Have you ever wondered what your descendants got up to? Where they lived, whether they had large or small families, what they did for a living?

Nowadays it is not hard to find out, and if you want a nudge in the right direction, Bradford Family History Society has experts on hand to assist.

“Members get a lot out of the society,” says its chairman Sue Steel. “Even if their families turn out to not be from around here, they still enjoy researching.

“If you are doing a family tree we would recommend you join - we can help if you get stuck. If you have family in Bradford going back years, there will be people with local knowledge who can help.”

The society was founded in 1982 by a small group of individuals attending a course in family history run by the late Philip Rushworth, its first chairman.

“He was doing some family history tutorials with a group who decided to form the society,” says Sue.

The aim of the society is to promote family history by education, mutual assistance, demonstrations, lectures, excursions and any other means.

It is run solely by volunteers with a passion for family and local history, working in their spare time.

From its inception, the group has grown from strength to strength. Now having more than 500 members, some from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Europe.

“We have about two talks every month, which are always interesting - a recent one covered the criminally insane and asylums,” says Sue. “If you are searching family history you might find someone who has been through the courts and been declared insane.”

Research is carried out using material in local studies libraries and archives, in particular Bradford Local Studies Library in Margaret McMillan Tower.

Eighteen talks are planned throughout 2020.

Sue has researched her own family, who were mill workers and agricultural labourers who lived around Idle and Thackley.

“I went back to the late 18th century, as far as I could go,” she says.

She has photographs of her family members, including her grandmother Helena Stoney and her great grandmother Emma Jane Maw. One shows Emma with her daughters Clare and Lily and her son Norman.

“It was taken just before Norman went off to serve in World War One,” says Sue. “Thankfully he survived.

“It was typical of many families in that period, to have photographs taken before family members went off to fight in the trenches. At that point they did not realise the horror of what was going to happen.”

Finding out a fact about your family can be thrilling,” says Sue. “It takes a lot of detective work finding a thread. I’ve often been in the archives with other people and all of a sudden someone will be heard saying ‘YES!’”

Part of the society’s work involves education. “We have held drop-in sessions for anyone - people don’t have to be members.”

Overseas members are eligible for a ‘link scheme’ through which they can email or write to the society and members will carry out research on their behalf. “Our members have such vast knowledge of the areas of Bradford - it is interesting to find out about the social history, what the areas were like.”

Members have also compiled details of monumental inscriptions from churchyards and burial registers which are available on CD. “We transcribe all the headstones,” says Sue.

She has also uncovered details of her Great Uncle Edward Stoney from Shipley. A photograph taken before he went off to fight in the Second World War is among her treasured family pictures. “He came back and took his own life,” Sue reveals.

Members of the society travel to other towns and cities across Yorkshire, including York and Huddersfield, to take part in family history days. A quarterly journal, the Bod-Kin is also produced.

Research can throw up interesting, uplifting and also very sad tales. One member of the society, who did not wish to be named, recounts what she discovered within her family history.

She cites her great, great maternal aunt, Annie Baxter as an illustration of what she unearthed using straightforward research techniques. “Most of the information is from the Ancestry website including public family trees. I also used the Bradford FHS Nab Wood cemetery CD to locate the McClelland family grave.”

Born in Idle in 1864, Annie was, according to the 1871 census, the fourth child of William Wright Baxter and Maria, formerly Lee. In 1871 she was one of seven children, although it is possible that other siblings had died as babies. In those days many infants did not live long and stillborn births were common.

By the 1881 census the family - now with 11 children - still lived in what is believed to have been a modest-sized house in Back Lane, Idle. Annie was working as a spinner, probably in a local mill.

On March 3, 1884 Annie’s mother Maria died at the age of 45. “I don’t have her death certificate but after at least 14 pregnancies and poor health care her early death is of no surprise,” explains the society member.

Annie’s father William was known to be violent. A paragraph appears in the Shipley and Saltaire Times on July 26 1884 entitled ‘ A father threatening his daughter’.

“Annie had appeared in court stating that her father had threatened her with bodily harm on June 30 1884 and on another occasion before that date. He was bound over for six months to keep the peace.”

Later on William W Baxter was declared insane and contained in Menston Asylum. “Soon after this Annie met her future husband Zachariah Jones McClelland - an easy person to research with such an unusual combination of names.”

They were married in April 1886, three months before their first child Maria was born

“The pregnancy may have motivated the couple to marry that April,” says the member. The family settled in Queen Street, Shipley and Zac worked as a baker.

The 1891 census finds their situation unchanged.

The couple’s second child Willie died in January 1897 aged five and is buried in the family grave at Nab Wood cemetery.

By the turn of the century Annie and Zac had become publicans, managing the Royal Oak in Otley. Their second son Stanley McClelland was born in the town in 1903.

In 1908 Maria met Frederick John Maudsley and eloped with him to New York. Fred had a job in the printing industry.

“The elopement was reported in the local newspaper,” says the member. “Their parents returned home to find a note informing them of where Maria and Fred had gone.”

When the 1911 census came along Annie, Zac and Stanley are living as publicans at the George hotel, 142 Leeds Road, Idle.

Another tragic event befell the family, when in 1918 Stanley, then aged 15, went with the scouts to Old Colwyn in Wales where he swam out of his depth and drowned.

“I don’t have Annie’s death certificate but believe that Stanley’s early death may have influenced her dying eight months later,” says the member. “Annie had a funeral service at Idle parish church on Saturday March 8, 1919 followed by her burial at Nab Wood Cemetery - section L row 13.”

Anyone with any interest or family connection with Annie is welcome to contact the Information Officer at Bradford FHS via the website. Bradford Family History Society - a limited company - is a member of the Federation of Family History Societies and the Yorkshire Group of Family History Societies. *For more information visit bradfordfhs.org.uk; E: infofficer@bradfordfhs.org.uk T: Sue on 07855 773102