What started your interest in genealogy?
I have been interested in my ancestors for as long as I can remember. As a small child I spent many hours in the village churchyard making a note of the gravestones with my family surname on them. My parents humoured this pastime and my father and paternal grandmother happily answered my many questions about the family. My maternal grandmother wasn’t quite as forthcoming however, and this led to a determination to fill in the gaps on the other side of my family. My grandmother told me not to go too far back in case I found a ‘monkey’ up the tree. Despite extensive research I still haven’t found one!
What are your specialist areas of interest and why have you chosen them?
My main specialism are asylum records. These are a much underused resource for genealogists but provide a huge amount of family and medical information. I became interested in this particular topic when I discovered that many people with mental health conditions, which today would be understood and are treatable, were admitted to asylums in the nineteenth century. As I have two sons with autism, this was very relevant to my own situation and made me eager to explore and subsequently co-write a book on the subject. The book entitled ‘Lunatics, Imbeciles and Idiots: A History of Insanity in Nineteenth Century Britain and Ireland’ is due to be published by Pen & Sword in March 2017 and my co-author is John Burt another qualified genealogist.
Your most exciting discovery, either personal or professional.
My most satisfying piece of research was discovering the whereabouts of a friend’s father which reunited them after a 45 year separation. The ability to research living individuals should be treated with a great deal of discretion and I don’t advertise or accept money for reuniting families. However, having done it successfully for several people, it is very satisfying to be able to give people living relatives instead of dead ones.
A typical day’s work.
My working day varies and as every family is unique, researching is always interesting and no two days are the same. I spend about half my week on client research and the other half on personal research, gaining information suitable for publication.