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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.

Emma Jolly, in the article St Stephen’s Church, Ootacamund

Emma Jolly writer, historian, genealogist
  1. Book Review: Hitler’s Forgotten Children: the shocking true story of the Nazi kidnapping conspiracy by Ingrid von Oelhafen & Tim Tate (Elliott & Thompson, 2017)

    Hitler’s Forgotten Children: the shocking true story of the Nazi kidnapping conspiracy by Ingrid von Oelhafen & Tim Tate (Elliott & Thompson, 2017)

    Hitler’s Forgotten Children is a powerful, personal history of the Nazi Lebensborn programme and its long-lasting effects.

    Next year marks 80 years from the beginning of the Second World War. This book highlights just one of many aspects of that conflict that are yet to enter mainstream historiography.

    As we move further from the end of the war, more secrets of the conflict are being revealed. Ingrid von Oelhafen was born in 1942 as ‘Erika’. Although Yugoslavian, she was forcibly adopted into a Nazi family and given a new identity as part of the Lebensborn programme. This was created in 1935 by the SS, under the charge of Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945).

    . . . the older I became, the more I wondered about my personal history. I am not alone in this: it is part of the human condition to revisit the past as the years slip away.

    Von Oelhafen’s story, told here with the help of filmmaker and author Tim Tate, covers not only her wartime struggles in Nazi Germany but what happened after she discovered she was adopted and her attempts to understand the truth. These enquiries would reveal the full scale of the Lebensborn scheme, including the kidnapping of half a million babies and the deliberate murder of children born into the programme who were deemed ‘substandard’.

    Van Oelhafen wrote, ‘All those I have met – whether born into the Lebensborn program or kidnapped to strengthen it – have been scarred by their experience.’ Not all history stays in the past. This book raises many questions, not just about the war, but also of the subsequent division of Germany, and the manner in which Europe recovered from the conflict – often leaving truths hidden and crimes unsolved. The troubled history of Eastern Europe is something about which many of us in the West still do not know enough. This is not just a story of the tragedy of war, but of the suffering that continued long after it. Many families were ripped apart forever, as the conflict left a dark legacy for decades ahead.

    With the current climate of tension across Europe, and as extremist parties are again on the rise, personal testimonies such as this make an essential contribution to a period many today are yet to fully understand. Von Oelhafen dedicates the book to, ‘all the victims of Nazi Germany – men, women and, above all, children – and to those throughout the world today who suffer from the persisting evil which teaches that one race, creed or colour is superior to another.’

    . . . the Lebensborn experiment had been based on the Nazi’s belief in blood as the determining factor of human worth. Himmler’s obsession with blood and bloodlines was the reason I had been plucked from my family – whoever they were – in Yugoslavia and reborn as a German child.

    A thought-provoking book about identity, which is a subject close to the hearts of all family historians. Although much work is being done in genetic genealogy to combat false beliefs, sadly the Nazi’s pseudo-scientific concept of racial purity has not fully been destroyed. Roma, amongst others, remain persecuted in the 21st century.

    The book ends in hope, illustrating how von Oelhafen has been able to move forward with her life. The survivors of Lebensborn have created an organisation, the Fount of Life, to help with their understanding and recovery. Members chose the following quotation from French activist and philosopher, Simone Weil, to head their articles of association. Its words will resonate with anyone who has thought about investigating their family history.

    Uprootedness is by far the most dangerous disease to which human society is exposed.                                           Whoever is uprooted, uproots others.                                                                                                                                          Who is rooted, himself doesn’t uproot others,                                                                                                                                 To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognised need of the human soul.

  2. Ancestral Travel

    As a genealogist, I often research for clients who want to visit London and England to walk in the footsteps of their ancestors. I have been asked to photograph ancestors’ former homes and the churches where they were baptised or married. Clients travel to the UK from all over the world so that they can lay flowers on their ancestors’ graves, and to glimpse some of the buildings and sights that their forebears would have seen in everyday life. Ancestral tourism is an area that is growing alongside the popularity of traditional family history.

    In this guest post, Tammy Eledge (Member of the Association of Professional Genealogists) of Coadb.com writes about her experiences of ancestral tourism.

