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Just fresh back from a whirlwind trip from rural Hampshire to rainy Sydney, and back, via 24 hours in Singapore for four days...crazy I know, but I so wanted to be there for my special brother’s 60th birthday and I was then also able to take in another friend’s 60th celebrations on the way home on a Singapore stop-over - very handily!

My arrival in a rather cold and very wet Sydney was a total surprise for my brother and was the most wonderful joy for us both. We spent the happiest of days together with his family and I was there for his fab party on the tall Sail Training ship The James Craig, with close family and old and dear friends, many of whom I have known for most of my life.  b2ap3_thumbnail_James-Craig-Launched-1874.pngHaving the luxury of spending those hours together, we got talking about all the memories, the childhood stories, school days, university education, houses and countries we have lived in, cars we saved up for and holidays enjoyed - all the rich mosaic of memories which stitch together to form our shared past. All the family had managed to gather together a load of old photos covering all his sixty years and these brought back so many memories, many of which I had thought forgotten. Seeing photos which one hasn’t looked at for thirty years jogs the old brain cells into activity again and the memories come flooding back.


I am incredibly lucky to enjoy an especially close bond with my family and milestone occasions such as these remind one of just how important these relationships are in anchoring one’s life. The unconditional love of family and old friends really does support one through the topsy turvy twists and turns of life. Everyone needs a helping hand occasionally and the mutual support of a close family bond is of immeasurable importance.


Back home now with all the excitement settled and back to reality (sigh!) - I have my photos from the trip to keep those memories alive. So next time you’ve got a rainy Sunday and no plans, I would so recommend getting out those old shoe boxes and albums and having a good rifle through. You will have such fun and jog so many old memories. And if you’ve got a big birthday or anniversary coming up in the family, get those key photos out and send them to us and we will create a celebration collage with the most special memories which can go up on the wall to be enjoyed for years to come. What better gift can you give those you love? And if you haven’t spoken to your brother, sister or cousin for a while, go on, pick up the ‘phone...you won’t regret it.


Just send us your pics, call us on 01420 562208 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - we would love to hear from you! Happy sorting!



July 2015

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How to get started on your family history...

Whilst attending a recent family funeral, I was pondering the conflicting emotions which come into play on these occasions. A mixture of grief and sadness obviously, and often regret at the premature curtailment of a full and happy life.

It is true to say, however, that, coupled with the obvious sadness of the occasion and sympathy for the bereaved, a funeral does also offer some positives. It occasions the coming together  of friends and family, some of whom may live a distance apart, which can be both life-affirming and comfort giving. It gives us the opportunity to reminisce and think back to past memories as well as offering the chance of a catch up with those you haven’t seen for a long time.

We also were able to meet for the first time an elderly and until then unknown, cousin who proved to be a fount of family knowledge and who confirmed a story which we had rather assumed to be apocryphal, of a family member who was shot down by the Red Baron. 

Amazingly newly-found Cousin Janet who is now 85, confirmed that this story was indeed true and remembers her mother telling her the sad tale of her older half brother, George Macdonald Watt, who had died in 1916, shot down by Baron von Richthoven. Young George, the product of my husband’s grandfather’s first marriage (which ended in the death of his first wife), was at the time employed with the Colonial Service in Burma and travelled back to Britain in the Summer of 1916 to enlist in the Royal Flying Corps. Following a short three month training period, he gained his wings in January 1917 and was immediately deployed on active service at the Front, flying Gypsy Moth surveillance bi-planes with his navigator Ernest Howlett and reporting on and photographing German trenches and troop numbers. Just two months after his deployment, on 17th MArch 1917,  he was engaged by the Red Baron in a dog fight and was forced to put the aircraft into such a steep dive to avoid his pursuer that both wings fell off and he crashed in a hail of machine gun fire to a swift death. He was just 27 and his navigator 26 years old. They are both buried in Bruay Cemetary... casualties of that terrible war. a1sx2_v2_GeorgeWatt.jpg

As one gets older, many people start showing a growing interest in their family history. Most people probably have a sketchy knowledge of immediate family (although often not of all four grandparents, especially if already dead) but usually possess very little information prior to this time. Yet these are the forebears who have shaped us - both genetically determining our colouring, build and hair shade, and our circumstances and social standing, both in terms of relative wealth and poverty. In fact it is often surprising how fast the fortunes of a family can ebb and flow with the vagaries of life.


