As anyone following this blog will know, I’ve just returned from a wonderful genealogical jaunt in Scotland where I enjoyed tracing my ancestors and walking in their footsteps. We family historians have a slightly morbid interest in graves and headstones and as such, my friend (and partner in all things genealogical) and I spent several hours rooting around some rather splendid graveyards, peeling back lichen and generally getting a very grubby but with a lot of satisfaction.
One graveyard we visited, Kilmartin and Kilbride, has now been de-commissioned and for many years lay in a state of neglect. It was purchased several years ago by a dedicated and committed local historian Liam Griffin, who along with his wife and volunteers, has spent hundreds of hours restoring and caring for the graves and monuments long left to moulder away into oblivion. You can read all about their story at http://www.friendsofkilbride.scot/.
While visiting the graveyard and being conducted around the graveyard and shown the graves of my ancestors (and also being royally entertained by Liam and his wife!) I decided that I would become a friend of the graveyard. Sadly, I can’t get up there and help clean the graves or clear the vegetation which seems determined to re-claim the site, but for a few pounds a year I feel that I’m helping perhaps in another way. This graveyard, and the Friends group that supports and cares for it, is personal to me and I like to contribute. Isn’t that a lot of what being a family historian is about? It’s nice to find information but it’s also nice to contribute in some way, as perhaps a small memorial to our ancestors?
We can all do this in small ways. Yes, practically it’s a great idea to join ‘Friends’ of various groups (and our own ‘friends’ group, the Surrey History Trust does wonderful work in raising money to support the archives and also to raise awareness of who we are and what we do) and subscriptions are often quite reasonable. However, perhaps if money is a bit tight, we might also think of other ways of contributing.
I use the website Find A Grave.com quite a lot and have found many of many ancestors there. I’ve got into the habit of whenever I visit a graveyard, just snapping a few photographs of random graves so that I can upload them onto this wonderful (and free to use) website in the hope that someone else will benefit from my visit, just as I have benefitted in the past.
I also upload a family tree onto Ancestry.com and although it is a private tree, I’m happy to share information if it is requested. This has led to several interesting contacts over the years and I have benefitted by receiving copies of photographs of my ancestors from a very nice and distantly related lady in Florida, while being able to copy some legal documents that I hold for a similarly distant relative in Ohio.
Many people join family history societies such as the West Surrey Family History Society and the East Surrey Family History Society. Often members reach out to other members living in different parts of the country and offer to conduct research on their behalf. I’ve done this for my family history with a northern family history group. I’ve looked up information for a lady in Preston and she has traced some of my family in the Lancashire Record Office. I also know all about her husband’s triple by-pass and she knows my continuing battle with mice on the allotment. We’ve become old-fashioned pen-friends!! Family history societies also run lots of events and trips and can be a wonderful way to learn more about genealogy and also take part in events and workshops throughout the year – often for a very minimal contribution – and also help others by sharing your experiences with the group.
There are lots of different opinions about sharing research and putting family trees online and I have to say, I can agree with all sides of the arguments. Yes, its irritating when people ‘hoover up’ information that we have taken the time to gather and randomly attach it to their trees but equally, I have found some really good information on other people’s trees which has provided me with some much needed clues to tracing my own family. We should always be cautious how we share information but that shouldn’t stop us from reaching out to give something back. I would welcome your experiences and comments on this!
PS: If you think that our struggles with family history are a recent phenomenon, just take a look at this extract from the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1796. Julian Pooley, Surrey History Centre’s manager is overseeing a grand project to index the Surrey connections in this wonderful publication and found this lovely piece which he thought we family historians might enjoy! https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=BhFEAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA986&lpg=PA986&dq=%22Tracing+genealogies%22+Gentleman’s+magazine+1796&source=bl&ots=Was4sHPLW-&sig=Tls_GqhGhLCo9LBZqfoisaQ85Ec&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjG163urcHbAhVHxxQKHYreDmkQ6AEIJzAA#v=onepage&q=%22Tracing%20genealogies%22%20Gentleman’s%20magazine%201796&f=false