Meet the History Interpreter – a series of online talks

Welcome to the online world of the History Interpreter. I am presenting a programme of online talks that are open to all. The topics include British family history, social history and local history. Each session is delivered via the Zoom platform and will last approximately one hour. Most sessions will be accompanied by a comprehensive handout and there will be occasional offers and prizes for attendees. There is a nominal charge of £2.50 per session for the 2020 series. The days and times vary to accommodate a worldwide audience. These are live sessions and can only be watched at the time stated. Please contact me for details of how to attend. Bookings need to be made at least 24 hours before the talk starts. For details of more presentations, arranged by other organisations, please see here.

7.00pm BST Saturday 10 October 2020 Ship to Shore: researching seagoing ancestors

This session will cover a range of documentary sources and websites that might be useful to researchers wishing to learn more about those who went to sea, or were part of coastal communities. It looks at records relating to travel, employment and the hazards of the ocean.

7.00pm BST Friday 23 October 2020 (*Take care with time difference*) ’Til Death Us Do Part: a look at the history of medicine 1300-1948

One thing that all but our most recent ancestors have in common is that they are dead. The diseases and accidents of our ancestors are an integral part of our family history. In the absence of a definite cause of death for a particular individual, we can at least gain an impression of the major killers of their time. We owe it to our ancestors to pay tribute not just to their lives but also to their deaths. This talk looks at killer diseases, cures and medical theories from the Black Death to the NHS. It also suggests records that may be used to provide information about how an ancestor died.

10.00am GMT Saturday 14 November 2020 From Family Fact to Family Fiction: Barefoot on the Cobbles

This presentation explains the research that underpins the creation of this story, some of the family and social history sources used and the problems of combining fact and fiction. Barefoot on the Cobbles is a novel that was published in November 2018. Growing up, barefoot on the cobbles, in a village on the rugged North Devon coast, Daisy was aware of the perils of the uncertain sea. Her family were also exposed to the dangers of disease and of the First World War but for Daisy, it was her own mother who posed the greatest threat of all. What was it about her mother’s origins, in an isolated rural community, that drove an ordinary fisherman’s wife to take such desperate measures in order to preserve her sanity? Vividly recreating life at the dawning of the twentieth century, this story is based on a real scandal that lay hidden for nearly a century. Rooted in its unique and beautiful geographical setting, here is the unfolding of a past that reverberates unhappily through the decades and of raw emotions that are surprisingly modern in character.

7.00pm GMT Friday 20 November 2020 Found under a Gooseberry Bush: finding missing births or baptisms

A range of sources and techniques for locating that illusive ancestor. This is an ideal talk for beginners, slow starters or the generally stuck family historian.

2.00pm GMT Tuesday 8 December 2020 From Victorians to Elizabethans: tracing our English Ancestors from 1901-1952

We often neglect the twentieth century as being ‘not really history’ but there is plenty to be discovered about individuals and the communities in which they lived between 1901 and 1952. Twentieth century research brings with it the difficulties of larger and more mobile populations as well as records that are closed to view, so here are some sources that can help you to bring those more recent ancestors to life.

There will be a new series of monthly talks for 2021. Precise times and dates will be announced shortly.

January Remember Then: memories of 1946-1969 and how to record your own

This talk describes the results of a project during which eighty women recorded their memories of life in Britain during the pivotal period 1946-1969 – a time when we moved from liberty bodices to mini skirts and from ration books to ready meals. We saw the emergence of youth culture, the comprehensive education system, conspicuous consumerism and feminism. Either come and reminisce or discover what life was like at the time. This talk is much more than just a collection of memories. The techniques described will help both men and women, of all ages, to start writing reminiscences of their own.

February From Darlington to Wellington: the sad tale of Isabella Fry

The story of Isabella Fry, a distant relation of the chocolate making, prison reforming, Quaker Frys of Bristol and Wiltshire, who emigrated to New Zealand to marry her cousin, only to commit suicide a month later. The sources and techniques used for uncovering her story and that of her ancestors, will be explained. This ‘how to’ talk covers a wide range of (predominantly English) sources, the well known and the less well known.

March The Ones That Got Away: tracing migrant ancestors

Sooner or later, all genealogists encounter elusive family members: those who appear as if from nowhere; those who disappear without trace and those who vanish for a long period, only to re-emerge later. Ancestors who lurk, parentless, in the top branches of your family tree, or who are apparently still alive at the age of 160, are likely to be migrants. This talk describes many research paths to follow and sources to consult, in your quest for that migrant ancestor. These suggestions may help to break down the brick walls that mobile ancestors often leave in their wake.

