A Journey through time
It started with a question.
I can remember when I was growing up Dad always seemed to have a story to tell about one or two people in our family history. Stories of all kinds of things that were often no more than a couple of sentences long, yet would fire the imagination of us kids with wild exploits both in foriegn lands and also in the very next street.
I remember thinking as a kid how much more I'd like to know about some of those stories and later wondering if any of them were really true?
We'd sit around the fire on a cold winter's night, nothing worth watching on the TV and dad had his usual home rolled cigarette and a beer in his hand as he'd begin the tales, often the littlest things would bring to rememberance some long forgotten (by the rest of the world) deed that he'd tell us about.
His favorite one was actually relating to a piece we had hanging on the wall
Something that looked like this
What is it?
Looks like a harmless walking stick right? You'd be half right!
You see, according to Dad an ancestor of mine was a gamekeeper for the Duke of Norfolk and in those days there was a desperate game of life and death played out between the gamekeepers and poachers where the gamekeepers often got beaten to within inches of their lives (back in the 1700s) so the Duke came up with a plan to protect his gamekeepers and his 'game'. To give them walking sticks but within the 'stick' was a Shotgun!
Yep, in a country where owning a gun was a big no no we had a shotgun on the wall in plain sight and no one knew about it! We also had a Cavalry Sabre and an Air Rifle on display!
But with stories like that it always left me wondering what other stories might 'lurk in the background' waiting to be discovered?
Dad was never one to actually want to 'research' our family, he used to say "What if you found that we were rich landowners back in history and found that an ancestor lost it all on the turn of a card?" but it never stopped me wondering 'what if?'
By the way the photo at the top is of one from the late 19th century where the one we had was manufactured in the 1750s
A warrior and a cornfield
Another favorite story of Dad's was of an ancestor that lived a couple of hundred years ago and was 'born in a cornfield, got married in a cornfield, lost his leg in a cornfield and died at the age of 112 in a cornfield'
At least that's the story Dad used to tell! Apparently this ancestor actually fought in the American war of Independence, ON THE SIDE OF THE REDCOATS! He was British after all but what a story to tell!
I'm not 100% sure of the accuracy of those wild tales, but hearing those stories from Dad could only fire the imagination, and mine's been pretty fertile ever since!
Here's the thing. every family has a story to tell, and I've realized that some of those stories are worth telling over and over, preserving for future generations so they 'fire the imagination' of our kids and grandkids (and theirs too).
Every family has a 'Skeleton in the closet' but I think as a family we've got quite a few 'closets' and they're all so full of the proverbial 'Skeletons' that we need to make some more!
A strange connection
Now for the stuff I found out
Not long after we arrived in New Zealand we got a very strange phone call from a man claiming to be related through his mother who at the time was 90 years old and had just found that the name of her 'birth father' was 'Hebb' and "Did I know anything about this fellow?"
A phone call back to England and some asking of relatives revealed that we were related but way back probably from the early 1900s when an ancestor travelled through this part of the world (until then I thought I was the first with the name to get to NZ!)
The story gets even stranger as it turns out he was on the Titanic as one of the crew and he's regarded as one of the heroes of that fateful night!
The Titanic was the pride and joy of the British merchant fleet when she sailed on her maiden voyage in April 1912. She had just about every safety device you could think of at the time built into her, but one omission, not enough lifeboats as they were thought not to be needed as she had so many safety features built into her, she was built with watertight compartments that could be shut off in the event of a breach and could take upto six of them flooding at any one time (that had never happened before) but when the iceberg hit a total of twelve were breached!
She had the latest of radio equipment on board so she could send emergency distress calls if need be, the nearest ships didn't have radios and the nearest one with a radio was the Carpathia four hours away. Incidentally the Carpathia was the first on the scene after the sinking.
She had distress flares that were shot into the sky, but the nearest ship thought they were a firework display for the guests!
William Albert Hebb worked as a 'coal trimmer' on the ship with the job of shovelling the coal from the main bunkers down to the boiler room where the stokers would feed it into the bunker. There were 73 on the Titanic, only twenty survived. Here's what Wikipedia says about them.
