Sunday, 13 March 2011

Miscellanea (written February 2000)

During closed week staff and volunteers do all the tasks and chores they can't do when the Society is normally open. I have been sorting out the Society's own archives as well the Topographical Collection which, thanks to a team of dedicated volunteers, is looking better than it has for many years. Closed week throws up all sorts of minor problems and a great pile has landed on my desk to sort out. Well, that's what I'm here for. I thought I'd share a few of the more amusing discoveries with you.
Many of these items come from newspaper clippings that the Society has acquired over the years and for which no obvious home could be found.
On the top of the pile is a review of Anthony Wagner's 'English Genealogy' from the 'Sunday Times' for 1960. In it the reviewer, Cyril Connolly, sums up genealogy as: 'This harmless foible can become an obsession of the elderly who seek to cheat death and decay by receding ever further and further into the recesses of their pedigree; as if salvation depended on an examination in family history.' So now you know.
The next is a pedigree which was worked out from a newspaper advertisement published in July 1921 seeking relatives of Mary DAINS who died on 20 February 1913 at Trimley St Mary, SFK. According to the newspaper she 'belonged to the Eastern Counties and were Nonconformists and the most part Independent.' The Pedigree goes back to 1737 and includes families BRETT, DAINS, FISON, HARWOOD, KERSEY, NEWSON, OLIVER, PRENTICE, and TOKELOVE. If you think you have a claim on the money: forget it. Claims had to be submitted by 18 January 1922.
Another, sadly, undated press cutting concerns the age when children have been fathered. The subject has a resonance in the week when it was announced that a Star Trek actor is to become a father at the age of 79. The cutting began by saying that Mr JACKSON ' a north country farmer' was to become a father at age 82 and then describes other notable elderly fathers, such as Sir William NICHOLSON of Glenbervy who became a father at 92. 'Sir Stephen FOX's last child was cradled when her father was within a few months of completing his hundredth year. Sir Stephen was born in 1627, and had by his first a daughter who died in infancy in 1655. The child of his old age survived to the year 1828 and was thus able to say 'I had a sister who was buried 173 years ago!''
Other notable elderly fathers mentioned were William PREST of Ripon, William BEATTY of Drumcondra, Co Dublin 'who celebrated his one hundred and second birthday on the very day on which his youngest born entered the world' and Thomas PARR who married for the second time at the age of 122. How accurate these ages are of course is a matter of conjecture.
One of the librarians found this poem in a box of books he was sorting out. Titled 'Fellows' Interests' the poem originally appeared in 'The Pedigree Register' in June 1913. It is too long to reproduce in its entirety but a couple of stanzas may give a flavour of the whole.  'First, what became of grandpa's son - the eldest - and his history/has always been to dad and me an unabated mystery./ He might have fought a duel, or gone to sea, or bet/Nay done some things for which the courts incarcerate for debt./ His name? I have a sheet in front, at top, the prefix "Jo..."/But (how very aggravating!) a blot's behind the o.'  'The ivory knob herewith is borrowed from the bones/ (remaining in our family vault) of auntie's Cousin Jones/ Will you leave it on the table for the members' kind inspection?/The send it back to use who view the relic with affection.'  The author remains unknown, but signed himself 'John Montmorency Brown' On the whole the poem suggests that nothing in the world of genealogy nothing changes... 
Newspapers are a fine genealogical source. But one place where family historians may not look are the personal columns where solicitors put appeals for information about missing people. They could be a useful source for ancestors who suddenly disappear. Notices such as these have largely died out, but at the turn of the last century they were an important way of getting in touch with people 'who might hear something to their advantage' as the phrase went. Thousands of such notices appeared each year.
They were well known enough for Arthur Conan Doyle to use newspaper appeals as a plot device in a number of Sherlock Holmes stories.  The Society has a clipping from an unidentified newspaper dated 1912 listing 'curious next of kin jottings' for 1911. 'Many of these notices, apart from their monetary value, possess a curious air of romance' noted the paper. Perhaps seventy stories are contained in the article.  They include 'Walter Crosskill who died in Canada and whose wife was reported to have been killed at a railway crossing has left unclaimed property.... the heirs of James Davies, stonecutter, who left Cardiff for America in 1874 are wanted to claim a large estate... particulars are wanted for Lt R.A. Cammell who was accidentally killed whilst flying at Hendon... money is due to William Holding who left for New Zealand in 1881... Any inquiries as to the estate of Miss Isabel O. Newton who was brutally murdered by her native servants in South Africa will be answered by the solicitors to her executor... news is sought of Constance Goodrich, last heard of in Manchester, when she applied at a convent for employment.'  Lastly I am able to report a triumph for the Internet. Y
I have had an enquiry from Lloyd Lewis, editor of 'Cronicl Powys' published by the Powys FHS. He had been contacted about Thomas 'Old' PARR (1483?- 1635) who is buried in Westminster Abbey reputedly aged 152. I sent Lloyd details from the Concise Dictionary of National Biography, which was distinctly sniffy about his longevity, and suggested he e-mailed my colleagues at Westminster Abbey for further information.  They e-mailed Lloyd an entertaining short note about Thomas Parr. Old Parr's tomb is probably a favourite at the Abbey and the archives there must get a large number of enquiries about him.
The information is taken largely from John Taylor's pamphlet 'The Old, Old, Very Old of Man or the Age and Long Life of Thomas Parr' (1635).  Thomas Parr was apparently an agricultural labourer the son of John Parr of Willington near Shrewsbury. He married at the age of eighty, but his children died in infancy. At the age of 100 he did penance by standing draped in a white sheet in the parish church for being unfaithful to his wife and having an illegitimate child by Katherine Milton.  Parr's fame spread and eventually reached the court. In 1635 he was summoned to the court of Charles I. By then blind the journey was made in easy stages and the king provided a jester for his entertainment on the long trip to London.
But the bright lights and fast life was too much for him. Old Parr died within a few weeks of his arrival in the capital. His portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.  What was the secret of his longevity? A diet of green cheese, onions, coarse bread, buttermilk or mild ale (cider on special occasions) and no smoking kept Thomas healthy. His recipe for long life was reputed to be 'Keep your head cool by temperance and your feet warm by exercise. Rise early, go soon to bed and if you want to grow fat [i.e. prosperous] keep your eyes open and your mouth shut.'
I am sure readers already follow this sound advice. 

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