The Britons booking stays at the former homes of their ancestors

warwick castle suite ancestry holidays family tree

For Faith Moulin, 72, it was 'really quite moving' to stay in a small holiday rental attached to 14th-century Godinton House in Kent, a property her Great Aunt Min had worked in as a lady’s companion in the 1930s. “It was amazing to walk the halls she’d walked,” says Moulin, who was born a few years after her great aunt’s death and never got to meet her, though Moulin’s childhood home was filled with ‘exotic things’ that once belonged to the well-travelled aunt. “I could just picture her inspecting the lovely herbaceous borders in the garden of the stately home.”

For Janet Brown, it was ‘uncanny, but magical’ to discover, when researching her husband’s family tree in Dorset that the pub B&B they were bedded down in had been home to her husband’s great, great grandfather in the 1850s.

And for Heather Pocock, 52, it 'felt like a lottery win' to stay in a cottage on a farm in Norfolk her family owned three generations ago and stand at the altar where her great greats married in 1850. “I still get the shivers when I think about it,” she says.

Godington House aerial – Getty

Bricks and mortar genealogical getaways have witnessed a growth in popularity in recent years, inspired by television programmes that have unearthed history through the lives of a home’s former residents, such as BBC’s A House Through Time, Phil Spencer’s History of Britain in 100 Homes and If Walls Could Talk: the History of the Home with Lucy Worsley.

In response to the growing interest in properties’ former residents, leading genealogy site FindMyPast has launched a new feature that allows users to search census records by address. Site spokesperson Alex Cox said: it’s “one of the site’s most popular pages, which surprised us”. Competitor Ancestry.co.uk’s GPS map function, meanwhile, shows app-using holidaymakers their proximity to properties with family links: you might find you are standing in a church your relative was christened in, perhaps, or in front of a rank of cottages where your great-greats huddled around the hearth in the 1870s.

Christian Stevenson, 74 and from Chester, felt “very lucky indeed” to stay in a suite in the 14th century Caesar’s tower within Warwick Castle, with its wooden four-posters and lancet windows and roaming peacocks, knowing that her distant relatives were once lord and lady of this handsome Medieval pile.

That said, Brian Donovan, a head genealogist with Find My Past, says we shouldn’t have overly lofty expectations and assume that a quick census hunt will turn up a country house hotel our ancestors once inhabited as pampered aristocrats, despite the British nobility’s habit of reproducing with the lower orders.

“Many times our clients’ family homes were literally mud huts where the family lived with animals which, if they survive, have become outhouses of bigger properties,” Donovan explains.

Even if you’re not fortunate to find a holiday cottage or B&B that once belonged to your greats (holiday-cottage dotted Cornwall and the Lake District being most likely for such a find), many of us will be able to find a pub our forebears frequented, schools they attended or churches they were baptised or married in, Donovan adds. The wealth of documents now available online, notes house historian Karen Averby, which include censuses, property rates books and electoral registers, make increasingly easy the amateur history sleuth to delve into properties to which we might have family links, whereas those with cash to splash can commission a genealogical tour provider to arrange a stay in the former homes of any of your family members that are now holiday properties (AncestralFootsteps.com’s packages start at £5,000).

And if the trail leads to disappointment, it can still be great fun. When researching her family tree a couple of years ago, Carolyn Wood, 62 and from Stoke on Trent, discovered that her ancestral home in Grantham is now a kebab shop. Undeterred, Wood still revisits the property when she’s in the area, a white stucco Georgian building with picture windows overlooking the town’s marketplace. “I like to imagine that my family, who were grocers in the 19th century, looked down on the hubbub from the windows,” she says, adding: “Next time I might try the kebabs.”

Top tips for researching your own family tree

  • The National Archives have online guides to searching house history records, including census records and the 1939 Register, which was taken at the outbreak of war

  • Check out local and county record offices and archives, which have their own House History research guides, many of which are available for free online.

  • Every Thursday from 7-8pm there’s House History Hour on Twitter, hosted by a team of leading house historians, with tips, sources and chat

  • Newspapers, which can be a goldmine of information, can be searched for free online via British Newspaper Archive, though you’ll need a subscription to view the records themselves.

Have you discovered anything interesting about your ancestry? Tell us in the comments section below

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