Northumberland and Durham Family History Society

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FAMILY HISTORY: Twenty one people attended the November meeting of the Northumberland and Durham Family History Society’s North Northumberland Group when members spoke of research they had carried out on their own families.

Our first contributor talked about the wealth of information and fascinating anecdotes passed on to her by an elderly relative. To develop her knowledge further, she had made use of the ancestry website available free at Northumberland libraries.

We heard about the various artefacts she has inherited, such as a photograph of the former Biteabout Colliery and a Raikes medal.

A visit to the site of Ford Moss Colliery proved fascinating as she was able to see the foundations of the chapel where one ancestor had preached before leaving for Christon Bank where he set up the Methodist Chapel still standing today. While living at Ford Moss he had served as a model in the mural painted by Lady Waterford in the old school room.

The second contribution came from a member who had participated in The Workhouse Project, co-ordinated by The National Archives in London and Berwick Record Office. Volunteers transcribed and catalogued the correspondence between Berwick Poor Law Union and the Commissioners in London and this information and that from various other Unions throughout the country is now freely available on the internet.

She drew our attention to a very useful outcome of the work involved, ie the information now made available on ancestors who disappear from the census. They may sometimes be found in an asylum! Each workhouse had to make appropriate arrangements for the care of inmates who had mental health problems or learning difficulties. In one particular case the speaker was able to request access to the patient record for an ancestor who remained in an asylum for 19 years.

The Workhouse Project also showed that Poor Law Records could be a useful source for local and family history.

Next we heard from a member researching his family in the Borders. Although they had changed jobs as agricultural labourers on an annual basis they had remained for several generations within the same small locality.

In his quest to track down ancestors connected with Lowick Presbyterian Church, he was delighted to meet the new owners of the church property- now a private house- and to be given copies of church records.

To conclude this fascinating session our final speaker told the colourful story of an ancestor from the Isle of Tiree who was kidnapped because of his renowned navigational skills to help in the cause of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Realising the ship he was guiding was bound for France and that his kidnappers had no intention of returning him to his native island, he jumped ship and hid in a cave for nine months! He subsequently surrendered and although pardoned was forced to serve in the militia for two years.

The meeting concluded with the good news that the Society has now found new premises for its Research Centre. This will re-open in Percy House, Newcastle upon Tyne in the New Year.

Our next meeting will be an Open Forum on Saturday, January 15, at 10am at Bell View, Belford.