The Great War and your ancestors

2014 marks 100 years since the outbreak of World War I. This centenary anniversary has made remembrance even more poignant.  The 11th November and Remembrance Sunday help mark the event which brought an end to this conflict.

There is more we can do to remember though; we can look at how the war affected the lives of our families back then, which is what I and several others did using our Ancestry Online database in Kensington Central Library on Thursday 6 November.

World War One records
World War One records

The pictures we built were often very interesting, viewing as well as military records, Census records, which allowed us small insights into their lives. But it was often also very sad – families left without sons (in one instance losing several within a very short space of time) and fathers listed and remembered on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website. It made us think of how sad it must have been for them- and their friends as well.

Luckily these online resources make it easier to look back and see what our family did during the war (and before). Whether it is from the medals they won, who they served with, or information from the CWGC website, which lists 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars.

Ancestry online  is available in and Kensington and Chelsea library plus in Westminster and Hammersmith and Fulham. As well as family history records for the British Isles there are other records from around the world at the time such as Canada, the USA, Germany, and France.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website can be accessed from anywhere and can provide a lot of information – more than you’d expect. And there are many instructional books available which can help you search through records and find out more about the Great War.

You may find newspaper resources interesting and useful in building a picture of the time and possibly a picture of your ancestors too. The Times Digital Archive is the most popular of these but there are other newspapers available in Westminster. The Gazette (official public record) also allows you to search for medals awarded.

Another online family history resource which is available in Westminster Libraries is Find My Past: this contains some different records to Ancestry.

 

 

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Angels at Olympia – our trip to Who do you think you are?- Live

Dave Walker, our Local Studies Librarian, writes:

The Who do you think you are live show at Olympia is a  big three day event in the world of genealogical and historical research for both the amateur and professional researchers and the information providers and for the first time staff and volunteers from all three Archives / Local Studies departments attended (Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington).

Exhibition Hall, Kensington Olympia
Exhibition Hall, Kensington Olympia

As you can see the historic exhibition hall at Olympia was heaving with enthusiasts. It has to be admitted that we weren’t actually in the centre of the action. Our stall is almost invisible under the balcony in the distance of this picture. But close up you can see we got plenty of attention.

Our stand
Our stand

This is the stall on Saturday where Alex from Westminster Archives, who also works at Hammersmith and Fulham Archives, is visible, along with two of H&F’s volunteers. Here they are again:

Alex and volunteers
Alex and volunteers

Eagle-eyed readers will note that the organisers have spelt Westminster incorrectly on the banner.

Other staff who spent time on the stall were myself, Tim Reid (K&C) Kim Smith (Westminster but soon to work at K&C as well), Maggie Tyler (volunteer at K&C), Alison Kenney and Adrian Autton (both from Westminster). Standing around all day is tiring work, but the stall got more than 300 visitors each day so my sore feet were worth it.

I did get the chance to wander around with a camera on Saturday.

Find my Past
Find my Past

That’s the Find my Past stand featuring a refugee from the Napoleonic wars, Myko Clelland.

Find my Past
Find my Past

And one of his colleagues in Regency dress. Or possibly a time traveller.

Below, the British Library Newspaper archive:

British Library  stall
British Library stall

Upstairs on the balcony there were a number of military related stands such as this one:

Military history
Military history

And what’s this?

Distant angels
Distant angels

Promoting the Spirit of Remembrance stand a pair of genuine, if slightly surreal, battlefield angels.

Angels
Angels

Clare and Maria, who kindly let me take a picture of them. Their costumes are based on images from actual propaganda posters of WW1.

I think the event could have been enhanced with a lot more historical costumes. Maybe we should try it next year. An 18th century man gentleman? A Victorian undertaker? A WW2 fighter pilot? And that’s just me.

Of course my favourite stand was this one:

Sausages
Sausages!

They serve a fine venison sausage with mustard that cleared my sinuses.

We spoke to hundreds of people and encouraged them to visit the three Local Studies/Archives departments, we sold a lot of publications and I successfully answered an enquiry about Westminster, which was a first for me. Thanks to Adrian Autton of Westminster for organising the stand and all the staff and volunteers who attended.