Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Heroes in my Family


On this day of remembrance I felt it was only appropriate to write a few words about my hero ancestors. My family is not unique. Like everyone who delves into their ancestry I have found many family members who went off to fight for their country, to 'do their bit'. Some made the ultimate sacrifice and were laid to rest where they died; some don't have a final resting place; all live on through stone memorials. Others were fortunate enough to make it through their war and return to homes and families. They may not have returned unscathed, either mentally or physically, but return they did. They aren't marked on a memorial but, like their fallen brethren, they are remembered. To me, they are all heroes.

Charles Stracey 1894-1917
My great uncle Charles was 22 years old when he died in France on 17th February 1917. A private in the 6th Battalion, Princess Charlotte of Wales (Royal Berkshire) Regiment, it's probable that he died during the action taken at Miraumont to capture several German trenches. During the early hours of the 17th February, as the troops assembled in preparation to go over the top, the Germans heavily barraged the assembly areas. Most of the day's casualties happened as a result of this barrage and I believe, as Charles' body was never recovered, that it was at this point that he died. His name is recorded on the great Thiepval Memorial to the missing in northern France.

Samuel Ezekiel Hardwick
Samuel Ezekiel Hardwick 1881-1917
Sam Hardwick, my great grand uncle, died of wounds on 7th April 1917. He was a private in the 8th Battalion, Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment. I've been unable to work out where or when he was injured but I find it quite distressing to think that he may have suffered dreadfully in a casualty clearing station before finally succumbing to his wounds. He is buried in Calais Southern Cemetery (which I'm glad to have visited in 2010 to lay some flowers on his grave) and left behind a wife and seven year old daughter.

James Ivanhoe Cullip 1894-1918
James is an ancestor that I've written about before. One of my great uncles, he served as a gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery, one of the men employed to pound the German lines with their big guns. He survived the war but tragically died two weeks before the armistice, and just one week after getting married, as a result of the Spanish Flu pandemic.

Thomas William Cullip 1899-1964
Great Uncle Thomas had been 18 years old for just two weeks when he enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1917. After training on HMS Pembroke he became a member of the crew of HMS Juno in March. He served on Juno until he was demobbed in April 1919.

Albert Edward Cannon (born Cullip) Born 1897
My first cousin twice removed, Albert Cannon, enlisted aged 19 in the Royal Garrison Artillery in 1915. Luckily for me, his is one of the few surviving service records which gives a wealth of information about his time in service. He survived the war and even volunteered for the Army of Occupation in 1919. After demobilisation in 1920 he sailed to Canada where he married and created a new life away from a war weary Europe.

Albert Stracey 1883-1945
My great uncle Albert also survived the war but suffered for the rest of his life from the effects of shell shock. He enlisted into the Royal Berkshires in 1915 at the age of 32. However, just 18 months later he was discharged from service under Paragraph 392 of King's Regulations 1912. He was deemed no longer physically fit for war service and issued with the Silver War Badge. My father remembers how Albert would sit in his chair and physically shake, an affliction he suffered with for the rest of his life.

Nathaniel Joe Stracey
Nathaniel Joe Stracey 1891-1961
My grandfather is another person I've written about previously. He served in the 5th Battalion, East Kent Regiment, the 'Buffs', in Mesopotamia and India. He survived the war unscathed.

John Stracey 1885-1949
I believe my great uncle John may have been one of the Old Contemptibles. Before the war he was a soldier in the regular army, serving as a private in the 1st Bedfordshire Regiment and his medal record shows that he qualified for medals from the 16th August 1914 - he was in it from the start! He may have fought at such major battles as Mons, Ypres and the Somme. Incredibly, he survived the whole four years of war.

Joseph Roy Stracey
Joseph Roy Stracey 1922-1942
I've written quite a lot about my uncle Roy so please see my previous post for an account of his brief life and death. Roy was a royal marine serving on HMS Hermes when it was attacked and sunk by Japanese fighter planes on 22nd April 1942. He was only 19 when he died and his name is recorded on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.


At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Birthplace conundrums

I'm always quite intrigued about the town or village that my ancestors put down as their birthplace. Sometimes it's straightforward: they were born, married and died in the same place so there is no deviation in the place of birth that they gave to the census enumerator. Other times it changes from census to census but its usually in the correct vicinity. Did they not know where they were born? Or was it a case of there being more than one obvious option. For instance, I was born in Bushey in Hertfordshire, yet I quite often say I was born in Watford. This is because Bushey is practically on Watford's doorstep, you can't really tell where one stops and the other begins and also because people are more likely to have heard of Watford.

Today I have been working on the life of my first cousin four times removed, Elizabeth Cullip. I had a bit of trouble searching for her records simply because of the birthplace she'd put down. I developed doubts as to whether I'd got the correct person in the census. But with a bit of lateral thinking I believe I've worked out her way of thinking and the explanation behind the varying places of birth.

Elizabeth was born in 1818 in the village of Eaton Socon in Bedfordshire. Her mother Sarah came from Boxworth which lies about 15 miles to the east in neighbouring Cambridgeshire. Her father Thomas came from Tempsford in Bedfordshire which is about six miles south of Eaton Socon. How Thomas met Sarah I don't know, but the wedding took place in Sarah's home parish of Boxworth. And how they ended up in Eaton Socon is also unknown but this is where Elizabeth was born two years later.

Sadly, Thomas died in 1819 just a year after Elizabeth was born. He was only 24 and was buried in his birth village of Tempsford. And it's at this point I had to put my lateral thinking hat on as the census records weren't telling me what I expected them to.

Elizabeth married a fellow called Robert Ward in 1838 in Boxworth. Interesting, I thought, she's married someone from her mother's home village. But why does she indicate on the 1841, 1851 and 1861 census returns that she was actually born there when she wasn't? Yes, she was living in Boxworth (she lived there until she died in 1888) and her husband was born in Boxworth, as were their four children. The census enumerator could have made a mistake, but could the same mistake occur for three decades in a row. My theory is that when her mother was widowed at such a young age, she returned to the shelter and protection of her own family in Boxworth where she raised her daughter from the age of one. Elizabeth would have been brought up thinking of Boxworth as her home village. Being the only place she'd ever known, it's clear she considered the village as the place she was actually born. And if no one put her right then Boxworth is what she would tell the census enumerators.

