Essex Record Office Discovery Day

Ahead of his guest appearance and keynote speech at the Essex Record Office on Saturday 8 September 2012, Nick  visited Essex County Council and made some snapshot videos in the Council Chamber.

Here are some tips Nick recorded whilst at the Essex County Council

Nick discusses why he feels archives are still relevant when there is so much family history information online

Nick talks about the impact of genealogy documentaries such as “Who Do You Think You Are” on people researching into family roots

Want to hear more?

Visit the Essex Record Office Discovery day on 8th September 2012




Here, There and Everywhere!

Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I seem to be on the move constantly these days. I’ve just returned from a wonderful trip to Traquair Castle near Peebles, in the Scottish Borders, for the launch of a fantastic book by Margaret Fox and Catherine Maxwell Stuart. It uses the family archives to shed light on key members of the Stuart family, and their relationship to their ancestral home, Traquair, which is one of the oldest castles to remain in the same family’s occupancy – from the early 15th century to the present day. Margaret has selected some amazing documents to tell the story of key individuals through the ages, up to 1875 – and the emphasis is indeed firmly on story-telling. There’s always a temptation when writing a book on larger than life historical characters, bearing in mind the family’s connections to Mary Queen of Scots and subsequently the English court after the accession of James I, to turn it into an academic monograph; or, when putting together images from wonderful archives, portraits, architecture and landscape, to go down the route of a coffee-table book. This is not to demean either form of publishing, by the way. However, Margaret has managed to achieve something quite rare – the amalgamation of the best of both genres in an accessible book that lets the stories and images captivate the reader. It’s a great example of how to bring personal archives to life. Admittedly, we might not all own a castle, or have correspondence, papers and accounts dating back over 600 years; however, it does show us that the minutiae of history has its place, and can be interesting to a wider audience if presented in the right way.

On a related topic, last week I was speaking at the Community Archive and Heritage Group (CAHG)’s annual conference, where the awards for Community Archive of the Year were presented. The following evening, I accompanied some colleagues from CAGH, and the Archives and Records Association (ARA), to Marden History Group. Since 2008, they have secured funding for their own space in the village library; digitised and transcribed many local records, placing them on their website; undertaken a series of oral history events, recording the memories of local residents for posterity; written a series of books on aspects of local history; talked to school children about their community history; and even found time to begin some restoration projects. They are an inspirational group, and worthy winners of the inaugural award. I’m personally pleased to announce that Your Family History magazine will be sponsoring next year’s award, so to examine the categories in which presentations are made, and for more details about how send in your nominations for 2012, visit the CAHG website


Apologies and a Great New Zealand Conference

It’s been a long while since I last posted a blog on the site – my profuse apologies! I can only say that I’ve been incredibly busy completing the first run-through of my book on the history of Greater London, something you’ll have noticed I’m working on by my frequent tweets on the subject. This was finally delivered on 23 May, and the next stage – which is keeping me and the team occupied – is the revision and editing process. There will be a trade launch on 25 June at Foyle’s bookshop, where I will say a few words about the concept, and copies will hit the shops on 1 November in time for Christmas. To say that it’s a mighty relief to have completed the bulk of the writing is a massive understatement; it’s only now that I realise just how much of my time and attention was devoted to the work. It is an incredibly difficult story to tell, because there are some many conflicting social themes to cover, let alone geographical differences and a huge sweep of time from the Romans to the present day.

auckland research centre

Auckland Research Centre

Another reason I’ve been operating under a ‘cone of silence’ is because I took a short trip to New Zealand to speak at the New Zealand Society of Genealogists conference, held at the Wairakei Resort, Taupo. I’d never been to New Zealand before – I’ve travelled to Australia several times for conferences, work and filming – so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After a very long flight, I finally landed in Auckland on the north island and then transferred to a 20 seat plane, flying to Rotorua where I was met by Diana and Peter Humm, who kindly drove me to Wairakei. The scenery was stunning – lakes, mountains, forest, steaming geothermal sites, with Lake Taupo in the background framed by active volcanoes. I should confess that I managed to fit in quite a lot of sightseeing in the four days I was there, including white water rafting, visits to Maori terraces and culture centre, geothermal sites at Orakei Korako and craters of the moon, and trips around the lake; thanks to Tania, Eric, Murray and Lauren for these memorable trips. The conference itself was great fun; I spoke on several occasions on a range of topics, including education, ancestral tourism and the future of family history. Rosemary and Eric Kopittke were visiting from Australia, and talked about German ancestry as well as changes to Find My Past; and Seonaid Lewis, a long-time twitter correspondent from the Auckland Research Centre, also gave a presentation on how own research trials and tribulations. Outgoing President of the Society, Fiona Brooker, shared her thoughts on the future direction of New Zealand genealogy – a theme picked up by her successor, Michelle Patient.

Altogether, it was a fantastic experience, and very interesting to hear about some of the challenges facing researches on the other side of the planet who share our ancestors in the UK. The need for accurate online resources was clearly apparent, but there was a concern about cost and the accessibility of onsite records in New Zealand as well. However, what struck me was the way many of the research services on the ground joined together and worked with the Society, possibly because it was the main body representing genealogy in New Zealand. Perhaps that singularity of vision, and ability to advocate more powerfully as a result, is something we need to look at once more in the UK.

Finally, thanks to all of you who submitted areas that you’d like to blog about on this site. I’m looking at a number of ways we can increase content, including monthly articles, regional sections and more use of photographs – but most important of all, please encourage your friends, fellow society members and research associates to look at and use the site.

Tracing the History of Your House in America

Whether your house is a historical landmark or just a simple, fairly modern abode, researching its history can be a fascinating experience – and you may find the story of your house more interesting than you expect.

I have a limited number of my book on House History available. You can purchase your personally signed copy  

Price: £10.00


The process is actually fairly simple, though it may require a bit of time and research. If you’re willing to look, there are very likely plenty of resources that can be easily accessed or obtained to help with your research.

Building Permits

Going straight back to the beginning is the best way to start your search. Even if your house is old, it’s quite likely that the original building permit is still available in your city’s archives.

The permit will provide some useful bits of information, including construction dates, architects and contractors, the original owners and the original cost of the house. Depending on your city, the records may not be accessible to the public, so be aware that you might need to pay a small fee to obtain copies of the records.

City Directories

Many city directories date back a hundred years or more, and provide detailed information on local history. City directories will list all adult residents of a house, as well as their professions. This provides a very useful insight into previous owners of your house, and can give you a much better picture of the house history.

Census Records

At times, the city directories are too vague or don’t provide sufficient information on previous residents of your house. In this case, it may be helpful to look through census records. For over 200 years, a regular census has been taken across the country, and these records are on record both at certain libraries, as well as online (though you may need to pay a subscription to gain access to this information online).

Census records will provide a much greater understanding of how many people lived in your house, where those people were born, how many children they had, and even their ages and occupations.

Abstract of Title

The Abstract of Title is going to be one of your most useful pieces of information when you’re putting together the history of not only your house, but the land it’s built on. The Abstract is a document that contains records of every legal transaction associated with your property.

The Abstract of Title will provide details on all previous owners of the house and how long it was owned by each subsequent owner. It will often also provide information on the construction of the house, as well as any large-scale renovations or additions.

Plat Maps

This is potentially one of the most fascinating pieces of your house history puzzle. A plat map will give you a picture of the neighborhood as it was envisioned by the original developers. The map will list owners of the land, and will show a detailed plan of streets, street names, and any pre-existing structures. It will give you a clear picture of your property’s footprint at its beginning.

A hundred years ago, the Titanic struck an iceberg and at 2am on 15 April sank beneath the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean

A hundred years ago, the Titanic struck an iceberg and at 2am on 15 April sank beneath the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

These are the actual words of Charlotte Collyer, one of the passengers who had jumped into a lifeboat with her daughter Marjorie, as her husband remained on deck. We rejoin her story in the early hours of 15 April as the lifeboat is about to launch

Last lifeboat arrived, filled with Titanic sur...

‘The boat was practically full and no more women were anywhere near it when Fifth Officer Lowe jumped in and ordered it lowered. The sailors on deck had started to obey him when a very sad thing happened. A young lad hardly more than a schoolboy, a pink cheeked lad, almost small enough to be counted as a child, was standing close to the rail. He had made no attempt to force his way into the boat though his eyes had been fixed piteously on the Officer. Now when he realised that he was really to be left behind his courage failed him. With a cry he climbed upon the rail and leapt down into the boat. He fell among us women and crawled under a seat. I and another woman covered him up with our skirts. We wanted to give the poor lad a chance, but the Officer dragged him to his feet and ordered him back onto the ship. We begged for his life. I remember him saying that he would not take up too much room but the Officer drew his revolver and thrust it into his face. ’I give you just ten second to get back onto that ship before I blow your brains out,’ he shouted. The lad only begged the harder and I thought I should see him shot where he stood. But the Officer suddenly changed his tone. He lowered his revolver and looked the boy squarely in the eyes. ‘For God’s sake be a man!’ he said gently. ‘We have got women and children.’ The little lad turned round eyed and climbed back over the rail without a word. He was not saved. All the women about me were sobbing and I saw my precious little Marjorie take the Officer’s hand. ‘Oh Mr Man don’t shoot, please don’t shoot the poor man!’ she was saying and he spared the time to shake his head and smile.’

They were eventually picked up by the Carpathia, the first rescue ship on the scene.

‘There was scarcely anyone who had not been separated from husband, child or friend. Was the last one among the handful saved? We could only rush frantically from group to group, searching the haggard faces, crying out names, and endless questions. No survivor knows better than I the bitter cruelty of disappointment and despair. I had a husband to search for, a husband whom in the greatness of my faith, I had believed would be found in one of the boats. He was not there.’

On arrival in New York, Charlotte wrote to her parents in law about the loss of their son, her husband.

‘My dear mother and all,

I don’t know how to write to you or what to say. I feel I shall go mad sometimes but dear as much as my heart aches it aches for you too for he is your son and the best that ever lived. I had not given up hope till today that he might be found but I’m told all boats are accounted for. Oh mother, how can I live without him. I wish I’d gone with him if they had not wrenched Madge from me I should have stayed and gone with him. But they threw her into the boat and pulled me in too but he was so calm and I know he would rather I lived for her little sake otherwise she would have been an orphan… Sometimes I feel we lived too much for each other, that is why I’ve lost him. But mother we shall meet him in heaven. When that band played ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ I know he thought of you and me for we both loved that hymn’

The reason that Charlotte Collyer and her family had left England was because she had contracted tuberculosis, and it was felt that the warmer climes would help her. After her return home, she remarried but eventually succumbed to her illness.

To read the full collection of stories from the doomed vessel, you can order a signed copy of ‘Lost Voices from the Titanic’ for £10 including postage and package.

Lost Voices from the Titanic 

Price: £10.00







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