‘The Ridouts of Sherborne’ – writing up your family history

SDFHS member, Karen Francis, describes how she started investigating her Ridout ancestors and encourages other family historians to publish their research so that it can be preserved.


Reg and Elsie Ridout. Photograph taken about 1916.

In March 2004, I decided to find out a bit about my maternal grandparents, Reg and Elsie Ridout. I started off with what I knew: Reg had run a fish and chip shop at 38a Kingsmead Street in Bath; Elsie smelt of lavender and baked gorgeous chocolate cake. Not exactly a lot to go on, but what do children ever really know about their grandparents? Well, my mother knew her grandfather’s name, which was John Arthur Ridout, and that he died in 1953, the year my two year old self met him. I dimly remember a tall man, wearing brown tweeds, folded awkwardly into an armchair like a stick insect; he offered me a Cadbury’s chocolate biscuit, which my pudgy little fingers grasped no doubt.

Having subscribed to Ancestry, I found John Arthur in the 1901 census and impatiently leapfrogged backwards until I found his father Edwin and then followed him back to 1851… to my first Ooh Ahh moment … finding that Edwin’s father was then still alive! My x3 great grandfather was John, born ~1785 in Sherborne. I was a bit shaken because I’d assumed that my mum’s family had been in Bath forever; the discovery that they came from Dorset was quite radical. When you have found three generations of your family in almost as many minutes you should probably spend a moment or two taking stock or making a plan, but I didn’t. I was oblivious to grandfathers and great grandfathers and, for a couple of years, concentrated solely on John before branching out to lesser mortals. John has always my first love though; strange the way we can be entranced by a total stranger.

I’m not a linear thinker, more of a ‘gut instinct coupled with logic’ sort of person, not surprising perhaps for an ex police officer. I did attempt to adopt the magnificent Elizabeth Shown Mills’ stringent rules of evidence at one point, but impatience inevitably led to failure. I daresay I could be criticised for paying too much heed to my random neuronal firings back then but, when all is said and done, family history is just my hobby – who tells a philatelist which way up to stick stamps in their album? However, a few years ago, after amassing quite a collection of facts and figures it occurred to me that perhaps I shouldn’t just keep my discoveries to myself – what if I was run over by that anecdotal bus? Who would know what I’d discovered? I was forced to introduce a little method to my madness; I re-traced my steps, entered my data into a good genealogical software program and started an online blog and a one-name yDNA study. I became a model family historian: I bought box files, acid-free photo storage and even polished my desk occasionally but, a year or so ago my brain was again troubled – suppose the internet imploded, where would my decade’s worth of research actually go? Considering the fragility of cyberspace caused me to fall back on a tried and tested method of data preservation – paper; I decided to write a book.

In the old days aspiring authors had to find a publisher willing to take a gamble on their literary gems, but now there are ‘print-on-demand’ services so you can be your own publisher. The distribution company simply prints and posts your work to anyone who wants to buy the book and there is no expense to you, unless buy a copy for yourself, of course. My biggest concern about writing a book was that I thought it would have to be erudite, grammatically faultless and referenced to pieces. This is undoubtedly true if you aim to write an authoritative text, but not if you’re writing your own story. In a nutshell, your readers can take or leave what you say; it is your story to tell and so tell it in whatever way you like. For my book, I simply reproduced an embellished version of the blog, with additional chapters and data, sprinkled with illustrations.

When I started writing the blog I hadn’t really considered that anyone would read it, although I secretly hoped that they would, of course. Happily, since its inception, the site has received more than 23,000 hits and currently has 144 followers; I’ve received comments and contacts from all over the world and some of these have been hitherto unknown, distant members of my family. Unfortunately, I haven’t sold enough copies of the printed form to put me in the running for the Mann Booker Prize just yet but my reward has been in holding in my hand something that I’ve created. My cousins have all bought copies too, for themselves and their offspring. So, if you’ve ever given any thought to what will happen to your research after you’re gone, take my tip, write it down, put it in print, get an ISBN and send a copy to the British Library – your family history will be preserved for ever. Unless the Library burns down….!

Karen Francis

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18 Responses to ‘The Ridouts of Sherborne’ – writing up your family history

  1. toni says:

    I got here from the family-historian-users mail list where you told us about self publishing! I wish you lived next door!

