A century ago, on 6 November 1914, Richard Preece, the headmaster of Hitcham School wrote in the school log:
“19 recruits started off from the school gate to join the 5th Suffolk Regiment at Bury St Edmunds. They went away in three motors. A good many parishioners mustered outside and the children gave them a hearty send off. All but one are old scholars.”
Local historian David Turner reported that a photograph of the 19 volunteers with the school master was taken outside the school , and confirmed that photograph in my possession is a copy of it .
It is a lovely story, but can the claim that this photograph was taken to commemorate the event be corroborated?
First, I located the former school building, named School House and matched the spot.
The 1914 photo closely fits the area indicated by the red frame. The doorway is a distinctive shape and the level of the guttering relative to the door is the same in both photos. Although the building is now rendered, a patch of plaster had come off revealing the brickwork underneath, so the construction materials and architectural details match up. The 1872 date stone suggests the building was standing in 1914.
My photograph was inherited from Raymond Walter Coulson (1922-1997), son of Albert Walter Coulson (1888-1956). From other photographs in Raymond’s collection, I recognise Albert Walter Coulson and his brother Arthur Coulson as the two men standing at the right hand end of the second row. Facial recognition is not entirely reliable, so is not strong enough evidence by itself.
Arthur’s attestation paper, found in the National Archives’ collection of service pension records, gives his date of enlistment as 6 November 1914 . No service or pension records were found for Albert, but these record sets are known to be incomplete. Albert recorded his date of enlistment as 6 November 1914 in his Platoon Roll and Note Book, which was inherited with the photograph. Matching the dates of enlistment to the school log book entry is compelling evidence supporting the claim that the photo was taken on the 6 November 1914.
The recruits were initially assigned to the 2/5 Suffolk Regiment for training and re-assigned to other regiments later. These 19 recruits were only a proportion of Hitcham men who served during World War I.
Do you recognise any of the other recruits? Did your ancestor volunteer on the same date? I would really like to identify all 19, so please do let me know.
 Turner, David. (1999). Hitcham in the Wars. Memories from the twentieth century. Booklet no. 4. Discovering Historical Hitcham. [no publication details, distributed at Hitcham parish church]. p. 1.
 Turner, David. (29 January 2002). Letter to Sue Adams.
 Territorial Force Attestation (Army Form E 501). (6 November 1914). No. 2642, Arthur Coulson, 5th Suffolk; Digital image. British Army WWI Pension Records 1914-1920. C>Co>Cou. image no 13989 of 20031. Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 6 November 2104); citing The National Archives. (n.d.). Coulam, Ernest – Coult, George. War Office: Soldiers’ Documents from Pension Claims, First World War (Microfilm Copies). The National Archives, Kew. WO 364/815; citing Genealogical Society of Utah. (1990-1995) microfilm no 1735807.
 Coulson, Albert Walter. ca 1917-1918. Platoon Roll and Note Book. [Inherited from son Albert Walter Coulson, Raymond Walter Coulson.] Sue Adams private collection. RWC/4/1.
© Sue Adams 2014
What does your family tree look like?
Most people think of their family tree as a kind of chart that depicts relationships between family members. Using a tree diagram to represent knowledge is common to many disciplines and has been around for a long time, as the New Scientist article Why do we love to organise knowledge into trees points out.
Family tree diagrams are most useful as visual representation of a limited set of conclusions. Used as a bare bones summary, they are highly effective. If the diagram does not fit on an A3 sized (roughly 42cm x 29 cm) piece of paper, the message has probably been lost. The branching hierarchy breaks down once lines start crossing, often within just a few generations.
Genealogical research extends a long way beyond a subset of conclusions, and relationships are a lot more complicated than a branching hierarchy.
So is the all pervasive tree metaphor useful? As real trees don’t look much like the branching diagrams either, I wonder if the metaphor can be repurposed.
Your Personal Tree of Knowledge
Think of your family tree as your personal understanding of your family history, genealogy and connected micro-histories: a personal Tree of Knowledge.
A common definition of a tree is a plant with a woody stem or trunk. Real trees also have roots, and canopies that grow leaves, flowers and fruits. Think of the roots as sources of information, the trunk as processes of analysis and the canopy as the conclusions you draw from your research.
The roots of your tree seek out the documents, artefacts, memories and other sources of relevant information using search and browse tools, catalogues to find and access the archives, online repositories and family members hoards.
The trunk of your tree is where the hard graft occurs. Information is evaluated for reliability and accuracy. Many pieces of information are combined to test theories. Evidence points toward tentative and firm conclusions.
The canopy of your tree is the part that others typically see. The products of you work such as family tree charts, stories and the many other ways you communicate your findings are available to others. A high quality product of your work may a seed and guide other researchers to grow their own family tree.
Family history research is iterative. Your tree is fed by both new sources and in interactions with fellow researchers, much as a real tree needs both water and mineral nutrients from the soil and sunlight. Tentative conclusions and other researchers point to new avenues of investigation. New information changes our conclusions. Interactions between ideas and information grow a broad tree trunk. A healthy family tree has a sturdy trunk.
Grow your own family tree
Growing you own tree of family history knowledge is far more rewarding than picking parts of some-one else’s canopy. It takes time and effort to nurture your understanding. That does not mean that you should not collaborate with other researchers. Good collaboration is about helping one another tend our trees.
I aspire to grow a magnificent oak. The form of your tree will be different to mine even if we are closely related. Size does not determine the health of your family tree. A healthy family tree, even a tiny seedling or young sapling is a thing of beauty. Take a closer look at yours.
© Sue Adams 2014