52 Things - Number 11: Start a local history club

Overview and Background:

An excellent way to reinvigorate the whole community is through setting up a family history club. This is a wonderful way to inspire local activism and interest, as seen in Hovingham, where keen volunteers have done just that.

The approach: 

The Ryedale Family History Group is this year celebrating its tenth year anniversary, having originally been inspired by a similar group in Kirkbymoorside and wishing to take their operation to a wider geographic level. Janice Wood, a volunteer who was involved in the original planning of the idea, describes their astonishment at the group’s appeal and how they got things underway:

“We advertised a meeting, back in 2005, across Ryedale for people to attend and let us know if they were interested in the idea. 40 people turned up! From there we were able to float for a while from place to place, before we were offered some spare council office space. We were later offered the room in Hovingham Village Hall, and we have held our weekly Research Room there ever since.”

The group uses various internet sites, a store of local resources and a lot of local knowledge which enables members and non-members to come and research with the help of volunteers every Thursday. There are often 7-8 volunteers at each session, with the expertise to enable newcomers unfamiliar with the websites or the technology to easily-navigate the vast amount of records and data available. Membership at the club is £12 per annum, or £3 per session if you wish to attend as a non-member. As it is very easy to get it wrong, and be led on a trail down the wrong lineage, having the volunteers on-hand to help is a vital asset.

The group has received several pots of funding over the years, originally from the KirkbymoorsideLocal History Group to enable them to set up their website, but also from Awards for All enabling them to purchase equipment, website accounts and office space. Later, a suggestion came from Ryedale Voluntary Action (RVA) to apply to the Lottery’s Heritage Fund so that they could run some extra projects for the area. One of these would be to produce history books on the soldiers who are remembered in local war memorials, and another would be to digitalise parish records and old microfilms. The latter was more difficult as it required some expensive equipment to transfer the microfilms to computers, and volunteers were sought to transcribe the parish records to a digital format.

The family history group were successful in their bid to the Lottery and were awarded £47,000 to carry out their projects. They were able to advertise for volunteers and received an incredible response, as Janice explains:

“At our peak we had 53 volunteers in total from all over the world, including New Zealand! Transcribing records is a process that requires a lot of hard work and patience, and we have been overwhelmed with the enthusiasm of everyone involved.”

There were not as many issues in setting up and running the group as might be expected, but as always its success relied on the dedication of the people involved.

“All of our volunteers are very willing, and everybody has done their bit. We still have several projects ongoing, such as the war memorial work, which has inspired our Chairman to keep going through some difficult health issues.

“We have also encountered amazing stories, such as from one lady who moved to the area from Devon, and ended up discovering that her ancestors had lived a quarter of a mile from her new home! In this way we really see the big difference it has made to people’s lives.”

What next: 

Janice would highly-recommend the setting up of a family history group to any community, and her main advice is around advertising it well and telling the world what you are doing.

“We are currently planning the celebrations for our 10th Year birthday, and as well as having a cake we are hoping to find a celebrity willing to promote the success of the group and therefore inspire others.

“We meet the third Wednesday of every month in venues across the whole of Ryedale, including Malton, Helmsley, Hovingham, Kirkbymoorside and Pickering. We invite speakers to our meetings, covering a wide range of local and family history subjects.All of this is available on our website and absolutely anybody is welcome to come along and find out more.”