WDYTYA? Live 2016: Ready, Get Set… and Go!

When you first visit Who Do You Think You Are? Live it can seem rather daunting. Walk in and you’re surrounded by hubbub: exhibitors chat to visitors about their latest web developments and new publications; microphoned experts address their theatre audiences on research techniques or DNA testing; and, more likely than not, someone in a WWI uniform or Victorian bonnet wanders past on their way for a coffee or the loo.

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Fear not, you’ll soon acclimatise. But it pays to do some basic planning beforehand. Here are 5 tips to make the most of your day:

(1) Cherrypick your workshops: Start planning your day by deciding on a few workshops to attend. Some are free, offered on a first-come first-served basis, and others are ticketed  (£2 in advance, £3 on the day). If you have the One Day Advanced ticket to the show then you have three workshops in hand, included within the ticket price – be sure to use them. Just getting started with your family history? Then take a look at the sessions in the Education Zone, new this year. Otherwise it’s a question of thinking what you’re seeking to get out of the day – you might want to immerse yourself in the military history of your ancestors, figure out what to do next where your research trail has gone cold, or put a question to a WDYTYA celebrity from the TV series. So, dip in and choose a few workshops, and your timetable for the day will start to take shape.

(2) Bring a nutty problem with you: Make the most of the Society of Genealogist volunteers in the ‘Ask the Experts’ section. They’ll give you up to 20 minutes of free advice on how you might progress your research or solve a mystery. You’ll need to prepare in advance – bring copies of your notes, certificates and other documents – and be as specific as you can be about what you’re trying to find out. You can’t book ‘Ask the Expert’ sessions in advance, so when you arrive on the day you might first whizz over to grab a slot between your workshop times. They’re experienced hands at the SoG, they like a challenge!

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WDYTYA? Live 2016: the Countdown Begins

Every autumn, when I buy a new diary for the following year, one of the first fixtures to jot down is the three-day Who Do You Think You Are? exhibition. It’s become a firm fixture on the family history landscape, an event not to be missed. This year, WDYTYA? Live (7-9th April) celebrates its 10th anniversary and I’m looking forward to it as much as ever.

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These days it entails a trip to the NEC in Birmingham. For those of us based in the Big Smoke it’s perhaps not so handy as the previous venue at London’s Olympia, but the journey pays off; it’s now the world’s largest family history show, attracting some 13,000 visitors. It’s an invigorating mix of over 130 exhibition stands and 90 talks: dip into some newly-released records or publications, take along your old family photos or heirlooms to be explained, and get fresh ideas on how to overcome your brick walls. Who knows, you might even rub shoulders with historian Sir Tony Robinson, antiques expert Eric Knowles, or Anita Rani, one of the latest WDYTYA subjects.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be highlighting some exhibitors and talks that might be of particular interest to those looking to write their family history. To help set the scene in the meantime, I’ve included below an article that I wrote after volunteering as an advocate for Ancestry at a previous WDYTYA? show. Not knowing what queries would turn up next meant it was a thrilling, rollercoaster kind of day helping fellow family historians progress their research. So, hold on tight, and here we go…

Continue reading WDYTYA? Live 2016: the Countdown Begins

Trading Stories, Working Lives: John Collins, a Victorian fishmonger and game dealer

Graham Barker continues his occupational history series with John Collins, a Victorian fishmonger and game dealer

Leicester Fish Market with 1883-4 trade directory listingWander through Leicester Market Place today and you’ll see that it’s in transition; the 1970s indoor market has been demolished, plans are in hand to create a piazza behind the Corn Exchange, and a new food hall – angled and curved in glass and steel – is set out with tempting displays of fresh fish, cheeses and cooked meats.1877 Advert for Christmas

Such change is nothing new; it’s simply the latest instalment in the history of a market that has evolved since the 13th century. John Collins – a Victorian fishmonger, game dealer and publican – also witnessed many changes hereabouts. In this article, Graham Barker delves into the archives to find out more. Click to download: John Collins, Victorian fishmonger and game dealer

John Collins at the White Swan Inn (detail)

Take a look too at the other articles in our Trading Stories, Working Lives series:

