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29 Jun 2018

End of the line

The remnant
Down the end of the lane, where grass still grows in the middle of the road, lies my landlady's old home. It's still there, untouched, unvarnished. Like a book sitting on a library shelf, it contains all you might need on the long dead subject.

Hannah Dooley was agreed to be the last of the family residents in Eyam, passing away in 1946 (not bad for a grandfather born in 1771). I've got a letter from someone who remembered her little cottage, plus some postcards she wrote, and she also left a Will. The Will isn't very interesting, but we're happy enough overall.

Another last-of-the-line was the box-of. -frogs that was Miss Stuart Barone. Rich,storied, and in ill health, her light odometer reading  masked an exciting life in exile during the war. With her dying gasp you can hear the grief in her Sicilian village home. And to accompany this there'll be plenty of candles. She leaves a document, another Will, hopping around the decades. Announcing her birth in Alberta (1908); sorting out her grandparents for posterity, and scattering about the American connections like wild mountain herbs.

Treasure is a wonderful name for any family member, and this one was also, last-of-the-line. Someone told me he made a bonfire around the time he was in poor health, making his peace with the world, of all the family effects. Bonds of indemnity for obscure field purchases from the 1860s, solicitor's letters to his long-dead grandfather. It all needed to go up in smoke before he died, he felt.

Harrumph was my reaction, ambitious as I was to find a photograph of the parents and children, or even his grandmother, a key person in the tree.

Last week a gentleman wrote me from southern Somerset, exorcising his own ghosts. There were photos of cows from the 1960s, old cottages in hamlets the motorcar hadn't seen. And round the corner, in every frame, out of shot, was Treasure, carefully described. These memories have been pickled in amber for us.  And better by far, after a wait, than silly old parchment from the bonfire.

My mustachiod great- great- grandfather, William, has 85 descendants living, at a conservative estimate. Yet his two sisters Arundel and Catharine had children and grandchildren but no surviving descendants at all!

One spinster lady I met thought that her sister, who'd died age 16, would have been the one to get married. Catharine's grandson Phillip wanted to marry, but nobody wanted to go through with it. In a small town in Oregon, his father's shame  was too much to bear.

Three troubling events occurred in poor Percy's life (the only child of Catharine to have issue): losing his elder boy in the swollen waters of the Washington River in 1921; being found to defraud local people out of their money at his small town in Oregon. But the trigger for all the sorrow and insecurity was decades earlier in 1896, age 22, when this mild but bright fair skinned lad-on-the-make got too close to the flames. Witnessing a Chinese gangland murder in L.A., he went on the run. I honestly think if he'd kept his pretty nose out of Chinatown, Catharine (his mother) would have descendants, and Phillip, buried in a Veterans grave, would not be End of the Line.

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