Things took a curious turn however on the 1871 and 1881 census records. On those she recorded her birthplace as Tempsford. So for once she'd got the correct county, but she'd still not got the right village. Perhaps by this stage she was aware that Boxworth was not her village of birth but there was clearly still no mention of Eaton Socon as the place she was actually born. It's as if this fact had been forgotten in the family for years. Instead she opted for the place where her father came from and put down Tempsford. I guess for her it was logical: she was born in Bedfordshire so it must be where her father was born.

As you can see this is all supposition, but in the absence of hard facts and without the ability to actually sit down with the person in question and quiz them about their reasons, one has to turn to supposition to come up with a logical theory. In this case guesswork is all I have but it helps when deciphering census records that thrown in sudden curve balls!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Mother Worse than the Son

I absolutely loved finding this small snippet during a perusal of the British Newspaper Archive the other week. On a search for any newspaper articles about my grandmother's family, the Antcliffes, I found this article from the Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald, dated 7 November 1894.

It was the title of the piece that caught my eye: "The Mother Worse than the Son". Goodness, whatever did this mother and son combo do to warrant such a headline? Well, the son, my Great Grand Uncle Fred, stole a duck! And my 2 x Great Grandmother Harriet dared to keep the duck, skin it and eat it. Dreadful stuff. She even burnt the evidence which I guess reveals that she knew she was doing wrong by accepting the offending bird from Fred in the first place.

The Antcliffes are a family that are gradually revealing their secrets to me and this article has helped to put some flesh on the bones. Knowing this one small event from their lives means I now look upon Fred and Harriet, two people I had no previous clue about, with fondness and certainly not with any disapproval for their actions. I mean, if a tasty duck came your way, and you had six children to feed, would you turn it down?

I took great pleasure in telling one of my aunts that she had 'criminal' ancestors. She was very quick to respond with the fact that I therefore had criminal ancestors too!




Sunday, 23 September 2012

Founders and Survivors

Thanks to Twitter yesterday I came across what I believe will be an invaluable website to anyone tracing their convict ancestors who were transported to Tasmania.

Founders and Survivors aims, and I quote here from the website, "to record and study the founding population of 73,000 men, women and children who were transported to Tasmania. Many survived their convict experience and went on to help build a new society".

The website would like family historians to input known details of their convict ancestors, families and descendants on to the database and is also after volunteers for the, as far as I'm concerned, very enviable job of going through the original records to find out what happened to the convicts once they'd left the system.

Having a convict ancestor myself, my three times great grandfather Joseph Cullip, albeit one who managed to return to England after serving his time, I was keen to see whether he was listed on their database. He is! Which I was overjoyed to see. And I'll be sure to add some more details to the record that exists for him. I searched for him by simply inputting his surname, and was amazed to come across two more people who shared derivatives of the Cullip surname, one of whom is a very likely candidate for being an ancestor of mine. He comes from the right part of Bedfordshire so I'll be conducting some further investigation into him and I have my fingers crossed that we're related.

This very interesting newspaper article from The Age gives further information on the project.

I'd highly recommend everyone with a convict ancestor who ended up in Tasmania to check this website out. I suspect it's going to prove incredibly important for all family historians.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Great Aunts and Uncles

My dad had lots of aunts and uncles on his mother's side. I don't think I realised quite how how many until I started investigating my family tree. As a child I remember visiting only one of them on several occasions. And that was my dad's Auntie Dot. We'd bundle into the car, drive up to her house and have tea in what my memory recalls as a tiny front room. I never looked forward to going; I wanted to stay behind and play with my toys. But I remember ultimately I always enjoyed those visits as Auntie Dot, or should I say my Great Auntie Dot, was a lovely person. I lament those lost opportunities to have talked to her about her life and the life of her siblings; of growing up in East Finchley, north London; living through the First World War; marriage; children; enduring the bombings of the Second World War; the birth of grandchildren. And, of course, she is now long gone, along with all her brothers and sisters. So this is my small tribute to them, to the relatives that I would give my eye teeth to talk to now. Unfortunately I know very little about any of them, but I think in many cases, the photos tell their story...

My grandmother, Esther May, was the eldest of the siblings, born in 1892 to James Cullip and Ann Esther Hardwick who came from Tempsford in Bedfordshire. By the time of Esther May's birth, the couple had relocated to East Finchley where all their children were born. I'm not going to go into any detail now about my grandmother as I will most definitely be posting a full blog on her in the future.

She was followed two years later by James Ivanhoe. I've already written at length about James. He tragically died at the close of World World One, just one week after he got married, after contracting the Spanish Flu virus. No photos have survived of him, however I do have a very poignant card that he sent to my grandmother Esther May. He must have sent it to her when he was serving in France as the card has been hand-made using a French post-card as the backing with a delicately embroidered image pasted on the front. The wording on the back simply states, 'with fondest love from Jim'.

The postcard that James sent to his sister, Esther May,
during World War One.

Mabel Elizabeth, known to everyone as Lizzie, was the third born, entering this world in 1897. She married a chap called Len Stevens and had three children by him. Most of the siblings lived to a good age, but Lizzie, along with her brother James, was the exception to the rule and sadly died in 1940 at the young age of 43.

This lovely photo shows a very happy family gathering. Lizzie is the lady on the far right. Her husband Len is resting his hand on her shoulder. I believe she is pregnant in that photo with her son Robert. My grandmother, the lady in white, also looks rather pregnant, which would mean this photo would have been taken in 1932. She is carrying my dad!

From left to right, my great uncle Tom Cullip and his wife Dora, my grandmother
Esther May, my grandfather Nathaniel Joe, my great aunt Lizzie, her husband Len.
The two boys are Tom and Dora's son, James, and my uncle Roy.

The fourth child to join the family was the second and last son, Thomas. During the First World War Thomas enlisted in the navy where he served on board HMS Juno. Luckily he survived the war unscathed and two years after his demobilisation he married Dorothy Bowen, otherwise known as Dora. They had one son, James. They are pictured in the photo above on the left hand side. He died in 1964.

