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Thursday, 02 October 2014

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Great grandad was a Workington hotelier

Sue Johnston

IF YOU’VE ever wondered if your grandad was a war hero, or where your great-grandparents lived, then you’re not alone.

More than four million people in the UK study their family history each year to find out about their past.

This month, the BBC launches a new family history project to encourage people to discover their ancestors and background.

A 10-part BBC2 documentary series, Who Do You Think You Are? starts on Tuesday and will take celebrities back to their roots.

Sue Johnston, who played the long-suffering mother in the Royle Family and starred in Brookside and Waking the Dead, has retraced her family’s Cumbrian connections for the show.

The 60 year-old, who is from Warrington in Cheshire, was spotted filming scenes for the show in Cumbria earlier this summer.

The programme - due to be broadcast on November 2 - will reveal that from the 1850s, Sue’s great-grandfather, James Cowan, lived in Carlisle, where his first wife died of consumption.

In 1866 he married Sue’s great-grandmother, Elizabeth, who was working as a domestic servant in the County Hotel.

James started work at the station in 1855 as a porter, and was a foreman when he left in 1876.

He then went into the hotel business and ran the Station Hotel, Workington during the 1880s and the Globe Hotel, Whitehaven in the 1890s.

James’ son (Sue’s grandfather) Alfred Cowan was born at the Station Hotel in Workington in 1885.

After starting work aged 21 as a cleaner at Workington station, he worked his way up to become a train driver on the London Midland and Scottish line.

Susan Dench, senior archivist at Carlisle Record Office and chairman of the Cumbria Family History Society, said a BBC researcher delved into the Johnston family history at the office before a film crew arrived to shoot scenes with the TV star.

Other celebrities taking part in Who Do You Think You Are? include comedian Vic Reeves, motoring presenter Jeremy Clarkson and newsreader Moira Stuart.

A survey by YouGov for the National Archives website 1837online found that one in eight people in the UK are tracing their roots and half of those surveyed started their research in the past year, suggesting a resurgence in interest.

Susan, an archivist for 30 years, said interest in family history had grown over the past 15 to 20 years and had been given a recent boost thanks to the internet and TV programmes.

She said that the best way to start was by writing down everything you knew about your family on a sheet of paper.

“Ask older relatives to fill in any gaps and get them to share their stories,” she said.

“Correspondence such as dated letters, birth and marriage certificates, or school certificates can also be useful. When you’ve collected as much information as you can, go along to your local records office.”

Cumbria Archive Service has two record offices covering west and north Cumbria - the Whitehaven office in Scotch Street and the Carlisle office in the castle - which include parish and church registers of baptisms, marriages and deaths, census returns, archives of local newspapers, wills and property records.

The Family Records Centre in London has records of all births, deaths and marriages in England and Wales since 1837 and the centre’s indexes are on microfiche at the main libraries in Carlisle and Whitehaven.

Go to www.1837online.com for more information. Graveyards and cemeteries may also be worth a try.

“If you can trace back 300 years then you’re doing well, ”Susan added. “It does tend to get more difficult the further back you go because of lack of documentation.”

Always work backwards, beginning with what you know.

You must register for a reader’s ticket at a records office so take proof of your name, home address and signature.

Never assume a link between individuals, just because the place or name seems right, always look for proof

Establish a clear set of objectives when you visit an archive and limit them as far as possible. Ask yourself: what do I know? What do I want to know? Where should I look? Why should I look there?

Get organised - file your information to keep it in order

Don’t forget organisations like the Cumbria Family History Society and specialist publications and magazines can help with tips and advice.

CONTACTS: Cumbria Archive Service: www.cumbria.gov.uk/archives

www.1901census.nationalarchives.gov.uk

www.familyrecords.gov.uk

The Times & Star has a dedicated friends and family history section on its website.

Anyone looking for long lost relatives or friends just needs to click on to Forums and follow the link to family history.

Recent additions include a search for Ashley Quayle, who lived in or near Maryport and was killed when travelling home for demob in mid-1952 and details wanted about old farms at Rogerscale, The Green Lorton, The Green Eaglesfield and High Dyke for a researcher who has traced their Fletcher and Wilson family history back to the 17th century.

For more information log onto www.timesandstar.co.uk

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