Next Monday it’s my family history writing group; I haven’t seen them for a couple of months – in November for various reasons people were busy, and December’s meeting would have been Christmas Eve but of course there was no chance of anyone being available – and I wasn’t either. So I’m planning what to do on Monday, and i think I might go back to some of the first things we ever discussed, two years ago, To kick off I’d written something about my family, and i think I’ll share this again:
Stepping into the past
My family have always been great ones for telling stories, stories about our parents and their parents and people going back a hundred years. It seemed natural that when I was able I should want to trace my family history, and find out more about the people whose names I knew, Aunty Olive, for example… who was she? And did the Elsdens really come from Sweden, and were the Sparshotts really Norman soldiers? Why did the Moses family change their name, and why did they choose Walford?
My family came to the West Country nearly fifty years ago, from Cambridge, to settle in Weston-super-Mare and then Uphill; so although our story might start in the east of the country, for my parents it ended in a village by the sea. However if I wanted to look further back, I have to trace the records of my East Anglian ancestors, and these days it is so easy to do that; thanks to the internet and all the genealogical sites (some of them free) it is not difficult to go back through records of births, marriages and deaths, and to check every census record from when they first began in 1841, to the last one available, that of 1911.
It used to be that if you wanted to research your family tree you had to visit public record offices, go to different parishes to look at church records, or trail round cemeteries and churchyards looking for evidence of your ancestors. It is still interesting to do that, of course, but my great-grandfather was born in Tasmania, so that would be a long and expensive journey to research him! Thanks to the internet I have found records of his father’s business in Hobart, of the ship he had, the Lady Denison which sank off the shore of Australia… or did it? I have found reports in the Tasmanian newspapers of the 1860’s that in fact convicts on board overthrew the captain and sailed the ship across the Pacific to San Francisco!
My husband’s family came from Hampshire and it is quite fitting that we should now live near the sea in Uphill because his family have always been connected with it. His ancestors were involved in ship-building, sailing, and dockyard work from as early as 1815… and probably before that, so it is his great delight to walk down to the boatyard and look at what is happening there. Of course Uphill used to be a port, going back to very early times, and he finds exploring the history of the village fascinating!
It is generally thought that in the past people did not travel around very much and stayed in their own little villages and communities apart from occasional visits to markets or on a special occasion such as a wedding. From my delving into my family history I have found this is just not so; our family on all sides moved around all over the place!
The Elsdens originally came from Norfolk, moved to Suffolk, then Essex, then Cambridge, moving from working on the rivers, to working on the land, to working on the railways. My mother’s family came from Colmar in Alsace to London where they were slop dealers – slops were rags, not what we think of as slops! They became businessmen and this is why they went to Tasmania, as traders importing wines and fine silks and porcelain from China and tea from India, and exporting whale products, minerals and wool.
My parents and my mother-in-law ended up in Uphill, and in one day some future generation is searching for their records, they will find that this is where they now rest, far from where they were born and married.
It is so interesting to think of all these different stories and histories, coming from so far away, and coming together to settle in this little village by the sea in Somerset.
© Lois Elsden