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18 Sep 2016

Illegitimacy and the Will of man

The most talked about will in our family conceals a multitude of factlets. It's the will of Mr Taylor of Morriston, Swansea penned 1913-1919. Cousin Alison and I triumphantly pose in the street where his house would have been (we thought), having no Money, but enjoying the free experience. "Where did it all go?", definitely got asked as a shower splashes through our chirpy photo.

The way some Welsh pronounce Money is very funny as if it was a town or a seasonal crop. We might get in to Money later....

The will is written in three stages with so many amends it reads like a diary entry. What the writer gives with one hand he takes away with the other. He changes chapel, changes executors and gives war mementos to all his grown up grandsons except the one who was discharged for wetting himself.

All the kids had moved away except the faithful Tom, by now a widower like his dad. He knocked on my great grandpa's door in 1919. "It's Dad", he began. "He wants you to be his executor as he doesn't trust any of us." In fact Tom was the only one nearby.

I only found the document as my side of the family had the testator's name and date of death scribbled on a family tree. I chose to investigate this way back in 1992: stumbling on the record after school in the local probate registry situated above Next.

We only ever had two illegitimacies and they both happened in Mr Taylor's family across the years he was writing his will. Maggie's son Tommy Fach was given great status in the family treated as a much-loved youngest child with a beautiful stone in the Church in Wales graveyard of his birthplace. Maggie married after a pause and no-one was much the wiser. Tommy Fach actually had a better life than his brother Tommy Mawr, it would seem. Note that there was no pressure to marry, probably the man concerned was judged a poor investment. The community closed ranks around Maggie and mother and child were protected.

The second illegitimacy stemmed from spite, as far as I can see. Taylor had possibly recovered from his youngest child eloping aged 18 with a total stranger 20 years earlier (she preferred this fate to becoming her father's eternal housekeeper). When this child died and hubbie remarried, the Taylor response was "no money for the Walkers as they are well provided for". This is clear code that he didn't want his daughter's 20% to go to her widower and his new family.

But as he was penning these lines his granddaughter, Eva Walker, 18, was already taking a horrendous job of formic acid dipper, helping dunk sheets of tin into 'pickle' and getting rid of the hugely toxic waste. She fell pregnant at 23, and unlike the common practice of the time, no-one compelled the father to do the right thing and marry, with no available alternatives such as familial adoption.

Eva would be completely alone, without either parent, and about as far from well-provisioned as it was possible to be. She sent her wild daughter away and slowly recovered from the experience, dying poor but happy in the Midlands. The child fared badly and the last repercussions are hitting family members right now in 2016.

It irks me the way this document rendered the women as third-class citizens who were meant to evaporate into the ether. Martha, three youngest child, looks like she's had a very unpleasant interview with Satan informing her of her family's future in her only known photograph age 16. This emerged in Mold, 2011 at the home of a great niece. Her daughter Eva's photo was kept at her tiny home in the Midlands surviving decades of money shortage, and reaching me in 2016 - no cousins had ever heard of her. Eva's daughter's photo was dug out via a circuitous route in the Forest of Dean a matter of days ago.

I'd like to think my great grandpa challenged the will of this man, or at least was aware of Eva's fate. This was and is a tight family and for vulnerable women to be ignored because of spite goes completely against the accepted togetherness of life in south Wales towns. If this is the will of man, I'm not impressed.

17 Sep 2016

Missing: 40-year wait for next of kin

A piece of paper in an envelope is due to shake the family tree. May Wilson disappeared from her first family in 1943, from her second in 1958 and her brother was only dimly aware of her existence. Still a toddler in 1943, we think his sister called by late one rainy night on a lonely journey, leaving by the morning.

So where is she?

As the decades rolled round, the three families had only faint memories of each other and more unanswered questions about the woman, May, who'd gone missing so successfully from their lives.

We held a triumphant reunion in Spring for the three families, now absolutely and determinedly one. Going home, I heard that one of the group still couldn't sleep at night, waking up wondering what happened to May. At the gathering, some of us darkly joked that she would arrive unannounced in her nineties like the bad fairy of Sleeping Beauty's baptism.

In the end I feel anger that the family has had to wait forty years for their three separate stories of loss and missing to be resolved.

It seems May had been dead since 1976. I found that out this week. She was in her fifties and moving around a large urban city. Nobody knew her age or full name, and the funeral took place with her family absent and unaware. They still don't know she's dead.

This week the official death certificate will be posted to me and I'll be able to break the news, 40 years after the funeral. Daughters are lined up to tell their parents that their mother or sister has been gone since 1976.

In the middle of this storm of brutal news comes a dove, a bird with good tidings in its mouth and a glow of light around. Photo! From a loft in the Welsh borders an aunt has something rescued from May's chaotic tragic life. Her photograph.

At what human cost this photo came: every day a struggle, screaming out for medication which won't arrive for years, for anything to take away the pain.

For me the photo doesn't show pain but love. Her family cared enough to exhume this photo and dwell on the features of a lady who is both missed and missing. Some day her family hope to find her grave and maybe too, to let her picture show from a wall.

I've never had anyone missing. The closest is old schoolfriends, who arrived long before Facebook could log and chart our giggles. And when my delicate childhood brain didn't know how to log people's identifying labels for future easy retrieval. I'll get on to that at some point, I miss them, I'll admit.