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For the last few weeks I have been busy with the McManus168 project – an exciting investigation in to the middling classes of Dundee in the mid-1860s and consequently my blogging has been on the back burner.

However, that doesn’t mean that I have not been thinking about the 52 ancestors in 52 week topics and one name that has been at the forefront of my thoughts is  Louisa Jeffery, my husband’s great-grandmother.

William and Louisa Palmer, Leacroft, Staines

She would certainly be near the top of the guest list to invite to dinner and it was through the 1901 census that I began to unravel her story.  Not to mention the fact that despite no-one in the family “knowing” her maiden name when I first asked, once it was confirmed as Jeffery, her grandson remarked – of course it is – that’s why I was named Jeff!

Louisa was born on the 1st April 1861 in Lambeth, one of the ten children of Joseph Pratt Jeffery and his wife Sarah Reid.   Her father worked as a coach builder and wheelwright and her mother supplemented the household income by taking in sewing.   Louisa was brought up in London and on Christmas Day 1880 married William John Palmer at St Mary’s parish church in Staines.

By 1885 William, Louisa and their children William, Flo(rence) and Albert lived at 7 Woodham Place, Staines and next door at number 6 lived William’s brother Alfred who had married Louisa’s sister Ellen.  The brothers worked in the local linoleum factory, Barrys in Staines.

My  first dinner invitation to Louisa would be in 1900 at the turn of the new century.  Her family of eleven surviving  children now lived at number 12 George Street, including twins Leonard and Stanley (she had lost a baby, Percy aged just 25 days on the 22nd December 1895).  Her married brother Alfred lived at number 6 along with her sister Alice.

12 George Street, Staines

12 George Street, Staines

I’d ask her what hopes she had for the new century, what her aspirations were for her children’s futures?  

Her sister Ellen and two of Ellen’s children had died in March 1899 and her brother-in-law Alfred Palmer and surviving children had moved to Kirkcaldy in Scotland to take charge of the paint and printing department at Barry, Ostlere & Shepherd linoleum factory. I’d like to know what Louisa thought of this radical move and did she and William ever consider following his brother north?

 

With my wonderful time machine I’d then travel forward to the 30th October 1920 and have dinner with her once more.  The intervening years, as for so many families, had been filled with the consequences of war. Louisa saw four of her sons head off to war.  The eldest William survived but the consequences of being gassed affected his health for the rest of his life; Walter returned physically uninjured, Charlie returned but his story remains a mystery yet to be untangled and her son Stanley was killed on the 15th September 1916 at the Somme.

Louisa had also lost Stanley’s twin brother Leonard and infants Mabel and Frances to diphtheria and whooping cough in 1901. Another unnamed infant had been born prematurely and died 12 hours later in 1904.   Amidst all the challenges of war Louisa also had to nurse her ailing husband who following a colostomy had died from cancer in December 1917.

So why do I want to meet her at the end of October 1920?  Louisa would be aged 59 and would have recently received a letter from the Infantry Office addressed to her deceased husband William:

Sir
The Late No 2209 Pte S Palmer 1/8th Battn. Middlesex Regt.
I have to inform you that in accordance with the agreement with the French and Belgian Governments to remove all scattered graves, and certain small [??], which were situated in places unsuitable for permanent retention, it has been found necessary to exhume the bodies buried in certain areas, and to re-inter them. The body of your son, the above named soldier, has, therefore, been removed to the Cemetery described below.

COMBLES COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION
The necessity for removal of the [??] is much regretted but was unavoidable for the reasons given above. The work of re-burial has been carefully and reverently carried out, special arrangements having been made for the appropriate religious services to be held.

I am sir, Your Obedient servant, Major for Colonel i/c Infantry Record Office, Hounslow.”

This letter followed one in 1919 informing her that Stanley’s remains had been exhumed and re-interred  in Bois Bouleaux , a mile north-west of Combles.  

Combles Cemetery

Combles

I would have so many questions to ask her about those intervening twenty years and how she felt about all that happened to her family. 

But that’s not why I want to meet her in October 1920. However upset she was by this letter, how sad she might have felt to know that she would never visit his grave I want to reassure her that the message she chose for Stanley’s gravestone at  his final resting place on the outskirts of Combles  ” He died for us, gone but not forgotten by all who loved him”  was honoured.

Stanley’s photo hung on the wall of his brothers home for all of Walter’s life and almost 100 years after Stanley’s death her great-grandson visited the grave in Northern France and remembered him.

We’ll never know what Lousia thought about her life as no written or anecdotal material survives.  It is also dangerous to try and second guess from the viewpoint of the twenty-first century.   She had lived through a time when every household was affected by infant mortality, overcrowding and losses following the first world war.  However at the start of the ‘Roaring Twenties’  I want to believe that Louisa felt hopeful for the future.  Her surviving seven children were nearby, married and raising families of their own. Women over 30 had the vote; the world was at peace following the “war to end all wars” and the depression of the mid 20s was still a few years away. 

Louisa c1920

 

 

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My Favourite Photograph

Week 2 of 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

The Edward Family

The photograph was taken around 1907/1908 as the baby in his mother’s arms, Edward Scorgie, was born in October 1907.

So why did I choose this out of the many in my family album?

I love the fashions especially the hat on baby Edward and the beautiful lace collar on Beatrice, my grandmother, front left.

The absence of men intrigues me, we have matriarch Jean in the centre with her daughters Mary and Agnes and five of her grandchildren surrounding her.

However, this is also one of my favourite images because all is not quite as it appears.

To the causal glance it shows a respectable family who are comfortably well off.  Little David Watt holds a toy yacht and the children are fashionably dressed.  But how many of these were studio props?  A closer inspection shows Beatrice and David’s shoes to be scuffed at the toes.

In truth the family had already experienced scandals with two illegitimate grandchildren including Beatrice, and heartbreak as two of Jean’s daughters Susan and Elizabeth had died from TB.  The family scraped a living on a small holding.  Son Dave (who had emigrated to Alaska and the gold mines before this photo was taken) was soon to be called home to help provide for the family as his father was no longer able to labour on the land.

The disparity between image and truth doesn’t really matter to me, nor the fact that we may never know why this photograph was taken or who paid for it.  It captures a moment in my ancestors’ lives when they stood proudly in front of the camera as an united family group.

It also encapsulates the challenge of all research – take nothing at face value.  Always question the source be it a photograph or document and always set the material within the context of what you already know.

 

Growing your family tree in 2016

 

2016 Genealogical Goals

As we start a new year I hope you have had time to reflect on the progress you made with your family history in 2015 and are enjoying planning your research goals for 2016.

Inevitably there will be lines that have ground to a stop because you haven’t been able to find that vital record or crucial piece of evidence. Throughout 2016 I will be posting hints and tips to help grow your family tree.

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As this is Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design  I will also be including some posts on Scotland’s beautiful built heritage, culture and environment along with a few posts on my favourite subject of gravestones.

Revisiting records

As part of your genealogical journey this year consider reviewing some of the sources that you have previously checked.  Each year the National Records of Scotland release new images available to view online. From the 1st January it became possible to view images for statutory births for 1915, marriages for 1940 and deaths for 1965.

More recent records can only be viewed at one of ScotlandsPeople centres, if you are unable to visit in person I offer look ups as part of my research services.

Other sites such as Ancestry and Find My Past are also often updated with additions to the record sets and transcription corrections.

Whenever you use an online database remember to record the location of the record and when you carried out the research.  This will make it easier to check back later and assess if any new records have been added.

I hope 2016 is the year in which you solve some of your mysteries, make exciting genealogical discoveries and enjoy success in achieving your research goals.

NewYear