Today we have something special.
An interview with fellow Genealogist Matthew Reay from Nothing But Bad Times and Death and Diaspora! He has written two blogs about his family history! I met Matt through RootsChat, in the chatroom (aka Chatterbox). He's helped me several times with research in the UK (where he lives) and has been an incredible help! I've met some great people through RC and Matt is one of them :) Hopefully over the next few weeks I'll be able to introduce you to a few more fellow researchers and their stories!
Here is our interview:
A - 1. How long have you been working on your FH? What got you started?
M - I have been doing Family History for almost five years now. I started in 2006 when, after studying the First World War in school, I brought the subject up at a family gathering. My maternal grandmother as a consequence, followed by her sister, reminded each other and then told me that they had an uncle who was killed in the conflict. I then went onto the internet and tried typing his name and regiment in a search engine, and it went from there. It turned out the war memorial his name appears on was transcribed and so I was able to find it relatively successfully, after a prompt from the Lanarkshire Family History Society. In hindsight this is where my journey began, even if at that time I only intended on exploring this one ancestor.
A - 2. What is the biggest find to date? ie. record, photo, etc?
M - Obviously, I have found out many things in the course of this hobby, but I think the biggest find by far came about in the summer of 2008, when I travelled up to Glasgow in search of my great-great grandmother, Mary Ann Owens. The attempt was to find out more information about her, anything at all. I honestly expected to be disappointed. She was working-class, an Irish refugee in all but name, so I knew passenger lists would not exist. Yet, when I arrived at the library, an archivist told me that I may find something in the Poor Relief papers. I searched and nothing appeared. Then, I started using her two married names, McDonald and Hughes, and up came a match for her and her first husband Francis McDonald. I found out so much detail about the family situation, that Francis had been struck down with TB, and how much he was earning etc. Then, I really did strike gold, out of pure instinct. I searched for Mary Ann’s mother, who I know was widowed just after leaving Ireland. Up came a match for her, and this was and is still the most detailed document I had discovered in the entire time I have pursued my ancestors. It gave the birthplace of all her children, including Mary Ann, to the exact parish, which previously none of my living relatives could agree on. My granny said she was born in County Armagh, and another said County Down. The record itself said she was born in Aghaloo, County Tyrone. I checked this in the parish records and there she was. I was so amazed that people so poor could be recorded in so much detail. This by far was the most revealing document, as it even detailed Mary Ann’s grandparents’ names.
A - 3. Any scandals pop up in your tree? Details?
M - There are plenty of scandals that I have discovered in the process of my journey into my family history. I have two in particular to list that are quite astonishing. The first is that of my great-great-great grandfather, Samuel Wertheim, who I found on the 1871 census as a convict in Gillingham Male Convicts Jail. Naturally, I set abut on what can only be described as a mission, in trying to find out why he was there. My imagination ran further and further into scandal. I thought that perhaps he was a murderer, or had been involved in some sort of major political event perhaps. I was to be disappointed. This was in Bristol, so I set about looking in the Bristol Mercury newspaper, where I found him as Virtine. He had, over the course of eleven years, endeavoured to rob and steal from tradesmen in the area which he live, the earliest offence being carried out when he was fourteen. His biggest crime was to rob a slaughterhouse with three other men, in October 1861. It took the police four years to catch him, and he was brought to trail in 1866 and sentenced to seven years.
The second scandal revolves around the sister of my great-great-great grandfather, Joseph Howell. Her name was Comfort Howell, and she had moved from Gloucestershire to Soho, after marrying a man named John Preedy. In a rather suspicious 1871 census entry, I found them living with five young women, who gave their occupations as hat-makers and dressmakers. Two of them gave no forename and instead gave their title as “Miss”. One girl was from Weymouth, another from Jersey, and two were German. Another I believe was from Bath. I was advised therefore to accept the possibility that these young women may have been prostitutes. When I found a court record of the couple in 1872, the crime they were accused of confirmed suspicions. It read “The keeping of a bawdy house”. Never in a million years does anybody set out in their family history journeys, expecting to find something like that. In all honesty, when I confirmed it, I grinned more than anything else in the way of emotion.
A - 4. What was the most interesting place you've been relating to your FH?
M - The most interesting place I have been with my family tree research is probably the National Archives in Kew, Surrey. Never before have I stepped inside such a vast and exciting host of the past. I was in awe when I first visited in February 2009, and I was kept occupied all day looking at military records and I even found some divorce documents which made shocking reading. I try and go once a year now, as something always turns up that I need to collect.
A - 5. Did your family travel? Emigrate to any interesting places?
M - My family has been built on migration, but largely within the United Kingdom, and some in what is now the Republic of Ireland. I do however, have one ancestor who was born in Poland, around the time of Napoleon, when he was conquering the continent. A few siblings of my direct ancestors have migrated beyond British shores, to places such as America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and some to Portugal and Switzerland too. Mostly though, my family moved wherever they could find work, especially at the beginnings of the industrial revolutions. Migration to cities seems to have been very much part of my story.
Thank you Matt for taking the time to answer my questions!