The story of our families is one which is truly fascinating and well worth the voyage of discovery. The advent of the internet and increasing digitalisation of records of all kinds now means that the process of exploration of family history is becoming increasingly simplified and accessible with every passing year. Research which only a few years ago would have necessitated myriad trips to different locations around the UK and many hours of painstaking and frustrating research trawling through endless record books can now be achieved at the click of a mouse and ever more sophisticated search tools speed the process no end. We were recently able to trace one line of my husband’s family right back to around 1700 in little more than a couple of hours and, having found the address of the cottage in which his multiple x grandmother had lived, then pulled up the photo of it on google Street View and was able to look at the exact same view from the front door as she would have enjoyed all those years ago - the only alteration of the view down to the old harbour being the addition of some double yellow lines on the cobbled street!

Highlands ancestors family history genealogyThis increasing ease of access has now led to a massive increase in the number of people actively tracing their family history. It is estimated that over 11 million people in the English speaking world alone are now actively looking into their past. By any reckoning that is a lot of people and this has of course spawned a large number of businesses and products catering to their needs. From magazines and specialist databases to personal historical researchers and specialist storage and filing providers - there are many tools and areas of help available to the would-be researcher. The fact remains though that it is great fun and rather addictive to do it yourself! But how best to start?

  • Firstly start with the obvious - contact all known living members of your family and ask for their help and that of any contacts they may in turn have. Ask about any family stories, professions, names and nicknames and whether they have any documents or photos. Record all possible data and use this as a basis for starting off. Key information includes full names and dates of birth, marriage and death


  • Move on armed with this basic information to start your research using online records, starting with broadbase searches and then refining these as you gather more and more information


  • It is easier to work methodically from a known fact such as a date of birth or death than to start trying to trace down from a person you haven’t got any hard facts about. Once you have tracked down the likely person using records, you then need to order up a copy of the relevant birth/marriage or death certificate in order to verify the info and glean the other family information which it will contain. Many sites such as http://www.ancestry.co.uk/ will provide this service but it is much cheaper to order one yourself via the National Archives office (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/)



  • There are many useful computer software packages that will help you keep your records in an orderly manner and help draw up pedigrees and family groups sheets so you know who you are dealing with.Try to stick with one branch of the family at a time or you risk getting sidetracked with sensory overload! And do keep notes in an orderly fashion!


  • Remember that many records were written down by people with limited literacy and so often contained spelling errors and incorrect dates. It is thus always worth  looking at several years either side of a specific date if you can’t immediately find a record. Equally, check for similar spellings of the same name. Obviously it does also help to track a branch of the family with a more unusual name - trying to trace back a family of Williams or Jones in South Wales will prove to be very tricky indeed, whereas if you come from a family of Shufflebottoms or Gotobeds you will probably find your task is somewhat easier!


  • Families often used the same traditional Christian names, thus if father and grandfather were both George, it is a good idea to look for a George in the previous generations. Remember also that sometimes people used their second given name or indeed a nickname which can muddy the water somewhat when researching!


  • Records of births, marriages and deaths were kept by individual parishes from around 1530 onwards. This practice then became a legal requirement in 1830 after the explosion of population which occurred in the mid 19th Century. The key repositories of these parish records are:


The National Archives http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ Family Records Office in London

The Borthwich Insitute of Historical Research in York http://www.york.ac.uk/borthwick/

The General Register of Scotland in Edinburgh, http://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/


The General Register of Ireland http://timeline.ie/general-register-office/ in both Belfast and Dublin

(Research in Southern Ireland can often prove very tricky as many of the old records were burnt in the Irish Civil War in the early part of the 20th Century and thus no longer exist.)

