‘Who do you think you are?’ is a popular TV series which traces the ancestors of celebrities.

For a group of Fermanagh farmers, they have also traced back generations of their families in a project devised by the Rural Support Plough On initiative.

The Plough On programme has brought together groups of farmers over 65 years old who may not be normally socialising as much.

The activities offered by the programme, usually on a monthly basis, gives them opportunities to keep in touch with modern farming techniques, look back at farming heritage, and attend some of the major agricultural events such as shows as well as meet for a chat.

However, for the group based at Lakeland Community Care in Belcoo, the chance to have their family trees drawn up became a focus over the past number of months.

The inspiration behind the family trees came from a talk to the group by Frankie Roofe, a noted historian and genealogist in Fermanagh, who has been helping people trace their ancestors for many years.

Frankie is a member of Fermanagh Genealogy Centre which assists with this process by providing families with links for the Census details of 1821, 1841, 1951, 1901 and 1911.

The centre also provides other contact details such as for the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Griffith Valuation Index as well as the numerous websites for searching military records.

Frankie, who was assisted by Caroline Fitzpatrick, asked each of the farmers in the group to send him details they had of family members who lived on the farm or in their townlands.

He then accessed information from the 1901 and 1911 Census declarations and followed this up with individual meetings with the farmers.

“I was able in some cases to go back as far as a great-great-great-grandparent, and to as far as the 1700s, but mostly the 1800s,” he explained, saying one family could account for seven generations in their family tree.

Frankie says the use of headstones and cemeteries and church records help to trace people’s ancestries over many years.

One of the farmers Frankie has worked with had a different life story. Joe Broyan was born in the United States and spent the first part of his life there before moving to the Belcoo area with his wife, Anne.

Joe takes up the story. “I was born at Hazelton, Pennsylvania and my wife, Anne, was born in Leeds to Irish parents with the surname, de Lacy.

“We met in California when I was in the US Army, and Anne was teaching in a mission school. We moved back to the Pennsylvania area.”

The genealogy research helped Joe find some enlightening information about some of the previous generations of his family such as war records.

Tragically, his father died when Joe was very young, but Joe learned that his father organised the movement of cattle from places such as Colorado by railcar to the farms in the eastern US for fattening.

Following their marriage, and after leaving the US Army, Joe worked for a time with the US Department of Agriculture, running soil- and plant-testing trials, and he also worked at Penn State University.

He came over to Fermanagh to help look after Anne’s parents in 1975, and within a few years, both of them decided to live here permanently, bringing their five children, with two more born in Fermanagh.

Now, two of their children live in the US, one in Germany, three in England and the seventh, James, is based on the home farm when he is not shearing sheep in Australia/New Zealand over the winter months.

From the ancestral records, Joe has been able to see how some of his family members originated from Austria/Slovenia.

He said it was great to be involved in this project and he hoped the Plough On project continued as it helped each of the members meet each other socially, as well as discussing farming issues away from the farm business.

All 18 members of the Belcoo Plough On group received their family trees at a dinner just before Christmas. While some may have some birth and death dates missing from ancestors, this project will encourage them to research their family histories even further.