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19 Apr 2017

Filthy Lucre

Strolling around Clerkenwell last week, I tsskd at the lack of bike lanes. Somewhere I still have the letter from Aviva Buses sharing their heartache at the way their driver knocked me off my bike there back in 2002. They also shared the driver's private address which was such a thoughtful touch.

Just cross the road and you can reprint yourself at the 3D printing shop (featured), so perhaps I was being fussy making a complaint.

When we hunt for Filthy Lucre, we are conducting a Lucre Search, and my cousin of this name lived at the gorgeous Redman Buildings on Clerkenwell Road. Well he was called Lucas Urch but he's known, by me at least, as Filthy Lucre.

It's entirely appropriate, that over a Dirty Burger and pint this evening, that I should have resolved my Lucre Search.

Eagle-eyed readers will recall that Miss Sophia Urch is to be found lingering around the premises of Mr J Lucas in the 1841 census for Cossington, Somerset.

I have today determined that coincidences like this don't really happen. I'm double the age I was when Lucre first emerged, alongside Sophia, and there's not a cat's chance that one of them 'just happens' to be living with a Lucas, when this was their mother's maiden name.

So, welcome to our fold, Miss Sarah Urch, star-crossed lover of Galway Town's most vociferous Catholic policeman. And your grandson who edited the Telegraph. And your niece Wilhelmina Margarina and nephew what had the big house outside of Dublin.

And of course 'filthy Lucre' himself, Lucas Urch of Clerkenwell.

14 Apr 2017

Determination in Family History

In this piece, we get determined.
Sorting the Surname soup
Something with the way the Cornish bred meant surnames ebbed and flowed in popularity, and my eager young self stumbled right into the mire.  Rodda - rare as hen's teeth, but back then, the most common name in the parish.  Jennings - not that numerous, but I faced multiple couples of the same name.  Three William Roddas with wife Elizabeth and two Ann Jennings with husband John.  I saw red and decided to log every single Rodda in Crowan here, which will now need an update from the excellent GRO site. The Jennings did not need such a blunderbuss, but finesse.  The tree all hinged on two Elizabeths.  To determine who they married, I squinted deeply at the age given on their death records. Ah, you belong to him and you to him, I said, firmly.  I could now parcel out their siblings. I felt I was picking sides at a school football match.

Taking the Path of least resistance
I wasn't that determined to find Eliza Ainsworth's family after 1900; I just followed the paths available at the time.  BMD records were laborious whereas finding Eliza's obituary (via CheshireBMD online, the probate index and then the newspaper library at Colindale) was a lot more informative. I then had to look for her granddaughter Miss S. Fox, who I happily found, and who was extremely informative about all the Ainsworths.

Pushing for the clinch
I've made headway with a number of Welsh lines thanks to this approach.  Elimination is a highly unsatisfactory method of identification as you never really know who the other eligible candidates are.  Keep going! And hope to find a clinching fact, one which locks in your supposition and confounds your suspicion.

Exhaust the avenues available
James Carline's missing baptism has had me routinely cussing him out, as the predecessors were sure to be of interest if we only knew who they were. His father was slapdash brother James Carline, while his wife's father was organised brother Joseph Carline. There is absolutely a gap in both the naming pattern and the chronology of James Carline's infants.  Other evidence, such as trades, familial locations, bears this out. What's lovely is to arrive after a hot afternoon's research, digging away, at Mary Ann Bird's cottage in Darley and realise she was both the sister of James and his immediate neighbour in 1851, a fact which had been long hid.

Make a nice diagonal itch
The area has been scratched from every direction, except diagonally.  Maybe that will solve things? For some reason I wasn't about to go plunging into guesswork to establish whose parents Ann Morgan, born 1762, might have been. It's tantalising to wonder how far I might have got without the death duty hint, Ann's sister and her will, and even whether I'd have got to see the will anyway, regardless of my lucky hit.  The diagonal direction was to look for something at the National Archives to bolster up a very soggy will.  Quite what good I thought a glance at the death duty registers could possibly do, we'll never know.  By rolling with the fresh direction, this time the scratch was successful: the writer, Elizabeth Morton, had a childless aunt from 40 years earlier who emerged in the paperwork.  Where she got her money, name, genes and executive habits were all laid out in the doc.  That area no longer itches but there's plenty new places in the body of research which would benefit from a scratch in a different direction.

