Friday, December 28, 2007

Names from the past

Earlier this year I added several school group photographs to the site - some of which were from my own family archives. Although I invited people to identify individuals - or even the date in many cases - I wasn't too hopeful of learning anything about the early 20th century groups.

I had forgotten though, that I had asked my mother the same question about 25 years ago - and, over Christmas, I found her notes which I have now added to the Church Street School groups which are tentatively dated 1910 and 1914.

I am pleased to say that as a result, most of the girls on the 1914 group and some on the 1910 picture, are now identified for posterity.

It's a reminder to us all that now is time to put names to all those family photographs we can identify now but will be more difficult - perhaps impossible - for future generations if we don't do it now.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Useful to know

Wednesday found me on my way down the M1 - through driving rain, as it happens - to visit Leicestershire Archives to follow up a few aspects of the life of Samuel Theodore Bunning. I had corresponded with the staff there and they were most helpful in providing details that confirmed that a visit would be useful. Once there, the efficient service continued and, I was able to check all the sources, -both originals and microfilm - and get the details and copies I wanted all within a three hour visit. As is always the case, it has taken much longer to follow up the genealogy and write up the detail that arises - but its almost done now and will appear today on the site.

One source they do have which I found most useful and convenient was a set of microfiche of the wills proved at Leicester Probate Registry which run up to comparative recent years. Up to now, many of us have used the Postal Searches & Copies Department at York to get copies for a relatively modest fee but now, at least for Leicester wills, these details are even easier to obtain. I don't believe that a similar facility resource at Nottingham Archives yet - lets hope that we will see them there soon.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Difficult - but enjoyable

As I have often mentioned, I get a lot of requests for help from people around the world who have Beeston connections of some kind. As I have always said, I enjoy these contacts. Most are very appreciative, they usually (sadly, not always) reply with a thank-you and many feed back useful information that I can use to build my view of Beeston. Its a big jigsaw and inevitably others have some of the pieces so I am always looking for input that helps fill out the picture.

But, if I was asked to describe my favourite tasks I would have to say its finding long-lost relatives with a Beeston connection. But the irony is that although we are dealing with more recent times, the task is very much more difficult than tracking ancestors in the 19th century - the census is not yet available, there are restrictions on some records, indexing of records is not as complete and - a huge problem - people are much more mobile. But there are also big pluses - notable the Internet which is making available information which has been hidden for decades and sometimes centuries, people interact with social networking site and Google helps us to find traces and connections that would have been invisible before.

This year, so far, there have been several such searches, all of them successful. Some required great sensitivity and caution because of the personal issues involved, another - seeking living descendants to settle an estate in the States - took six months but successfully reunited a family some members of which had not not moved far while others, who seemingly vanished, were found half way around the world.

But it was one that I was able to solve in the last month that has given me particular pleasure. A contact from a Belgian local history group asked for help to locate a member of a Lancaster bomber crew who were on a Cologne raid when they were brought down in June 1943. Some of the crew lost their lives but some survived and were captured - but not before they were helped by a local family which still retains a vivid memory of one survivor. He had been tracked to a post-war address in Beeston but he had soon moved on from there. I hope to publish the full story in due course but suffice to say, I was very pleased to be able to track the gentleman to an address on the south coast and a reunion is being planned.

Certainly, it was a very great privilege to help with this request in particular.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Another local entrepreneur

Have not posted for a while - mainly because I have been busy exploring the life of Samuel Theodore Bunning who was just the sort of rags-to-riches Victorian entrepreneur that interests me. Having started as a railway porter, he came to Beeston as its Station Master, managed to get control of the local brewery and eventually sold out to one of the local big names. And, like many of this kind, he gave away much of his money to good causes in his last years - but still managed to leave a fortune when he died in 1928.

Originally, he and his wife were buried on the lawn at their home but were later re-interred in Wilne Churchyard near Draycott in Derbyshire. I have often visited this churchyard - I have ancestors there too. Its a little remote, being pretty well surrounded by gravel workings but the church still seems to have an active congregation.

Last Sunday afternoon, the sun was shining but the long grass in the churchyard was very wet and, in turn, my shoes were getting very wet as I struggled to find the memorial. I knew it was overgrown and I hadn't found it when I came across two locals who had come to tend a grave. As is so often the case, a friendly question received an equally friendly response. They knew where it was and insisted on taking me there. Its a very big memorial but it sadly its gradually being taken over my trees which are growing through the grave site - its a great pity.

At least I got my photograph which I have now added to the story which you can see at

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Changing Times

Have not written for a while as there have been other things that needed doing. A couple of Saturdays ago we went to a family wedding. It was a happy day with the bride especially radiant and we all had a good time catching up with what had been happening to family members who we had not seen for several years - as seems to be the way of weddings.

The ceremony - as is becoming increasingly common (and popular) - was not held at a church or at a Register Office, but at one of the growing number of fashionable locations newly licenced for weddings - in this case, a hotel.

As I watched the ceremony and the signing of the register, naturally my mind turned to the implications of all these trends to the family historian of the future.

Today, most family history research requires us to have a good grasp of "location" - there is a continuous need to know "where" so that we can track our ancestors in the available records, many of which are tied to the Parish where they lived. While that is often a tremendous advantage, if they move - or if they came from elsewhere - it can become difficult to track the move with confidence. That's particularly the case if the move involves a change of County - mainly because of the way our historical records were made originally and are stored today. While it is certainly the case that the more global search facilities that have emerged over the last five year or so have alleviated the problem greatly, on the fringes, it remains a problem.

