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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 

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