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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.





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