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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. 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).

  3. 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.

     

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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