esearching family history sits close to people’s hearts for obvious reasons. Chief reporter NICK LAKIN speaks to the Lancaster and District Family History Group about families and World War One
“The war was absolutely horrific. You can picture the scenes and hear the sounds of screaming in your head.”
Margaret Stockdale, chair of Lancaster and District Family History Group, is pensive when I ask her what World War One means to her.
As someone who frequently delves into her own family history, as well as that of others, Margaret knows only too well how the war affected the course of history for many millions of families, disturbing the very fabric of communities forever.
“We’re all about people and names and family and places, and the research our members have done paints a picture of what life was like for our relations during the war,” she said.
Lancaster Family History Group was formed in 1991 when several people with the same interest in researching their own family history got together.
They wanted to help each other further their research in a friendly, social environment and quickly found that there were a lot of others wanting to do exactly the same thing.
With the centenary of World War I this year, members decided to focus their efforts on collecting stories and information from the war, which will eventually be published in a booklet.
“Each and every person who died in World War I had their own story to tell,” said Margaret.
“We wanted to see what interests our members had themselves, but we felt sure that many of them had an interest in World War I.”
The society held its first event called Follow in the Footsteps of Our Family - Researching World War I, at Lancaster library last Saturday, attracting around 40 people with their own family’s wartime stories.
The free, open events will run every Saturday in June between 10am and 12pm, and people are invited to bring documents, medals, and anything else associated with the war.
“There are stories of families eating flour dough fried in lard and sharing one egg between the family,” said Margaret.
“The deprivation at home was pretty astounding.
“There are stories of conscientious objection, of families burning returning soldiers’ clothes because of the fleas they brought back with them, of young lives lost.
“The strangest thing is people not speaking about it at all, it’s like people were told ‘you better not speak about it or you’ll lose your mind’.
“The horrors must have been so great for them that they just kept silent.”
The society has now come up with an “idiot’s guide” for people wanting to find out more about their ancestors and the role they played in World War I.
“We’ve come up with a simple guide for idiots to research World War I and follow in the footsteps of your family,” explained Margaret.
“It’s a very simple guide about where you can go for information.
“I think we’re definitely contributing to a world wide quest for knowledge, we have many members overseas whose search brings them to the port of Glasson Dock, for instance.
“It can get very addictive, and you can get very frustrated when you get to a full stop.
“But these people belong to your history – they are your family.
“The more you discover, the more you think, ‘fancy having someone of that name or doing that job in your family’.
“Were they poor? What did they eat? Was there ever any money in this family? It’s just interesting to think about the lives of those so closely related to us.”
Margaret said the best places to start a search are the censuses, the websites Ancestry.com and Findmypast.co.uk, all of which are available for free in the library.