Going Home – A Family History Letter To Brooke
By James W. Petty, AG, CG
When we sit down to work on our genealogy and family history research, most of us access information on the Internet, looking for new information about our relatives. If we don’t do that, we visit our local Family History Research Center, or the Family History Library itself, where we can study books and microfilm of records from around the world.
But once in a while we take the opportunity to travel abroad, to see places that have only been in storybooks, or that have been handed down in family traditions. I hope that each of us preparing for such a trip will take the time to learn of our ancestral lines that lived in the places we plan on visiting. This is called “going home,” and it is a valuable aspect of turning our hearts to our fathers.
As we do our genealogy, the names of ancestors are introduced to us. We seldom have pictures of them as these introductions are made, but as we do research, the new information about them serves as pieces of a puzzle, in which each piece adds a little bid to the collective image as we put it together.
Visiting an ancestral home plays an important part in compiling pictures of our ancestors. In traveling to such places we see the community they lived in, or the countryside they saw every day, and we begin to appreciate their culture and way of life.
Some ancestors left squalid horrible places of poverty to find their hoped for wealth in a new land, while others left wealth and comfort to discover a new hope of freedom. It matters not where they were from; it was home, it was the land of their fathers, and hopefully we can experience visiting these places with their names in our hearts.
My niece recently took the opportunity to participate in a “study abroad” program offered by her college, and went to London, England. She wrote, expressing interest in her ancestors who had lived in England before coming to America. The following is our response to her.
Your visit to England on “Study Abroad” opens a fascinating link to your family history and genealogy past. What a wonderful experience you are having, and how much more exciting it will be as you take time to learn about your ancestors while you are in that great and noble land.
When we travel abroad, we have found that knowing about our ancestors who lived in the lands that we visit raises our interest in communities and cultures that we enter, and at the same time we bring knowledge and relationship that opens the hearts of the people we meet. In some small villages, the grocer, or the postman, or others may be related to our family from many generations ago, and knowing that connection can open their hearts, their doors, and their family records to you.
Our family is blessed with many ancestors who received the gospel in England and Scotland and came to Utah to be with the Saints. We also have many other forebears who for one reason or another chose to come to America to seek their fortunes or to find the liberty this land offered. Let me tell you about some of these people:
William Charles Parker lived with his family in Preston-Candover, in Hampshire, England, when he heard the message of the restored gospel and was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1840’s. He had been an assistant to the parish clerk, and his family lived in a home provided by the parish. That home is still standing, and is across the lane from the ruins of the old parish church. It is a white brick building with a thatched roof, and was known as the carriage house for the manor lord whose home was at the end of the lane. This is a beautiful little village with many homes still carrying thatched roofs (a building tradition that is going out of style because of the expense). William was the son of William Parker of Tufton, a chapelry a few miles away. You can see his prominent tombstone lying on the ground near the door of the Church in Tufton.
When you visit places like Preston-Candover, pay attention to aspects of the countryside, the homes, and the farms, because they are still much like they were back in the days of our family. While cars have replaced carts and carriages, the small narrow roads, and the hedge-rows dividing the fields and properties are the way our ancestors saw them 150 years ago. Seeing where and how people lived will help you understand who they were, and it will help “turn your heart to your fathers” as you begin the important work of genealogy.
William Henry Wright and his wife Emma Taylor resided in the great city of Birmingham, Warwickshire, in central England. William spent his childhood in poverty without a father, until his mother Esther Wright met and married a silversmith named William Cam. Mr. Cam trained William Henry Wright as his assistant, and he became a well known silversmith, which was and still is a prominent trade in that city.
Emma Taylor’s father, Peter Taylor, was a craftsman who made lamps for carriages. In 1844, both William Wright and Emma Taylor heard the Mormon missionaries in Birmingham preach the gospel of the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ and were baptized. They met each other in the LDS branch on Bishopgate Street, and were married there in 1845. Their families rejected them because of their beliefs, and the couple moved to America in 1856.
After a few years stay in Philadelphia, where William built a good reputation as a silversmith, the family moved west to Utah, settling in Ogden, where William set himself up as a merchant. He later returned to England on a mission to Birmingham. We have a copy of his mission diary telling of the places he lived and the people he knew. Birmingham is a beautiful city, and the prominent city hall is just as it was in 1882 when William Henry Wright returned there on his mission. The places where he lived have been replaced by large city buildings, but old St. Martin’s Church where he was christened as an infant is open to the public.
