Branching out


Woodford Green resident Linda Gough explains how what began as an interest in family history some 30 years ago has now developed into a satisfying vocation reuniting families

Television programmes like Who Do You think You Are? and Long Lost Families have tapped into a very human interest in who we are and where we come from. Added to this, many families have mysteries to solve, missing people to trace and information and stories which they would like to check for accuracy.

I became interested in family history about 30 years ago, when I researched my partner’s family who came to England from Germany in the 1830s. This research, undertaken in school holidays when I was a teacher, involved a Tube ride from South Woodford to Holborn to visit St Catherine’s House, spending hours and hours heaving huge leather-bound record books from the shelves, searching the copperplate handwritten details and noting information in lined notebooks. Today, with the available technology, a great deal of research – though by no means all – can be done from the comfort of our homes.

I seem to have an ability to hunt down missing ancestors and fill in gaps in knowledge. I have had such fascinating ‘detective’ work to do. One of the most challenging ones was of a man born around 1870 who did not have a birth, marriage or death certificate. Everything the family thought they knew about him was untrue. They didn’t even have his proper name. This family story led to Victorian workhouses, illegitimate children and the Old Bailey.

I was able to tell an 87-year-old the name of her father, filling in the blank on her birth certificate. Her mother had never told her anything about her father. During my research with her, she did her DNA and with astonishing, even miraculous, luck, a DNA match led to her father and to four half-siblings, all in their eighties, living in America.

I was also able to reunite a man with his sister and mother who he had not seen for 65 years. This last gentleman kept in touch with me and phoned to tell me he had received his first ever Christmas card with ‘son’ on it from his mother last year. This was real job satisfaction for me.

Although we are not all related to royalty in the spectacular way Danny Dyer turned out to be, it has been interesting to see how so many people I have worked on are related to well-known people from the past. One person I recently did research for turned out to be the great-great-great grandson of famous bare-knuckle boxer Tom Sayers, who has his own Blue Plaque and is buried in Highgate Cemetery.

Genealogy became an absorbing hobby and it has now developed into a vocation. It has brought such interest and enjoyment to the families I have researched, as well as the occasional shock and sadness.

For more information on Linda’s work as a family historian, email lindafamilyhistorian@gmail.com
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