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31 Oct 2014

Would woods yield wood connection?

The Kentish Weald is heavily wooded, with coppiced hazel, wild cherry, ash and oak formed in a series of 'shaws' no matter the approach you are at once shielded and navigating around one of Britain's superior natural resources.

It was wonderful passing through in a taxi, as I headed, but little did I know, closer and closer to the man in the family who knew more about wood than any other.  My great-great-great-uncle William Smith (1851-1921).  Long dead, his likeness was preserved at the rendezvous in Kent where I was to learn more about the family archive.

To reprise William's story, earlier given, he took his £180 (minus tax) on the nose at 21 and was getting married a matter of days later.  His only remaining relative, his father, was not in a position to refuse him.  He took the money from Mr Riches who ironically had booted the family out of their birthplace, Mulbarton Hall, just ten years earlier.  His trade was carpentry and the village of Jamestown, USA, population 5,336, and not yet a city was eventually to become 'furniture capital of the world' with one in six people working at its furniture factories.  His wife's uncle Jonathan Crick had arrived forty years earlier and was living in the tiny village of Gerry, NY, just nine miles away.

What a delight to find his smiling countenance on good quality black card with the name of the photographer 'Black', likely taken around 1900.  He looks very similar to his nephew Frank Lowry, himself about to emigrate - to farm in South Africa.  These gentlemen, together with Smith's great-uncle and benefactor, John Lain, all share my mitochondrial DNA.

If anyone has a high-speed internet, perhaps they could check if the Black photographic studio is listed in this 1903 Jamestown directory.  Found the reference: T. Henry Black, studio over 12 E 3rd, house over 20 Derby.

There was a William Smith who was a plasterer in Jamestown and returned to England 1886 with a woman named Sarah, to Barnsley Yorkshire.  Coming back to Jamestown their ship the SS Oregon sunk off the coast of Fire Island.  I am not yet convinced this was our William.  The 1880s directories should provide an answer.

William's obituary of 1921 correctly recalls he had one brother and three sisters, an unusual combination.  But it is the survival in our family of his photograph that proves it all.  I had independently figured out the Jamestown connection some while ago, and as we earlier saw, it is pretty water-tight.  It remains to be seen if his family in Florida and upstate NY will want to know more about his origins in England.

Best photographer in town:
Joyce, Pauline Lopus tells the story in Lucy & Desi: A Home Movie, and in her autobiography Lucy (Lucille Ball 1911-89) herself writes, "...DeDe [her mother] sent me to the best photographer in Jamestown, T. Henry Black. It was Mr. Black who was quoted as saying, 'It's very difficult to get a satisfactory picture of Miss Ball because the lady is just not photogenic!'" (p. 30) The pictures Lucy references are from when she was in the Miss Celoron bathing beauty contest as a teenager.

A Lain less Wandered. Diss-Connection

It never rains, but it pours.  Sheets and sheets of it.  How the buckets poured down, and the wearer became the sluice-gates.  They say there's no such thing as bad weather: only poor clothing.

My genealogical clothing was meagre: I wrapped the thin scarf of conceit around me further, my belt of certainty slipped away, and my hat of pride was knocked off in the deluge.

The archival discovery in question was that of Miss Daisy, who had died in 1972 aged 96.  As well as outliving any member of the family past or present, and surviving all but one of her younger sister's family into the bargain - she had known a generous selection of the women who cascaded down from her castrator great-grandfather Samuel Flowers.

Flowers had had eight daughters, none of them needing castration, but unfortunately, only two of them produced daughters.  These were just the kind of family members that interested Miss Daisy.

The staggering finding was the photograph of John Lain 1787-1867, brother-in-law of the castrator.  Interesting as he is both genealogically remote (my mother's mother's mother's mother's mother's mother's brother), and sharing my mitochondrial DNA, and also that the family he called his own, I would barely recognise.  He listed as nephews and nieces people who I would consider pretty peripheral to my tree.  We have no idea who his grandparents were and can readily classify him as pre-Victorian, as he was 50 when the future empress ascended the throne and had wrapped up his life and affairs long before Disraeli had Victoria's realm declared an empire.

