What started your interest in genealogy?
When Uncle Tom came to stay with us in 1976, I had no idea how significant his visit would prove to be. I remember asking my mum how Uncle Tom was related to us. She drew me a little family tree (which I still have!) and I was hooked. It turned out that he was my granny’s cousin; the rest, as they say, is (family) history.
What are your specialist areas of interest and why have you chosen them?
While working for the best part of ten years at The Family Records Centre in London, I developed an expertise in the most important records for nineteenth century research in England and Wales. I also became particularly interested in the Inland Revenue’s Death Duty records and how they can be used by family historians so it was great to discover that a distant relative had worked in the Stamp Office in the first half of the nineteenth century.
Your most exciting discovery, either personal or professional
With more than 40 years’ experience as a researcher, it’s pretty hard to pick just one! I suppose the most crucial discovery I made came as the result of a casual conversation with my grandma. She was illegitimate and there’s nothing on her birth certificate or any other official document to say who her father was; if she hadn’t told me that she had met her father and given me some clues to his identity, a huge part of my family history would have been closed to me for ever.
A typical day’s work
If I’m working at home, I like to start the day by answering my emails and, if possible, working on a small ‘brickwall’ challenge, just to get the brain in gear. I tend to dedicate the afternoon to more in-depth research or report writing. I’m usually out and about on research trips once or twice a week and I have to allow some time for my writing and preparing for future talks. I guess the best thing about my job is that there’s no such thing as a typical day’s work!