I’d never really been terribly interested in family history until I lived in New Zealand for nine months in 2001/02. There I became familiar with the term ‘whakapapa’, and longed to learn more about my own blood-line.
“Papa” is anything broad, flat and hard such as a flat rock, a slab or a board. “Whakapapa” is to place in layers, lay one upon another. Hence the term Whakapapa is used to describe both the recitation in proper order of genealogies, and also to name the genealogies. The visualisation is of building layer by layer upon the past towards the present, and on into the future.
Quoted from http://maaori.com/whakapapa/whakpap2.htm
Returning homeless and jobless to England in July 2002 and not one to sit on my laurels, I embraced this as a tremendous opportunity to delve into my past whilst living with my parents.
Using images, documents, old letters, in fact anything I could lay my hands on in my parents possession, and most importantly talking and listening to mum and dad, I began to weave the (her)story of ‘me’ and my three sisters.
Before I immigrated back to New Zealand in January 2005, I gave each member of the family a folder containing the written information I’d found out.
It was a beginning. But it didn’t dig any deeper than the first names of my great grandparents on each side, with scant knowledge of them at that.
My mother and father are only children . Actually that’s a lie. My father had a brother, Inglis. Or that’s what we’d always been told was his name!
Caring for my father recently, I had precious time to talk with them, and go through some more previously unknown documents. It turned out that my uncle, who died 12 years before my father’s birth, was actually called Thomas Inglis Walsh – the same name as my great grandfather, who was a Wesleyan Minister.
I’d known for a while that my father was born in Huddersfield, and was looking forward to visiting the city to see if I could discover anything about the past. My grandfather, William Dixon Walsh, owned an engineering firm, and was, by all accounts, quite a wealthy man until the great depression of 1926. My dad was six years old when they moved to Sunderland as a consequence of this.
Salendine Nook and Lindley
I found a couple of documents belonging to my grandfather with addresses on. One had only a house name, others a road and number. Both were in the divinely sounding ‘Salendine Nook’ area.
So Barry and I caught a bus there on Sunday to see what we could discover.
We found the house, and I was even brave enough (after some hesitation I might add!) to knock on the door! A lovely young man answered. He said he’d only been renting for a few months, but would pass my details on to his landlady to see if she had any information about previous owners.
Unlikely – but you never know!
The same bus we’d caught continued to Lindley, so we walked back to the bus stop and continued a couple of miles with our ‘all day traveller’ ticket.
I was pretty sure he’d been a Methodist Preacher. We found Lindley Methodist Church quite easily (though we were told it was actually one of three in the area!), and took advantage of the open door to the adjacent community centre.
The helpful lady inside said they had a service commencing shortly, but we were very welcome to pop in and take a look around. She’d not heard of Thomas Inglis – but it was a very long time ago!
I subsequently spoke with a woman inside the church, who said someone had recently completed a 200 year-old history of Methodist churches in the area. She took my details and promised to contact the author and be in touch if she had anything to share.
In the meantime, I asked if it was okay to take photos inside the church – she was more than happy. She told me they’d removed the old pews (how terribly sad), but the pulpit and balcony would be the same as they had always been.
Walking to the front of the church, I stopped, looked up, and the strangest thing happened. I felt a presence, and I knew without a doubt that my great-grandfather had stood at that pulpit. I had to stop myself from sobbing, emotion bubbled up inside me.
Knowing so little about this reverential man, I’d wanted to find his grave. So we left the congregation to their service and wandered around the grounds. Barry and I have this fascination with graveyards. I’ve spoken of it previously. I guess it’s about seeing the end result of life, and recognising how fortunate we are to be alive, healthy, and grasping opportunities.
Most of the graves looked unkempt and uncared for. The dates were from this century, last century or even the one before, which was the right period, so my hopes rose.
After about ten minutes of wandering I stumbled upon a large stone. The first two inscriptions were of previous Reverends whose children had died in infancy. These graves always touch me the most.
As I read down, I suddenly spotted the names I’d been searching for and called to Barry “I’ve found it!”.
Not only my great grandfather, but amazingly my great grandmother was also lying there.
And then, the ‘Pièce de résistance‘ was spotted by Barry’s sharp photographer’s eyesight.
At the bottom of the grave, covered in grass, was my Uncle’s name. Barry pulled out the grass and revealed the inscriptions. This time I really was moved to tears …
How very special. If I hadn’t been here in England, living on a narrowboat and travelling to places I’ve not been to before, I doubt I’d ever have discovered this piece of my family history. Thank you Barry for bring me back, for this and so many other reasons.
It’s ignited in me a renewed passion to find out more, and document information for the generations to come.