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