My great-uncle was never mentioned in my family and I had no idea that he had ever existed, until this time last year. I am a teacher and I was doing a project with a class of eleven-year-olds about ancestry. The children proudly brought in their family trees, we had some fascinating conversations, and this got me interested in finding out more about my own roots.
On my father’s side, it was easy. He has died, but he left a neatly typed list going back for five generations. My mother, though, was reluctant to talk about it, so I went away and did my own research. I could just remember her own mother, who died before I knew her well, and had always seemed an unhappy person. Her husband hadn’t been around.
But the internet has made research very easy, so I quickly found the record of my grandmother’s marriage. Her maiden name was Elizabeth Warden and that led me back to my great-grandparents, agricultural labourers in County Durham. (Of course, that strong accent of hers would have been north country.) I noted their address and the names of their children; Tom (not Thomas) born 1916, two other children who died in the flu pandemic, and finally Elizabeth in 1921.
‘What became of Tom?’ I asked my mother. ‘I never met him.’
‘Oh,’ she said, ‘he died.’
‘In the war?’
‘No, but it was before I was born.’
I didn’t press her, but I looked at the records and confirmed that Tom Warden ...
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