A hundred years ago, the Titanic was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, three days into its maiden voyage bound for New York

A hundred years ago, the Titanic was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, three days into its maiden voyage bound for New York.

Lost Voices from the Titanic These are the actual words of Charlotte Collyer, one of the passengers on board the Titanic as it headed for its date with destiny. She recalled a conversation with a stewardess on the evening of 14 April, who had informed her that they were heading into dangerous waters; curiously, this had a reassuring effect as she assumed the crew would be all the more vigilant for icebergs.

‘As far as I can tell we had not slackened our speed in the least. It must have been a little after ten o’clock when my husband came in and woke me up. He sat and talked to me for how long I do not know, before he began to make ready to go to bed. And then the crash! The sensation to me was if the ship had been seized by a giant hand and shaken once, twice then stopped dead in its course. That is to say there was a long backward jerk, followed by a shorter one. I was not thrown out of my berth and my husband staggered on his feet slightly. We heard no strange sounds, no rending of plates and woodwork, but we noticed that the engines had stopped running. They tried to start the engines a few minutes later but after some coughing and rumbling there was silence once more.’

They eventually made for the decks where the seriousness of the situation was soon clear.

‘Suddenly there was a commotion near one of the gangways and we saw a stoker come climbing up from below. He stopped a few feet away from us. All the fingers of one hand had been cut off. Blood was running from the stumps and blood was spattered over his face and over his clothes. The red marks showed very clearly against the coal dust with which he was covered. I went over and spoke to him. I asked him if there was any danger. ‘Danger’, he screamed at the top of his voice, ‘I should say so! It’s hell down below, look at me. This boat will sink like a stone in ten minutes.’ He staggered away and lay down fainting with his head on a coil of rope. At this moment I got my first grip of fear – awful, sickening feat. That poor man with his bleeding hand and his speckled face brought up a picture of smashed engines and mangled human bodies. I hung on to my husband’s arm and although he was very brave, and not trembling, I saw that his face was as white as paper. We realised that the accident was much worse than we had supposed, but even then I and all the others about me of whom I have any knowledge did not believe that the Titanic would go down.’

Yet the call was made for women and children to enter the lifeboats; but men were not permitted to board.

‘The third boat was about half full when a sailor caught Marjorie in his arms and tore her away from me and threw her into the boat. She was not even given a chance to tell her father goodbye! ‘You too!’ a man yelled close to my ear. ‘You’re a woman, take a seat in that boat or it will be too late’. The deck seemed to be slipping under my feet. It was leaning at a sharp angle for the ship was then sinking fast, bows down. I clung desperately to my husband. I do not know what I said but I shall always be glad to think that I did not want to leave him. A man seized me by the arm then another threw both his arms about my waist and dragged my away by main strength. I heard my husband say ‘Go, Lotty, for God’s sake be brave and go! I’ll get a seat in another boat.’ The men who held me rushed me across the deck and hurled me bodily into the lifeboat. I landed on one shoulder and bruised it badly. Other women were crowding behind me, but I stumbled to my feet and saw over their heads my husband’s back as he walked steadily down the deck and disappeared among the men. His face was turned away so that I never saw it again but I know that he went unafraid to his death.’

Charlotte ’s tale will resume tomorrow.

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 (£5 P&P overseas)

Price: £10.00

A hundred years ago, the Titanic set sail from Southampton

These are the actual words of Charlotte Collyer, one of the passengers on board the Titanic when it set sail from Southampton a century ago. They sum up the excitement associated with starting a new life in America, leaving England behind, accompanied by her husband Harvey and young daughter Marjorie along with all their worldly possessions.

