For me and my fellow Ancestry Advocates, the thrill of discovery isn’t just connected to our own family trees. Many of us have also researched the trees of our spouses as well as friends and near neighbours. Some have even offered their research skills as a charity auction item for strangers! Whoever we are researching, the pleasure gained from the exploration is never diminished.
That’s why a high point in my year is the few hours as an Ancestry Advocate at WDYTYA? Live. Each year seems to get better. Maybe I’m more familiar with the Ancestry.co.uk site than I was the previous year, certainly each year there is more content on the site to unearth and this year there were more visitors wanting input from the Ancestry Advocates.
Their wait has to feel worth it; standing in a queue for half an hour to get access to the stand means that visitors have a burning need to get to the next stage in their family tree, to verify a hunch or a tiny piece of evidence. As Ancestry Advocates we must work hard not to disappoint.
The visitors I met this year were more focused on what they were looking for and where they had drawn a blank. All the Ancestry Advocates have encountered brick walls and we know how frustrating that can be. Uncle Ted died, he must have done, why can’t I find the record of his death in the index?
On the show stand we meet a few people who have been researching their family tree systematically and methodically for many years, but the majority of visitors who want help are comparative novices, who aren’t yet as obsessed as the rest of us! Little do they know how many late nights and missed meals are in their future, as they build their family tree from this new evidence.
New connections are only one aspect of the quest. Family historians also want to understand the events and social forces that affected the lives of their ancestors. They want to discover and tell a story; this is the compelling and satisfying experience. The 1851 Census shows that my 2nd-great-grand-aunt Louisa was a maid, yet by 1881 she is described as ‘living on own means’ – the family rumours are that she inherited from a mistress.
On the Ancestry.co.uk stand I helped a visitor find the outline details of the will left by his relative’s mistress in the National Probate Calendar; he will now visit the relevant Probate Registry and discover whether his ancestor inherited all or part of the huge wealth that was left in the will. Another strand of a visitor’s family story can be told, based on fact not just hearsay.
I wanted to spend all day with some of the people I met at the show; I knew that between us we would have uncovered many previously ‘missing’ records in just a few hours. Nevertheless it was immensely enjoyable just to spend 15 minutes with each visitor I met. It was also very pleasurable to be called a ‘genius’ when I found lost father, whose name has never turned up in the Death Index, in the 1911 Census along with a previously unknown brother, grandmother and unmarried mother.
Authored by Jill Pack. Jill is now a BBC Pensioner. She was born and lives in London where at least 5 generations on both sides of her family were also born – mainly in Hoxton, Hackney, Notting Dale and Paddington. She has been researching her family tree for over 8 years and has completed two courses in Genealogy at Birkbeck College, University of London.
Emma Pulman is a Social Media and digital Marketing Executive for Ancestry.co.uk. Based in Ancestry's London office in Hammersmith, Emma regularly tweets and posts on Ancestry's Facebook page.