See: faith in family history, luck in family history, persuasion in family history, inspiration in family history  

12 Apr 2017

More Persuasion in Family History

My biggest act of persuasion of all demands you to believe in the power of Stone Age Fiction's anthropologist, Jean Auel and her creations.  They see deep into their past through an extended part of their brain.  How else can I explain how my grandfather reached far back inside his memory and found me a gem from the 1850s, right before he died? Amid those Christmas teatime tables, I too found the room leaving us, hurtling us back to the pub in Camborne.  My grandfather was still opposite me, but in front of us was the table he was describing.  Sadly no-one else was there.  That was the closest I could ever come to the 1851 census of Camborne, which had so absorbed me that lately.  It shows gt-gt-gt-grandpa Hunter with his new wife and widowed sister Eliza caught like butterflies on the page.  Eliza had pushed aside four oceans to be there.  I tried to share my close encounter with Brad, Eliza's 4xgreat-grandson storming in from Australia via business class.  He couldn't see it. But sometimes I revisit that stolen glimpse of the 1850s kitchen and hope that Eliza will reveal something more of her own stay there, than just her name and place.  I'd need a good deal more #persuasion, for sure.

This story describes: Eliza Hunter born 1827 at Redruth, Cornwall.  Dies 1913 Victoria, Australia.  A hundred years after, her great-great-nephew remembers something which skewers the whole family to the page around the time the 1851 census hit Tuckingmill.  He dies weeks later.

10 Apr 2017

Hands across the Bristol channel

Entropy is the enemy.  If you don't rise up, there'll be tumbleweed growing all over your tree.  Grandpa had given me a shopping list of relatives to find - well they were part of his past, but I intended to resuscitate them and find their living corporeal forms, if possible.

I knew that doing nothing was not going to get me to Elaine Harris (b. 1916), quite the opposite. Hers and Grandpa's lives had moved in opposite directions aside of the Bristol Channel since the 1940s, so if I wanted to find her we'd need to retrace our steps to that time.  Grandpa went on to tell me a little more: Elaine's aunt had married a W. J. Hockey, who had earlier boarded with our family, and one of their girls was Gertie. I quickly found W. J. H.'s death in 1962 with his daughter named as executrix, and because 1962 is the equivalent of 1985 now, it wasn't hard to leap those few years forward and arrive at a current phone book entry for Gertie, still in Barry, Wales.  She was great on the phone and soon sorted me with her cousin Elaine's address in Morriston, from which so many wonderful fruit grew.

Imagine a world where the internet has gone down, permanently.  That was how I had to carry out my research as a boy in the 1990s.  Years later, doing my first acrobatics class in the old Shoreditch electricity station, with its fifty-foot high brick walls and gasp of space, I could hear the trapeze instructions 'backwards to go forwards, forwards to go backwards'.  I'd gone way back to the closeness of the 1940s, only two generations I suppose, no time but a long time, to emerge forwards again by the sunny streets of my 4th cousins' homes, in Wales, by letter.  So thanks Gertie and others for the hands across the Bristol channel all those years ago.

Postscript: Little did I know, I wasn't the first in the family to arrive in Barry looking for family.  My great-grandmother lived there in the 1960s and who should arrive windswept and sunbeat by ferry across the channel but her beautiful cousin Bea, and young granddaughter - who told me this anecdote only last month.

Kidderminster calling: stamp of approval

I'm in the middle of an emotional trip. Tumbling back, arms asplay to 1995, pre 9/11, pre-Blair, pre-Diana, I'd not sent a single email. Awkwardly arriving here with swollen rucksack and moaning joints, it's peculiar I raced through here at age 18 with barely a glance.  I'd been driving for a year and sure got some use out of the car. My mood, the crispy spring mornings, bouncy downs and the tunes of those eternal teenagers, Brown, Prince and Jackson (J), were sending me to an unforgettable experience, lambing in the Herefordshire hills, which then mutated into a slide through the Brecon Beacons finally in the footsteps of those letters to the front rooms of my new relatives in south Wales.  I had ignored Kidderminster at my peril. Today, 22 years later, I'm back.  I've spun Church Street around all 3 axes to wring every drip of history from it and accidentally seeing Rowland Hill's statue says it all, for he invented the postage stamp.  I never do there-and-back road trips, but without Rowland, my journey would have seen me retrace my steps at Kington, not qualified to pass the Welsh border posts.  The reason I'm back today is another letter, just one this time, posted with care in February 2016. Bearing in mind Kidderminster is 4 counties away from Swansea, I was a little shocked to run one of her daughters to ground in this town in the 1939 register. Success at last. I immediately got in touch, and contact was quickly established. Again from Kidderminster, came the call I thought might come, with a challenge I relished to take on. I'm back now in 2017 to reminisce on our successful challenge resolved and to go over the many exciting things which happened as a result. Thanks anew to Rowland Hill, his stamp and his home town.  You get my stamp of approval.

