Trace your Norfolk ancestors

Tracing our family history has become a popular pastime in recent years. Doing that in Norfolk means you can combine detective work with exploration of our beautiful county. Elizabeth Budd of the Norfolk Heritage Centre helps get you on your way…

Norfolk may not be where I spent the first eighteen years of my life, but I always knew that many of my ancestors were Norfolk men and women. I'm sure that - whether you know it yet or not - many of you will also have Norfolk connections, because our wonderful county has always been a welcoming place for newcomers, as well as a place from which many embarked for new lives elsewhere.

Perhaps your ancestors travelled north to Yorkshire (which had strong commercial links along the east coast), became American pioneers, emigrated to a distant part of the Empire, were given assisted emigration to Canada, or were even convicted and transported to the colonies? Wherever they went, your personal story may bring you back to Norfolk.

Whatever your connection to our beautiful county, we are delighted to welcome you back again!

Regardless of your local research interests, the Norfolk Heritage Centre and Norfolk Record Office are your first ports of call. Despite enormous leaps forward in the last ten years, still only the tip of the genealogical iceberg is online, so get out and about to continue your research with real documents and archives! Both of the abovementioned have highly knowledgeable staff who will be very pleased to help you investigate your own unique Norfolk story. Both also run events year-round to help you learn more.

While physical records can take us so far and provide us with so many incredible real-life stories, as far as I'm concerned, nothing beats following them up by actually walking in the footsteps of the individuals in question. Once you've uncovered some connections, while you're here, stand at the altar where your several-greats grandparents married, visit their final resting place, take a walk around the village where they spent most of their lives and have a drink at their old local!

Norwich was once the second city of England, centre of a very populous county as a whole, and as such, there are thousands of surnames in evidence in this part of the world. Surname mapping may have shown a concentration of your own last name in Norfolk, perhaps because it is locational (derived from a local village for instance) or because you are descended from an immigrant that arrived from the low countries into Norfolk many centuries ago, before the family spread out across the country in later generations.

On a personal note, names such as my maiden name of 'Walne' and a grandmother's name of 'Trory' have significant concentrations in Norfolk, and the incredible gold mine of information available offline has helped no end in tracing individuals on my own tree. In a matter of a few generations I have landed gentry in South Norfolk (including Queen Victoria's consul in Cairo, buried in Brockdish) and on the same generation, silk weavers in Wymondham, poor as the proverbial 'church mice'. Elsewhere I have a military man turned landlord in Norwich, one of the first female graduates from Edinburgh Medical School who grew up in the city, poignant tales of love and loss, and other tales of hard work and achievement against the odds.

Your family tree is by its very nature unique - as is the investigation you choose to take when uncovering it. I do hope that you enjoy rediscovering the places where your family's stories were played out, and perhaps I'll see you at the Heritage Centre soon!

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