Bert’s 25-year labour of love is almost over

Bert Wilson.
Bert Wilson.

IMAGINE taking on a project which will keep you busy for more than 20 years. Bert Wilson did it and he’s still not come to the end of the task. But when he does, Hartlepool will have an online transcript of its people and its history for all time. CHRIS CORDNER explains more.

WHEN Bert Wilson was presented with more than 200 files, he knew he was in for a marathon of a task.

But for this keen family tree researcher, it was a task he loved from the outset.

In the late 1980s, he was given a massive pile of records. Each contained documents relating to Hartlepool’s history, from baptisms to burials, apprenticeship records, wills, deeds – and more besides.

It was passed to him by his friend Jack Cleveland Watson, the Cleveland Family History Society project manager.

Jack’s plan was to do a full transcription of the records – all 500,000-plus of them.

As Jack’s health deteriorated, he asked Bert to step in and take over the task. Bert promised his friend that he would do it. He’s never faltered on the pledge.

But this was never going to be a five-minute job.

Father-of-two Bert, 75, began it 25 years ago and has set aside two hours a day – scrutinising the records, and putting them onto computer files.

The former ambulance service superintendent, from the Owton Manor Lane area, told Family Roots: “Jack had more than 200 files and he wanted copies for the society, for the community and for himself.

“When he died in 1991, I promised him I would put them on the internet and let the people of Hartlepool have a record.”

Bert, father to Mark, 50, and Paul, 49, has been married to Jean, 70, for 51 years, has not just updated the files.

He’s cross referenced them and even created lists of Hartlepool people who lived in the town during the First and Second World Wars.

“It took me 13 years to index them,” he said. “There’s more than 500,000 names and whatever is in the parish record, I have got them here.”

He has records relating to parishes of St Hilda’s, Throston Holy Trinity, All Saints, the old St James, Greatham, Elwick, and Hart.

The records within those parishes are detailed and include many facts on marriage certificates, such as the employment status of those marrying, their address and who the witnesses were.

It is such a detailed analysis, said Bert, that he has been invited to have them uploaded onto the Durham Records Online site.

“I try to get a couple of hours of work a day done on it,” he said.

“I play golf and I have got my garden but I have done two hours a day on this for 25 years. It was 1989 when I started and since then computers have moved on.”

Bert’s interest in the past began when he researched his wife’s family tree.

“It stimulated my interest and these records have been tremendously interesting.”

His mass of documents stretch back to 1566. He has even compiled the names of 4,400 people – and the houses they lived in – during the bombardment of Hartlepool.

And as Bert says, it’s a passion which shows no sign of ending.