Lost Voices from the Titanic‘The day before we were due to sail [our neighbours] made much of us, it seemed as if there must have been hundreds who called to bid us goodbye and in the afternoon members of the church arranged a surprise for my husband. They led him to a set under the old tree in the churchyard and then some of them went into the belfry and, in his honour, they rang all the chimes that they knew. It took more than an hour and he was very pleased. Somehow it made me a little sad. They rang the solemn old chimes as well as the gay ones and to me it was too much of a farewell ceremony… The next morning we went to Southampton and then my husband drew from the bank all his money, including the sum he had received from our store. The clerk asked him if he did not want a draft, but he shook his head and put the notes in a wallet which he kept to the end in the inside breast pocket of his coat. It came to several thousand dollars in American money. We had already sent forward the few personal treasures that we had kept from our old home so that when we went on board the Titanic our every earthly possession was with us. We were travelling second cabin and from our deck which was situated well forward, we saw the great send off that was given to the boat. I do not think that there had ever been so large a crowd in Southampton and I am not surprised that it should have come together… The Titanic was wonderful, far more splendid and huge than I had dreamed of. The other crafts in the harbour were like cockle shells beside her, and they, mind you, were the boats of the Americans and other lines that a few years ago were thought enormous. I remember a friend said to me ‘Aren’t you afraid to venture on the sea?’ but now it was I who was confident. ‘What on this boat!’ I answered. ‘Even the worst storm could not sink her’.

The collision that took place in Southampton harbour with the New York failed to dent her confidence:

‘Before we left the harbour I saw the accident to the New York, the liner that was dragged from her moorings and swept against us in the Channel. It did not frighten anyone, as it only seemed to prove how powerful the Titanic was.’


Harvey wrote to his parents, shortly after they had set sail:

‘My dear Mum and Dad,

It don’t seem possible we are out on the briny writing to you. Well dears so far we are having a delightful trip the weather is beautiful and the ship magnificent. We can’t describe the tables it’s like a floating town. I can tell you we do swank we shall miss it on the trains as we go third on them. You would not imagine you were on a ship. There is hardly any motion she is so large we have not felt sick yet, we expect to get to Queenstown today so thought I would drop this with the mails. We had a fine send off from Southampton and Mrs S and the boys with others saw us off. We will post again at New York then when we get to Payette.

Lots of love, don’t worry about us. Ever your loving children

Harvey, Lot and Madge’

Charlotte and Harvey’s tale will resume on 14 April.

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 (Overseas £5 P&P)

Price: £10.00

How do I find out the history of my house

A few weeks back I mentioned the various means by which you can find out where your family once lived. Well I have come across an increasing number of people eager to find out how I would find out the history of my house. For many property buyers there is quite a bit of romance to buying a house with a history. The history may have to do with the previous owners or with the property’s architecture. New developments can be all well and good with spiffy conveniences, but a house that has stood for over a hundred years is bound to have some juicy history attached to it, or so many of us hope. It is the kind of thing that really makes for delightful dinner party conversations.

For a newly purchased home, I would make the first inquiry on the history of my house with the realtor. They are able to give information on when the property was built and details on new additions and renovation work. If the house is in a less urban locale, and the realtor is familiar to the property, they should be able to give information on the previous owners and the work that has been done to the property. Estate Agents often like to relate stories about a property and its owners, particularly if it will help clinch the deal.

The local council and record offices are also a good resource on the history of my house. Information on permits issued will give a history of the work done to the structure. Also, you should be able to tell if the house was part of a bigger estate on the maps. Legal records and census returns will also give data on the history of ownership. For much older properties, these records are probably going to be under the custody of the local archive.

At the local archives service or library, I do find there is a dedicated section on the area where I can look up my house history. This resource should be really useful. There will be everything from tax records to the private papers of the estate manager. When researching the history of my house, I find it is easier to actually know what I am looking for, this helps me narrow down the search to the relevant government department. Even if the property is in town, estate records should be able to yield information on developments done on the property. Census records are a good way of finding out the details of the occupant past. Be sure to check online for information that may already be available to the public.

Whether my house history interest concerns how the house originally looked when new or who lived there in the early 1900s, my local records and archives office would be the safest bet. If you are not familiar with your family’s genealogy, then use the same tips to find out more about your past.

I have a limited number of copies of Signed Copies of “Tracing the History of Your House: The Building, the People, the Past”

if you would like to buy a copy

Price: £10.00


The importance of family history events

It is Saturday morning. I’m writing this from the Dorset Family History fair, held at Parkstone School, Poole. The event does not officially open for another thirty minutes, but already there are people waiting to get in. The stallholders are getting set up – family history societies, publishers, technology providers – and the volunteers at the research centre are waiting with nervous excitement. The anticipation, as last minute preparations are carried out, is palpable.

