My father's childhood home is still standing, as is his father's. I remember visiting both farms as a child, although at the time, the significance of my great-grandparents' farmhouse and homestead (at that time inhabited by my aunt and her husband), as the homestead where the family settled in Canada, was lost on me.
That property was in the family since before 1899, until recently, when my cousin sold it. My great-grandparents, recently arrived from England, purchased it from my great-grandmother's cousin, who was moving to Saskatchewan to homestead.
I am quite disappointed that the family home in which my mother grew up no longer exists, although there are a number of photographs, and a painting or two, of the old home, which was the location of so many of the stories I heard as a child.
My husband and I recently visited the site, after heading north for a family funeral. It seemed a good time for a miniature family history tour, given the circumstances. The homestead was at a nice spot on the top of a hill overlooking the village in the valley below. We drove in via what clearly was once a lane, but the only evidence we could see of past human habitation was a large patch of rhubarb growing amid the weeds and scrub.
It is such a sad, deserted, desolate place now, where a large family of happy, lively, mischievous children once did their chores, played on the rocks and in the barn, explored in the forest, and walked along the road to the schoolhouse in the village! The contrast reminds me of the James Lumbers paintings, with ghostly images of past times superimposed on images of the present.
Our family history tour now moves to southern Ontario, which was settled long before the North was.
My maternal grandmother's parental home still exists in southern Ontario, and until fairly recently, was still owned by a descendant.
My maternal grandfather came to Canada in the late 1800s with his mother and stepfather. His family home was on an island, which I have not yet visited, as it is accessible only by boat.
My husband and I recently dropped by that area, and stood on the shore looking out into the lake and the distant island which became their home. I recall remarking to him that it must have been quite an adjustment for my grandfather and his mother, having always lived in an urban environment in London, England, to come to this quiet, isolated, forested island!
That covers the North American side of my ancestry.
By 2005, I had made enough progress in my genealogy research that I had grown curious about where my ancestors had actually lived in the Old Country. I wanted to know more - to actually see the villages, and perhaps some of the buildings that were there in their day.
I decided to visit England and do a family history tour of a few of the villages, and try to find the homes where some of my ancestors had lived.
One of my cousins, also a genealogy buff, happened to be going to England at the same time with his wife. We arranged to visit the family home of a maternal ancestor in Yorkshire. A seventh cousin lives in what used to be the farm workers' quarters, and he showed us around the lovely property and other family holdings in the area, some having been in the family since the 1300s.
I remember standing in the back yard of the main home looking out over the rolling hills, and being struck with the realization that one of my direct ancestors some 500 years before had lived and walked on this property, and had looked out over those same hills! It was quite an emotional moment - somewhat eerie, somewhat humbling, and definitely elating and exciting, all at the same time!
In the short time I had been in England, I had noted a strong sense of history in general, with its many buildings dating back a thousand years or more; but this was personal - a connection with my own ancestors, going back hundreds of years, which I had not experienced before.
We then went down into the village and visited the parish church. The caretaker let us in and showed us around. He told us that the church had been renovated at some point in the 1900s, but that they had preserved our ancestors' pew as a sample of what the older pews had been like, as the family had attended that church for several centuries and had been very supportive of it. A number of their descendants had been ministers there.
There was an entire red velvet pew, dedicated to this family, with plaques in memory of various family members hanging on the walls above the pew. There was even a family crest in the glass of one of the stained-glass windows! We were amazed - awe-stricken - and delighted to find it!
The following day, we went to the local library, where we located a copy of the family's hand-written pedigree, a sort of family tree which had to be done to prove their lineage when the family was about to be elevated to the peerage. It dated from approximately the 1500s, if I am remembering correctly. My cousin arranged to buy a life-sized copy of it - more than 5 feet long and 3-4 feet wide. I, on the other hand, not being quite so flush with cash, contented myself with photographs!
Later in that same England family history tour, my husband and I visited friends in Norfolk County for a few days, and did a "whirlwind tour" of a number of ancestral villages in Norfolk County, on my father's side of the family. We took a lot of photographs, and spent many hours walking through graveyards looking for tombstones bearing family names.
In the village where my great-grandfather and three generations before him had lived, we found only one gravestone of a relative, although it is the only cemetery for that town, and others are sure to have been interred there. We took a number of photographs of the village green and the school which my great-grandfather and his mother had attended, and then moved on to the ancestral village of my great-grandmother.
In a more recent sequel, my mother-in-law, who lives in England, indicated that she was traveling to Norfolk. She offered to go to the ancestral village where my great-grandfather had grown up, and to take photos of the ancestral homes, if I could determine from the census or other documents which houses they were. I jumped at the chance to further my family history research!
At first, I thought that determining the houses they had lived in would be an easy task. However, I soon discovered that the earlier census documents listed no street numbers or names; all streets, other than the main road which ran along the edge of the village green, were identified as "Back Street". The more recent census documents did identify a few street names, but other than the one or two that can still be seen on a map today, the street names have changed.
After several hours pouring over old maps of the ancestral village which I found on the internet, looking for "landmarks" in the census documents (such as churches and pubs) which might still be in the same location today, and attempting to determine the route which the census enumerators had taken in each census, I gave her reference points in relation to the three non-conformist churches in the village.
However, with the passing of time, many of the older houses have been knocked down to make way for much larger, more modern homes, and it is difficult to determine how many dwellings were removed in the process.
My mother-in-law later reported that someone in the village had told her that there were no names on the streets, or house numbers, until the 1960s. (Hence the English custom of naming a home.)
She came away with a treasure-trove of photographs of the village, including some possibilities for the houses in which my ancestors had lived, based on the census documents, but it appears that it may be impossible to identify the actual dwellings with any degree of certainty.
The ancestral village green, however, still contains virtually all of the same buildings that were there in my ancestors' time, and the Anglican church and yard, where many of them were christened, married, and buried, still stands on the hill overlooking the town.
The manor house of their day is now a "care home". The school which my great-grandfather briefly attended is still there, and is now a private home. While the exact houses in which they lived may not be readily identifiable, there still were significant landmarks and buildings which I know were part of my ancestors’ everyday lives.
This family history tour added a new dimension to my genealogical research, and made dry statistics of births, marriages, and deaths come alive, rendering them much more meaningful. These are places where people whose blood runs through my veins once lived and worked!
Next stops: Scotland and Wales!
Visited the Ancestral Village or Home?
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