The British Library http://www.bl.uk/ holds records dating from the days of the Raj and Colonial Service


  • Other areas which can prove useful sources of info are military and naval records https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/(the Air Force did not exist in its own right until March 1918, being part of the the Navy and Army prior to this date (the Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Flying Corps)
  • The National Census http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/index.html which takes place every ten years and is an invaluable tool for locating people. The information contained is only release to the general public after 100 years thus the most recent available to study currently dates from 1911


Generally speaking, your very best tool is the internet and whilst there are myriad sites out there, among the most useful are probably:

www.ancestry.co.uk, the Mormon organisation which is probably the largest resource of digitalised records in the world

 http://www.genesreunited.co.uk/  is a non-commercial service, maintained by a charitable trust  which provides a virtual reference library of genealogical information of particular relevance to the UK and Ireland. 

Of course every English County has its own archives - eg. www.hants.gov.uk/archives and a Family History society which can be located via the FFHS federation of Family History Societies http://www.ffhs.org.uk/

Many professions and trades also retain extensive records or apprenticeships and qualifications so if you know that your ancestor was, for instance, a goldsmith or a shipwright, then it is worth contacting the relevant trade body and see what you can glean. 

Military service records are also often very helpful and most have now been digitalised on www.forcesreunited.org.uk/

Also the Victorians were meticulous record keepers so service in the colonies was often well documented.

Social network sites like RoootsWeb, http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/ Familyrelatives, http://www.familyrelatives.com/  and LostCousins  http://www.lostcousins.com/  allow people to register their research interests and could also be a way of finding information. 

The Society of Genealogists http://www.sog.org.uk/ library collects published and unpublished family histories and research notes. It’s free library catalogue can be found on the library pages of the website which also list the surnames names in its various collections. 

You can also upload your research onto one of these websites, or put in a search request for a specific name, and you may link up with other unknown people who may have relevant research and you can then pool your knowledge to everyone’s advantage.

Of course there is a burgeoning industry of genealogical researchers out there who will undertake to do your research for a fee - and sometimes, if you get really stuck, it can be helpful to use the services of a professional, however really the fun is in doing the digging yourself!

Delving into your family history is both fascinating and really addictive. I would so recommend it and do get started before all the older generation are gone - it does make life so much easier! You never know what amazing stories you might uncover...

And speaking of amazing stories, I will finish with the story of a collage I created recently - an amazing tale of bravery, resourcefulness and a happy ending! This tale of a Flt Lt in the Royal flying Corps. Shot down on the Western Front, taken prisoner and incarcerated in a POW camp, he managed to escape with the help of a secret code, a smuggled map and with huge resourcefulness, he succeeded in returning to Britain to be reunited with his new born son. Truly a happy ending. Now obviously not everyone will unearth such an extraordinary story as this one, but everybody’s stories are interesting in their own way and in doing your bit to explore and by keeping a record of even a part of the story of your family, you are keeping alive the memories for the generations to come.

WW1 First World War POW Escape genealogy family history Fleet Air Arm

With the advent of scanners and digital photography, it is also now possible to both restore and preserve those old and fading photographs of generations past. I would urge you to scan and log with details as many as  you can whilst you still have the knowledge within the family as to who everyone is. There are specialist companies out there who will restore, digitalise and catalogue old family photos and documents.

Or you can come to us! When doing family history collages for clients, we at The Collage Company can improve the colouration of most old photos and also repair digitally where they have been damaged with age - all part of the service! Once the collage is created, we then encourage our clients to stick a ‘map’ of who is who in the collage on the back so that the information is recorded with the photos for posterity.

I do hope I have manage to ignite a spark of interest and that you will be inspired to delve a little into your own family history and record those memories before they all get dead and buried in time.

The Collage Company creates bespoke photo collages of all of your own special memories

Just send us your family photos & memorabilia, call us on 01420 562208 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - we would love to hear from you!