Faith in Family History

No faith.  It's sad when people write to say they've no idea who their grandparents were, particularly if I felt they should.  But I've got faith we'll find out more.

'I never knew anything about my mother Jean's family (1933-2000).  She died a number of years ago, and there aren't any photographs.'

If you're born at the tail end of a decade, like me, it's not that hard to look back.  We've been talking about the family pub in Cornwall forever and that was actually the 1850s.  Here we look at different times we've employed faith in family history.

Postal faith.  I made sure to tap the friendly red postbox on the head as I rounded the bend this morning.  When I finally put a letter in this box to find Eva Walker, I knew I'd get a phone call from her family in a day or two.  I did, and I'll see them again tomorrow as a direct consequence of this.

Finding Faith.  I waited 8 years from spying Louisa Smith's marriage in Castle Cary, Somerset, to finding her daughter, born 12000 miles away: her name, Faith.  So they did have children! And I went on to have elevenses with Faith's niece, in London, some years after that.

Exquisite faith.  Very rarely in my own family history is the hunt ever seriously 'on'.  From the moment I learnt about this baby girl born 1921 (no name given), I knew I was going to find her.

Undeniable faith. You have a woman born 1751, with 8 children or so, and one of them had a youngest child who continues her line until 1992.  It's implausible to deny that the original female will have family, somewhere.  Again, it's an eight-year wait, till I reach them in Knighton, East Wales.

Solid faith.  I have always adopted an indefatigable attitude regarding my Smiths.  Although there were 12 Ellen Smiths born in Norfolk 1853, I can spot mine a mile off.  Let's not even begin to think how many shared her brother's name, born two years earlier.  We needed another tactic. I tailed his movements in Norfolk closely, finding a marriage in Garboldisham, which fitted securely.  And my solid faith he would rejoin us brooked no doubts.  I would select and eliminate William Smiths in the USA, knowing he had a wife Anna.  Blind faith or cupidity took me straight to his door, always-open, in Jamestown, Western N.Y.  I was the only family member to visit him in 130 years.  No longer just a name: I had stayed solid, to find the man.

Hungry faith.  My appetite was unassuaged.  Three Dibben girls born 1790-1796 needed finding.  I focussed my attention on Rebecca. Whatever persuaded me to search for her marrying at age 40, I cannot now recall.  Ridiculous to imagine that having failed to find a first marriage, I'd lumber straight into a second.

In fact, this lucky find was Rebecca's fourth marriage!  The bridal marriages of all three Dibben girls are entirely missing and you can really only locate them in the census.   Once one had shown amid the undergrowth, my hunger spread to find the others.  So I ravenously entered all the Gunville, Dorset folk with 1790s births into Ancestry's census index and so chomped my way through to all the sisters and their seven marriages.

Family faith.  From the moment Mary Jenkins arrived in Tonypandy in 1881, she was somebody's sister, daughter and niece.  But who's to say she was our Mary? Ah, but we're reckoning without the family, who knew about the Williams and Price marriages in subsequent generations.  While Ennis and I sat waiting for Mary's birth record to finally arrive, we both already knew the outcome: Mary was ours, 100%.

Fearless faith.  With every year which passes, somebody dies.  Nowhere was that more true than with my father's Irish cousins.  We stutter from the pre-arithmetic progression of his 'one' first cousin, straight to 18 Irish second cousins, and that's just on his father's side.  Of the 18, eight were in America and at least half unaccounted for.  We had a bit of time as you can't hide three red-head Irish cop brothers well, and a great-uncle had made 92, so perhaps others might too?  I never thought for a second that I mightn't find them.  Reading cousin Babs's will and the names of her 8 children, who'd all left Ireland, I've harassed, stalked, jogged round peninsulas, got on planes and swam upstream to find them, and I'd say 17 out of the 18 have responded well.  I need to decide if the 18th has changed gender before writing my final letter.  I'm gonna reach them. I have faith.