    Walking in the footsteps of your ancestors may be a very important motivation for taking a trip abroad to England or Scotland, and while they’re visiting some of your ancestral locations? The basic definition of ancestral travel is that in which people who are interested in their genealogical roots would visit sites that mark a turning point in their ancestors’ lives.

    A good place to start is your family tree and looking and seeing what places and locations show up, if you don’t have a family tree yet a great place to start your research is checking sites like coadb.com and family search where they have genealogies for tons of surnames. Within those genealogies, there are place names mentioned for those families names. If you are looking for research that is geared more toward your own specific family line, then performing genealogy research yourself or hiring a researcher are the first steps in finding specific places you should visit. Be aware when trying to find your ancestral towns, castles, parishes etc. is that they may have changed names or disappeared.

    One way to check this is to contact local historical societies and government facilities in that area and see what is at that location in the present day. Some examples of places that may show up in your family history that are no longer standing in their former grandness are Dawley Court which was demolished in 1929, Eaton Hall that was demolished in 1963, and Woburn Abbey that was demolished to half of what it was. Just a couple of places that have been preserved for future generations are Calke Abbey, Tyntesfield and Dumfries House. Today’s society has now recognized these properties are worthy of retention and preservation.

    The most common destinations for ancestral travel include Scotland, Italy, Ireland, Germany and Eastern Europe. By 1853, about half of the emigrating Scots chose to come to the United States, and the other half chose Canada and Australia. Most of these Scots came from the area that is known as the Highlands (or Scotland’s Northern Islands). When visiting these islands you should visit places that would have been associated with the clans and septs that are associated with your surname. One of the most common surnames that can be found in this area is MacDonald. This family dominated the Hebridge between the 13th and 15th centuries from their island of Islay, they were also the Clan that held the title of Lord of the Isles. Other locations that the MacDonalds were known to live include Skye, Ardamurchan and Glencoe – where an infamous massacre occured that killed many MacDonalds that was led by the Campbells Clan. More history on this family, their history and their Coat of Arms can be found at (https://coadb.com/surnames/macdonald-arms.html.

    Some of the other most popular ancestral locations to visit in England are the House of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, Stratford (Shakespeare’s former home and birthplace), the Lake District, and Stonehenge. Maybe you want to stand on the line of England and Scotland where the Lowlands are and see where groups such as the Border Reivers lived in the 15th and 16th century, or explore the Highlands?

    All of these places can give you a sense of self and a feeling of knowing where you came from. After all, ancestral travel and ancestral research helps us know where we came from so that our families may grow within that knowledge.

  3. Exhibition Review: Suffragettes and Other Feminists in Camden

    “A Stone’s Throw from Westminster: Suffragettes and Other Feminists in Camden” launched this evening at Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre in Holborn with performances, songs, and an introduction by comedian, writer and activist, Kate Smurthwaite.

    Inspired by Camden’s radical feminist past, Suffrage Arts has curated a diverse history of women’s political and social campaigns in the borough across the decades, with the back wall covered in posters from recent times.

    Displays feature a variety of activists who lived locally and made unique contributions to women’s rights. These include Mary Wollstonecraft (who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women while living in Store Street), Frances Buss (founder of Camden School for Girls), Millicent Fawcett (led the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies while living in Gower Street), Margaret Bondfield MPCicely Hale, Cicely Hamilton, Ernestine Mills, Olive Hockin, Alice Zimmern (lived in Lissenden Gardens), Charlotte Wilson, and Barbara Castle.

    Barbara Castle (1910-2002), who lived in Belsize Park Gardens.

    Map showing who lived where in the Camden area

    There is a section devoted to the centenary of women lawyers, and another to those associated with the theatre.

    Digital Drama has contributed a section on the Endell St Military Hospital (staffed entirely by women).

    Visit the exhibition for free at Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre, 2nd floor of Holborn Library, 32-38 Theobalds Road, London WC1X 8PA; Tel: 020 7974 3860, web: www.camden.gov.uk/localstudies

    Mon and Tue 10am-6pm, Wed closed, Thu 10am-7pm, Fri 10am-5pm by appointment only, Sat 11am-5pm alternate weeks (23 Jun, 7 Jul, 21 Jul, 4 Aug, 18 Aug, 1 Sept, 15 Sept).

