I am lucky enough to spend quite a lot of time in Northumberland with my family. It is a beautiful county and despite having visited since my own childhood, I never get tired of going there. Fortunately my own children are now learning to love the places that I holidayed in as a child.
One of these places is Alnwick Castle. The ancestral home of the Dukes of Northumberland, Alnwick Castle was a wonder to me as a child. We used to picnic on the river banks below its walls and gaze at the statues of soldiers which adorned its battlements. I think I must have been inside at some point but it is that view which sticks in my memory. No interactive displays or ghost tours in those days!
To my own children, however, Alnwick Castle is Hogwarts. For the uninitiated (where have you been?!), Hogwarts is the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry attended by Harry Potter in J.K.Rowling's books. Alnwick Castle starred as Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films and nothing makes my children happier than to find themselves once again standing on the castle green where Harry first learns to fly his broomstick.
In fact, they regularly take full advantage of the free "Broomstick Training" offered by the Castle during school holidays. [This, incidentally, for the watching adults, is the equivalent of laughter therapy as two fantastic actors put the kids through their paces...!] My son, never one for dressing up, will happily spend the day in his Harry Potter robes, clutching his wand - safe in the knowledge that he will be far from the only one doing that!
I have discovered, however, an amazing little museum in the Abbots Tower right next to the broomstick training ground... It is the Fusiliers Museum of Northumberland and it holds the history of the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers. It also has regimental records as I realised when looking online for information about an ancestor's military past.
So leaving my husband to the joys of broomstick training, I have sneaked off on a couple of occasions to look around. The staff and volunteers could not have been more helpful and when I submitted a written request for information, I received a letter with all the details that they had, suggestions for tracing more information and ideas about which books might help me. Fabulous service, all in all.
And the deeper I go with looking for details about various family trees, the more it becomes apparent that all over the country there are relatively small museums all trying to protect their collections and share them with the public but on shoestring budgets. The juxtaposition of the behemoth which Alnwick Castle and Gardens have become with the tiny regimental museum is staggering, despite the Duke's obvious support for the regimental connection.
When looking for details about an ancestor, there are all sorts of sources. I wrote a post recently to praise the National Archives and that is indeed an amazing place. But don't forget the smaller institutions too. You can usually find their details on the internet and they will be staffed by keen and knowledgeable people. If needs be, even write a good old fashioned letter! And if you are not a Muggle, you could even send it by owl post.....
This shows the regiment fighting at Lucknow in India, where my ancestor lost his life.