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With the young of the UK all heading back to school this week, it set me thinking about the attitudes to education in the West and the value it delivers to the youth of today as well as about the massive gulf between what our young take for granted and the reality of life in large areas of the rest of the world.

Whilst a significant proportion of the UK’s school-age children probably views school as a necessary evil to be got through and done with as fast as possible, the majority simply take for granted the accessibility of quality education as a given in our society, together with access to all the equipment and specialist teaching necessary for its delivery. And whilst it is true to say that many inner city urban schools face a number of quality and other challenges, on the whole the young of today in the West have massive opportunities open to them.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for a very large part of the rest of the world and this is especially true in Africa and the Middle East. Worldwide, over 75 million children do not attend school of any kind and of those who do, around one in three will drop out before completing their primary education, usually leaving without the ability to read or count. Of this number a disproportionate number will be girls.The reasons behind this are rooted in a range of issues including cultural, child labour, conflict and poverty.

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Watching a really interesting documentary on the social history of women the other week, I was struck again forcibly by how truly humungous have been the changes in both the role of women in our society, and in attitudes towards them, over the past 100 years. Reading the wealth of material which has been floating about recently in commemoration of the anniversary of the First World War, it strikes me that my generation of late 50‘ish (aargh...nearly the big 60!)  women are probably the generation who truly had a foot in both the old world and the new.

Most young women today can sort of accept that full voting equality was only achieved in 1928 (although that seems to them a date in a history book rather than a time which was well in living memory when I was young) but simply stare at you in disbelief when you point out  that in my youth, the vast majority of women not only were unlikely to have had a career that was not menial, but also would have had no money of their own. It was not until the 1970’s can you believe, that a woman was able to take out a mortgage on her own without having to provide a male relative as a guarantor - and that was when she wished to pay the mortgage herself! It was also only at this time that the first Acts begun to be passed to enforce parity of pay between the sexes. A woman’s role was that of a subservient home-maker whose job it was to look after a husband or parents and not to express opinions about anything which really mattered. I recall my Grandmother (born in 1898) telling me never to express a controversial opinion nor to mention sex, religion or politics - frankly about the only subjects I find interesting! By law women were required to divulge any income they may possess to their husbands, whilst men, on the other hand, had no requirement to divulge any information pertaining to their financial affairs to their wives at all. Her income was his but his was most certainly not hers! Furthermore, no man in those days would have dreamed of undertaking any housework or childcare, both of which remained clearly the female preserve until well into the late 20th Century.    Womens Lib, social change, social history, women's rights, photos, billboardsWhilst the two wars had originally brought about striking changes in the work place with women stepping into the working world by necessity, the impact did not seem to sustain past the end of the war as many had hoped and the vast majority of women until the middle of the Century reverted back to subservient roles and would only find employment in low paid shop and factory work or caring positions. Women were few and far between in professional careers and generally were not encouraged into further education.


In real terms therefore, it is only in the last 50 or 60 years or so that the vast majority of the massive change in social attitudes has come about. Many of the young today simply do not have a clue about the huge strides which have been made in terms of equality and attitudes, nor about the massive effort which it took by legions of women who fought to create a world with more balanced gender opportunity. It would be simply unthinkable today to encourage a boy to strive to gain a university degree and not suggest the same route for a girl, nor to advertise a job which specified one sex or another. Likewise women have rapidly gained traction in many professions previously seen as male preserves such as medicine, scientific research and other bastions including engineering and manufacturing.It is heartening to see the confident, bright and educated young women of today aspiring into all career sectors, regardless of sexuality and not even thinking about accepting any personal relationship where the two parties are not equals. The young of today simply expect to share chores and childcare, to pursue the career which seems likeliest to succeed and to partner each other in a much more meaningful way than was the case last century. 

Women's Lib, social history, social change, photos, protest, demos, women's rightsLest we get too complacent though, there is still a way to go. Depressing statistics remind us that attitudes still need to change further: women only hold 20% of powerful political offices globally, while female representation on corporate boards averages a measly 12% and, frighteningly, 95% of domestic violence victims are women.


