New Genealogist of the Week – Elizabeth Walne

21 Nov, 2016

New Genealogist of the Week – Elizabeth Walne

What started your interest in genealogy?

I think for many of us the interest started as children and I am no exception. I was only eigelizabeth-walneht or nine when I went with my family to find the tombs of some of my paternal ancestors in a small village in Norfolk. On one of the tombstones were two women, both called Elizabeth Walne. It struck me that I wasn’t the ‘first of my name’ and I was hooked from then on, not just with family but house history – their old home still has ‘W’s on the downpipes! I was lucky enough to have a family with an interest and three old aunts that had collected family ephemera, one of whom lived to be over 100. Once I had the time and access to records in my own right, it snowballed!


What are your specialist areas of interest and why have you chosen them?

The local area has naturally become a specialism, but beyond that there are two specific interests that I will mention here (of several!).

Firstly, I am interested in the smallpox vaccination acts and the public response to them. Many people don’t know that it was once against the law not to vaccinate your child. It is fascinating to study the response to these acts, quite apart from how useful the vaccination registers and Conscientious Objector lists are to genealogists (contrary to popular belief, COs first appeared in law in the vaccination acts – not during the First World War). I wrote my genealogical Masters dissertation on ‘The Norwich Disaster’ which centred around children who died after visiting the public vaccination station. I looked at the events in depth, and how those events reflected and changed the national picture (or otherwise). It is interesting to me from an epidemiology perspective too (my first degree was in science) and because there are still modern-day parallels.

Secondly, I am interested in section 62 emigration. Effectively, under this part of the Poor Law, paupers could be given one-way tickets overseas. This was much more common in Norfolk than elsewhere, and I have made studies of some of those shipped from local parishes (often to Canada and Australia) to find out what became of them. As might be expected, there is no ‘one size fits all’ result, and stories range from a son who died young in a flour mill explosion, to a five-year-old pauper who grew up to be a doctor – something he is extremely unlikely to have achieved from the workhouse.


Your most exciting discovery, either personal or professional

It is extremely difficult to choose just one (a good job I have a blog!) but I was delighted to discover a several greats aunt in court, battling with her mother to win back her mother’s rightful inheritance after the family lawyer took it to pay off her father’s debts. Hurrah for the Women’s Property Acts! Many of my very favourite discoveries come from probate records, which allow us a glimpse of a person’s character in a way few other common records do – from the man who presumably gave up or died after only bequeathing his dogs, to the one who made a bequest to the ‘child mye wiffe is bigge wyth’ and the woman that left her tea set to a niece (unless that niece moved more than five miles away, in which case it might break in transit).

Like so many of us when we start to look, my tree contains a huge spectrum of life – from lords of the manor to labourers that toiled for that same lord. From the Belgian Baron and Queen Victoria’s Consul in Cairo to the washerwoman in Norwich’s Pockthorpe slums and her runaway husband, every one of those people led to me, genetically and otherwise. When you add in the fascinating discoveries made through house history, my One Name (Walne) and One Place (about to start!) studies as well as all those I help through my work, research is something that never stops revealing new tales.


A typical day’s work.

I am currently on maternity leave with my first-born so a typical day is very different now! However, when things get back to a new normal in early 2017 I expect to be returning to working in archives and doing research in my spare time. I am particularly interested in tutoring others to investigate their own histories – somehow the discovery seems all the better if you help someone to find it for themselves. To that end I spend a lot of time creating workshops, lectures and doing one:ones as well as writing publications, all in a bid to spread my enthusiasm for all things genealogical and historical.

Get in touch with Elizabeth

Clare O'Grady