Talks and Presentations

‘The world’s history is the world’s judgement’ Friedrich von Schiller

I offer single presentations and courses of varying lengths on topics relating to family, local and social history. Almost all of these presentations can be given virtually. As well as speaking to audiences on three continents and at sea, I also tutor online courses for Pharos Teaching and Tutoring. The single presentations are designed to last approximately one hour, including question time but this can be adjusted where necessary. Several involve costume or the use of artefacts and all are normally accompanied by power point presentations. There are titles suitable for both specialist and non-specialist audiences. Please contact for details of availability and charges. Please try again if this email address bounces or if you do not receive a reply within 48 hours. For additional Living History Presentations please also see Swords and Spindles.

Single Presentations

Ancestors on the Margins New for 2023

Using a series of case studies, this presentation looks at those who may have found themselves on the margins of society and the sources that we can use to trace their stories. The examples used will vary but may include the sick, prostitutes, those accused of crimes, those in asylums, the poor, the illegitimate and others who were stigmatised by society. NB there is some overlap with Forgotten Woman and The Ill, the Impoverished, the Illegitimate and the Insane.

A Genealogist’s Nightmare: tracing the Smith family of London New for 2023

This talk uses the Smith family of London as a case study to introduce sources and techniques that will help with the challenge of researching a common surname in a densely populated area. A wide range of resources will be covered, many of which will also be applicable to those researching outside London.

Forgotten Women: researching the marginalised women on your family tree New content for 2023

Even without meaning to, family historians often focus on the men on their family tree. It is usually the men who carry on the surname, the men who join the armed forces and who are more likely to leave wills, vote or rent property, thereby leaving a trail in the documentary record. Merely by virtue of her gender, a female ancestress can become overlooked. Some woman are further on the margins than others. If we, as genealogists, do not research their lives and preserve their memories who will? This presentation will use a series of case studies to describe researching women who spent time in workhouses or asylums, the mothers of illegitimate children, prostitutes and those accused of witchcraft amongst others. The sources used to tell their stories will be described. NB there is some overlap with  Ancestors on the Margins and The Ill, the Impoverished, the Illegitimate and the Insane.

Madness, Mania and Melancholia: tracing your ancestors with the asylum walls New content for 2023

In the past, as today, people struggled with their mental health and members of our family were no exception. Often these were people who found themselves marginalised and stigmatised; their stories deserve to be told. This talk looks briefly at the history of the treatment of the mentally ill and describes the many sources that we can use to research these, often forgotten, family members who found themselves within the walls of the asylum. The presentation concludes with case studies of asylum inmates.

Sins as Red as Scarlet: researching a seventeenth century Devon town in turmoil 

Sins as Red as Scarlet is a novel that was published in August 2020. It views the well-known story of the Bideford witches from a new perspective. This presentation describes the research behind the novel, which is firmly rooted in historical fact. It is 1682. Across the land, the Age of Reason has begun; scientific thought is ousting superstitious belief. The menacing days of the witchfinder have all but gone. Nevertheless, in Devon’s county town, three impoverished women are approaching the gallows, condemned to death for the crime of witchcraft. They come from the prosperous port of Byddeforde. There we find the rich merchants, the flourishing tobacco warehouses and the bustle of ships setting sail for the Newfoundland cod-banks. Yet, barely hidden, are layers of intolerance and antagonism that have built up over decades. A time of plague, of war, of religious dissent; all of which have fashioned the prejudices and fears of the town’s inhabitants.

Barefoot on the Cobbles: from family fact to family 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. 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.

Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs: the lives of our seventeenth century ancestors

‘Why do you need a bum roll?’ ‘What colour were carrots in the C17th?’ ‘What did the Cavaliers use for deodorant?’ ‘Can you think of 47 uses for urine?’ Supplying the answers to the above (well, maybe not all 47 uses), this presentation is a light-hearted but informative, insight into the domestic life of our C17th ancestors. The emphasis is on providing the context against which to set the documentary evidence for this period.

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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

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.

