Thursday, 22 March 2012

Walking with Ancestors by Ann Evans

A lovely old part of
Sunderland High School
Like most writers I seem to spend lots of time sitting at my computer, writing, researching, emailing, blogging, social networking, marketing and so on; but there's another computer-linked activity that I love getting stuck into, and that's researching my family history.

I’ve always known that my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents all hail from the Sunderland and Durham areas on the north east coast. And over the last couple of years I’ve been going through the on-line censuses, gathering names and dates as well as seeking out old photographs.

This week however my research took an upturn and instead of just researching on line, I got the opportunity to head up the M1 and A1 to the bonny north east of England for a school visit, and decided to make the most of my trip and enjoy an additional day of sight-seeing.

I don’t usually feel excited at the prospect of visiting a different city, yet I really was looking forward to going back to my roots. Even booking myself into a hotel was exciting as the hotel I picked overlooks Roker Bay and Roker Pier. Places that I remember my mother telling me about, and I know they were favourite places where she used to walk - as did her mother and grandmother and great grandmother probably. Walking along the pier and the cliff paths, naturally I didn’t spot anyone dressed like the people in this old photo of the area, but it was easy to imagine them still hanging around…

Going back in time with the family tree research I can’t help but feel drawn to Victorian times. My grandma whom I vaguely remember, was born in 1872 (and lived till well into her 90s); and it amazes me to think she was around when Queen Victoria was on the throne.

Recently I came across this photo of a painting by Molly Davison. It features a stretch of the River Wear in 1890. My grandma lived very close to this scene according to the map that accompanies it, and I find myself wondering (fancifully) whether granny, at 18, had peeked over Molly Davison’s shoulder as she sat painting.

Victorian times and around the turn of the century is such an evocative period and while I’m aware of how hard times were in those days, I think that period offers so much atmosphere and drama for a writer to draw on.

But back to my trip up north. During one of the session with the pupils of Sunderland High School, I mentioned (as I often do) how I remembered as a child of 8 or 9 spotting a book in my local library written by someone with my surname! I was then Ann Carroll and spotting Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland had quite an impact on me. I couldn't believe that a real live (okay dead) author had my surname, and that book came home with me on many occasions.

I wondered if the children knew there was a link between the famous author and Sunderland. They didn’t. The link was something I chanced upon while doing more on-line research into the family tree. I read that Lewis Carroll was a frequent visitor to Holy Trinity Church which isn't just in Sunderland it's in Southwick just a few minutes walk from where my dad's family lived – Carrolls, all of them!
Surely Charles Lutwidge Dodgson had spotted the name Carroll on a church tombstone and was inspired to give himself a pseudonym! Okay, well I do write fiction!

However during my trip up north this week I just had to go and check this theory out. I found the actual Holy Trinity Church (which also excited me – I know, sad!) and wandered through the quite sparse graveyard looking for a Carroll inscription.  Ho hum! There wasn't any, although there were one or two which were so weather-worn and faded you couldn't quite read the names. Was that a C...? And that could be an A...

I wonder if anyone else is finding time to research their family history - and what interesting snippets you've discovered.


Pippa Goodhart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richie Brown said...

I really enjoyed this blog post. I had a similar walk around York last summer looking for links to my distant relative (allegedly) George Hudson, the infamous Railway King who became a disgraced MP. There isn't too much left about him bar a plaque outside the draper's shop he began working at and, well, a street bearing his name that's no more than a dodgy thoroughfare!

Half my family also hail from Wearside so those names mentioned were also familiar to me.

Ann Evans said...

Thanks for your comments Richie and Pippa. But Pippa I'm not sure where you get the Adele from.

Ann Evans said...

Thanks for your comments Richie and Pippa. But Pippa I'm not sure where you get the Adele from.

Pippa Goodhart said...

Sorry, Ann! I'm going barmy. I'd just read Adele's reviews, and for some reason had it in mind that your blog was by Adele Geras. Silly me.

Ann Evans said...

Ah, that explains it, Pippa! Easy done.

Rosalie Warren said...

I enjoyed this blog post, too. Researching my family history is something I haven't yet got round to doing. I probably should, while my dad is still around to give me some help. I know that his family came from Bristol, so that's an interesting part of the world for me to visit.

Good luck, Ann, with your endeavours - and how lovely that you shared a name, albeit his pseudonym, with the creator of 'Alice'.

Karen said...

Lovely post, Ann. I love researching my family tree too. I'm descended from Romany gypsies on my mother's side and would love to find out more but it's difficult to research as the Romanies don't leave many records. Good luck with researching your family history ;)