Friday, 5 May 2017

The Past Calls You

During the spells of inclement weather this past Bank Holiday weekend, I took advantage of the free access to certain records on the Find My Past website.

I've been taking advantage of free access to records weekends on Ancestry since Easter 2015, and have actually built the family tree on that site, but sometimes looking at another website helps verify information, or provides records not available elsewhere.

Now, I've always believed that I'm half Welsh (on my mother's side), and going back three or four generations that is the case.  But so far every branch of that side of the family seems to have arrived in the valleys of South Wales in the 1870's & 80's - when the coal mining boom was in full flow.  When it comes to the origin of my maternal great grandparents, one branch came from the West Midlands, having been chainmakers and nail makers for several generations in Shropshire & Worcestershire.  I've yet to get back prior to the Industrial Revolution with this branch - this is the one that could actually trace back to the right side of the border, I'm told.  My maternal grandfather's mother was born in Devon, but the family moved to the Valleys prior to the 1881 census.  Before that, the generations I've traced were farm labourers in various villages between the Eastern edge  of Exmoor and the western slopes of Somerset's Quantock Hills.

My Welsh Nan's family also arrived in the Valleys some time in the 1870's - from Bristol and the Forest of Dean.  I have managed to trace the Forest of Dean branch of the family back to the 1530's - effectively the start of written records for anyone other than gentry - to Much Marcle, in the heart of Herefordshire cider making country. It's an area of the country I love and know well.  Whenever we go to the Malvern shows, rather than stay near the show ground, we usually stay on the outskirts of Hereford, then explore the area the days either side of the show.  I've always felt comfortable round there, almost "at home".  Now I know why.  This branch of the family also contains what seems to be our only brush with fame.  My great-great grandmother's birth name was Meek, and it appears I share ancestors with the famed record producer Joe Meek.  Cousins several times removed - our lines branch off around the time of the Civil War.

My father's family tree has been a little harder to research.  His mother was 12 when she lost her father in World War I, and seems to have been informally adopted by an uncle, whose name appeared in records of her marriage, and sent me looking in the wrong direction for a while.  Here also I found evidence of the lost inheritance I'd heard talk of as a child. Not a huge amount, but a great great grandfather remarried late in life, and left everything to his second wife.  I've also managed to trace one of my great great grandmother's lines on this side back to 17th Century Essex, and 16th Century Norfolk.

His father's side of the tree has seen me try to break through a few dead ends - one great great great grandfather is listed on parish wedding records as a Mariner on a Victuallery vessel - I guess that means a merchant ship carrying food & drink, though whether that just sailed around Britain, or plied the international waters I don't know.  This past weekend I have found out there are records of him at Trinity House, likely parenateg, a birth date (some 16 years earlier than the wife who appears in my family tree), and what looks like a previous marriage, though as yet no death details for either wife.  Did the first wife join him on board and die overseas?  Was he a bigamist, keeping two marriages going in separate ports?

This side is where I have found the only (so far) illegitimate ancestor - I can only speculate as to whether the man his mother married a few years after his birth was his father.  But I have been able to trace this ancestor's mother's family back from his birthplace of Ware, several generations back to villages just north of the town.  According to census entries, this ancestor was, during his time in Ware (before he married and lived in Uxbridge) a maltster.  I've been through Ware countless times - usually on the way to the plant nursery Hopleys in Much Hadham.  The church is set back slightly from the High Street, and just outside is a statue of man leaning on a large shovel, with a cat at his side.  This statue celebrates the maltmaking industry that thrived in this area two centuries ago.  And those villages?  Well, they're on the road that leads to Much Hadham, and I have passed through them almost as many times as I've been through Ware.  I have always had the urge to stop & explore, and I guess now I realise why.  These places, in countryside I love, are part of my history, and are waiting for me to tread where previous generations tended the fields.