Family tree research

Earlier this year, I started researching my family tree with my sister. I was something we’d both always wanted to do, but never told the other. When we both realised we wanted to do it, we found in the incentive to actually go about it. Things are much easier when you have someone else dragging you along…

As with most families I’d guess, there are various half remembered stories about great uncles or distant cousins that made good, died mysteriously or did something and were never spoken of again. The two best remembered stories in the family are quite good.

One involves either my great grandfather or his brother being an illegitimate son of one of the Mays from the Bryant and May match company. My Grandfather mentioned hearing about this when he was a kid, and there being quite a bit of money at stake should anyone ever be able to prove it. Of course it was never proven one way or the other when the money was still on the table, and there is no way to prove it now; the money is long gone anyway.

The other story is slightly more macabre. Again it involves my grandfather’s family. It seems that his father’s brother vanished in the first world war. Nothing too strange there, but it was later reported that he died on an ant hill in Africa and was stripped to the bone.

Well, now we are about 7 months into the research, we’ve traced back the immediate ancestors to around 1750 when they moved to the London area. Going back much further will probably be difficult and time consuming. So now we are starting to fill in the details of the lives of the people.

We visited the National Archives at Kew on Monday, to take a look at the army records from the first world war. Unfortunately, it seems that the majority of the records covering the time period we are interested in were destroyed during the bombing of London in the second world war.

We’ve been doing a bit of travelling around the East End, mainly Bow, Mile End and Hackney so we could see where the family has its roots. This should give me an excuse to post photos and maps and things…

The research has been fun and has expanded the number of living family members by around 50. Though these are all distant cousins, so apart from adding one or two the the xmas card list, I doubt we’ll have much further contact.

One good thing to come from all this has been discovering that on the whole, the family tends to long lives, aside from war and accidents, most of the menfolk make it to 70 with no problems, while the women get around another 10 years, even back in the 17 and 1800s.

Fenchurch Street to Limehouse – The long way. Part one: Fenchurch St to the Thames

A couple of weeks ago I took a ‘cruise’ down the Thames from Tower Bridge to Greenwhich, on the way I noticed and had pointed out many interesting things and places along the river.

Saturday I decided to go explore some of those on the North bank of the Thames on foot [1]. The first part of my journey took me from Fenchurch Street to Wapping where I stopped for a beer and lunch.

Fenchurch St Station. First port of call was Fenchurch Street station. Designed by George Berkeley, an engineer with the LTS and built in 1853-54 to serve the central London extention of the Blackwall railway as well as the London Tilbury Southend (LTS) line. The grey brick building has retained it’s Victorian charm over the years. It is however, rather less well known and used than some other mainline stations in London.

Trinity Sq Garden memorial Heading away from the station towards the River and the Tower, the next interesting area is Trinity Square Gardens. This small public garden contains the site of the scaffold used for many executions on Tower Hill as well as the memorial to drowned and loster Fishermen and Sailors of the Merchant Navy (shown in the photo).

All Hallows church Turning 180 degrees from the monument in the gardens brings the impressive green copper spire of All Hallows by the Tower into view.

This is the oldest church in the City of London, the original church on this site having been founded in 675 by the Saxon Barking Abbey (the remains of which can be seen further downstream in Barking).

Being so close to both the Tower and the Tower Hill execution area, the church has dealt with many beheading victims including Thomas More and John Fisher. On more upbeat note, the church was the venue for the wedding in 1797 of John Quincy Adams later the 6th president of the USA (1825-1829).

The church has survived the great fire of London in 1666, which started a few hundred yards away in Pudding Lane. However was almost destroyed by a bomb in 1940, only the tower and a wall remained standing. The late Queen Mother laid a new foundation stone in 1948
and the church was re-dedicated in 1957.

From here we move into the estate of the Tower of London, much has been written about the tower proper, so I decided to locate a different building on the site to photograph and research. The Wharfinger’s Cottage down on the tower wharf by the the river cruise jetty was my target.

The Wharfinger's Cottage Wharfinger was an old term used to describe the supervisor of a river wharf.
The building shown in the photo dates from the late 19th century, but is built on top of foundations dating back at least as far as the 1680s. The wharf in front of the tower used to be busy with goods, weapons and men arriving at and leaving from the Tower. The Wharfinger was responsible for the orderly running of the wharf and for prevention of thefts of goods. He lived on site with his family in the purpose built cottage.

The wharf is no longer used and so the the building is now used by the Tower administration.

The Tower of London, showing Traitor's Gate to the left of the photo and the four towers of the White Tower appearing above the trees.
A final image to leave you with from this part of the journey is of The Tower of London and surroundings taken from ~130 ft up, on the west walkway at the top of Tower Bridge.
The Tower of London, showing Traitor’s Gate to the left of the photo and the four towers of the White Tower appearing above the trees.

[1] Diamond Geezer was also out and about on Saturday, exploring the
delights of the boroughs on the South bank. His walk starts here