Updated 6 Dec 2000
WIRKSWORTH Parish Records 1600-1900
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Now we all know there's a font of information to be found on the Internet, but some of the more unusual detailed records of one town in the Derbyshire Dales is being set up on the world wide web, 300 years worth of it in fact. Now the huge Wirksworth website is not being compiled locally. Its all being done by an enthusiast more than 200 miles away. Caroline Moses has been surfing the net to find out more.
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Wirksworth may look and sound like many other small historic market towns, but its not. Three hundred years of who's who and where's where about it have been brought right up to date on the Internet. The website is believed to be the first of its kind for its painstaking detail, but its not by a local hand. (cut in Dorset folk music). The man behind it, retired engineer John Palmer, is from Dorset.
"My mother had this rare name Doxey, and her folk came from Middleton-by-Wirksworth, and I traced her folk back to 1600. I thought really its so much trouble, everybody who has to search their own folk has to go all the way through these documents, and you can hardly read them and they were written in weird handwriting, and I thought its so much easier if they're all put onto computer and indexed, and then it would take you a few seconds to get the people you're looking for".
Its involved 3 years of research and a year of putting it onto computer, and he says things haven't stopped yet.
"I'll keep doing it until I either lose interest, or my brain cells fail, so I've got quite a bit of work in front of me I think."
Derek Walker is a Director of the Wirksworth Heritage Centre, which promotes the town's history locally. He came across the website after Mr Palmer contacted local bodies. He say's he's amazed.
"Incredible amount of work. You know, you say 'Why does he do it?' Certainly for anyone starting its magnificent. I think probably it will always leave bits and pieces for people to have a go at. So the start page is here...."
"Welcome to Wirksworth Parish Records 1600-1900. This unique website contains over 208,000 indexed records......".
The maze of family trees involves detailed records from Parish Registers, marriages, memorials, trade directories and church accounts, all building up to a picture of life centuries ago. Derek Walker says many people will benefit from it.
"Not just people of Wirksworth, people outside Wirksworth. Its probably more useful for people who live in America and Australia, who want to chase their family in Wirksworth, and don't have the opportunity of doing it. After all,if you live in Wirksworth you can go over to the Record Office in Matlock".
Here's a quick description of what the earliest Wirksworth Register looks like:
"Legibility varies from good to completely faded, pages are marred by ink blots and skin imperfections. Register smells old".
"This is probably a good example of the sort of detail he's actually been into"
Mr Palmer admits that attention to detail has unearthed some of the more bizarre aspects of Wirksworth life.
"They keep on mentioning hedgehogs, or hedgehogges. In fact I investigated it and discovered that Parliament had passed a law allowing Churchwardens to give 4 pence to everybody who brings in one of a range of vermin, and hedghogs were considered vermin".
This month the website has been formally recognized by Wirksworth Town Council. The Mayor Gerald Bolton says its been a pleasant surprise.
"We didn't realise that the gentleman was working on the project until we received a letter from him. We wrote back to him expressing our thanks for what he'd done. One of my colleagues has used part of it and got back as far as the 1800s with his family tree, and so its proving to be a bit of a bonus to us."
Mr Palmer says that's an important present day acknowledgement of many thousands of names from the past. And according to history buffs like Derek Walker, its an important achievement wherever it comes from:
"The Heritage Centre provides the story of Wirksworth and this is an addition to the story, in fact it gives extra depth to the story".
That was Derek Walker from Wirksworth Heritage Centre.