Friday, 28 September 2007

Who do you think you are?

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I suppose everyone has a similar photo somewhere in the attic, or perhaps even in a frame on the dresser. I have quite a few inherited from my grandmother. She seemed to belong to one of those families that were always visiting the photographers for a studio picture. The picture above shows my great grandfather Jason and his wife Emily. I am one of those people who has discovered genealogy. I started about five years ago and on my way have found over a thousand relatives that I didn't know existed. This part of the family always fascinated me. Jason lived 1841-1907 and Emily 1838-1908. They got married in 1858 and although it does seem quite young today, at that time it was quite normal. They were married on Christmas Day, this being the only day off they had. Jason was a farm labourer and came from Ticehurst, East Sussex, England. Emily came from the village of Burwash, just down the road so they had probably known each other since they were kids. Their first home was in Etchingham, which was the third village in the area. Their first son was born in January 1859 so they didn't waste any time I suppose.

During their marriage they had 12 children, my grandmother Emily (another Emily) being No. 11 and the youngest surviving daughter, as a matter of fact the only daughter. There were twins born two years before she was born, but they died at the age of one and two years. Then after her there was another daughter but also died at the age of one year. As great grandmother Emily was already over 40 years old when the last children were born, I can imagine that the children had very little chance of survival. It was normal at the end of the 19th century that families were large.

I remember surfing around once on the Internet and found my great grandfather's name mentioned as a witness in an inquest on the death of his second son George. He drowned at the age of six in a pond. I inquired and received all the documents in connection with this tragic accident in 1866

They seemed to have moved around a bit and eventually in 1875 were living at Sissinghurst Castle in the Priest's house.

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My dad always told me about his mother growing up in a castle, but things got mixed up a bit. They didn't actually live in the castle, but in a large house in the grounds of the castle. The priest's house still exists today, although it is now in the possession of the National Trust, as the rest of the castle. Sissinghurst castle is today in Kent near the small market town of Cranbrook. At the time when Jason and Emily lived there with some of their children, it was in private ownership. It was before the time of Vita Sackville West who made the famous gardens what they are today. It was then purely agricultural and Jason and his family were employed as farm labourers. I noticed that when the sons got married and moved away they were still employed in the agricultural trades.

What did my grandmother do? That was interesting. About two years ago I was on my annual trip to London and made an excursion to Sissinghurst to do some hunting. I got into conversation with one of the ladies running the National Trust shop and she told me that a group had been formed to show what was in Sissinghurst castle before the Sackville West takeover. She took some particulars and I eventually got a letter. I sent some copies of letters and documents I had, including one signed by Vita Sackville West to my grandmother, and they afterwards informed that my grandmother was actually employed at the diary on the farm. There is actually a small exhibition at the castle this year showing some of the articles they got from various places, and most probably there are some copies of some of the details I sent.

Over the years I have naturally been bothering my dad (who is now 92) about his mother's family. He has some memories of visiting his many uncles for the summer holidays. They were all living in the country and it was a cheap holiday for him and his brother. I remember my grandmother very well. She was a small neat lady and one thing I remember particularly was that she was a perfect pastry cook. She had a recipe for making tartlets with a creamy filling flavoured with lemon juice. I don't know how she made them, and no-one has the recipe. It was just one of her secrets she took with her. She eventually married my grandfather, a 100% cockney from East London. It seems he was also a descendent from a family in Cranbrook and had been on holiday visiting relations when he met my grandmother. I often felt sorry for my grandmother moving to the East End of London after such a sheltered life in the Kent countryside. I found another photo of greatgrandfather Jason and great grandmother Emily with my grandmother when she was a toddler. Note that Jason and Emily seem to have put on some weight over the years. I just love old family photos - wonder if my descendents will be talking about photos of me one day?
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