Thursday, 24 January 2013

Who am I?

As a historian, I've always enjoyed delving into the past to find explanations for current situations.

For years through school and University at undergraduate and postgraduate level, I studied historic eras, events and individuals. But despite saying to myself that I would do so year after year after year, I never actually got around to studying the history of something a little closer to home - myself.

Who am I?
The relentless cycle of life and work has meant that I have continually put off the reality of undertaking family research to uncover where it was I came from and from whom.

I've had a good sense of self on my maternal side of the family as my mother researched parts of her family back to the early 18th century many years ago. There is still some more work to be done there but it was always on my paternal side where I felt a yawning void in my knowledge. On my father's paternal side, I knew that my grandfather Benjamin was one of 6 children and I know some of my cousins from his siblings but not all. But beyond that, very little else. On my father's maternal side, my knowledge wasn't any better. I knew that my grandmother Maude was one of 5 children but wasn't entirely sure how many cousins I had from her siblings let alone known anything beyond that.

It has always been a source of great irritation and frustration to me, a historian, that I have had such a poor grasp on some of the essentials of my own being.

Cousin Cole
Suddenly a week ago, a brief communication that I received last year from a blog post that I wrote showcasing some of my father's photographs from 50 years ago, was re-kindled when a distant relative of mine from south Wales got in touch and sparked me into life.

It would turn out that this contact is actually a 3rd cousin to my father and his siblings. When I called him on his home land line a few days ago, it was answered by one of his sons - a 4th cousin of mine which until this week I never knew existed!

Martletwy Cole
So, spurred on by this revived communication from a year ago, I decided to bite the bullet over a cold, white and unforgiving weekend to register with With the sole definite piece of information that I had at hand, my grandfather Benjamin Cole's birth certificate, passed down to me through my father, I was away.

Benjamin's immediate family were from Martletwy between Narberth and the Cleddau Estuary in south Pembrokeshire. I attended the Sunday School there, living with my parents a few miles away in Loveston.

Within minutes, the family tree was growing through the archives of information held on-line. I quickly confirmed my grandfather's immediate family and have left it there for now as I am due to meet with a distant cousin of mine who lives in Carew who has a detailed family tree on this side of the family dating back I am told to 1750! I hope to be able to fill in great swathes of my mind through this visit.

Landshipping Cole
Instead, I turned my mind to the 'Landshipping' side of the operation - the small huddle of houses perched on the edge of the Cleddau Estuary a mile or two away from Martletwy. It was here that my grandmother's family came from and just to make my life that bit more complicated, Maud was a Cole too! Unrelated to Benjamin, two lines of Cole married into each other and of the few family facts of which I was aware as a child, this one had always amused me greatly.

Within just a couple of days, I have expanded my knowledge beyond comprehension of a side of my family for whom I knew so little. The 1911 census return for Bridge House, Landshipping was absolutely pivotal. There as clear as day were my grandmother Maud along with her 4 siblings, all children, living with their parents William and Margaret, as well as their grandfather James. Here, for the very first time in my life, was knowledge of my grandmother Maud's family. There is of course a great irony here in that had I have started this research earlier as I had always intended, this particular piece of information would not have been available to me as the 1911 census results have only in the past 12 months, been released.

My great-great-grandfather James Cole
(seated left) with my great-great-Uncles
John and Richard Cole and my
great-grandfather William (seated right)
Now, I have a great and ever expanding family tree on my great-grandfather William Cole's side of the family taking in lines from great-great Uncles and Aunts that lead me to cousins who live today who I'd always been told I was related too as a child but for whom I couldn't in my own mind, decipher out how this was the case. This has been helped by bumping into similar family trees on the website whose authors it turns out are distant cousins who are researching the same as myself. Beyond south Wales, I have already found contact with another 3rd cousin of mine who lives in Southampton. It was she who sent me this photo depicting my great-grandfather, his brothers and his father - the first time I have ever seen what they looked like, just days after I first knew of their existence!

Suddenly, a great cloud of a lifetime of unknowing is being lifted. The family fog which has followed me for 30 years is diminishing.

I now know for example quite incredibly, that the manager at the Landshipping Quay Garden Pit mine back at the time of the 1844 disaster when 40 miners were drowned in what was Pembrokeshire's greatest mining tragedy (as mentioned here in my blog last year), was actually my great-great-great-grandfather James Cole. It was his son, also James (pictured seated left), who was a father to my great-grandfather William.

The Carmarthenshire Link?
There are however still may gaps. Most significantly, I know nothing more of my great-grandmother Margaret Cole (Maud's mother and William's wife) other than where she lived in 1911, the fact that she had married 9 years previously (presumably therefore in 1902) and that I believe she died in 1953.

Whilst I have my grandfather Benjamin's birth certificate, I don't have the same for Maud. I therefore do not know her mother Margaret's maiden name and from where it was that she came. Without this information, I have drawn a blank on tracing back her family any further. But from what my father said to my mother when he was alive and from what a cousin of my father has said today to my mother on the 'phone, there is a strong belief that she came from Carmarthenshire, possibly Meidrim. What is also interesting is that Maud and her elder brother were both apparently born in Carmarthen whilst their younger 3 siblings were born back in Pembrokeshire.

More research with the local records office via birth and marriage certificates should finally bring an answer to this long-time family unknown.

In the meantime, whilst some information is unsurprisingly proving itself more difficult to come across, I can safely state that within a matter of just days, I have with relatively minimal effort, managed to explain away my heritage in greater detail than I could ever have hoped in such a short time-frame.

Bringing the past back to life 
I hope this personal roller-coaster ride continues to the point where, at the very least, I can trace my family all the way back to my 16 great-great-grandparents and everybody else in-between. In some lines as mentioned above, I have already gone beyond that but in setting this as a target in the first-instance, it gives me a sense of fulfillment that I am finally honouring my family history by bringning it all back to life, once more.


  1. Surely it won't take long to find Maud's surname. Does your mother know?
    Once you find your grandfather's marriage you will then be on a roll....
    My Grandmother's were Miles and Walker, before they married my grandad's....I know that from my childhood days.
    Or do you know the name of Maud's brother's?

    Funnily enough, My paternal grandmother, Dorothy Hilda Lye was a Walker and yet her husband's sister Nell who lived to 107, married a Walker.... No. NOT related in any way...

    Family history is good fun, yet also sad.

  2. You've mis-read Andrew, look again. Maud was a Cole as was my grandfather but were unrelated. It is her mother (my great-grandmother) for which I know no more than that she married great-grandfather William.

    It is finding Margaret's maiden name which is my main task but for which I have a few hopeful ace up my sleeve...

  3. WARNING: It can be strangely addictive, but once you work out that every son of the family in the same village called their first born John(and sometimes the replacement for one who died in infancy) for like 3/4 generations and you can muddle your way through that it becomes soooooooooooo much easier ;-)

  4. This is really interesting. Various bits of the Morse (and Davies) family trees have been done, but I have to confess that I more about the history of our farm, Maesgwrda, than I do about the family!

    eg It dates back as a hamlet to the C14th (thanks JSTOR!), Oliver Cromwell ransacked it on his way to take Laugharne Castle, and Dr Frances Hoggan, Wales's first female (medical) doctor ans social reformer, used to spend her summers on the farm when she was young (she pops up in a census, I think).