The Ill, the Impoverished, the Illegitimate and the Insane: researching our marginalised ancestors

Our more wealthy ancestors leave behind them wills, records of property ownership and evidence of careers in the professions. This presentation focuses on those who were less fortunate. In a society that made little provision for those who fell on hard times, often through no fault of their own, many of our ancestors became marginalised. Nonetheless they may have left their own legacy that can be uncovered in the archives. The many and fascinating records of workhouses, hospitals, asylums and the overseers of the poor will be explained. NB there is some overlap with Forgotten Women and Ancestors on the Margins

Occupational Hazards: the working lives of our ancestors

In the days before Health and Safety, many of the occupations undertaken by our ancestors were injurious to health. Some, such as mining or fishing were clearly dangerous but what were the risks for lawyers, fishmongers or grocers? If you descend from a long line of match girls, munitionettes, knife grinders, hatters or bakers (or several other trades), this is the opportunity to see how their health may have suffered as a consequence of the work that they did.

Coming Here: Records of Immigrants and Immigration to England C13th-20th centuries 

This presentation looks at the background history to immigration into England over 700 years. General records of immigration are considered, as well as looking in more detail and the immigration of members of the Roma and Traveller Communities, those of the Jewish faith and Huguenots. Sources available to trace these groups will be discussed. Finally, the session looks at the impact of immigration on both the immigrants themselves and the communities where they settled.

Uproar and Disorder: the impact of the Bible Christians on parishes in North Devon

What happened to small villages and communities when church-chapel allegiances divided their inhabitants? This talk looks at the impact of this branch of Methodism on nineteenth century Devon.

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.

Farm, Fish, Faith or Family?: motivations for emigration from North Devon 1830-1900

This presentation uses case studies to investigate what prompted nineteenth century North Devonians to leave for a life overseas. In particular, it looks at the impact of the Bible Christian church on levels of emigration.

Family History: the next generation New content for 2023

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.

Toleration or Turmoil?: English non-conformity and our ancestors

This talk is not just for those with English ancestors who worshipped outside the established Church of England. It does not focus on sources for tracing non-conformist ancestry, as many books and websites do that more than adequately. Instead, it considers the effect of a non-conformist presence on local communities. Whether our ancestors were the conformist Anglicans or the non-conformists of a wide variety of denominations, life would not be the same once there were alternative places of worship in a locality. This presentation considers the impact that groups of non-conformists had on social order and looks at the persecution of various religious groups. Then the relationship between non-conformity and emigration will be discussed. Were non-conformists more likely to emigrate and if so why? How did non-conformist groups impact on the world of work? Did being a member of a non-conformist group have a detrimental effect on mental health? Finally non-conformity as a force for cohesion or division within a community will be investigated.

Ducking Stools, Dissenters, Debtors and Drunks: crime and punishment in the seventeenth century

How was crime dealt with in the seventeenth century? What were the punishments for various crimes and how could you avoid them? It would be unusual for the lives of our Stuart ancestors not to be touched by crime in some way; whether as victims, witnesses, lawbreakers or law enforcers. Learn how they would have been regarded and treated by their contemporaries, in whichever of these roles they found themselves.

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.

Besoms, Battledores, Bedsteads and Bum Rolls: the role of women in the seventeenth century

Our Stuart female ancestors may be people we can identify, or they may be lurking, nameless, waiting to be discovered. In either case they existed, therefore we owe it to them to find out more about their way of life. This session provides an all-important context for these women; women whose detailed biographies probably elude us. Delivered by Mistress Agnes in period costume, this presentation describes cooking, cleaning, the making and laundering of clothes, maintaining the garden and the many other tasks of the Stuart housewife. At this time a woman’s work truly was never done.

Tulips, Topiary, Tradescanth and Thyme: seventeenth century gardens

This talk is delivered by Mistress Agnes on one of her rare visits from the seventeenth century. She will describe gardening and the importance of gardens their time, ranging from the country house gardens of Inigo Jones to the labourers’ cottage gardens. Find out how vital gardens were to the household economy of our ancestors and how various plants could be used. What would be eaten? Which plants were used in the production of textiles? What form of pest control was used? Why do we plant bay trees outside our door? What plants have a household use? How can plants be used to cure illnesses? Mistress Agnes will answer all these questions and share her experience of the Stuart period.

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.

From the Herb Garden of Mistress Agnes

The historical use of herbs, both medicinal and culinary. A light-hearted look at how our ancestors would have used plants in their everyday lives.

