How it began….
I’ve been hooked on family history since I was 13 when we were set a school project to research our family history. I won the prize (thanks Mrs Beale) which was a Mars bar and a packet of ready salted crisps – seriously guys, back in 1985 this was a big deal!
My curiosity about my ancestors was hugely piqued by my paternal grandfather, pictured above with my lovely grandmother. I called him up that evening and asked him what he knew about our family, where they had come from. He promised he would post me a note through my letterbox on his way to work the next day with whatever he knew about them. Lo and behold at 7.30am the next morning, there was an envelope on the doormat. Although the envelope had no contents, it had been sealed and there was some handwritten notes on the outside telling me that I had an ancestor who shared my own father’s name but that this ancestor had been born exactly 100 years before my father. This blew my tiny mind. How could this be? What an absolutely amazingly awesome coincidence! Those four words written on that envelope had opened up a plethora of questions for me. Who was he? What did he do? Was he famous? Is this the reason why my dad was called what he was? What about his wife? His family? Where did he live? What kind of house? I made a pinky-promise to myself to go and find out how to find out about this elusive and mysterious ancestor of mine who had shared my father’s full name exactly one hundred years previously.
So off I trundled to the Central Library in Leeds. There was no internet back then, no online records and certainly no computers as we know them today. I spoke to a wonderful gentleman who kindly showed me the ropes of microfiche and we laughed when he asked me what surname I was researching. You’ll be very relieved it’s so close to the top of the alphabet, he said. I found out why when some microfiches ran from A-L and the only way to get to the next letter was to sit winding the fiche. Which I did, for hours on end, sometimes even days until I reached that magical aha moment when the much sought after birth, marriage, death or census record was right in front of my eyes. I would scribble the reference number down and run over to the Registrar’s Office across town to order the certificate. I will never forget how walking out of that place with the certificate in my hand, sitting down on the bench outside and seeing the details of my ancestors for the first time, their signatures, their addresses, their occupations and their relationships, it always felt like I had won a million pounds.
I did this in my spare time for a couple of years building up a lovely, heart-warming picture of my paternal ancestors through the first world war and back through the Victoria era. I discovered that Leeds was loyally placed in the centre of my ancestors’ hearts and we had not moved around much over the years. I painstakingly reached as far back as the 1851 census keeping the thought of Mr Baldwin the First fresh in my mind, all the while becoming more and more excited about finally discovering him.
It took me around 5 years of on and off research (by this time I had left school and college and was making my way in the world of work) when it finally dawned on me that my lovely grandad had indeed played a trick on me. There was no Mr Baldwin the First – no matter how hard I looked or how hard I thought out of the box, he just didn’t exist. I could hardly believe it but it didn’t really matter by that point as I was hooked on genealogy and it’s been a lifelong passion of mine ever since. My grandfather died just five years later. I can’t say for certain whether or not I would have started that journey without sight of that envelope on the doormat but I’m very grateful for it.
Thank you, Grandad. Your legacy lives on.