Discovering that family history is more than just the internet

My own personal interest in family history stems from my father. He has always been fascinated with the past and he takes great pride in learning about his ancestors. Therefore I already had a head start with my family tree, as my father had pulled a lot of information together – it just wasn’t in a ‘tree’ format and he had never used a subscription site.

I started my journey using Ancestry and our family tree rapidly grew with the vast amount of sources available and I believed it was very detailed. How very wrong I was... Working at the History Centre opened my eyes to the vast number of primary sources I was missing because I had only been using the internet. Suddenly the scope for information was more than I imagined.

I am directly descended from a prominent Blackpool family - the Fieldings. There were two very successful building companies in the Fielding family, Joseph Fielding and Sons and R Fielding and Sons. They built much of north Blackpool and had a large brickworks factory at Hoo Hill and Ashburton Road.

As a Heritage Assistant, I needed to understand and be able to work with the various sources in the History Centre. So I had the perfect opportunity to use my family as a learning tool for my job.

I began with the burial registers for Layton and Carleton as I was reliably informed that we often get queries involving look-ups in the indexes for the cemeteries. I looked in both the indexes and found that my great-great-great grandparents were buried in Layton Cemetery. The burial register gave me an exact date of death and the inscription on their tombstone:

“In loving memory of Isabella wife of William Fielding who died March 17 1917 aged 64 years. Also of the above William Fielding who died May 14 1924 aged 70 years. Also James died April 5 1887 aged 14 months. Also Alice who died April 18 1889 aged 20 months. Also Arthur died Aug 16 1889 aged 8 months. Children of the above.”

The next sources were the electoral registers, which are lists of everyone who is eligible to vote in a given year. Aside from a few early registers they are organised by address and therefore very time consuming to use if you do not know where your family lived. However, they do open the opportunity to be able to follow the footsteps of your relatives through the houses they lived in. As my ancestors were in the building industry, I was also able to find their business addresses by using the trade directories. Using the OS Maps in the History Centre also allowed me to see the actual location of the company, the streets where my family lived and how the town looked in 1893, 1912, 1932 and 1938. Very different from today, that’s for sure!

One customer arrived asking about previous Blackpool mayors and I found a list for them on the council website, only to find that there was a Fielding on the list. I was pretty certain at a first glance that he was not a direct relative; however, after a small amount of research I discovered that Mayor Thomas Fielding is my great-great-great-great-uncle and was Mayor of Blackpool between 1908 and 1910. This was extremely interesting, as on the 1911 Census his occupation is ‘retired contractor and builder’ – no indication of his prominence in Blackpool Council!

The best resources for family history detail are the historical newspapers. Through the newspapers I found the reason that my family came to Blackpool in the first place and why they started a building company:

5th December 1903, Blackpool Times

“It is interesting – at the same time affording a high testimony to Blackpool’s recuperative powers – to recall how Mr and Mrs Fielding came to reside in Blackpool. In 1864 they were, along with their family, residing in Heywood, Mrs Fielding at that time being in very delicate health. Her medical adviser did all that he could for her, and as a last resource advocated them taking up their residence at Blackpool. This they did, and the effect was marvellous. Mrs Fielding lived another forty years, eleven years after her husband passed away. When Mr and Mrs Fielding came to Blackpool houses were so scarce they had to take lodgings until they could build a house. That was the commencement of the very extensive building operations which Messrs Fielding have carried out on their North Shore estate and in other parts of the town.”

I had no idea that historical newspapers held such valuable pieces of information. The depth of information I gleaned about my family’s fashion sense was fascinating:

24th August 1906, Blackpool Herald

“Miss Helen Fielding was daintily gowned in white embroidered muslin with fichu of embroiderie anglais, her folded belt of pale blue silk setting off her dress with pretty effect. Her white felt hat in the mushroom style, was trimmed with ribbon and chiffon, with white tips.”

I also found that my great-great-grandfather, Joseph Fielding, was appointed, after the establishment of the NHS in 1948, by the Manchester Regional Hospital Board to be the first chairman of the newly-constituted Blackpool and Fylde Hospital Management Committee.

I always knew my musical skills came from my great-grandmother, Margaret Mason, but I never really knew much about where she played. I found out that my great-grandmother was a medal winner at the Blackpool Musical Festival, and the early programmes say what the entrants had to play for their category. I am now in the process of finding the pieces of music she played so I can try them out for myself!

There is so much I have learnt about my family since using original material, and I wish that more people took the opportunity to find information in the newspapers, directories and all the other sources that are located at the History Centre in Blackpool.

Lucy Stewart

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