Blog

After their arrival in India, Eliza and her husband settled in Calcutta. It was there that she was living at the Christmas of that year. Eliza detailed her first Christmas in India in a letter to her sister on 27th January 1781.

Emma Jolly, in the article A British Christmas in India 1780

Emma Jolly writer, historian, genealogist
  1. St Stephen’s Church, Ootacamund

    Recently, I received a fascinating email from a client, Evelyn Nelson, who had followed up on my research by visiting her family’’s former hometowns of Chennai/Madras and Udhagamandalam/Ootacamund.

    Her first stop was Chennai, where she found the family vault of her ancestor, Richard St Leger Mitchell. She also visited churches of event for more recent members of the family, and the location of the school where Richard was master, in the former ‘Black Town’ area of the city. In 1906, this area was formally re-named ‘George Town’.

    To find out more about her mother’s family, Evelyn and five of her cousins then headed for Udhagamandalam, or Ootacamund. This hill station in the Nilgiri Hills, known as Snooty Ooty in the days of the British Raj, was a popular escape from the heat of Madras below. Evelyn visited St Stephen’s Church, where her mother’s was first married. I had been unable to find any records for Evelyn’s family relating to this church in the India Office Records or on Family Search. Evelyn thus took the opportunity of meeting the priest to ask if any records were held at the church itself. Amazingly, the priest replied by inviting Evelyn to visit his house the following day.

    When Evelyn arrived at the priest’s house, she was shown the church register on a shelf in his study. The priest kindly allowed Evelyn to consult the register, in which she was delighted to find not only the marriage record but all the baptism records of her mother’s siblings.

    I am often asked by clients where they should search if they cannot find a record in the British Library or The National Archives, or online at sites such as the FIBIS database, Family Search, Find My Past, Ancestry, or India Office Family History Search. The answer I have to give is, “Contact the church in India.” This is not always possible for some, and not everyone is in a position to visit. However, Evelyn’s experience shows what successes can be made and that with family history, you should never give up!

    evelynnelson.jpg

    As a postscript to this, the memorials inside St Stephen’s Church have been transcribed by Kae Lewis and can be found on the website: http://www.kaelewis.com/database/ooty/searchpage.htm

  2. A Hankering After Ghosts: Charles Dickens and the Supernatural

    I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book,

    to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my 

    readers out of humour with themselves, with each other,

    with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses

    pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

    Preface to A Christmas Carol (December 1843)

    Dex.316

    If, like me, you are a fan of Charles Dickens, you have much to look forward to over the next year. In the run up to 7 February 2012, the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth, galleries all over the world are dusting off letters, books, and illustrations of the great author and his many works.

    To start us off in London, the British Library have a smallish exhibition in its Folio Society Gallery – the perfect size for a lunch break visit. The rich Christmassy feel also provides welcome escape from currently chilly London streets.

    Christmas permeates the display. There are several editions of A Christmas Carol, a theatre poster for an early performance, an oral recording by Ralph Richardson and Paul Scofield, plus a copy of the semi-autobiographical short story ‘A Christmas Tree’ (1850). Indeed, we learn that it was the ghost stories told around the fire in his childhood Christmases that first inspired Dickens’ imagination to ‘hanker’ after the supernatural.

    Childhood influences are highlighted throughout: from the supernatural imagery of The Arabian Nights to the ‘fiendish enjoyment’ of young Charles’ nurse in relaying ghostly tales. But later, more tragic events were also to inspire his writing. The deaths of loved ones, like Mary Hogarth, were said to have ‘haunted his dreams’. Similarly, Ebenezer Scrooge was to be haunted at night by the ‘ghosts’ of those he had once cherished.

    The Victorian obsession with the supernatural is highlighted through examples of spirit (or psychic) photographs and a display on spiritualism. Dickens satirized the spiritualists but was fascinated with the macabre. A close friendship with one of the finest exponents of the ghost story, Wilkie Collins, only served to further his interest. Although he sought to rationalise supernatural phenomena such as mesmerism, Dickens was not above sensationalizing them to terrify his readers. An original copy of Bleak House, for example, lies open on an illustration showing the spontaneous combustion of the alcoholic Krook.

    Amongst featured items in the exhibition are illustrations, theatre posters and a letter written by the author to his wife, Catherine. One of my favourite items was a copy of The Terrific Register – a penny weekly magazine whose tales of horror haunted Dickens throughout his life. He later remembered ‘there was an illustration to every number in which there was always a pool of blood, and at least one body . . .’

    The exhibition is free and runs from 29 November 2011 – 4 March 2012: Monday, Wednesday-Friday 9.30 – 18.00, Tuesday 9.30 – 20.00, Saturday 9.30 – 17.00, Sunday and Bank Holidays 11.00 – 17.00.

    For more on Dickens, see my article ‘Charles Dickens in Camden’ at the London Historians website http://www.londonhistorians.org/?s=articles

Latest From Emma's Blog

Book Review: Tracing Your Pre-Victorian Ancestors

Tracing Your Pre-Victorian Ancestors: A Guide to Research Methods for Family Historians by John Wintrip (Pen & Sword, 2017) Last […]

[Read more]

Guest Review by Barry Jolly of The Lost Story of the William and Mary

The Lost Story of the William and Mary: The Cowardice of Captain Stinson by Gill Hoffs (Pen & Sword History, […]

[Read more]

From Twitter

Member of The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in ArchivesGraduate of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies CanterburyMember of the Society of Genealogists