Family Wise Young Genealogist Experience

26 April 2024

Hi, my name is Sophie and I was the winner of the Young Genealogist Experience competition. Here I am going to be detailing everything I got up to – I hope you enjoy!

Sunday Afternoon

With my suitcase packed, I set off from home. Drastically, my signal died halfway through my journey to Calne and I got lost. However, I had become lost in the perfect place. in the lovely town of Marlborough! I got out and did some exploring and also found a lovely coffee shop.

I looked round both of the churches in Marlborough and even found a plaque saying that Henry VIII’s famous cardinal, Thomas Wolsey, was ordained at one of them.

I made it safely to Calne, and found my lovely room in the Lansdowne Hotel- which is a 16th century coaching inn and a grade 2 listed building. I then had dinner at a pub in Chippenham, and went to bed, ready for my first day at Family Wise.

Monday – Day 1

I woke up bright and early and went for breakfast at the hotel. I then headed the short two-minute walk to the Family Wise office where I finally got to meet Kirsty (Managing Director) and David (Case Management & Training Support) in person, and some of the other lovely staff such as James (Deputy Managing Director), finance, research and admin assistants.

I was given a tour of the Family Wise office, and then I had a general discussion with David about all things family history, DNA, genealogy and probate research. I was able to look at the family history binders that members of the team had put together for clients, tracing their ancestors. We also discussed search techniques for unknown DNA matches on Ancestry who have limited information on their trees.

I sat down to being my activities for the day: I was given an old probate case to look at, attempting to trace the beneficiaries. I was mostly successful!

Another task I had was looking at letters dated from the 1960s, 70s and 80s that belonged to David’s family. My challenge was to try and identify any of the individuals mentioned in the letters, using the names and addresses. We have identified a couple! One of them was a theatre correspondent for a London newspaper.

Later, I went out for a meal with the team at an Italian Restaurant in Calne, which was very lovely also and great to get to know them better.

I had a great first day: it was exhausting but incredibly fun, and it was great to be surrounded by other people with a similar passion as me and hear all of their interesting stories!

Tuesday – Day 2

Day 2 started with some maths and fractions! David worked through an example of a probate case, and explained how the inheritance would have been divided up between the beneficiaries: per stirpes rather than per capita. I have a much clearer idea now of how the whole process works.

I also learnt more about the initiatives from Family Wise. They are launching a campaign to help trace families and friends those in care homes, in order to facilitate reunions. This is also free of charge, which I think it is a fantastic idea, as sadly so many die without their family being aware.

I also took part in a quiz treasure hunt, which included passenger lists and immigration records for Australia, trying to piece a family together. It was great to branch out, and to do some international research.

After lunch, I went through the probate case I had done the day previously. I went through spotting mistakes in a bad set of research notes for the same case, highlighting the importance of thorough and correct research. I then practised finding the beneficiaries for another probate case, but this time tackling common surnames such as Jones, in a large city, which was slightly trickier!

Once again, it was a great day in a fast-paced and busy environment.

In the evening, I went for a drive to the villages of Compton Bassett and Hilmarton nearby, where my own ancestors are from. I walked round the churches and was lucky enough to find the gravestones of some 6x great grand aunts! I would definitely recommend, if you are able to, visiting the places where your ancestors were from.

Wednesday – Day 3

Unfortunately, Wednesday was my last day at Family Wise: the time had gone far too fast. I looked through another probate case, and then came my next challenge. We were waiting for the Bona Vacantia list which is updated daily, and which is a list of all of the unclaimed estates. It came out with 31 new cases. My challenge was to tackle a live case from this list that had appeared that day!

I definitely felt like the pressure was on, as this time my practice was being put into reality, but it was still very enjoyable, and I managed to find some beneficiaries!

Partway through a gentleman came into the office wanting to be reunited with an old friend. The team were able to assist him in minutes and to suggest the best method of reuniting them so that all parties would be comfortable. I was amazed that Family Wise did not charge for this service, nor for their assistance.

Later in the day, I took part in an audio interview with the Marketing Manager about my time here, as well as writing this blog.

I also had the opportunity to see a family Bible that was being sent off to a beneficiary and needed to be weighed for postage. This shows how there are a wide range of tasks (often the unexpected!) in this job. The Bible itself was incredibly fascinating, as it had recorded details about births, marriages and deaths of a particular family, reminding us of the importance of family heirlooms.

My time at Family Wise has been amazing, and I have really enjoyed being in the office and meeting the team, and also spending time in Calne. I would definitely recommend the Young Genealogist experience for anyone else thinking of applying in the future!

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