This article first appeared back in the '90s in "Origins", the magazine of the Buckinghamshire F.H.S. Shortly afterwards, Michael Gandy, the well-known genealogist, proposed a magazine exchange between the BFHS and his own society. One of the magazines he received contained this article. He immediately recognised several names, contacted me, established that we are 4th cousins, and provided me with years of research taking me back to the early 18th century and beyond. For ten years I have been quite unable to repay his kindness: but only this weekend someone contacted me and gave me the maiden name of one of our ancestresses ... so, at last, I have been able to pass on a NEW piece of information to him!
Regular readers of the "Help Wanted" column may know that, although I have pages of pedigrees for my husband who is Bucks farmer since time began, I've not progressed beyond my grandfather on my father's side. According to my father, they had 'always' lived in a little Merseyside fishing village called Penketh but beyond giving me names and approximate dates for his aunts and uncles, there I stuck. I bought my grandparents' marriage certificate from St Catherines but couldn't face another trip there; and the indexes at Aylesbury at that time were too early to let me find out any more. A couple of kind members have tried to help but Lancashire records seem to be spread out all over the place. At last I discovered that Penketh has been moved to Cheshire so no wonder they can't be found in Lancashire!
The other day, my plastered kneecap(I had broken it) and I were in to the Record Office looking up odd things for other people (here I hasten to say that I am NOT one of the societies experts and usually pass queries on to our Editor but I had collected a fistful of very simple 'quickies'). After a virtuous morning I was going up to the Local Studies Library for my lift home when I glanced at the visitor's book. The address of the last couple to sign in was PENKETH!!
They must have thought I was a babbling lunatic as I rushed over as fast as my peg-leg would carry me and tried to explain in whispers why I was so thrilled to meet them. 'What period' and 'what surname' he asked - turned back a few pages in his notebook - there was the 1851 census for Penketh all neatly transcribed, with 3 households of Athertons. In an accent just like my Uncle Frank, he said Warrington Library might have the 1891 census (Grandpa was born about 1888) and he might be going in there next Tuesday.
Afraid to embarrass them further, I scribbled down my name and address and, joy of joys, they offered theirs. I promised to look up anything, ANYTHING for them if they could help me just a little and made my exit, trying not to whoop with excitement.
That night I sent them a copy of my almost non-existent tree and the details my father had given me, repeated my offers of everything I could think of that I might be able to do for them that they might have forgotten or overlooked ... and waited.
Ten days later a fat envelope popped through the door. The letter, signed 'with best wishes from the ancestral homeland', gave me the reference for Grandpa's birth certificate and the address of Warrington Register office. Off went letter and cheque to them and I turned to the rest. Page after page of Athertons in Penketh from all the censuses and from Great Sankey next door - but no Grandpa.
One family in particular was every researcher's dream. Not only did they stay put in the same parish for 50 years and more, they had mother-in-law visiting in 1851 (so I had a bride's surname for searching the St Catherine's indexes); the daughters married but only moved next door with some of their children sleeping at Grandma's house to show the connection. But no sign of Grandpa in 1891. However in 1861 a son Mark aged 6 appeared - and Grandpa's father was called Mark too. He wasn't on the 1891 census either. There was a daughter Ann whose details (she was one of the ones who married and moved next door) matched a marriage certificate my father had found. I knew in my bones that I'd found them!
Grandpa's birth certificate came back by return of post. One advantage of a local register office is that they will make 'reasonable' searches for a period up to 5 years - all for £5.50(Now £6.50) per certificate. Three more certificates and I had it all confirmed, my bones were right, back to 1818.
I was still drawing trees and gloating when another envelope arrived. Not just my grandpa on the 1891 census of Warrington, living with his mother's family this time, complete with siblings my father didn't know about; but a copy of a long and fascinating 1921 newspaper obituary of a probable great-uncle and, nicest of all, a greetings card from Warrington museum of a 1772 painting of 'Warrington from Atherton's Quay'.
What can I do to repay such a lovely man? He still hasn't even told me the names or villages in Buckinghamshire he is researching. Perhaps he doesn't want me to spoil his fun by helping - I can sympathise with that. May all his trees grow like weeds! I started to feel miserably guilty until my daughter reminded me of the hours I spend on the marriage database. Yes I do - and on occasion I have spent days extracting details from the 1930s research I 'inherited' from a distant cousin for some unknown and unrelated researcher.
There was some correspondence recently in 'Family Tree' magazine about sending off details of your life's work to strangers who sometimes don't even bother to acknowledge it. My response to that is - go ahead and do it! Over the last six years I have been in both positions. I have received trees so complete and well-researched that I can give nothing back in return; and I have also sent off umpteen generations with copies of wills, photos of houses and extracts from enclosure awards to people who have only just started. Of course it's easier for me - I print it all out from my computer so I don't have to pay for photocopying but it still takes a very long time.
I can't say it strongly enough - if ever you feel grumpily that you are forever sending things off without getting anything back, remember - just round the corner you might meet a Man from Penketh!