JONATHAN E.O. WILSHERE (1936-1995)
Writings on Leicestershire local history, now available online and free of charge

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'How blue is your blood? Leicester experts can tell'
Source: Probably Leicester Mercury, date unknown

Have you ever wondered about your ancestry? If you are set on finding out if that regal looking mole is significant or if blue blood, diluted over the years, flows through your family's veins, you can get help with the investigations.

Just step down to the records office, dust down an armful of volumes and start reading. But if you want to make sure you do not miss anything, some vital clue easily missed by inexperienced eyes, then you best see the experts. Like Jonathan Wilshere and Susan Green of Leicester Research Services.

Although researching family trees locally is only a branch of their main business - producing historical booklets on Leicester and the county - it is perhaps the most intriguing.

"We get letters from all over the world, Americans particularly, who are very keen to discover their roots. They find in the family collection of letters or an old diary some reference to relatives in Leicester and want to follow the line back," says Jonathan.

Sometimes the only clues they are furnished with are a name often misspelt - and an approximate date. This is when experience counts.

"Our main sources of information are the parish records which were instituted in 1538 - there is not much chance of tracing a tree back further than that. Wills and civil registers are helpful as well.

The farthest we've had to go back so far is the late 1600's when Leicester's population was one third that of Melton today, and it was still basically a market town in a farming community. We often have to disappoint our clients and report a lowly ancestry or that the search needs to be taken up in another county," says Jonathan.

Several things can upset the research of genealogists. Religious nonconformity among a family's predecessors can cause confusion.

"The records were kept by the Church of England," says Susan, "So, a member of a family line of nonconformist faith would be very hard to trace."

An aid to 'tree tracers' however can be the name of the people concerned. Says Jonathan: "It is not often the case but sometimes the name can provide a clue, especially if it is particularly uncommon.

"Names have a habit of reflecting occupations or physical origin. Shepherd and Smith are giveaways, of course, as far as occupations go. A chap with colourful hair might get the name Redhead. Another, with William for a Christian name might have a child known as William's son, hence Williamson."

Some searches peter out in disappointment, even tragedy, like wars that brought the end to lines of descent.

But what makes people today desire to know about their ancestors and the parts they played in history?

"Curiosity, in the main, though to some extent wishful thinking is behind the requests made to us. People like to hope they have some important family history, especially if they share the name of someone of note in the past. It's unlikely, though. I've never yet traced a family tree back to someone of renown," says Jonathan.

Genealogy takes second place for the pair however, to the production of booklets covering local history.

"It started as my hobby, really," says Jonathan. "I'm a lecturer on family history at an adult education centre, I was treasurer of the Leicester Local History Council for several years, and for some time I had been producing these booklets for my own amusement. So I suppose it was a fairly natural step to set up this business four years ago."

Susan joined at the beginning and since then a number of booklets have been produced from "Scenes From Kirby Muxloe History" by Jonathan to a fascinating study of local legends by Susan. They worked together on "The Siege of Leicester - 1645", which has gone into its second edition.

"The booklets take a long time to produce, up to a year. We have an extensive library here but our research carries us to the reference library, city museum and records office," says Jonathan.

"Some town and villages may seems dull but once you get behind the facade you find most places are interesting. It's fascinating work."