Before the beginning - 1
It's time to launch the first instalment of my memoirs and see how they read on line. I have no way of knowing if they will be interesting or not - we'll just have to see.
[This is my grandfather sitting outside the family jewellers' stand at an exhibition in Birmingham.]
Where should I start my autobiographical memoir? The obvious answer seems to be with the moment of my birth, but I feel that I owe at least something to my forbears, without whom … etc. Besides, in recent years I have spent a good deal of time with them, among photographs and inherited mementos, and recollections shared with my brother, and there are some interesting things to be said about some of them.
My brother’s early retirment plan was to start a major family genealogy on the computer, to which he has now (at 75) devoted thousands of hours of research and recording, and in which he has entered thousands of names, together with pictures where he has them. (My poor sister-in-law is a genealogy widow!) He says it is now worth donating a copy of it to the Society of Genealogists. It is a splendid resource. I myself was tickled pink recently to discover on the web a great great grandmother who had up to then been missing from my brother’s records. The last time he had looked she had not been there.
So I have a lot of information available to me, and I reckon I will go back two or three generations to explain the sort of families I have come from. Both my parents belonged to Birmingham families, solid middle class civically minded citizens of the manufacturing classes. My mother’s family lived in Handsworth and my father’s in Edgbaston. My mother’s father was a master jeweller working for the family firm, as his father and grandfather had done before him. My mother’s mother’s father was a watchmaker, who was the son of a manufacturing jeweller.
There was glass manufacturing on both sides of the family, and also steel buckle makers, silk manufacturers, a cooper, a rope maker, a sword maker, and a ship insurance broker. (My husband was in engineering insurance and inspected many a ship’s boilers). Further back there were also merchants, clothiers, haberdashers, and grocers and still further there are yeomen, gentlemen and knights. Of course we only have information for very few of the names out of the thousands in the record, and most people probably have the same sort of mix in their ancestry.
Back in the early 18th century there was an “Unorthodox churchman” who was one of my 4th great grandparents, and about fifty years later one of my 3rd great grandparents is named as a “Minister of the New Church”, or to give it its full name “The Church of the New Jerusalem”. This was a religious body founded by the followers of Emanuel Swedenborg, who was a Swedish scientist, religious teacher and mystic. Both my parents’ families were still following a tradition of non-conformism when I was christened, my father’s as Unitarians, and my mother’s as members of the New Church, into which I was baptised. I too am 'unorthodox', to the point of being agnostic, with perhaps some humanist leanings on the more positive side.
As seems to be so often the case, I have gleaned more information about my mother’s family than my father’s; on the whole women seem to derive more pleasure from researching such matters, (my brother excepted of course), and we have inherited large quantities of family photographs going back four or five generations and forming a fascinating record. I have from time to time posted some of these in my online photo blog. Look here if you are interested.