Skip to content

By Ellen Tait on

Discovering my family history

Ellen Tait explores her family's experiences of the First World War.

In 2009, I finally became an auntie to a gorgeous little boy called William. I began thinking about all the family stories and secrets I could tell him when he was older, butI knew next to nothing about my grandparents background. This triggered my research into discovering my family history.

Researching my family has become a great importance to me, as I did not just want to know what their names were, but I also wanted to learn about the types of lives they led. Whilst looking into Two Pa’s (my Grandfather) side of the tree I came across a family, who still intrigue me to this day. They were extremely unconventional and odd for a late Victorian to early Edwardian family (I won’t go into details).

This is when I discovered my Great Great Uncle Edward, who surprisingly fought in the First World War. To my recollection no one in my family fought in the war due to being too young, working on the railways or simply having ill health. I then began purchasing certificates to make sure Edward was indeed part of my family and thankfully my money wasn’t wasted.

Edward was a child of 11 and when he was six his father suddenly died, leaving his mother (Catherine who liked to be known as Kate) to bring up all 11 children on her own. The close knit family stayed together and all worked from young ages to provide for the family. Many worked at the Raleigh Bicycle Company with a small handful working on the railways or in the lace industry.

World War I image

In 1916 three of Catherine’s children – Edward, Henry and Frederick signed up to fight in the Great World War. Edward left behind his wife and newborn child and was sadly killed in action just five months into the War (19 September 1916).

I was eager to discover more about Edward’s life, however no one in my family knew about him and my Great Grandparents died before my father was born. So he could not provide me with any further details. Over a four month period I researched Edward’s siblings and their ancestry. I was luckily able to track down a direct descendant in Australia. She also did genealogy (a godsend!) and was able to fill in many missing gaps for me as well as sending me pictures of Edward and his war medal. She told me that after the war, many members of the family moved around the country to find work on the railways, therefore she could only assume this is the reason why the family fell out of touch. This is probably why I had never heard of Edward before I began my family tree.

In 2013, it was announced that the WW1 wills were going to be released. On the release date, I eagerly waited for Edward’s will to see if it would offer me any further insights into his life. Sadly the will did not say much, however it impressed upon me what affects a short statement like this might have had on my ancestors when Edward was pronounced dead.

Now that the centenary of the war is upon us, I am more eager than ever to discover what happened to the family after they separated to work on the railways. In September I shall be attending the Making the Connection: railway records for family history conference to find out how to research the railway archives, so that I can keep the memory of my forgotten Uncle Edward and his family alive.

Have you been researching your railway ancestors, if so what have been your biggest challenges?

2 comments on “Discovering my family history

  1. My maternal grandfather, Henry J Relf ,was a stationmaster in Kent ,including during the General Strike in 1926. Do you have any records for him?

  2. My Grandfather William Reynolds was a driver at Gateshead in 1930s-40s. Do you have any records of him. Thank You.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *