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Researching Family History: Do you want to read this?

This is a tale of some of my reseaches into my family history. If you are not a relative, you may be interested in the strange twists and turns which can lead to the discovery of family history facts. If you are related, you may find facts here that interest you, although I hope most of them are also available elsewhere, but without the story behind their discovery.

Where to begin? Adam and Eve? Wouldn't me nice if we could trace our ancestry that far? Or Lucy and her mate, depending ojn your beliefs? In any case, I haven't done that well yet, and this story is more about Robert Andrew Boyd and Mary Lunham, married 1838, and born about 1815 and 1818 respectively.

I'll tell the tale in the order I lived it.

I knew from a child that my grandfather Boyd was English. Besides being a Boyd myself, I was Thomas Kenneth the second, named for him. It is only recently, perhaps about when I was 50, that I learnt that naming boys for grandfathers was not unusual among certain groups at certain times. At about 12 I learned that my great-grand father Boyd was Thomas Lunham Boyd. My grandmother (grandfather having died in 1961) gave me a pocket watch with "TLB" on the case. I don't believe any other artifact of TLB exists today, apart, perhaps, in a house in Kent, or another in San Remo, Italy... but both long are outside the family, and I'd better not digress to far.

It wasn't long after that I learned that his very successful business in meat packing was called "Boyd Lunham". So, from the 60's I "knew" that somehow his personal life and his business life were connected, but I didn't get solid confirmation of how they were connected until the day after my birthday in the year 2000 when I found, via Rootsweb and the IGI a marriage between Robert Boyd and Mary Lunham. At that time, I wasn't sure that they were TLB's parents, but the coincidences were so strong that I took it to be true. I have since confirmed it, but it took years to gain the skills, and, of course, the internet wasn't available in the 1970s, and wasn't as potent even in 2000 as it is today. For a start, as recently as 2000, I only had dial-up access. Even more recently, in June 2002 I posted something on the net recommending the English 1881 census data to researchers. Today we can search that from any browswer, for free. Back then, I had to go to a library, and fiddle about with swapping CDs in and out of a PC. (Not even DVDs!)

We're about to get to the really fun coincidences part of this story

For a long time, I've had a page on the web asking for information about TLB. One of the great things about my Boyds is that they very often go in for two first names. There are many Thomases and Roberts out there, and sometimes I have to find mine without the help of the second names, but often it is there, and it helps sift the wheat from the chaff.

A nice lady working for English Heritage somehow noticed my inquiry... it has had very few responses over the years... and told me that she was working on a project which was attempting to record "biographies" of all the buildings along Cowcross Street in London. (And other streets... I'm not sure of the entire scope). My great-grandfather's name had come up. He was once a tenant, and, although proof wasn't avialable, it might have been the case that he caused the building to be put up. Also, the yard behind the building and those around it, was once known as "Boyd's Yard".

The splendid maps.google.com soon revealed that Cowcross Street is just above Smithfield Market... the heart of London's meat trade. Remember: TLB was in meat packing. Fantastic. I put it on my "next time I am in London" list, and looked up the nearest tube station: Farringdon.

At the time that the nice lady got in touch, I was in the midst of selecting a new professional advisor. Within days of learning about the Cowcross Street association, one of the candidates emailled to say that we could meet for an interview either at his offices in Croydon or at his offices in... drumroll, please... Farringdon Road, tube station: Farringdon. further litle coincidence: The pre-move-out-of-London site of Charterhouse, the school I went to 1970/71, is in the same neighbourhood... as is something else, which we will come to in a moment.

Now.. hang in there.. the web of coincidence gets more complex.

The day of interviewing advisor candidates went smoothly enough, and I was nearly at Victoria train station, about to head home, when I passed the theatre where the musical version of Billy Elliot was playing. I'd seen the movie, but not (at that time) the musical. Asked at the box office: Was there a performance this evening? Yes... in 45 minutes... just time to get a bite to eat. Did they have a ticket? Yes. Enjoyed it emormously... do go if you see this in time. It has had a long run as I write this, early November 97. Use it or lose it!

So. You've seen some coincidences already. Now run the clock forward to October 2007. I started, as a child, thinking of grandfather as English. At some point I found out that his father was born in Ireland. In 2000 I discover that his father's banns of marriage were posted in Scotland. Only recently has a bunch of evidence for our Boyds (and related families) being associated with north London accumulated. Recently, I've been of a mind to visit Walthamstow, Edmonton, Clapton (not Clapham) Common... just to stand where "they" stood, and also to see what local libraries and record offices can turn up.

Who says nothing good comes of being negative? I generally avoid being in on Halloween evening. The road I live in is quite unfriendly. It's not as if the kids who bang on the door are people I know, speak to any other day of the year. So, I said to myself, why not go up to London, do the family history thing, and enjoy Billy Elliot again in the evening? And while you're going up to London why not try, at long last, to meet up with that former (27 years ago! He was 12.) pupil that you've exchanged emails with?

It was very late in the day to email Alex, but with plenty of "I'll understand if it isn't convenient"s in it, I did. He said "Fine, I'll be working from home after about 11".

When I try to plan things, nothing works out My day in London on 31 October 2007 could hardly be graced with the adjective "planned", but it couldn't have worked better if it was planned. Read on....

I arrive in London via Victoria Station. My former pupil is not far from there, a direct connection on the tube. He is near Earl's Court, and if I'd not been a country bumpkin, I would have arrived at his door early. (We'll draw a veil over a few little booboos of map reading and tube boarding! All fun adventure, and as I said... I would have arrived early)

Had grat fun seeing the former pupil, but that's not really part of this tale except to add to the theme of how everything fell into place. Had such a good time, in fact, that I left there a little late in the day to go up to north London, the original main reason for the trip to town, but.... this was no bad thing!