Mary Ann Norman, Victorian laundress of Paradise Place

John and George Firn, monumental masons

Polkey boatmen of Loughborough

The Harrisons: gardeners, nurserymen and seeds merchants

George Robinson, Victorian letter carrier

Trading Stories, Working Lives: Mary Ann Norman, a Victorian laundress

It’s 11 o’clock on a Monday morning in April 1861. Just off Leicester’s Oxford Street – opposite the Swan & Rushes – a narrow alleyway leads into Paradise Place. Seven cottages nestle around a courtyard, alongside the Mission School. Listen to the click and rattle of framework knitters in several of the cottages. At No 5, Mary Ann Norman has already spent three hours beating bed-sheets with a dolly in the washtub. Now she’s ironing linen, helped by her mother, Fanny Wells. The air is damp, with petticoats drying on a line strung across the room.

e615fe7511fa7367d150449985b61fd5For about 30 years, Mary Ann worked as a laundress. It’s fortunate that her work merits a mention in each census return;  women’s employment was often under-recorded. Yet the particulars of Mary Ann’s work are scant.

In the latest of our Trading Stories, Working Lives articles, we take a closer look at life as a Victorian laundress. Click to download: Mary Ann Norman, Victorian laundress of Paradise Place

Take a look too at the other articles in our Trading Stories, Working Lives series:

John Collins, Victorian fishmonger and game dealer

John and George Firn, monumental masons

Polkey boatmen of Loughborough

The Harrisons: gardeners, nurserymen and seeds merchants

George Robinson, Victorian letter carrier

George Jennings Collis: Farewell to Morpeth (1908)

St James' Centre Morpeth

Tuesday 5th May 1908

It’s a rainy evening in Morpeth, and yet a large number of St James’ parishioners turn out to the church hall to bid George Jennings Collis farewell. For the past three years he has served as senior curate in the parish and they wish to give him a good send off. A collection has raised sufficient funds to buy four silver candlesticks.

Cups of tea are served from a trestle table at the back of the hall, ready to warm those attending as they arrive. The rector, Rev J J Davies, brings the proceedings to a start – “Ladies and gentlemen, if you could please take a seat and settle down” – and the hubbub slowly quietens.

“Thank you for coming this evening, and I bid you a warm welcome. As you know, we’re here to make a presentation to our senior curate, George Collis and Mrs Collis, as they head off to Evenwood. Before I came here to Morpeth a couple of years ago, it’s fair to say that I had heard a great deal about Mr Collis; from what I heard, I gathered that he had won his way into the hearts of the people, and in their affections.” Someone pipes up “hear, hear” from the audience.

Rev Davies continues: “Such had been the experience of Mr Collis as an assistant curate that you, I am sure, wanted him to fill the place I fill at that moment. I’m sorry that you did not get your wish satisfied.” Laughter fills the hall. On the raised platform, George smiles.

Continue reading George Jennings Collis: Farewell to Morpeth (1908)

George Jennings Collis: coastal walks and the curate’s egg at Embleton (1897-1905)

After three years service in Berwick Upon Tweed, George moves 40 miles or so southwards along the Northumbrian coastline, to settle as curate of Holy Trinity Church in Embleton village.

Holy Trinity Embleton in late Victorian times

He’s following in the footsteps of many notable and literary incumbents in the parish. Most famous of all was the Rev Mandell Creighton, the vicar of Embleton in 1875-1884 who later became Bishop of London. It was whilst at Embleton that Creighton wrote his History of the Papacy, The Life of Sir George Grey, and collected material for the Northumberland County History, of which he was one of the founders.

Creighton’s daily routine provides an insight into the life of a late Victorian clergyman. Each weekday morning, he spends four hours reading in the vicarage library. In the afternoons,  he visits – with his wife, when possible – the homes of their parishioners, listening to them, giving advice, offering prayers, conducting services for the housebound, and, on occasion, handing out home-made medical remedies.

Continue reading George Jennings Collis: coastal walks and the curate’s egg at Embleton (1897-1905)

George Jennings Collis: from Boston to Berwick-upon-Tweed (1894-97)

Sunday 16th December 1894. It’s a chill winter’s day in Newcastle. George Jennings Collis is preparing for his ordination at the Cathedral. It’s a big move, in a grand building, yet George is certain this is the pathway determined for him; he’s rock steady in his Christian faith.

