Almost 40 years ago, as a result of a chance remark by my wife, Gill, along the lines of, "Stop talking about it and do it!", I began on a remarkable journey - I started to trace my family tree. As a young man in his early 30's I had such minor responsibilities as a job, mortgage, wife and the first of our two sons, James, to consider, so I was not able to devote as much time as I would have liked to the new and enthralling pastime. Frustration began to creep into my life. A conversation with an old hand at the Portsmouth Records Office put me right - I was ill! I was suffering from a terrible and, sad to say, fatal disease classified as "Genealogicus terminus" - a well known condition frequently encountered in the world of genealogical research. You all know the symptoms; a racing heart as you approach a Records Office; the rush of adrenalin when a new twig is added to the tree, that insatiable craving when you know it will be several weeks, possibly months, before you get back to the hunt.
It was this craving that proved my downfall. Faced with the prospect of long periods of time between fixes of the genealogical drug, I looked around in search of a substitute, another project, that could satisfy my needs. "I know," I thought, "I'll trace the descendants of William the Conqueror." FOOL!! Armed with a pile of books on Norman and Medieval history from the local library, I began to construct a detailed table of the Norman Kings of England and their various branches. I should have realised from the very beginning what I was getting in to - but no! Feeling pleased with myself, I moved on to the Plantagenets. There are one heck of a lot of Plantagenets! Apart from a brief period towards the end of the 15th century when they were hell-bent on killing each other (also known, somewhat picturesquely, as The Wars of the Roses), they peppered their seed pretty liberally through the nobility of England, Wales, Scotland, Europe and even Ireland. I kept coming across the dreaded words "and had issue." After two years I had about 10,000 descendants of the great man. After ten years I had a cupboard full of lever arch binders packed with information.
In 1984 I was introduced to the Society of Genealogists in London. Picture if you will, the largest superstore you can imagine full to the roof with every kind, shape, colour, flavour and nature of sweets and chocolate. Then place a six-year-old boy in the middle of it all - that was me! It opened a massive number of sources, many over a century out of print, private research papers, private publications - my cup runeth over! By now my wife had long regretted her passing remark of 1977!
1995 saw the purchase of a P.C. and some suitable software. I began to move from a somewhat disorganised paper world to that of electronics, but only as fast as my two typing fingers could carry me – in other words - slowly. The year 2000 brought the World Wide Web to our home and I found I was not alone. There were other mad men and women all over the world who were just as fatally infected with the disease as I. It was not long before I had uploaded the results of my laborious typing on to the internet, first with Rootsweb and then with Gencircles. This brought about a change in lifestyle. I began to receive emails. It started with a couple a week, then a couple a day, then 15/20 a day. People were asking for more information, advice on how to trace their own family and there were even a welcome few who offered me additions and updates. There is a fantastic lady, Mary Brewer, in New Mexico who scans the U.S. newspapers and lets me know who's hatched, matched and dispatched on her side of the "pond." I have lately made another cyber friend who is as obsessed as I. Barry Noonan, of Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.A. specialises in indexing the B.M. & D. in the London Times newspaper and has provided me with most valuable updates from this wonderful source. By popular demand I began to add some of the more prominent noble families to the database.
2000 also saw my retirement from a commercial bank after 33 years of service. After a year I found myself missing the social contact of the office environment so I placed my vast administrative experience at the beck and call of Her Britannic Majesty's Government and became a part time civil servant! This gave me a reason to get up in the morning and still left time for my obsession. Life was good if a little hectic what with feeding the computer, new research and answering the ever increasing number of emails. I was even doing research in the county of Surrey for three professional research companies and penning some articles on British history for a U.S. magazine.
Both Rootsweb and Gencircles decided to stop showing details of living people - or rather living people born in or after 1930. My "in Box" crashed three times in a week with the number of emails I received from all over the world asking why their particular family had suddenly disappeared. All I could say was that it was beyond my control. I contacted both hosts to see if I could be excepted as most of my material was already in the public domain but was told it was a "policy decision." This prompted me to consider my own website. Unfortunately, what I knew about website construction could be written in large letters on the head of a pin! An extremely steep learning curve in the use of MS Publisher ensued as I tentatively constructed my first web page - much to the amusement of my two sons, one of whom is in the business. In May 2003 I went LIVE on the web with Rootsweb as the host. My very own website!! Phrases such as, "Oh! I have my own website you know," entered my conversation. I was so chuffed! It was only 15 pages but it was all mine. Over the next year it was to expand though not without problems. Still, that's what makes it fun ( or so they tell me!). As the Descendants of William the Conqueror in text form grew so did the problems - how to index the thing, how to add and fill holes in the database. I no longer had the freedom of moving from B to M and back to F, I had to go from A to B and so on. Unfortunately I had no alternative but to continue - or so I thought.
In April 2004 I purchased a genealogical magazine that happened to have a free CD disk of software. I loaded it on to my machine, had a cursory look and thought no more about it for a couple of weeks. Then, one of those wet April afternoons, I took another look, particularly at Legacy 5. I discovered what a great programme it was AND it could even produce a WEBSITE for you all by itself!!
I attempted to transfer by means of a GEDCOM my original database (90,000 names) to Legacy but the various note and fact fields did not equate to my satisfaction. It would mean going through 90,000 individual records and changing much of the contents. The only alternative was to input from scratch - AND SO I DID.
Life continued merrily with me feeding data in to the computer and periodically uploading to the web site. I did, however, have reservations on the format. I began to receive emails from people asking questions, the answers to which were on the database. It was becoming obvious that the site was not user friendly! I asked the expert in the family – Tom, my younger son – for advice.
His contribution was, “Why don’t you learn HTML?” When I had stopped laughing and wiped the tears from my eyes, he repeated the suggestion and added, “It’s really not that difficult Dad!” You know – he was right! Armed with a book from Amazon, it took me three days to constructed a reasonable webpage. I soon found a new host as I didn’t want to scrap the existing free site. However, constructing a text site brought back the old problem of indexing. This was solved by the purchase of a search engine from Freefind. My only remaining problem is my slow typing – but that’s something I’ll have to live with!
That is my journey to date. The "Conqueror" database will continue to expand over the years so keep it safely in your Bookmarked items. I have 400,000 direct descendants of William the Conqueror, plus spouses and many fathers of spouses, plus the new research I am doing all the time. I hope you will benefit from the information I present here and find it interesting.
Of all the hobbies that people can pursue Family History is one of the most fulfilling. I will leave you with this final thought. In 1627, in the parish of St. Thomas, in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, a child was baptised Simion Hulcop. By the time of the birth of his first child, a daughter, Sarah, he was a shoemaker, and he lived long enough to see her married, in the same church, to Michael Russell in 1680. Simion never changed the world, he never wrote a book; the only marks he left were a few lines in a Parish Register. But to me he is very important. He was my ten times great grandfather and without him I would not exist. A few thimbles of his blood flow in my veins and in the veins of my two sons. We are his immortality. In twelve generations time will we be remembered thus?
Good luck in your research and if any of you think I can point you in the right direction, feel free to email me (using “Conqueror” as the subject). However, please remember I am not Yoda, I don’t have the time to DO research for other people, nor do I have a bottomless pit of British Parish Records – that’s what the internet is for! I just may have come across the same problem as you at some time!
Byfleet, Surrey, England.
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2012 Alan Freer