I have to back-track to the day before my day in London. I went to my files and to the internet to gather specifics of addresses, dates, etc, of the north London Boyds and allies which had inspired my interest in a visit to that district. In the course of that, I stumbled upon a major find: a list of who's buried in the Abney Park cemetery, north London... a list that includes many people important to my researches.

I want to mention here that relative Tim Waugh has been very important. It was he who first put me onto the Brodribb connection. The Brodribbs helped me find some of the north London connections, including some fascinating stuff that goes beyond dull dates of birth, marriage, death into a glimmer of the lives of certain ancestors. It may have been a Brodribb who was the first relative I found in Abney, which led to discovering other more central people. I'm sorry I've skimmed this part of the story, because it is the gentle, gentle pulling in of slender threads, like the Brodribb connection, that eventually leads to thin strings which lead to little ropes which lead to eureka moments.

I will just explain one aspect of the Abney discoveries. At the moment I have three lists of people buried at Abney: Boyds, Brodribbs, Trac(e)ys. These, oddly enough, do not say "great-great-grandfather Boyd". Here's an extract:

Name 			Date		Age 	Burial 	Section	Index
Boyd, --		26jul1950 	-- 	177031 	C05 	8S09
Boyd, Ann	 	13aug1870 	66y 	046428 	B04 	2S03
Boyd, Ann	 	18jul1918 	84y 	130069 	O07 	6S11
Boyd, Eric 		21jan1885 	33m 	076273 	J05 	3S05
Boyd, James 		16jul1870 	72y 	046236 	B04 	2S03
Boyd, John 		13mar1883 	13y 	072948 	I09 	3S02
Boyd, John Abbott 	24apr1915 	73y 	124617 	M05 	6S06
Boyd, Robert Andrew 	22jul1869 	-- 	043962 	I05 	2S02
Boyd, Thomas Malcolm 	11aug1882 	03y 	071747 	J05 	3S01

It was little Thomas Malcolm who first caught my eye. Again- the use of two first names was enormously helpful. A Thomas Malcolm was already known to me, and through the magic of the "Kith and Kin" software, I was even able quickly to lay hands on the date of birth for "my" Thomas Malcolm.... and it fit!

But... It was Robert Andrew I was most interested in. I have since become quite sure that he is my great-great-grandfather, whose resting place has been a mystery, but in the jumble of numbers above, you may have missed something. He is one of the very few people in the Abney Park database for whom age at death is not listed. I'm not sure where Robert Andrew Boyd spent his life.... Ireland is a possibility, but unproven. Without the age at death, I had only the possible coincidence of the name. For instance, I have a John James Boyd, son of Robert Andrew, who, on some grounds, "ought" to be in Abney Park. In fact, I suspect that John James brought his father's body to Abney Park for burial after a death elsewhere. But the ages of the listed Johns and Jameses don't look right for "my" John James. So where is he buried?

Back to coincidences: While, as I thought, preparing for my visit to North London, I had made a note of the address of the London Family Records Centre. While it is incredible what you can do online, there are some things that are not yet easy to do that way. The Family Records Centre is a taxpayer and user funded service with lots of wonderful resources... and... at the moment the tube stop for the Centre is... Farringdon!

So... 2pm. I'm just leaving my pupil's flat. Farringdon is an easy tube journey, and en route to north London. I decide to check out the Centre, and then see what the time is. I have a ticket for Billy Elliott at 7:30, and a nice meal in a restaurant I know near the theatre (Bella Italia, 200' west along Victoria Street... do get there a little early, and beat all of the others going to the theatre.)

Wonderful time at the Records Centre. Very productive. And bittersweet. This was the last day anyone could do what I did there- look up the necessary information, and then order death certificates. The service is being "improved". We'll see. I'm glad to have, just in time, "tasted" the old centre where so many people have had so much fun tracing family. I've done a lot on the internet, but that option wasn't available until recently. Those who traced families in the past had to work harder for their victories, and no doubt the eureka moments were even sweeter.... and many took place in the soon-to-be-closed centre at Myddelton Street. I submitted my requests (and paid the hefty fees) a quarter of an hour before the final bell. Once the transfer is complete, the Centre's replacement will operate out of Kew.

N.B.: I would not have been able to request the information I did 24 hours earlier. It was the discovery of the Abney Park data which gave me the dates of death of people who could well be "my" Boyds. I await the death certificates (they take a few days to prepare, and travel by post to the requester) with bated breath! What further data will they contain; what further loose ends can be tied up?

(I still haven't made it to north London. Something to look forward to.)

I often compare family history hunting to doing crossword puzzles. But in family history hunting, solving one clue not only helps you be sure that you've solved others right, and makes it easier to do the next, but it can also sometimes reveal new questions and answer grids. It is a fascinating "never ending story".

In returning from the Family History Centre to Farringdon tube station, I tried to take a shortcut. I'd walked two sides of a triangle en route to the centre. On my return I managed to go more or less directly there on minor streets... and, along the way, ended up in "Boyd's Yard". I hadn't done that on purpose, it just happened.... another "coincidence".

Does any of it matter? Is it "important"? No, of course not. But as much as I hate everything that going up to town for the day entails, I'd do it five more times for another moment like seeing from the entry in the index of deaths that the Abney Park Robert Andrew Boyd was of the right age, or finding myself in "Boyd's Yard" like that.

Oh! And Billy Elliott was a treat again, too.



I have a less well polished collection of general odds and ends which may interest family history researchers. They can be reached by clicking here.
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