As I say, a way to go but let us not forget the progress made to date and I for one am so grateful that my daughter is able to reap the benefits of a much healthier and balanced society than the one I grew up in. 

The Collage Company creates bespoke photo collages of your own special memories.

Just send us your family photos & memorabilia, call us on 01420 562208 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - we would love to hear from you!


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Watching the moving footage of the 70th Anniversary celebrations of D Day always conjures up such a mixed range of emotions. From pride and patriotism to deep sadness and horror  - most of us cannot fail but to try to imagine what it must have been like to have both been part of that invasion force with all the ensuing horror, guns and death but also to empathise with the feelings and thoughts of those left behind - the mothers, wives, lovers, sisters and brothers. Like many I know, I wonder how I would have dealt with the separation and the loss. Our generation really has not had to deal with loss on this scale - would I have been brave or pathetic, what would the effect have been on our family? Nearly everybody was affected in some way or another with some families seeming to be inflicted with the most terrible toll, losing multiple members. Too many horrors and too much misery.

Overview of troops landing on D Day WW 2



Troops landing on D Day World War 2






And yet coupled with that is a massive sense of pride that our little country rose up and selflessly gave of its finest in order to protect the values which we held and indeed still hold dear. The altruism and selflessness of a generation is truly awe-inspiring and I personally think it is vital that we continue to be grateful for that sacrifice and keep alive the memories of the past to guide us in today’s troubled world. As the living witnesses to those events 70 years ago dwindle in numbers with the inexorable cycle of life, so we have a responsibility to teach our children and theirs about the events of the last century and why this pattern must simply never be repeated.

On a smaller scale though, we remain fascinated by the human tales of bravery and heroism and also of luck and survival, of families torn apart and friends reunited. This is where the web and social media are now playing such a huge part and changing the way information can be resourced. Even ten or fifteen years ago, for people endeavoring to trace their family history, the process tended to be laborious and slow, not to mention expensive, necessitating many visits to record sites around the country and tedious letter writing to request copies of certificates and forms. In the past years, more and more records or every kind have been digitalised thus enabling families to trace details at the click of a mouse and from the comfort of their living rooms. From all three branches of the Armed Forces  both in the UK and the Commonwealth, to Trade Union records, Medical services, Home Guard and archives of personal reminiscences, so much information is now available online for those interested in piecing together the story of their family. I have listed below some excellent sites to get  you going.

Many of you have probably heard of the new initiative from the Imperial War Museum: The First World War Project (See www.livesofthefirstworldwar.org) which is aiming to be a sort of digital Facebook memorial for that generation. Combining official war records of all kinds with biographies and photographs, personal reminiscences, diaries and individual recollections the project is interactive and the public is encouraged to add information where possible, including missing names, stories and letters. The hope is that once this digital memorial to all those who served and lost life in the Great War is properly up and running, the same project will be launched for the 2nd World War. I urge you to log on and have a look - just to dip into such personal testimonial is both deeply moving and endlessly fascinating.

In a somewhat sombre mood, I leave you with Wilfred Owen’s masterpiece Dulce et Decorum Est which sums up the reason why we celebrate those who gave so much on our behalf, plus some ideas to get you going to try and find our more about your unique family history.

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
"Dulce et Decorum Est "

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.


Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! -- An ecstasy of fumbling,

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling

And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under I green sea, I saw him drowning.


In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.


If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, --

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

So, enjoy following the coverage of events this week and if you feel inspired to try and find  out the stories that shaped your family’s history, why not give it a go? Do be careful as many of these sites do charge a fee for downloading information which is free to access from some public record offices. We would love to hear about any amazing stories you might uncover - do please share them with us.

Some useful sites:






and if you have relatives from North of the border, http://scotlandspeople.gov.uk

And when you’ve got those stories and photos together, why not send them to us and create a special family history collage http://collaggecompany.co.uk/collage-for.html to keep those memories alive.

Good luck and happy hunting!


Just send us your family photos & memorabilia, call us on 01420 562208 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - we would love to hear from you!


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