Genealogist Dr Kate Sherry tells Sarah Varley about her fascination with family history and some of her most intriguing projects

Dr Kate Sherry first became interested in family history 14 years ago when her son Daniel was born and no one could tell her much about the Sherry name except that it was Irish.
“I wanted to find Daniel’s Irish roots to pass down to him, and that’s when I went online to research and I got completely addicted,” Kate tells me.

“My grandfather had researched our Ingham family tree years ago as he was an only child and his father had died in the First World War, so he was mainly trying to find any relatives he might have and was always interested in family history. Perhaps I take after him.”

“It was exciting to start filling in all the blanks on the Sherry family tree. I found Daniel’s great great-grandfather Thomas Sherry on the 1901 English census living in Higham, which was also where I grew up, but I quickly came across difficulties as I just could not read the town name under his place of birth. I could see it was in County Monaghan but the town was completely illegible.”

“Not to be defeated, I bought maps of the area and spent many hours poring over the place names hoping to find one that could fit. The moment I found Killeevan, and then the birth records of him and his siblings there, was my first big breakthrough – and I was hooked.”

After a few years of tracing her family history, Kate decided to take some genealogy courses.

“Just as I had loved studying all through school and university, working my way up to a PhD in Chemistry, I completed course after course and gained acceptance as an associate of AGRA, the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives.”

For Kate, researching clients’ family history is just as exciting: “It’s the thrill of breakthroughs after painstaking research. One of my clients was a lady in Ontario whose grandmother had been sent over to Canada as an orphan and she wanted to find out if she had any living relatives. I found that she did have relatives living in the North-East of England and she has now been over to visit them, so it was a lovely ending to the story.”

As well as family history, Kate specialises in house history.

“I’ve done quite a lot of local house histories – I traced a very interesting history of a farm in Rimington. I found records going back to Elizabethan times when there was a silver and lead mine – William Pudsey is reputed to have illegally coined silver from the mine. Accounts differ on whether he received a pardon from Queen Elizabeth I or not.”

“I love bringing history to life through my work as the findings are so personal for my clients so it adds an extra dimension,” Kate says. “I recently visited Gisburn Primary School where the children were looking at how to identify the different ages of houses and looking at date stones.”

“I’d done some research so I could tell the children who had lived in the houses, what jobs they’d done (one resident was a mole-catcher) and which children had gone to their school over 100 years ago.”

The latest history Kate has been working on has been the life of Sir Charles Wager, First Lord of the Admiralty from 1733 to 1742. “I was asked by a maritime archaeologist to identify any living relatives,” Kate says. “As well as an Admiral he was a Quaker and an MP for East Looe in Cornwall and was buried at Westminster Cathedral so there have been lots of parliamentary records, Quaker records and wills to find and study.”

For her next personal project, Kate hopes to do something with a family diary that she has in her possession.

“My ancestor William Ingham was a spinner and started his own mill in Padiham with his sons. The diary contains mainly financial accounts but also provides really interesting details of local events such as when gas lighting and the railway came to Padiham, and national events such as Queen Victoria’s death. It even has funny little criticisms by the brothers of each other, such as when they paid too much for something: ‘Elijah bot cotton – too expensive.’ I love that you can hear the accent coming through in the writing!”

There is also documentation of when their workers went on strike for months, Kate tells me: “The family had started pumping steam into the mill to prevent the cotton from breaking but this had a detrimental effect on the workers’ health, so I’d like to follow up all this information on what was a very important part of Lancashire’s history.”



Tedd Walmsley

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