  4. Carlyle’s House, London SW3

    Making the most of this year’s National Trust membership, I travelled down to Chelsea to visit the Queen Anne house at 24 (originally 5) Cheyne Row that was once rented by Jane Welsh (14 January 1801 – 21 April 1866) and Thomas Carlyle (4 December 1795 – 5 February 1881). The house stands close to the Embankment, on a surprisingly quiet street, not far from Chelsea Old Church. A few doors along is the former home of women’s police service co-founder, Margaret Damer Dawson (12 June 1873 – 18 May 1920).

    Today, Carlyle’s House is worth millions of pounds, but in the early 18th century the area was a working dockland and regarded as unfashionable by wealthy society figures.

    Jane and Thomas counted among their friends and acquaintances an impressive list of Victorian celebrities. This present for Thomas’s 80th birthday in 1875 is signed by a hundred contemporaries, including Robert Browning, Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, William Makepeace Thackeray, George Eliot, and Anthony Trollope.

    Thomas Carlyle was something of a literary prodigy, beginning life as the working-class son of a Dumfries and Galloway stonemason. His academic prowess and parents’ ambition led to him leaving his Ecclefechan home, aged 13, to walk 84 miles to Edinburgh, where he attended university.

    After marrying the more middle-class Jane Welsh, Thomas was persuaded to move to London where he embarked in earnest on a writing career in philosophy and history. The couple moved to Cheyne Row in 1834. Although initially focussed on German literature, Carlyle became renowned for his The French Revolution: A History (3 volumes, 1837), which was written in this house. The book was hugely popular and influential; it was used by Dickens as the major source for his novel, A Tale of Two Cities Carlyle was described by contemporaries with great reverence. George Eliot, for example, wrote that, “there is hardly a superior mind of this generation that has not been modified by his writings”.

    Although Jane was a talented writer in her own right (see her published letters), Thomas gave her little encouragement. Their marriage has been described as an unhappy of two contrasting characters. Jane’s middle-class tastes are reflected in the original furniture and fittings, many of which can be seen in the below painting, “A Chelsea Interior” by Robert Tait.

    In 1849,  Jane created this decoupage screen below, which reminded me a little of my university days creating improvised turn-of-the-century wallpaper from A4 magazine cuttings.

    A narrow house of five storeys, with a relaxing garden at the back and views of neighbouring buildings.

    Lack of significant income prevented the Carlyles from having more than one servant. Much of her day (and night) would have been spent in this cold, dark basement kitchen.

    In contrast, Thomas retreated to the top of the house, whiling away his time in this rather splendid reading chair.

    I must finish this post with brief thanks to the National Trust guides who went out of their way to be helpful and informative. Every question I asked was answered with detail and enthusiasm, considerably enhancing my visit.

     

  5. Explore the Past Guide

    Recently I was contacted by Rebecca Meekings, who works on behalf of Explore The Past (the Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service).

    Several members of my maternal grandmother’s family are from Worcestershire. My 3x great grandmother, Elizabeth Hannah Mould (1825-1904) was born in Smethwick, Staffordshire. She lived in the area of Smethwick all her life, but moved into the neighbouring area of Oldbury – which is in Staffordshire. Afte the early death of her first husband (my 3x great grandfather, Henry Harrison (1834-64), Elizabeth married George Hall Dearn (1845-1913), a man 20 years her junior, and settled in Warley, Worcestershire. Unlike nearby Oldbury, Warley remained an area of rural farmland until after the First World War. Elizabeth came from a line of dairy farmers and Warley seems to have been the perfect place in this part of Worcestershire for her to continue her family’s rural practices.

    The West Midlands generally can be a difficult area for family historians to research as boundaries often changed over the years. Researching family who lived within a ten mile radius can require visits to four or five different record offices. Anything that makes family history research clearer for those of us with ancestors in this part of the world, therefore, is something to be celebrated.

    Thus I was delighted to learn that Explore The Past has created a comprehensive 70-page guide designed to provide advice for people getting started with exploring their family history in the Worcestershire area. The team say, “It doesn’t matter where in the world they are researching, this guide covers general support for everyone, as the team at Explore The Past understand that it can be difficult knowing where to start.”