April Milkmaids, Munitions Workers, Milliners and Match Girls: women at work

A look at women’s occupations of the past and how to find out more about them.

May Get ’em Young: ideas for involving young people in history and heritage

This presentation is a thought-provoking look at how we can encourage the next generation of family historians and historians and why we might want to do so. Suggestions cover activities, outings, toys, games, books and ways of exploiting technology in order to motivate and enthuse young people, even toddlers, so that they engage with their history and heritage.

June A Plague upon all your Houses: epidemic disease and our ancestors 

In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are acutely aware of our own responses to a virulent epidemic disease for which we have no effective method of prevention or cure. What epidemics impacted on the lives of our ancestors? How did they attempt to prevent or cure these diseases and how effective were these measures? How did governments and local authorities respond to these threats? This presentation examines the symptoms, prognoses and treatments for a number of well-known and less well-known epidemic diseases from the Black Death to the influenza of 1918. It mentions some of the relevant records and considers how our ancestors might have reacted.

July Sons of the Soil: researching our agricultural labouring ancestors 

Every family has them, ancestors who worked on the land. How can we find out more about them, the farms where they worked and the lives that they led? This session covers a range of sources, many of them under-used, which will help to shed light on the working lives of our rural British ancestors.

August Putting Your Ancestors in their Place: ten steps to a one place study

Family historians normally focus on their own direct ancestors but these ancestors did not live in isolation. They had neighbours and workplaces, they lived in villages with churches, schools, shops and institutions. In order to understand families of the past, they need to be ‘put in their place’ by investigating the localities of which they were a part. One-Place Studies differ from traditional local histories in that they focus on people, their relationship to their communities and to each other; bringing family and local history together, to the benefit of both fields. A One-Place Study involves dissecting a small, definable, geographical area, to examine the individuals, buildings and processes of the past in as much detail as possible. These studies are undertaken by individuals, or groups, who have an interest in the history of a particular community, be it a parish, town, hamlet, or a single street. This talk describes ten steps that you might take in pursuit of this exciting branch of historical research.

September Family Photos and a Sense of Belonging – a workshop 

This session focuses on our emotional attachment to our family photographs. Are we more attached to relatives whose images we possess? Does it make a difference if we met them in real life? Do we feel differently about candid shot, as opposed to studio photograph? Is a strong family resemblance important? This workshop considers these and other reactions to images of our ancestors. This session is designed as a workshop for a class-sized group, allowing for plenty of discussion.

October The Burning Time: witchcraft in the seventeenth century

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a wave of witchcraft accusations swept Europe and North America, creating an era that became known as ‘The Burning Time’. Few of our ancestors were directly involved in witchcraft trials, either as the accused or the accuser, but all of our sixteenth and seventeenth century forbears lived in a world where there was an underlying belief in and fear of, witchcraft. In order to understand those ancestors, we need to be aware that ‘villagers were constantly engaged in contending with, or discussing, witches.’ (MacFarlane, Alan Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: a regional and comparative study 1970 Routledge p.113). This was a climate in which mass hysteria could easily tip the balance and create an atmosphere where our ancestors and their neighbours would become caught up in witchcraft fever. Learn about this era and the sources that we can use to find more.

November Our Embarrassing Ancestors

Not all our ancestors were paragons of virtue. Some behaved in a manner that we now find unacceptable or abhorrent. Are we embarrassed by those family members? What aspects of the lives of our ancestors might make us feel uncomfortable? Does it matter when the ancestor lived; is there a point at which some actions become exciting or interesting, rather than alarming? Have genealogists’ reactions to certain conditions and behaviours changed over time? Are we tempted, like genealogists of the past, to remove them, or their mis-demeanours, from the record?

This presentation is a thought-provoking and hard-hitting look at our reactions to ancestors who might have been a source for embarrassment. Some sources for discovering those ancestors will also be mentioned.

December A to Z of Family History: an alphabetical journey through some less well-known sources

When tracing a family tree, the temptation is to use the more well-known sources; those which are available on-line via the major data providers. In this presentation, the author of the classic handbook Family Historian’s Enquire Within introduces a variety of less well-known sources, that can be used to enhance and extend a pedigree or provide valuable context for the lives the family. The original records, databases and online records discussed will range from Absent Voters’ Lists and Asylum Records, through Farm Surveys and Hearth Tax Records, to Valuation Office Records and ideas for inspiring young people to take an interest in genealogy. The aim is to make the audience aware of sources covering the seventeenth to twentieth centuries and point to ways to find out more. There should be something new for everyone.

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