Things have changed dramatically during my lifetime. When, as a teenager I sat in the pews of the Beeston Parish Church and listened to the calling of Banns, it was pretty rare for one of the parties to be not "of this Parish" but 20-30 years later, with much greater individual mobility, the opposite usually applied. Most married someone from outside the Parish. The Vicar even had his little joke, complaining that they were all "away matches" this week.

Now, however much the changes are popular and in tune with modern thinking, more often than not, the old norms do not apply - we can no longer expect to find the wedding taking place in the bride's local Parish church - which would have traditionally been the first place to look - and might be in any one of diverse locations, many of them hard to predict but just as likely as a place of worship or the Register Office. And the need for residence in the Parish is no longer a requirement - just notice given to the parties' local Registrar - and then the venue can be anywhere in the country.

It all seems a nightmare when we think of using our traditional methods, but actually it is unlikely to be a problem. Technology will undoubtedly make direct access instantly available, "location" will be irrelevant - if you know the names, they will be found, wherever. Of course, this will bring its own problems - all details will potentially be available to anyone which many will find unacceptable, and rules of access will probably need to be established.

One thing for sure though - family history research will far less interesting !

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Not to be Overlooked

Today's mail brought a reminder that local papers are an excellent source for details of families involved in war. Many families - those with young sons in particular - were, of course closely involved in that tragedy that was World War 1 and it was imperative, at the time, to try to boost morale on the home front and to give every support to the "gallant lads" - as they were usually (and rightly) described. As part of that support, interviews with parents with sons at the front - often with photographs - became a regular feature of local papers. These articles are of exceptional interest to family historians as they often give details that are not easily obtainable elsewhere.

In Beeston, the newspaper at the time of WW1 was the "Beeston & West Notts Gazette & Echo and Beeston Times & Observer", which can be found on microfilm at Beeston Library and there is a partial index on cards that can often be found to be of use.

The enquiry today came from a lady who had found an article, dated August 1917, covering the three serving sons of a Mrs Moore of Beeston. Each of the three was described but notes from the description of one of the eldest son serve to illustrate the detail that can be available:

"Cpl William (Billy) Moore awarded Military Medal. Civilian life a lace draughtsman and manager for Messrs Widdowson of Sandiacre. Attended Chilwell schools, Secretary Beeston Friendly Society, Beeston flower show, married 2 children of 36 Derby Street, Beeston - now a bombing instructor."

This information - along with the details of the other son, enable me to help the enquirer to the next step in her research. Of course, newspaper reports are notorious for inaccuracies and everything should be checked wherever possible - and in this case there were several unexpected twists before the family structure was uncovered. Nevertheless, this example certainly illustrates what an excellent resource this is to help bring our ancestors to life.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Lads' Club on the Move

Land acquisitions in Beeston town centre and the subsequent clearances for the new Tesco Store, mean that many of old landmarks are vanishing. Soon to go will be the Lads' Club building, home to the Boys' Brigade in Beeston (the 17th Nottingham Company - formed in 1909). The driving force behind the Club and the building - as the datestone shows, first built in 1913 and extended two years later - was Steven Hetley Pearson, the oldest son of Henry John Pearson - in turn, the oldest son of the Chilwell family of nurserymen, a partner in Foster & Pearson the horticultural builders and founder of Beeston Foundry. Of the £3000 cost of the original building, over half was donated by the Pearson family with Hetley contributing over £1000 personally.

Many of the Club's members were to serve in the First World War. By 1916, 126 present and former members had joined, some - including Pearson himself, were not to return.

For almost a century, the youth organisations that are based at that building have been a undoubted force for good in Beeston with generations of young people benefiting from their training. Now that they are soon to move to new premises on Nuart Road - on part of Roundhill School field - it is pleasing to know that the present name "The Pearson Centre for Young People" will continue. Pleasing also to have played a small part in the arrangements for the day by putting the organisers in touch with a member of the current generation of the Pearson family who will be welcomed as part of the official opening on February 2nd 2008.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Can you identify this ?

The lady in the middle, with the lighter coat and the white hat is Ruth Mary Thornton (née Leeson) who lived in Beeston after she married Albert Thornton, for a time a police constable there, but later an employee of Beeston Boiler. The photograph appears likely to date from the 1930s and seems to show a group of members of an organisation that has a uniform and colours - which can be seen held by the lady to the left of Ruth and the man at the rear on the right. The sign gives the location as "Bridge Road". (Click on the photograph to get a better view.)

Can anyone identify the organisation or the location ?

Just got started ..

I have been working on my website for over four years now. It was started to provide a means of publishing a lifetime's research into Beeston in Nottinghamshire - where I was born and grew up and where many of my family roots can be found. I always knew it would take many years - my accumulated research is voluminous and getting it into acceptable shape takes time and everything needs checking using sources that have only recently become available

However, there is another problem - as it popularity grows, the more enquiries I receive. Great ! I welcome them and enjoy trying to help and I don't want to put unreasonable limits on this. But it does mean that formal additions to the web-site get put aside for a while.

Having given this situation some thought, I have decided to start this blog. I expect to use it to publish a journal of things about Beeston in the past that I am looking at currently and which may be of a wider interest or attract input and comment. Some of it - but by no means all - may eventually evolve into more formal pieces for the site but, either way, it will create a record of much that might otherwise be lost.

Feel free to contribute your comments to any post. At least for the time being, these will be moderated before they appear in the blog.