Learning volumes about the history of your family

Witney Gazette: SEARCHING: The Family History Society helps those looking for their family's history Buy this photo SEARCHING: The Family History Society helps those looking for their family's history

DELVING into the intriguing world of family history is a way of linking the past to the present, according to Wendy Archer.

Witney Gazette:

  • Caroline Walker, of the Oxfordshire Family History Society, offers help and advice so people can trace their roots

The chairman of Oxfordshire Family History Society (OFHS) found her ancestral past dates back to a yeoman family in the 1500s.

Mrs Archer decided to research her mother’s side of the family from Iffley, who went by the name of Pulker.

She said: “It was interesting to research but I also liked the detective process of making your way back through the records – it’s a very logical and scientific approach.

“It’s being able to put the pieces of the jigsaw together to make someone in history become someone you understand more.

“You find out about their lives, which is very satisfying because you use your talents to piece it all together.”

The OFHS was founded in 1976 to promote the study of family history.

The idea was to help people become aware of what records they had access to and how they could be used to research their past.

Caroline Walker, 55, a volunteer with the OFHS, said since then hundreds of records have been painstakingly digitised onto disc and online.

These include records of baptisms, marriages, burials, family migration maps, parish registers and online birth, marriage and death documents.

Mrs Walker said: “Starting from the beginning, the best thing to do is to write down what you know, talk to old relatives and ask them what they know and if they have any documents or certificates.”

Mrs Walker said the society has access to genealogy websites like ancestry.co.uk which can then be used to help put a family tree together.

She said: “The best thing to do is to look for births.

“The oldest child will give an idea of when the parents got married because people generally got married just before their eldest child was born.

“Once you get back to 1911 it starts getting easier because you then use census records.

“That will tell you how long the parents had been married, how many children they have had, how many survived and how many died.”

Mrs Walker said she became interested in family history as a teenager after her father drew a family tree.

She then completed a family history course, aged 28, and decided to carry on her father’s work.

She said: “My father never really got past my grandparents, but it was something I knew I was interested in.

“After I did the course I was bitten with the bug.

“That was before the day of computers so I was going into the library and luckily back then the society was already active transcribing records.

“I could look to parish registers and find my own family.”

Such is the society’s prestige in the world of genealogy, and the wealth of records it has access to, that families who have long since left the county come to it for advice.

Mrs Walker said: “I have had people over from Australia and Canada, but there are people from all over the world who have background in Oxfordshire and want to find where their ancestors lived.

“It’s something anybody can do. Everybody will hit brick walls, but the trick is to move on to another line of inquiry and continue to look – don’t give up. You feel like you want to punch the air, you can be in a library and just think ‘yes’.”

The OFHS holds free drop-in sessions from 10am to 4pm every Tuesday and Thursday at the Oxfordshire History Centre, in St Luke’s Church, Temple Road, in Cowley.

It also holds them at the Local Studies Library, part of the Westgate Library in the city centre from 1.30pm to 4pm on Tuesdays, and from 10am to 4pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

The past stacks up in former Cowley church

BEHIND locked doors in the nave of St Luke’s Church’s in Cowley are row after row of original historic documents.

Witney Gazette:

Parish registers, wills, Poor Law, business, court and family records are spread across three floors in the former Temple Road church, which is the Oxfordshire History Centre’s home.

It is also where the Oxfordshire Family History Society holds free drop-in sessions from 10am to 4pm every Tuesday and Thursday.

Mark Lawrence, joint centre manager, said conditions in the nave are regulated to stay at 18C and 50 to 55 per cent humidity to maintain the integrity of the documents.

He said: “It should be dry and cool conditions. Humidity and temperature control ensures the longevity of the records.

“There are glass, film and parchments so the idea is stability in the conditions.”

The church has housed the documents since 2000 when they were moved from the basement of County Hall, in New Road, Oxford, thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The church housed the Oxfordshire Record Office until it became the Oxfordshire History Centre in 2011 when it merged with the Centre for Oxfordshire Studies, in the Central Library, Westgate.

Mr Lawrence said: “What we have got here now is not only the original archive collections but the complete local studies collections which is all the material relating to the history of Oxfordshire.

“These include photographs, newspapers and maps that had been kept at Westgate.

“For some categories of original material they are here for permanent long-term storage so there’s something to look back to in 50 years when we need to digitise the whole lot.”

‘I would have given up without society’s help’

BY HER own admission, 70-year-old Liz Helliwell, pictured,

was “a novice” when she started researching her family with the help of the Oxfordshire Family History Society.

Witney Gazette:

But since then the great-grandmother, of Kestrel Crescent, Oxford, has got to grips with online and original records to make her own family tree with the help of the society’s volunteers.

She said: “The society is a very valuable resource. Because of my age I’m not very good with computers.

“It’s essential to have someone who really knows what websites to go on, how far back you can go and how to get the information you need.

“I would not have been able to do it without the society. Without them I would have given up because I get frustrated.”

Mrs Helliwell, a retired cashier, has traced her cousin on her father’s side of the family back to 1940 before drawing a blank with her research.

She said: “I’m still trying to work it out and I will need the society to help me.”

Conference provides an insight on First World War

FIRST World War experts will help families research their ancestors at a conference to mark 100 years since the shots which sparked its outbreak were fired.

The Oxfordshire Family History Society (OFHS) and Federation of Family History Societies (FFHS) are holding the event at the Marlborough School, in Woodstock, from 9am to 4pm today.

It comes exactly a century on since the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo which led to the Great War’s outbreak.

The conference will include talks on military records, medals, memorabilia and photographs, plus displays from the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum and the Western Front Association.

Wendy Archer, the OFHS’s chairman, said: “The conference will give people a perspective of what it was like to be in the war and possibly how it was for the families that were left behind.

“It will help the families understand the artefacts they have inherited.

“People have been talking about what medals they have got in the cupboard and want to understand the service records.”

Speakers will include David Holman, chairman of the FFHS, Alun Edwards, from Oxford University, historian Graham Bandy and National Archives experts David Langrish and Mark Pearsall.

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