    As I often find West Midlands geography confusing, my favourite section of the guide is that of maps and plans. This gives tips on exploring places relating to my ancestor’s homes and their surroundings.

    The guide also helps researchers learn more about the types of resources most commonly used to research family history, as well as providing guidance on how to gain access to original documents, maps, photographs. Overall, it is intended to help family historians understand more about what kind of records & services will help them on their journey of discovery.

    Full details on the guide are online at the Explore the Past website: www.explorethepast.co.uk/discover-your-past/

  6. Owen Jolly Centenary

    Grandad’s 100th Birthday Cake – made by my aunt and decorated by my cousin with images of Grandad over the years.

    On 6 February 2018, my paternal grandfather, Owen David Jolly celebrated his 100th birthday. He had a wonderful day, culminating in a birthday party for 106 family members and friends at The Balmoral in Edinburgh, the city where he now lives. Grandad grew up in Enfield, Middlesex and lived in London for most of his life. He grew up with two older brothers, Alec and Gordon, a half-Scottish father (also Alec) and a London Welsh mother (Annie). He was brought up to appreciate and embrace all parts of his Anglo-Scottish-Welsh heritage. Grandad married my late grandmother, Doris, in 1940 and they had three children. Grandad continues to lead a full life with his second wife, many friends, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In honour of this significant milestone, I asked Grandad to share some of the secrets of his long and happy life.

    1. What is the secret to your good health and longevity?

    Successful open-heart surgery in 2000. Enjoying life to the full but taking into account my physical capabilities. When needing medical attention, following instructions meticulously. Thinking young.

    1. What would you say are the major values or principles that you live by?

    Being straightforward with others.  Making light of life’s difficulties, e.g. failing sight.

    1. Have you ever smoked?

    No

    1. Do you drink alcohol?

    Yes in moderation – occasionally let my hair down.

    1. What do you consider the most important invention of your lifetime?

    Electronic communication.

    1. What is your typical day?

    Rise early, take orange juice and tea to my wife in bed. Walk for newspapers and read at leisure. Go for a walk.

    1. What is the most amazing thing you have seen in your lifetime?  

    Film of the launch of a V2 Rocket. It was quite awe-inspiring. Nowadays, of course, rocket science is pretty commonplace.

    1. What do you eat for breakfast?

    Porridge, toast, and coffee.

    1. Do you have (or have you had) a pet?

    Yes – a cat 40 years ago. I also looked after my son Barry’s golden retriever when he was at university.

    1. You share your birthday with Ronald Reagan, Bob Marley, Francois Truffaut, Fred Trueman, Babe Ruth, Queen Anne, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Do you think you share characteristics with any of them?

    No, but you left one off the list and I might have said yes had he been included. His name is Edward Jolly.

    1. Are you religious?

    Yes, but I don’t let it take over my life.

    1. Do you sleep well?

    Yes

    1. Do you play a musical instrument?

    In past tense yes – piano, piano accordion, and cornet.

    1. What’s your favourite piece of music?

    ‘Lara’s Theme’ (‘Somewhere My Love’) from the film, Dr Zhivago. The question also takes me back a long way to an earlier favourite – Barcarolle from the opera, Tales of Hoffmann (Jacques Offenbach’s ‘‘Belle nuit, o nuit d’amour’)

    1. Is there anything you wanted to do that you never got around to?

    In retrospect, going to university when I had the opportunity.

    1. What is your earliest memory?

    Sitting around the table with my Mum, Dad and two brothers (pictured with baby Owen above), Alec and Gordon. I was certainly aged 4, and might have been younger.

    1. You were born in Enfield, went to school there, and worked in central London. What are your earliest memories of London?

    Seeing the lights at Piccadilly Circus when on the bus to relations at Pimlico. Riding on the new invention – i.e. an escalator – at Liverpool Street Station. Pageantry – e.g. Changing of the Guard.

    1. Any regrets?

    Yes – not seeing my far-flung family as often as I would like.

    1. What was the best decade for you?

    Difficult to answer – too many candidates.

