Guest blogger William Sexton Blake, family historian and great contributor to the Ancestry.co.uk Facebook fan page, offering advice, information of value and lots of humour.
My name is William Sexton Blake. I am 52 years old. I have lived in Chester, Cheshire for 35 years. I was born in Newcastle upon Tyne and my roots are Northumberland and County Durham although I have just recently found out that my great grandfather on my maternal side is from Govan in Scotland.
My interest in genealogy began when I started to notice a number of genealogy magazines on the shelves at the newsagents and when the BBC started to broadcast the series “Who do you think you are”, a program where they delve into the ancestry of celebrities and famous people. The program in particular made it look so easy.
At first like many people I had very little information to start with. I put what little I knew on genealogy websites to no avail, despite going back day after day for a number of months nothing was found. It was then that I had the idea of contacting the Freeman of the City Newcastle of which I am one. I asked for their help. All males on the Blake side of the family are entitled to be sworn as Freeman and they were able to give me the lineage back to William Blake in 1829. Armed with this information I duly entered it into my family tree thinking all my brick walls would come tumbling down.
After weeks of no contacts or further leads I decided to try Ancestry.co.uk. I entered my information to my tree and lo and behold little waving leaves (hints) appeared on my tree. After following these hints and double-checking before entering the new information, my tree started to grow. Also a week later I was contacted by my 2nd cousin Keith whom I vaguely remembered and arrange to meet him and his family in Newcastle. I also took my father as he remembered him very well , as he used to take him gifts when he was home from the navy. It was a lovely day, a very emotional day for my father. Memories and stories were duly noted as well as other family members added to my tree.
Like a lot of people I have spoken to, there is always the anticipation of finding someone of note or a connection with royalty in our family trees. I got very excited finding such people and announced with celebrations and certain bragging rights. Some of my noted finds are my 6x cousin Field Marshall John Standish Surtees Prendergast Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort. By coincidence my father was aboard H.M.S Mary Rose algerine class minesweeper in 1944 sweeping around the bay and the island of Malta, while Viscount Gort was coming to the end of his tenureship as Governor of Malta.
The Victorian novelist and my 4th cousin Robert Smith Surtees.
Whilst these were celebrated finds with the help of Ancestry I found a photograph of my Grandmother Jean Dyer Wilson (on my maternal side) as a young girl on another member’s tree, a photograph my mother had never seen. I mentioned at the beginning that I had found my Great Grandfather Joseph Dyer Wilson and he was from Scotland, I also found a photograph of him too again on another member’s page. My mother never met her grandfather, did not know he was Scottish and had not seen a photograph of him, so this was so exciting to find.
Once I had finished celebrating my links to people of note I started to read the story of other members of the family who struggled to survive from day to day and found them much more interesting. Stories of multiple infant mortality, work houses, a mining death and brave casualties of the Great Wars. These were the people to celebrate for their determination to survive, bravery and sacrifice.
In my search I have also found some characters which make you smile for all the wrong reasons. An ancestor who was an agricultural labourer on my wife’s side in Yorkshire was found in a number of newspaper articles where he was witness for the prosecution. He turned out to be a right “grass”, giving evidence against fellow locals in poaching cases and various petty crimes. Soon he found himself at the centre of a case when he had been attacked by one of the very men he had given evidence against.
With the help of friends, family, family history websites and Ancestry members, my family tree is flourishing with over 2600 people added. I feel my journey has just begun and I long to know more. When I say more I do not necessarily mean adding more ancestors but finding more information about the ancestors I have, about how they lived, their occupations and what kind of people they were. Another great source of help I have found is the Ancestry Facebook page. On this page I have made many friends, it almost feels like a family in itself. Here are like-minded people who chat about their breakthroughs, their brick walls, their family, the weather and anything else that takes their fancy. But it does not stop there, most of all it is a great place to get help, advice, tips and useful links from people at all stages of their journey.
The Ancestry.co.uk Facebook page recently celebrated its 20,000th fan. To become part of the Ancestry family on Facebook please go www.facebook.com/AncestryUK.
About Brian Gallagher
Brian is the International Social Media Specialist for Ancestry, working closely with our United Kingdom, Sweden, German and Australian teams.