Thursday, 22 August 2013

Unlocking family stories - correspondence

If you have access to family papers you might find correspondence that could be extremely useful for your family history search.

One gem in my collection is the transcription made by my father of a letter found among papers belonging to my grandmother. The letter is dated 23 and 25 October 1855 and is addressed from Grosvenor Place, Bath. The letter was written by Jean Eleaonora Mackillop to her daughter, Eleanora Hutton, in India.

British families living in India often returned children born in India to the UK to be looked after by family members and educated in England or Scotland. The grandparents were looking after three children when the letter was written, George 5, Jean 3 and Eleonora 1. Jean had been born in India while her brother and sister were born in Bath.That morning George had had his first lesson to learn his letters and 'had been very attentive'. His grandmother hoped 'that when he can read he will learn to express himself well and clearly'.

She added, 'He does not know the Lord's Prayer quite perfect but nearly so. I do not think he is quick in learning by heart, at present, but his technical memory will probably improve when he acquires the habit of giving his mind to his occupation.'

The above is only part of a long letter with much more information about the three children including a description of new clothes for the girls for winter as they have grown. The grandparents had just returned from eleven days in Paris. There is also news about mutual friends as well information about family investments in tea in India.

As well as providing information about family members the letter provides a snapshot of life in Bath in 1855.

Also among my grandmother's papers was correspondence from a cousin who had been investigating the Hutton family story and believed that there were connections with royalty. He had a genealogist in England investigating possible links for him but there was no follow up letter in the files confirming or denying this.

With the Internet it is much easier now to research family history from afar and I therefore was able to follow the family back through the lines he suggested and it appears that direct links can be traced back to the Plantagenets, the Normans, some Scottish Kings and even to Alfred the Great. All a bit of fun which I would not have investigated if I had not found the letter written to my grandmother.

I also have a transcription of another letter written in September 1982 by the cartoonist, Syd Miller, to my father. In the letter Syd describes some of the outing he and his wife made with my grandparents in the late 1920s / early 1930s.

At that time I like to remember most a 1927 Buick Roadster. It had a dicky seat. ... This Buick seated three persons, but mostly seated four persons. Mo being wider than any of us sat against the left or passenger door, Agnes (sorry Fairy) sat on his knee, Susie squeezed into the middle, I always drove.... The dicky seat in the back we always reserved for odd bods we cared little for or for whom we cared little. It was mainly used to transport grog safely from place to place.

There is also description of leaving their children at home with relatives or people they paid to look after them. He added, 'later as the years progressed we'd say or think, "They're old enough to look after themselves." In more modern parlance:"She'll be sweet, Mate."...'

This was the first indication of the Bohemian lifestyle my grandparents must have led with their journalist and artist friends, colleagues and acquaintances. I wish that I had known about this when my grandmother and my father were alive. I would have asked them lots of questions.

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