AUTHOR, historian, poet, musician and teacher – Keith Gregson is a man with many strings to his bow.
But it was a love of ferreting out secrets hidden within family trees which inspired his latest project – new book A Viking In The Family.
“Family history has exploded in popularity in recent years. Where gardening and fishing were once favourite hobbies, now genealogy is the pastime of choice,” said Keith.
“It has become fashionable to have a black sheep in the family. But interesting family stories tend to reveal themselves gradually, often through a chance encounter or discovery.
“There is plenty of first-class material out there for the family historian and, with a little sleuthing and some luck, ancestral bones can be firmly fleshed out.”
A Viking In The Family is a book of two halves: the first part packed with unusual family tree stories from around the world, the second offering tips and hints to genealogists.
Tales of brave soldiers, train wreck heroines, Trafalgar sailors and a Jack the Ripper suspect have been included, and there is even a story about the man behind Mickey Mouse.
Keith, who lives in Ashbrooke, has documented several stories from his own family tree within the book too – including the tale of attending a wedding from beyond the grave.
“A giant hand-coloured photograph was discovered at the back of my grandparent’s pantry when the house was being cleared in the 1970s,” he recalls.
“It was taken at my great-grandfather’s wedding at Barrow in Furness in the 1890s, but a family member remarked at the time that there was ‘something strange about it.’
“It now hangs in my house and the mystery has been solved. The picture is, in essence, a composite of three photos – including one of the bride’s mother, who died six months prior to the wedding!
“The tried and tested statement of ‘The camera never lies’ is worthy of examination here. The camera may accurately snap what is set before it, but this can be manipulated to create a falsehood.”
The truth behind the photo was finally uncovered following detailed research, and Keith hopes his new book will both help and inspire others to take a closer look at their own family histories.
“A few months before I began work on A Viking In The Family I was helping my mother clear out the garden shed. She was in her late 80s and I had just had my 60th birthday,” he said.
“At the back of the shed was a small, two-handled tub. I was stunned when she told me it was my old baby bath. Too big to fit into a family scrapbook, perhaps, but indispensable nevertheless.”
A second sort out uncovered a battered old copy of A Century of Creepy Stories – the book which helped bring Keith’s parents together following the end of the Second World War.
“Both these finds are important pieces of information relative to our family, and my own book brings together many similar cases of unexpected discoveries from family historians,” he said.
“They show how evidence, whether written, pictorial or an unusual object, has been used to shape a family’s history. Each entry also tells the story behind the discovery.
“These tales are the very essence of family history and I hope that, after reading them, people are inspired to delve further into the hidden corners of their family trees.”
* A Viking In The Family and Other Family Tree Stories, by Keith Gregson, is published by The History Press at £9.99.