See: luck in family history, persuasion in family history, determination in family history, inspiration in family history  

26 Mar 2017

Luck in Family History

I'll always remember the G. Ewart Evans quote to "let the horse have its head" when conducting oral history interviews. With family history who knows where the enquiry will end up. The researcher has his or her ideas, but they are not in overall control.  I have no problem with this. I'm hoping for an interesting journey, after all.

In the opener of an Albert Campion mystery the author drops many handwritten addresses around a lunchtime park. Albert just has to pick up one for the game to start, as it inevitably does.  It makes me wonder how many clues I spot versus how many I miss.  I consider myself fairly observant, who's kidding who here?

In this article, we'll see luck dished out by the census, the cousins,  and other miscellaneous sources.

The 1841 census has served up a few treats in its time. An entire world of Protestant Dubliners, Irish country houses, oyster farmers, Surrey drawing rooms and cross-partisan love springs from little Miss Sophia Urch sitting pretty at her grandfather's farmhouse in Cossington, Somerset, 1841 age 4.  Had I ignored her, not only would she have been angry and not sat on her tuffet, but she wouldn't have offered me the delicious Urches and whey above outlined.

Ten years later, the 1841 census struck again. This time she flagged up that my missing aunt, Betty, was very definitely Mrs Whitehead, an ostler's wife in Kendal, with 179 descendants to boot. All thanks to young niece Betty Barton, subject of the two-coffee problem, who happens to be visiting on census night.

Digging around another 1841 entry revealed who moved in months later, Miss Rebecca Cox. She simply had to be child of Miss R. Dibben whose first marriage to Mr Cox was missing. Proof comes in her fourth marriage when the clerk lists the bride's father.

I was very lucky when uncle William Smith elects to marry, in the anticipated registration district of Guiltcross, just months before he emigrates for good. He was guilty, but I wasn't cross.

I was similarly blessed with fortune when cousin G., just before his death, summons me to visit. We see the farm, the game birds, have a chat about silage, and then: "Would you like to take all my family photos off my hands, David? The children just aren't interested and won't keep them. I'd like you to have them." I think you can predict my answer to that question!

Relatives and goodly folk so often came to my rescue when I had the genealogical equivalent of a burst tyre. Malcolm patched up my Boyce tree and sent me on to the specialist, Celia. Mary pushed me back on the road and on to The Pines, Holcombe where I could receive more treatment (facts!). Sue F. flashed through her rolodex to Sue J. a third cousin who gave my Harris module a completely new engine with several extra gears (generations!). The postman deserves credit too for delivering letters to people who shouldn't have been so easy to find. Epic saleswoman Elizabeth who filled the dense brieze block she published (annually!) with so many names and addresses, it felt every page housed a relative. Occasionally I got through by accident to bleached-out Gold coasters who squinted at my aerogrammes and waved them on, but that was ok.

Other things I'm grateful for:
* that the journalist at the Derbyshire Telegraph printed a mangled version of Ranongga, the island in the Solomons where emigré Harold Beck had his cupra plantation (1920s)
* that a clued-up Robinson researcher from Sheffield came forward to firmly refute our 1808 Bagshaw - Robinson marriage, sending us forward into a Bagshaw - Gee marriage and to the peculiar territory there
* that the sisterly feud between Catherine and Florence Jones somehow held off exploding before 1939, meaning we could finally identify Catherine in the page of the 1939 register...

And enjoy the fruits of her labours, including great great grandson Joe Gill who I'm reliably informed is on the box as Emmerdale's Finn Barton.

Luck, you've been fairly even-handed, but right now it feels you're playing along nicely in the merry game of family history.

See: faith in family history, persuasion in family history, determination in family history, inspiration in family history 

25 Mar 2017

Persuasion in Family History

Probably my shining achievement in family history is when my Dad told me exactly how auntie E. answered the door in Salford in the 1950s.

Put into perspective, there were a tonne of family secrets which slipped out eventually, but this one was actually volunteered!

I also, at the age of 10, gave the floor to my elderly grandfather, hovering uncertainly on his stick in the centre of the room. He was given the opportunity to divulge his grandmother's name, and exactly how and why his uncle Philip ranaway to sea in the 1890s. Unfortunately, this gentleman failed to oblige and he never visited us ever again.

