Family History Society, Alnwick branch

At the April meeting of the Alnwick branch of the Family History Society, Trish Jones, secretary, was the speaker.

The topic was how to research the history of your home and the people who lived there. Her experience comes from her own research and an interest in Alnwick’s past inhabitants.

Alnwick Family History Society has undertaken extensive research into Howick Street and Belvedere Terrace, which is on the Bailiffgate Museum website. The society also receives requests from all over the UK and world for information from people who want to know more about their ancestors.

People undertaking family history are not only keen to produce a family tree, but often want to discover more about where their ancestors lived. This allows them to have a sense of their ancestors’ lives, and put them into a social context.

Research highlights the many changes that have taken place on land and property.

For example, in Durham and Northumberland many pits and mining villages have disappeared, to be replaced by new housing or development. Schools, farms, shops and post offices have become houses.

Using maps, manorial records, tax records and census records, it is possible to trace the history of your house, or the land it stands on.

Researching the history of a house is like putting together a jigsaw. Other pieces include local knowledge, electoral rolls, directories, plans and surveys, along with verbal and recorded family knowledge.

Deeds, planning applications and land registry information all help to build up a picture of the age of the property and its history. Old newspapers are also an invaluable source of information regarding the property in terms of sales particulars of the property and its contents.

The owners and occupiers of a house can be traced through all sorts of records that as well as the censuses also include street directories, wills and probate, electoral rolls and parish registers of birth, death and marriage.

Research often throws up skeletons in the cupboard which bring the former inhabitants to life and illustrate the times they lived in.

It may be impossible to date a house exactly if early deeds and other information is unavailable but architectural clues may help. Likewise census records and other types of information may not agree so detective work is needed.

Examples of this were given, eg where a person disappeared but a newspaper from the south coast shows that they had left Alnwick due to a major scandal. In another case, a local man progressed from a draper’s assistant in Alnwick to supplying Queen Mary with dress material.

If readers are interested in learning more, the family history section of the Bailiffgate Museum has a list of useful websites to use many free. Readers may also wish to come to one of the drop-in help sessions held on the third Saturday of each month at Bailiffgate Museum.

The next meeting of the Society is on Tuesday, May 5, at 7.30pm which is an open meeting where members and non members are welcome.