Genealogy Case Study:

Lucy - Uncovering the Significance of a Special Name

The surname passed to us at birth is in many respects the key to our past. There is a natural inclination for us to wonder what it meant for ancestors and indeed what it means for us today.

The name Freeman

Born in Norwich, Lucy decided to find out about her family history because she has the name Freeman and knew this was an honorary name.

‘I wanted to see if I could become a Freeman of the city of Norwich. I knew it was passed on through the family. Every year they do a ceremony at City Hall.’

Dating back to medieval times, the name Freeman was given to men who took an oath to support the Mayor. In return, they were given ‘freedom of the city’. This allowed them to trade freely, graze cattle, vote and even be hung by silk rope if they were sentenced to death.

Norwich has a rich history of Freemen and although the rights and responsibilities of people with the title of ‘Freeman’ have long gone, the Freemen of Norwich do a lot of work in the community and it continues to be a respected name. Lucy’s aim was to find out if she could join this illustrious group.

Getting the ball rolling

Although historically the title was passed down the male line, in 2009 women were granted the right to become a Freeman. The only caveat to this is directly descending from a male ancestor bestowed with the title in the given city.

‘I went to City Hall to get some information and was told I needed to find out if any of my family previously had become a Freeman of Norwich and then I could become a Freeman. I needed to go back with a name and a date.’

Lucy didn’t have access to information about ancestors through living relatives and needed to delve far into the past so it made sense to seek expert help. After a recommendation from a work colleague Lucy contacted Pro-Gen-Research for advice. It didn’t take much for us to start the process.

‘I gave Sam very minimal information which was amazing. I just gave her my Dad’s date of birth as I didn’t have much more. I was absolutely amazed with what she came up with. It was fascinating.’

Silver Linings

We found Lucy wasn’t descended from the Freemen of Norwich but as with any family tree, there were some fascinating findings. Through the results, Lucy could connect more with the local area and people living nearby.

‘Unfortunately, although I got all this lovely information, I couldn’t become a Freeman of Norwich. I could become a Freeman of London but I didn’t want that.

I found out my family lived in a workhouse, half a mile down the road from the house I live in now. I’ve lived in Cawston all my life and never knew. A few of them are buried in the churchyard nearby. Because they didn’t have much money they’re buried in what they call pauper graves outside the cemetery.’

There were also connections with Oulton Workhouse so we got in the car and went down there and met the people who have the house now. They said: ‘come in, come in’ and it was just fascinating.

I love walking around Norwich and now down at riverside I know my family had a shoe shop there and one of them had a boat as well. My husband and I love walking around and finding these places. If gives you pride knowing your family have lived in the same place for so many years when so many families get broken up.’

The Gift of Family History

Family information is special and at Pro-Gen-Research we believe it’s important for the family tree to be well-presented for easy sharing so current and future generations can enjoy the findings.

‘Sam gave me all the information including copies of the census all bound in a file. It has the Freeman family tree inside and our coat of arms on the front. We start at 1713 with Robert Freeman and it goes right through to my generation with my father’s children. I had the option of getting the family tree printed so I got a copy for my cousin who I knew would be very interested in it. I think it’s a lovely present for someone.’

It’s interesting to look for reoccurring names on a family tree as they are sometimes passed down or some names appear as a coincidence. It’s a nice gesture to honour these names.

‘My middle name is Maria; an ancestor’s name is Maria and my mum didn’t know that. My brother’s wife was pregnant when I got my family tree. It was nice for them to look at when choosing a name so now we have a Rose Freeman and she’s 10 months old.’

Final thoughts from Lucy…

‘Sam’s a lovely lady: friendly and approachable but on the professional side of it very thorough. You can’t fault the time and effort she puts into her work. The presentation at the end and what you get is a key factor in my recommendation. I now have this folder of history I can pass down to my children.

I’m very grateful for the work that Sam put in even though the end result wasn’t becoming a Freeman. I’m very happy though with having this history that can be passed down. I think It’s lovely that someone like Sam can build up such a good picture of your family. I would definitely use her again for my mother’s side and my husband’s family tree. She did completely what I wanted and so much more. I’m very pleased and would thoroughly recommend her services.’

Do you have a special name? Have you always wondered where your ancestors lived and worked? Contact Pro-Gen-Research on 01603 561105 for more information on how we can unlock the past for you.

Freemen of Norwich
Freeman Coat of Arms, England
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