Trimmers on the Titanic
Of the engineering crew, the trimmers were paid the least. The working conditions of a trimmer were poor, primarily as a result of their environment: the inside of a coal bunker was poorly lighted, full of coal dust, and extremely hot due to residual heat emanating from the boilers.
Notable coal trimmers
There were 73 trimmers aboard the coal-fed ocean liner RMS Titanic. During the sinking of the ship, these men disregarded their own safety and stayed below deck to help keep the steam driven
That was just one story I've uncovered in our family history, but it's not the only one. Mum used to stay quiet when Dad was telling the stories and I often wondered if there were some stories on 'her side' as well.
This year when Mum was over in NZ we started looking as she knew some things that her Mum and Dad had got up to, and boy did we uncover some classics!
So far I've only got back as far as the 1820s on both sides, and even then most of it is just names and dates, but occasionally a story has literally leapt out of history telling me it just begs to be retold!
Grandma on Mum's side was always known as being a bit of a 'single minded' lady (when i knew her she was deaf as a post, refusing to wear a hearing aid and refusing to accept she was deaf! Her explanation was that the rest of the world was 'Mumbling'!!!)
Mum told me that she went out to South Africa at the start of WW1 with her father who was going as a 'Master potter' to set up a pottery industry in South Africa. We're not sure what happened but the story is that by the end of the war she was back home under dubious circumstances and may have been on a ship that was involved in a major 'friendly fire' incident in the English Channel where her ship was depth charged by their own side!
The story is that they were in an anti Uboat convoy heading in to Southampton when the lead ship (A Cruiser with serious armaments) made a turn that put them on a collision course so the merchantman turned and ran straight into a Destroyer escort slicing over the stern of the ship.
The depth charges were at the stern of the Destroyer and were knocked loose falling into the water. When they reached the depth they were set to they exploded lifting the merchantman out of the water before crashing her back into the sea. Both ships suffered extensive damage but managed to make it into port. about half a dozen lives were lost in the incident.
Grandfather's tale was almost as wild as he was a 'territorial' (the British version of the National Guard) and volunteered at the outbreak of war to go to France where he served until he was wounded in the first Battle of the Somme. Apparently his battalion was famous throughout the Army for it's profanity and on a few occasions during the Battle the profane language saved them from 'friendly fire' incidents, Not the kind of thing you read about in the history books!
By the way. on the first day of the Battle his Battalion took 50% casualties, over 300 men killed with another 10 wounded, he was one of the wounded!
Not a family history, but some personal experiences woven into the story
The Bloodiest Battle of WW1
Your family history
Have you ever researched your family history?
Lots more where those came from
I haven't told you about the Uncle I thought was a Fighter pilot but turned out to fly anything and everything during WW2 (everything from Spitfires to Lancasters including Hurricanes, Mosquitoes and Halifaxes that I know of) or about some of the other strange things that seem to crop up in family histories, but maybe I'll just write books about them, by the way I found that we do have a Family Coat of Arms that goes back to the 13th century so who knows, maybe I'm related to my childhood hero Richard the Lionheart or even better Robin Hood?
We can but dream, but when the dreams are fuelled by a few facts, then the imagination runs riot!
That's all for this week, and I really hope you enjoyed this hub, I hope it's inspired you to have a think about checking out some of your family history, you never know what or whom you'll find!
(And I haven't talked about the 'Skeletons' yet!)
Our Family Coat of Arms
Some sites you can use
- Free Family Tree, Genealogy and Family History - MyHeritage
Create your family tree and discover your family history. Free genealogy software. Get automatic Smart Matches on over 2 billion profiles and share photos.
- Trace your Family Tree Online | Genealogy & Ancestry from Findmypast | findmypast.com.au
Trace your ancestry and build a family tree by researching extensive birth records, census data, obituaries and more with Findmypast
Some good sites you can use.
Above are a few of the many sites that you can use to trace your family tree. Most of them have a 'free membership' where you can use parts of the site for free and can start using their software, naturally if you want to pay the subscription you can gain better access. Personally I use Ancestry.com free site and use that to trace things. I could pay for more but then that would take the fun away!