Mary Filby: Founder member of the world-wide Filby Association

Mary Filby from the Filby Association. Photo: Supplied

Mary Filby from the Filby Association. Photo: Supplied - Credit: Supplied

A founder member of the Filby Association, which forged links with descendants sharing the name of the east Norfolk village, has died aged 80.

Mary Filby, who was born in Downham Market, became involved by chance in early 1962 when a retired American consulting engineer who was compiling his family tree wrote to her.

Ellsworth L Filby, who lived in Kansas, wrote asking for help to trace an English family, Jonathan and Sarah Filby, and their son, John, who emigrated to the USA in 1828 and settled in New York State.

She took up the challenge and started visiting libraries, cemeteries and checking telephone directories and then wrote more than 100 letters, receiving some 60 replies. In one year alone, 1967, she had written to at least 250 Filbys in the country.

A first Filby reunion, called the Home-coming, was held in 1968 and further events have been held since, normally every three years, all in the east Norfolk village. They attracted large numbers of Filbys over the years.


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It was thought that the habit of using a surname began around 1400 as people often took the name of their original settlement.

When she stood down as secretary of the Filby Association in 1989, having served for 21 years, there were more than 350 members in this country and a further 50 more scattered around the world. The association still focuses on assisting people to trace their family trees, with all the various spellings of Filby that have evolved around the world. Now it also makes use of new research techniques including DNA research.

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After school in Downham Market, she worked as a secretary in local government, and in 1959 married Leonard.

They moved to Mount Street, King's Lynn, where they brought up their two sons.

In 2007, she retired from active involvement with the association after 45 years and became honorary president. It was a role also held by her husband.

Her husband, Leonard, died in 2006. They were married for 47 years.

She leaves children Alan and Ivan, and grandchildren Sam, Katie, Colin and Neil.

A funeral service will be held at St Mary the Virgin, Bexwell, tomorrow at 2pm.

She asked that donations be divided between St Mary's Church and All Saints' Church, Filby.

Michael Pollitt

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