Living Locally

Just a quickie today, I mentioned in the last post that I would talk about the benefits of living near your
ancestors. The vast majority of my known ancestors came from Berkshire, some from the west and, more
recently, I have found some from the east. I live 10 minutes from the eastern border of Berkshire, so it’s
not a huge difficulty in getting to the places mentioned in the records. In fact, my parents have recently
moved to within a mile of where a chunk of my dad’s family were born & grew up and I work in the same town as my grandfather was born.

This is all well and good, but what benefits does this offer, especially as a LOT of my research has been
done online? Well, the Berkshire Records Office (BRO) is only a 45 minute drive away, so I can often be found in there poring over microfiches, microfilms or even original documents to find new leads. More recently, I have been trying to find places mentioned in the records to get an idea of what life was like etc. This came in handy when a New Zealand cousin sent me a photo of a house, the only info written on the photo was the town ‘Old Windsor’. She gave me a few clues as to who was living there and why (they were apparently looking after the church). A little digging and I have found the house, Church Cottage, right next to St Luke’s Church, it’s still standing and it hasn’t changed that much. Other places that have gone are Bartlett’s Farm in Albany Road and Trafalgar Place. There are new(ish) houses where Bartlett’s Farm was and just a wasteland where Trafalgar Place stood though there is evidence of concrete floors & demolished brick walls scattered around.

While searching for Bartlett’s Farm, I came across a rather interesting set of documents at the BRO, letters
to and from Burnett Brothers & Sons in London, regarding the valuation of the property (amongst others). One of my relatives is mentioned in several of the documents as the then current tenant and there is even a hand-written letter from him. All of the documents are from 1897.

When I spoke to my parents about this search for old buildings, they handed me a book that a neighbour had given them when they moved in, all about the buildings in the town, it proved very useful in many ways, not least the fact that the author had printed he address in it and was still living there. I made a phone call and she agreed to meet me to chat about some of the houses. When I arrived, I was amazed to find she had all of the school records for the local school as the headmaster had decided to get rid of them and she felt she should preserve them for posterity. I am so glad she did, I found many of my relatives in there, including my own grandfather (the first time I’d seen him recorded as having been in the Workhouse, unlike many of his siblings who spent a lot of time in there it seems). It also confirmed my Smith/Attwell conundrum as he was recorded as Attwell but with a note stating his name was given as Smith when he was admitted.

The other interesting one was a mention of my Dad’s 1st cousin, Frederick William Attwell. His last attendance was in 1920 and the note next to it said ‘Left the country (Gone to Canada)’ his address was Albany House and the parent/guardian was ‘The Master, Boys Home’. I have since discovered much more about him, but using online resources and the kindness of other people halfway round the world, I will elaborate on that in the next thrilling installment!

Anyhow, none of this would I have found if I wasn’t close enough to visit the places in question. Speaking to locals is also a huge benefit, they will tell you things that no records will show, some of which are useful and some not, but when you find a clue that opens up a whole new branch, grasp it with both hands!!

I have several places further afield that I need to visit to try to further some of my other lines but I know I will only be able to get so far, as each little clue takes a while to research further and if you are only there for a few days, you can only get so much.

I know I am one of the lucky ones, most of my lot didn’t move too far.

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