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Where Do You Begin?

Posted by on June 28, 2012

I’m writing a religious history of my family, beginning with my Primitive Methodist great-grandfather, Thomas Robinson, more usually known as Tom, born in 1879. My interest in him was sparked  by the stories my grandmother Nellie  used to tell about him, in which he figures as a strict ogre and she as a rebellious rule-breaker.

However, my great-grandfather left no personal papers behind – no letters, diaries or journals – and only one of his twelve children is still alive. So how do you attempt to reconstruct a life when you have few personal records?

Official documents are essential in pinning down key dates –  eg birth and death certificates, marriage and baptism records.

The Robinson family, circa 1929

Baptism and marriage records have also helped verify the family story that Tom was a bit of a drinker who had an amazing, life-changing conversion to Methodism. I wanted to try and pin down the date of this conversion, but I had no solid facts.

From baptism and marriage records in the Westmorland archives, I discovered that Tom was baptised and married in an Anglican church, so his conversion must have taken place after his marriage. I could not find Anglican baptism records for his children. Happily, the archives also had microfilm copies of the Methodist baptismal records, and trawling through these I discovered that Tom and Ann’s first four children were baptised together in the Methodist church in Newbiggin-on-Lune in January 1906, which would suggest a recent conversion to the faith.

The quest continues for more information about this pivotal event in Tom Robinson’s life.


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