As parents of three children with an acreage, pets, horses and demanding employment it is rare that my husband and I find the time and money to voyage further than campgrounds within our province. We did however decide to entrust our home and children with my parents last autumn and venture “across the pond” for the first time to England. I am sure I will reminisce about this life changing trip often in future posts and in far greater detail. It has definitely opened a whole new world of possibilities for us as a couple. We now are convinced we will travel Europe and revisit England in the future.
The impetus for our voyage was my fascination with the research I had conducted on my maternal Grandfather’s family. Learning of my Great-Grandfather’s British Home Child experience, and of his father’s horrific crimes and hanging, I knew I had to walk in their footsteps. I felt an internal urge to experience the British Cotswolds the home of my Great-Grandfather’s youth. I had no specific genealogical plans. I knew I would not spend my trip in the stuffy archives among the dusty stacks but rather on the footpaths that perhaps might hold a sense of innate familiarity.
This is precisely what we did! We explored the Cotswolds and discovered the quaint villages of the British countryside– clusters of cream-yellow and grey stoned cottages crowned by thatched roofs–which were once home to our ancestors. The sights, scents, and sounds were a paradox–both new and familiar.
It was in the village of Watchfield that I experienced the most thrilling glimpse of my family history! A pleasantly warm autumn afternoon, my husband and I had taken a drive down the winding, narrow country roads through Shrivenham, Watchfield, and Longcot. We stopped in each of these villages, wandered the churchyards, scrutinizing the names on tombstones. In the Watchfield churchyard the scent of an outdoor fire wafted from a neighbouring yard. I was struck by a sense of disappointment at not finding more legible tombstones bearing family names I recognized. As I fumbled with the cemetery gate latch, I felt a sudden and compelling urge to turn and survey the street leading down the hill from the church and there I saw what made my heart rise and fall in a rapid palpitation!
There, down the hill, situated next to the new Village Hall, was my Great-Great Grandfather’s cottage. I knew it instantly and was drawn to it! I had seen a photo of the cottage from years earlier online and I had seen a rendering in a newspaper sketch from 1893. It was in this cottage that my Great-Grandfather, Thomas Carter, lived with his father John Carter and his step-mother, Rhoda Ann Titcombe; It was in this cottage that John Carter killed Rhoda Titcombe; And it was in the wash house attached to this cottage that John Carter tried desperately to hide his crime by attempting to burn the body of his victim; It was in this cottage that John Carter’s crime was uncovered and he was arrested! Chilling but also exciting. Amid the horrors of its history however are firmly interlaced the innocent childhood experiences of my Great-Grandfather, Thomas. A little boy whose childhood was shattered when he lost the woman he knew as his mother, found he had to testify against his own father, and live orphaned in a workhouse until his sister ultimately rescued him and the Fegan’s Home for Boys sent him to Canada!
Walking in the footsteps of my ancestors was a haunting and life changing experience which I hope to repeat!