Depending on the kindness of strangers


Researching my husband’s maternal grandfather’s British tree was a daunting task. Due in part to his non-combat death during World War II, I had almost no information to go on – just his name and two or three random facts. One of these random facts eventually opened up a wonderful, large tree going back (so far) to 18th century Suffolk and Norfolk, England. None of it would have been discovered however, without the kindness of strangers.

The pivotal information was that he attended Cambridge University. I was unable to find any records online of my Mr. Martin’s time at Cambridge, but it turns out that the university has archivists on staff who keep this information. With just a quick email, a University archivist replied with dates, home address, the name of one parent, and the boarding school attended previous to admission to Cambridge. I was also told that his college within Cambridge was Selwyn. Again, Selwyn College had a staff member who promptly provided me not only with more biographical info, but she even sent a photograph of Mr. Martin with the 1926 Selwyn College rugby team.

Following up with another email to the Cheltenham boarding school in Gloucestershire, an archivist there quickly sent back even more details about the early life of my husband’s grandfather. His home address was given in the form of a house name in Southampton, UK. This house name, and his family name, led to finding his father who was born in Norfolk, and the tree branches began filling in from there.

Additional help was kindly provided by a lawyer in Winchester, UK. Having found evidence that a family member applied for British citizenship during the 1920s, I emailed the firm handling the citizenship application, on the off chance that they might have information. The staff there has been very helpful looking up old records from nearly 100 years ago, without any mention of compensation for their time and trouble.

Genealogy does sometimes depend on the kindness of strangers!

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