In the second instalment of his blogs on plotting your family tree, Mr Londoner calls in the experts.
This summer, Blue and Green Badge Tourist Guides are joining forces with the professional research arm of ancestry.com - the company that helps people trace their family history.
Ancestry’s ProGenealogists (ProGen) comprise the organisation’s specialist arm. It provides professional research services and helps clients explore their family tree. ProGen works across the globe and with American clients in particular, many of whom are keen to explore US connections in Britain. Some of these visitors may be inspired by the Founding Fathers and the voyage of the Mayflower and others by more recent history, especially events related to World War Two and its aftermath.
Before lockdown, Blue and Green badged guides enjoyed welcoming guests whose parents or grandparents served with US forces. A popular London visit for them includes the Cabinet War Rooms - Winston Churchill’s secret bunker under the streets of London. St Paul’s Cathedral is a place to reflect on the special bond between British and American people. It’s here, in the American Memorial Chapel, that visitors can see the Book of Remembrance. This contains the details of the 28,000 US personal who died on active service while based in wartime Britain.
There are many other sites throughout the UK with inspiring American stories from across the decades. Plymouth and Portsmouth, on England’s south coast, both have strong connections to the D-Day Landings. The American Cemetery in Cambridge is another deeply-moving memorial to US service personnel who died on active service throughout Europe. It’s maintained by the American Battle Monuments’ Commission. This tends to the graves of the 124,000 US personnel who are buried outside the States - in Europe, Vietnam, Korea, Mexico and beyond.
Finding more about any long-lost relatives however can take a bit of time and effort. Research requires patience and a bit of a luck.
But it’s worth sticking at it. Alternatively, you can enlist the help of the experts. ProGen’s researchers have a life-time of knowledge and know-how. They provide an in-depth service for those looking into their own family tree. Clients include those who need a bit of help or lack the time to undertake complex research. In addition to family trees, ProGen provides DNA analysis - another highly-specialist service, tailored around clients’ individual needs. As lockdown lifts, we hope to work in partnership with ProGen to help to guide clients through their personal journey while here in the UK.
Debra Carter is a Research Team Manager for ProGen’s UK’s research team.
“We help curious people embark on journeys of personal discovery. With years of experience, we know where to look - and which record sources suit a particular type of research. Each find we make is exciting for our clients, no matter whether their ancestors were rich or poor, as it relates to their own unique family history,” she says.
ProGen starts with a detailed assessment of what clients have already discovered. The team then uses sources online at Ancestry.com and often archive records which have not yet been digitised and made available online. “Anyone starting their family history should begin with said family. Ask your oldest relative first. We begin with our client’s personal knowledge and their family records. Birth, marriage and death certificate, letters and family bibles all help to grow the family tree. Armed with this information, clients can then begin searching records themselves or commission our experts instead,” Debra explains.
Sometimes clients’ research can hit a brick wall. ProGen loves a challenge however and this is where its expertise can overcome obstacles, especially where someone is new to family history and research. Key sources here include: passenger lists; birth; marriage and death notices; obituaries and cemetery records - together with electoral rolls.
We hope that, when we know it’s safer to do so, that more people exploring their family tree will seek to complete their journey with a visit to the UK. At this point they might choose to hire an accredited and badged guide. This way, they’ll get the best out of the trip. They will see the land of their ancestors through the eyes of a native. They’ll also appreciate it through the perspective of a skilled expert - and one who can open doors that would otherwise remain closed.
Like the ProGen researchers, Blue and Green Badged Tourist Guides are the best in the business. We study for up to two years to really get to know our towns, cities and regions. If your family tree points you to the docks at Plymouth, a former mill in Lancashire or an airbase in Cambridgeshire, we’ll be able to match you up to the right researcher - and the right guide too.