Tom Woodard

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The Independent Online
It is a rare distinction to have worked in the same institution over a period of 72 years. Tom Woodard was a remarkable link with the past. When he joined the College of Arms in 1922, it included among its officers two heralds who had been born inthe 1840s. Woodard was born in Bethnal Green in 1904. His father was a leather merchant descended from a London family of shoemakers. Educated at Tottenham High School, he started work at the college as secretary to the then Rouge Dragon Pursuivant, John Heaton-Armstrong (later knighted and eventually Clarenceux King of Arms), for whom he later did genealogical research. Trained by W.A. Caffall, who had worked at the college since the 1890s, Woodard became one of the most capable genealogists of his generation. The historical records he learnt to use were far less accessible than they are today. In the 1920s and 1930s there were scarcely any county record offices, and most of the raw materials of genealogy were stored in parish churches and diocesan archives. Woodard travelled all over Britain (sometimes on a motor-cycle), and had many tales to tell about the eccentric parsons he encountered and the dire conditions in which muniments were kept. During the Second World War he was commissioned into the Intelligence Branch of the RAF and served in India and the Far East. At the end of hostilities he expressed interest in being employed in the Joint Intelligence Bureau, but returned instead to the College of Arms. He was a member of the Earl Marshal's staff for the Coronation of 1953, helping with the organisation of the seating, but otherwise his energies were devoted to ancestral research. He was Senior Genealogist to Sir Anthony Wagner when he was Garter King of Arms, and thereafter to Sir Conrad Swan, the present Garter. Under Wagner's direction he accomplished many impressive feats of research, often concerning the antecedents of American emigrant families. In one such exercise, by dextrous use of manorial records, he traced the Drake family of Great Waltham in Essex from 1545 back to 1302 - no mean achievement. He was a thorough and meticulous worker, his research notes always neat and orderly. In the preface to his book English Genealogy (1960), Wagner paid a warm tribute to Woodard's skills - "My conception of genealogy as an art owes more than I can say to two masters of that art who have been my friends and fellow workers: the late Alfred Butler, Windsor Herald, and my assistant during many years Mr Thomas Woodard." It was a curious chance that after a professional association spanning seven decades Sir Anthony Wagner should himself die on the day of Tom Woodard's funeral. Woodard's professional standing was recognised by his election as a Fellow of the Society of Genealogists in 1955. For his services to the College of Arms he was appointed MVO (4th class) by the Queen in 1965. He was also a Freeman of the City of London and a Liveryman of the Scriveners' Company. Serving for 18 years on the Council of the British Record Society, he devoted a great deal of time and expertise to the task of indexing Herefordshire probate records. With his clipped moustache, chirpy manner and brisk gait, he seemed untouched by time. He played tennis until he was 80 and worked until he was 90 He was happily married for 64 years and, having spent his life tracing other people's ancestors, he lived long enough to see his own great-grandchildren. P. L. Dickinson

Thomas Woodard, genealogist: born Bethnal Green 7 October 1904; joined College of Arms 1922; FSG 1955; MVO (4th Class) 1965, LVO 1986; married 1931 Winifred Lilian Wittrick (one son); died Whipps Cross, Essex 29 April 1995.

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