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Beginning Your Family History

Part Twelve: LGBTQ+ Ancestors

User Avatar Penelope Lovesy 09/07/2020 23:18:45

Last Friday I was scrolling through my social media and I saw a post from BCP Council highlighting how they were flying the flag for Virtual Pride. Bourne Free Pride Festival has been postponed this year, but celebrations were still happening online.

This made me stop and reflect. What resources and guidance are available to trace our LGBTQ+ ancestors? This is something that I have never researched and so I thought I would put together a blog post full of links to expert guidance and useful sources of information.

A good place to start is with this blog by Maria Mckee: https://www.findmypast.co.uk/blog/help/lgbt-ancestors There are recommendations and advice to help uncover the life story of LGBTQ+ family members and a useful summary of suggestions:

  1. Never assume, generalise or stereotype.
  2. Use every resource around you and don’t just stick to traditional records.
  3. Explore more than just the individual – where did they live? What was happening in the world at the time?
  4. Sometimes official records can subtly divulge clues. For example, if your ancestor is shown on a census with a border over multiple years, it's possible they disguised a same-sex relationship as a landlord-tenant arrangement.
  5. It is possible that your LGBT ancestor assumed a new name or used a nickname among their friends. In lesbian circles of the '20s and '30s, it was common for women to refer to themselves as Jack or Tommy.

The National Archives, as always, is a great source of information, ideas and learning: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/gay-lesbian-history/

Their guide “helps you find records relating to sexuality and gender identity history.  Researching this subject can be time-consuming and difficult, as this area of study is still in its infancy and many sources are not immediately obvious. The guide suggests potentially useful documents and search terms but is not exhaustive.”

Another wealth of information can be found at the Bishopgate Institute: https://www.bishopsgate.org.uk/collections/lgbtq-archives

They hold “one of the most extensive collections on LGBTQ+ history, politics and culture in the UK. It covers the late nineteenth century onward.” You can search their online catalogue here; https://www.bishopsgate.org.uk/archives-1/accessing-the-archives/search-the-online-catalogue

The LGBTQ histories section on the British Library website, https://www.bl.uk/lgbtq-histories is another in-depth resource.  “From the 1500s to today, this site charts the struggles for love, identity and legislative change faced by LGBTQ communities in the UK.

Here we explore the experiences and stories encountered in our collections, but also pose questions and seek to involve the community in thinking about answers. This is not a finite resource and will grow over time to represent the spectrum of LGBTQ life and experience in the UK.”

There is a LGBTQ timeline and you can search the resources, read fascinating articles and find some thought-provoking items from their collections.

Paud’s Pins is a place to share stories and memories and is a very useful, more modern resource.  https://paudspins.wordpress.com/

The V&A Museum has a LGBTQ working group, https://www.vam.ac.uk/info/lgbtq which “looks to unearth previously hidden or unknown LGBTQ histories in the collections and aim to facilitate understanding of LGBTQ identities and histories through research, public programming, discussion and debate. We also consider the ways in which visitors themselves interpret and make sense of museum objects on the basis of their own identities and experiences.” This is a great source to explore and learn from.

Finally, back to the National Archives and their series of podcasts about LGBT history, which are worth a listen to add historical context and background to the lives of your LGBTQ+ ancestors; https://media.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php/tag/lgbt/

These are just a small amount of the resources available for you to learn more about researching LGBTQ+ ancestors. I hope that they provide a starting point to finding out more and adding context and colour to previously hidden lives and histories.

Please get in touch with us if you have any questions or comments, or if you would like to share the story of your research journey and ancestors localhistory@bcpcouncil.gov.uk

Once again, I would like to acknowledge the support and advice of local Dorset researcher, Charlie Lord. Charlie’s blog can be found here; https://dorsetmarginalia.wordpress.com/

The image is taken from the Unsplash website, a source of freely available images https://unsplash.com/ It is by Sharon McCutcheon.


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