father was an only child, so when I came along my granddad was instantly smitten. My grandparents were true soul mates, they married during the war but didn't want to start a family whilst the future was so uncertain, so my dad was born 2 years after it ended. You never saw one without the other, they were always together and you could tell they were in love.

my grandparents during the war
My Grandparents During World War II

When I was 12 my nan became very ill and ended up in the hospital, she was terrified her breast cancer had returned (it hadn't) and my grandfather refused to leave her side. On the Sunday my dad persuaded my granddad to come and have dinner with us and it was whilst we were all eating our Sunday lunch that she passed away peacefully in her sleep. We believe that she didn't want to go whilst my granddad was there and that she died of fear as she was terrified it was breast cancer but it was actually hardening of the arterial walls or heart disease. My granddad was so mad at my dad and he blamed him for his not being there with her. Afterwards, my granddad became a shell of the man he had been. He didn't want to live without her and he couldn't cope without her. My dad tried to get him to come and live with us, or at least nearer as we lived 3 hours away, but he refused to leave the house he had lived in with my nan.

About 16 months after my nan passed away we had a phone call from my granddad's neighbour to say he had collapsed and been rushed to the hospital. When we arrived my dad was given the devastating news that my granddad had advanced stages of prostate cancer and had slipped into a coma, one nurse, when my dad asked what was the chances of my granddad recovering were, stated: "Good God man, he's dead from the waist down!" For a week he remained in a coma and my dad stayed with him the whole time, talking to him and reminiscing and he says that he could tell by my granddad's expressions that he heard him and was remembering too. Finally, a week later and 16 months to the day that my nan passed, my granddad took his last breath with my dad at his side.

With my granddad aged 8


I missed my grandparents and I loved hearing stories about them. I remember when my nan died I would sleep with her coat because it smelt of her.

One of the stories that stood out was that my grandfather had been born in Canada. In fact, my dad told me that my granddad didn't even know until he was in his late 30s when he applied for a passport and he had to prove that he had a right to have a British passport and had to prove his father had been born in the UK as he himself had been born in Canada. Granddad was shocked and even exclaimed, "But I fought for this country during the War!" You see my grandfather and his brother never knew their father, they were raised by their mother and her father. I always wondered how they had been born in Canada and what had happened to their father. This is what got me interested in researching my family tree, especially when I become a mother myself as I wanted to show my children where they came from.

I started with the basics, what I knew for certain, which was my details, my parents' details and those of my grandparents. The basics being of course, when and where we were born, when and where my parents and grandparents married and when and where my grandparents died. But then I had to put my detective hat on to find out more information.

I decided to start with my nan first and I wrote to my dad's aunts, uncles and cousins on his mother's side for more information. I was very lucky and one uncle had been researching my nan's Champion side of the family and he was able to give me a lot of information.

Of course, my granddad's side of the tree was a lot harder. All I knew of his father was his name, which I had found on my granddad's Canadian baptism certificate. However even with just a name, and a common one at that, I have managed to learn a lot about my great grandfather.

Researching your tree can be a fascinating, and expensive, hobby. You feel like a detective as you try to put all the clues together to discover who your ancestors were, what kind of lives did they lead and what led them to make the choices that they did.

Researching isn't as easy as the adverts for Ancestry show, in fact, you will find a lot of errors, information mistranscribed, dates changed, even names changing. You have to remember that knowing your date-of-birth in those days wasn't as important as it is nowadays and people easily made mistakes and even lied. Sometimes the person recording the details would make mistakes, mishearing or misspelling names.

Researching your family history is like trying to put a giant jigsaw puzzle together, one that you have to try and put together in the middle of a hurricane and with no picture of the completed puzzle and yet, even with all the challenges, it become addictive and you find yourself wanting to complete the puzzle, even though you know you never will!




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