How clutching at straws paid handsome dividends

THIS SITE WAS BORN out of frustration. Frustration on two counts. One that through my own family research I had built a substantial list of names of ancestors but knew little about them or their lives, and secondly that I had researched back into the 1700s but then hit a brick wall and could get back no further.

Having got back six generations, all of whom were in the Birmingham/Warwickshire area – and crucially beyond the point at which Birmingham began its explosive expansion in the 19th century – it seemed likely that my Sheldon family had always been in the same area.

More in hope than expectation, I began exploring the possibility of finding in earlier records Sheldons who might provide some sort of magical missing link. I was well and truly clutching at proverbial straws but my perseverance was rewarded in an altogether different way to the one I’d anticipated.

Nothing prepared me for the quite extraordinary number of stories that began to emerge from the records of the dim and distant past.

I found documentary evidence relating to Sheldons dating as far back as the early years of the Norman Conquest. Other discoveries were hidden away in dusty volumes that hadn’t seen the light of day for years. Then there were the many Sheldon references held in the UK’s National Archives, a collection increasingly being made available for online examination.

But even when you find a relevant record your research is further stymied by so many records being in Latin. And not just ordinary Latin, but Medieval Latin, added to which is the further complication of the abbreviations and short forms scholars of the day employed, enabling them to maximise the information recorded while minimising the use of expensive parchment paper.

Hugely indebted to early researchers

I am hugely indebted to those scholars who had been there before me, painstakingly blazing a trail scores of years ago. I have endeavoured to build on their efforts, drawing on the many more sources of material available to the modern-day researcher.

One such researcher was the gloriously-named Etwell Augustine Bracher Barnard, M.A., F.S.A., F.R. Hist. S., who in the 1920s and ‘30s meticulously researched the history of the Sheldons of Warwickshire and Worcestershire.

His studies were commissioned by a Mrs Rees Price of Broadway, Worcestershire, as a memorial to her husband, whose “devotion to the Sheldons was inspired by… one of the pioneers of research in connection with the Sheldon tapestry-weavers and their work”.

Sadly, so much of the past is hidden away by paywalls, but it’s worth persevering with other avenues before committing your hard-earned cash.

There is no little irony in the fact that so many books on British history that require payment for access in the UK can be accessed free of charge through the US Library of Congress or one of the many US or Canadian university libraries. Another great resource is Google Books.

So what will you find on this site? Well, in short, you will find tales of:

  • Derring-do
  • Knights of old
  • Wealth, power and influence
  • Rebellion
  • Religious persecution
  • Military leaders
  • ‘Traitors’; to their country
  • Pioneering entrepreneurs
  • Men of science
  • Artistic talent
  • Hollywood connections
  • Harrowing executions

One family prospered through 900 years

The people featuring in these stories had one thing in common – they were all Sheldons.

One Sheldon family in particular prospered over nigh on 900 years before the main line died out around the turn of the 20th century. But such an enormous family – I have a total of 473 names on their family tree so far – must have had many offshoots down the centuries still to be traced. Although the main line of descendency died out there are almost certainly other family strands still to seek out.

Their family roots go back to the village of Sheldon, now part of Birmingham but in medieval times and right into the latter part of the 19th century very much a rural village. From there they branched out into the neighbouring counties of Staffordshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Leicestershire and beyond.

The first of the articles relating to this family can be found by following this link The birth of the first great Sheldon dynasty. You will find links to subsequent stories at the bottom of each article so that each may be read in chronological order.

Should any of our stories pique your interest in your own Sheldon background we will in due course be making available a range of downloads that may help to kick-start your Sheldon research.

Watch this space!

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