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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The war-time photo that led to a well-known war correspondent!

Since starting my family tree journey, I have made contact with several members of my extended, distant family - long lost cousins and new found ones too.

Some have been found online via forums with a shared research interest or tree, some offline via family address books or more random objects.

Whilst at a great aunts house earlier this year looking at photos, a photo of two young boys in the 1940s jumped out at me. The photo was encased in plastic which made me laugh as it looked like the very modern "photogifts" you can now buy from online photo specialists such as Photobox - an item that was clearly way ahead of it's time, as a novel gift.

Upon closer inspection, I noticed that there was a postcard on the back of the photo which contained a hand-written message - "With love to Uncle Bert & Auntie Daisy. From Chris and Peter". Bert & Daisy were my great grandparents, and if you are a regular reader of my blog you will know that they feature quite a lot as I knew them as a child, and they are the oldest link to the past that I have.

My great aunt confirmed that the two boys were her cousins, and that she was still in touch with the older of the two (Chris) and they exchanged Christmas cards. "I've got his address if you want it?" she said, and of course I did.

I wrote to Chris, my Nan's elder cousin and enclosed a copy of the photo. He wrote back and said that he could remember it being taken and he had a copy of the same photo at home. It had been taken, he said, by his kind billetters during the war, who looked after him and his brother after they were evacuated. They had had some copies of the photos encased in plastic as one of them worked in a plastics factory and sent them to family members.

Chris also told me that he was just about to publish his memoirs based on his life as a journalist, and mentioned that I would probably enjoy the opening chapter of the book about his early life.

Now, many years before, my Nan had mentioned her cousin who was a journalist. I was just about to start studying journalism and radio at college, and she said "One of my cousins was a journalist. Very good he was". That was it. What she didn't mention was that he was a very successful war correspondent called Christopher Dobson!

So, I got the book on Amazon and Chris was right - I loved the info in the first chapter about his mum's family (including a bit about "Uncle Bert" - my great granddad!). It was amazing to read about people who I only know as names on a tree or faces in a group photo, and find out more about their character, and as Chris is a little older than my great aunts he can obviously remember a lot more about their grandparents. 

As I told Chris in a subsequent email, I also loved the rest of the book as even without the family connection, it was a great read! A story of old school journalism about a grammar school boy from the Miles buildings in Marylebone in some of the world's most dangerous war zones - an amazing life where danger always lurked. The book can be found here on Amazon.


Follow me on Twitter - @FamilyTreeNat

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Reuniting and reconnecting with family through genealogy

I wrote a post a few months ago about finding some of my mum's relatives on Facebook and how after getting in touch with one of them, she had put me in touch with another cousin who had sent me a wealth of family history information collected over time.

We have shared emails, letters and photos over the last six months so there was one thing left to do - meet up. This wasn't easy to arrange as I felt it important my mum came along too as the link between me (her daughter) and the relatives (her cousins), but I work Monday to Friday and my mum works weekends so we had to find a date we could all be available. We then had to check my mum's cousins were free on the same date, which luckily they were.

So, last weekend we (me, my husband, my mum and my sister) all went to Northampton where my mum's cousins now live to meet them. I was nervous about the trip as I only knew these people through email, letter and telephone and my mum hadn't seen them in close to forty years. But after we had been there a short while, it was like we had known them forever!

It was particularly nice to see my mum reconnecting with people she had last seen as a teenager - people who shared the same grandparents as her and had memories of her and her siblings growing up. The weirdest thing of all was how much my mum looked like one of her cousins, and her cousins daughter. There was definitely a strong family resemblance between them, and not just in looks but in mannerisms too. That fascinated me as it was another example of why family history interests me so much - the fact that some things are inexplicably genetic.

My mum (centre) reunited with two cousins after nearly forty years!
The day went really quickly and we all plan to meet up again soon as there wasn't much time for family history chat. But it was a really nice day, and another reminder of why reconnecting with your past can often bring benefits to the here and now.

Coincidentally, the cousin who we visited lives just a few miles from where a branch of my Dad's family originated on the Northants canals. So next time we visit Northampton there is a whole other branch of the family tree to investigate!

Follow me on Twitter - @FamilyTreeNat