    1. What do you want for your 100th birthday?

    The love and affection of all of my family – not forgetting that of my friends.

  7. Book Review and Interview: Who Killed Constable Cock? by Angela Buckley

    Who Killed Constable Cock? by Angela Buckley

    This book is short but surprising. Angela tells this true crime story with a steady pace, which left me unprepared for the astonishing twists and turns. The case initially seemed straightforward but by close examination of the late 19th century Manchester underworld alongside an increasingly-advanced police force transformed the book into a page-turner. By the end, I could not put it down. The tension is heightened particularly by the fact that the story is true and I had begun to invest emotionally in the real people who became the characters in this book.

    How did you encounter the Constable Cock case?

    When I first became interested in crime history through researching my family tree, I began reading about true crime cases in my home city of Manchester. I was shocked to learn that a police officer had been killed just near my childhood home a century before I grew up there.

    At first, I thought the story was going to be straightforward. I was pretty startled when the book took a dramatic turn with Charlie Peace’s confession. Peace was an extraordinary character. What were your thoughts on him?

    Initially, I thought that Charlie Peace was a burglar who turned to violence to get him out of a tight spot, but my opinion of him changed completely when I read his confession at the National Archives. I now think that he was a man who was constantly on the lookout for trouble – he deliberately targeted his former lover and her husband and, although he claimed that he shot Arthur Dyson in self-defence, he showed no remorse and placed the blame firmly on the victim. It was the same for Constable Cock – Peace explained how it was the officer’s fault for not stepping away. His confession revealed a man who was defiant, unapologetic and possibly paranoid.

    You grew up in Manchester, where this book is set. Your popular police biography, The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada (Pen and Sword, 2014) is also set in the city. What draws you to explore the historic underworld of your hometown?

    It’s funny because I had no real idea of Manchester’s history when I was growing up there, probably because we didn’t learn about it at school. It wasn’t until I researched my family’s roots in the city that I really began to see what it would have been like living there in the 19th century.  Through my own family history, I was drawn into the city’s dark Victorian underworld and it has hooked me ever since. It was such a multilayered and fascinating place in Victorian times and there is always so much more to discover. I moved away from Manchester years ago, but my work has given me a real sense of my own personal history and background.

    One aspect of the story that stood out for me – and something that appeared to complicate the progress of the case – was the prevailing social attitude toward Irish immigrants. Today we would describe this as racism. Is this something that you have encountered elsewhere in your historical research, either for your own family or for your writing? 

    I was obviously aware of racial tensions and prejudice in Manchester when I was growing up there in the 1970s and 80s, but I didn’t realise that hostile attitudes towards immigrants had been prevalent for so long. My own family was from Italy and I was quite shocked to discover the prejudice they faced when they arrived in Manchester in the 1880s and especially how the Italian community was treated during the Second World War, when many of the older generation, including members of my family, were interned. My research into the history of the Irish community for Who Killed Constable Cock? was particularly distressing. As a Catholic, I went to school with many Irish families and I had no idea that they had suffered so much deprivation and abuse.

    You have researched extensively in police records and museums. What has stood out for you in the history of policing and methods of detection?

    I’m particularly interested in the police detectives and how they developed their sleuthing skills. As there was no formal training in the 19th century, they learnt on the job and had to keep their wits about them as they faced the challenges of fighting crime in some of the most notorious rookeries in Victorian England. I am fascinated by their pioneering work and I love reading about their adventures.

    What are you currently working on?

    I’ve started researching another real-life Victorian murder for a possible book project and this time I’m investigating the work of the early Scotland Yard detectives. I’d also like to take my study of Victorian police detectives further and I’m hoping to research ‘the art of sleuthing’ for a PhD.

    Angela Buckley is a true crime writer and author. Her work has featured in many national newspapers and magazines.  Who Killed Constable Cock?  is available in ebook and paperback. You can find out more about Angela’s work on her website, www.angelabuckleywriter.com and on her Facebook page Victorian Supersleuth.

