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Tuesday, 25 January 2022

It Started with a Shoebox - My Genealogy Journey

Family historian Daniel Loftus has invited us to share our genealogy story.

How I Began   

It started with a shoebox of old photographs and memorabilia  in a cupboard at my grandfather''s house. It was a grand treat to be allowed to look through them.  I especially loved the embroidered postcards that Grandad has sent back from Flanders Field in the First World War.  Grandad (William Danson of Poulton le Fylde, Lancashire)  was one of eight brothers, five of whom had served in the army and whose photographs featured among the collection.  Grandad, like many men, would never talk about the war, but my aunt related tales of her uncles.

From primary school days, history was my favourie subject, and I was keen to find out more about my ancestors. I started with drawing  up a basic Danson family tree back to my great grandparents


                                Cards sent to my mother  and aunt  in  1917 and 1918

My interest though was most inspired by this photogaph of my great grandmother Maria Danson, nee Rawcliffe, here with her eldest granddaughter Annie Maria Danson, my mother's cousin.

Maria looked a formidable figure  and her Christian  name had echoes of a Spanish flavour, whilst her surname Rawcliffe reflected typical Lancashifre grit. There was also an apocryphal story that "Granny's dark looks" came from Spanish sailors who settled in the fear after their  ship wrecked off he coast.  

Early Research  in Pre- Internet Days

Many years later I began the ancestral trail, but money was short to buy certificates  and I had only limited time in Lancashire when visiting my Danson relations. Blackpool Public Library gave me access to census returns - a laborious search trawling through microfilms or getting eyestrain from the  IGI mirofiches.  I joined Lancashire Family History and Heraldry Society whose members were  helpful , particularly in finding records for me in Lancashire Record Office - including copies of two Danson wills of 1821 and 1833.

 We got a Computer!

I wrote on Word my first family history narrative on Maria  and had it spiral bound at a local printers,  A few years later  I became a silversurfer  as we went online.  I was in my element searching census returns, and old parish records, joining ancestry.co.uk  and posting queries on message boards. 

I became a Blogger in 2010

I was first  introduced  to the blogging world through my work  and an article in the magazine  "Women in Home" about starting a blog if you enjoyed writing, had time to write regularly and were passionate about a subject - well  I ticked all  the boxes and Family History Fun was born - and I have never looked back. 

I think of it as my personal family history magazine and enjoy learning from other bloggers  as I developed my style  of writing and presentation.  My Danson/Rawcliffe research, together with the photo collection provided me with plenty of stores to share. The support and comments from fellow bloggers and "online" friends has been invaluable - I would not want to be without my blog!

I never expected to last this long,  when I  tentatively wrote my first post back in August 2010.    My main concern then was "Is anyone finding this and more importantly actually reading it?" A few arms were twisted with  friends and relations to sign up as my first followers.  Writing  comments on other blog posts soon widened my group of followers - very few from Britain, mainly Australia, Canada and the USA. Let's  face it, although. we enjoy writing,  recognition from others is a great motivator. 

I thought I would soon run out of material, but the online  prompts  and inspiration from other bloggers have been so stimulating.   Two unknown third cousins, one from my birth town, and one in the USA,  gave  me a big shot in the arm, in providing me with  with fresh stories and photographs.

Reconnecting with Relatives 

Four cousins of my mother were still alive, though I had had no contact with them since childhood.  A family funeral was an occasion to meet one such cousin, A.   and exchange contact details.  

I phoned P. and introduced myself as "A voice from the past I am Kathleen Danson's daughter" .

 What a wonderful reception I got  - P. outlined the family memorabilia she had up in the loft  and offered to come up to Scotland to visit us,  and my husband and I made a return visit the next year. The result of making contact, I received:

  • Memories of my grandparents William and Alice Danson - my grandmother died when I was a baby.  It was somehow funny in the nicest possible way to hear my grandparents referred to as  Uncle Billy and Auntie Alice. Also memories of my great grandmother Maria, her daughter Jennie and Maria's  eight sons. 
  • I touched personal possessions of Maria including her favourite teaset,  and jewellery sent back to her from Malta, where son Frank was hospitalized during the First World War.
  • Family  photographs of Maria and her daughter Jenny  that I had not seen before. and the only photograph I have  of my great grandfather James Danson (1852-1906), the bearded  figure,  sitting merry in Poulton old stocks. Plus two poignant letters written by my youngest great uncle George, just weeks before he was killed on the  Somme in 1916, aged just 22. 


  • Overall  I could not have asked for a better boost to my blogging activity and a more rounded view of my ancestors, beyond the purely names and dates in my family tree - exactly what family history is all about. 
So the message here is do not dither and delay in reconnecting with relatives - you never know what might result. 

Joining Facebook 

Many bloggers said I was missing out by not using social media. So  I set up a link for my blog with Facebook and have attracted new readers,  But I have also loved accessing the wealth of genealogical sites on Facebook, learning and sharing my own knowledge.  Pinterest has done nothing for me in terms of my family history. 

Joining the World of Modern Genealogy - DNA

I must admit that my knowledge of DNA was rather sketchy and I was always under the impression that I needed a relation to test with me – and I come from a small family that includes three of my mother’s cousins even older than myself and not online. However a friend convinced me otherwise, and that  I would understand the results.  So I took the plunge with Ancestry and have enjoyed following up my matches - with some good results in discovering unknown 2nd and 3rd cousins and sharing information and photographs.  Some disappointments as it has done nothing to break down my major brick wall and frustrating the people who do not reply to queries or have no family trees online, but overall well worthwhile .

Life in Lockdown 

With my many community activities in abeyance now for nearly two years of mainly Lockdown, I turned to my family history and it has saved me from boredom - and much worse - as I turned to the projects that had been on my "to so" list for rather a long time. 

I finished the profile on my mother's life;  worked on my husband's ancestry;  and my main research  has been on my father's Weston/Matthews  family where I had little beyond names and dates, no anecdotes, and very very few photographs, but much help from some excellent local history society Facebook pages. 

The prompt  "Through Her Eyes Thursday" encouraged me to look more closely at  almost forgotten  female ancestors and to bring  them out of the shadow in my blog posts. 

Much time recently has been spent following up on DNA contacts, with satisfying results.

So my Genealogy Journey is still ongoing -

 I am definitely not ready to stop yet!   




  1. I really enjoyed following along as you shared how you got started on your genealogy journey! No, I'm not ready to stop yet, either.

    1. Thank you, Marian for your kind comment. Happy researching and writing!

  2. I have never seen an ebroidered card like that, how interesting! Looking through "old shoebox"es and other old memorabilia is the best! Tha is so awesome that you got see your great grandmothers personal collections, not to mention meeting with a cousin who had such a treasure trove! Covid has been a blessing in the "ancestry world". ;) I'm curious of what your brick wall is.

    1. hi, Diane. I have a large collection of WW1 embroidered cards and they were a popular souvenir at the time. My grandfather sent the cards back to his children and his wife - as did his four brothers who served. The cards were written in pencil, with quite short prosaic messages - “I am in the pink“ was a favourite phrase. My brick wall remains my maternal grandmother, Alice English (1884-1945) as I have never traced her birth certificate to find out the name of her mother. The suspicion is she was probably illegitimate and perhaps changed her name at some point. Despite queries on many message boards and Facebook sites, I am no nearer success. I have written about Alice several times on my blog.

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    3. ScotSue - have you done DNA?

  3. Susie Q - yes I have done DNA but it has not helped at all with my brick wall.


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