Losing her mother when she was just 12 years old, Birmingham grandmother Linda Atterbury knew little about her family background.
But her curiosity about her ancestors has led her to make the remarkable discovery that her great-great-grandfather fought in the Battle of Waterloo.
Mrs Atterbury unearthed her late father Adolphus’ connection to soldier John Fletcher after going to only a couple of genealogy classes at her local library.
The colour sergeant joined the 79th foot regiment as a 15-year-old on May 2, 1811, after having worked as a snuffer maker and served 29 years and 73 days.
Born in Birmingham, in approximately 1796, military service also took him to the West Indies at about the time slavery ended in the British Empire in 1833.
Watching celebrities discover their roots on the TV programme Who Do You Think You Are? the 62-year-old never imagined her own family tree would reveal the link to two major events in history.
All she really knew about her parents was that they were both born in Birmingham. When her mother Florence died her father decided she would be better off living with relatives. Then when Mrs Atterbury was 18, Adolphus died.
Sitting next to class teacher Paul Wilkins, at Erdington Library, surrounded by the paper trail that led to her find, she said: “It’s funny really, you always think of yourself as being just an ordinary, everyday person.
“To go back to generations past and find out you had ancestors who were in the military and who fought in battles, like Waterloo – it’s absolutely fascinating. I really feel as though I haven’t done anything with my life compared with what my ancestors have done.”
The grandmother and retired assembler, who lives in Shard End, first learned about the battle at primary school. Mr Wilkins, who leads the History on your Doorstep course in the city’s libraries, has lent her a book about Napoleon’s defeat by Wellington in 1815.
She said: “I can’t remember a lot of what I learned about it. Reading about it will mean more to me now I’ve found out about this.”
Mr Wilkins, whose weekly sessions cost £4.50 each, described the discovery as one of the more remarkable he had seen.
He said: “John Fletcher saw two momentous pieces of history.
“It’s unusual and what’s unbelievable is people just walking past their library wouldn’t know about this.
“The Fletchers are just an example of one family who have lived in Birmingham since 1796. They are just a normal, everyday family but look at the contribution they have made.
“The Fletchers today can walk around with their heads held high knowing one of their ancestors served king and country.”
It was important people know what their own stories are, he added.
“People are searching for some sense of a past,” he said. “They are really interested in exploring who they are and where they come from. What’s happened in the past makes us who we are today.
“Their histories are on their doorstep, all they’ve got to do is go to their local library and discover all this.”
BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO FAMILY HISTORY
Start with yourself
Begin with what you know. Always work from the known to the unknown, from the present to the past
Collect all the information you can from relatives
Verify and prove
You need to always check the validity of each piece of information against an original record source
Transcribe records yourself
Do not rely on any other people’s transcriptions
Be sceptical about information
Do not think because something is written down, it is a fact
Keep a detailed record of each piece of information and make a note of the source
Spellings of surnames
The spelling of place names, given names and surnames will have varied over time as not everyone could read and write. Always check the alternative spelling variants of the surnames you are looking for
Tracing your ancestors will take time
Enrol onto a course
Birmingham Library Service has teamed up with Family History Detectives. To find out more email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0121 258 3853