The Society meets at 19:00 on the fourth Thursday of each month (except August and December) at St Peter's Church Hall in Wisbech unless otherwise stated. There is a map of the centre of Wisbech to show the location of the hall.
We have a full programme, including speakers, members' evenings and outings. An archive of reports of previous year's meetings is available. Book Stall and Reference Library plus refreshment available at the meeting.

Current Meeting Programme


28 January 2016
'Back to Basics’
With help for the beginner plus a refresher for the more experienced
Susanah Farmer

25 February 2016
‘Researching Military History’
How to find your military ancestors.
Jonathan Farmer

24 March 2016
Members Meeting & 'Illustrating Your Family History’
Make your family history more interesting to view for your family including examples of Scrapbooking
Audrey Reed

28 April 2016
'Research in the Library’
Getting the most out of your library and its free resources
Alison England

Our meetings and sessions are all back for 2016, offering help to anyone researching their family history. We welcome new members no matter where your family comes from. Our Research Sessions are open to members and newcomers alike. We have an exciting programme of interesting speakers booked for the whole year ahead. We have already taken bookings to take our Interesting Information Displays to various events and venues to give an added interest to the events. We are also taking bookings to attend groups as guest speaker.

If you would like us to attend one of your events please get in touch.

COMPUTER RESEARCH SESSIONS. Our team of experienced researchers will be in Wisbech Library on the first Tuesday of each month. They offer help with family research to anyone attending. Using all the Library facilities including two subscription programmes for FREE. If you bring your laptop they will show you how to do your own research, or they will use their own laptops and do your research with you. We are there from 10 – 12 noon. A small team of researchers are in Wyevale Garden Centre Crowland on the second Tuesday of each month from 11 – 3 p.m. offering help with your family research. Both sessions are FREE. Everyone welcome.

FAMILY HISTORY MEETINGS our January meeting speaker was Susanah FARMER her subject was ‘Back to Basics’. We were able to refresh our memories and in some cases learn new ways of researching our family histories. Our next meeting on Thursday 25th February will be ‘Military Research’ led by Jonathan FARMER as our guest speaker. On Thursday 25th March the subject is ‘Illustrating Your Family History’ we look forward to learning new ways of displaying our Family History when our guest speaker Audrie READ will show various ways including Scrapbook records. She will bring a supply of material should anyone wish to purchase items. Everyone welcome to attend our meetings held on fourth Thursday of each month in St Peter Church Hall Wisbech from 7 – 9 p.m. Members free. Non-members a £2. For further information on any of the above please call 01945 587723

Summaries of Past Meetings

January 2016

'Back to Basics’ - With help for the beginner plus a refresher for the more experienced - Susanah Farmer

Festive Member MeetingAn audience of 26 including a new member and a visitor attended the first meeting of the New Year. Members were told about future displays that the society will be involved in: at Walpole St Peters, the Heritage weekend (Leverington and St Augustine’s); in order for this to happen Bridget would like to have copes of photographs of weddings that took place during the two world wars (not necessarily weddings involving service people). If necessary Bridget can copy photographs but she does need information about the people involved (names, dates etc).

Our speaker for the evening was Susanah Farmer, who is a member of the society and is also Editor of Ag Lab. Susanah called her talk “Back to Basics” and its purpose was to encourage all of us to keep on researching our families by showing us the diverse ranges of information that are available to us. She hoped to encourage beginners to make a start and the more experienced to consider alternative lines of enquiry. Susanah also said that she hoped to show that not everyone who does family history has to be an expert or even to have everything filed away tidily! She brought with her a (large) yellow archive box which held letters, photographs, certificates, invoices and other documents; she also had a file and a hard drive. The material in the box was often the starting point for a line of enquiry and Susanah pointed out that it helped to be nosy as that’s what family history is. She also said that she picks up her research at different points often sparked by some other enquiry.

People start researching the family tree for a variety of reasons and the form that the research takes is equally varied: some people try to go back as far as possible; some try to find everyone on their tree however distantly related; some people try to locate all living relatives; others are interested in location and social history.

Susanah knew that her mother had started a family history by asking family members to write down information: this information was of variable quality but there was one lengthy letter from he r grandfather that contained information that revealed a complicated family life with some unconventional aspects. Some family members are still unaware of the relationships and Susanah urged us to be aware that some information is very sensitive and it may never be possible to determine the truth. As Susanah put it: more dotted lines on the family tree and another item on the “To do list”.

