Time detectives

PUBLISHED: 05:28 26 January 2015

Volunteers at the Norfolk Family History Society. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Volunteers at the Norfolk Family History Society. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2014

If you want to discover more about your ancestors in the county, a great place to start is the volunteer-run Norfolk Family History Society in Norwich.

For those searching for information to piece together their ancestry, the Norfolk Family History Society is a precious resource.

Run entirely by volunteers, it not only provides a wealth of information for those living in the county, it has members all over the world, from Europe to America and Australia – all of whom would be lost without the hard work and dedication of the team in Norwich.

It was founded by Patrick Palgrave-Moore in 1968 as the Norfolk and Norwich Genealogical Society following an increase in the number of people keen to explore their past. In 1990, the society submitted a design for a coat of arms, symbolising Norfolk’s rural heritage and the family tree, with the fitting Latin motto “Praeterita Scutari” translating to “Researching the past”, and it remains at the heart of the organisation today.

It was renamed the Norfolk Family History Society in 1999 and now has more than 4000 members. For the past 15 years its home has been Kirby Hall in Norwich, where visitors can explore the countless records it holds – from parish register transcripts, census returns and wills to family trees, pedigrees books and photographs.

Many volunteers who work there began as members, researching their own Norfolk family tree before becoming hooked on the investigative process of searching through the archives and records. Television programmes like the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? series, which explores the family trees of celebrities, has helped to build the surge in interest in genealogy.

Many of those at the centre also enjoy the interaction with other fellow amateur genealogists who can empathise with the frustrations and thrills of looking into one’s family history. Most researchers hit brick walls along the way in their hunt for leads, but the fascinating “detective work” keeps people working on their family trees for sometimes many years and even decades.

As well as a team of volunteers who run the library, man the desk, answer enquiries and show people the various resources, there are also those busy all over the world transcribing records. This transcription work is very involved and time-consuming, and the centre has volunteers who are transcribing parish registers and memorial inscriptions. They will also talk to vicars and record information and take photographs to ensure that the records are as comprehensive as possible. This work can be done wherever a member lives, and sometimes those who are working on the transcriptions abroad will visit the centre while they are in this country. Some will come to Norfolk to visit the county of their family origin, to learn more about where their ancestors lived and to visit the churches where they were baptised, married and buried.

Although anyone can visit the Norwich centre for free, the society charges a membership fee for those wishing to access the vast archive on its website. It also writes and publishes a quarterly newsletter, The Norfolk Ancestor, which is sent all over the world.

The website is a great resource for those wishing to search through its extraordinary amount of material online, from parish records and memorial transcriptions to birth, marriage and death certificates and wills. The library at the centre also has pedigree books and many family trees which have been donated by people who have researched them - these can sometimes save those with shared relatives many months of trawling through archives.

As well as encouraging volunteers to join with them in the interesting work that the centre does, its organisers hope that more people will realise what a rich resource it is for anyone looking to discover more about their Norfolk ancestors.

Kirby Hall, 70 St Giles Street, Norwich, NR2 1LS; 01603 763718; www.norfolkfhs.org.uk

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