A fascinating delve into family history right on my doorstep

Nik Brear
Nik Brear
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A wise man once said ‘To know where you’re going, you must first understand where you came from’. I’d be curious to know if he had shares in ancestry.com

Since becoming a mother, I’ve found myself more aware than ever of the fact I am just one link in an ever-growing chain. I’ve always been curious about my roots, but after watching a few episodes of Who Do You Think You Are recently, I found myself logging on to Ancestry and signing up for a 14-day free trial.

Census records for Richard Freer - Nik Brear column

Census records for Richard Freer - Nik Brear column

There’s something very rewarding about filling in a few boxes and watching as details of your nearest and dearest pop up. My first visit uncovered lots of interesting nuggets of information - like the fact my paternal grandfather had 11 brothers, and that his dad was born in Nostell Priory, the son of a housemaid. I was surprised to learn my maternal grandfather’s dad was considered ‘illegitimate,’ his mum Florence getting mysteriously pregnant when she was 19 and with no husband in the picture. I even managed to trace my dad’s maternal family all the way back to my 11th great-grandfather Nicholas, born in 1566.

Most touchingly, I learned that my great-great-grandfather had lived just two streets away from where I live now, in a house that is still standing. I was very close to my grandmother Madge and, when she was alive, she once revealed that she didn’t even know her grandfather’s name. There was something bittersweet in being able to sit at my laptop now and uncover information she’d never had and would have loved to have known. I bundled my 17-month-old daughter up that same day and we headed out to see the red-brick terrace house that Richard Mason Freer and Annie Whincup had lived in with their children, including my great-grandfather, exactly 100 years earlier.

I imagined them walking down the same street on their way to work or to dropping the children off at school, or perhaps standing on that stone doorstep that now sagged in the middle, worn down from years of use, chatting to their neighbours. I imagined Annie and the kids standing there as they waved Richard off to war a few years later, and the horror Annie must have felt as she stood, perhaps on that very spot in the doorway, when the telegram arrived to tell her that my great-great-grandfather had been killed in France and would never be returning to his family, or to their lovely little red-brick home.

If you’ve never checked into your own family history, I highly recommend it. I’ve barely scratched the surface and I already feel so much more connected to the people who came before me.