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The Bishop of Newcastle – Ernest Wilberforce – officiates at the proceedings. Having taken holy orders, George is ready to start his new life as a curate in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland. Prayers are said to bless him in his work. George’s fiancé Florence Ingamells smiles over to him from the front pew. The choir sings heartily as the procession parades out of the Cathedral.

Being a curate is not George’s first job after graduating from Clare College; two newspaper snippets from the Stamford Mercury reveal that he’d spent some time – a couple of years – as a master at Boston Grammar School. A cutting from November 1894 records his move from the school:

1894 George J Collis as master at Boston Grammar School passes divinity exam and is appointed Berwick curate, Stamford Mercury, 30 Nov 1894

Continue reading George Jennings Collis: from Boston to Berwick-upon-Tweed (1894-97)

Trading Stories, Working Lives: Joseph Taylor, lime worker

Sometimes in family history research you discover a document or an object that hints at an intriguing story; something that compels you to investigate further. Such was the case when I discovered a gravestone at Barrow Upon Soar, inscribed with:

“Two fellow workmen in this grave do lie

Both in a well at Barley Hill did die

The unwholesome damp the fatal stroke did give”

Here was a gravestone with a story: Joseph Taylor and his workmate Henry Barsby had been buried together after perishing in a well on 11th June 1824, both aged 25 years.

Many of us have labourers amongst our ancestors – men who grafted in the fields or on the roads. Despite long years of toil, labourers generally leave a sparse paper trail; theirs were not jobs that brought about apprenticeship records, trade directory listings or wills. It can be tricky to get more than a general sense of their working lives. So here – starting with the gravestone inscription – was an opportunity to find out rather more than usual.

Joseph Taylor’s life as a lime worker is the focus in our latest article in the Trading Stories, Working Lives series: click to download

As well as uncovering Taylor’s tragic story, the article suggests ways in which you might enrich your own ancestral research by drawing upon newspaper snippets, trade directories, industrial histories and local studies. Which of your ancestors might have a working history to investigate further?

1841 Advert for Barrow lime at Webb & Austin, Leicester Journal 21 May 1841

Take a look too at the other articles in our Trading Stories, Working Lives series:

John and George Firn, monumental masons

Polkey boatmen of Loughborough

The Harrisons: gardeners, nurserymen and seeds merchants

George Robinson, Victorian letter carrier

George Jennings Collis: going up to Cambridge (1889-92)

We last saw George Jennings Collis in the summer of 1889, being cheered by his fellow pupils at Wyggeston School prize day for gaining a place to study at Cambridge. And so it is, on a Saturday in autumn of that year, that he goes up to Clare College at the start of Michaelmas term. Having taken a train from Leicester, he arrives at Clare with his trunk of books, clothes and other belongings. He stands in Trinity Hall Lane, with the chapel towering above to the right. A few steps on and he’s through the gatehouse into the central quad, the Old Court.

Clare College floorplan

Established in 1326, Clare is the second oldest college in Cambridge. It’s a prestigious place for George to have earned a scholarship. A few students stride purposefully through the courtyard – freshmen like him, settling into their new life – but otherwise it’s a hushed enclave, a home of learning for the bookish, bright and privileged.

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Continue reading George Jennings Collis: going up to Cambridge (1889-92)

George Jennings Collis: a summer of cricket with Wyggeston Boys (1889)

After seven years at boarding school in Ardingly, George Jennings Collis is back in Leicester. It’s Thursday morning, 25th July 1889 and he approaches the stage at Wyggeston Boys’ School. It’s school prize day and he – along with Atkins [the son of the science master], Berridge and Forth – is being cheered by his fellow Wyggeston pupils for being one of “four of our number going to the Universities this year”. In October, he’ll be going up to Clare College, Cambridge.

As headmaster the Rev James Went points out, “Though Collis has not been here a long time, he has done excellent service, more especially in connection with the cricket team, and has been an efficient captain during the year. We shall be sorry to lose his services in the cricket field, but the University of Cambridge shall have the benefit of them, and we shall all feel that Collis has too much sense to go to Cambridge and devote all his time to cricket.”

 

Wyggeston Hospital Boys' School

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