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South Tyneside Branch / South Tyneside March 2016 Meeting Report
« Last post by Annf on April 29, 2016, 06:25:21 PM »
The meeting held on Wednesday 16th March 2016 was well attended by both members and guests, when the speaker was Vince Petrolino, a member of the Branch, whose talk concerned his family history.

Vince took us on a journey from Italy to America and then to South Shields, where his Great Grandfather, a merchant seaman, came ashore and met his future wife.  His father had been a Baker in Italy and he started in catering, firstly outside a shipyard in South Shields before moving towards the centre of town, eventually opening the Borough Dining Rooms just off the Market area.

Business prospered and he bought a house for the family in one of the "posher" parts of town.  Staff from the Dining Rooms "lived on" the premises, two sisters in the front attic bedroom and another staff member in the rear attic.  Unfortunately, one night the premises caught fire.  The fire spread quickly from the basement kitchen through the building via the staircase, trapping the staff on the top floor.  The sisters escaped through the window onto the roof but the third member of staff died in the fire.

After disputes over evidence given at the inquest, GGF Petrolino secured an enquiry by the Watch Committee.  The enquiry found in favour of it's Fire Service's actions.  This together with the death of the staff member severely affected GGF Petrolino, who died within a couple of years of the tragedy.  His daughter-in-law always claimed his death was due to a broken heart.

This most informative and interesting talk was followed by a vigorous question and answer session and discussion by the members/guests in attendance.
May I remind you that our AGM will be the last meeting of the season and will take place on Sat 21 May at 10 am Bell View. We will be electing officials for the coming year. Please send any nominations for the posts of Chair and Secretary/Treasurer to me before the meeting. Do try to come. I know AGMs are rarely exciting but we have to have one and it is rewarding if members show up out of loyalty. And you never know you might miss some stupendous piece of news!

Finally, our next meeting coincides with the Plant Sale at Bell View. Any spare plants will be gratefully received at Bell View the day before or on the morning itself. It starts at 9.30 so come early and buy your plants before our meeting!

« Last post by Vglass on April 22, 2016, 11:52:32 AM »

Ralph is one of our members and this is the story of his research of his family history which has taken 30 years and is still going on. He began with Joseph Seddon born near Halifax who had a family of 13. This included Ralph who was literate and started his working life by buying a handcart and selling items from it. This included fish sold round the doors of the neighbourhood. He married Hannah Mann and they moved to Newcastle and later to Berwick. He took over pubs such as the Pier and the hen and Chickens. At that time pubs sold fish and in time Ralph bought a fish shop. He rented properties from the council and made more money by subletting them. An example of his boldness is borne out by the fact that he took the crest from the Fishmongers’ Company and adapted it to become his family crest. At Duck Hall he produced manure, then moving to Ord Cottage, still standing next to Tesco’s. He opened a slaughter house near here Berwick Cemetery stands now. There were many complaints that he had no license or water supply here. The first problem was easily solved by becoming a councillor and issuing himself a license! His son Ralph Seddon Holmes married Margery Sharp McCallum and was responsible for building the herring quay at Berwick.

Ralph Seddon Holmes, after whom our speaker is named, bought several boats and became an early member of Berwick Motor Club. A 1943 edition of Berwick Grammar School magazine refers to him being picked up in the Bahamas and subsequently entertained by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Fact or fiction?

His daughter, Marjorie Crontin Holmes, led an exciting life. As a young woman she went to Russia to be a governess to the 2 sons of Prince Kozhikov in St Petersburg. The Bolsheviks turned the Prince’s palace into a hospital and shot the prince. Marjorie escaped with the princess and tow young princes to Switzerland but only she was permitted entry. Before making the hazardous journey the women sewed all the royal jewellery into their underclothes but Marjorie removed hers before entering Switzerland and gave it to the princess. From Switzerland she travelled to Kiev, then by the Trans-Siberian railway to Vladivostok where she met the British Consul. She managed to obtain funds from him to reach Canada from where she sailed to Liverpool. All this by the age of 26!  Our speaker could remember Marjorie from his childhood. Apparently she was very skilled at backing horses!

Another of Ralph’s relatives was spotted driving a tram in Berlin during WW1. Ralph’s investigations revealed that he was captured and tortured by the Germans. At some stage he converted to Catholicism and lived in a cottage at Horncliffe (Horncliffe Priory) and then at the Tower house in Tweedmouth. Family sources relate how, at the opening of the new Bridge, the King’s train stopped at Tweedmouth. Ralph was seen by a porter to alight the train to be greeted by the king!

