Case Notes: Beyond a List of Names and Dates—Writing a Family History

Presented with a great mass of research notes, family papers, email exchanges, birth certificates and the accumulated efforts of a number of other genealogists, I was asked by my client to work through it all, confirm, refute, add or remove as appropriate, and generally make sense of the family story as best I could.

The previous researchers had done well: there were very few of the flights of fancy and wishful thinking that can be the undoing of some genealogical investigations, and I had a solid factual base to work from. Additional research took me to The National Archives, London Metropolitan Archives and Hackney Archives, and I brought things together into a readable narrative which now takes the form of a privately published illustrated history of one particularly interesting line of my client’s extended family tree. Poverty in 1850s East London, soldiering in India during the 1857 Mutiny (and some adultery on the side), buffoonery on the stages of Victorian music halls, second-hand furniture dealing in West Ham and, sadly, a suicide in the family—who couldn’t make a good read out of source material like that?