The fundamental starting point when beginning to research your family history is to start with what you know. You hear it time and time again – dig out old documents and talk to family members. The trouble with talking to family members is, of course, where do you start? If you sit down Great Aunt Edith and say “tell me about the family” it’s going to be a short conversation. You need to be careful with how you word your questions to ensure you get the most information. Any family anecdotes add colour to your story and may include snippets of information that will later help progress your research. A student of mine told me other day that she’d been tracing one line for a while and stumbled upon the record of a potential family grave which had a huge impact on the direction research should take. When she questioned the family she was told they knew all about it but “didn’t think it was important”.
I’ve been questioning my poor Dad relentlessly since I became interested in family history and I thought I’d extracted all the humorous tales over the years. Until the other weekend when the sentence started “the day the policeman brought me home”! I’m sorry, what?
Pictured below is my Dad aged two. A sweet looking child I’m sure you’ll agree.
So my, until now crime-free, Dad was messing about with some friends near an old hollow tree when the local Bobby walked by. Suspicion aroused by their cagey behaviour he approached them to ask them what they were up to and stuck his head into the tree for a closer look just as the bangers they’d thrown in exploded! Dad was understandably walked home so the policeman could have a word with his parents. This was the 1950s and the front door wasn’t often used. Dad automatically took the policeman around the back of the house where he was given a friendly greeting by the family Alsatian. The policeman, or in the dog’s eyes, the intruder didn’t fare so well and my Dad left him pinned against the garden wall whilst he went to fetch my Grandma.
Unfortunately it appears that playing with explosives runs in the family. During the Second World War Birmingham was hit a number of times by incendiary bombs. On one of these raids my great grandfather secured an unexploded incendiary bomb as a “souvenir”. I know what you’re thinking: he wasn’t daft. A mechanic by trade, he carefully unwound the end of the bomb containing the explosive and removed the explosive, thus making it safe. He then proceeded to engrave the date on the side of the bomb casing for posterity and it was hung above the fireplace. Years later after my great grandparents had died and my grandparents had inherited the souvenir, some remodelling was ongoing and my Grandma wanted rid of it. She is quoted as saying to my Grandad “you can’t put a bomb in the bin!” So he decided the best thing to do was build a nice big bonfire, get it nice and hot and melt it. At the time my Dad and his friends (let’s just call them the “hooligans” now shall we?) were playing out on an area behind the bottom of the garden. They heard the massive explosion and ran to see what had happened just in time to see my Grandad crawling back out of the hedge on the other side of the garden that the blast had thrown him into. So apparently there was also an small explosive charge in an incendiary bomb, the device that had hung over the family fireplace for years. I believe the local Constable made a visit that day too.
Remember to keep questioning your relatives, you never know what you’ll uncover!