Family tree search raises historical face of town’s past

Portrait of Quintin Rhodes which hangs in Wetherby Town Hall. (S)
Portrait of Quintin Rhodes which hangs in Wetherby Town Hall. (S)
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In Wetherby Town Hall a few weeks ago, I came across a couple at the top of the stairs, looking at the portrait of Quintin Rhodes.

It transpired that the man (also called Rhodes) was a direct descendant of one of Wetherby’s major benefactors.

He and his wife had travelled up from Devon to Yorkshire in order to trace his ancestors and find out more about them.

After spending the morning in Wetherby, they were going on to Knaresborough because they had been told that the Rhodes family had a tomb in the church there.

It was odd because there was a distinct family resemblance between Mr Rhodes and his ancestor.

I promised him that I would get someone from the Historical Trust to see what other information is available and to send it to him.

If you haven’t heard of Quintin Rhodes, I suggest having a look at his portrait in the Town Hall – it hangs on the wall by the lift on the first floor.

He was apparently a Director of the Wetherby Workhouse and was instrumental in funding the building of St James’ Church, so is an important part of Wetherby’s heritage.

Family history, or genealogy to give it its proper title, has become extremely popular in the last few years, no doubt helped along by the wealth of information now available on the internet.

I am always amazed by the sheer volume of data which can now be accessed – census records, military records, even some parishes have managed to put their archives on line.

I wonder why we have suddenly become interested in where we come from? Is it because data is more easily available?

Prior to the internet, it was a question of actually visiting a town and going through the parish records for births, marriages and deaths.

Cemetery records were also a useful source of material but it took a great deal of time and money to travel around and locate the required information.

How much easier it is to sit at your computer and use the mouse!

Of course, television has cashed in on the interest with programmes such as Who do you Think you are? where celebrities are taken all over the world to find out where their ancestors came from.

It is astounding what interesting backgrounds they all seem to have had – every one of them had at least a couple of ancestors with fascinating stories to tell.

You do wonder if the research was done way ahead and then the person was dropped if nothing of jawdropping interest was uncovered.

I doubt that many of us would be able to find murderers, pirates, prostitutes and foreign royalty in our family histories.

Like many of you, we have a large cupboard full of family photographs and old albums, but the sad thing is that we have absolutely no idea who a lot of the people in them actually are.

I wish that we had taken the trouble to go through them with older members of the family before they died and made notes on the back.

I was looking through some of them the other day with my 10-year-old granddaughter and she was totally fascinated by photos of my great-aunts in very Victorian skirts and blouses.

One of my husband’s retirement projects is to put all of these photographs into some sort of order and then to start researching the family history.

I wonder if there are any Wetherby families who can trace their history back more than, say, six generations or who have ancestors with a fascinating story to tell? If so, I would love to hear from you.

For the Jubilee celebrations last year, there was an exhibition in the Town Hall of photographs of Wetherby over the 60 years of the Queen’s reign.

Judging by the number of people who visited it, there is a huge amount of interest locally in the past.

I know that there are literally thousands of photographs of Wetherby through the ages in existence.

What a pity that we don’t have some sort of local museum where they, and other memorabilia, can be easily accessed by local residents.

Is there a 21st century version of Quintin Rhodes out there who would like to provide the town with such a wonderful resource?

Speaking of Wetherby’s past, I was told recently that when I made the remark in a previous column that we do not have any unusual venues for weddings in the town, I was wrong because the Engine Shed is now fully licensed and available for civil ceremonies.

It is wonderful that one part of our heritage at least has been saved from demolition and put to very good use. What a great place in which to be married.