Sunday, 14 February 2016

A Valentine's Day post: ancestors in love

Valentine poem to Miss C, Bath Chronicle, 24 February 1763
Bath Chronicle, 24 February 1763

It's St Valentine's Day, so I'm going to look at a few love stories from my family tree. Happy, sad, or awkward, they remind me that my ancestors and relatives weren't just dates and names on a GEDCOM, they were living, loving, real people with all the ups and downs that go with being human.

Rwgan, Ceredigion, the old farmhouse
Rwgan, our family home in Wales
My father's parents met when my grandfather, Richard Owen, came to board at Rwgan, a Cardiganshire (now Ceredigion) farmhouse our family built in the early 19th century. Richard, the son of Griffith Owen of Anglesey and Elizabeth Richard/s, got a job in Lloyds Bank in the county town, Cardigan, and stayed at Rwgan with Rhys Lloyd and his wife Sarah Davies. Their daughter, Elizabeth Jane (Lizzie) lived there, too, and she was a beauty, small, with a heart-shaped face and long, luscious hair.

Richard was smitten... but Lizzie was choosy, and had turned down previous offers for her hand. One of her unlucky suitors had described her as 'frozen perfume' - I love that phrase! But something about young Mr Owen melted her... and they married and had two sons, my father and uncle.

My other grandfather was Laurence Thomas Delaney, known as Pop. He was the son of Mary Maude Wilson and Thomas Delaney (Tom). This story is about one of Pop's sisters, Florence (Flo) and also involves a paying guest.

Flo at the races, © Frances Owen
Flo was living with her parents at the family farm, Moyne, near Little Hartley in New South Wales. A trader, Robert Reinerts, from Hamburg, stayed at Moyne as a boarder when on leave from his work in New Guinea (presumably the north-eastern part, then under German control).

He and Flo fell in love. But international politics were cruel to them. The First World War broke out and Robert was interned as an enemy alien. After the war ended, Robert was repatriated to Germany.

He asked Flo to marry him, but she couldn't bear the thought of going to live on the other side of the world. So they parted, and she never married.

Her life wasn't empty, though; she loved going to dances with the other young Delaneys and, when the family moved to Sydney, she enjoyed days at the races and evenings at the opera.

One of my convict ancestors, James Thomas Richards (no relation, as far as I know, to the Elizabeth mentioned above), went on being a rogue into his fifties. At some time before May 1870, in Sydney, New South Wales, he met Rebecca Harrington, a free settler from Hackney in East London. You may have read about Rebecca's mother, Julia, in the Celestina Christmas story over on the A Rebel Hand blog.

James was about 25 years older than Rebecca. Who knows what drew them together? Did he represent security? He was a well-known figure on the quayside, and a prizewinning waterman. Maybe she was pretty, vivacious or charming. It could have been their East End backgrounds which gave them something in common.

But all we have are the facts - that on 28 February, 1871, when she was about 30 years old, Rebecca gave birth to James's daughter, Eleanor Ann Edith. The only problem was that James wasn't in a position to marry her - he already had a wife, Elizabeth Beadman.

I haven't got much evidence about how James, Rebecca and Elizabeth dealt with this uncomfortable situation. I do know that when Rebecca's father, Thomas Harrington, died in 1874, he was buried from James's house in Cumberland St, Sydney. Had he, or Rebecca, or both, been living there?

Burial notice of Thomas Harrington, 22 July 1874
Thomas Harrington's burial notice, Sydney Morning Herald, 22 July, 1874
Elizabeth was still alive, though whether she was living at that address I don't know. Maybe she stayed at her grown-up son James's house. She died later that year, and James Thomas and Rebecca married on 14 October 1874.

Most of my ancestors just met and married (or didn't) without leaving a boy-meets-girl story behind them. I've written about how my earliest Australian ancestors may have got together, and I'll mention them again because 2016 is a bi-centenary year for three of them: Nicholas Delaney, who married Elizabeth Bayly (Bayley, Bailey), and Sarah Marshall and John Simpson, who probably didn't go through a ceremony but were 'married' as far as they were concerned.

Do you know any love stories which bring your ancestors to life?

I'm going to finish with a few Valentine notices I found in the British Newspaper Archive. I hope you enjoy them!

Plymouth Gazette, 15 February 1845. A cynical view...

Worcester Journal, 4 February 1854

Burnley Gazette, 19 February 1876. Sale of unwanted cards?

Burnley Gazette, 26 March 1881. A bit desperate?

'Offensive vulgarity' in 1926. Who knew they'd gone out of fashion?

Surrey Advertiser, 10 February 1940. The war can't stop love (or commerce). Take that, Hitler!


Hello, thanks for leaving a comment on the World Wide Genealogy Blog. All comments are moderated because of pesky spammers!

Best wishes
World Wide Genealogy Team