History of the Channel Island Family History Society

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From the CIFHS journal of 2008

The very first meeting of people interested in their family histories was convened at Grouville Parish Hall, Jersey, in October 1978 by Mr Alf Pipon and Mrs Marie-Louise Backhurst. At this meeting the following officers were appointed:

President: Mrs Marie-Louise Backhurst
Vice-president: Mr Alf Pipon
Secretary: Mrs Ruth Egre
Treasurer: Mr David Horman
Assistant secretary: Mrs Doreen Bisson

The original subscription was set at £4 for joint membership.

Then an inqugural meeting of the Jersey branch was held at St Lawrence Parish Hall in November 1978. This was noted in the Jersey Evening Post by 'Meridian'.

Meeting schedule

The society began having monthly meetings at the members' room of the Société Jersiaise on the last Monday of the month and eventually established a pattern of the AGM in March, an outdoor meeting in July, no meeting in August and a Christmas party in December. To begin with, members offered their services, and many still do, and gave talks and slide shows about their research and associated topics. We now also include speakers who can give us an insight into many aspects of Jersey history.

Several of the first outdoor meetings took the form of a walk around one of the parish cemeteries led by the late Mr Robin Cox.

Whatever the form the meeting takes, there has always been opportunity for new and old members to chat about their research afterwards over a cup of tea or coffee. The society prides itself in being friendly and approachable and many lasting friendships have been made within the society.


The society also decided to produce a quarterly journal. This began under the editorship of Mr Roger Long with the early ones being typedup and consisting of ony a few pages.

Later, as the society entered the computer age, Mr Alex Glendinning brought the Journal to a new standard and it recieved the Federation of Family History Societies Elizabeth Simpson Award for good content. It has continued to improve and we can be proud of our efforts.

A prime function of the Journal was, and still is, to bring people together who are pursuing similar lines of research. To this end, Journal No 3 (Summer 1979) introduced the membership list which gave names and addresses of members and the names of families they were researching. This procedure has continued to the present day.

Another feature of the Journal has been the list of 'strays'. These lists note people of Channel Islands origin who have married, died etc away from their native island. A useful source for finding a missing ancestor.

Some excellent articles have appeared over the years. Incidentally an article in Journal No 2 by the late Dr Frank Le Maistre Old Family names of the Channel Islands was reproduced both in Journal No 34 and No 97.


Research and the means to be able to research have been paramount in the society's history. A research service has been offered with a reasonable charge and sound research being carried out by volunteers. The researchers realised that, in order to make more efficient use of their time, materials for this purpose were needed. So began the transcribing and indexing of church registers, censuses etc.

Before the advent of Jersey Archive there were two possibilities for looking at these indexes. We were fortunate to have the use of a room at Hilgrove Books and later at Bokay. Volunteers were available to help.

Also, for several years, indexes were taken along to Trinity Parish Hall once a month, in the evening, so that researchers could go and work there.

It was also thought worthwhile to look at the cemeteries in more depth and also the recording on monumental inscriptions began.


It was decided to publish our census indexing work in book form so that it was available to a wider audience. So in 1994 the first one was published.

The 1891 census index was not the first book published by the society. Our first publication was in 1991 when Family History in Jersey was published. The book gave the beginner useful guides on researching in Jersey. The de Gruchys of Jersey was our next publication, which later had a pamphlet of amendments, and a second revised edition. 1992 was the publication of Eye on the Past Yearbook covering historical events in Jersey. A second book was published along a similar vein as well as one about Guernsey. These were followed by Did your ancestors sign the Jersey Oath of Association Roll of 1696, the 1851 Census of Jersey, the Le Quesnes of Jersey, the 1871 Census of Jersey and the 1901 Census of Jersey.

Since the inception of the society, a technological age has developed. This means that the society has had to move with the times. We have entered into a partnership with S&N Publications to produce CDs of our census indexes. We are also looking to have material on the internet.


Our website www.channelislandshistory.com is shortly to be replaced by www.jerseyfamilyhistory.org. We have also adopted the PayPal system for subscription payments etc. Researchers can contact the society by e-mail.

Many of the aims and ideas of the society have been achieved but the idea of branch groups on the other islands and overseas has not really caught on. On 23 May 1980 Mr Alf Pipon and Mrs Marie-Louise Backhurst visited Guernsey in the hope of setting up a branch there, as well as to see the different types of genealogical material available. A further visit to Guernsey occurred in 1987 and a group from Guernsey were entertained here. In the end La Société Guernesiaise developed a family history section, although there are members of CIFHS on Guernsey. A Channel Islands Interest Group is run in New Zealand. The Jersey branch and the Channel Islands Family History Society became one society in 2003 and a new constitution accepted. A good rapport was established with the island of Alderney where the late Mrs Peggy Wilson helped with research; latterly Eileen Mignot has helped us out.

The membership grew steadily over the first 20 years. New members are still joining the society. Some members have been there since the society's inauguration. Some people only join for a short while as they may only have a passing connection with the Channel Islands.

The society has held several successful exhibitions over the years. The first was at Les Freres Chapel in 1981. Various parish halls were then used as venues and relevant information on that particular parish was often available. Two particular exhibitions stand out as being particularly successful. 1995 saw an exhibition at La Société Jersiaise to celebrate the island's 50th anniversary of the Liberation. In the year 2000, we hald a Millennium Fair at Highlands College with exhibits, research facilities, family trees and guest speakers. The latest one was held at Trinity Parish Hall to celebrate our 25th anniversary.

Jersey Archive

'Meridian' wrote in his original article about the formation of the society that there was a need for the States of Jersey to preserve all their relevant records. One of our members, and a past president of the society, Mr Henry Coutanche, sat in the States as a Deputy and was a prime mover to establish an archive. Eventually in July 2000 Jersey Archive was officially opened in Clarence Road. The society now have their collection of records in this building and provide a volunteer service during opening hours to help people with their reseach.

The society sends a representative to a local family history forum. This meets about twice a year. This body endeavours to encourage liaison between ourselves, La Société Jersiaise, Jersey Library and the office of the Superintendent Registrar. A leaflet is produced by the group to show facilities available, useful addresses etc. It also tries to make sure that research is not duplicated.

The society joined the Federation of Family History Societies early on in its history. One of the vice-presidents, Dr Colin Chapman, has visited us on several occasions. The federation endeavours to help with any problems that a society may encounter. At one stage we exchanged journals with many of the member societies to help local residents with any research they may have had on the mainland. This was eventually discontinued due to lack of use and also storage problems.

Social gatherings

Members of the society do find time to meet on more social occasions. The tenth anniversary was celebrated with a supper at St John's Parish Hall. St Peter's Parish Hall was the venue for a supper to celebrate 21 years. A lunch was held at the Shakespeare Hotel for our 25th anniversary, and most recently we held a 30th anniversary dinner at Les Ormes.

1988 saw some members visiting Coutances, France, and in 1991 some visitors from France came here. Several groups ofo Canadian folk have visited here and there have bee trips to Canada in 1994 and 2004.

Life members

A recent idea within the society has been to honour particular members with life membership. This was in recognition of work done or services rendered. The first three life members were Dr Walter Le Quesne, Mrs Estelle Egglishaw and Mr Tertious Hutt. Later Mr and Mrs Michael Vautier were honoured in this way.

More recently these members have been acknowledged: Miss Yvonne Le Riche, Mr Henry Coutanche, Mrs Sue Payn, Mr and Mrs Doreen Bisson and Mrs Margaret Long.

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