A few years ago I was pulled from my job as PA and put on stakeholder management duties. The reason? I was just too persuasive. The project manager's diary was being filled from early in the morning to late in the afternoon - only right and proper as they were on £xxx per day of taxpayers' money. To make matters worse, those at the venue assumed they would be meeting me, not my erstwhile boss. "I pulled people in", I learnt.

Not my grandfather, apparently.

We hear so much about how suspicious the British people are, with many poised at the net curtains, enjoying nimbyism, telling people not to park cycle or play ball and withholding internships to everyone except their tennis partner's son.

Oh no, friends, the British people are not suspicious, they are inordinately trusting. How else did they sleepwalk their way into zero-hours contracts, politician's charms and (for some) the cutesy notion that the govinmant has money to pay for everyone to be on benefits? Aaaah!

In truth we tend to trust people whose faces or identities we understand.

In the last ten years I have not snuck a single letter past an American, but the Brits love a letter. It's my most powerful tool, a warm sheet of introduction that just slips its way into a centrally heated home, and is safe enough to place with the breakfast papers while being slowly and pleasantly digested.

I was an awful letter writer, boring people with facts and questions. Exactly what they wanted to hear! A chance to talk. In 2005 or so everyone was still in love with their BlackBerry, and hated getting 'snailmail'. But with online shopping back, paper bills, statements and junk mail all easing off (reduced carbon initiatives and consumer watchdogs helping here) - your letter is now really welcome again just as in the days of Postman Pat.

"Knock. Ring. Letters through your door!"

I've sent out hundreds of these warm pieces of propaganda and they're a great way to learn more about your own puzzling family, if you're brave enough.

For the less pushy, you can still use persuasion to meet your archival needs. (For a bonus point, where is archiving on Maslow's hierarchy of needs? It's there, believe me.)

Setting up a web presence or tree on Ancestry, and subtly seizing the vacant position of family expert helps you claim more territory. When aunt Grenda dies, her children will ensure those nasty old photos (covered in dust) come naturally to you, rather than setting off everyone's asthma and clogging up the family's Feng shui.

I get a lot of eyeballs on my site and it's informative to get a handle on their research interests. Last month I pounced on Timmy in Canada who had submitted a query about my grandpa's third cousin Denis.  And soon I was enjoying a nice chat online with Denis's son across the water. (Yes the Canadians are much more open to persuasion.)

But not exclusively so. This week I was so delighted to finally make contact with the granddaughters of Auntie Bea, both in southern USA. It's the right time for everybody. I knew I had to share the stunning Twenties photograph of their mothers (sisters) bathing in the sea, and of course they responded well. So privileged to be in touch. I first saw that photo 20 years ago and knew I would one day share it.

I pulled a really fast move on my Irish cop cousins. I needed to meet them and laid a trail of cookies to get their undivided attention. Sure enough, screeching around the corner of my home-from-home, Boston youth hostel, was cousin Gerry in his police wagon. Out I stepped ready to glad-hand him as we greeted reach other warmly.

Behind the smiles and superb choreography lay a string of careful plans. The meat of the encounter, the bait, was the letter Gerry's grandfather wrote from wartime Ireland, six to ten pages, which they got to keep. I bet that was all he ever wrote in his life, at least in English. Assisting with the meet-up was tough substitute teacher Kimberly, Gerry's niece. She got him to check his phone, accept the message request, and bring a smile.

With more front than Selfridges, I treated myself to an afternoon at the Boston Athletics Club for a complimentary tour, stating that I was in fact, a resident, if just for one day. #Persuasion

See: faith in family history, luck in family history, determination in family history, inspiration in family history

19 Mar 2017

Travails of the great great greats

As a child you accept even the extraordinary as the ordinary. Stumbling on a letter from great great great Henry Lowry written in Jamaica, 1853, just felt like any other wet Sunday afternoon at the grandparents.

I was angry with H.L. as he didn't say more about all his relatives like the gospel according to Matthew. I glowered at his face as I crossed the landing to haul out my other childhood favourite, the black Imperial typewriter much favoured by lady Bond villains. Ripping the skin around your nails if you mistyped, it sure improved your typing speed. (I now have 112wpm and tough cuticles.)

Owing to the very unNewtonian way genealogy discoveries operate, where a new memory does not equally and oppositely destroy an existing memory, the learnings as an adult have only grown.

