I began work on my family history a matter of days after my mother’s death in January
2002. No doubt psychologists would point here to a ‘cause and effect’ – the creation
of a large, though mostly departed ‘family’ to compensate for the irreplaceable loss
of a parent.
I had interviewed Mum some years earlier and made notes of her recollections about
her family. My later research revealed that her memories were remarkably accurate.
I only wish that I could have shared my subsequent discoveries with my mother – possibly
the family historians most wistful feeling.
My quest to find more information has driven me to the National Archives at Kew,
London; County Record Offices at Leicestershire, Hampshire, Northamptonshire and
Norfolk; the Metropolitan Archives in London; local archives and libraries at Hackney,
Portsmouth and Oakham. Sometimes I give thanks to my ancestors that their lives were
confined to such a pinched rectangle of England and that I have no Welsh, Scottish
or Irish roots, nor any mainland European ties of which I am aware. I refuse to cough
up for a DNA test – or however else they require their sample – which might expose
a bigger picture.
A simple pleasure, as a result of my travels, is to watch BBC’s Who Do You Think
You Are, hugging closely to my chest the knowledge that some of the celebrities are
walking paths I have trodden. One episode of the show featured Patsy Kensit’s visit
to Goldsmiths’ Hall in London. I too passed through their hallowed portals. The Hall
had been freshly cleaned and sang with the sweet fragrance of fresh polish – though
any thought that this was in preparation for my visit was dispelled when the receptionist
mentioned that Prince Charles was to be a guest the following day. The attractive
Miss Kensit was greeted by the librarian, David Beasley (more effusively than I was);
seated in a red leather chair (more attentively) and had her family’s business explained
(more comprehensively). When watching this episode with my wife, I felt ridiculously
proud to point out the very chair in which I had sat.
Unlike my lowly labouring paternal line, many of my mother’s ancestors had occupations
which are worthy of closer investigation, being lesser gentry (biggish fish in smallish
ponds), silversmiths, horse doctors, bakers, carpenters, teachers, sailors and so
on. Examining their daily routine adds some welcome pizzazz to the hum-drum grind
of family research and often their higher social standing resulted in their leaving
behind more records.
There have been frustrations caused by the absence of records – despite the potentially
available bulging Aladdin’s Caves of Parish Chests that are seductively described
by textbooks. One might conclude that complete records of births, marriages and burials
exist from 1538; that manorial records exist from the writing of the Doomsday Book
and that all the documents describing the running of parishes are languishing on
dusty archive shelves awaiting the white gloves of the eager researcher.
The reality is that many, sometimes all, of the records have disappeared or have
been destroyed. What need is there for a paper shredder when there are mice! Thus,
I traced my greatx4 grandfather, Richard Lemmon’s birth to Erith in Kent and found
that this parishes’ records were burnt in 1877 - an insurmountable brick wall. The
records of Oakham, the county town of Rutland, are conspicuous by their non-existence.
I could continue to sink into a trough of despair by describing a depressing catalogue
of missing documents but there is little point in lamenting over the loss of mouldy
manuscripts. Better to jubilantly remember the records that have survived – the apprenticeship
papers of my Dear ancestors and the helpful note at Goldsmiths’ Hall that the Dears
changed their surname from Dare - the dears! As recently as 1996, a thoughtful soul
(“didn’t know what to do with ‘em”) deposited forty documents at an archive that
comprised the complete record of my greatx2 grandfather, Thomas Barnaby’s bankruptcy
in 1839. Two months ago, I found the records of my greatx2 grandfather, James Mills’,
naval career covering thirteen years. As a result I know where exactly where he was
and whether the sun was shining or a gale was blowing for every minute of those years.
Now I perversely complain about the slog entailed in telling the story of his life!
In preparing this web site perhaps the greatest frustration is having items that
I cannot display for reasons of copyright or cost. There are photographs of the shops
of my ancestors at Hackney Archives – but the archivist insists on £30 each to display
them on the site despite my begging and emphasis that the web site is a labour of
love (ie produced cheaply). There are sketches, etchings and paintings which would
add colour and interest to several articles but copyright considerations mean that
I cannot use them. It is also hard to obtain permission to use copies of parish registers
and certificates which add to the authenticity of one’s research.
Again, there is a flip-side to this irritation. Several relatives and friends have
given encouragement, information and material (including photographs) freely and
unstintingly. I would like to record my grateful thanks to the following: Brian Gumm,
Barbara Lomax, Gerald Pillow, Patrick Mills, Joan Mills, Julie Everard, and Ann Nokes.