In the Berwick Journal he is listed as an official interpreter and male nurse. There was a connection with the Red Cross who listed him as a “searcher”. Within Tower House he converted a small room into a chapel. It is not known how he acquired his wealth but he was known by relatives to have a leather bag of amethysts, some of which were made into a necklace, others into cufflinks which our speaker now owns.

In 1919 during a voyage to Valparaiso in Chile he travelled first class and gave his profession as “gentleman”. Was he continuing his career as a spy? He seemed to acquire various ranks and titles for in 1922 he was known as Major Ralph Seddon Holmes when taking part in the Mayor’s Sunday procession and in 1924 as Colonel.

Efforts to obtain further information from the War Office about this ancestor’s life have met with no success.  When his health began to fail a telegram is known to have been sent from Buckingham Palace by a Crown Equerry with the message that “His Majesty enquires about the health of Lieutenant Colonel R S Holmes.

This talk raised as many questions as it gave facts and demonstrated that within this family there were truly weird and wonderful tales to relate!



Minutes of Meeting held on Sat 19 March 2016  at Bell View, Belford

PRESENT: 20 people present

APOLOGIES: 3 apologies received

1. Helpers are needed to supervise our stand at Berwick Family History Day on Sat 16 April at Berwick Guildhall.
2. Members were reminded that subscriptions were due last November.
3. The Chair introduced Janet Goodridge, Events Co-ordinator for the Society.



We were all hoping for the magic solution from this meeting- the perfect method of locating that piece of  paper with vital information about an ancestor without having to rummage through piles of paper. We also wanted to consider the various ways of preserving our records for our descendants so that our hard work is not wasted.  All sorts of ideas were suggested.

Several people tried to produce a short biography of each person in their family tree . Details of their life such as where they had lived and what jobs they had done brought them to life instead of being just a name on a chart. A starting point might be to draw up a tree  for each grandparent. If the people on it were numbered, numbers could match a file or information sheet for each person. This would result in some order amongst the many sheets of paper we all end up with.

Computer software has its place but is limited. Many beginners assume the software will find their ancestors for them! Sadly it is not quite as easy as this. It can be useful, however, for drawing up charts and trees more efficiently than by hand.

Colour-coding one’s notes according to topic works for some researchers. Transferring handwritten notes onto a computer on a regular basis is one way of cutting down on sheets of paper. This led us on to the principle of digital or manual recording. Backing up was essential and asking someone else to keep a digital copy of one’s own material was recommended as a safeguard against a possible was agreed that the safest course of action was to use both digital and manual methods This is particularly important if the tree is kept on a website as if the company went out of business the tree could be lost. Filing by surname was a popular method but for the member with 9k names a more exacting method proved necessary!

Box- files and ring-binders were dominant in this topic. Members using small index cards advocated the method of keeping a card of principal facts about each person which was easily portable and could be cross-referenced with more detailed files. Sharing photos with other people means there is a greater chance of photos surviving and even of unknown persons  being identified.

Perhaps the most unusual method of organisation was the use of a binary method. This sounded intriguing in its simplicity and we may call upon this member to give us a more detailed briefing. Summary sheets which fold out, offering more information, were also used. Having a Family Tree or Pedigree framed as a permanent fixture on the wall can prove very useful for reference. Facebook was suggested as an excellent source of picture postcards to flesh out the bare bones of a tree.

Even a simple exercise book for each individual person indexed with reference numbers or page numbers for further information can create  some order.

A few resources were recommended as valuable to researchers. These were
The Family Tree Detective by Colin Rogers

Family History Nuts and Bolts (revised edition)  by Andrew Todd

My  Genealogical Will (various formats available such as one by Devon Family History Soc)
can be used to record wishes to family members for preserving one,s research after death.

Our next meeting will be at the slightly later time of 10.30 in Berwick Guildhall  Council Chamber on Sat 16 April. We hope to persuade members of the public to stay for Ralph’s talk at 11 am and possibly recruit them as new members!  This session forms part of Berwick Record Office’s Family History Day and we are grateful to Linda Bankier for offering us this opportunity.