And then lots of girls were born! The fifth child was Ethel Alice, born in 1901. She was known as Alice and married quite late in life at the age of 50. Her husband, Cecil Humby, was seven years her senior and a widower. He already had a daughter by his first marriage. They were to be married for 16 years as Cecil passed away in 1967 leaving Alice a widow for the next 18 years, until she too died in 1985. This photo shows Alice and Cecil on their wedding day. He looks very dapper in his suit with beautifully pressed trousers!

Alice Cullip and Cecil Humby's wedding day

Child number six was my Great Auntie Dot, who was baptised as Dorothy Mary. She married Ernest Bishop at the age of 24, had two children and lived to the ripe old age of 94. As I said earlier, she's the only aunt I have any semblance of a memory of. My childhood recollections are of a very warm and gentle woman. And of teas in front of her gas fire...

The next child to join the clan was born in 1906, Florence Winifred, known as Win. Win married Arthur Miller and had two children. She died in 1991 aged 85.

Win, wearing white

The penultimate child was Elsie Irene. She married Reginald Terry in 1934 but I've been unable to find any children for them. I have a wonderful photo, definitely one of my favourites, which shows Elsie with a 'trying not to laugh at the camera' expression on her face. She's failing dismally. She's seated on the ground, with her sister Win, in front of four elderly ladies, one of whom has the most fantastic outfit on. The ladies dressed in black look fairly stern, whereas Elsie can't seem to stop laughing. I would love to have known what the occasion was. I think I would have liked Elsie if I had got to know her. She died in 1999, aged 90.

Four stern old ladies, with sisters Win (left) and Elsie (right).

The last child and the baby of the pack, born in 1912, was Edith, known as Edie. She married William Boulton when she was 22 and had three children. She was a fairly well built and bespectacled young lady but  in every photo that I have of her she wears a wide beaming smile. As befits the youngest of the family she was the last surviving sibling and the only one to see in the new millennium. She died in 2004.

Edie holding a handsome young chap, my dad.

So I only really have the bare bones of facts for most of my great aunts and uncles. But I have a lot of photos and I feel that these images really reveal the inner souls and personalities of the people portrayed. They show siblings who got on well and clearly have a great affection for each other. There appear to have been numerous occasions when the family got together to celebrate births and marriages, or for day trips to the seaside, or just to gather for the sake of it.

Which brings me on to the last photo. This wonderful image is the only one I own which shows all the surviving siblings in one picture. I would guess that it was taken in the first years of the 1960s. My grandmother, who died in 1969, looks fairly elderly and frail and as her brother Tom, who is standing next to her, died in 1964, I feel this photo was probably taken around 1962. But that's just a guess. I love this photo for the fact that the ladies all look so smart with their pale coloured hats, white gloves and handbags. As most of them are wearing pigeon holes, they must have been attending a family wedding, but whose I don't know. It was probably one of the last photos taken of all the siblings together. It's a shame that both Lizzie and James were not alive to feature in it, but seven out of nine isn't bad!

From left to right, Edie, Elsie, Win, Dot, Alice, Tom, May.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Aunt I Never Knew

This is a blog post about asking the right questions. As a child I always knew my dad had a sister who had died long before I was born, but for years I knew almost nothing about her, she was just a name. It wasn't that Gladys was a black sheep in the family which meant she shouldn't be mentioned, it was more the case that my dad never spoke about any of his family. Or rather he never volunteered the information though he would happily talk about them if you asked. When I was young, and not interested in my ancestry, I didn't have the right questions in mind so never expanded my knowledge of what Gladys was like. It's only since I began investigating my family tree, using a combination of the available records, and pinning my father down to ask those all important questions, that I've managed to piece together Gladys' short life and put some flesh on the bones.

Gladys c.1920

Gladys was born on 14th July 1916 in East Finchley in North London, the first child of Joe and May Stracey. The world was embroiled in the Great War and so for the first few years of her life she would see little of her father who was away serving his country in Mesopotamia and India. For the duration of the war, Joe would carry a small photo of Gladys and her mother in his wallet.

Gladys and her mother - the photo
that Joe carried in his wallet
When she was six, Gladys was joined by a younger brother, Roy, and then ten years later my father completed the family. I know very little about her early years, however judging from the wonderful family photo albums that I have, it was a happy time, full of games, family occasions and childhood scraps.

From this point onward until her death, her life was a blank. I knew she had died at a fairly young age but my dad was not forthcoming with the cause. It was time to delve deeper and start asking questions.

So on a visit to my dad a couple of years ago, we were talking about family history and I casually asked him whether she had ever been married, expecting the answer to be in the negative as there had never been any mention of a husband or children. "Oh yes", replied my dad, "she married a POW". I was quite dumbfounded. After several years of researching my family tree and interrogating my father about his family and Gladys, he had never mentioned that his sister had been married. I don't blame him however, after all, I hadn't asked the pertinent question!

Samuel and Gladys McNairney
It turns out that Gladys had married a gentleman by the name of Samuel James Woods McNairney, in London, in 1951. He was, indeed, an ex-prisoner of war. Ancestry's British Army Prisoners of War dataset revealed that he had spent most of the war in a POW camp in Poland called Stalag XX-B. Further research on the internet explained how his battalion in the Royal Scots Fusiliers had been fighting a rearguard action during May 1940 to ensure the safe evacuation of troops at Dunkirk and that subsequently he had been captured. Gladys met him after the war when she was working as a cashier in a butcher's shop in Golders Green. My dad didn't particularly like him very much, describing him as "not a very nice man". That makes me feel quite sad as it has somewhat tainted my view of Samuel. I asked my father whether they had had children. I think I already knew the answer to that one, but it couldn't hurt to ask. "Oh no" replied my dad "she was much too old". She was 35 on her wedding day!