     

     

  8. Book Review and Interview: The Chicago Stones by Darcie Hind Posz

    The Chicago Stones: A Genealogy of Acquisition, Influence & Scandal by Darcie Hind Posz (Darcie M. Posz, 2017) 
    Price: $14.99 (U.S. Dollars)

    Darcie Hind Posz wrote The Chicago Stones as part of her studies as a professional genealogist. This extensive and engaging romp through one hundred years of Stone and Yager family history originates in 1835 with one man who bought land, which would go on to fund three generations. Family historians – and others keen to explore further – will appreciate the transcriptions of original records, pre- and post-1871 Chicago fire records and discussions, a Register style of the Yager genealogy, and recommended listening (my favourite part). As an Englishwoman, I savoured the tales of upper-class US society and the history of the rapid growth of American cities, alongside the later depiction of the early transatlantic social scene. Prince Harry and Megan Markle are perhaps the most recent couple to follow this long line of transatlantic couples from the upper echelons of society.

    In order to find out more about this family and family history research across the pond, I interviewed Darcie about the book and her inspirations.

    What first drew you to the Stone family?

    They lived in an interesting time in American history and they had so much, but a majority of the recorded moments in their lives were of great unhappiness: deaths, divorces, escapist travels. It was so dissimilar to my ancestry; I just had to discover more about these people.

    It was an opportunity to broach subjects that have been mentioned too briefly in genealogical publications.

    I used the deaths of minors to explore dimensions of the major characters. A biographer once mentioned to me that she really felt like the deaths of children (who do not live past infancy) really do impact a subject’s timeline, let alone their psyche, but people tend to leave out those events because the children did not live past a certain age. If it impacts us now, why would it not have impacted our ancestors? I wanted to show all of the little ones in Horatio I’s generation.

    I also discussed contraception, uterine issues, and miscarried and terminated pregnancies in all three generations, because this is something that our female ancestors would have been aware of or in contact with. Elizabeth’s uterus is mentioned by way of a lawsuit in Part 1, contraception in the form of “Dr. LeFevre’s French Regulators” are considered in Part 2, and Dorothea’s stressful pregnancies are broached in Part 3. Our ancestresses deserve more practical consideration, rather than accoutrement.

    I was fascinated by the dramatic rise in wealth of Horatio Stone juxtaposed with the growth of Chicago where he made his fortune. For UK readers who may not be familiar with the history of cities in the USA, what do you find most interesting about this period?

    In the UK, you either inherited land or worked on it. At that time in the US, you could practically go out and take it. Just by squatting on the land and filing the right paperwork (if you even did that) you could make a multigenerational investment. Sometimes it became a generationally burdensome responsibility.  In this case, Horatio saw the potential in a muddy piece of land that became the epicenter of Chicago daily business and life. Similar stories can be seen all over America during the 1800s as the people of the east migrated west and found pockets to invest in.

    Your genealogy of the Stones is extensive. Do you have a favourite member of the family?

    I have a soft spot for Frank A. Parker. He was a collateral family member and not directly of the biological line of the Stone family, but he really did make an impact on their timeline. He kicked a morphine habit in the 1890s and went on to live a clean life, eventually ending up in Florida, fishing and running a restaurant.

    Younger members of the Stone family travelled and lived all over Europe, and some even married UK citizens. Did you enjoy researching European records?

    I did enjoy researching European records! There were so many courses and lectures I had attended regarding UK and European genealogical research that I was able to apply to this book.

    One character that I found particularly intriguing was Mabel Rapp – a woman on the fringes of the family. Do you feel that the full truth of her life has been discovered or is there more to find?

    I have a case study on Mabel that will be published in The American Genealogist (https://americangenealogist.com/) in the future. Since she was on the fringes I didn’t want her to dominate this story, but the outsiders really did steal the show in the book. What the book taught me is that, although you may want to focus on the direct line or a specific surname, in genealogies those outsiders can breathe life into these pedigrees. They showcase context, shake up the system, and keep the descent going.

    What’s next?

    Several projects. One that will last several years is on my Hind and Blakiston ancestors in counties Northumberland and Durham. It will take several trips abroad to firmly settle that story and lineage, but I am up to it.