North Northumberland Branch / MY WEIRD AND WONDERFUL FAMILY speaker Ralph Holmes
« Last post by Vglass on April 01, 2016, 05:59:12 PM »
Ralph has researched his family for many years and will tell us how he went about it and which sources proved useful. His family came from Yorkshire orginally and set up a salmon trading business in the 19th century. But his talk will extend far beyond salmon fishing! Come along and find out for yourself! The talk starts at 11 on Sat 16 April in Berwick Guildhall Council Chamber  and is the opening event of Berwick Family History Day with talks, displays and activities from 10 until 4. Everyone welcome!
North Northumberland Branch / BERWICK FAMILY HISTORY DAY SAT 16 APRIL 10-4
« Last post by Vglass on April 01, 2016, 05:48:39 PM »
This event organised by Berwick Record Officewill be of interest to anyone with connections to Berwick and even to those who have not!  Berwick has a good rail service from Edinburgh and Newcastle and the railway station is an easy  7 minute walk down Castlegate to the Guildhall in Marygate. Our branch will have a stand with displays and society booklets etc for sale and we have organised a talk by Ralph Holmes a Berwicker whose family were in the salmon trade. he has researched his family for many years and has discovered some amazing stories which you will hear about in his talk.  See below:

Berwick 900 Family History Day - Saturday 16th April 2016 at Berwick-upon-Tweed - Revised Programme

Building on the success of the Berwick 900 Family History Festival held on 3rd and 4th October last year, we’re holding a Family History Day from 10am to 4pm on Saturday 16th April 2016 at Berwick Town Hall, Marygate, Berwick-upon-Tweed. Map.

Like last year, it’s free and there will be exhibitors, talks, displays about the research carried out, talks, refreshments, one to one family history surgeries where you can find out how to start your family history or overcome a problem.

There’ll be activities for kids and their parents, and the opportunity to see the Burgon family tree – please bring along your research, birth and marriage certificates and see if you’re connected.

Berwick Freemasons Lodge
Borders Family History Society
Lothians Family History Society
North East War Memorials
Northumberland Archives
Northumberland & Durham Family History Society
Scottish Borders Council Archives (Hawick Heritage Hub)
All the above exhibitors are keen to help you with your family history.

Jura Consultants and Spence & Dower - Proposals for Berwick Barracks

Talks Programme
10am Northumberland & Durham Family History Society
11am Ralph Holmes – My Weird & Wonderful Family
12 noon Jura Consultants – Berwick Barracks Re-awakened
1pm Linda Bankier – The Berwick 900 Our Families Project
2pm Bill Stewart - A Century of Boatbuilders
3pm David Pye – Berwick War Memorial – personal stories of soldiers

Family History Surgeries
20 minutes with a specific expert in a quiet room to discuss your family history problem or interest.

Surgeries are currently available starting at 10.30, 11.00, 12.00, 12.30, 13,00, 13.30, 14.30, 15.00.
Book your preferred starting time now by email to

Please state brief details of your problem or interest, whether it’s English or Scottish and preferred time slot and provide your landline phone number.

Maltings Youth Theatre Dramas - A Step Back In Time (to 1911)
11am Part 1 - outside the Town Hall (weather permitting)
11.45am Part 2 inside the Town Hall (upstairs in the Court area)
12.30pm Part 3 - outside the Town Hall (weather permitting)
The next meeting of NDFHS Tynedale Branch will be held at The Community Centre, Gilesgate, Hexham NE46 3NP, on Thursday 14th April 2016 at 7.00 pm.  This will be a Members' Forum on the subject of "Inherited Traits and Other Eccentricities". 
The next meeting of NDFHS South Tyneside Branch will be held at the usual venue of St. Hilda's Church Visitor Centre, in Market Place, South Shields, on Wednesday 20th April 2016 at 1.30 pm.  The guest speaker will be one of our own members, Ann Franklin, who will be giving a talk about her research into the life of William Henry Hurlbutt entitled "A Yankee on Tyneside and the Search for his Connecticut Roots".  Please come along - everyone is welcome.
There will be a change of venue for the April 2016 meeting of NDFHS North Northumberland Branch.  The meeting, at 11.00 am on Saturday 16th April 2016, will be part of the Berwick Family History Day which is taking place in the Guildhall in Berwick upon Tweed.  The guest speaker will be Ralph Holmes with his talk on "My Weird and Wonderful Family" - a tale of his adventures in researching his family history.  Please come along - everyone is welcome and admission is free.  It promises to be a very good day!
The next meeting of NDFHS Durham-Belmont Branch will be held at Belmont Community Centre, Sunderland Road, Gilesgate, Durham DH1 2LL, on Wednesday 20th April 2016 at 1.00 pm.  The guest speaker will be local author Michael Richardson who will be talking about his book "Durham City - New Discoveries".
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