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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in family history
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Like many others, I have been immensely touched by the outpouring of emotion and interest displayed by so many people across the country to this month’s commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. A celebration of both the achievements of those pilots and a commemoration of the sacrifice that was made to ensure victory. The sheer volume of people who queued for hours to catch a glimpse of the famous Spitfire flypast last week is testimony to the gratitude felt by very many today towards those who gave so much in order that the United Kingdom we live in today has remained the land of our forefathers.

 b2ap3_thumbnail_Spitfire_20150922-150801_1.jpgFrom May to September 1940, the German Luftwaffe threw its might into an intensive attack on strategic British infrastructure and air defenses, in preparation for a full scale land invasion endeavouring to secure air superiority to ensure safe transit over the Channel for the invading land forces. The response of the nation’s aircrew - in reality only about 3000 men, drew on extraordinary reserves of bravery and selfless altruism.  Those young men, supported by both men and women of the ground support crew, flew raid after raid, often so tired they could barely stay awake, engaging the waves of enemy bombers and often heavily outnumbered. It was not uncommon for only a handful of Spitfires to take on 50 or 60 german bombers, flying in formation.   



Testimonial from those young pilots shows them to have displayed an almost unimaginable  (to our eyes anyway) bravery. Many were sent up to do battle after only ten hours of solo flying, very much ‘by the seat of their pants’. Resources and training were in incredibly short supply and evidence shows that there was a general lack of facilities including a shortage of aircraft to be used as practice targets. Many had not even had any weapons training and thus were handicapped by an inability to shoot their weapons very effectively. Loss of life and crash landings were a fact of life and they simply had to put it behind them and obey the next order to ‘scramble’ when it came.


In the famous words of Winston Churchill: "The gratitude of every home in our island, in our Empire and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen, who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and devotion. "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."


My generation, born just after the end of the war, was one which did not actually experience the war but we are children of those who did and thus the stories and history have a personal resonance which can be lacking for generations who come after. It was amazing then to find that people of every age, young and old came together last week to celebrate the effort made by those brave young pilots 75 years ago. The sight of those old Spitfires flying across the English countryside certainly brought a tear to my eyes and brought back many memories to my 90 year old father. From pride and patriotism to deep sadness and horror  - most of us cannot help but to try to imagine what it must have been like to have both been part of that age and to empathise with the feelings and thoughts of those left behind - the mothers, wives, lovers, sisters and brothers. Like many, I wonder how I would have dealt with trials and the loss of that era. 

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.

Definitely worth a visit is the moving Battle of Britain Memorial Trust  at Capel Le Ferne in Kent (http://www.battleofbritainmemorial.org/), a dedicated site in tribute to the bravery and sacrifice shown by the aircrew who fought and died for their country.

So, I hope you enjoyed following the coverage of events last 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? And when you’ve got those stories and photos together, 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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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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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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Waking up this morning on Anzac Day to see the moving images on the news of Prince William and Katherine attending a pre-dawn ceremony to commemorate Anzac in Australia, got me thinking about the incredible bravery of all the troops who fought in the Great War and particularly about those who enlisted from what was then the British Empire, many of whom were from Australia and New Zealand.

On this one hundred year anniversary of the First World War, our lives today seem a million miles from what those young men and their families experienced. What must it have been like for them - most of whom would never have travelled overseas before - to join up to British Forces, be transported to the other side of the globe away from family and familiarity and fight for a King and Country who must have seemed a far-distant concept?b2ap3_thumbnail_images-1.jpg


 They were then launched into the disastrous Dardanelles campaign, with the main landing taking place at Gallipoli, one of the worst failures of the war and the scene of some of the most terrible losses. On just the first day of the campaign, over 900 Australian troops were lost. After eight months of savage fighting and huge casualties (on both sides) from both the battles and disease, the campaign ended in failure and the invasion force was withdrawn to Egypt.

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Having spent a happy afternoon setting up my new Pinterest account (more of what this is about in a moment for those of you saying “what on earth is Pinterest!”) I have been pondering on the whole phenomena of social media and the massive changes which have taken place in only a few short years.

How we communicate and, more importantly almost, what records we leave behind for future generations, have both changed so momentously and with such speed that is must represent one of the greatest social changes ever known to mankind.

For those of you still wondering what Pinterest actually is, I would say to go and have a look! (www.pinterest.com/emmycollageco ). It is like a global online picture pinboard which anybody can add to or view. You can find inspirations, quirkyness, ideas and much much more. The whole of life is there in pictures, from the weird and whacky to the practical and everything in between.  b2ap3_thumbnail_Screen-Shot-2014-04-16-at-16.30.12.pngBut this really did get me thinking (in a somewhat Luddite way!) of how will future historians and social chroniclers manage to research our lives today? From Roman times, it has been possible to search through letters, diaries, musings and art to delve into peoples’ lives and attitudes and build pictures of those who are long dead. Where will this information now be found? Will our blogs still be in the ether in a hundred years time? Who  will be still looking at Pinterest and what will it tell them in the year 2093?!

Whilst I feel that there may be a major issue for historical chroniclers, more importantly, what about our own personal histories - the stories of our families and our forebears? Our memories and heritage remain key to our identities and it is vital that these are preserved for the generations to come.



How better to keep these family stories and memories alive than by reverting to a marriage  of the good old fashioned medium of print, with modern software which enables us to create digital photographic collages using photos old and new. These unique memories will then be there for your children and their children to enjoy for years to come.b2ap3_thumbnail_Nicola-RobinsonBlack-paint.jpg






The next time you would like those memories enshrined in a unique photo montage of your family story - 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!





PS. Why not follow us on Pinterest?!! www.pinterest.com/emmycollageco

April 2014

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