    Darcie Hind Posz, CG, lives in Washington, D.C. Her work has been published in The GenealogistThe American Genealogist, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. For a complete list of her works, please visit darcieposz.weebly.com

     

  9. Book Review and Author Interview: The Malice of Angels by Wendy Percival

    The Malice of Angels by Wendy Percival (SilverWood Books, 2017)

    The reality of life as a genealogist can be quite mundane. I spend most hours in front of a computer, with the odd day out to archives or networking events. In the world of genealogy fiction, however, our imaginary counterparts have eventful lives, regularly being held at gunpoint, taking helicopter flights, or being lured into tunnels by sociopathic clients. Fortunately, my clients are invariably pleasant individuals but the part of me that wanted to be a detective when I grew up wouldn’t mind sharing some of the fictional adventures occasionally.

    I previously blogged about popular genealogical mystery writer, Steve Robinson, and his hero, Jefferson Tayte. Recently, I decided to try the work of Devon-based author, Wendy Percival, and discover the world of her researcher protagonist, Esme Quentin. Wendy has written three books so far, but I chose to begin with the third. The Malice of Angels is a novel based upon the experiences of women in the Second World War – a topic of personal interest to me. I very much enjoyed the book and look forward to reading more by Wendy. I most enjoyed the little-known aspects of the 1940s that Wendy brought into the plot. I also appreciated the intelligent focus on women’s history, as this is still, sadly, an area that is too often overlooked.

    In order to find out more, I interviewed Wendy about the book and her inspirations.

    This is your third Esme Quentin mystery. How long have you been a professional writer?

    I suppose the point at which I became a “professional writer” when the first Esme Quentin mystery, Blood-Tied was published by Robert Hale in 2008. I’d been writing for a few years by then, learning my craft, so to speak. I wasn’t sure then whether there would be more Esme stories but it was clear from the reaction I got from readers that Esme was a popular protagonist so it seemed a good idea to write another. By the time I’d written the second, The Indelible Stain, the world of publishing had changed hugely. The rights of Blood-Tied had reverted to me by then, so I decided to re-publish it as an ebook and paperback, following it with The Indelible Stain the following year and then in October 2017 with The Malice of Angels. In between, I wrote Death of a Cuckoo for SilverWood Books, for their sBooks “short reads” imprint.

    Before becoming a writer, I was a primary school teacher for 20 years. I moved to Devon in 1980 to take up my first teaching post in a small rural school, back in the days when primary education was much more holistic, integrated and inspirational. I left the profession when I could see the way things were heading!

    Much of the plot of Malice touches on the work of female agents of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). I researched some of these agents for my Society of Genealogists’ guide, My Ancestor was a Woman at War. I never fail to be amazed by their bravery, ingenuity and varied skill sets. What drew you to feature SOE in this novel?

    It really started with a local news report about an elderly lady who’d died in Torquay in 2010. To her neighbours, she was someone who, although polite and not unfriendly, kept herself to herself and they knew little about her. But it emerged after her death, that she’d been an SOE, and her name was Eileen Nearne. Something must have triggered a memory of the story a few years later, I really can’t remember what — it was probably WW2 anniversaries and personal recollections reported on the news — which prompted me to read Eileen’s biography, followed by Bernard O’Connor’s book Churchill’s Angels, which systematically logs the experiences, some of them terrifying, of all the women SOEs. What I read inspired several plot points in Malice! I then came across a fascinating book called A Life in Secrets by Sarah Helm about Vera Atkins, who’d made it her personal mission after the war to find out the fate of every SOE she’d waved off to occupied France. It’s a brilliant book. If you’ve not read it, I can thoroughly recommend it.

    Photograph of the coast where The Malice of Angels is set.

    You live in north Devon, where most of this book is set. What appeals to you about this area, both as your home and as a setting for your fictional characters.

    I moved to Devon from the Midlands 38 years ago to take up a teaching post and I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else! For many years I lived and worked close to the North Devon coast so I know it well. I love the wildness of the area I use as the settings for my later books (Blood-Tied was set in Shropshire, where my ancestral “journey” began). I now live right in the middle of Devon, in unspoilt countryside, overlooking a lovely river valley, in a very pretty village with a 13th century Grade One listed church and a cluster of traditional thatched cottages (one of which is ours!). Even the parish hall is thatched! (As you can probably tell, I’m a glutton for old buildings.) It’s a bit further to travel to the north Devon coast these days, but from an author’s perspective, I’ve found it useful to stand back from the place I write about. I think you see it through fresh eyes when you’re not living there all the time. We often take our camper van and stay at the campsite when we need a sea “fix”. The views are magic and the rugged coast is amazing.

