A few months ago my Mum had a bit of a clear out and decided to sort out the drawers of the built in dresser at her house which are chock-full of photos. There are our own family photos, my Nan’s photos and my Dad’s sister’s photos. My Nan’s and aunt’s ended ended up at my mums when they died and their houses were cleared. My Mum started out on our own photos and threw away any that were of ‘views’ with no-one in themas she couldn’t remember what the views of hundreds of different bits of Europe were and she doesn’t think I’ll remember either when I end up with all this stuff.Thanks Mum. Then she got to all my aunt’s photos and found pictures of her surrounded by children, hugging little children and playing with children.
The children are not my sister and I and we don’t remember her as a huggy person at all. By the time we met her she was the kind of spinster aunt who didn’t really like children much and preferred her dog; I can’t remember her ever holding my hand even to cross a road. The pictures show her with Inuit children back in the early sixties when she worked with we thought was called the Grenfell Mission in Canada. Mu Mum and Dad knew that she went there but they never knew what she did there as she never talked about it despite having two sets of huge snow shoes in her house and little real fur bears on her shelf. It was as if this door had been closed and she didn’t want to share any of it with us although as little children we were fascinated by the shoes. My Mum wondered if I could find anything online about the Grenfell Mission to perhaps fill in some gaps.
After some searches that found nothing I decided to try my a variation on her name and just Grenfell on its own to see if I had better luck. The first Google result was this:
Among the Deep Sea Fishers, a magazine of the International Grenfell Association.
It turns out that it was the Grenfell Association, not mission and although my aunt’s real name was Olwyn she was also known as Megan and she had written an article as Megan Dykes for the magazine in 1963 called “Boots, Boots, Boots” all about walking across snowy Labrador! Her article starts on page 82 and isn’t easy to read as it is illustrated with a large boot which covers the centre of the text. She writes with good humour and sounds as though she loves this place. I can imagine this: “…so we were soaked to the skin. The storm passed and being so wet that it did not make any difference, we went swimming…” and I wish she had not lost that sense of fun along the way.
The archive is easily searched and I found her mentioned in no less that 13 volumes either in the Alumni pages sharing her career progression and changes of address or as a visitor to the London offices or a guest at a reunion or wedding.
She flew to North West River on 24th October 1961 to replace the outgoing medical secretary at the hospital there. She returned to England to train as a Probation Officer in 1964 and by 2am I had even found her address in Weston-Super-Mare and looked at the property details of the flat she rented there on Zoopla.
Thanks to someone at Memorial University Library realising that Among the Deep Sea Fishers represents a huge slice of Newfoundland and Labrador history and scanning every page of every quarterly volume, we have been able to learn something about someone who died fifteen years ago without telling us about what must have been an important time in her life. This is a bit strange in some way as perhaps we weren’t supposed to know and now my Mum plans to go over there and visit St Anthony and North West River and see what this area is like.
Then, this week we found out something else using information from the web. Here in real life, my mother in law is in the final stages of her life and has been worrying about this she hasn’t spoken about for decades. Mr G has always known that his parents had a son born before he was who died soon after birth but he didn’t know exactly when he was born or anything else. This week his mum told him that the hospital had said they would take the baby so she had never buried her first born son and now she wanted to know where he was and what happened to him.
As this little one was born about forty years ago I used a genealogy website to search to see if I could find his birth certificate. With first and surnames and mother’s maiden name and place of birth this was very easy and we found his date of birth and full names after just a few clicks. Then what? We didn’t know, so I talked about this with my favourite phlebotomist when I had my blood taken last week and she suggested that I call the hospital to ask if they had any records of him. I called them on Thursday and was put through to the bereavement section where I spoke to the head of the hospital chaplaincy. He told me that all babies from that time were buried locally, often along with other babies and that if I rang the Cemeteries Service they would hopefully have a record. One phone call later and we found that he was indeed buried in Oxford in March 1972 in an area reserved for hospital babies during the 60s and 70s in the same cemetery where JRR Tolkein rests.
It was a beautiful sunny evening so Mr G and I drove up there to find the spot. It is a grassed area enclosed by a hedge with just a few plaques along the boundary and a marble bird bath which is surrounded by flowers.
It is a quiet and peaceful area away from the road where bunnies and squirrels scooted about and the trees were full of birds roosting. Mr G’s mum is relieved to know all this and we will get a small plaque made to commemorate his short life.
These connections between our small family and our wider family are becoming more and more important to Mr G and I as we grow older. When I was a child I felt that I ad a very small family compared to the other children at my Catholic primary and secondary schools who all seemed to have about twenty cousins and be related to anyone you wanted to pick a fight with! My Dad’s sister was his only sibling and she had no children, my Mum has two siblings but we didn’t see them or their children often as we lived far away from them. My Mum also had ten aunts and uncles and lots of cousins but they were in Wolverhampton or Canada or Australia and somehow we didn’t see them much either probably because Southampton is pretty far away from the Midlands in our small country mindset.
We’ve started to re-connect with my Mum’s family over the past few years and have spent days with my aunt and uncle in Cambridgeshire, visited the remaining ninety six year old auntie in Wolverhampton and had two get together with about twenty or so of us here in Abingdon and last week at my Mum’s cousin’s house near Bristol. This cousin, Margaret, lives just a ten minute drive away from Mr G’s auntie Maureen which is a convenient coincidence. You can tell these ladies are in their seventies by their names, can’t you?
Here I am at Margaret’s last week snapped my Miss Froo! I have no idea why my plate is empty, why I am pointing with a knife or what anyone is saying.
From the left, we are Auntie Deidre, Mum’s cousin Lawrence and his wife Jennifer, me, Mum’s cousin Frances and the bottom of a cousin called Pat who was trying not to watch Andy Murray at the Olympics in case she jinxed his performance.
There were other cousins around and about and we managed to eat most of this lovely food whilst trying not to laugh hysterically at this or that including the apparently very amusing macerator pump in the downstairs toilet. Once again these ladies told me things I didn’t know about my Nan and my Mum and in some shared feeling about summer wear we are all wearing wide leg trousers…… Mine are me-made New Look 6190 with a me-made Made by Rae spring top.
What a world we live in. The internet is so much more than watching kittens do funny things, listening to music for free or finding out how to sew an invisible zip isn’t it? Those things are good and I don’t know how I would resolve tricky sewing dilemmas nowadays without the blogosphere but at the same time there is stuff out there which you don’t know matters to you until you start to look for it. These discoveries of the last month have also made me think that what we write now will provide great insight into our day to day lives for our descendents, should they wish to look for us. Of course our history is self-edited and only one view of any particular event but still I wonder what my grandchildren will think of my blogging about sewing and family and our home life.