Hi WikiTreers,

Welcome to a new installment of “Meet our Members.” It’s time to get to know another awesome member of our community: Meet Alison.

Alison Wilkins became a WikiTreer in February of 2014.  She participates in our European Aristocrats project and has joined up to do our 52 Ancestors Challenge this year.

What are some of the surnames you are researching?

Wilkins, Smith, Mackellow, Waterson, Hardwick, Bourne, Whittaker/Whitacre, Frankland for my family plus Jones, Mace, Douse & Dyer on my partner.

What are some of the locations you are researching?

Most of my ancestors come from a very small area in the middle of England which current county boundaries put in Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire. Others have gone farther afield into Lancashire and Yorkshire, one even made it out of the UK into Canada.

When and how did you get interested in genealogy and family history?

Many years ago, my great aunt Agnes gave me a fountain pen that belonged to her late husband. The pen was (and still is) in a presentation box inscribed with “M B Frankland” and I was intrigued to learn that the B is for Bray; as the eldest son he was given his mothers’ maiden name as a middle name. I’d never heard of that before. That got me thinking about family I didn’t know and sadly left doing anything about it until after Aunty Agnes passed away. Hence a 14-day free trial on Ancestry has become a ten-year interest in both my family and others.

Who’s your favorite ancestor and why?

My 4x great uncle on my mothers’ side is “the venerable” Hugh Bourne (1772-1852). The son of a farmer was drawn to the Wesleyan Methodist Church but found it outdated and started preaching himself, but outdoors on the Staffordshire moorlands in the American camp-meeting style. When the church expelled him in 1808, along with his friend William Clowes and his younger brother James Bourne (my 4x great grandfather), they started their own Primitive Methodist Connexion, which by 1906 had over 200,000 followers in Britain and ten thousand more in both Canada and Australia.

I’m not a religious person, but can’t help admire the personal courage and conviction that must have taken.

Tell us about a brick wall you were able to break down or one you hope to bust through.

I’ve got one of each, both relate to the same Smith family:

My paternal grandmother always told us that she was one of 9 children, and there were enough aunts and uncles at family gatherings to confirm that. When the 1911 census was released, I was surprised to find a 10th child listed, but also that they had died prior to 1911. Having the most common family name made searching frustrating, as did the fact that they lived on the border of two counties (the village was called Boundary!) with a third not far away. My good fortune came when the GRO released the index search (https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/default.asp) which allows searching by mothers’ maiden name for certificates before that data was published in the indexes which Ancestry and others use. My second piece of luck is that Mrs Smith was Miss Mackellow, nice and unusual, and in a single evening I located baby Clara (28/11/1891 – 27/01/1893).

The spin off from this research was to find that Mr Smith was a widower when he married Miss Mackellow, and for all the searching I cannot find his first wife. Grandma never mentioned that either!

If you could pick one person in history to be related to, who would it be and why?

Sir Nigel Gresley for three reasons – steam trains, where I grew up and a day out with my parents.

I’ve been a train spotter / railway enthusiast for many years and always loved steam engines in general and the A4 Pacifics in particular. The most famous is Mallard which still holds the world record as the fastest steam train ever. I grew up in South Derbyshire, not far from the villages of Castle Gresley, Church Gresley, Drakelow, Overseal & Netherseal. The villages have changed, county borders have moved and Drakelow Hall became a power station and is now a housing estate. But we were locally aware of the Gresley family as kids with stories of the secret passage from Gresley Church to the haunted Old Hall.

On a day out with my parents to Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire (not far from where I live now) Dad mentioned that he’d been here before, many many years ago and that in the Library the first book he saw was “The Gresleys of Drakelowe” and was proud that his corner of South Derbyshire was mentioned in a palace. We scoured the library on our visit that day but couldn’t find it. The book is now copyright free and available to download, and when I was looking for a project a few years ago, used that as the starting point for my research into the Gresley family. I’ve not found a connection yet…

What are some of your interests outside of genealogy?

As mentioned above, I love steam trains and for the last couple of years have been volunteering at a local railway centre. Last summer I passed my fireman exams and now work on the foot-plate with the driver; it’s my job to make sure that there is enough (but not too much) fire, water and steam for the loco to start, maintain speed, and stop as required. It’s hard, dirty work but I love it.

I also enjoy fishing, both at sea out on a friend’s boat, and on local rivers and lakes. I’m happy to catch anything that swims rather than the species-specific anglers; a day out in beautiful surrounds, surrounded by wildlife and hopefully good weather are what I enjoy.

Less often now I operate an amateur radio station (G8KSH) and I’ve just gained a BA Hons in History too, so will have more time for my genealogy research.

How long have you been on WikiTree and what do you spend the most time doing? If you’re involved in a project(s), tell us about how you participate in it.

I joined WikiTree in Feb 2014 and spend most of my time working on family profiles, flitting between them and either tidying up or following new branches. I’ve been doing some research into coach builders whose names have been found either written or scratched into wooden panels in a railway coach currently under restoration. Working on people I have no familial connection to is a bit daunting, but I find WikiTree ideal as the profile is a great place to tell the story and include references in a way that non-genealogists can understand.

When I did my Gresley research I created a record of what I’d done, and why, (https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Space:The_Gresleys_of_Drakelow) and with all good intentions to come back and finish what I’d started. One day everyone listed on the family tree will have a profile.

I’ve also signed up for the 52 Ancestors challenge this year, now I’ve finished studying I have time to try something new.

What brought you to WikiTree? (In other words, how did you find us?)

A mention in a family tree magazine, can’t remember which one now, but looked WikiTree up and liked what I saw.

What is your favorite thing about WikiTree, or which feature(s) do you like the most?

The camaraderie, everyone working together for the same thing, and yet it’s broad enough to cater for specialisms, experts and beginners alike. I like that the site is always seeking to improve with new tools and features being added, but not made mandatory. I flit between profiles, and use the Anniversaries tool sometimes to pick today’s person, or sort the Watchlist to see who I’ve not looked at for a while. I can work in my way and while there is best practice, not feel forced to confirm to strict rules.

If you could improve one thing about WikiTree, what would it be?

The only problem I have, and to be honest not looked into how to fix it yet, is that another user created a duplicate of one of the Gresley family and in the resulting merge I’ve inherited a pre-1500 profile that I don’t feel qualified to work on.

Please don’t push DNA testing onto people, other sites seem to have stopped business as usual and jumped on the band-wagon. I know it’s there and I know it’s the way forward, but I’m cynical enough not to want my DNA held by a commercial company.

What is an example of how WikiTree has helped you with your genealogy or how you’ve helped genealogy with WikiTree?

The connections – I’ve been contacted by someone who my great aunt delivered when she was a mid-wife, and also confirmed that some copy and pasted trees on other sites aren’t correct.

I’ve adopted a couple of profiles, Wilkins’s from America, as my family didn’t travel much, I thought it would be interesting to try researching the other side of the pond. It also prompted in general to put something back, so I now do some indexing for FamilySearch too.

Any tips for someone just starting out on WikiTree?

Start small, don’t upload your entire GEDCOM but manually enter one person that you are familiar with, that way the only unknown is WikiTree. Get used to how it all works; link their family members and you’re well on your way. Don’t be afraid of G2G, ask for help and also offer suggestions – sometimes fresh eyes can see round problems in a new way.

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  One Response to “Meet our Members: Alison Wilkins”

  1. I feel the same as you do about DNA!

    Nice to meet you, Alison!

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