GENEALOGISTS around the world have been trying to solve the mystery of eight York families interviewed by Seebohm Rowntree for a study of unemployment in 1910.

As reported in The Press last week, researchers at the BBC are trying to trace descendants of the eight families so they can make a documentary about how the family fortunes have changed over the last 100 years.

One of the eight families featured was the Nevinsons, who lived in a small four-roomed house on the outskirts of York.

Mr Nevinson and his wife had five surviving children in 1910. Two were married and had left home. Still living with their parents were a daughter of 20, a son of 12, and a younger daughter attending the “blind school”.

The story of the BBC’s attempts to trace descendants of the eight families was picked up by North Yorkshire genealogist Brenda Green, who runs the Yorkshire Ancestors research centre and website.

She posted it on several genealogical websites – and has since had responses from as far afield as Tasmania.

So far, however, despite extensive trawls of the 1901 and 1911 censuses, genealogists have been unable to trace families that match the descriptions left by Rowntree.

Mrs Green said there was a growing feeling that Rowntree may have created fictitious names for his eight families, to protect their identity.

Roy Stockdill, a professional genealogist from Watford whose ancestors came from York, agreed.

He had been unable to find any Nevinsons living in the city in 1901 or 1911, he said.

The closest he could come was a Joseph Nevison – but he was only 36 in 1910, not nearly 50 as described in Rowntree’s book Unemployment: A Social Study.

Guy Smith, the BBC2 producer researching the documentary, accepted it was possible Rowntree had changed names but said it was unlikely.

The BBC2 documentary, which will air sometime in the summer under the provisional title A Life Without Work, will look at Rowntree’s 1910 study, and compare unemployment in the city 100 years ago to the situation today.

A family affair

The eight families interviewed by Seebohm Rowntree’s researchers in 1910 were:

• The Nevinsons.

• The Taylors – an abandoned wife bringing up a boy, Bob, aged 12, and a daughter Kitty, aged ten.

• The Campbells – a Scottish family, the parents both aged 40 in 1910. There was a boy aged 12 and two daughters.

• The Dunns – Mr Dunn, 57, and a son aged 17.

• The Raffertys – lived in a pleasant open yard known as Chestnut Court. Mr Rafferty was 41. There were four children.

• The Martins – lived in a suburb of York. Mr Martin was 49. He had a daughter, 18, and a son, 15.

• The Lovells – lived in Tanner’s Yard. Mr Lovell was 33. There were four young children.

• The Archers – lived in a courtyard with a plane tree. Mr Archer was 31. There were three young children; Sally, Lily, and a baby.

• If you believe you might be descended from any of these families, phone Guy Smith on 0208 008 5777 or email, or phone Stephen Lewis at The Press on 01904 653051 ext 336, or email