Over the years I have done a great deal of family history and at first this was research into my own family then it progressed into other people’s families and trying to solve the ‘’brick walls’’ they had run up against. I have never believed in those because there should always be a logical way through. Naturally, the absence of documentary evidence, parish records etc., does not help, but I try to find an answer if I can. And, of course, a little bit of luck, of “being in the right place at the right time” is also a great help!
Let me give an example. With my husband Bill (who also also enjoyed genealogy and specialised in finding people who had become estranged from their families and helped many people achieve their aims) I lived in North Aston near Steeple Aston for a great number of years and I discovered that I was related to some old families there from c17 to early c20. When in the Churchyard one day I was reading some of the gravestone inscriptions; one in particular intrigued me: “Died in a mysterious way”, it said. I found that this man was my 3rd x Great Grandfather. A friend in the village had a newspaper cutting which showed that in 1842 George Mobbs had been robbed and murdered on his way home from a scientific lecture at Steeple Aston. His body was found on a heap of stones just off the cross roads at the Fox Inn along the Duns Tew road. His horse had cantered off home and was found, complete with tack, in his field the next day. It was said at the time that the motive was robbery but no one was found to answer for this dreadful crime. George, a farmer, left a wife and numerous children.
My parents retired to Adderbury in 1985 and lived opposite Mr John Fox who had been a founder member of the Adderbury History Association. He asked me one day whether I would like to see some old Banbury Guardians which he had stored in his house. In one of them I was astounded to see that the murder of Mr George Mobbs had been solved by the capture of the culprit and this had taken four years to come to light. There had been a witness behind the hedge who had at last come forward to tell his story. It’s not the story so much as the fact that that particular news item had been placed in front of me to read …amazing! There was more to come: at around the same time I bid at a Holloway’s auction for a large quantity of Banbury Historical Society Journals. The first one I opened when I arrived home, out dropped a newspaper cutting with Inscriptions from North Aston and Steeple Aston Churches and notably the one written on poor George Mobbs’s grave!
I have always loved auctions and at another Holloway’s sale I put in a bid for a box of Oxfordshirre Record Society books. I had been working on a family tree from Hook Norton. I followed the fortunes of Dinah French who had married a William Jaques of Stourton near Whichford . Dinah became a deeply religious person and as a girl had struggled to find a formal home for her beliefs. During the early 1800s she had tried attending the Baptists in Hook Norton , ‘’The Mother Church ‘’, St Peters, Hook Norton , the Friends and finally found the Methodist Church to be the most sympathetic and where she felt the most comfortable . Dinah married William Jacques in 1813, who later went to America in search of land so that the whole family could prosper. Eventually, Dinah and children joined William. She wrote her life story, which included religious writings and her poems. It was published in Syracuse USA 1853.
When I paid for the box of ORS books the porter put some odd books on top to make up the Lot. I didn’t know what they were as I had not viewed them – but there it was …. Dinah’s book! I couldn’t believe it! I wonder how it made its way back to England? Presumably, it was forwarded to an English relative. So sad it wasn’t passed down the family as a treasured heirloom instead of ending up in a sale room in Banbury. The Jaques family are distantly related to my mother’s family so I shall look after Dinah’s book!
Before the widespread use of home computers and extensive genealogy web sites, I used to spend some of my spare time in ‘’Banburyshire”, the upstairs research room in Banbury Library. Martin Allit was the Librarian who looked after all the Family History customers, including Brian Little, who was always researching for his weekly article in the Banbury Guardian. Martin was often on duty in that area of the Library and on one particular occasion he was at his desk on the telephone. I couldn’t help but overhear some of the conversation. Martin was getting grilled it appeared and it seemed he was expected to be undertaking research for this caller. I overheard the name “ Fardon”…..and yes! You have guessed it, I was working on the Quaker Clockmaker family of Fardon from North Newington and Deddington at that time. I intimated to Martin that I could perhaps help. He passed the receiver over to me. How odd that now I was talking to Peter, a descendant of the Fardons I was working on. So was I in the right place at the right time?
One has to be patient, though, and Peter told me that he was descended from a female line, a Juliana Fardon . He believed Juliana to be the daughter of John Fardon, Clockmaker, 1736-1786. Her birth or baptism was not recorded in the Quaker records or anywhere that he could find. I worked with Peter for a few years and I never established that Juliana was the daughter of this John Fardon until something quite unrelated happened. I wrote to the Archivist at New College Oxford to enquire about any available papers on my father’s family in this area. She sent me printed pages from their archives. Along with some tenancy agreements and deeds was a list of similar items from Milton. My grandfather farmed at Manor Farm, Milton, until his death in 1939. However, along with some documents about the Cox family of Milton lay the Will of John Fardon, 1786! John had been married to Sarah Cox. I was very excited because perhaps this was my only chance of proving to Peter that Juliana was indeed John’s daughter! So it wasn’t long before a visit to the Archives in New College was arranged and I read through John Fardon’s Will carefully. He named his daughter Juliana! Who would have thought it possible that Juliana could be identified after all the previous research had come to nothing? The Will had been with the Cox New College records for all those years and maybe I was the first person to discover and read it. Everyone was pleased.
Here’s a final example. I have been working over half my life on an ancestor in my father’s family and over the years have collected a lot of information about him and recently quite by chance other pieces of his life are coming to light to help me complete his story. During the early 1980s I was in the old Record Office in the Council Building in Oxford. I was (and actually now I do not remember why) looking through the Wolvercote Parish register transcript. Out dropped a fairly crudely hand drawn map of Fawler, a hamlet of Finstock. I had known that my ancestor’s mother had lived there c1830s but had no idea where she and her husband resided. However, on this map her name and cottage was clearly marked! Her name only, so I guess this sketch was drawn from someone’s memory and after she had become a widow in the 1840s. This meant I was able to go and look at the cottage and another piece of this family jigsaw was in place. Was this luck or “meant to be?”
One of my Cousins said to me a very long time ago when I was just starting out on my family history quest: ’I have a black tin box containing some family papers, would you like to have a look at them?’’ The contents really set me off with genealogy as a hobby since they allowed me to discover that my father’s family (c19th) and my mother’s ancestors (c17th) had all lived in my cousin’s house but, as you can see, in different centuries! Mother’s relations came back and still live there.
These are some of my family history ‘surprise moments’ which helped me and others. I hope they still appear to fill those gaps in my research. The History Centre at Cowley will be one of the first places I will visit when it’s open and people are allowed to research again. But I shan’t forget what I’ve learned over the years: if you have lost something, look for something else and perhaps fate will place you in the right place at the right time to find what you are really looking for!
Note: Incidentally, John Fardon has his own story, which you can read by following the link below: http://www.deddingtonhistory.uk/clockmakers/quakerclockmakers/johnfardon