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.

Those top 5 genealogy resolutions of 2013

Catching a time-travelling grandmother? Killing off a child-abusing step-mother in 1841? Writing a book? …..Take a look back at how I’ve fared with my 2013 Genealogy Resolutions.

Last year, I made a list.

I’m not normally a resolutions type of guy, but I thought that it would be fun to do to try to help me focus on my research. It worked a little, but not as much as I would have liked, as I find it easy to go scrambling off on a tangent and chasing branches through different records. Before long, you find yourself about 7 surnames away from where you started.

However, it was overly productive, so I plan to have another 5 resolutions for 2014.

Before I reveal what I plan to do, I’ll just recap on the 5 resolutions from 2013

1. The Missing Bowers

I planned to crack my mystery Bowers connection. With my Gt Gt Gt Gt Grandfather Henry Bowers seemingly appearing out of nowhere, as a teenage groom at Wicken, I wanted to find his family. His subsequent Bowers family clearly have a Burwell connection, but whilst there are plenty of Bowers in both villages, and they seem to mingle, I’ve yet to find a mention of Henry.

In a bid to get further with this, I’ve looked at the parish records for Wicken and Burwell, alongside the census records, to try to see if there are any cross overs that would suggest that the Wicken Bowers family were living with Burwell Bowers on census nights, or appearing as witnesses etc at church events. This is a long, slow, arduous task, but one that I’m determined to complete. – INCOMPLETE

2. My time-travelling Great Great Great Great Great Grandmother

Elizabeth’s headstone in Stretham churchyard, suggests that she was buried alive when compared to dates in burial registers.

My Great x5 Grandmother, Elizabeth Yarrow (née Wright) seems to defy time by dying and being buried on a range of dates within a couple of years – thanks to a lack of death certificate (it was 1837, the year the certification was compulsory, but she seems to be missing), a headstone, and two differing parish burial registers. Her demise remains a mystery, with the only lead for her London death, turning out to be a small child of the same name. – INCOMPLETE

3. Writing that book

Writing a book when you’ve been researching an entire family tree for so long, can be hard. Sure, there’s plenty of material – heartbreaking stories, funny instances, and wonderful photographs and sources, but where do you stop and focus?

That conundrum aside, I’ve continued to collect material for this and hope to use 2014 to flesh out the ideas and the stories. – IN PROGRESS

4. Visiting places familiar to my ancestors.

With the benefit of living amongst the villages that my family have lived and worked in over at least the last 430 years, it means that I’m always visiting places that they would have known, and seeing the landscapes they would have worked.

I managed to make several trips to places they would have known, including one to try to find the location of my Great Grandmother’s (Daisy Burnell) birth in The Stables, Abercorn Lodge, Abercorn Place, London. No obvious sign of the Lodge itself, or the stables (even though they might have been absorbed by something else), so I assume that they have since been redeveloped into something else, but I enjoyed a sunny afternoon visiting the area, and imagining what it might have been like back in the 1880s when she was born. – ACHIEVED

Abercorn Place sign

5. Killing off my wicked Great x4 Grandmother

My step-child-abusing wicked Great x4 Grandmother, Mary Bailey (née Clarke) went to prison for her crimes in 1841. After serving her time and living a short family life, she ended up back in the workhouse twice, which is where I last saw her, as a widow. She continues to roam, and I won’t rest until i’ve bumped her off. – INCOMPLETE

As you’ll see from above, there’s quite a few incomplete ones there… so to help sort that out, I’ve just borrowed a friend’s research tool to help speed things up…

Andrew Martin makes genealogy easier by flying the TARDIS into research brick walls.
I’ve found that genealogy is easier when you fly a TARDIS into research brick walls, although I my Great x11 Grandmother loves my iPad Air.

2014’s resolutions…

Tune in tomorrow for my top 5 genealogy resolutions for 2014.

If you like this idea, then leave me a comment and/or link below to your resolutions blog post.

Have a wonderful end to 2013. And I wish you a prosperous, family filled, 2014!


My Top 5 Genealogy ‘to-dos’ for 2013

My top 5 genealogy things I hope to achieve in 2013 – a mixture of visits, writing and demolishing those research brick walls.

I don’t really go for New Year’s Resolutions, as I like to challenge myself on a daily basis, but I thought that I would put down 5 areas of my family tree research where I hope to make progress in 2013.

1. The Missing Bowers

If you use RootsChat.com, you may have spotted me trying to unravel the Bowers family of Burwell, Cambridgeshire. There’s quite a lot of them there during the 19th century, and amongst them i am sure, *should be* my Great Great Great Great Grandfather, Henry Bowers – yet there’s no sign of him in an appropriate part of the baptism registers, and unhelpfully he was born in about 1812 (so, well before that helpful 1st July 1837 date) and there’s no parents noted on his 1832 marriage entry in nearby Wicken. Henry’s children’s Burwell connections are frequent, yet he himself has yet to appear.

I feel that I’m beginning to make progress though, by researching all the Bowers in Burwell by cross-referencing the registers to census returns. Annoyingly, my favourite census – the 1851 for Burwell – is missing, and so this leaves a hole in the data.

I am determined to crack this one. Somehow.

2. My Time-traveling Great Great Great Great Great Grandmother

Elizabeth Yarrow‘s birth, death and burial dates and place of death is open to discussion as none of the key sources corroborate. A death in London, a burial in Stretham, a date of burial in Stretham differing from the date of burial (randomly) noted in the register for neighbouring hamlet Little Thetford, date of death and age different between burial registers and gravestone.

It’s all a mess… and with her 1837 death year, there’s also no suitable certificate to help iron it all out (the one i did excitedly find was for a small child). My 5x Great Grandmother’s life and death might be impossible to unravel unless I get my hands on some newspapers and some railway records.

3. Writing that book

So, for quite a while now I’ve been toying with writing up research into a book, but then the genealogist’s work is never ever finished – so at what point do I start and end the book? What do i include and omit? Having several friends who are published authors themselves helps, but I hope to be able to work out how, and start, to turn my years of research into something that can be shared in print and in eBook.

If you’re a published genealogy author – drop me a message – i’d love to hear about your experiences.

4. Visiting places familiar to my ancestors

I’m quite good at this, mainly because few strayed from Cambridgeshire. Top of my list is to find the building (or site) of my Great Grandmother’s birthplace – The Stables, Abercorn Place, Kilburn. I’ve meandered the streets via Google Streetview, and I’ve been in the neighbouring streets (including the famous Abbey Road) where the family lived and worked… but this place remains unvisited.

5. Killing off my wicked Great x4 Grandmother

My Great x4 Grandmother, Mary Clarke ended up in court and eventually prison for neglecting, abusing and playing the role of wicked step-mother to her husband’s children during the mid-1800s. She’d already bore my Great x3 Grandmother and a brother outside of marriage and before becoming the wife of William Bailey of Botesdale, Suffolk. This was to be to their advantage, as they went on to escape the miserable family life that followed. No wonder my Great x3 Grandmother Caroline Clarke changed her name and hid her parentage. Meanwhile, after a couple of stints in the workhouse, and one in prison, Mary vanishes after 1881… but I’ve yet to kill her off.

Mary, i’m coming to get you!

What genealogy brick walls are you hoping to demolish in 2013? Is there something special you hope to achieve in the coming year?  Let me know in the comments below.

Alternatively, join in the conversation over on LinkedIn.