My genealogy journey started young. My maternal grandparents moved to Tenerife (Canary Islands) when I was four and left all of the family memorabilia (mainly from my grandfather’s side of the family) with my mother. So, when I was a child, I was introduced to some of my ancestors in photographs and I was also lucky enough to have some older extended family members who were very keen to know about our heritage. Aunt Win, for example, was convinced we were related to a strolling actor, Edmund Kean. In my opinion, her theory was based on the fact her maternal line had the surname Kean within it. Suffice to say, this legend has been found to be a myth rather than factually correct.
My serious genealogy journey began in my last teens/early twenties. Studying at the University of Reading took me closer to London and, to consult censuses and/or the BMD indexes back in the 1990s, you had to go to the Family Records Centre in Myddelton Street, London. From professional to rookie beginner genealogy enthusiasts, we would line up outside the centre before it opened on a Saturday morning, and work until we were thrown out at the end of the day! I stood out like a sore thumb – the youngest by generations, not decades. Over the months/years, other regular Saturday FRC researchers started talking to me (rather than looking at me like I had two heads!) and I still have many genea-friends from that era of my journey.
There were many challenges researching back in the 1980s and 1990s. Ancestry, FindmyPast, MyHeritage… they didn’t exist. There was little to nothing available online and so I vividly recall painstakingly working my way through a microfilm of the 1851 census for Cheshunt to find my maternal Day family. Hours it took! If only I could have seen into the future and realised that in the early 21st century, some of the core records would be readily available to search by surname and at the touch of a button or two but could I have waited all that time? No, definitely not! I consider myself lucky to have started young and also experienced researching the hard way. I say, “I earned my stripes!”
I turned my passion into a career in 2012 when I set up my business, Family Wise Limited. For a year, I continued as a mathematics teacher but then, in 2013, I decided to see if I could be a family historian full-time. It seems this is possible as, here I am, eight years on, the only High Street family history, genealogy and people tracing firm in the United Kingdom. My daily life is hectic but fun, dynamic and diverse, with fantastic highs and crushing lows. Family history is a wonderful field to work in but sometimes, you have to pass on difficult news to clients. Would I change it? Not at all. I would recommend taking the plunge and following your passion to anyone in any field.