William’s mother, Esther Wilson was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, in 1802. The apartment where she was born is still there above one of the prominent pubs in town. Our family goes back hundreds of years in that city of Shakespeare. Besides visiting the home of the Bard, be sure to visit the Shakespeare Theatre. Our ancestor, William Ireland, leased the property where the theatre is today, back in the 1740’s as a field to farm on the banks of the River Avon. He was Esther’s great grandfather. You can rent a boat and go “punting (rowing) on the Avon,” just like our family would have done.
Another ancestor, Samuel Eames of Orcup, Herefordshire heard the gospel from some of the earliest LDS missionaries in 1840. He was a mason, a housebuilder, and was then living at Michaelschurch Eskley, a parish tucked away in the hills of the “Golden Valley”, one of the most beautiful places in western England, on the Welsh border. He built many of the homes and structures in that parish, which are standing today, including the rock wall that surrounds the parish church. Samuel learned to read with the Book of Mormon.
A very humble man, he sent his children, as they married, on to Zion, where he sent letters telling of his experience in what he described as a “dark, unholy land”. He told of how he and his wife would take in members of the church when they gathered for district conference, and then he and his wife would stay in the homes of their neighbors because there was no room for them in his own house. He longed for the day when he could come to Salt Lake and be with the Saints in Zion. He finally made that trip in August, 1868, when he was 78 years old, settling on the shores of the Great Salt Lake at Plain City, where he died six weeks later, happy to be with his family in Zion.
While in Orcop and Michaelschurch Eskley, climb the great humpback hills that divide Wales from England. Visit the ruins of the castles which were built to guard England from the uncontrollable Picts, the native people of Wales in medieval times. The old parish churches of Cloddock and Craswall date back to the 900’s but have survived the passage of time. Traveling in that area is a real treat. The country roads are so narrow there is room for only one lane of traffic. To pass, one car has to pull off of the road. It is actually a peaceful setting, and the people are a very trusting sort. We found that in the country side many of the farmers would sell “free range” eggs (eggs laid in the open without a hen house) in a dish by the mailbox. You took what you needed, and left a payment in the box.
Thomas William Winter received the gospel with his widowed Mother Mary Collier Winter in the City of Bath, Somersetshire, England, in 1843. He was a bridge builder by trade, and the son of Timothy Winter, a confectionary baker. They lived at Number 10 Gassaway Building just south of Bath Abbey, near the old Roman Baths. Timothy Winter had a bakery on one of the bridges crossing the River Avon, which flowed down the east side of the city. The Gassaway Buildings still stand and have been refurbished. When you get a chance, check out the movie Emma, the one with Gwenyth Paltrow, and you will see a scene where they are at a group of lovely row houses in the City of Bath. These are the Gassaway Buildings! The movie focuses on Number 10, which was our ancestors’ home! Of additional interest, the scene shifts to a confectionary shop, just like the one the Winter family would have had at that time period.
Thomas William Winter came to Salt Lake City, where he became the first Bishop of the Salt Lake City 6th Ward. In Salt Lake he married Myra Clayton. Myra and her sister Sarah Clayton joined the Church and came to Utah in the 1850’s from their home in Mansfield, Nottingham, England. Mansfield, at one time was in the heart of Sherwood Forest, of Robin Hood fame. The forest has shrunk since then; it once covered 100 square miles, but today sits on only 400 square acres. Myra and Sarah were cousins of William Clayton of Nottingham, an early member of the Church, who wrote “Come, Come Ye Saints.”
Visiting the homes and villages where your ancestors came from brings you into their world. Whenever you think of their names, you won’t be thinking of just a name and date, and place on a chart, you will think of the old thatched house, or the field with its hedge rows, or the old parish churchyard where some of those ancestors still remain. You can become quite close to someone, even if they are passed on, if you have a personal tie to them.
These are only a few of your ancestors from the British Isles. We think the Petty family came from Yorkshire, as indentured servants, to the shores of Maryland and Virginia in the 1650’s. The Cowan family were among the early converts to the LDS Church in Campsie, Scotland. The Gheen and Mendenhall families were early Quaker immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania in the 1700’s.
All of these ancestors left the homes and families they loved, to travel to America in the hope of finding a new start where they could raise families, worship as they chose, and experience the freedom promised by a new world. They were powerful people, and their stories serve as an everlasting testimony of their faith and dreams, which you get to share by visiting the country they called “home.”