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Digging up our history

Talking Point | Published:

Read today's Talking Point column from Christine Hawthorne

For years I have been fascinated with who came before me, and with who my ancestors were.

Tracing your family history is so much easier since the dawn of the internet, with such websites as Ancestry and My Heritage available to give you quick access to your family tree.

There are also sites that you can use for free such as freebdm and freecen, on which you can search births, deaths and marriages and census records.

It’s far easier to sit in front of a computer and search records than to travel to archives, record offices and churches around the country to search through dusty old books and documents, as my father did when he began his research in the 1960s.

I might not quite by as much fun though.

Travelling to far-flung places in the hunt for long dead relatives is far more interesting if only to see the areas in which they lived and worked, and to get a feel of who these people were.

Was there any scandal? Are we related to someone famous? Maybe even Royalty?

Perhaps a long forgotten ancestor might turn out to be a criminal or someone who was the founder of a great institution such as the Bank of England or a famous school like Eton.

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Perhaps I could be related to a Beatle, a Rolling Stone, Sir Tom Jones, or, most excitingly of all, Noddy Holder from Slade?

Are you getting the bug? Do you want to find out if there is anyone interesting, famous or infamous in your past?

Once you start it tends to become addictive.

My father passed his research on to me and I have carried on the work he started all those years ago, tracking down people I had never previously heard of, whose names I did not know, and being rewarded by finding some interesting stories.

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My Northern-born grandfather was a butler and gentleman’s valet in London.

He used to tell me some great stories when I was a child.

I remember him as so well presented, he always wore a trilby hat and gloves and would raise his hat as a greeting and sign of respect if he met a lady he knew on his walk.

His father, my great grandfather, was a coachman at an inn in Barnard Castle, County Durham.

He used to drive our Queen Mother as a child when she visited with relatives belonging to the Bowes Lyon family, who lived in the big house nearby.

Now there is a lot of interest in having a DNA test done, a simple procedure involving a mouth swab, which can tell you if you have Celtic ancestry if your beginnings were from further afield, some place you never dreamt your forefathers originated from.

For example, I always wondered if I had Viking ancestry.

Way back in the mists of time my ancestors lived on Holy Island, which is separated from the Northumberland coast by a causeway.

It’s also an island which was invaded by the Vikings many centuries ago.

My DNA test showed I am 35 per cent Scandinavian – perhaps there’s a little bit of Viking blood running through my veins after all.

Sadly, there’s no sign that I have any direct family connection to Noddy just yet though.

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