Gladys
Samuel wasn't Gladys' first love however. At some stage, most likely in the late 1930s, she met a young man called Donald Gabriel. He was a constable and they met one day on the East End Road in East Finchley. By all accounts he was her first serious relationship as they were engaged for a time. However, for reasons unknown, she broke off their engagement. Donald was a former pupil of the renowned Haberdasher Aske's Boys School in Hertfordshire and went on to join the army at the outbreak of the Second World War. Sadly he was not to survive. Dad thought he was in the Grenadier Guards and that he'd died in Burma but the only Donald Gabriel that I have found, via the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, is a Lieutenant in the Royal Indian Army Service Corp who died in 1943 and is buried in Baghdad. Donald and Gladys' relationship is the sort of information that would be almost impossible to find anywhere except through the recollections of a family member. Their romance would have been lost forever if my father had not recounted it to me.

But back to her marriage. Gladys and Samuel set up home in East Finchley just around the corner from the house in which she grew up. Sadly, however, they were only to be married for about eight years as in February 1959 Samuel died. Gladys moved back to live with her parents and brother although widowhood was to last just a few months. Later that same year, in early November, just months after the death of her husband, tragedy struck. Gladys had walked a fair distance from the local tube to her home and apparently walked into the house, sat at the kitchen table and had a massive heart attack. Her death certificate shows she had congestive heart disease and hypertension. But I was shocked when I noticed the date of her death. She had died on the 5th November on my father's 27th birthday.

Learning about Gladys has made me realise that it's the little details which can really make a person's history come to life. And these details so often come from a relative rather than an official document. They can also be found in newspapers, especially the splendidly written articles from the 19th century which never shied away from telling it how it was, full of juicy detail and commentary. But nothing beats the titbits you get from a relative as you then find out what they thought of the situation, or the person. That can only add flavour to an account of someone's life. So don't hesitate, quiz those relatives now, don't leave it until it's too late.

Gladys Stracey 1916-1959

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Mary Ann Matilda Ball 1848-1931

This is an account of another ordinary life, albeit one full of births, deaths and marriages. Mary Ann Matilda Ball is my paternal Great Great Grandmother. She lived to a good age, and although she seemed to have suffered more than her fair share of personal tragedy, I get an impression of a strong, persevering woman who, when necessary, stepped up to the plate and took on the responsibilities necessary to survive.

The Ripened Wheat by Jules Bastien-Lepage,
courtesy Wikigallery.org
Mary Ann was born in 1848, the year that revolution swept across Europe. However, the uprisings and social upheaval were a world away from Girtford, the small agricultural hamlet in Bedfordshire where Mary Ann was born. The hamlet lay on the Great North Road about two miles south of Tempsford where she was to spend all of her adult life. Her father, Edward, was an agricultural labourer. Her mother, Matilda, was to provide Mary Ann with her middle name.

By the time Mary Ann was recorded on her first census in 1851, the Ball family was complete. Mary Ann was the youngest child and, together with her two elder sisters, Fanny and Ellen, the family lived together in Girtford village. Their peaceful existence was not to last however as, in 1853, when Mary Ann was just two, Edward died at the young age of 28. His widow, Matilda, made a living from lace-making, a traditional livelihood in Bedfordshire, and supported her three young daughters single handed for the next ten years until she married for a second time in 1863. I believe that Mary Ann learned a lot from her mother about how to cope in times of adversity. She would have witnessed her mother's strength and I suspect this had a profound effect on Mary Ann's character and her own ability to strive through traumatic events.

Inside a Bakery by Gustaf Olaf Cederstrom, courtesy Wikigallery.org
At the age of 19 Mary Ann married a young baker from Tempsford, Samuel Hardwick. Together they lived in Langford End in Tempsford and raised four children, my great grandmother Ann, Fanny, Ellen and finally young Sam. Tragedy struck again however. When Sam was just a few months old, in June 1880, Samuel died of an epileptic fit. He was 33 years old. And this is when Mary Ann must have looked back and remembered her mother's resilience and incredible spirit, for she took over the family business and ran the bakery in the village. She was assisted by a journeyman baker, Henry Thompson, and her eldest daughter, my great-grandmother, Ann, who was only a child at the time. It was discovering that Mary Ann took on the bakery that made me develop a great admiration for her. She had a young family, including a tiny baby, and even though she probably had little choice but to take on the business, I still applaud her 'keep calm and carry on' attitude.

In 1885, Mary Ann married again. John Randall was a local man who worked as a general labourer. He had been born and bred in Tempsford, and the couple settled down to married life in the village that had been her home for the last 18 years. Mary Ann's propensity to give birth to girls continued with the birth of Alice, Florence and Winifred Mary.

Samuel Hardwick, died 1917
However, life was to deliver some harsh blows to Mary Ann, particularly in relation to her children. In 1882, two years after the death of her first husband and whilst still a young widow, her second born child Fanny died at the age of eleven. If that wasn't bad enough, eight years later, Mary Ann and John Randall's eldest, Alice, died of tubercular meningitis. She was 13 years old. And then came the war. Mary Ann's only son, Sam, was serving with the Royal West Surrey Regiment in France in 1917 when he was mortally wounded and later died of his wounds. Mary Ann outlived three of her children, a not un-common feature of life in the 19th and early 20th centuries. But it must have been devastating to lose two daughters to illness and then her only son in such a violent manner.

Mary Ann and John lived together in Tempsford until his death in 1928. She outlived him by three years and died at the ripe old age of 82.

Mary Ann, for me, is one of those ancestors that I just took to straight away. I admire how she stepped into her husband's flour-covered apron and made a living for herself and her family. Her's wasn't an easy life, it was marred by too much tragedy, but she survived, picked up the pieces and carried on. And because of that, she'll always be one of my heroes.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Fanny Hardwick 1834-1898: An Ordinary Life

This is the story of one of my ancestors, Fanny Hardwick. I chose to write about her by using the scientifically proven method of closing my eyes and sticking a pin in a list of my forebears! Over the last few weeks I had been struggling to find an interesting subject to blog about. I had been concentrating on all the 'compelling' folk, the people who I knew lots of things about. But then it dawned on me that ignoring those people with, dare I say it, 'humdrum' lives, meant that their stories were at risk of being lost, of never being written about because they appeared to be run-of-the-mill, unexceptional, average. But who am I to say that they led pedestrian lives just because they weren't documented except in a census or church record? Just because they didn't fight in a war, or invent something, or die horribly, or end up in a newspaper article doesn't mean they shouldn't be remembered and recorded for posterity. So here is my first randomly selected ancestor, my Great Great Grand Aunt, Fanny Hardwick.

