Family circle

September 24, 2007

On her visit, my mother showed me something my cousin had made: a record of our ancestors. It wasn’t drawn as a family tree but as concentric rings, my mother’s name—Dorothy Middleton Tullett—prominent in the innermost circle. A ring round that divided into two contained her father’s name and her mother’s maiden name, the next ring showing the names of her four grandparents (i.e. my grandson’s great-great-great grandparents), and so on to the outermost ring, eight generations back, which had room for 128 different names, very few of them filled in because my cousin must have had trouble finding a record of all those people born in the 17th century.

It struck me how many different surnames were shown, most of them unfamiliar although all directly linked to me, unless one of my antecedents was the offspring of an illicit affair … and who could ever tell, now? There were Mewars and Matthews, the Younger, Watson, Pattison, Vitty, Close, Gilpatrick, Hilton, Trotter, Dunn, Sweeting, Gill, Harrison, Hutton, Jackson, Wetherweld, Sprowson, Fawcett, Ostlins, Wilford, Green, Rawlinson, Parke, Gillard, Burgess, James, Smith, Hormer and Graham families. We had ancestors called Addy and others called Eddy; some were Brackens and some were Breckons. I see a Wilde or two who might even connect me with my son-in-law’s mother’s family. In fact we must all be far more related than we think.

A huge variety of occupations was listed. We were

  • cartwrights
  • joiners
  • a parish clerk

  • an innkeeper on the Great North Road
  • a cornmiller
  • a mail-coach driver
  • cordwainers
  • saddlers
  • yeomen
  • and a tin plate worker from Grantham
  • I don’t suppose my son has a clue what a cordwainer is and I’m sure the cordwainer William Woodford (1668-1719) would never have dreamt of having an astrophysicist for a great great (…) great grandson, but they appear to be firmly linked by a long genetic chain none the less and perhaps share more than a few qualities.

    Apart from their occupations, I have only snippets of information about my ancestors. My grandfather Benjamin was the son of another Benjamin, himself the son of 19th century William, “a reprobate with 16 children” (I quote my mother) who founded an ironworks in Somerset where you can still see BISHOP BROTHERS written on manhole covers. Those Bishop brothers were devout Baptists who eventually converted William to the extent that he “cried over the Bible”, or so my mother’s great aunt used to say. The local Somerset lads used to make fun of the preaching Bishop family, one of whom once stood on a barrel to proclaim that

    the Righteous shall stand and the Wicked shall fall!

    at which some joker knocked his barrel over.

    My grandfather’s mother, who lived till 1929, was the musical daughter of another William (Willis) who engineered a steam-powered waterworks and played the cello; during the singing of family hymns he was able to hold the tenor line while playing the bass line simultaneously. He was the son of an overman at the Jarrow pits who died in 1826. William Willis married Ann Thursby, who also came of a mining family.

    Mum’s grandmother married a William (!) Foggin who, “a bit of a washout”, died at the young age of 43, having tried his hand at a series of jobs without much success, his widow having to send her daughter (my grandmother) to live with her better-off grandmother who made her sit up straight and sew long seams on sheets at the age of seven. This formidable person was the wife of a bank manager in Thirsk.

    Then there were the Morton-Middletons, the Morton family being the connection of whom the family was particularly proud. Three generations of the Middleton family’s oldest sons were christened Lancelot, one of whom was Director of Education in Rhodesia and stood for parliament there in 1939. My mother’s great uncle, Robert Robert Morton Middleton, was a Kew Gardens botanist—and from 1904-1907 a missionary in Chile—who sent plant samples to Darwin and in 1890 presented some 3000 American and other specimens to the herbarium at McGill University.

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