‘Things that happen before you are born still affect you,’ she said. ‘And people who come before your time affect you as well. We move through places every day that would never have been if not for those who came before us.’From 'The Five People You Meet In Heaven' - Mitch Albom
Hi, my name is Paul Willis and I live in the county of Lincolnshire in the UK. I was born and brought up in the Kent village of Hawkhurst before living and working in Devon, Yorkshire and the Scottish Highlands. But I feel my soul belongs in the towns and countryside of East Kent – in particular the coastal town of Dover; it’s there that my family roots stretch back for centuries. I wasn’t born in Dover and have never lived there, but I feel a strong connection to the town and its history, I suppose because so many of my ancestors walked its streets, worked the land, breathed the sea air and raised families there.
So what lit the spark? What started me on the trail of my ancestors?
I had no real interest in the history of my family until January 2008 when I was diagnosed with depression and signed off work for 6 months by my doctor. At his suggestion, I went to stay with my parents for a few weeks at their home in the Highlands of Scotland. On one dreach and dreary morning, I decided to quell the boredom and investigate one of the cupboards. I came across a box of old photos, letters, and other documents.
The first one I picked out was a letter from someone called Lizzie written on wafer-thin paper. Reading through it was obvious it had been written at Christmas time to her parents. But any more details than that were unknown.
I was intrigued as to who had written it, who to, where and when. After a few months back at home I was able to complete my research into the contents and background to the letter and the full story is published on this website: ‘Elizabeth Nicholls – letter home to her family , Christmas 1919′.
How did I get started in my research?
What I first began my research I wasn’t starting from scratch. Others in my family had been researching our shared genealogy before me. In particular Daphne Argent (nee Hopper, my mum’s cousin) who spent decades traipsing round churchyards, local libraries and parish registers building her family tree the hard way, before the internet.
Likewise, my mum’s aunt Amy Mitchell (nee Hopper) delved into her family tree and produced hand-written charts. All this hard-won research was passed on to me by relatives keen to help me pursue a shared interest.
My dad had also began researching his family in the mid 1970s. Initially by interviewing his dad about his family members and memories, and subsequently searching records at Dover Museum and St Catherine’s House in London. (back when that was the only way to census records and the births, marriages and death registers).
Back in 2008 when I started my own research I began using online sites like Genes Reunited, Ancestry and Family Search (previously the IGI – International Genealogical Index). Through those sites, I made contact with others exploring various parts of my family tree and we were able to share images and data. I made some great contacts back then, many of whom I’m still in touch with.
With all this data I needed somewhere to store it – and somewhere others would be able to view it. So in the summer of 2008 I set up a website, which I called Very soon after I started my research I took the decision to put what I found online. Thus ‘The Willis Tree’ website was born!
Over the intervening years I have gone through ups and downs when it comes to either time or enthusiasm for genealogy. I have gone through periods of almost frenetic activity, and what I call ‘fallow periods’ when I hardly touch it at all. But then something will happen, or someone will get in touch, and off I go again on the hunt for information.
So, I truly hope you find the information on this site useful, and if you think we have a familial connection I would love to hear from you!