Family History is all about relationships but how often do we consider what those relationships actually mean. When my grandson was born last year, I reassessed my outlook on grandparenthood. Edward Leo does have a direct male line of course but that is for his other grandmother (also a family historian) to pursue. I therefore concentrated on grandparents on my side of his family.
So how has the grandparent-grandchild relationship changed? On this side of the family, Edward has one living grandparent – me. I am younger now than any of my grandparents were when I was born. I have (so far) two grandchildren and they live 300 miles away. In the past this might have meant that I saw them rarely, if ever and unless I was comfortably literate, even the occasional letter would have been unlikely. It is too soon to say what aspects of my appearance or personality will be reflected in my grandchildren but I can see echoes of my own grandparents in me.
My mother’s parents lived within walking distance and we saw them weekly. They were able to provide regular support for my mother. Equally she was on hand to help my grandmother when my grandfather was ill and then when she was widowed. When my grandmother herself became unwell she came to live with us.
‘Granny’, Ivy Gertrude Woolgar, was 63 when I was born and died a month after my seventh birthday. She was a wonderful lady and the archetypal granny in everything except build. We played together regularly, she taught me to knit, recited nursery rhymes and did all the things grannies are meant to do. My first family holidays were on the Isle of Wight and Granny came too. My memories of Granny are a role model for my own grandparenting. Although I lack her dainty size, physically I have inherited most from this grandparent. In fact I wonder why, when I look in the mirror, she looks back.
My maternal grandfather and youngest grandparent, was Frederick Herbert Smith; he was 61 when I was born and he died the following year. Despite this I do remember sitting in the sunshine on his desk in the back bedroom that was his office. According to other relatives he was happiest with his own company. A Chartered Accountant by profession, his main hobbies were stamp collecting and train spotting. I suspect that in today’s world a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome might have been applied. He did everything he could to avoid family gatherings but nonetheless played with me and taught me to count his keys. There were thirteen but somewhere someone must have suggested that thirteen was not to be mentioned so I always counted ‘eleven, twelve, fourteen.’ What then has come to me from this grandparent? Physically, my short-sightedness but some aspects of my personality, such as the attention to detail and my self-sufficiency are his too. I wish I could have had the chance to get to know him better; I think we would have got on rather well.
My paternal grandparents were much more aloof. We visited, perhaps monthly and occasionally went to Battersea Park, together with my parents. I was certainly never alone with them and have no recollection of anything that could constitute play. Albany Braund, ‘Grandpops’, a railway porter, became a grandparent at the age of 67 and died when I was six. He was also the only one of my grandparents to grow up in the countryside and I now live closest to his birthplace. I was always a little wary of his gruff manner. Although I didn’t realise it at the time it is likely that my maverick tendencies and my willingness to challenge authority come from this grandparent.
My fourth grandparent, ‘Grandmums’ Elizabeth Ann Hogg, was 69 was I was born, the eldest of my grandparents, yet she lived the longest, dying when I was ten. My relationship with her was a distant one and memories are shaped by her diabetes. We always had to shop for PLJ for her to drink and diabetic chocolate, neither of which were easy to obtain. I can’t identify how Elizabeth Ann has contributed to my genetic mix. I clearly remember the journeys to their house and the house itself but the personalities of my paternal grandparents elude me. Perhaps that in itself suggests that they were not child orientated. When one considers their background this is perhaps not surprising. Albany was only five when his widowed mother married again and left him to be brought up by his grandmother and then an older aunt, who had children of her own. He had contact with his three surviving grandparents, all of whom lived close by. In contrast, although three of Elizabeth Ann’s grandparents lived until she was a young adult they lived many miles away in Northumberland and Buckinghamshire, whilst Elizabeth’s parents had brought her up in London. Elizabeth’s mother died when she was twelve and family stories relate that her Northumberland grandmother came to look after her.
Unusually for their generation, three of my grandparents grew up as only children, the exception was Ivy; this probably had an impact on their ability to form other family relationships, certainly Ivy was the most family orientated of the four.
So young Edward, what will come down to you from all these ancestors and of course from your equally significant ancestors on your paternal line and the forebears of your maternal grandfather, whom I have not celebrated here? You will of course just grow up to be your own very special person but maybe sometimes echoes of your genetic forbears will travel down the generations and show themselves in you.
We often race back through the generations of our family tree but sometimes we need to stop and reflect on our more recent forebears. I challenge you to consider your own grandparents, their personalities and what they have contributed, through nurture or nature, to you.