Sunday, 13 March 2011

Packard's Pals (written September 1999)

Packard’s pals

During the past week I have been cataloguing the papers of Brigadier John Joseph Packard. Brig Packard took up genealogy on his retirement from the Army in 1961 and it remained one of his interests until he died in August 1993. The result of his researches appeared in a book published in 1987, a copy of which is to be found in the Library here.
During the years Brigadier Packard, and his wife Faith, established contacts with Packards around the world. The collection is full of family news. The Packards also welcomed distant cousins passing through England to their flat in the Barbican, a complex of apartments (and much else) near the Society in central London. 
From a genealogical point of view the collection is perhaps a tad disappointing Packard traced his Suffolk forebears back to the beginning of the seventeenth century when they lived at Stonham Aspall near Framlingham.
He seems to have given up doing much serious research when Packard and his family moved to London in the early 1970s. Thereafter he seems to have concentrated on building up links with Packards worldwide.
The collection however clearly shows the spread of the name. Most North American Packards are descended from a Samuel Packard who settled with his wife and child in Hingham, MA in August 1638. Australian Packards perhaps begin with the Revd Daniel Packard who arrived with his large family to be chaplain to Bishop Short in Adelaide in 1851.   
The collection however shows clearly the differences between the North American and British strands of genealogy. Americans seem to have become interested in their origins much earlier than the British. I have a clipping on my desk from the Daily Telegraph of 9 July 1890 which talks in the most patronising tones about the American 'characteristic trait ... [a] fondness for tracing their blood to old English families.' and concludes 'We believe American citizens are a little weary of the dead level of modern Yankee society.'
Certainly American genealogy was well organised. The Packard Memorial Association, for example, organised a large celebration at the Agricultural Grounds in Brockton, MA in August 1888 to mark the 250th anniversary of the arrival of Samuel Packard. A record of the event can be found in the collection. The introduction notes that 'Within the past few years a growing interest has been manifest in many sections to know something of the different branches of the family.' and remarks that 'A better type of American citizens are seldom gathered in one assembly than were present on this... festival.' 650 people, attended at $1.25 per head, consuming a large luncheon before settling back to enjoy a number of lengthy and probably rather soporific speeches from various worthy Packards. 
Few British families would have thought of organising a reunion of this sort at this time - and perhaps British reticence really prevents such events even now.
Late Victorian genealogists of the time were keen to avoid dealing with the broad masses. When the first volume of parish registers was published by the Harleian Society in the 1870s G.W.G. Leveson Gower wrote in the preface that the Society should not publish every register in its entirety, concluding 'I maintain that as a genealogical society we are not concerned to find ancestors for families which have risen to the ranks of gentry in later times; our business is only with the record of those who at the time the entry was made were persons of recognised social position.'
A number of other prominent genealogists of the period agreed believing that the history of the common man was at best irrelevent.   A further celebration of Samuel Packard's arrival in America was organised exactly a hundred years later in a motel in Eureka Springs, AK. This was a much more folksy affair, with a buffet, BBQ and old time dancing.
Such a good time was had that further reunions were organised in 1990 and 1992. The whole event was organised by the Packard and Allied Families Association who published (and perhaps still publishes - the SoG doesn't subscribe) an excellent, if to British eyes a little twee, quarterly newsletter full of news and histories of Packards in America. I particularly liked the romantic history of the Bad Lands Cow Boy published by Arthur T. Packard at Medora, Dakota Territory during the 1880s. Packard eventually ended up as the local chief of police, without a gun, but with the tricky task of getting rid of the local cattle rustlers and other low-lifes.  
If only all our ancestors lived such exciting lives... 

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