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Thursday, 29 August 2013

Our Family Tree

After 3 years of research I've finally been able to send off our Family Tree to the printers, despite last minute additions from Awkward Ancestors who suddenly popped up with new records enabling me to add even more people into the mix.
I only sent the information at the beginning of the week, and already the printers have emailed the proof. The tree has grown just in those few days - they estimated it would be 6 metres wide. It's actually over 8 metres wide!
I have no idea how Dad is going to display it... he wanted it as a working document that he could add information to - sort of stick it round as he goes, but this is going to spread right round the stairwell to the loft. Once it's all up on the wall and the extra bits are being added on, it's going to look amazing... I'll do a big post about it and show it off.
The wonderful thing is I was able to add in all of Mums ancestors too - it was just meant to be for Dad's birthday, but I sneakily added in Mums because I wanted it to be complete, not just one-sided. And actually although it would have been slightly less wide, in terms of price it wasn't much different. Mum will get to see all her ancestors too, whereas previously all the focus has been on Dads.
On top of that, it's the first professional print out of a Family Tree for my business, so it'll be a good starting point ;)
So I'm very cheerful, and linking with...

Reasons to be Cheerful at Mummy from the Heart
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Wednesday, 28 August 2013


Ok, so it's not about Ancestors, but it struck me today in a kind of "Eureka" moment, so I figured it was worth sharing.

I was weeding the patio - not a job I like or do often, but it needed doing and it was a sunny day! You know, the bits between the paving stones - even when the paving stones are really tightly pushed together, like on our driveway, something always manages to take root somewhere.

Anyway, as you see, the gaps between the paving stones on the patio are pretty wide, so there's plenty of room for things to grow. We keep weeding, and then putting sand in the gaps to try to stop things growing there. But the sand gets washed away with the rain, so the gaps reform. Once I even bought some lovely bright blue glass pebbly bits to spread between the gaps, which looked lovely for a while but the bits kept coming out. They weren't held in securely.

So today I was weeding, and as I pulled out the weeds it occurred to me it can be a bit like life - we suddenly realise things aren't as they should be, and we do our best to clear it all up and make it look presentable again.

Some weeds don't look so bad though -  I was tempted to leave this one because it's got nice flowers. The problem is that other weeds grow amongst it which don't look nice, it will spread because that's the type of plant it is, and ultimately it's not where it should be.

Sometimes we look at things in our lives, and in comparison they don't seem so bad so we're tempted to leave them be - there are more important things to deal with.

When I'd pulled all the weeds out, I had little piles on different paving stones. The wind started to blow, and I could see if I didn't work quickly the weeds would get blown all over the patio and probably back down the gaps I'd pulled them from. So I didn't just leave them there, I got a dustpan and brush, swept up the weeds, and put them in the bin, where they belonged so they couldn't spring up somewhere else.

Even with all this hard work, I realised unless the gaps were filled with something stronger - more solid than sand and more secure than glass pebbles, the weeds would regrow. They might not be the same type of weeds, but something would take root in the gaps and cause me to end up having to do the whole task again of pulling them all out. Almost like I'd wasted my time in the first place, or at least only given myself a temporary reprieve from the unsightly mess.

It seemed to me that this is what we (ie. me included) sometimes do with life... we clear out the rubbish, but it's only temporary because we don't fill the gaps with something strong and secure to stop the rubbish regrowing.

Easier said than done maybe, but I'm learning I can ask God for the right things to go in the gaps and it will happen. Not perhaps in the way I expect, but always in a way that is good for me, often with a better outcome than I could ever have imagined.
Kind of like asking for concrete to be put in the gaps and discovering it's solid diamond instead!

I learnt this at Sunday School as a kid: "Ask and it will be given. Seek and you will find." It's true, when you ask the right person, when you look for the right thing.

Life is far from perfect, but learning how to deal with the weeds can make the difference between struggling and coping.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Awkward Ancestor no.1 - Gypsy Rose Leigh

Now I'd got all those questions buzzing in my head and was starting to piece together our family history, I had some family rumours that needed investigating.

According to my maternal Grandad we were related to Gypsy Rose Leigh, which was why the Leigh name had been passed down through the family, and it was definitely true because it was spelt Leigh instead of Lee, which was the proper Gypsy way of spelling it. I think we had a romanticised idea of what it meant to be part Gypsy. From the way we were told, Gypsy Rose Leigh was a famous fortune teller and was very well respected in Gypsy circles.
When we were old enough to think things through, we'd kind of come to the conclusion that all wasn't quite as the rumour had it. I'd been told Gypsy Rose Leigh was a prostitute, so in a way it was a bit funny to me that my Grandparents were so proud of the connection, but I figured maybe they didn't know that bit.

