Who do we think we are?
Volume 45, Number 5, May 2007
THE front page of the Daily Telegraph on April 18 featured a World War I group (trio, MSM and LS&GC) with the heading “How to Research your Family History”—the article inside the newspaper, two full pages, didn’t really have much medallic content per se but was of great interest nonetheless, focusing as it did on the forthcoming Who do you think you are? Live family history show being held over the first May Bank Holiday Weekend (May 5–7). The event, which the Token Team will be attending (stand 206—come along and say hello!) is billed in the Telegraph as the “Largest ever one-stop shop of expertise, interaction and entertainment for those wishing to begin, or continue, their journey into the personal history and wider context of their ancestors’ lives” and there is no doubt that it will be hugely popular amongst both serious historians and those whose imaginations have been fired by such television shows as Who do you think you are? and Ancestors, not to mention the plethora of other programmes dealing with history in one form or another that seem to be springing up on our screens almost daily. The genealogy boom that has culminated in this massive fair at London’s Olympia exhibition centre has been fuelled both by easier access to records and new on-line research facilities and shows no immediate signs of abating. Everyone has become an amateur historian and the clamour for more information, from whatever source possible, continues apace. Amazing then to think that so many of these historians, so keen to find out what they can about their families, don’t realise that they are, with luck and diligence, theoretically able to find the very medals that their forebears were awarded and actually wore! Those searching the family records are delighted when they find a letter great-granddad wrote, are overjoyed when they find marriage certificates or inscribed prayer books— how much happier will they be if they manage to find the very medals once pinned to great-granddad’s chest! Of course, we medal collectors have known about this aspect of the hobby for years, know that if the collecting gods are smiling upon us we too may one day stumble across the medals worn by our relatives, hidden away on a dealer’s list, in a case at a fair or nestling in an auction somewhere. But we also know something more, we know that whilst there is no finer feeling in this hobby than to finally be able to add a close relative’s medals to our collection, the feeling that comes from researching medals belonging to others, maybe not related, is almost as fulfilling. Especially when we come to realise that actually the man whose medals we now are custodians of once actually stood shoulder to shoulder with a member of our family. This is perhaps one aspect of “family history” that has been overlooked—the fact that our ancestors, whoever they were, were not alone. It’s all very well researching great-granddad and learning all about the battles in which he fought but he didn’t fight them alone, he had comrades, men who he shared his life with, men with whom he experienced things his family could never really comprehend, men with whom he forged bonds as strong as blood ties, men who deserve to be remembered too. If you are reading this having picked up a copy at Who do you think you are? LIVE then welcome to MEDAL NEWS—we hope you’ll find this a useful introduction to our fascinating hobby and look forward to welcoming you as a regular reader. Of course, we fully understand that you will, first and foremost, want to find your own ancestors’ medals, the fact that most awards are named means you are able to hold in your hands the very medals that your relatives once held in theirs. But don’t forget that with the research available today you are able not only to find out what medals your great-granddad was awarded but also the names of those with whom he fought and what medals they were entitled to too. You can find out what men were in his Regiment, his very battalion, who was next to him in the trenches (or further back who fought with his father on the South African veldt or his grandfather in the Crimea) and so, as you begin this research, you see that actually your ancestors were just one small piece of a huge jigsaw and the more pieces of that puzzle you can put together the more interesting the picture becomes. You soon realise that actually “family” research isn’t just about people who share your surname and, before you know it, with a few dozen medals of men who once all knew each other in your possession, you’ll find you’re a fully-fledged medal collector. You won’t regret it I promise.
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