Aug 4, 2023

Small British Town Built a Massive Family Tree Dating Back 800+ Years on MyHeritage

In the quaint Northumberland fishing town of Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, a remarkable project has been unfolding over the past 11 years. Spearheaded by former MP Hilton Dawson, the community has created a massive family tree documenting “everyone who has ever lived here.”

The digital tree, hosted by MyHeritage, traces the lineage of almost 39,000 people, dating back to around the year 1200. The tree contains much more than just names: it includes around 9,000 photos and historical records as well as detailed biographies.

This past weekend, the tree was projected on the walls of the town’s community center as part of a five-day summer festival, stirring a great deal of interest. People came from as far as 100 miles away to learn about the history of this small town and discover their own heritage in the extensive family tree.

It all started when Hilton Dawson, 69, inherited the family tree his mother had started. Hilton had grown up in Newbiggin, but like many members of the younger generation, moved away after graduating school. “I’ve always considered that I had an idyllic childhood in Newbiggin, but by the end of childhood I was keenly determined to leave the place behind,” he says.

In 2012, he gave a talk in Newbiggin about his research, expecting hardly anyone to turn up — and was shocked when dozens of people turned out to hear him speak.

“There were lots of women who came with family bibles and beautiful records and photos, and a few men, some of whom had stuff scribbled on the back of a cigarette packet. It was extraordinary,” Hilton told The Times in a recent article about the project. “They had a visceral need to know where they came from and who they were related to. We started there and then, saying we would make a record of everybody who had ever lived in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea.”

It would take many, many volumes to record a family tree of this magnitude on paper — but on MyHeritage, the community was able to easily add and document family relationships and connections as well as details about individuals, stories, and various media. A testament to the power of community collaboration, the project has revealed complex interconnections between families, painting a vivid picture of a close-knit community that has weathered centuries of change together.

You can read more in an article in the MyHeritage Blog at: