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How it All Began

Family tree from my baby book

This is the story of how it all began and explains why I spend a significant part of my life researching and preserving the stories of past generations.

My first real family trees were inspired by the four generation pedigree in my Baby Book and the rough, handwritten, minimal trees, scribbled on two single sheets of paper by my parents and then pinned together with a rusty pin. For someone who has no siblings, no first cousins and second cousins on only one of the four possible sides of the family, family history had an immediate appeal. I knew no one, apart from my own, very small, immediate family, with my surname, which made me eager to learn more.

 

There were also the fascinating family stories. My father’s family, the Braunds, were  allegedly descended from pirates, washed ashore during the wreck of a Spanish Armada ship; despite this being reported in The Evening Standard, this is definitely not true. My mother was a Smith, her grandfather, or possibly great-grandfather was reputed to have been offered a half share in Smith’s Crisps for £50 and turned it down saying  ‘it wouldn’t catch on’; possibly true this one. After twenty years of research I confirmed a connection with the founder of Smith’s Crisps, whether my great-grandfather was offered a share I will probably never know.

I am fortunate to have a wonderful album of photographs for my mother’s family and I revelled in sorting through these with my mother and great aunt, who became a surrogate grandmother after the death of my own grandmother. When I was seven, together we created a family tree, using these photographs, which we mounted on the back of large pieces of cardboard that advertised dog food on the reverse. It should, of course, have been Pedigree Chum but in fact, it was Winalot! From then on I was hooked. I began serious research when I left college in 1977 and was soon to be encouraged by the 1979 Gordon Honeycombe series, that was the first televised promotion of family history.

For me, it has always been about the stories rather than the pedigree; setting my ancestors in their local and national historical context is the priority. Forty six years down the line, the enthusiasm remains.

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