Tempsford in the early 1830s
Fanny was born in 1834 in the small village of Tempsford in Bedfordshire. She was born midway through the  reign of William IV, and just three years before William's niece Victoria ascended the throne. Tempsford was a small agricultural village nestled on flat, open land with the River Ouse forming a natural boundary to the west. The village was cut in two by the Great North Road, the main coaching route from London to York since Roman times. As a very small child, Fanny would have seen the stage coaches passing through the village carrying passengers and mail to far off cities and towns. This was before the coming of the railway put an end to the centuries-old coaching tradition.

The Widower by Jacques Joseph Tissot
Fanny lived with her parents, Ezekiel and Sarah, in Langford End which formed one half of the village. At the time of Fanny's birth there were roughly 570 residents in the village, and the majority of these would have worked on the land. Fanny's father was no different. For most of his life he was an 'ag lab' or 'grazier', though, for a time, he was also a road labourer. By the time of the 1841 census Fanny had been joined by a younger sister, Mary. A year later, in 1842, the girls' mother, Sarah, died at the young age of 31. Fanny was eight, and her little sister was just four. Ezekiel suddenly had two small daughters to care for as well as a living to make. It must have been a difficult and upsetting time for this young family.

Ten years later however, circumstances had changed and life was very different. In 1851, Fanny was 17, and she was still living in Langford End with her father. But by this time there were two new additions to the family. Within three years of his first wife's death Ezekiel had married again, to Ann Esther Ibbot Miles, a lady with a very long name! Together they had Samuel, my 2 x Great Grandfather. Fanny was working as a lace maker, in keeping with many women in the area who were able to work from home supplementing the family's income.

The Lacemaker by William Weatherhead
How long Fanny was a lace maker I don't know, but at some point after 1851 she found work as a live-in servant in the home of one Joseph Addington who also resided in Langford End. She was to live there until his death twenty years later. On the 1861 census she is listed as 'servant', but by 1871 her occupation had been inflated to 'housekeeper'. Fanny was the only servant who lived-in; Joseph may have had other day servants, but Fanny was the only one who lived there all year round. Joseph, who described himself as a 'gentleman' was much older than Fanny, and one of the village's 'gentry'. He was obviously considered to be one of the more well-born inhabitants of the village.

By the time of the 1871 census, Fanny was 37 years old and still unmarried, a fairly rare state of affairs for the times. So I was pleased to discover that on Christmas Day 1874 she wed a local market gardener, George Cope, and settled down to married life with him. She was 40 when her wedding took place, and it's possible that they tried for children but were unsuccessful. I'm intrigued as to why she waited so long to marry when the majority of her peers would have been marrying and having children when they were barely out of their teens. Fanny had lived with her gentleman employer as his 'housekeeper' since her early twenties. Had they enjoyed more than a master-servant relationship which society would stop them from making official? Or maybe she was too busy to marry; running Joseph's home may have taken all her energy leaving her with no time to even meet possible suitors. Joseph died not long after the census in 1871. His death clearly left her free to find a partner to share her life with. Enter George.

Fanny lived out the rest of her life in Tempsford with her husband. They lived alone in their cottage in Nags Head Lane, next door to the local inn.

In 1898, aged just 64, Fanny died. I was amazed to discover that she had made a will and left behind effects worth £364, 17s, 8d which according to the National Archives currency converter is around £20,000 in today's money: a small fortune! How did she amass such a large amount of money? Perhaps her old employer, Joseph Addington, had left her some money in his will (I'll have to investigate) or maybe Fanny and George were just careful with their money. I'll probably never know. George outlived her by four years; he died in 1902.

So that was Fanny's life. It's very ordinary and not at all unusual, but I'm so pleased that I've documented it. I've really enjoyed writing this blog post, as, even though all the evidence for her life comes care of census records and BMD records, it still reveals so much of the person and the times they lived in.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons

It's been a month since I've had a chance to write a new blog post - a fact I'm not too proud of! But I'm now back from a two week holiday in America and Canada and determined to get back into the swing of things.

In fact, I'm actually hand writing this post a few days before it'll get typed up and posted whilst events are fresh in my mind, for today I visited a truly superb historic site in Midland, Ontario called Sainte-Marie among the Hurons. The site is a reconstruction of a French Jesuit mission called Sainte-Marie, which, for ten years from 1639, stood on the very spot where the re-created buildings now stand. The Jesuits had travelled far from their homeland in order to convert the native people, the Wendat (or 'Huron' in the French language), to Christianity. In order to do this the Jesuits lived alongside the Wendat, learning their language and customs, all the while preaching to them and educating them in the ways of Christianity. Many Wendat did actually convert. The community was successful for ten years but due to increasing attacks by the Iroquois, the traditional rivals of the Wendat, it was abandoned and destroyed in 1649. The buildings of the mission have been faithfully reconstructed using the remaining archaeological evidence and contemporary Jesuit writings, but you'll also discover the traditional homes of the Wendat: the wigwams and communal longhouses.

The buildings of the Jesuit Mission

Inside the Jesuit living quarters

The Refectory

It's a wonderful place to visit. Within most of the buildings, such as the soldier's barracks,
the chapel and the Wendat's longhouses, you'll find incredibly knowledgeable guides dressed in period costume. On the blazing hot day that I visited, some of the guides must have roasted as they walked around in the long black woollen robes of a Jesuit priest, several layers of thick material and woolly hats! These guides could answer any question thrown at them, and believe me, we threw them some humdingers. Be it about what the Jesuits ate, how the Wendat and French viewed privacy in different ways, what the buildings were made of (the weather proofing filler in the walls was made of a combination of bear fat, ash and clay, in case you were wondering...), where the Wendat's descendants live today, what their clothes were made of, etc, we asked, the guides knew. They were fantastic. And this is what makes Sainte-Marie such a splendid place to visit. At one stage my travelling companions and I found ourselves sitting in a dark, smoky Wendat longhouse, next to a burning fire, chewing the fat with one of the guides, whilst the sun streamed in through the smoke holes in the roof. The temperature may have been in the late 20s outside, but it was surprisingly refreshing next to the fire! Knowledge was shared in a way that kept both us, the visitors, and themselves interested.