It is the generation of great great great grandparents where human memory begins to run out of road. Father Time's dark shadow wipes out a generation's loves, feelings, laughs and absurdity, leaving just one or two whose biographical detail survives intact.

In about 1960 it was the turn of my great great greats. Their grandchildren were dying and people who featured big were going to be obliterated by a long permanent shadow.

But not all... Here are a few who survived the chop, with my thoughts as to why:

1) Miriam Creed, born 1814. Last useful grandchild died 1982. Crossed the Atlantic as a young girl (source parish registers), experienced wild ocean weather (my conjecture), had a place reserved for her under the stairs at her youngest son's house in Dorset. Source here was the triple whammy of my nosiness, an older cousin's careful notes and Miriam's attentive young grandchild living to extreme old age (where she was interviewed by cousin Jimmy).

2) John and Jane Gibson, also born 1814. Last grandchild dies 1964. Looking at Jane, her life fell into two epochs, squeezed into a terrace house near the docks of South Shields with John, and after his early death, she becomes a farmer's wife with her childhood sweetheart in the heart of Northumberland at Allendale Old Town. For John we rely on a newspaper clipping from the 1840s, while for Jane we have two sources. Her great-granddaughter Cathie, who died in 1974 and remembered visiting 'Granny from Old Town', telling her daughters about it, who told their son, who told me. Secondly, the farmers at the property who knew that Jane's second husband was in actuality her true childhood sweetheart. Thirdly, this great photo: don't you think it has to be them? (copy to be inserted)

3) Blanch and Elizabeth Morton, the twins born 1811. By comparing their narratives, ages at death and in the census, their parents' marriage date, the pre-existence of twins, the family bible entry and by detailing their infant children, I conclude that my great great great Blanch and her sister are themselves twins. There have been no twins since! See the blog Twin of my Valley for more.

4) The Cornish lot. My grandfather's grandparents were Cornish cousins who married in Wales, 1879. There are plenty of uncles and aunts and these were the first generation to leave Cornwall during the tin and copper slump of the 1840s. Matthew Bowden was born 1814 and his exploits in Mexico are well documented by his descendant Gwen Broad. Next brother Edward worked on the Wheel at Laxey, according to his descendant Lylie. Jabez Hunter went out to Bogota, Colombia, according to family stories while his brother John is confirmed as dying there from the probate indexes. Eliza Hunter went out to Australia TWICE, and John Shugg, the deaf carpenter, also journeyed that way.

5) Benjamin Padfield, born 1808, was said to have been much kinder towards his grandchildren than his goodly wife Susannah. She disapproved of their receiving apples from the orchard. Not surprising it is Benjamin whose photo we have, with a grandchild on his knee, and no photo at all for matriarch Susannah despite her 50 grandchildren! That's 50 youngsters who didn't get an apple, the last of whom died 1979. Source: My madcap visit to Miss Nora James in Holcombe, 1994, and the unexpected gift in 2001, shortly before the owner's death, of all the Padfield family photographs.

6) Those Francis siblings from Marloes, south west Wales. I've not been here yet, and we know frustratingly little about their forebears, but this tribe of fisherman's children had more than the usual smarts. Somewhere I saw that their father was no ordinary labourer, but I'll need to examine this evidence again. He made the move to Merthyr Tydfil as the children hit their teens and twenties, and most worked with metal in the town. The family bible records that David and Martha left for New York. It also shows that John went up to county Durham, where his skills in iron would be valued. It makes no mention of sister Mary marrying a soldier and leaving for Australia, nor of William (born 1810) my ancestor joining his brother up in Durham county. Their were two more sisters who stayed in Merthyr. Source: family bible, rare write-up of Martha's brood in Brooklyn, New York (complete with photo).

7) Francis Harris, born 1818 in Cornwall. I had no idea where he went til a lucky hunt took me to Wisconsin, home of many a Cornish miner, where a Francis Harris of the right age 'born England' was living. That's not all, the newspapers of the 1950s show his grandson talking of that time and how Francis pushed his chances by heading overland through Nicaragua to and from the gold fields of California. He made it back as far as the big lake there drowning among his friends. One friend made sure his gold made its way back to the widow, Philippi, in Wisconsin. His niece, my grandfather's grandmother, would be sleeping safely in her bed in Wales when the news of wild uncle Francis's death reached home.

14 Mar 2017

Welcome to the world, baby Boyce!

