In an attempt to distract myself from what’s going on around me, I started watching “Who Do You Think You Are?” on BBC iPlayer. There are some on YouTube too, but uploaded in a very odd way, so they play out of order, so work through the Player ones first.
I really enjoyed most of the episodes, being a mix of social and political history, detective work and titbits gleaned of famous people’s lives, homes and families. There was one painful series when people had to wear masks and socially distance (even when meeting mothers they hadn’t seen for 50 years) or so but luckily that was only a few episodes.
My interest was really piqued with Danny Dyer’s episode, an actor most famous for starring in Eastenders, where he found that he was related to royalty going back hundreds of years. My ex-husband’s mother had told me a great story of her Russian refugee background and also, I suddenly remembered that my birth father (who died when I was very young) had a rather fancy Scottish name, which might lead to something exciting.
From Danny’s episode, it was obvious that it’s much easier to trace your ancestors, once you hit a toff or two, because their births, marriages and deaths were better chronicled than most. How else would you keep track of your property and assets, or grow them for that matter? Generations of peasants are more difficult, especially as they tend to repeat Christian names, but still, Parish Records are all online now so it makes it much easier.
I decided to invest some cash and get involved after watching Josh Widdicomb’s episode though. If you have not seen this, it’s worth watching even if you are not particularly into genealogy. His reactions to the amazing revelations as they unfurled were absolutely priceless and I laughed out loud on several occasions.
Laughter is very good for you and it’s been in short supply recently.
So I set up three accounts with the leading software companies and added in the immediate relatives and went off to make some tea. A really good idea for when you get stuck, I discovered as it gives the databases time to whizz-bang-whirr about sorting, sharing and making connections from the info I’d just added.
A bit later I came back to have another go. I was delighted to see that Ancestry had started adding ‘hints’ in the form of bright green leaves to the people I’d added so far. There were also ‘parent hints’ where they suggested parents for the people I’d added. It was a much nicer looking interface than the other two, as well. I cancelled the others and added some more people.
Just to give you an idea of my starting point, I’ve included a picture (above) of where I was starting from. On my side of the family there was a birth father I never knew, a step-father whose family tree has been traced around the world by very keen amateur geneologists, a mother and two grandparents but nothing further back than that, and my ex-husbands grandparents were a complete mystery.
It looked like the picture above (without the photos which I added in later)
I had an idea that my grand-dad, Ronald Lish, had lived around Sussex most of his life and that Amelia’s family had come from Suffolk. She came to Worthing to work in service in a big house locally and met Ronald on the seafront one Sunday. She told me frankly that he “…I knew he wasn’t a looker but he was very, very kind” and she just knew he’d look after her. We have a beautiful pic of their wedding day which I must dig out.
Amelia worked all her life as a ‘char’ cleaning for Dr & Mrs Binks and other middle-class people locally. Grandad did their gardens as well as working as a market gardener in the orchards in Durrington, which was to become West Durrington.
They were poor but ate very well because of Grandad’s gardening skills and Nan’s brilliant cooking, baking and preserving skills. She had a great book of hand-written recipes and she referred to that all her life. She was also a demon flower-arranger (is there a word for that?) and once got banned from her local Women’s Institute because she just kept winning.
None of this was very helpful to my geneolagy search, but it was stirring it all up in my mind, one day the nugget dropped into my brain that Amelia’s mother’s name was Winifred. But what was her maiden name? I ordered the marriage certificate that Ancestry found for me and sat back to wait for more info.
Meanwhile, I went to visit my sister Sarah and she reminded me that Ronald’s Dad had worked at Overingtons, the forge and hardware shop in Durrington where we grew up. She thought there had been a picture of him outside, blown up large in ‘The Big Tesco’s’ as the locals called it, built on those very Orchards where Ronald had worked.
Then things started getting very spooky…