Learning about and remembering history is important for everyone. A person may learn about history in school, watch it on television or listen to the various stories that people have to tell. There are endless amounts of topics that people can specialize and focus on depending on their interests.
The Story of Janet Few
Janet Few is a history interpreter and family researcher. It’s her job and passion in life to preserve history and share it with others.
Using History to Inform the Present and Future
Janet believes that history is about using the past to inform the present and the future. It can hone analytical skills and teach people to question but it can also provide a sense of belonging to a family or to a community.
Often, people find it easiest to relate to the past if the history is personal. This is why family and local history have such an important part to play. An awareness of a shared past creates unity in the present.
The Role Janet’s Family Played
The Jesuits say, ‘give me a child until they are seven and I will show you the man’, or woman of course.
She comes from a very small family, with no siblings, no first cousins and second cousins are on only one of the four possible sides. When Janet was seven years old, she spent her free time making up impossibly large families in a book she wrote and maintained called her ‘famerley book’. It was also at this age when she discovered an outline of a four-generation family tree in her baby book and she began making a family tree with the help of my mother and great-aunt and from then on she was hooked.
She also had an unusual surname that fascinated her and there were some interesting family legends, one of which turned out to be true while the others were figments of strong imaginations.
Along with this early interest in genealogy and history, she also wrote long stories or played complicated, extended games of schools.
Janet has undertaken genealogy research for others for the past 30 years.
At first, she thought she would not enjoy working on other people’s families but she finds them just as fascinating as her own. She finds researching the contextual information the most interesting. Names on a family tree are fine but it is looking at what it was like to live in that place at that time that brings those names to life.
She is not impressed by the tree that has the most individuals attached to it or the tree that that may go back to the year 1500. It is the quality of the pedigree, how well it been researched and how much you actually know about the individuals who inhabit your family tree that is important.
Janet conducts genealogical research primarily in the southwest of England. However, with the plethora of online opportunities to do-it-yourself, this is taking a back seat in favor of other strands of work as she also teaches family, local and social history and is also a tutor for Pharos which offers online genealogical courses. Janet also gives presentations around the world in person and online.
Interesting and Surprising Genealogy Finds
Janet’s mother’s maiden name was Smith. A long-standing family friend and Janet had the usual conversation about ‘I have Smith ancestors’, ‘So do I, we must be related. Ha ha!’. 10 years later, they discovered that they are actually related. It was this family friend that helped Janet prove the family story that she was connected to the Smiths of the multi-million-pound company known as Smith’s Crisps (now part of a conglomerate). Sadly, the other part of the family story was that her great-grandfather was offered a half share in the company for £50 and turned it down because ‘it wouldn’t catch on’! Mind you, her life would probably have been very different had he said yes but she is very happy with her current life.
Sadly, the other part of the family story was that her great-grandfather was offered a half share in the company for £50 and turned it down because ‘it wouldn’t catch on’. She stated that her life probably would have been very different had he said yes but she is very happy with her current life.
Tips for Those Starting Family Research
Janet has advice for those wanting to start their family research.
- Educate yourself. Whether it means to take a course or reading a book, the purpose is to help you understand the techniques and, more importantly, the sources that you are using.
- Don’t import vast family trees that someone else has uploaded to the internet. Do the research for yourself.
- Don’t rush. Take the time to get to know the individuals on your family tree.
- Do find out about your ancestors’ lives. Where and how did they live? What was involved in the jobs that they did? What did they wear, eat, etc?
- Keep note of the sources of your information so that someone else can follow your research trail.
- Do enjoy it.
- Try to excite your relatives with a love of history and heritage.
History and Children
“If we believe that it is essential to excite the younger generations with our love of history and family history, we need to meet those young people where they are and not expect them to come to us.”
When Janet was asked “How important do you think it is for children to know history in general but also the history of their own lineage and heritage? How can parents help keep their kids interested in history and their family heritage and keep them involved in the learning process?”
Janet believes that children knowing history, including their own lineage and heritage is absolutely vital. It is also the cornerstone of what she does. In one her most recent booklets Harnessing the Facebook Generation: Ideas for Involving Young People in Family History and Heritage is about this very subject.
From her point of view, here is the crux of the matter – younger people aren’t interested in doing things our way. If we can build on their own interests, we can introduce them to history gently, without them even realizing that what they are doing is engaging with their heritage. Make it memorable, make it interactive, make it fun and you will have sparked their interest.
Janet believes in giving back as much as she can to the family and local history world and is particularly involved with these historical and family societies.
- The Society for One-place Studies
- Devon Family History Society
- The Isle of Wight Family History
- Buckland Brewer History Group
When you learn about history, what resonates with you the best? What kind of history do you like to learn about?