A voyage into the past

AT its height, the shipyards of William Gray employed thousands of people.

It was a rich 100-year seam in Hartlepool’s history which stretched from 1863, when William Gray first formed a shipbuilding partnership with John Punshon Denton, to 1963.

Did you know that William Gray was part of the committee which first approved the famous Plimsoll Line, which shows the legal limit that a ship can be loaded to?

A big moment in history, but there are many more to be told about the yard.

The people who worked in the Gray’s yards at both Hartlepool and Sunderland were the heart of the huge industry.

The Central Library, in York Road, has detail on many of them and those details have just become even more extensive.

The library recently acquired parish registers for the Sunderland area from the 18th Century up to the 1950s, reflecting Hartlepool’s links to Gray’s Wear shipyard.

It’s yet another addition to the facilities for people who use the Trace Your Ancestors service at the library.

Diane Marlborough, the information, advice & guidance manager at the library, said: “We often find that a lot of people had relatives in the shipyards and the workforce would have moved fairly fluidly between Hartlepool and Sunderland.

“Gray’s were the largest shipbuilders in Hartlepool and the one that lasted the longest. It started in 1863 and closed in 1963 with a few changes in name in between times.”

The new registers mean people researching their ancestors can now find out if their Hartlepool family had links on Wearside.

But the Gray’s register is one small example of the services on offer to genealogists at the library.

If you are researching your family tree, the library also has;

1 Parish records for Hartlepool and surrounding areas, some dating back to the 16th Century and up to the 1970s.

1 Electoral rolls for Hartlepool from the late 19th Century to present day.

• An extensive collection of local photographs, ephemera, maps and local history books.

• Trade directories from the 19th Century up to the 1930s.

• Copies of the Hartlepool Mail from 1878 to the present day, as well as other local papers dating back to the 1850s.

• Council minutes for Hartlepool and West Hartlepool.

• Free access in the library to Find My Past and Ancestry.com

• Free Wednesday morning drop-in sessions. The Trace Your Ancestors service runs from 10am on a Wednesday.

And coming up later this year a new local history website, called “Hartlepool History: then and now” will be launched.

It will hold images and information from the collections at the library and museum.

In the meantime, Diane and the library’s reference services officer Sandra McKay would love to welcome more people who are looking at their lineage.

Sandra said: “People are over the moon at the help we can give them. Some of them come along and they do not have a clue where to start, but we can help them to get going, and they are amazed at what we can find out.”

Recently, the library has been getting up to 30 visitors a week for its Wednesday Trace Your Ancestors service.

But numbers have eased up recently as visitors have been using the advice given to them by library staff to take up research on their own.

It shows just how good they are, and you can find out for yourself by turning up each Wednesday from 10am to noon.

Anyone wanting more information can contact the library’s reference section on (01429) 242909.