Sunday, 8 December 2013

Madness and Death in Edwardian England

Black sheep and family secrets are usually stumbled across unexpectedly in family history research. At least that's how it happened in my case. I have discovered a few intriguing secrets along the way and I'm sure everyone has there skeletons in the closet as it were. However, these stories are also often the hardest to tell. My story started with a discovery 16 months ago. Doing a series of random online searches for records of my paternal great-great grandmother Ada Radcliffe, I came across her probate record which unleashed a long-kept secret. Far from revealing that she had left a fortune after her death, the record claimed that she had died in the City of London-lunatic-asylum. Further digging at the London Metropolitan Archives confirmed that she had been an inmate at the London Hospital in Stone, Kent, and died of 'Chronic melancholia' and 'Pulmonary tuberculosis' there in 1906. She died just a couple of months after her husband left to make a new life for himself in Canada (and then New Zealand), leaving two sons and a daughter behind. The death was hushed up and family were told that she had been ill and died in hospital. This was stretching the truth. This is one of the saddest and heart-breaking life stories that I have come across and one that will stay with me for a very long time. 
Thank you for reading.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The Suffolk Connection: A Family History Holiday

Through an odd turn of events I ended up staying in the village where my 5th great grand aunt Mary Freeman is buried. We uncovered her memorial stone under the altar at the village church, which describes her unusually as having died after 'a life of purity, piety and benevolence, and after having borne a long and painfull illnefs with truely Christian resignation and fortitude'. She had a brother John and sister Sarah and, confusingly, her parents were also John and Mary Freeman.

The link to my paternal grandparents is through Mary's sister Sarah, who married Edmund Lincoln, governor of the South Caribbean and St Vincent 1783-87. The mystery continues!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Enlightenment and 18th Century Aristocratic Names

Following the Enlightenment and renaissance revival of the 17th and 18th centuries British names, particularly those of aristocratic families, were increasingly influenced by European tours and the cultures of Italy and France. My paternal 5 times great grandfather had the old name Peniston Lamb, while my 6 times great grandmother was called Margaret Georgiana Poyntz and her mother had the exotic name Anna Maria Mordaunt.

An Online Adventure: Researching for Free and 18th Century Aristocracy

I have a lot to thank my paternal grandparents for in terms of all the family history and enthusiasm for research that they have passed down to me. When I was contacted by my grandad a couple of years ago concerning who his great-great grandparents William and Caroline Lamb were I hit a brick wall. Shamefully, with little information to go on and records going back to the 18th century scarce, I gave up very quickly. On Friday I finally picked up the research query again, this time simply using the free research engine that is Google and came across not one but a whole line of 18th century aristocrats, the Ponsonby baronetcy! In genealogy you frequently have to take a leap of faith and working out that William Lamb (my grandad's great-great grandfather) and William Lamb (1779-1848) 2nd Viscount Melbourne and Prime Minister of England were one and the same opened up the family tree to a plethora of stories. As a prime minister he seems not to have been regarded highly, but is described as "kind, honest, and not self-seeking". He was the son of Lady Elizabeth Lamb (nee Milbanke), socialite and London lady. Lady Melbourne was known not just for her political influence but also for her friendships and romantic relationships with members of London society including Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of DevonshireGeorge, Prince of Wales and Lord Byron. I'm happy to say that I can finally answer my grandad's questions about his family!

Happy Hunting!

Friday, 19 July 2013

My Great-Uncle Was Murdered......By His Teacher!

Reginald Channell's father, John Henry Cancellor (1799-1860)

Reginald's brother, John Henry Cancellor (b. 1834)

It was almost by accident that I discovered that I had a personal connection to a Victorian scandal. My 3rd great-grand uncle was Reginald Channell Cancellor, born on 7th August 1844 in Regents Park, London, and he was the younger brother to my 3 x great-grandfather John Henry Cancellor (b. 1834). Reginald was just 15 years old when he was brutally beaten (as a form of corporal punishment for disobedience) by his teacher and died on the 22nd April 1860. He was a student at Thomas Hopley's private boarding school at 22 Grand Parade, Eastbourne, at the time, and is now thought to have hycephalus (water on the brain) and some form of learning difficulty. Hopley was tried and found guilty of Reginald's manslaughter in 1860 (the case described at the time as the Eastbourne Manslaughter) and served four years in prison, later to withdraw from public life. 

What makes this discovery more shocking is that Hopley had discussed the punishment with Reginald's father John Henry Cancellor (1799-1860), a court master from Surrey, beforehand to gain his support. I'm sure such a court case would be televised and the family on The Jeremy Kyle Show today, but at the time it seems largely hushed up.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Provenance, A George IV Ladies Box and Aunt Evelyn

A very special box arrived on Sunday. Researching the provenance of the family heirloom, dating back to George IV, opened up a very welcome family detective mystery. 

The ladies travelling box, containing a writing compartment, jewellery draw, and ink pots, has been handed down to me by my paternal grandmother. Before then it was in her mum's attic for years in the 1940s. She had been given it by her Aunt Evelyn (Georgiana Evelyn Mary Cancellor, born in Reading 1867), my three times great-aunt.

And thats where the mists of time fog over and the mystery begins. Who gave Aunt Evelyn the box? Who first had the box when it was made during the reign of King George IV (1820-1830)? And who is the illusive H.E.P. of the initials on the box? Watch this space while I get my Scooby-Doo gear on and phone Velma for some help! 

Read the original blog post on my Lifestyle and Beauty Blog at:

Happy Hunting!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Material Culture: Family History through Heirlooms, German Character Dolls and Great-Granny

'George', 20-inch Kammer & Reinhardt mold 100 Baby doll
German character doll

1909 market the 'most significant event' in the history of the German doll industry in the 20th century. It was the year that Kammer and Reinhardt launched their character dolls with bisque heads, and at around this time my paternal great-granny, born 25th February 1901, was given one. Hers was named George and is in the photos above. In April of that year, New York importing firm and distributor of German dolls Strobel and Wilken Co. ran its first adverts in Playthings magazine for the character dolls. The dolls were inspired by the Munich Art Dolls of Marion Kaulitz, which had hand-painted composition heads. Kammer and Reinhardt trademarked the term Charakterpuppe, which became used industry-wide. The Character Dolls were advertised as 'produced from life models' and were 'modeled from living subjects' by famous artists. With 'real child-like faces', in contrast to the traditional 'dolly faces' of the time. 

The time is also significant in the life of my great-granny, whose father left the country after her mum died of cancer in 1906. She was shipped between relatives and family friends with her two brothers for the rest of her childhood. She would later write a scathing memoir called 'Living With Aunts'. Heirlooms like this can bring to life genealogical research in a way that black and white records often cannot.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Moving On: Amateur Archaeology and Victorian Rubbish

Who says moving on, moving house or growing up has to be difficult? So it turns out the Victorians had a thing for turning the ends of their gardens into their own personal landfills, which is remarkably convenient for amateur archaeologists. Before I moved out of my Victorian house I had the opportunity to dig up this fascinating assortment of pottery and glasswear, which provides a great snapshot of the lives of the early residents of the house. My finds included a souvenir Eiffel Tower lemonade bottle from 1909! Now, packed up in plastic storage in my new house, the results of my expedition into amateur archaeology serves as a perfect souvenir of my old house.
Old rubbish really can be an untapped historical resource!