It’s a familiar tale — an ancient family album filled with black and white photographs, yellowed and dog-eared with age, the faces of young men and women in uniform gazing proudly from the pages.
The problem is the only people who knew them in life have long since passed away, often taking the many stories of these brave ancestors to their grave.
Now, The University of Nottingham is to offer a helping hand to people interested in finding out more about the part their family may have played in the First World War at a free community open day later this month.
Hidden Histories — First World War Family History Day
will take place on University Park campus on Tuesday July 21 and will feature a range of speakers who will share their expertise and offer beginners tips and advice on how to make the best start in researching their past.
Exploring the past
Michael Noble, Community Liaison Officer at the centre, said: “For many people, the First World War acted as a direct link between private family life and major world events. We’d like to help people in the 21st century to explore these links and to find out how their families experienced the war.”
Keynote speakers for the day include:
A representative from the Imperial War Museum who will talk about the museum’s Lives of the First World War
— an online resource which offers the opportunity to commemorate service men and women through a mix of official records, photographs and personal testaments
• Anne-Marie Kramer
, a lecturer in The University of Nottingham’s School of Sociology and Social Policy, who will speak about the development and use of family history
Professor Kurt Barling who will offer insight into the Middlesex Family History Project
, which is seeking family stories and photographs of those who served in the Middlesex Regiment from their descendants
• Nottinghamshire Archives
, home to the World War I: Nottinghamshire Memorials Project, a resource commemorating local soldiers who fought and died in ‘Flanders Fields’.
Piecing together the jigsaw
One person who knows first-hand the sense of personal satisfaction that researching family history can bring is Prudie Robbins, who was assisted by the Centre for Hidden Histories in charting the life of her great uncle Captain Jacob Hardy Smith, a former University of Nottingham student and member of the Officer Training Corps at the University, who died as a result of his heroic actions on the Somme on 29th August 1916.
Due to Jacob’s link with the University, Michael Noble offered Prudie assistance in uncovering official documents relating to his life and in commemorating his life and service via the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War online.
Prudie said: “The research really took over my life,” she said. “It was like a giant jigsaw puzzle and it has taken me the length and breadth of the country chasing leads. I would spend hours scanning the internet before finding another potential clue and then off I’d go again.
“I would recommend this type of family research to anyone, it really has been quite an adventure. Before I began on this journey I really knew very little about my grandmother’s side of our family. Previously, Jacob had been little more than an anonymous face in a photograph and a small collection of his surviving possessions. Now I feel I know more of the man and can be proud to be a part of his family.”
The Hidden Histories — First World War Family History Day takes place on Tuesday July 21 from 9.30am to 4.30pm in the Department of History, Lenton Grove and the Digital Humanities Centre on University Park Campus. A buffet lunch is included in the day.
The event is completely free but it is essential that those interested in attending register online
— Ends —
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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with campuses in China and Malaysia modelled on a headquarters that is among the most attractive in Britain’ (Times Good University Guide 2014). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers and the winner of ‘Research Project of the Year’ at the THE Awards 2014. It is ranked in the world’s top one per cent of universities by the QS World University Rankings, and 8th in the UK by research power according to REF 2014.
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