Sunday, 15 August 2010

This is John Reid's fault

Oh, I was going to write a long post today. It was going to be about Shakespeare. Or the Unitarian Church.

But it's been bloody hot today, which is not John Reid's fault. The house I'm sitting retains heat like a pregnant lady retains water. This is not John Reid's fault either.

What is his fault is his blog. Now, he recently wrote something very nice about this blog which made me blush with pleasure, but today he posted this.

I've been holding off doing family research this summer. For one thing, I'm three thousand miles away from my private data base; for another, well, you might remember I'm only supposed to be using this house-sit's computer for emails. Which is, of course, why I defiantly decided to NaBloPoMo my way through August, but never mind.

When I read John's piece about the National Probate Calendar for 1861-1941 being made available at, I thought I'd take just a little peek. Then I thought I'd look up just a dozen ancestors. Before I knew it, Sunday afternoon was gone, and it was time to water the damn garden again.

What did I find so alluring? Most of the people I was checking were direct ancestors of my daughters. The probate calendar gives me date of death, the address of the deceased and where s/he died, names of beneficiaries and their addresses, how much the estate was worth. In earlier entries, we get occupations of everyone concerned.

I discovered that my great-great-grandfather, a publisher in Shoreditch who apparently worked with Charles Dickens and once entertained him in his home (where my great-grandfather, being the youngest child, escaped punishment by hiding from his mother underneath the great man's chair) left an estate of £31.442, 7s. 6d. In 1886, this was a hell of a lot of money. Why on earth did he live in Hackney?

I learned that my great-grandmother left a tidy sum of money, not to her only surviving child, but to her nephew and his wife in Wolverhampton. Was this because my grandmother and her family were stranded in Kenya for the war? I'll be quizzing my mum about that!

Most exciting of all, I finally found out what happened to one of my great-great-uncles, who had seemed to disappear off the face of the earth after the 1861 census. He's there in the probate calendar, having died in South Africa in 1898. However, his address in Britain is a house in Lymington, Hampshire where my great-aunt finally died of her alcoholism (long and sad story there) under the care of my great-great-grandmother. My long-lost great-great-uncle died in the Royal Naval Hospital at Smith's Town, and left his estate to his widowed sister-in-law.

Darn you, John Reid! How do I stop myself now?

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