Recently I found myself researching some relatives in a tiny village in County Durham, England. I’ve tracked my family of interest from the 1851 through the 1881 census and then they disappeared, likely taking their final rest in the local Catholic cemetery. I reached out via email to the parish, asking if the church had any cemetery records from the 1880s and 1890s. A deacon kindly wrote back that after a period of time has passed, his church sends its old registers for safekeeping to a regional archive.
But it seems the deacon did more than just point me to another repository. He also passed my email on to the secretary of the parish council, Jim McLean. And Jim and I are definitely kindred spirits. In the most delightful week of email exchanges, I’ve told Jim a bit about the family I’m researching and he’s provided countless details of local history and culture. “239 coal mines in Co. Durham have all disappeared.” “This area used to be called "LITTLE IRELAND" because of the number of people from Ireland who came here for work - usually in the coal mines or shipyards.”
Jim walked the cemetery for me looking for Grahams, but the earliest grave he found was from 1924, too late to be the people I seek. Apparently it is common in his locality for graves to be emptied after many years so that the land can be used again.
He’s helped me with local pronunciations – Leadgate’s initial vowel is a short “e” like the metal – and he even sent me pictures of the church (20 miles away from him) where my great-great grandmother’s sister was married in 1854. He looked through the archives for those parish records and found one of the two I was looking for. And just for fun he sent me some pictures of Old Hall in Wessington, the ancestral home of George Washington.
I may have been able to repay the favor in kind a bit today, locating a newspaper article about one of his relatives who died in California in 1874. Jim knew the date, but not the circumstances, and I’m excited for him to read the article and see the death record and 120 page probate file I found!
The last week of correspondence with my new-found friend has been delightful. I look forward to more. My advice to you? Ask a question. You just never know where it might lead.
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.