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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