I had the second meeting of my new Family History Writing group today; this is a writing group (as it says on the tin) but the writing is about family stories, told in any way anyone likes. It is not a genealogy group, although obviously there is a lot of genealogical chit-chat!

Last time we met I set everyone a task – completely voluntary, it wasn’t homework, just a suggestion of what to write:

  • Using an object or a photo, write something connected to your family (it would be helpful if you could bring the object/photo next time but don’t worry if you can’t)
  • Write about a place with a personal or family association
  • Write about a person – maybe who you never knew but only heard about from family stories, or discovered through your research

I had a great response although only one person did bring a photo (of a family wedding from about a hundred years ago) – some great stories, some very moving, some exciting, some funny, some intriguing.

My theme this month was “Who is telling the story?” and I shared something from my only family history to show different ways of putting over the past:


  • 1853 – Lois Penney born, Water Newton Northamptonshire, to Charles and Martha Penney
  • 1861 – Lois appears on the census
  • 1871 – Lois may be living in Cambridge
  • 1881 – housekeeper in London to Louis Walford and his son George
  • 1891 – visitor to Louis Walford’s family (now five children)
  • 1895 – Louis Walford dies aged forty-nine
  • 1901 – Lois has changed her name to Walford and lives with her five children
  • 1911 – Lois lives with two of her children ‘on independent means’
  • 1930 – Lois dies and is buried in Hendon


Lois Penney (spelt Lowes on her birth certificate, gender unknown) was born in 1853 to Martha Ann Penney (née Quenby) and Charles Penney a basket maker. Lois was born in Water Newton in Northamptonshire, the seventh of ten children. Her mother died in 1878 and her father married again and had two more children.

Lois appears in the census returns for 1861, and then the records become confused; the family may have lived in Cambridge in the 1870’s. In 1881 she appears as a housekeeper in a property in London and on the same record is George Walford; George is her son, her son by Louis Frederick Walford from Hobart Tasmania. In the 1891 she is ‘a visitor’ to the same household and now there are five children – these are her children.

In 1895 Louis dies; the records do not show but his family continued to support Lois and the children. When Louis’s own mother died in 1900, Lois changed her name to Walford and on the 1891 census she at last is shown as mother to her own five children.


From the shelter of the old yew tree Lois stared across at the happy bridal couple emerging from the little church… the church of St Regimus, Water Newton… who was St Regimus after whom the church was named? It seemed safer to think of such things than to watch her father laughing down at his bride, Mrs Penney, formerly Miss Livesidge…
Maybe she couldn’t blame him, marrying again… Lois knew what it was like to be alone and lonely… although Charles Penney was not alone! He had his sons and daughters, he had his nine other children, and their children too… children… Lois thought of her own little boy, Georgie… he was with his grandmother, his other grandmother, taken there by his father and into a world Lois could not imagine. She had seen the house, the big white house on Regent’s Park, she had walked past it with her sister Sarah.
She was looking forward to seeing Sarah later; they had arranged to meet at the railway station before Lois took the train home… home… the house she lived in with George and her beloved Louis, where to everyone around she was the housekeeper and nurse to her own son.
Her father was kissing the bride again as their guests threw grains of wheat and barley, showering them in grain for good luck. Lois would never experience this… she would never leave a church on the arm of her new husband, climb into a carriage and depart with the company throwing old shoes after them as the horses pranced and drew them to their new home… Louis would never marry her,; he had promised he would never marry, never go into a synagogue and perform whatever rituals were necessary…
Lois thought of the stories of Jewish weddings that she had read in the Bible…  No, that would be something she would never see…

As a way of demonstrating different approaches to writing family history or about family history, I shared a blog my friend Andrew has written about a genealogical search he made:


I have written fictionally  about searching for a family history in my Radwinter series:


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