“We think we have identified which George Brodie was our great-great-grandfather,” my sister Chris and I announced excitedly to Graehm, the director of the Moray (pronounced murray) Family History Center.
“You have been focused on identifying your ancestors back several generations,” he replied. “I want you to think about your stories – what will YOUR great grand children know about you.”
Sharing and recording stories and identifying the threads that formed the rich tapestry of our extended family became the theme of our visit to the U.K. – from Elgin at the northern tip of Scotland where our father’s family originated, to Newcastle where our mother’s family was born, to cousins in Cheltenham, Devon and London.
THE BRODIES OF ELGIN:
The air was bracing – barely above freezing, as we pulled our suitcases up Moss Street to our B&B in Elgin. The dark limestone, Georgian-style buildings exuded a sense of history.
These were the streets that our Brodie relatives had walked. We had visited Elgin seven years ago and had met some third cousins. We were returning for a visit and to learn more at the Family History Center.
“How would you like to meet one of my cousins who was married to one of your 3rd cousins?” Colin asked.
“Of course,” I replied.
“Wonderful. Her name is Elsie. I’ll be round to pick you up at 12,” he responded.
Thus began an amazing day.
Colin and I had exchanged genealogy information during the past year and he was eager to meet us. As soon as we got in the car, stories began tumbling out – and didn’t stop for almost six hours. We stopped in Llanbryde to pick up Elsie, and then headed a ways into the country to the home he shares with his partner – Manse Cottage, which at one time had been the quarters for two families who worked at the manse for the nearby parish church.
Colin had been a cellist with the Welch Symphony for many years.
“I sold my cello to buy a typewriter for college,” I told him.
“And I sold my cello to buy a pub when my health prevented me from continuing the rigors of musical performance,” he replied with his contagious laugh.
Elsie, a hearty and active Scottish woman in her late 70’s, bantered back and forth with Colin who is two years older than me, about life in the Elgin area when they were growing up.
Our heads were swimming by time Colin dropped us back in Elgin. What a wonderful opportunity it was to spend a cold, rainy afternoon in the home of a local family – who also happens to be ‘kissin’ kin. It was a unique opportunity to soak up the essence and history of the area where our Dad’s grandfather grew up.
Susan and her mum, Marie, picked us up the next afternoon. We had met Marie and her twin sister Daphne on our visit to Elgin seven years ago. Marie’s infectious smile greeted us.
“What would you like to see?” Susan asked us.
“How about Lossiemouth?” Chris replied – and we were off. We were interested in visiting the village of Lossiemouth since that is where our newly discovered George Brodie married Margaret Anderson in 1791.
The winds off the North Sea were dashing the waves over the sea wall at the mouth of the river.
Susan drove around to the west beach area. The car park where she stopped so I could take photos was along Stottfield Harbour, the area where George and Margaret were married.
Afterwards, Susan drove us along the coast and through many of the small villages we had read about as we researched our Brodie relatives.
We stopped for tea and scones in Findhorn
and ended the afternoon at Susan’s ultra modern home that overlooks a farm of Highland Cows.
“These are my 3rd cousins, once removed,” Susan announced as she introduced us to a friend who stopped by.
We sampled the local single malt whiskey, Glen Moray, and she sent us on our way with the rest of the bottle.
We left Elgin with stories of both the past and the present.
THE JONES OF NEWCASTLE AND DURHAM
It was an all-day journey on three trains to arrive in Newcastle for the next leg of our family history adventure. Our train arrived 15 minutes early at Newcastle Central Station, so Lyn and John weren’t there yet. Would we recognize them from the photos they had sent six years ago? Lyn had the same worry and had made a sign to hold up. Our fears were unfounded as we recognized each other instantly.
Back at their home we began to share stories and had to force ourselves to go to bed at 12:30 a.m.
“I don’t know very much,” Lyn started out, but as we began exchanging family information, it would prompt a memory she didn’t know she had.
In preparation for our visit, she had restored her grandmother’s photo album. Her grandmother was our grandmother’s next oldest sister.
“That looks like gram,” I said pointing to a picture. Of course, it wasn’t; it was HER grandmother.
At one point Lyn told Chris that she looked like her own mother. “I always wondered who I resembled,” Chris replied. “I didn’t seem to look like anyone else in the family.”
She took us to the cemetery where her mother and grandmother were buried. Also in the plot are our mutual great grandparents – Thomas and Christiana Jones.
“It was very emotional for me,” Chris told us, “to see the name Christiana on the grave curb. That is who I am named for.”
As the stories continued, we became aware of more than physical resemblance. The Jones women were smart, over-came obstacles and were highly motivated for their families to have a better life.
