Weston Family History Society
Weston Family History Society
Friday, April 23, 2010
The dusty books, the hours spent in front of the computers and obsessing over old records - the members of Weston Family History Society are a passionate lot.
The men and women who make up the society share a feeling that tugs at most of us, the call of our ancestors. Often it is just a small thing that sets members on a long road of discovery.
For example, Jo Banks, of Congresbury, was given a relic from her distant aunt Ellen Barlow and has spent 10 years tracing Ellen's illustrious connections with the cream of the British art world.
But the road back in time can also be disappointing. Cherished family stories of famous connections or heroic deeds passed down through the generations often get quashed as just a myth, as Pat Hase, the society's chief researcher, discovered.
She grew up believing that Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi had honoured the family by visiting her great, great grandfather in Bristol during his only visit to England.
But The Times newspaper put paid to the tale, recording that crowds of well-wishers prevented the Italian hero from getting off his train in Bristol.
On the other hand, patient examination and a mild obsession with church records, birth, marriage and death documents and other records can unearth exciting gems that open a window on a long-dead relative.
One of the society's founder members, Sheila Anderson, unlocked the amazing world of a relative who got mixed up in a conspiracy involving King Charles II.
Two of his co-conspirators were executed, but the relative, a Mr De La Court, rescued and buried the heads in a bank still known today as Bloody Bank.
Discoveries are not always so grand, but they are usually interesting. Society treasurer Shirley Cheney uncovered the shocking fortune of a young ancestor from London who, aged just 10, was sent to prison for stealing 23 cabbages, worth a shilling, followed by a five-year spell in a reformatory.
But members can spend hours, weeks and years scrutinising records from across the country and even abroad, sometimes producing nothing more than a death certificate.
Shirley said: "Our work is like building a large jigsaw puzzle. You may start with your parents' marriage certificate and work backwards as far back as possible.
"The excitement comes when you think the next page may have what you are looking for and there is a real adrenaline buzz when you get something. After a while it becomes an obsession."
Former policeman and society chairman Brian Airey admits he became so emotional after one discovery that he burst into tears in the middle of the library.
Anyone can trace their family history.
The society runs popular bi-monthly sessions for beginners at Weston Library in the Boulevard every first and third Saturday of the month from 2-4pm.
Members also hear speakers, share tips and socialise at monthly meetings, hold an annual open day and visit national archives in London twice a year.
Name of club: Weston Family History Society
Founded: 1983, following a course run by local historian Brian Austin.
Chairman: Brian Airey
Meeting place: Crossroads Carers' Centre in Graham Road.
For more details: Call 01934 625622
or visit www.wsmfhs.org.uk