His large photograph is taken in Diss, a town I'd never really heard of.  So tiny, it easily became a member of Cittaslow.  Rather amusingly, May, Lain's great-nephew's granddaughter came to Diss a few years ago from Bethnal Green, believing it to be the birthplace of her father - in fact born at Deopham.  Diss was the nearby market town where Lain's land was sold in 1867, and checking a map, it really was the logical place for the folk of South Lopham to come for their weekly shop, market, catch-up and to catch the train if needed for Norwich or Ipswich.

It was thanks to Lain that my Smiths ended up being born at Mulbarton Hall, and he effectively provided a home for Smith's pregnant bride and luckless partner around the time of their marriage, Christmas 1850.  So it was that one pregnant sister dodged disgrace and became chatelaine of an old country manorhouse in Norfolk, while her older sister (who survived her 20 years), had to wait until her mid-forties to shake off her first husband and cash in her hard-won property in Macclesfield Street, Soho, for the protection of a businessman in nearby Horse and Dolphin Yard.  Quite a difference in pattern.

Lopham Fen: last remaining fen river valley in England

So, we thank the mapping folk for making it apparent that Diss is the connection, and Miss Daisy for hanging onto a photo her mother (married at 18) must nearly have lost.

And Mr Lain for emerging from the centuries, not too battered at all, clearly a force to be reckoned with, and a reminder of life a very long time ago.

1787 - year of his birth.  Events in this year: the US constitutuion was signed and three states joined the union.  Doomed Captain Bligh sets sail on a two-year voyage from Spithead on the HMS Bounty with his motley mutinous crew.   Mozart opened one of his first symphonies in Vienna.

18 Oct 2014

A sense of place

There is a restaurant in Covent Garden ' a sense of place'. What more apt phrase for our time could there be. Half our troubles are from not knowing where we fit in, holding out for treats and surprises that aren't coming, and wondering where the money'll come from and the friends are going.

Harvest Day might be a time for reflecting that all our food and everything we need is coming from the ground, and let's include the sea in that.

I've been reading a detailed photographic tour of Ironbridge, one of those terrific small-town, countryside-nestling gems of a place. Pork pies in the market, a smattering of Victorian industrial remnants, an old-time pharmacy and chance of a walk along the river or open-skied hill-land.

Today I'm checking out the Midlands. I've been impressed for years with my Ellen Bagshaw's aunt, the first Ellen Bagshaw that went to Birmingham in her twenties and two (Irish) husbands later, started all over again in Stoke on Trent, running a lodging house. Her children got stuck into life here and the youngest girl especially had a hard life. Second husband was a coal miner in Werrington village, but she it was that died. It's her descendants, the Cookes, I'd be keen to call in on while I'm in Stoke.

Place and geography are important. My grandmother's family collected an assortment of unusual birthplaces as they moved around the country; moving every three years, being Methodist ministers. My uncle was born 1909 in Kidsgrove and his sister a few years later in Burslem. Their mother came into the world at Retford, some other Midlands town. The canal network, the yellowed tufty grass, warm glow from the redbrick buildings, the suddenly rising light industrial blocks; all giving a flavour of the landscape and place where people live.

The Changing Net

I really enjoy putting my feet up and having a good google. Almost as much as I enjoy typing blog entries in bare feet sitting on the train. What's happened? The formerly to-be-found text-heavy informative pages have disappeared! I used to love stumbling on someone's nice long chatty account of the specialist interest the compiler had researched.

These old pages were, unquestionably, ugly, but what joy as a fellow enthusiast to stumble-upon them. I found an ancient page pulled together in the nineties by an Australian professor now himself in his nineties. He proved just as erudite and informative when contacted by email. This in sharp contrast to those innumerable snippety web accounts on show these days where you are fortunate if you spy a whole sentence pieced together.

We've for years seen, possibly at a distance, MSN offering a load of cobblers about celebrities, usually a photo with a paragraph of made-up (readable) nonsense. How I crave those heights of journalism today!

Alighting on the tourist information and Lonely Planet (!)  pages for Stoke on Trent, I couldn't find a single sentence in among the drop-down menus, clickable images to sub sub sub pages.

I have still found a number of websites by googling. There's a search engine that will actually ignore the top hundred websites leaving you in peace to find some decent content. The Geocities and Angelfire sites of old were chockfull of wording, with a couple of boxy rectangular 2d pictures to wash it down with.

The data on Ancestry is terrific, but needs a writtem narrative to make sense of it all. In the meantime, if you find a site with journalistic-length content, give them a thumbs up.