'Chewing the fat' in a Wendat longhouse

One could wander freely among the buildings touching the bark on the wigwams, having a go with replicas of seventeenth century carpentry tools and talking to the cows and chickens in their pens who sensibly stayed in the shade out of the heat. For a brief time, twenty-first century life seemed an awfully long way away.

The Wendat area with longhouse and wigwam

From a genealogical, and historical, point of view, it's a great place to get an idea of what life was like for those brave people who travelled half way around the world (for whatever reason, whether to preach, start a new life, or escape persecution) to settle in a new and unknown country in the seventeenth century. Life was tough, and the story of Sainte-Marie is an example of how early settlers brought their own established ways of living with them, as well as adopting new lifestyles in keeping with the environment around them. For a whole day I was transported back to the pioneer life of a Canada of four centuries ago, and I loved every minute. Visit if you can.

Sainte-Marie from the air


Saturday, 26 May 2012

A visit to the Coal Mines Historic Site in Tasmania

Last year, whilst on an unforgettable trip to Australia, I visited a remarkable place on the beautiful island of Tasmania: the Coal Mines Historic Site. I wasn't there for long as my family and I arrived late in the afternoon as the sun was starting to lower in the sky and the shadows grow long in front of us. We spent an hour or so wandering around the site without seeing another soul. The place had an indelible atmosphere of silence and isolation, yet also peace which is at complete odds to it's former role as an outpost of the Port Arthur Penal Station. The Coal Mines became a place where persistent offenders and those men who'd committed the direst crimes would be sent for punishment.

Coal Mines Historic Site

The Mines are in a lovely part of the Tasman Peninsula, overlooking Norfolk Bay. Sited about 30kms north of Port Arthur, it's hard to believe now that this beautiful spot once roused such trepidation in the unfortunates who were sent to work there. Today the modern visitor sees ruins of cell blocks, punishment cells, soldier's barracks and hospitals. One can't help but stop and marvel at the splendour of the azure waters and distant coastline whilst trying to frame artful photos through the bare windows of the broken down walls. Its unlikely that the scenery would have been at the forefront of the minds of the men who were sent to work there in the 1830s, when the mines were first opened.

A quote by Thomas Lempriere, Deputy Commissary-General
at Port Arthur, from a report written in 1839.

At one time there were up to 600 prisoners plus soldiers, supervisors and their families living on this site. The men slept in dormitories but there were also 108 separate cells to keep the men isolated at night. Below these cells, built in the damp earth underground, one can investigate the solitary punishment cells where offenders could be kept for up to 30 days. These cells are pitch black, cold and forbidding. I couldn't stay long within the confinements of those chilly dark walls before being overtaken by the need to make my way back to daylight and the warmth of the sun.

The underground solitary punishment cells. And my brother!

I think it is unlikely that my convict ancestor, Joseph Cullip, would have spent any time at the Coal Mines. The archives at Port Arthur show that he was never kept at Port Arthur itself; he wasn't a hardened criminal and the good conduct record he held whilst in Tasmania corroborates my view that he never suffered the hard life meted out to those who were sent to the mines. Walking around the site I felt relief that, to my mind, Joseph hadn't walked the same paths that I was. Even though the area would once have been teeming with activity, it is quiet now, and eerie. The skeletons of the buildings are a grim reminder of a brutal past, and the atmosphere that pervades the ruins easily feeds over-active imaginations such as mine. I was glad I visited, but I was equally glad to return to the cosiness of our holiday rental and the comforts of modern day life.

Coal Mines Historic Site

To learn more of the history of this evocative place, check out the Port Arthur website. Whilst there, you can also read the stories of just some of the convicts who did their time at Port Arthur, including William Thompson who spent 12 months at the mines.

'Artful shot'

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Meet the Neighbours

Both sides of my family hail from very lowly stock. Going back through the generations you'll find farm workers, soldiers, miners, lace makers... and the odd criminal! My ancestors lived off the land or worked in factories and mines; they got by with what they had, and occasionally turned to poaching for extra food, or perhaps to sell on for a small profit. My wartime hero ancestors were privates, gunners or able seamen; there are no lieutenants, captains or majors in my tree. Because of this humble background, I was always very intrigued by the fact that my mother and her family grew up in a very exclusive and expensive part of central London, in a Regency house in Chelsea.

My mother was born in Ireland and spent her early childhood years there. In the late 1930s the family relocated from Ireland to London and found themselves in the heart of the great metropolis. My grandfather worked for the Guinness Brewery and on arrival in London the family were housed in several properties owned by the Guinness Trust. The Trust had been founded by the philanthropist Sir Edward Guinness in 1890 "to help improve the lives of ordinary people, many of whom couldn't afford homes". The family were bombed out of one of these properties during the Second World War and for a time lived in the Guinness Buildings on Draycott Avenue in Chelsea. They were now living a mere stone's throw from Harrods and the famous Royal Hospital, home of the Chelsea Pensioners.

Wellington Square, Chelsea, taken c.1950
By 1950 the family had moved from Draycott Avenue to nearby Wellington Square off the Kings Road. This lovely three sided square is home to a beautiful collection of five floored Regency houses surrounding an idyllic garden square in the centre. The house my family moved into had been divided up into separate flats and was home to four other households. There were at least 14 people living in this residence at any one time. The property had been requisitioned by the council after the war to house some of the many people who had been left homeless after the Blitz. It's a shame we didn't own it for, if we had, we would probably be a very wealthy family today!

With the release of Ancestry's collection of London Electoral Registers from 1847-1965, I was amazed to see that my mother was raised with some rather distinguished neighbours.

Two doors down from the family home resided Lord John and Lady Agnes Clydesmuir. Lord John was the 1st Baron Clydesmuir who became an MP in 1929. He held many prominent posts within government and was Secretary of State for Scotland between 1938 and 1940. In 1943 he became the Governor of Burma. He was even a governor of the BBC. Distinguished neighbours indeed!