  2. Pingback: The Greenwood Tree – preview of the November 2015 edition | Somerset & Dorset Family History Society

  3. Hi All

    I am Noel Ridout from Cape Town South Africa. Born 1949. My Father was George Harry Ridout born in 1912. His Father, also George Harry Ridout, came from Bath. He was born around about 1875. He was in the railway, then moved to Scotland, to Scottich Rail and married my Gran Hannah Maggie Longrigg. They immagated to South Africa where he joined the South African Railways. I went to Bath with my kids, bot UK residents to try and trace my Gran Dad but could not, can anyone help. The most amazing part of my trip was a picture of my daughter and myself and unbeknowest to us as the time, she was pregnant. So I have picture of three generations of Ridout in my Grand Dads home town, must be message there somewhere.

    Best Regards

    Noel (Nick) Ridout

    • c jamieson says:

      NOEL: The father of your George Harry Ridout Snr may be Joseph Watts Ridout bapt
      19 Oct 1825 Great Cheverell, Wiltshire, England. According to freeBMD Joseph died
      July 1890 Bath. Joseph may have been the son of John Ridout and his wife Susanna(h)
      Watts who married 22 Aug 1825 Great Cheverell, Wiltshire. Joseph may have been
      married twice, firstly to Matilda Wilton and secondly to Louisa Sims who was about 22 years younger than him but I have not had an opportunity to re-check this
      information. Interestingly, an advertisement appeared in an Australian newspaper at
      one time viz: ”Ridout (Joseph Watts), of Bath, emigrated to Australia about 1870.
      Sister Mary asks.” This item appears under the headings ”KITH AND KIN” and ”Long
      Lost Relatives”. The article commences ”The following inquiries are being made through
      ‘Lloyd’s Weekly News’ by relations and friends of persons who are supposed to be in
      Australia and New Zealand.”. I would suggest checking all UK census records carefully
      commencing 1841. Joseph’s first wife Matilda Wilton may have died after the 1861 Census. By the 1871 Census Joseph may have been married to a Louisa Sims. I think
      Joseph and Matilda married in Wincanton, Somerset and that some Wiltons from
      Wincanton came to Australia at some stage.
      Best wishes

      • Nick Ridout says:

        Hi Thanks so much for this. I remember my Dad commenting on the fact that his Father had dropped the Watts from his surname. So that proves that point. I also had an Aunt from my Dad’s side called Edna Sims, she was rather large and very jolly, and a lovely person, I remember her well. She lived in Cape Town. I have found a Josh Ridout in Australia on Face Book, so will check back with him as well.

        Best Regards


    • Prevaricat says:

      Hi Nick… Did you get my email, sent on the 7th April in response to your query above? I found the same information as Carol and also said that as my Ridout folks were from Bath that we might even be related. If you’d like to open a correspondence then please let me know via this blog and I will try again 🙂 Cheers, Karen

    • Carol Jamieson says:

      Nick: Just thought I would mention that there is a website ”Ridouts of the Cheverells”
      which I think would be of interest to you.
      Kind regards

    • Brian Ridout says:

      Hi Nick, I’m Brian Ridout – the owner of the “Ridouts of the Cheverells” site.
      I’ve very recently corrected George Harry and Hannah Maggie Longrigg?Ridout’s tree and my research shows that they are both our ancestors and so back to George Ridout b. 1776. .I also found a passenger list for Hannah Longrigg sailing to Cape Town in 1904 with her mother and siblings, suggesting that she married your Grandfather in Cape Town.
      Anyway, feel free to view the site, hope it helps,
      All the best from your 4th cousin,

  4. Prevaricat says:

    Thank you Barbara, you are too kind…. no, really 🙂

  5. John Osmond says:

    Just joined the blog, I am looking for info on the Osmonds from Wellington in particular Israel Osmond 1785-1831 he was a Tinman& brazier

    • David Osmond says:

      Just seen your info request. My name is David Osmond a direct descendant of Israel who was my G.G.Grandfather. The earliest info that I found was his first marriage to Mary Lane in Crediton before his second marriage to my G.G.Grandmother Jane Chorley in Wellington but I got no further back when trying to find where he was actually born.

  6. Barbara Elsmore says:

    What an inspirational piece of writing – thank you Karen – music to my ears!

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