Back in ???? 1995, I had never heard of Boyce.  (I would like to give you the exact date, but owing to lack of records on my part, see previous blog, I can't.)

I was getting somewhere with my two main names in Somerset, Creed and Haine, and was investigating a lead from Miss Pat Cotton at the old Somerset record office of Obridge, Taunton.  Pat had mentioned there were two James Scotts who died within days of each other at West Pennard in 1809 at around the same age.

I would rather catch a python bare-handed than drive up the M5 from Exeter, but curiosity got the better of me.  I wanted to know if either James Scott left a will, and if one of them might be the father of my Betty Scott (later Haine) or my Martha Scott (later Creed), two forebears of mine with unknown antecedents.  Somerset record office here we come.

The beige Fiesta pulled into the parking lot and out I stepped - at least I imagine I did.  Without records confirming this, it's hard to be sure.  You know it has to be either late December 1994, or April (Easter) 1995.  December was pretty action-packed as I'll get round to telling another time.  Although I was 17 and full of bounce, I imagine I stayed close to home that Christmas, so I'm going with April.

And here's what I found:
 James Scott left a will alright and there's Betty Haine listed as a daughter, yippee yippee yippee.  But who were those other women? (oh gosh those women's descendants could fill a book)  Martha Crud.  Brain not computing.  Forty seconds later, duh!!! That's my forebear Martha, the one who became Creed, what kind of historian was I?  At least I dang hope she is as I've made that assumption for the last 22 years and it's the only proof.  Maybe I should have been following the Crud line all this time....

OK, so that just really left Sarah Boyce as the only true fresh meat, already unpicked-over by that vulture of a historian, erm, me!   What's more, she had pushed herself to the front of the queue ahead of her erstwhile sisters by Naming the Baby after the Grandfather.  Works a charm and most tired old scrotes with constant gout and ulcers can turn that frown upside-down with this tactic.

It worked - and kerching kerching, pennies came raining in on the Boyces, or were they Royces, as we had a baby's name to play with, James Scott Boyce.
Whenever I next got back to the probate registry above the Next store in Exeter's attractive high street, I would be able to find this:
I was pretty excited: these were my first London relatives.  It was still 1995.  When the chance came for us agrics to go to London on a coach in June (??), we jumped at it.  Me particularly, as I did my homework and found I would have an hour to leave the Haymarket area and get to Chancery Lane, leg it to Guildhall library find a trade directory and leg it back.  Unbelievably I came away with an address for J. S. B., which was 20 Offord Road, Islington, with occupation given as meat salesman.  (Basing his whole adult life I would find, around Smithfield Meat Market.)

Time passes: I move to Berkshire.  Pretty sure, the autumn of 1995 got me to the Public Records Office in Chancery Lane.  Armed with the two addresses for J. S. B., I consult the heavy plastic books of addresses and up comes the following entry for Boyce in Offord Road.  Hurrah!  The feeling of exhilaration at having beaten the demons of time, space, forgetfulness, paper deterioration, entropy, malign forces, gravity.... would be even better if I had my original pencil notes.  Still, here's the record which saw me go up a level in Family Historian the Ultimate Challenge.

A longhand scrawl which hides a lot of facts.  You can see chancer James Westcott Broad the plasterer doing well and up from Torquay from a fishing family, settled in a very nice street with his wife's family.  It was obvious to me even then that 'visitor' meant family.  Richard J, by the way, ends up as a fireman in Shanghai, being someone's favourite great-uncle that they never knew.  Louisa E marries in Fleet in Hampshire in her thirties to a red-headed six-foot architect from Dorset, one of the Men of Marnhull, and I'll be meeting their granddaughter later on, in 1998.  It was lovely picking my way through Victorian London and its records to step out into a brand new play area.

The Broad family went on and on.  One of the girls married a gas lamp lighter.  The ones I can remember were Nellie, Sarah, Louisa, Alice, sisters of the Chinese fireman.  And here is a lovely entry to round it all off.  It's the wedding day for Nellie's daughter Ethel, off to Australia with her soldier husband and family putting brave face on it.  The church must be St Silas, Pentonville.

The Jenkins, Connor and Manley folk belong to the other sisters.  It's now 1919.

We've seen a hundred years roll around from that chance document of 1809 to pre-modern Britain.  The Boyces (not Royces) definitely made it through and out the other side.  Welcome to the world, baby Boyce!