    What’s next for you and Esme?

    I promised myself that once Malice was published, I’d give some time to my own family tree and sort out what has become a bit of a chaotic jumble of records and photographs over the years. I also have a few stories about my immediate family I want to write — about my dad who as a child spent 3 years in hospital and was told he’d never walk again but did, about my maternal grandmother who became a professional opera singer at the age of 16 and toured the country’s theatres, about my mum’s recollections of growing up in WW2, including having a bomb drop on to her bed and about the mystery (as yet not completely unravelled) of why my great-aunt walked out of the family home, aged 16 in 1904 and “was never heard of again” until, in her 90s, she was reunited with her only surviving sibling, my paternal grandmother. Not to mention the urge to record my own memories…

    But on the back-burner of the fiction section of my writer’s brain, there is already something brewing for Esme to get her teeth into, so I’m sure it won’t be long before I’ll start plotting again!

     The time-honoured ‘box of old documents in the attic’ stirred Wendy’s interest in genealogy – the inspiration behind her Esme Quentin mystery novels. When not plotting fiction, she’s either digging up her own family history secrets or enjoying the coast and countryside of Devon, which has been her home for the past 38 years.

     

  10. Photo Restoration Services

    Recently, I was contacted by Nick Harris from Photo Restoration Services offering to demonstrate his skills on some of my old family snaps.

    Increasingly, family historians are using photo restoration companies to repair damaged images digitally and to enhance dull likenesses, thus helping us to discover what our ancestors looked like and even to peek into their world.

    Although there is a variety of image editing software, I have never learned how to use it well. Far easier to email the images and let a professional bring them back to life.

    I sent Nick two photos from my family’s collection. The first was this portrait below of my great, great grandfather, William Jolly (1842-1889).

    The image on the left is the photograph I sent. On the right is the photo that Nick restored. As you can see, the first image has an odd colour, hiding the details of William’s face and the features of the garden. Thanks to Nick’s restoration skills, I can now see my ancestor’s face and the world he lived in far more clearly. The right side of the photograph was less damaged and it is now possible to make out the door handle and bell. It’s disappointing that my relatives left the lace curtains hanging as we may otherwise have been able to see some of the children peering out!

    My family believes this shows my great, great grandfather standing in his Royal Engineers uniform outside his home in Enfield. His bearing in the image suggests his pride in his military career. From a descendant’s perspective, though, I would have preferred to see him without the cap as that is hiding the shape of his face. It is difficult to be certain of the date, but we do know he was overseas from 1880-1885 and he died just fours years later.

    Nick also offers a black and white colourising service which could be used in military photos like the above to highlight the colour of the uniform.

    The second photo (pictured above left) I sent to Nick is more mysterious. No one in the family knows who this is, but I was hoping that if it was enhanced, we would be better placed to identify the sitter. Helpfully, Nick restored not only the portrait, enabling us to better see this young man, but also the details of the photographic studio where the image was taken.

    The photographers, Emberson & Sons, were based at three locations at the date this portrait was taken: Emberson & Sons, 6 Wilton Rd, Belgravia S.W., 57 St. Paul’s Churchyard E.C., and Chertsey, Surrey. According to the Photo London website, the firm was in  6 Wilton Road, Pimlico, Westminster 1885 – 1896, 1904 – 1925; 57 St Paul’s Churchyard, City of London 3 floor 1889 – 1908; and in Chertsey 1873 – 1905.

    We have many London ancestors, but few who lived near Chertsey. This suggests the photograph was taken either in the City or Belgravia (near Westminster) – both central London locations.

    There is so much to explore with old photos and I am in the early stages of poring over my family’s snaps. Restoration is a great way to aid historical photography investigation.

    Based in the Maidstone/ Medway area of Kent, Nick has over 10 years’ photo restoring experience in digital restoration and can be contacted via his website.

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