At our recent A.G.M. our President was trying to encourage us to write more for “Longshot” and he suggested we might write what he called a “living obituary”. I have to go back a very long way as I have been interested in my family history for about 70 years.
As a very little girl first staring school, I was soon to find that other children and their home lives were very different from me and mine. What this difference was seemed something of a mystery to me and I began to notice things. Young children and especially girls, can be very unkind and I resented it when one catty little girl sneered “Your father is old enough to be your grandfather!” - I adored my father and to have him slighted put my back up.
Then, too, other girls had sisters of their own age group while mine – well my eldest sister was very “old” and grown up – in her twenties – and living away from home. Whilst my brother had been killed in World War I at the age of 23, six weeks before I was born! And at 6 years old that seemed a life time away. I had another sister who had died at the age of 13 when I was only 4. Now I was the only one left.
One thing else puzzled me. Why did I always have to call my grown up relatives Auntie and Uncle and (when one particular Auntie, who was a great favourite and who frequently spent the evening with us in her time off) why call my father “Uncle” if she was my Aunt? Common sense was sprouting!
I loved to ask my father questions about the past, though my mother warned me not to do this as she said my father’s past had been so bad and it would be unkind to remind him. Of course this only made me more curious than ever. We had a large, very old fashioned, round table in our living room. It had one central leg and three long feet to balance it. Over this hung a large chenille table cloth reaching to the floor. This was an ideal place for a very small child to sit. I could sit on one of the legs and listen unobserved to the conversation which went on around the fire when visitors came, especially when the aforementioned “Auntie” was there. And bit by bit I formed in my imaginative mind pictures of events as good as any Arabian Nights!
In my bedroom which was a larger than usual room in the top of the house, there was a large wardrobe, at the bottom of which was a long drawer which I could never open. One day when my mother was going to this drawer and had turned away for a moment, I discovered there was in it some Orange Blossom, a pair of white satin shoes, and a lot of lovely white satin and old lace! But the drawer was soon shut again against little prying fingers and curious eyes. My mother was very deaf and in those days there were no hearing aids as now. I could never pester my mother with those hundred and one questions a curious child wants to know, I just had to wait till I was told! There were one or two large trunks in the attic. One of these was of special interest. It had come with my mother from her home in Cornwall and contained little keepsakes from her old home when, after her father had died, the farm had been sold and the home dismantled. This was romance indeed when on special occasions she would open its locked lid and tell me stores of each precious possession. Some of these precious little things I still treasure.
But I must go back to my hideout, beneath the dining table!
When I was old enough to write, my father gave me an old ledger, which had had only a few pages used. When these were torn out there was scope to write, and I began to form a kind of family tree of my own to try to get the generations in their right order so that I could understand it for myself. My family seemed to me to be the most peculiar family and I’m afraid the further I went the more difficult it became! I found that my father had been married first when only 19 and that he had married much against the family’s advice – his bride being the daughter of his first cousin. She was in fact aged 34. Many years later I found the Marriage Certificate which gave her age as 28 but through the Census Return it was confirmed that her correct age was in fact 34. To them was born a son – the brother who was sadly killed in World War I. There was also a daughter who was taken to live with her grandparents at the age of 6 when her mother died. My father remained a widower for six years. He then fell in love with a lovely woman, I believe it was a very real love match. No doubt it was her wedding finery I saw in the wardrobe drawer! They had a little daughter, but very sadly, when my little sister was only 4 her mother died of cancer. Needing a housekeeper and someone to care for this very frail little daughter, my father advertised for a suitable person and my own mother saw the advert and applied. She has told me what a pathetic sight my little sister was in her little black frock, clinging shyly to her father and big brother!
Very sadly this little mite also developed cancer when she had grown to be 13. I was then about 4 and well remember her being very ill. I also remember being told that she “had gone to Heaven” but on the day of her funeral I was sent to a friend’s home and on returning home found her room empty. I knew that she had died – that I fully understood, but what had they done with her body? I looked everywhere, under the bed, in the wardrobe, even in the cupboard under the stairs! In the end I decided it must be in the long drawer of the chest on the top landing! I satisfied myself that that was it. I knew her soul had gone to Heaven, it was only her body that was in the drawer, I did not ask anyone.
When I was 11 my other sister died, but as she had never lived at home, it did not affect me much. Except that I was now all that was left of my father’s family. I continued with my search of the family and discovered that the “Auntie” who I so liked and who called my father “Uncle” was in fact my first cousin. That my father had 16 brothers and sisters and that he himself was number 13, consequently all the older members of the family were much old than he, and so I, being his youngest child found myself the very youngest of grandfather’s 49 grandchildren!
To say the least, it was a jolly old mix up and I just had to keep going to understand it all! One very curious fact came to light – when father married his first wife she was the daughter of his first cousin. Her parents were first cousins to each other and both were first cousins to father! No wonder the family were not amused! Having been taught to call everybody “Auntie” you can guess I needed some adjustment to sort things out in my study under the round table.
[When my grandfather married my grandmother Martha Lindfield she was only 15 – only just! The clergyman who married them said “I would not have done so had I known you were so young”.]
Well that is how I began Family History – how about you?