Have you inherited a box of vintage photos? Carefully posed sepia portraits of family members without any idea who they might be. While clearing my Father’s office we found photos which we decided were most likely to be his cousins. However, he had around two dozen cousins so then the question was, “Which cousins?”
My favourite was a small portrait of two beautifully dressed young girls in a pretty card mount. “Who are the two girls in this vintage portrait?” The way they are posed implies that they are sisters. Then I spotted the word “Vincennes”. The photo is French. So, I guess that the picture shows his oldest cousin Gladys and her sister Dorothy. Gladys’ mother, Lena Millard (1882 to 1958) – my Grandmother’s eldest sister – had married Frederick Bryon when she was seventeen and their daughter Gladys Claire was born in 1900. Tragically Bryon died from Polio and Lena then married Percy Berry and they had a daughter Dorothy circa 1909. Berry worked for the Duke of Bedford who had an estate in France and he took his family to live in France which would be where the photo was taken.
What happened next? Why didn’t I ask Gladys more questions when I used to visit her back in the seventies? She had told me that her family had to return to England on the outbreak of WWl and that Berry abandoned his family and went to Canada after the war. This left Lena in a difficult situation: she wanted to work as a teacher but in those days married women were not employed. Her only option was to have Berry declared dead so that she would be a widow. The process involved a seven year wait, but Lena eventually obtained a teaching post in Leicester. When Lena and Gladys moved to Essex to live together in Thorpe Bay is a mystery. Suffice to say, Gladys was briefly married circa 1936 and then widowed tragically when her husband died circa 1947 having an operation. When I was six or so my Grandmother took me to visit her sister Lena at their bungalow in Thorpe Bay. My only recollection is that Lena would place a saucer of raisins beside my bed for me to snack on if I was peckish during the night. And, oh yes, she used to get me to pinch my nose and pull on it to make it longer. Of course, there is nothing wrong with my nose, but it did take me years to realise that! Lena and Gladys bought a larger house on Burges Terrace and took in lodgers. On 4th July 1958 Lena was killed by a falling garden wall on the corner of Burges Terrace and the Sea Front. The homeowner, Garon, had dug up the hedge from behind his boundary wall and subsequent rain must have loosened the foundations. Lena was walking with the five-year-old son of their lodgers and her dachshund. Only the little dog survived.
Two more little girls. These two photos look more recent than the first one but are still studio portraits. Those were the days before people possessed their own cameras. My Father had three cousins that he talked about: Eva, his eldest double cousin, whose parents were siblings of his parents, and Betty and Nellie. It took me a long time before I realised that “bettynnellie” were two people not one! With the help of Nellie’s daughter Elizabeth, I found out that the little girls are Betty’s daughters: Mair and Elena Jones. Betty and Nellie Evans were the daughters of my Grandfather Boughey’s sister Annie.
Relationships are so complicated and I have no idea how to describe the relationship of my Father’s cousins to me. Which ones are “second cousins” and which ones are “first cousins once removed”? And does it matter? But years ago, at junior school, I so desperately wanted to join in with my friends when they chatted about their cousins, and I just wasn’t aware of the existence of my many second cousins. I was a bridesmaid at the wedding of my Father’s youngest double cousin, Eva’s sister Anne Millard in 1949 and I never knew that the two older girls next to me were “second cousins once removed”, Betty’s daughters Mair and Elena. How and when did I find out? Well, two things. I met Elizabeth with Nellie and Betty in 1969 and kept in touch. And after he retired my Father spent a great deal of his time researching the Family History which he then discussed with me.