About me

‘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 despite my travels 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 brought up families there.

So how did I get started on researching my family history? What set the blue touchpaper?

Elizabeth Nicholls, c1919

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′.

  • Daphne Argent (Hopper) (1934-2014)

    I wasn’t starting from scratch though. A handful of others 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.

    My dad, Alfred Willis, also began researching his family in the mid 1970s. Initially by asking interviewing his dad about family members and memories, and searching records at Dover and St Catherine’s House in London.

  • Amy Mitchell (Gurnsey) (1920-1988)

    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.

    Soon after starting my research I began using online sites like Genes Reunited and Ancestry. 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.

Very soon after I started my research I took the decision to put what I found online. The Willis Tree was born!

Within a few weeks I discovered The Next Generation of Genealogy Software (TNG) designed and developed by Darrin Lythgoes. I’d been using other software which produced a separate web page for each individual in my tree, but soon found problems.

Those other genealogy website tools create a set of finished (“static”) HTML pages, sometimes one for each person in your file. You may end up with hundreds or thousands of web pages to upload and maintain! What if you have changes in your data? Sorry, you’ll need to recreate and reload all of those pages all over again. What if you don’t like how they look? If you can’t figure out how to manipulate the program then your only other choice is to make the changes to each of the thousands of pages yourself. Good luck!

TNG uses a database to create your pages dynamically, as they’re requested. That means no huge load of pages to create and upload each time you have a change, and if you want to tweak the look and feel, you do it in one location and it’s done for the entire site!

I’ve been using TNG since 2008 and never looked back. The software is continuously being improved and added to with new features and refinements in every upgrade.