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Gravesend geneologist tells how tracing family trees can be addictive

PUBLISHED: 10:55 17 May 2013

Tony filled his family tree with around 6,000 distant relatives.

Tony filled his family tree with around 6,000 distant relatives.

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How much do you know about your distant relatives? Were they boot-makers in Bognor, farmers in Fulham or perhaps rulers of the nation?

Online archives mean Tony rarely has to visit the national archives in Kew.Online archives mean Tony rarely has to visit the national archives in Kew.

For Tony Featherstone, a professional geneologist, these are questions he answers on a daily basis as he combs through birth and marriage certificates to piece together families.

The father-of-two, from Gravesend, set up Family History Reports two years ago and can spend up to three months at a time searching through generations for his clients.

His passion for family trees came from researching his own, which proved enticing enough to lure him away from a career as an accountant.

“I have about 6,000 individuals on that tree now and I realised I had come to the end of that,” said Tony. “A friend asked me to do it for them too and I realised I could make a living out of something I loved doing.”

Tony traced the French ancestors of William the ConquerorTony traced the French ancestors of William the Conqueror

People with family rooted in Britain can be traced back as far as the 1700s with relative ease, says Tony, 52, whose research is often made harder if relatives are spread across the globe.

Easiest of all to trace are those who have blue blood as documents concerning royalty often stretch right back to the days of William the Conqueror.

Tony said: “I did a big family tree where I created a wall chart for someone that went back to the kings of England, from Henry VIII back to King John. If you have a particular individual who has a link to royalty then all the records take you right back.

“Another one took me quite far back, but before I got to William the Conqueror’s era I was diverted to France and went back even further to find relatives of William who preceded his birth.”

His love of the job means Tony often finds himself working into the small hours.

While there are many regal and interesting lines to trace into the past, there are certain family histories than can prove quite harrowing and emotional for clients.

“I identified some of the worst living conditions you could ever imagine up in Manchester, and I’ve seen the toll of cholera epidemics. You can’t imagine people living in the conditions they had to suffer, it’s quite upsetting.

“One family I researched showed two small children who were sent to the workhouses when their father killed himself and the mother died in an industrial accident.”

Though he stumbles across morbid tales such as these, he says it’s the chance to “get inside people’s lives” that helps him enjoy his work.

“It’s quite consuming. You get a real sense of who these people were, especially through things like wills, where you see family members omitted and you start to question why.

“That’s when you piece together a picture and create a story. It’s not a lucrative career, so I stick with it for the fun I get from it.”

To find out more about your family’s past, contact Tony via family-history-reports.cleanlinesonline.co.uk.

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