Family history changes lives
Through her work with Who Do You Think You Are? Eileen Butcher has helped a fair few celebrities unearth their family history, but she’s equally at home helping some of the country’s most vulnerable people rediscover their past. In this interview she discusses the work that Anglia Research does for The Money Carer Foundation (MCF), a not-for-profit organisation that supports adults who are not able to manage their own financial affairs.
Anglia Research’s Eileen Butcher heads the team that finds the long lost family members of some of MCF’s most vulnerable clients.
“As a genealogist there’s nothing better than seeing your work bring visible improvements to people’s lives,” she says. “That’s why I enjoy probate research – and it’s also why I’m excited by the work we’re doing with The Money Carer Foundation.”
MCF oversees the financial affairs of people who can no longer manage their own money.
“Many of their clients are elderly,” explains Eileen. “For example, one lady in her 90s became a client following the death of her long-term partner.”
“Sybil Martin suffers from dementia and very little was known about her background. It was thought that she had a daughter called Shirley Martin who lived in Newcastle, but searches and police checks could not trace her. When MCF asked me to trace Sybil’s family, the only information they could give me was her name, date of birth and the fact that she was divorced.”
This was a tricky case involving two marriages, two divorces and a mis-indexed birth record. Nevertheless, Eileen was able to get to the bottom of it.
“It turned out that Sybil’s daughter was a child of her first, rather than her second, marriage,” she explains. “So the name Shirley Martin was a complete red herring. When I eventually tracked down Shirley Saunders and wrote to her, I received a call the next day. Mrs Saunders confirmed who she was and said she was happy for me to pass on her contact details to MCF.”
It takes time and sensitivity to re-unite family members, but it seems likely that Sybil will see her daughter again.
“As a probate genealogist, I’m aware how frequently family members lose touch with one another,” Eileen observes. “And when you factor in the problems that many MCF clients face – be it Alzheimer’s, learning difficulties or a history of mental illness – it’s easy to see that these people are particularly vulnerable to losing touch with family, friends and the life history that gives them their identity.”
Sean Tyrer, CEO of The Money Carer Foundation, is convinced that gathering information about a client’s personal history improves the quality of their care and their enjoyment of life.
“Many of our clients are referred to us because they have no close family member to look after them,” he says. “Sometimes they can’t tell us about their childhood, their parents and their siblings, and no one knows much about their background. This doesn’t mean that we ignore their past. We aim to improve our clients’ lives in practical ways and so we’re proactive in finding family for clients who have lost contact with their relatives.
“Obviously we hope that our partnership with Anglia Research will result in direct contact between our clients and their relatives, but we’re aware that’s not always achievable. However, there are countless other benefits. For example, Eileen’s team provides our clients with pictorial family trees and whole life booklets that can trigger memories and help rebuild a sense of identity.
“It’s important to look at this from a carer’s perspective too. It’s obvious: the more a carer knows about their client’s background, the more points of connection and opportunities for conversation they have.”
For Eileen the work she does for MCF fits comfortably with her probate research caseload. “It involves the same skill-set and the same specialist tools,” she says. “Building family trees quickly and accurately and then tracking down relatives is what we do every day at Anglia Research. It’s our area of expertise – and it’s great to be able to put that expertise to work in the service of such a good cause.”
(For reasons of confidentiality, clients’ names and other identifying features have been altered.)
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