Recommended Genealogy Websites

It is rare that I get a chance to sample the behind-the-scenes work that goes into setting up an event or show such as this. My role is to wander in, give a talk or two, and wander off afterwards. I perhaps don’t give enough thought to the months of preparation that goes into the planning and execution, as well as the logistics that make the day itself something to be dreaded. A good idea six months beforehand suddenly becomes all too real. One of the volunteers confides that they are looking forward to the end of the day, when they can get a good night’s sleep. I bet! They have been working tirelessly since I arrived, and no doubt will continue to help people throughout the day.

Everyone helping is a volunteer from the family history society. This is their chance to meet the public – to extol the virtues of genealogy to familiar faces and potential new recruits alike. Visitors are welcomed with a cheerful greeting, and there are smiles all round. Everyone is happy.

This is real genealogy. We can obviously access millions of records online, but holding an event where people can ask questions, seek help, meet experts, locate data not available on the internet, and of course see the benefits of signing up to the family history society is the lifeblood of our sector. It also is a chance for libraries and archives to engage with their constituents, to ask questions as well as provide advice and find out exactly what people want and expect from their local information services.

It will be impossible to take an event like this for granted again, and I urge you to think about what you can do to help when a similar venture is suggested by your society.

Another eye-opener came the previous evening, when I talked to about 200 members of the Banstead History Centre, Surrey. It was a fantastic gathering, showcasing many of the local projects that included schools and education at the heart of their activities, not necessarily promoting genealogy as such but highlighting the importance of local heritage and community collaboration. There is a clear model for other areas and groups to follow – the fusion of collaborative effort that benefits all interests and backgrounds. I look forward to hearing from other similar groups around the country – please let me know if there’s a general-purpose history group near you!



What we want from our genealogy world

I recently asked the innocent question from our Twitter followers, what one thing would you change about the genealogy sector today. Well – it certainly set the cat amongst the pigeons, and there has been a wide range of very interesting responses. One of the best ones was the invention of a time machine so that we could prevent the catastrophic fire at the Four Courts, Dublin, which destroyed so many Irish records. A good idea – though I did wonder whether it would just be easier to go back and ask your ancestor your questions anyway… or would that change the course of history, risking a ‘Back to the Future’ scenario? So let’s rule out time travel and focus on things that perhaps might be achievable.

Open Genealogy Alliance

A constant theme was the reduction in the cost of ordering birth, marriage and death certificates – or at least the provision of an online image for a fee, as with Scotland, so that we could cut out wastage and speed up the research process. This seems an eminently sensible suggestion, and it does appear that the General Register Office, now part of the Identity and Passport Service, is talking about looking into this issue again. However, don’t hold your breath, we have heard this before. Also, and perhaps more alarmingly, there is also talk about reviving legislation that would impact on our ability to view information on more recent certificates, with large chunks of crucial information potentially redacted to prevent identity theft. The argument will be keenly followed by representatives of the family history world, in particular the Federation of Family History Societies and the Society of Genealogists – both of whom gave evidence at the Parliamentary Select Committee when this issue was last discussed. It will hinge on whether the chosen route is determined by the Data Protection Act, which may hinder access to personal information on certificates, or the Freedom of Information Act that encourages requests and openness to data. Let us know what you think about the topic.

Alongside a desire for cheaper and more effective access to core records, were various pleas for better quality transcriptions. May I draw your attention to the FreeBMD www.freebmd.org.uk suite of websites, including FreeREG www.freereg.org.uk and FreeCEN www.freecen.org.uk? Perhaps the work of many family history societies appearing online in increasing numbers? And let’s not forget the Online Parish Clerks www.onlineparishclerks.org.uk? So plenty of organisations out there to get involved with!

I’ll be filming for the forthcoming BBC series ‘The Story of Britain’ tomorrow, as part of the West Midlands regional show – so doubtless I’ll have a few words to say about the importance of local and family history collaboration by the end of the week!



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