Peter Bull
My aunt can remember an actor lived further down the road, but she couldn't remember his name. Ancestry solved that problem. It was Peter Bull, a character actor who had acted in over 70 films, including Doctor Doolittle, Dr Strangelove, Tom Jones and The African Queen.

Living in number 9 Wellington Square were the O'Briens. This was a family I grew up knowing the name of but not knowing anything about. They were often mentioned at family get-togethers and there are photos of the O'Brien children with my cousin who also grew up in Wellington Square. The father, Toby O'Brien, was an Anglo-Irish journalist and, to quote Wikipedia, was a "public relations expert who spearheaded Britain's efforts to counter Nazi Germany propaganda during World War II". As press officer for the British Council, it was Toby O'Brien's job to contradict German lies and point out the truth in false German reports about the state of the war. His son Donough O'Brien has claimed that his father wrote the original wording for the World War II ditty 'Hitler Has Only Got One Ball', which is sung to the tune of the 'Colonel Bogey March'. My Nana was their cleaning lady and cooked for them when they held dinner parties. My cousin remembers Toby as "a lovely man" who used to let her sit next to him in the front seat of his car even though she was too small to see out of the window. She got to know the children of his second marriage and had the run of their house.

Maurice Buckmaster
The final distinguished neighbours that my family had were the Buckmasters. Maurice Buckmaster is, of course, well known as the head of the French Section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II. The SOE's agents worked behind enemy lines, conducting espionage, subversion and sabotage. They blew up bridges and power stations, carried out assassinations (most famously killing Hitler's deputy Reinhard Heydrich) and encouraged and aided local resistance movements. It was dangerous and potentially deadly work as, if captured, an agent could expect torture and execution. My aunt remembers the Buckmasters, in particular having to take her 5-year old daughter around to the house to apologise to Mrs Buckmaster for a childhood misdemeanor which unfortunately my aunt can't recall. I would love to know what upset or annoyed her so much that she needed my 5-year old cousin to apologise.

My family left Wellington Square when the owners of the house decided they wanted it back. This was many years after the end of the war. Most of my family moved to the north London suburbs. But how wonderful to have lived in the heart of London and to have had these illustrious neighbours who played such key roles in the war, as well as actors and peers of the realm. My family look back with great affection and fondness at their time in Chelsea, and I must admit I feel a touch of envy that I was born so long after they left that I never experienced it for myself. The house may be in the hands of other people now but, to me, it'll always be my family's home.

Wellington Square, Chelsea today.
© Copyright D Johnston and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence



Sunday, 29 April 2012

Dorothy Lucy Bagley 1895-1940 - A Widow's Story

A while ago I related the sad story of my great uncle, James Ivanhoe Cullip, who survived the Great War only to die one week after his wedding in 1918 from the Spanish Flu pandemic. I was intrigued as to what became of his widow, Dorothy.

One can only imagine the range of emotions that she must have endured at the time. From the elation of her wedding in the local parish church, where they lived in East Finchley, London, through the worry that she would have felt when her new husband fell ill, to the incredible shock when death took him from her, and the subsequent grief of widowhood.

But evidence shows that she did pull through this dreadful time, as three years later she was to remarry. Her new husband was Alfred Walter Chappell, and I was surprised to see that they were married in Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire. The reason for my surprise was that Sawbridgeworth was the village where my grandfather, Nathaniel Joe Stracey, came from. He had moved to London in the first decade of the twentieth century and in 1916 married my grandmother, Esther May Cullip, the sister of James Ivanhoe. The Cullips originally hailed from Tempsford in Bedfordshire; they had had no connection with Sawbridgeworth except through my grandfather. So to see the widow of my great uncle getting married in Sawbridgeworth immediately sparked my interest and a desire to know more.

My first port of call was the 1901 census for Sawbridgeworth. On running a search for Alfred Chappell I was amazed to see that he lived next door to my 9-year old grandfather, Nathaniel Joe, in Bell Street. Alfred was 5 years old. Were they childhood friends? My instincts tell me they were.

The 1901 Sawbridgeworth census showing my grandfather,
Joe Stracey, living next door to Alfred Chappell.

I don't know where Dorothy lived following the death of James Ivanhoe. She may have returned to her parent's home, a few streets away from her new relations, or she may have moved in to what should have been the marital home with her father and mother-in-law. In any case, in this close-knit community where everybody knew everyone else, and to some extent, was related to everyone else, there would have been much contact between Dorothy and her new family. I believe that after Nathaniel Joe returned home from the war he probably had a visit from his old friend Alfred Chappell and introductions were made. This was a new beginning for Dorothy as, on Christmas Eve 1921, she married Alfred and they went on to have three children together.

But this isn't the end of Dorothy's story. Whilst researching Dorothy's death date, I was shocked to discover that her death was registered in 1940, just nine years after the birth of her third child. Why had she died at such a relatively young age? After further investigation, I discovered that Dorothy was one of five people who had been killed on the night of 10th October 1940 as a result of 'enemy action'. It was the height of the Blitz, and with Sawbridgeworth being so close to London, it appeared that a German bomber had dropped its load on Sawbridgeworth resulting in the deaths of two women and three young children. Three houses in Cambridge Road, where Dorothy lived, were to take the full force of the blast. Dorothy, who lived at number 108, was killed, along with a 10 year old girl who was staying with her at the time. Two children in the next door house, number 110, were also killed, along with a mother from number 112 who died of wounds the following day. You can read a moving account of the incident here.

What a sad end for Dorothy. Her first husband had survived the First World War only to fall victim to the raging flu pandemic. Then, having made a new life for herself in rural Hertfordshire, Dorothy was to meet a sudden and devastating death as a direct result of a German bombing raid over England. She was only 44. Seventy years after the Second World War, the happenings of that time can seem very far removed. But as I discover more and more family members whose lives were impacted by the cataclysmic events of the twentieth century I realise just how many ordinary people, and members of my own family, were effected by world events. Dorothy is a case in point, and sadly she was one of the thousands of people for whom the war came to her with such dreadful consequences. She is remembered on the Sawbridgeworth War Memorial, alongside the other innocent victims of that bombing raid.

