He turned up at the library hugging a large, blue lever arch file to his chest as if it were something very, very precious. Which, indeed, it was.
The file, he explained, held the results of years of painstaking work on family history. But not his own work, the patient family historian was his wife who died earlier this year. "I didn't know what to do with it," he said, "I just
knew I couldn't just throw it away..."
Then, by a stroke of serendipity, he had come across a notebook in which his wife had jotted down all the names of those
ancestors she was researching. The very last note in the book suggested that, if nobody in the family wanted her file, perhaps it could be donated to the Sussex Family History Group. "And that's why I'm here..."
The visitor - like me - was at the Family History Fun Day being organised at our local library where one entire area was given over to, yes, you've guessed it, the Sussex Family History Group. Representatives of the group
surrounded him, keen to examine the contents of the file. I was so pleased to think all that faithful research into the past has found a new home.
- including me - had volunteered to help out on the day. No, I wasn't required to do any of the clever stuff, like advising people on Census returns or the intricacies of Parish Records. My more humble duties involved making countless teas and coffees down
in the basement, followed by a stint on "Meet and Greet" in the library foyer, which is where I met up with the Fella With The File.
Everybody who purchased a
mug of tea or coffee, for the princely sum of £1, was entitled to a small packet of biscotti biscuits. "Risk it for a biscuit?" I kept asking my customers. I think I heard the phrase used on Masterchef recently, though in a slightly different context.
I thought it sounded suitably jaunty and friendly, albeit not really making a great deal of sense, now I come to think of it.
My first customer at the tea and
coffee bar was not a Family History Buff herself but was with her husband, who was. "He'll be hours yet!" she complained, wrapping her hands around her coffee mug. I suggested she should risk it for a biscuit. It seemed the least I could do.
There were some who liked the idea of researching their roots but didn't know where to start. Where better than the library, with its treasure store of information and knowledgeable
advisers? One visitor made a bee-line for the Canadian Roots stand; another thought her unusual surname might be of interest to the Guild of One Name Studies - yes, indeed, the GOONS had a stand in the library too.
My friend Major Tom who has researched the names of the Worthing men who died in the First World War, is embarking on a new study into those from our town who died in the Second World War. It will
be another Labour of Love. Has it been worth being here in the library today, I asked him? He had recruited a volunteer to help him, he reported, thus increasing his volunteer force by 100% - so, yes, it had been a day well spent.
Of course I could have issued a warning to all those who came to find out what Family History is all about and how to embark on their own research that within weeks they will be utterly obsessed, totally
absorbed in the lives of their shadowy ancestors. They will become Family History Bores - just like me. Should they give it a go, nevertheless, they might tentatively ask me? You can probably guess what I would advise them:
"Risk it for a biscuit..."