Anyway, off I went in search of Gypsy Rose Leigh...

Having traced back along my Grandads line, I came across a marriage to a Leigh... BINGO!

There didn't seem to be any Gypsy link though, much as I tried to find one. A chance remark to a friend led me to discover that actually Gypsy Rose Leigh was the stage name of a Burlesque dancer. The friend knew lots about stage shows and happened to know that the stage show "Gypsy" was the story of Gypsy Rose Lee. It turned out that Gypsy Rose Lee's real name was Ellen June Hovick, which was changed to Rose Louise when her sister was born and given her name (?!). She became known as Louise. She was actually a very good Burlesque dancer apparently and therefore very famous, which was why there's a stage show about her!
You can read more about her here:

There was no way she could be our ancestor though despite the spelling difference possibilities (there are always spelling differences in records, caused by transcription errors or people just not knowing how to spell names!) because she was born in America. It just didn't fit. At all. So where did that leave our rumour?

The ancestor I had found was called Louisa Leigh. I wondered if maybe the rumour had started because her name was similar to Louise Lee (aka GRL) and, as rumours do, had got a bit twisted and changed through the years until she became intertwined with our family. The fact that our Louisa Leigh and Gypsy Rose Lee were born over 100 years apart meant the rumour was quite possibly more recent - GRL was born in 1911, around when my Grandad was born. Maybe he grew up hearing there was a link.

Also I discovered that although "Lee" was a well known Gypsy surname, "Leigh" wasn't even a known Gypsy surname.

There had to be some other reason why the Leigh name had been passed down through the family. The family haven't been linked to wealth - mostly they are working class people. Maybe the Leigh name is linked to a wealthy family that they wanted to remember... some Landed Gentry perhaps?!

The story stops there really. There are 2 possible links I've been investigating for a long time now and haven't really got anywhere.
One is a witness on the marriage record - her surname is a known Gypsy surname although it's not a family name for us. Her occupation was "Hawker" which is another name for a Peddlar, who were often of traveller origin. She seems to be just a friend though.
The second is a possible record for Louisa's father, where his occupation is listed as "Lawyer". In which case there would have been some sort of wealth there. So far the trail has tapered off there... no proof of link to be found.

We did go and visit St Alfege Church in Greenwich though, where the Leighs in our family were baptised, married, and buried. It is a very grand Church which we've driven past many times and never knew the connection. You can see some pictures of it on my website:, along with a picture of the row of houses the Leighs lived in.

My Grandad would have loved to know that his family were part of the same church where General Wolfe is buried, along with a number of other famous people. It might have made up for the fact that he doesn't seem to be part Gypsy...

Friday, 16 August 2013

Ancestor Finder Begins

No, not Batman, Ancestor Finder... I don't have a cape or a speedy car I'm afraid. I do have a bright yellow Fiat though, and maybe my Wonder Woman cape counts?!

Anyway, a few years back I decided I wasn't busy enough teaching - obviously working 9am-3.30pm and having all those holidays was just too easy...
So I started looking into my Family Tree. I'd tried growing trees, and hadn't been too successful except for the giant Eucalyptus that started in the pot as 10cm and is now about 10m high. I'd actually tried growing a great number of things to count towards my 5-a-day, but it wasn't working and I'm still vegetable and fruit deficient.

The problem was I started looking into my Family Tree the weekend before Ofsted were coming to school, which anyone who knows a teacher knows that would normally mean life outside school comes to a standstill. 
Even just at the beginning, the initial information I found was so interesting I had to force myself to close the laptop and not open it again until the dreaded O were gone.
When I did take a peek again, I was hooked. Absolutely hooked... you know, line, sinker, the lot. It got me asking my parents questions I'd never thought to ask before, and I found out so much my head was bursting with who/what to look for next.

All those family rumours on my mums side. And the total lack of knowledge about my Dads side. The most amazing thing was how much people suddenly remembered... and I became so aware of how I wished my grandparents on both sides were still alive so I could ask them all those things that we just had no idea about. Answers to some questions were revealed, but many more questions were raised, as is often the nature of research.