Heirlooms of World War One

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I was privileged this weekend to be invited to give genealogical advice to visitors to a WWI Heritage event at Bournville Infant School in Birmingham supported by the Voices of War Project. The children had worked really hard on a project which included drama, photography and writing inspired both by material from the Archive collections at the Library of Birmingham but also by an amazing array of heirlooms brought in by the children themselves. These included medals, a decorated shell case, diaries and a fascinating box of letters kept by one child’s grandparents that documented their wartime courtship and marriage.

As I advised most of the visitors one of the starting points for family history research should be those letters & diaries, photographs fading newscuttings & even old address books that might be lurking in lofts or at the back of wardrobes. And of course any surviving relatives – take the time to talk to them and record their memories of names, places and events. Many of the folk I spoke to were young parents visiting the exhibition mainly to look for their own child’s handiwork amongst the artwork and the written stories pinned to the exhibition boards. I urged them to think about their family’s heritage now – even if they haven’t really got the inclination (or the time!) to embark on a full scale exploration of their family history. Because ensuring that those vital memories & any documentary evidence are kept now will make it so much easier by the time they look around and realise that they have become the oldest generation and the urge to discover more about what went before suddenly hits them. So many of us wish we had listened more – or taken the time to ask questions before it was too late.

I was also able to share some case histories from my own research – and I’ll be exploring these in more depth in this Saturday’s family history workshop at the Library of Birmingham: Finding your ancestor in WWI records Part 1: Army, Navy & Air Corps. Still places left if you want to book.

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