Are you Sitting Comfortably?: writing up your family history

There comes a point in your family history research, when you can look at the piles of paper, or the folders full of computer files, no longer. It is time to stop researching and to try to generate some order out of chaos. This talk provides suggestions that will help you to begin to set your family in their national, local and social context. This session will take you from family tree to family history, offering various ideas that will help you to produce a coherent end product of which you can be proud. It covers, how to start, formats to use, and ways in which contextual detail can be built up. This can be offered as a single talk or an in-depth one day course. This is also available as a 5 week course as part of the Pharos online programme.

Workshops (approximately 1-2 hours in duration)

Family Heirlooms: telling their stories

 This workshop will discuss our emotional attachment to family memorabilia. What makes an heirloom’? Why are certain items passed on? What impacts on the creation, curation and preservation of the family archive? During the session, participants will put together the story of an heirloom of their own.

The Maternal Line 

An opportunity to look at your maternal line in a new way, with suggestions for discovering and considering the females in your family tree. The workshop will encourage you to recall and record information about your direct female line (your mother, her mother and so on) and set the lives of these female ancestors in the context of the social history of their time.

Family Photos and a Sense of Belonging

This session focuses on our emotional relationship with 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 a candid shot, as opposed to a 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.

Longer Courses

Are you Sitting Comfortably?: writing up your family history A one day course to help you create an end product from an accumulation of notes and computer files. This is suitable for those who have already done some research as it is not, primarily, about research methods (also offered as a one hour summary). This is also offered as a 5 week course as part of the Pharos online programme.

Finding Your Family A two day introductory course designed for beginners or slow starters.

Researching your Ancestors and their Community in the Early Twentieth Century A one day course suitable for those interested in local or family history research in this period. Ideal for those looking to combine the two in a one place study. This is also offered as a 5 week course as part of the Pharos online programme.

The Seventeenth Century and its Records A one day course suitable for family and local historians, covering the social history and documentary evidence of the time.

Family History – The Next Generation

Workshops for 7-16 year olds. Advice and assistance given to Family History Societies wishing to provide taster sessions for young people, in conjunction with meetings or fairs. These are also suitable for activities’ weeks in schools.

What Does That Say?: reading old handwriting

Are you struggling to read the documents that you come across in your research? Puzzled about a place of birth in a census return, or what great great granddad left in his will? This half day workshop will help you to decipher these documents.

Forthcoming Talks

Selected Previous Talks

Some Testimonials


Additional presentations by Chris Braund

A Consultation with Master Christopher: barber surgeon to the desperate

An interactive session demonstrating the surgical techniques of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The health care of the time is described and the ‘cures’ endured by our ancestors will be illustrated with the aid of replica medical instruments. Ideal for those suffering from the noxious wind of the belly, an excess of phlegm or problems with the mumblepins. Please bring a sample for analysis on Master Christopher’s urine wheel. Audience participation is encouraged. Come and understand the options open to your C16th and C17th ancestors when they were unwell; be grateful for the medical advances of today. Not for the fainthearted.

Plague and Pestilence

Stories of sickness in the seventeenth century, covering methods of prevention and ‘cures’ for the Plague of 1666.

The Braunds of Bucks Mills and Beyond

The story of this North Devon fishing family and their relatives elsewhere

The Weapons of the English Civil War (live musket firing by arrangement)

Clovelly in Old Photographs

Guided tours of Bucks Mills, Bideford, Clovelly and Torrington can also be arranged.

‘What experience and history teach us is this – that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it’  G W F Hegel


14 comments on “Talks and Presentations

  1. Linda Davitt says:

    Hi I am really sorry but do not seem to have received a reply to my message requesting information re cost and availability of your excellent Talks, I am looking at 2017, April onwards for Northampton U3A. many Thanks Linda

    • Sorry my email is not always reliable. I am not sure if you realise but I live in Devon so this is a 550 miles round trip for me. I could come but as I would have to factor in petrol costs and probably an overnight stay, I think I would bust any budget you may have. I had to charge Northants Family History Society £225 but as this was for a special conference they were able to fund that. Sorry. Janet

  2. Linda Davitt says:

    Talks sound fascinating, could you let me know the cost and e-mail address, my name is Linda Davitt and I am the Speaker Seeker for Northampton U3A

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