Northumberland and Durham Family History Society

The Northumberland and Durham Family History Society North Northumberland Group’s latest meeting took the form of a members’ forum on the topic of A Piece of Paper.

We were invited to bring any piece of paper connected with our family history, such as a photo, certificate, diary, etc. It proved a good stimulus.

Doctor’s bill: This was the bill for delivering a baby who became a soldier, the uncle of a member.

The doctor is believed to be Dr Walker, of Ayrshire, who became a specialist in tropical diseases in Africa. It was found in a linen chest.

An interesting discussion followed on the custom of signing over postage stamps as a receipt.

Letter: This was sent about 1847 by a relative living at Donaldson’s Lodge to his son who had emigrated to the USA. It provided a great deal of local information, notably the building of the Berwick to Kelso railway line.

Book: This history of Northern Primitive Methodism includes details of a member’s ancestor, Jimmy Young, who, brought up at Ford Moss Colliery, was asked to become the first minster at Christon Bank Primitive Methodist Chapel.

Several fascinating excerpts from the book were read out including a remarkable conversion and a humorous poem.

The minister produced five sons who became local preachers. He was described as a ‘man with a considerable dash of eccentricity’ and was known for travelling to chapels on his donkey donated to him.

Will: This unusual will read more like a letter and gave earnest advice to the writer’s son, explaining how he had met his wife leading to a life of ‘splendid misery.’ The writer was Frank Sitwell, MP for Berwick, known as Frank the Gambler, owner of Barmoor Castle.

He advised his son to marry ‘not a Scotchwoman’ and spoke in glowing terms of Harriet, their nurse. His son, known as Frank the Apostle, heeded his father’s words and married Harriet.

Photographs: This member is fortunate to be able to trace his ancestry back to the Normans.

We looked at photographs of his ancestors from the 19th century including one of his great grandmother, Jane Jobson, sitting knitting. It is not at all common to find photographs of people pursuing such activities in that period as it is more normal to be photographed reading or holding a book.

Naturalisation papers: An application for naturalisation as a British citizen from a member’s great grandfather, a Danish mariner, provoked a long correspondence amongst the subject, port officials around the British coast and a government department after the application was mislaid by the latter and letters were forwarded from port to port in an attempt to communicate with him during his voyages.

He did eventually receive naturalisation and shortly afterwards was given command of a merchant ship in the First World War at the age of 67.

Amongst ourselves we managed to produce a wide variety of documents from our own families or localities.

Our next meeting will be on Saturday at 10am at Bell View, Belford, when we shall have Anthea Lang coming to give us some practical tips on Making Sense of the Census.

Anthea recently retired from her post as local history and heritage manager with Gateshead Council and has extensive experience in local history and genealogy.

She regularly gives talks and runs courses on both subjects and knows all the pitfalls which may be encountered when pursuing family history.

If you have ever despaired when trying to find an ancestor in the census you are sure to pick up some useful tips from this talk. Non-members are welcome to join us, come at 9.45am for coffee.