The Sawbridgeworth War Memorial showing the names of
the victims of the German bombing raid of 10 October 1940.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Thomas Cullip 1827-1903: An army service record reveals its secrets

My Great Great Grandfather, Thomas Cullip, was always a bit of an enigma to me. His father, Joseph Cullip, was transported to Tasmania in 1844 for stealing a sheep. Within a short time of Joseph's departure, Thomas' mother and his seven siblings found themselves destitute and divided between the Bedford Union and Biggleswade Union Workhouses in Bedfordshire. I could find references to every member of the family on the 1851 census as resident in these workhouses, and in the case of Thomas's sister, Elizabeth, lodging with her illegitimate son in Bedford. But Thomas Cullip was missing. He was still missing on the 1861 census. His whereabouts remained a mystery to me.

Thomas was born in 1827 and I could trace his life easily up to 1847. It was then that Thomas served a month's hard labour for poaching (a trait which appeared to run in the family!). The evidence for this was found on his Bedfordshire Gaol record. But from then on Thomas seemed to disappear off the face of the earth until he reappeared in 1866 at his wedding to my Great Great Grandmother, Susan. I had used every combination of data possible to search for him on the 1851 and 1861 censuses, but to no avail. So where was he between 1847 and 1866? Why was he not recorded on the censuses? Was he in jail? Was he in foreign lands? Or did he just wish to remain hidden on census night, rebelling against the authorities that had sent his father away, possibly forever, resulting in his family falling on perilously hard times and a reliance on the parish for help?

My research seemed to have come to a dead end and I was stumped as to where to look next. Then came a fateful day at work when, during a lunch break spent doing some family research at my computer, I typed Thomas' name into the Find My Past search engine. Bingo! Up popped his service record in the dataset Chelsea Pensioners' Service Records 1760-1913. A random search had revealed a service record for Thomas. I nearly jumped for joy! Thomas had enlisted in the 38th Foot in 1854. This explained his absence from the 1861 UK census as he was in India at the time!

A soldier at the Crimea wearing full marching uniform.
Taken by Roger Fenton 1819-1869, war photographer.
Did Thomas wear a uniform like this?

Why did he enlist? As a healthy young man he should have been able to find work on the land. Why did he not stay to help his mother and siblings? Or did the break up of his family and the hardship they fell upon induce him to seek a life away from the places associated with his family's plight and the memories they provoked? Whatever his motivations, it was a decision that would take him far from home and into potentially deadly situations.

His service record has been a mine of information, although it has also thrown up a couple of new questions which I would like to have answered.

Thomas, a labourer by trade, enlisted in the 38th Regiment of Foot on 30th November 1854 in Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland. That immediately raised the question of what on earth was he doing in Berwick-upon-Tweed? My only clue is that the signed witness to Thomas' enlistment appears to be a representative of the Bedford militia, although Thomas states he had never been in the militia prior to this date. Did he therefore volunteer in Bedfordshire before being taken to Berwick-upon-Tweed for the official enlistment?

The next issue which soon came apparent was that of Thomas' age. He stated on his attestation papers that he was 22. This was not true. Thomas was in fact at least 27. Had I got the wrong man? I don't think so. All the information on the papers, except his age, match what I know about him, even down to his description (5 ft 4, grey eyes, dark hair, fresh complexion) which is identical to his Bedfordshire Gaol record. Perhaps he felt that his age would be prohibitive if he stated he was 27.

Other than those particular issues, his service record has provided me with some fabulous details. He enlisted for the term of 10 years, though in actuality he was to serve 10 years and 192 days. And on enlistment he was paid the grand total of six shillings and sixpence. His character and conduct were described as: "very good. He is in possession of two good conduct badges... His name does not appear in the Defaulters Book. Has never been tried". Also his "Habits were regular, Conduct good" and he was "Temperate". Other intriguing facts revealed that he was vaccinated as an infant, took 18 breaths a minute and had a pulse of 72 beats per minute. His attestation papers show that when he signed on in 1854 he was only able to make his mark, but by the time he was discharged in 1864 he could sign his name. Thomas had learnt to read and write.

In 1854 Thomas could only put a cross against his signature. 

By 1864 he could write his name.

Perhaps most interesting is the record of where he was stationed. At some stage between his enlistment in November 1854 and August 1857, Thomas served 17 months in the Crimea. From August 1857 he was stationed in India where he was to spend the next 7 years. Fortunately for Thomas, he did not play a part in many of the major incidents of the Indian Rebellion (aka the Indian Mutiny) which began in May 1857. His medal record, found on Ancestry, states that although he served in the field from December 1857 to May 1858, he played no part in the capture of Delhi nor the defence or relief of Lucknow. He was, however, engaged in the operations against Lucknow in March 1858. I need to find out more information as to what that specifically entailed for Thomas.

Whilst in India Thomas suffered two prolonged bouts of sickness. In 1859 he was confined to hospital in Rai Bully (sic) and then in 1864 he was struck down again, this time in Delhi. In both cases his illness was caused by 'climate'. The second illness meant he was out of action for 43 days and he was treated by 'poultice'. An intriguing fact is that this second spell of illness hospitalised him until the 29th November 1864. The very next day was the 10th anniversary of his enlistment. Had Thomas had enough of the illnesses, or the army life, or being away from England? What is recorded is that having served his 10 years, and the very day after he left hospital, Thomas requested a discharge in consequence of "his having claimed it on the termination of the term of his limited engagement". Therefore on the 30th November 1864 a regimental board convened "for the purpose of recording and verifying the Services, Conduct, Character, and Cause of Discharge". Thomas' discharge was approved and he set sail for England in February 1865. His final destination was Tempsford, a small rural village in Bedfordshire, where a year later he was to marry Susan Browning and go on to have four children. He lived out the rest of his life in Tempsford as a ubiquitous 'ag lab'.

Thomas' life had remained a conundrum to me until that day when I found his service record on Find My Past. I had subscribed to FMP for many years up to that day, and it just proves that it pays to keep looking even in places you've searched before, as new records are coming online all the time. I still don't know where Thomas was when the 1851 census was taken, but I'm positive I will find out one day.