Whose Family Is It? Tips on how to make your family history more interesting

I love me a bit of research. In fact some fool paid me to do it for a good number of years, It's always been rooted in the past and whilst I've done a bit of this and that I always had great pleasure in pronouncing that I studied men's bodies - you know, because I'm a child. Basically I studied masculinity and the way in which male bodies interacted with their sense of identity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries, but being able to smirk and say I ogle men's bodies for a living was both more interesting and funnier - to me at least. This love of the past came from school and a family history project which I used as an excuse to ask my grandparents embarrassing questions about their pasts. As I've gotten older family history has called to me again and as it's ridiculously easy in the digital age, I got down to it.

Well, all I can say is that my family history, although a good solid example of the bleedin average, is not that exciting. My brother, a fellow family history nut, has high hopes and insists he'll find a connection to someone interesting if it kills him. We have one candidate with the same surname but unless we came from the wrong side of the sheets (love that phrase) it's unlikely. Hell, we'll take it though.

By Robert Ford Gagen

I have one ray of sunshine on my horizon though - himself. It's a great reason to get married as far as I can see. All you need do is check whether they have an exciting family history before you tie the knot. It could be part of the service: The officiant, 'Can you Fred, before God/s decree you have at least four ancestors of note?' Fred replies, ' I do solemnly swear I have five'. When you marry your loved one, you also marry their family, who says they have to be alive? These family members are mostly less hassle and you can fully nose through their 'dirty linen' without creating too many waves - perfect!

If we take the above into consideration I would be a poor catch. Himself is the bally Prince of Norfolk, London, Germany, Holland, Canada, America and now it appears Mexico. I fully predict half the world's interesting people to be encompassed by his over-achieving family history before I finish digging. Frankly it's sickening.

Gagen, Wisconsin (Three Lakes History Society)

So when we discovered a place in Wisconsin actually named after a great great uncle of his I felt it was time for the spouse (me) to proclaim, 'this is my family history', and shove my beloved from the keyboard and hog the computer until it over heated. So far we have the following:

Owner of the Angel of Islington Hotel (so Monopoly will be fun as he says he owns it already)

Fur trapper and logger with a town named after him who apparently married a Native American 'Princess' after she nursed him back to health (I kid you not, there's articles about it).

A famous Canadian Artist

An Old Bailey trial

That's apart from architects, vets, auctioneers, cabinet makers and the like. They've also, unlike my lot, left lots of stuff behind. This has included a vet's bottle that I missed by a month on an internet auction site, art work, furniture, postcards, trial documents and signs. If you compare that with mine which runs to a nineteenth century walk through dodgy parts of London it's little wonder that I've claimed his history as mine too. You never know with a bit more digging I expect I'll find his family discovered a continent or something (sigh).

William Day made campaign furniture


If you fancy a fun foray into the past I recommend two quick internet searches:

Old Bailey Online which is a searchable database of criminal trials held at the Old Bailey, London. Just put your surname into the search engine and see what comes up.

Charles Booth's Poverty Maps of London If you know an ancestor lived in London in the late nineteenth century chances are the house and street will be captured in this series of maps. There are also a series of notebooks that detail Booth's descriptive walks through London and you can search those too.

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