EVENT: Masterclass – Writing family history with author Richard Benson

Cambridge Literary Festival presents a Masterclass: Writing Family History with author Richard Benson.

If you’ve wanted to write up your family history, then The Cambridge Literary Festival has announced an event that might be right up your street.

Richard Benson author of The Farm (2005) and The Valley – a century in the life of a mining family (2014), will be running a masterclass on writing your family history.

I’ve booked my ticket for the session, which takes place tomorrow, Saturday 5th April – 3:30-5pm, in Cambridge at The Divinity School, Lightfoot Room, St John’s Street.

I’m going simply because it’s time that I took the great stories that I’ve been stumbling across, and get myself writing them into immortality.

Richard’s written two memoir/biographical family history titles now, and what with his work for The Telegraph10, and Esquire, he must surely be a good source to learn from.

Author Richard Benson.
Richard Benson. Photo: Chris Floyd.

I’m surrounded by books, often talking to authors, meeting authors at events, and even have friends who are authors… so my excuses are running out, and it’s time to face my destiny and just get on and write.

No pressure there then, Richard.

Encouraging children to take an interest in their genealogy

What motivates children to take an interest in genealogy?

I remember being about 11 or 12 and sitting in the front rooms of both sets of maternal Great Grandparents and being completely bored by tails of the war years. Whilst one Gt Grandfather saw action in Egypt and other places, whilst the other was with the Home Guard, yet to my child ears, they were so utterly boring.

As a child, I didn’t want to know about ‘The War’. It meant nothing to me, and I couldn’t comprehend the date, why people would want to fight each other, and certainly not the scale of what actually took place. My mother was the same – she too had spent many hours listening to the very same stories as a child, and had not been interested either.

Now, as an adult, with those Great Grandparents all deceased, I’m left with a gap. An unrecorded gap in oral history, in personal history, and with only a few pay-to-view scanned documents sitting in sites like Ancestry or FindMyPast.

I was in Cambridge earlier today, picking up a few last minute Christmas presents when I spotted the following book from the Who Do You Think You Are? brand. I generally don’t buy genealogy books, as I rely on online information, but this one was different – it was aimed at children.

Be A Family Tree Detective book
Be A Family Tree Detective

I picked it up and flicked through, to find that it was full of colourful pictures, flaps to reveal information, and more along the lines of a pop-up book (without the pop-up bit).

inside the Be A Family Detective book
Inside the book – open the envelope to look at Census, lift the magnifying glass to reveal a tip. 

I wondered what it was that inspired me to start (although admittedly i was 16/17yrs old) – knowing that it wasn’t anything like this. Had it have been, i would most likely have been hooked and written down the stories (or at least listened and perhaps remembered some of them) at a much younger age.

I also got home to find that Who Do You Think You Are? magazine had also landed on my doormat – the January edition – and inside was a great tree chart from FindMyPast – encouraging people to fill in their ancestors. What a great way to help inspire kids to think about the past lives of their family?

The free FindMyPast tree chart with the January 2013 edition of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine.
The free FindMyPast tree chart with the January 2013 edition of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine.

What was it that motivated you, and at what age?

Book: ‘Soham & Wicken Through Time’

Book Review: “Soham & Wicken Through Time” by Michael Rouse and Anthony Day (ISBN:978-1-84868-667-0), published by Amberley Publishing Plc.

‘Soham and Wicken Through Time’ by Michael Rouse and Anthony Day is a collection of images from the history of Soham town and the neighbouring village of Wicken in Cambridgeshire.

"Soham & Wicken Through Time" by Michael Rouse & Anthony Day
"Soham & Wicken Through Time" by Michael Rouse & Anthony Day

This book contains a real range of photographs, chronicling the changes that both places have undergone from the late 19th century right through to the modern day. Care has been taken to try to take modern photographs of street scenes from the same position as the older image. This is achieved in most cases and really gives the reader a greater means of comparison.

The book is split into two parts – Soham (by Michael Rouse) leads the first part half of the book, with (the more familiar to me) Wicken (by Anthony Day) taking the second half.

Each page comes with two photographs and a well-researched caption, often including specific names of the people appearing in them – giving this book an extra significance in that it documents not just the places, but also the inhabitants. Unlike several of the ‘then and now’ books, it includes the village postman, the paper delivery boy, and the amateur dramatics group from both the late 19th century/early 20th century and also from when the book was compiled.

The book is both fascinating as a measure of social history, as it is for a genealogist with interests in these two Cambridgeshire places.

My only note, and maybe this is just me, is that the book would have benefited from including a basic map of each location, so that the reader could get a better sense of the location of the street scenes.

Buy it today:

“Soham & Wicken Through Time” by Michael Rouse and Anthony Day is published by Amberley Publishing Plc, ISBN: 978-1-84868-667-0.

Buy from Amazon.co.uk – supporting this blog.

I got my copy (signed by Michael Rouse) from Topping and Company Booksellers of Ely – they may have some signed copies left!