On another day a roomful of eager faces awaited us at the home of Bill and Jean in Blaydon, a suburb of Newcastle. Bill and Chris had been exchanging family information over the past several weeks after they discovered we were 2nd cousins. When Bill learned about our visit to Newcastle, he gathered 10 nearby Jones descendants to meet us.
Our common ancestors were Samuel and Mary Jones. The folks gathered in Bill’s living room were descended from Samuel’s oldest daughter, Eliza Ann, and we from their oldest son, Thomas.
After introductions, we began passing around pictures.
“This is my grandmother, Charlotte,” June said as she passed us some photos.
“Wow, she really resembles gram,” Chris and I both said at once. They agreed when we pulled out our pictures of gram.
“We really want you to look carefully at this photo,” Chris urged as she started it around the room. “She now would be about our age. She was my pen pal in the late 50’s when our gram stayed at their home on a visit to the U.K. Her mom was our gram’s niece.”
“I’ve seen this picture before,” Gordon, Bill’s brother said. His wife agreed. “But I can’t put a name to her.”
By mid afternoon, June, Ivor and Donna had to leave to drive back to Middlesborough at the south end of Durham County. “I will send you information about your 2nd cousins in Australia,” June promised.
“And we will try to find if there are any links to our Graham families,” Donna, the family researcher stated.
Finally it was time to go. “Come and stay longer next time,” they all urged.
Gordon and Rose promised to dig out the old photo albums to identify the mystery girl and we all agreed to stay in touch.
STAGES OF WALLSEND, CHELTENHAM AND EXMOUTH
“They only cost 50 p,” Gladys said with a twinkle in her eye as she laid a bouquet of flowers on her husband’s grave. “Joe will appreciate the bargain.”
It was a bittersweet visit with Gladys, our mother’s cousin she never knew about. Her husband, Joe, had passed away since our trip seven years ago.
“Do you want to go with me to get the fish and chips?” Alan asked. “You can wave at your ancestor’s ghosts.” On our last visit Alan told us he had discovered that our Stage ancestors at one point lived in the flat over the spot that now houses the fish and chips shop.
After dinner, Alan, Chris and I compared our latest genealogical discoveries. As Alan thumbed through his folder looking for some information, he whipped out my posting he had printed from the Stage genealogical bulletin board in 2000 – the message that brought us together and led to our visit in 2001.
Gladys was watching the Liverpool football match, but also keenly listened to our conversation. She jumped in with stories, e.g. “You know, they always said I resembled Auntie Florrie,” when we mentioned Florence Stage.
As we gave Gladys a parting hug, we were painfully aware that in all probability we would not see her again. She also was aware of it. “Don’t stay away so long next time,” she entreated us.
The next day Alan drove us to his home in Cheltenham where we had the opportunity to visit with his wife, Lizz, children and grandchildren, including the most recent Stage descendant, 8 week-old Alex.
Alan and Lizz drove Chris and I to Exmouth in Devon to meet Tony, another Stage 2nd cousin, and his wife Steph. Tony’s grandmother, Bea, was one of our grandfather’s younger sisters. Bea and her husband Frederick managed various hotels in Devon, including The Moorlands at Haytor.
“My parents divorced and my father left for Africa when I was a boy,’ Tony shared, “and I spent a lot of time with my grandparents.”
Stories of the past and present were inter-woven with walks along the estuary and beach and a drive to Haytor Rock.
BRODIES OF SOUTHWEST LONDON
Our final family visit was with Brodie 3rd cousins Janet and Beryl. While they both grew up in the Battersea area, their grandparents, who were cousins, were not in contact with each other. Family history research enabled them to connect with each other in the past year. They are descended from one of our great-grandfather’s brothers.
Chris rolled out the Brodie family tree and Janet began placing photos of family members alongside their blocks on the chart.
“Close your eyes,” Janet instructed Chris and I as she placed a small book in each of our hands.
“Wow,” I said when I looked at the one she handed me. It was a book given to her great-great grandmother, Mary Brodie, in Llanbryde, Scotland when she was in the 4th form. It was dated 1883. It made one person, our great-grandfather’s niece, a real person.
It was then Beryl’s time for a surprise. “I have something for you,” Janet said as she handed Beryl a book.
Beryl began to weep. “It is my father’s Bible,” she whispered. “My father’s prized possession was his violin which my Mum kept until her death 13 years ago. Sadly, my stepfather sent it to auction along with Mum’s which was heartbreaking. The bible is something I can now treasure and will hand on to my daughter.”
– – – – – –
Our two weeks of stories was summed up succinctly on our last morning in London by Ann Sullivan, who was quoted on a BBC segment about family history research, “Even very short stories define a part of who you are.”
We have returned aware that seeking information about the past has enlarged our circle of family and enriched our lives in the present. By writing our stories, we are providing information for generations to come.