Family History in Tyne and Wear

What’s Your Story? Discovering family histories in Tyne and Wear; sharing ordinary peoples’ family histories

Watching the new series of the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ has taken on added significance in the history team office at Discovery Museum this year as we are mid family history project of our own. Reading the executive producer of WDYTYA’s blog about the creation of the series inspired me to take a moment to share our family history journey (

The idea for the project was suggested by avid ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ viewer, long time family history enthusiast and Assistant Keeper of History, Laura Brown. The idea was presented to senior managers at Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums who gave it the go-ahead thanks to the popularity of family history amongst our audience combined with the amazing resources in the archives and museums that could be drawn upon.

James Bannister who drowned in the Howdon Ferry disaster of 1896

James Bannister who drowned in the Howdon Ferry disaster of 1896

So in earnest, and with significant support from a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, we began the project in April 2011. My role is to project manage ‘What’s Your Story?’. I bring together people from history, outreach, learning, communications, design and collections teams to work on the project. For ‘What’s Your Story?’ we are delivering a series of workshops to help people get started with their family histories, a community run website, a temporary touring exhibition, a learning programme for schools and families and an outreach programme.

‘What’s Your Story?’ is different to other projects that we’ve worked on because although we had ideas of general themes that we wanted to cover such as war, migration and secrets but there was no way of knowing what stories would be told in the end. The idea for the exhibition and website was that they would be made of stories that people would tell us.

Thomas McLeod, a case of mistaken identity in World War One

Thomas McLeod, a case of mistaken identity in World War One

We did a few call outs in the press at the start of the project asking if anyone had a story they wanted to share with us. After that the phone rang off the hook! We had a brilliant response from the public. Lots of local people got in touch but we also had people from Canada and America contacting us with their stories of ancestors from the area. The people contacting us had already carried out their research. Often over years if not decades they had pieced together the stories of their ancestors.

This community-run village shop in Surrey is owned by a descendant of John Buddle

This community-run village shop in Surrey is owned by a descendant of John Buddle

After three months we had 38 stories. Then came the hard part, we had to decide which we could feature in depth in the exhibition. We chose 11 main stories to feature in the exhibition, which will open in January 2012. These stories were chosen because they represent some broader aspect of regional history and because we can illustrate the story with objects and material from the story teller, the archives and museum collections.

The other 27 stories will all feature on the ‘What’s Your Story?’ website. The launch of the website, in September this year, will not be the end of the story collecting. The website has been designed to be easily updatable and a team of volunteers are running it so we hope to read many more stories that are added by people over the coming months.

American naturalisation paper for Frank Hunter, 1894

American naturalisation paper for Frank Hunter, 1894

From ancestors who were interviewed as part of the 1842 Children’s Employment Commission about their work in the mine as a teenager, to Mayors of South Shields, generations of Tyne pilots, fortunes lost for reasons unknown, migrations to Canada and back in search of a better life and orphaned children this project has it all. With over 30 local stories of hope, tragedy, resilience, fallings out and hard work the family history team here at TWAM can’t wait to hear what you think of them and to read your story!

17 Responses to Family History in Tyne and Wear

  1. Jean Van Wagner says:

    I was born in South Shields in 1935. My parents were both born in So. Shields. My maternal ancestors were also born in and around North Shields and So.Shields and lived and worked around the River Tyne. I hope I can get to see what you have put together.

  2. Kylea says:

    Hi Jean,

    Thanks for getting in touch about your ancestors. You might be interested in having a look at our new family history website at – there are lots of interesting ancestor stories from people with Tyne and Wear ancestors. Its really easy to register with the site if you would like to share your family history.

    Otherwise we’ve got lots of family history walks and talks happening in the New Year that are free to come along to and the exhibition opens in January so we’ll look forward to seeing you there.


  3. Louise . says:

    Dear Sir/Madame,
    I am very interested in finding out about my family history and would like to come along to the Discovery museum to find out more as I was related to a king called Jon Ivarsson Raud and would like to find out more.
    Could I have some more information about how I could get involved or when the workshops are on?
    Many thanks
    From Louise

  4. Lisa Hancock says:

    I was born and live in NZ and am connected to John and Albany Hancock, of the former Hancock Museum. Can you suggest where I might find more information about the two? Cheers!

    • marion hancock says:

      hi lisa, a few years have passed since you’re message , just to let you know there are quite a few hancocks living in gosforth newcastle upon tyne .

  5. Kylea says:

    Hi Lisa,

    There is a bit of information on the Great North Museum : Hancock’s webpage and I think if you get in touch with colleagues there they will be able to put you in contact with the Natural History Society.

    If you would like to share your family history we’d love to see it on our family history webpage

    Good luck with your research!


  6. Anthony Hemy says:


    I would like to find out more about my family history in Newcastle
    I’m pretty much up with the three artist as their lives are well documented and my Great Grandfather Dr Christopher Hemy but would like to find out more about Henri F Hemy, when and why he decided to settled in the Newcastle area. Any information or source of information would be appreciated

  7. Laura Brown says:

    Hi Tony,

    You can visit the Archives here at Discovery Museum where you can get free access to the census and other online sources. Other records of interest to family historians include school registers, maps, plans and church records to name but a few.

    The Archives are open Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm and it is advised that a microfilm reader should be booked in advance if you wish to look at church and census records. They also offer a research service for family history and other types of research which can be requested and paid for online via a secure online payments system, for more information see

    Other good places to get help and advice with family history research include the City Library and the Northumberland & Durham Family History Society

    If you would like to share your family history we’d love to see it on our family history webpage

    Good luck with your research!


  8. rodney wear says:

    I would like to find out about my family history my last name is Wear as far as I know I’m the last in my family with Wear as my last name I would realy like to know more about my family tree

  9. Ruth Webb (nee Ashburner) says:

    I am very proud of my northern roots (now live in Warwickshire) and am even more proud because my Granda features within this exhibition! He has done so much to find out about our family history – his work is something that my own parents have continued, and now I have a son too, it will be something I talk to him about and pass it on again.
    There are lots of us; cousins, aunts and uncles in my Ashburner family. We are all able to learn from the research work my Granda has done.
    In the exhibition he says…’when you get far enough back you can find that ordinary familes can do extraordinary things’ – I don’t think I could put that any better!!!

  10. Kylea says:

    Hi Ruth

    Its lovely to hear from you. I’m glad you enjoyed the exhibition – your Granda’s story is a great one and its lovely to hear about it being passed on.


  11. kay richards says:

    i am researching my family tree and discovered my grandfather on my dads side came from Walker, his name was Robert Frederick Davis. he married my grandmother Amelia Jane Bevill and they then lived in London which is where my dad and his siblings were born. My great grandad was Alfred Davis. I feel there must be other Davis’s still in tyne and wear somewhere. I now live in Buckingham and would love to be able to research on line. I havent got any photos as my step-mothers daughter claimed MY families album when my dad died and will not give it back. but thats another story. I would love copies of birth,marriage certs. also any news of living relatives. thanks you. Kay.nee Davis

  12. denise says:

    I am looking for a Ellen Airey her son is called George Airey .grand daughter Denise Airey .aka Jenkins

  13. Jane Filkins says:

    I’m actually looking for a laura brown. , my late dad David filkins told me I had to find laura brown. All I know is she’s in her 60s and from Tyne and wear.
    She was given up for adoption.
    I love to find her. And get to know her. As I’m her niece.

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