Helen, of Sturminster Newton, is the proud author of Posted from the Past, a book revealing the stories behind postcards sent more than 100 years ago.

Using a genealogist's 'toolbox', she has uncovered a wealth of fascinating stories - all from secondhand postcards picked up at car boot sales, in shops or bought on Ebay for £1.

Helen says Posted from the Past has been in the making for 20 years and it's only through her work as a proof reader - going through the self-publishing process herself to develop a better understanding for her clients - that she decided to publish the book.

She said: "I began researching postcards several years ago when my parents bought one from a car boot sale that was sent to a soldier in 1913 and addressed to the Chelsea Barracks. The postcard had been sent from America.

"I eventually traced Gilbert Freeman’s short life (he was killed in the Battle of the Somme) and shared my research online.

"That led to his relatives in America contacting me (two of Gilbert Freeman’s brothers had emigrated to Massachusetts – one before and one after the First World War). It was so satisfying to share my research with his family – and others – that I decided to continue researching postcards and very soon realised that each had a fascinating story to tell and they have become the collection published as Posted in the Past."

Research for the book has taken Helen all over - from Gloucester to Bath and to Cornwall visiting the homes of the postcards' recipients.

Postcards from other people's families are so easily obtainable, Helen says, because they are often forsaken when someone is downsizing their home.

"For whatever reason all the postcards I've collected have been discarded. When people downsize there's a limit to how many items with emotional connections they can take. If you're asked to take something as a keepsake you're more likely to take something from the mantlepiece rather than a postcard."

Once she has a postcard Helen begins her research by using the Census returns of 1901 or 1911. She sees if she can match the writing on the postcard with the writing of the head of the household on the Census,

"That information gives you how old they are and and who's in the household. That gives you a lot to start with. I then start checking the marriage register and probate records.

"It all fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. I don't have any particular background in genealogy, except I've always been interested in history at school and had worked on my own family trees."

There seems to be a current day interest in genealogy, Helen said, with the popularity of TV programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are and A House Through Time and people researching their own family trees.

"There's an interest in these subjects. People want to be taken back to their childhoods. We're all linked to our history.

"It's a shame that today not many people send postcards and even the postcards that are received over the years are never kept.

"I've been thinking 'the postcards I need for the future are all on Facebook and now there's just thousands and thousands of pictures that people are posting. People will be blinded to the story."

*Posted in the Past is available from Amazon and local bookshops including Gulliver's in Wimborne. For more information on Helen's research and details on the talks she gives, see helenbaggott.co.uk


Helen writes: "I found a postcard which was sent to an address in Dorchester from a cousin – the story is about the sender, Edith Stainer.

"I found her in various locations in the UK and then in Canada. She was a passenger on the Empress of Ireland and lost her life. The postcard doesn’t have any connection with the tragedy – apart from it being my starting point.

"Also on board were Sydney and Harriet Maidment originally from Bournemouth. They were among 170 members of the Salvation Army returning to the UK for a congress at the Royal Albert Hall. As the ship sailed away from its dock, the Army’s band played music. All adult members were drowned."

RMS Empress of Ireland sailed from Quebec on her way to Liverpool in May 1914.

The journey would take six days, two of them spent sailing along the St Lawrence River. During the early hours of May 29, the ship was engulfed in thick fog – so thick that it lost its position and ultimately collided with a Norwegian collier. It took only 15 minutes for the Empress to sink – with catastrophic loss of life. Of the 840 passengers who lost their lives, one family had Wimborne connections.

Albert Mullins was born in Somerset and his family moved to Wimborne after his birth in 1872 – living in Leigh Road. Samuel ‘Bowley’ Barnes was born in Wimborne and his family lived in the High Street. The young men shared an interest in music and formed Barnes & Mullins – selling musical instruments. Their company began trading in Bournemouth.

In 1914, Albert was returning to England following a successful business tour of several countries. Accompanying him were his wife Kate and their daughter Eileen. With only 15 minutes from impact to sinking, it’s perhaps understandable why so many children – 133 – were lost, including Eileen. Albert also drowned. His wife survived with terrible injuries – and was eventually brought back to England by her sister and brother-in-law, Bowley Barnes.

In total, 1,012 lost their lives. The ship’s captain, Henry Kendall, was pulled from the sea and lived until the 1960s. He is better remembered for his role in the apprehension of Dr Crippen in 1910.

Barnes & Mullins continued to trade – and continues to do so into this century. The founders never forgot their roots and even named a mandolin The Wimborne Mandolin. A banjo was named The Empress – acting as a form of remembrance for the company’s co-founder and daughter.