July 9, 2013

Genealogy: It's Not Only About Dead People

April 1999
I was working as field staff hiking delinquent youth around the desert in southern Utah. My sister, Kristal, was just graduating BYU, where she'd taken many genealogy classes and got a taste for solving family history mysteries.The only problem was that there seemed to be several dead ends. As luck would have it, the only way to pick up leads is to make a trip. Ha ha. It didn't take much to convince me to go with my sister. This trip seemed to have a more noble purpose than simply traveling to Europe for 3 weeks. Leaving Utah, we had the name of my grandfather's British cousin and the addresses of a few parishes to check out. 

May 1999
Kristal and I fly to London, see a few sights, rent a car and drive around England sight-seeing researching parish records. It was interesting to meet people who lived and breathed genealogy in these family history centers. We would get to a town where an ancestor was born or married or died and we would try to get a hold of the official records wherein we could also find other useful bits of information, such as parent names or occupations.

It wasn't all churches and libraries. We also used the phone book to look up our surname in an old family town. We found a match and knocked on the door. That was wild. We struck out when the girl who answered the door had no idea where any of her family was from. Oh well. Better luck next time.

Next Time:
We had the name and address of my grandfather's cousin. Communication had been spotty over the last several years, but then again, my grandfather had died and my grandmother had Alzheimer's and dementia...so losing contact made sense. Kristal and I arrived and knocked on the door. No luck. No one was home.

As we were turning away from the door, a car pulled up into the driveway and a couple got out. We asked if Derek still lived there. Nope. He died 3 years ago. Doh!

But this man, Richard, was his son and he lived there. Fantastic! We introduced ourselves and they invited us in for a visit and asked us to stay for dinner. It's humorous to mention that they thought we were Jehovah Witnesses knocking on their door...nope...but we're Mormon. Ha ha. Both of us had been missionaries knocking on doors so we totally understood why they thought that...though we were wearing jeans instead of skirts. 

Richard called up one of his daughters who was into family history and living in a nearby town going to University to tell him two American girls had just turned up at the door. Kate came home and we spent into the wee hours of the morning in the attic pouring over an old trunk that contains all of their family history. It was a gold mine for filling in holes in Kristal's research. They had living memories about some of the people who we had lost track of. We found out about visits to the seaside where several family members had moved and were buried...ahhh, little questions being answered. And so many more being asked. Who were the people in the photos? What were their lives like?

We ended up staying one night with Richard, the next night at his brothers Nick's house and a third night with Kate and Dave (Nick's son) and their roommates at University. These days spent with our cousins were the best part of the trip. In hostels and tourist areas, we got to interact with a ton of other foreigners and tourists. But here, we learned more about our British heritage from the inside out. 

I wrote to Nick to tell him that I was going with Tymon on a business trip to London and asking if we could get together while I was in town. Over the years, we'd only sent Christmas cards back and forth and had no means of instant contact (email, phone, Facebook, etc). Nick emailed  back and we set up a meeting spot for one day when Tymon had meetings. I took a train about an hour out of London and Kate and Nick picked me up.We had a wonderful visit and met Richard and his wife for lunch. Dave also took a break from work and came - he and Kate ended up marrying each other several years ago and they now have a toddler daughter, Emilia. Reconnecting after so many years felt good.
Cousins Kate and Dave and little Emilia
On the way home from Serbia, as long as we were already in the neighborhood (or at least only a few countries away), we stopped in England. This time for a proper visit with Kate and Dave. It has seriously been delightful being here. They live in a little town in the Cotswold region full of old style stone houses and cottages. We've loved staying with them. It's fun and Dave's cooking is the best. Each night we eat some English specialty. I think my favorite is the cracklin. Or crispy potatoes. Or BBQ, stew, slow baked spaghetti sauce. Or bangers and mash. Actually, Dave's potato salad recipe is the best I've ever tasted, even if it was Kate who made it. We have crumpets for breakfast and got pork pies and sausage roll pastries one day for lunch. Yes, we've eaten very well here.
Kate and I with our toddlers in Cardiff, Wales.
But it's not all food. It's the fun and laughs each day that really bond us...playing in the park and nighttime walks (it gets dark about 10:45 pm). We also share some uncanny connections. Like Kate and I, both dark, married gingers and have blonde children.We hold many interests in common and have talks late into the night.

Our adventures in the Cotswolds have included a wonderful 4th of July BBQ - but much to our kids dismay there were no fireworks...hence this is not the best vacation ever. It would have been, but they missed fireworks, so it's definitely not. Ha ha. Kids are funny.

Bowood Animals
Bowood Estate
It's too bad we went to the Bowood Estate on our first day here...all the kids wanted to do was go back to that park the rest of our stay. To their credit, it was amazing. I wanted to play there.
Bowood Playground
And you better believe I did this slide of death...is there anything more fun than an almost free fall slide? I think no. There was a sign that said "no adults" but I don't think it applied to me. Ha ha. I got down about a minute before the park guy came around. Phew!
Bowood Slide of Death
Malmesbury Park
Cotswold Water Park
We've enjoyed being with our cousins and had loads of fun. Kate's father sold their family home about 6 months after Kristal and I had knocked on the door. Had we not gone when we did, it's likely we would never have known how amazing our British cousins are.

5 Riveting COMMENTS:

  1. It sounds like you had a great time! Just for clarification, when we met Richard we were actually wearing dresses because we had just come from doing a session at the Preston England LDS Temple. I would have totally thought we were missionaries too! When Richard heard my name he remembered the birth announcement my parents had sent 24 years previously. It was so fun to meet our long lost cousins in 1999. It would have been so much fun to go with you.

  2. It's amazing how similar you and Kate look (and the toddler girls too)! You all look great!

  3. What a wonderful summer you've had! Holy Cow! How can you afford to take your family all over Europe like that!?!?!?! Kudos!

  4. Tina, the expense was in the airfare. Once there, we only paid for 8 nights in hotels. All others were with friends and family, so the trip wasn't nearly as expensive as you might imagine.

  5. That is a really cool story!


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