Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Hiding truths...

Family history has fascinated me for years.  It all started when my Uncle got in touch and asked me and Dad to explore my Grandad's early life.  Sadly I'd never known this grandparent. He died quite young (aged 63 in 1963) before my parents were married.  Anyway, he had always kept the facts of his early life very simple - he came from Kidderminster; he'd been an under-age soldier in WW1 - going out to the trenches at the age of 15 then being 'held to serve' on Salisbury Plain until he returned to France in 1917; his brother had died in WW1 and the rest of his family were dead.

My Uncle asked us to do some research. He lives in Norfolk but Kidderminster is only a few miles to the north of us in Worcester.  It didn't take very long to establish that my Grandad had hidden a few 'untruths' in this simple story.   His father was alive and living Kidderminster until 1940.  He had a sister and a half-sister.  His sister died in the mid-1970s, having lived all her life in the same town.  The half-sister died a couple of years before we started our research - still living in the West Midlands. 

We'll never know that exact reasons for my Grandad's complete 'cutting off' from his family, but we've researched enough to guess some of the factors.  Grandad stayed in the army at the end of WW1 and went to fight in Ireland with the Worcesters.  If he returned to Kidderminster in the early 1920s he would have spent the best part of 7 years away from home and experienced many awful things.  During this time his father had re-married and there was a young half-sister.  His sister was living with an Aunt, rather than with her father, which gives more clues to general family relationships.  I suspect that he just 'moved on' for work.  He couldn't keep in touch by post with his father because my Great-grandad couldn't read (he signed his marriage certificate with a 'X')

My Dad and his brother have cousins that they have never met.  We felt that it was better to avoid them and are very careful what we put on family history sites.  Nevertheless, we've put together a huge family tree of the bigger 'clan' and I have spent time with more distant relatives. 

The amazing thing is that the family originally come from Bewdley and the Wyre Forest (the town in my previous post).  I know that they were one of a group of families who lived and worked in the forest.  They were desperately poor and frequently got into trouble with the law.  The only documentation that I can find on them (appart from the census returns and BMD records) are their regular court appearences!

You may think it strange, but I feel that I owe a great deal to this Grandad who I never knew.  He is my only muscial ancestor - so without him I could never have become a Music Teacher.  It must be a strong gene because there are loads of musicians that I have met in the modern extended family.  I recognise many of my other character traits in the way that my Grandad seems to have responded to the situations that he found himself in.  This research has also explained the tremendous affinity that I've always felt for the area round Bewdley.  I like to think that it's 'in my genes'!

This is the only 'family house' still standing (the small end cottage closest to the camera).  It's on the hill above Bewdley. My Great grandfather lived there in the 1881 census.  The other cottages that the family rented were so poor and unsuitable for modern living that they have been all been demolished - or disappeared under the Kidderminster ring road!

We walked past this cottage again on Sunday morning.  It's in a very poor state and it isn't clear whether anyone is actually living there at the moment. If I had unlimited funds I would love to buy this piece of family history and create a little weekend bolt hole for myself, family and friends.  It's the kind of cottage that would look great if it was painted white then furnished with splashes of colour and lots of handmade things.

Unfortunately I haven't got unlimited funds...... but I guess it's still good to dream!


  1. Genealogy is fascinating. I've uncovered so many things whilst researching my own family tree, many of them very sad. I've also found members of my extended family who I'm now in touch with regularly. I also came across the daughter of one of my mum's cousins who she hadn't seen for over sixty years. We arranged for them to meet and they now keep in touch.

  2. Thankyou for sharing your family history wiith us. Isn't it lovely when you find something interesting which seems to piece everything together. I too have been tracing my family for many years and still find it fascinating

  3. What a lovely post Jan - it's important to think about our past and how it makes us who we are x

  4. That must have added another dimension to your walk!

    My mother's family is a complicated one, they were a second family which were kept secret from the first family .. A 'cousin' has done the research and kindly gave me a copy - it helps to sort out the tangled relationships, but oh my goodness the questions I would love to have answered! All I will say is that my grandmother must have been a bit of a minx!

  5. How very interesting - I am a bit of a genealogy addict myself x

  6. Hi Jan, I really loved this post.It is amazing what you can find out if you dig deep enough.Lovely that you discovered someone who had a musical background too! I definitely feel that some of our ancestors looks /traits must be within our genes too.I had an old photo of my mums dad restored, he was only a young man when it was taken and he was in his 50's when she was born so she never knew him as a young man, but when she saw the photo we realised my niece looked so like him!
    I have also found criminals and a great grandad who went off with his brothers wife!

  7. I love history, and family history research is on my list to do when I have more time - makes your walk so much more interesting!

  8. I've really enjoyed your post. I've been doing family history for a long time now and it is amazing how there is always something new to find. I've found some sad things and solved some mysteries but still have one huge 'brick wall' to crack. It's strange isn't it when you feel an affinity with a place and then find out later that some of your ancestors lived there:)

  9. My Uncle is doing some of my family history, but it makes me want to ask questions that we can never know the answers to. Fascinating stuff. x