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Turn your family history into a wonderful book

PUBLISHED: 12:41 20 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:13 20 February 2013

Photograph by TUDOR MORGAN-OWEN

Photograph by TUDOR MORGAN-OWEN

Sue Bennett loves helping families discover more about their ancestors and has unearthed many fascinating stories

Sue Bennett loves helping families discover more about their ancestors and has unearthed many fascinating stories




The popularity of TV shows such as Who Do You Think You Are? and Heir Hunters has inspired more of us to investigate our own family history. However, many are unsure where, or how, to search for ancestors, or simply dont have the time. Others do make good progress with their research but then dont know how to present or preserve the information.
Bennetts Family Books, a new company based in a rural location outside Bury St Edmunds, is providing a unique combination of services to help people discover their ancestors and record their stories. Family historian Sue Bennett and graphic designer Paul Hutchinson undertake both family history research, back to the early 1800s, and the writing and creation of bespoke, illustrated, hard-back books that are worthy of becoming family heirlooms in their own right.
Although only established last year, Bennetts Family Books appears to be bucking the economic downturn. Sue Bennett explains: Since our launch we have worked non stop and are particularly proud that all of our clients so far have been through personal recommendation. Our reputation has already brought us international clients, from places such as Singapore.
Part of this success must lie in Sues enthusiasm for uncovering the stories of our ancestors. Every family is unique and will have ancestors whose lives were shaped by the events of their time. Whenever possible I like to investigate the social context of the people I am tracing, for instance, what their home was like, where they worked, who their neighbours were. That way, rather than a one-dimensional name on a family tree, they become far more rounded people, to whom their modern descendants can relate.
Stories Sue has uncovered so far include a soldier from World War I who faced a death sentence following a court martial, although the sentence was commuted. She has investigated a victim of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and the fate of a young widower who was sent to an asylum for the insane after stealing from the local landowner.
That was a particularly sad story, says Sue, as the man had three daughters who were then effectively orphaned. Despite proclaiming his innocence, the man remained incarcerated for over 33 years, dying in the asylum in the early 1900s.
New clients have an initial informal meeting with Sue, to establish what they already know about their ancestry, what they would like to find out and their budget.
Often, people arent sure which information is important. Or they might have a distant memory that doesnt make sense until it is put into context. Recently, when researching a clients great aunt, I found a potential match for her, training to be a nurse. When I mentioned it, my client instantly said, That explains it! I was always told that she saved my life when I was a baby.
It turns out that my client had suffered from pneumonia as a young child and his aunt had given him potentially life-saving treatment but he hadnt known that she was a nurse.
When she has a clear idea of a clients aims, Sue begins her research. She explains: The cornerstone of all family history research is finding original documents that prove a connection between one generation and the next. Records that she might consult include birth, marriage and death certificates, passenger lists to establish emigration or immigration, census returns, church records, army or navy records, wills, trade directories, newspaper reports and local history resources.
Once the research is complete, clients can select how they would like it to be presented. Options range from a simple, spiral bound report to a bespoke hard-back coffee-table book. Its at this point that graphic designer Paul sets to work, enhancing scans of original documents, digitally repairing copies of old photographs, postcards or letters and creating original illustrations and montages for the bespoke books.
It is clear from talking to Sue and Paul that they both gain a lot of pleasure from their work.
We feel it is a privilege to be trusted with someones family history, which can be a very personal thing, says Paul. Often we end up knowing more about a persons family than their best friend!
For Sue, there is a definite connection between her work into the past and modern lives, as encapsulated in her experience with one of the companys first clients.
This ladys father had passed away suddenly in his mid 40s. She knew nothing of his ancestry, which we traced back. I ordered the death certificates for each of her paternal ancestors back to her great-great-grandfather. When they arrived, I realised that most of the men in that line had died young and from a similar heart condition. My client has a young son, who is now being monitored.
Sue and Paul are also happy to create books for people who have undertaken their own research. In fact, they are finding that clients are seeing possibilities for their book creation service that they hadnt originally envisaged themselves!
We are currently preparing a book that tells the story of a clients parents, says Sue. Her father passed away and she wanted to ensure that their story was recorded for her children and grandchildren. We have also been asked to create a book celebrating the life of a lady who will soon be celebrating her 80th birthday but I cant tell you any more than that because it is a surprise!



To find out more about Bennetts Family Books, including their packages, bespoke services and contact details visit their new website at www.bennettsfamilybooks.co.uk or call 07515 909556.

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