Susanah illustrated typical problems that people encounter when using transcribed records by referring to a search for a relative she knew as “Ellen Rosetta Damms”. The 1881 census was originally made available as a CD after it had been transcribed in America; Susanah could not find the family in the Downham Market area but eventually found the name had been transcribed as Danius. In a later census the girl is recorded as Rosie which also made searching more difficult. Sometimes you have to make educated guesses and then confirm the guess. Another member of that family appeared to have the forename Gately but after lots of research he turned out to have been born John David Damms (why did he change his name? another item for the “To do list”). Susanah also referred to her search for a George Davies whom she knew to be an Artillery Pensioner – this took a great deal of investigating and Susanah suggested “parking” research until another piece of evidence comes to light.

Different sources of information are increasingly available - newspapers can be a useful source of information and some of them are available online – these also come with a warning – it’s very easy to be sidetracked. Older newspapers are often useful for announcements and court cases and more recent papers (since the 1930s) may contain more gossipy information. Suasanah discovered that a family home had been destroyed in the very last air raid of the First World War and then a second family home had been destroyed in an air raid the Second World War.

Wills can provide information and can often be accessed through internet sites as well as telephone directories and some electoral register, some school records are now online. Try checking the neighbours on census records – sometimes you can work out how people came to know each other. Susanah also suggested checking the free access sites: Freecen, FreeBMD and Freereg and Family Search.

Have you tried a Google search for people or places? What about Facebook? and public family trees on sites such as Ancestry? Susanah has received photographs of her own family as a result of contacts through internet searches.

In conclusion Susanah said that she hoped she had given people the incentive to carry on researching; everyone will research in an individual way to realise that you will also have a “To do list” which will get longer and longer.

The audience thoroughly enjoyed Susanah’s talk which got everyone talking in the social time after the talk – lots of ideas were exchanged and I’m sure we all went away ready to look again at our family trees (and to create “To do lists”).

[Margaret Lake ]

February 2016

'Researching Military History ’ - Jonathan Farmer

The audience was entertained and informed by Jonathan Farmer who gave valuable insights into the ways in which it is possible to research military history. Jonathan prefaced his talk by outlining his credentials as a military historian; he served in the TA for 38 years and did a 4 ½ year stint at The National Archives as a researcher in Military Records, he then did a part –time Master’s degree on First World War Records at Birmingham University.

Jonathan told us that accessing records for the Second World War onwards requires contact with the MOD who will need proof of relationship so effectively we are only able to research the First World War. One of the major problems is that two thirds of the Great War records were destroyed (accidentally) by fire in the second world war.

Most people starting out on research may only have partial information to go on: possibly a name, a medal, a story or a photograph. Some people are lucky enough to be able to locate information using sites like Ancestry and Find My Past but bearing in mind the problem with missing records and the fact that only those serving overseas were entitled to medal there problems to be overcome.

Photographs of servicemen vary in quality but Jonathan gave some very useful tips about looking for clues. He suggested that we learn to identify three of the cap badges (Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers and Army Service Corps) as those three regiments accounted for a large percentage of the army. If at all possible try to identify the battalion the serviceman served in as daily war diaries were kept by the adjutant of each battalion and those records are available The National Archives.

It is sometimes possible to identify more information that is specific to particular regiments but there are some general pieces of information that can be “read” in a good photograph. Chevrons on a lower sleeve identify the number of years that someone served. The first available was a red chevron for the British Expeditionary Force in 1914/15 and the subsequent years were blue so a photograph showing 3 chevrons would have to be taken in 1916 or later. Wound stripes were placed on the left sleeve and were made of 2 inch long gold Russian braid; the rules about who was entitled to these were continually tightened to prevent misuse. Good conduct stripes were awarded to privates and lance corporals and can be identified.

If you know your relative was awarded medals you may be able to access Medal Index Cards (available on Find My Past and Ancestry) – again two thirds of these were destroyed in the 1940 Blitz. The MIC will give name, Regiment, Service Number and information about specific medals as well as (up to 1916) the embarkation date which was the day that the soldier became entitled to a medal. Jonathan suggested the web site “The long, long trail” as good source of information about regiments.

The electoral register is a further source of information for the immediate post-war years as demobilisation took place into 1920 and absent voters are noted together with their regiment and service number.

Jonathan illustrated his talk with photographs and images and showed the audience how to identify different points and then took questions at the end of his talk. Once again we were treated to have a well- researched, informative and entertaining talk.

[Margaret Lake ]

Copyright © 2002 - Fenland Family History Society - All Rights Reserved
Website design - Selvi Ltd