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F is for Family Tree and How I Raided It

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is for family tree and how I raided it. To be fair, it wasn’t a bad thing. I wanted to pay tribute to my ancestors, having spent the last few years researching them and devoting hundreds of hours – not to mention pounds – to the cause.

It’s not cheap, this genealogy lark. Not when you have to send for birth, death and marriage certificates to get final proof that the people whose details you’ve been staring at on your monitor – after shelling out yet more cash to buy credits for the privilege – are the right ones, after all. You can’t cross your fingers and hope for the best. I’ve sent for at least two certificates which have only proved that I was on the wrong track entirely, so my one piece of advice to you all, if you’re planning to research your family history, is check, check and check again.

Anyway, what has all this got to do with There Must Be An Angel, I hear you cry. Well, I’ll tell you. Kearton Bay, my fictional former fishing/smuggling village on the North Yorkshire coast, is populated with a good many characters. And they needed names. And where was the best place to look for those names? My family tree!

Kearton Bay itself is named after my grandmother’s family – the Keartons. This branch of the family has already been thoroughly researched by the erstwhile Basil Kearton, a New Zealand gentleman who has devoted his life to uncovering the story of the Kearton family who, it turns out, hail from the beautiful area of Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales. Despite a rumour that they came over with the Norman invaders, genetic tests have proved that the Kearton bloodline is “English” through and through, and that they lived in the area for as far back as it’s possible to tell. Basil wrote a book himself, all about the Kearton history. It’s a fascinating read and hats off to him, because it must have been a lifetime’s work and taken a whole lot of time and energy. I visited Swaledale a couple of times, to the area where the Keartons hailed from.

They came from Thwaite and Muker, and the family line includes Richard and Cherry Kearton who are my great great great, however many great, uncles. One day I will input all this stuff into a family history computer programme and it will work it out for me! Richard was a writer and lecturer and Cherry was a  pioneering wildlife photographer whose pictures illustrated Richard’s books. You can read more about them here. We stopped by The Kearton Country Hotel and had a drink in the tearooms, where I silently toasted my Kearton ancestors – not least my lovely grandmother.

It’s not just the village that was named after my family, though. As I said previously, Kearton Bay has a lot of occupants, and some of the main characters share their surnames with my relatives. Rhiannon Bone was named after my great great great grandmother, Amelia Bone, who hailed from Norfolk. I thought the surname really suited Rhiannon! The Crook family were named after my great great grandmother Emma, and I’ll be talking more about her in another post, because she’s quite important to me. The Boden-Kean name came from combining two branches of my mum’s family tree – the Keans, who came from Hull, and the Bodens who were from Shropshire. Rose MacLean was named after my rather grand sounding great great great grandfather, Bartholomew  MacLean. He actually was a poor Irish farmer, who stayed behind in County Sligo when his married daughter Ellen and her husband Laurence Friel/Frail came to Hull during the Great Famine in the eighteen forties. I often wonder what happened to him.

Sligo Famine Memorial © Copyright Kenneth Allen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Joe Hollingsworth was named in honour of my maternal great great great grandmother, Betsy, who had a terribly difficult life. After a traumatic childhood – the stuff of fairytales without the happy ending – Betsy married a chemist named Edward and they had nineteen children, although only four – including my great grandfather – survived. Betsy’s mother had died when she was very young and her father had sent her to Lincolnshire to live with his parents. They treated her very cruelly. When her father remarried, she returned to live with her father and stepmother, but doesn’t seem to have been very happy with them. Her husband was cruel, and when he finally died, she discovered that the money her wealthy maternal grandparents had left her had been swindled by her own solicitor! Yes, Betsy was quite a character – the sort you’d read about in a Catherine Cookson novel, bless her.

Other family names which will feature in the Kearton Bay books include Kennedy, Stringer, and Hope. My great great grandfather Louis Hope, a blacksmith, was named after his father, also called Louis, who was a fisherman. When I looked him up in the census, I was stunned to discover that he came from Prussia! You don’t find things like that out every day and my mother had no idea.

Map of Prussia. Image from Wikipedia. Click for licence.

I previously used another family name, Ingledew, in my short story The Other Side of Christmas, which featured in the Write Romantics’ anthology, Winter Tales. Harriet married Charles Chapman Kearton, and she died when she was only fifty, of TB.

The thing is, once you start looking up your family history, you realise how much your ancestry means to you. I was just curious – fuelled by tales told to me many years ago by my grandparents. I just wanted to fill in some of the gaps. I had no idea how involved I would become in the lives of these people. For the most part, they were just ordinary people, living their lives, often enduring terrible poverty and hardships. They came from all over Britain – from Shropshire, Glasgow, Manchester, Norfolk, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and the Yorkshire Dales – and from as far afield as County Sligo and Roscommon in Ireland, and Prussia (modern-day Germany). Somehow, for many and varied reasons, they converged in Hull, and because of that, I’m here right now.

I’m very glad that, in some small part, I can pay tribute to them through using their names in my books. I am so proud of them all. I hope, somehow, they know that.

Have a great day xx