Whenever someone leaves a comment on my blog I take a look at his/her profile.
Paul Willis' profile led me to his very attractive and information rich genealogy website. As I wanted to find more about the man behind the site I sent Paul an invitation to submit a profile to GeniMates.
Thanks, Paul, for your prompt response and for sharing your story with us.
Date 29 April 2011
Name Paul Willis
Hometown Hawkhurst, Kent, UK, but now living in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, UK
Are you a Hobbyist or Professional Genealogist? Very keen [almost obsessive] Hobbyist!
What is your day job? I'm a Civil Servant, working in a Job Centre
How long have you been chasing ancestors? Since January 2008
How did you get hooked on genealogy? It all started after I was diagnosed with depression in 2008 and was off work for three months. I took the opportunity to stay with my parents in the Scottish Highlands and while they dug out the research my dad had done in to the family history back in the 1970s. He hadn't been able to get very far (no Internet in those days!) but there was also a bundle of old photos and letters which fascinated me. In particular a four-page letter from my grandmother's sister, Lizzie, to her family written in 1919 when she was employed as a domestic servant in a house in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. As I read it I was fascinated by the mention of my grandmother's name and those of her parents and siblings, but also intrigued by the reference to members of the household where she was working. Following a lot of research I was able to finally set out a full picture of the context and background to the letter. Its now on my website at http://www.thewillistree.info/stories/?p=40
What, if any, formal or informal studies have you undertaken that are relevant to genealogical research? I can honestly say I've had no formal or informal training. I've picked up everything I know from my own journey into my family's history - through magazines, books and hints from others.
What are your areas of Expertise in Genealogy? I woudn't say I have one, but I guess I have become quite good at researching the lives of those from my family tree who died during the two World Wars. I set up a separate website called 'The Roll of Honour' to set out this research. I've been able to set out there in hopefully a reverent way the details of each individual and as much information as possible, including links to their service records, and their entry on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.
Its been humbling to discover their stories, in particular instances where brothers were killed in action, or those who died while still in their teens, or left behind young families.
Please outline your involvement in Genealogy Societies and Groups. To be honest I have no connection to any Genealogy Societies.... I am somewhat at a disadvantage living so far from my geographical area of study!
What are the lands of your ancestors? My ancestors come predominantly from the area around the East Kent coast in England. One strand (my dad's mother's paternal line) comes from South Devon but yep for the most part everyone is rooted in Dover!
What Family Names are you Researching? Willis, Hopper, Huggins, Gurnsey, Greenland, Kingsnorth, Nicholls (thats the Devon connection!), Collard, Harvey, Hare are the main ones.
Who is your favourite ancestor? Why? A difficult question with so many to choose from! I have links going back to the knights of Normandy so I could choose one of them! But at the moment my favourite is alot closer to home - my Great-Grandfather, William Nicholls (1870-1932). He was born in East Allington, a tiny village in Devon, but within two years he and his parents and older sister were living in Fort St George in Madras, India. His father was a Gunner in the Royal Artillery and had been stationed there after completing his training in Essex the previous year.
William's father died sometime between 1876 and 1878, and his mother Ellen married John Gorman - another Gunner - in Bengal in 1878. In 1880 the family were in Burma where William's half-brother John was born; no mention of them in the 1881 Census, but in 1883 they were in Dover Castle Barracks, where Patrick - another half-brother - was born.
In 1891 William was 23 and a boarding with a family in Dover, while his mother and step-family were living in Devon! He married his sweetheart, Susannah Kingsnorth in 1895 in Faversham in north Kent and the couple went on the have seven children. Two of those children died, and of the remaining five only one (my grandmother) went on to marry - and only then when she was 41 years old!
The full story can be read here: http://www.thewillistree.info/stories/?p=5
What ancestral city or town would you like to visit? Why? I'd love to go back to Dover again. Although I wasn't born in the town and have never actually lived there, I have wonderful memories of visiting both sets of grandparents there in the 1970s and 1980s as its the area where my parents grew up. I did go back in 2008 for a week to do some family history research but another visit would be great!
Also, I would love to visit the town of West Newbury in Massachusetts USA. Its where a whole branch of the Willis family settled after emigrating from the Kent village of Barham back in the 1830s and 1840s.
What is your favourite resource for genealogy? I have to resist saying 'the internet!' and instead say that my favourite resource has to be people! Since starting my research I've made contact with over 100 people who have also been researching their part of the tree and we've been able to share information and media with each other, and realise that we are related - albeit 2nd, 3rd or 4th cousins, or whatever!
I would also mention a book called 'The Genealogist's Internet' written by Peter Christian (http://www.spub.co.uk/tgi4/index.php) which is about as comprehensive a round-up of online genealogical resources as you're likely to find
Do you keep your genealogy files on paper? Yes
Do you keep your genealogy files on a computer? Yes
What genealogy software do you use to record your family tree? I tend to use my online site (Editor's note: TNG) to record additions and updates, but also have a copy of Personal Ancestral File [PAF] on my laptop for those 'offline' periods!
Do you have your tree posted on the internet? Yes
If Yes What is the URL?
What Social Networking Sites do you use for genealogy? Facebook, Genes Reunited
Do you have a blog? No
What are your Other Hobbies, Activities, Interests? Watching movies, reading my Amazon Kindle, watching TV shows to do with history, watching episodes of 'Who Do You Think You Are?' on DVD...
What is your favourite lesiure time activity apart from genealogy Spending time with family...
What is your favourite (non genealogy) book? "Dover Harbour" by Thomas Armstrong, published in the 1940s. A historical novel set in the town during the turn of the 19th Century...
What is your personal philosophy in a few words ? I suppose take life as it comes, seek the good in everyone, treat people as you would like to be treated, and never lose your sense of humour!