Sunday, 19 July 2020

Regency Relatives or Early Eastenders

Regent's Canal, Limehouse, 1823

For many years I’ve had a passing interest in researching my family history, but generally hadn’t pursued this further than the last couple of generations of relations who were within someone’s living memory, not least because with a bunch of very commonly named folk, many of whom were manual (particularly farm) labourers, I didn’t think there’d be much recorded about them.

How wrong I was! Of course, it’s so much easier to research now that so many records are available online and, since communicating with other family members (some for the first time) who are researching their parts of the story, I’ve been unearthing all sorts of records I didn’t think I’d ever encounter and the further I go back, the more fascinating and magical it becomes.

One particular interest was my mother’s father, because now two of us, completely separately, believe him to have been Jewish (from his mother’s line), but while the circumstantial evidence is pretty great for having at least some Jewish blood - which probably applies to everyone with East End ancestors to be honest - I’ve yet to prove it conclusively. When the 1911 Census records were first made available online, I’d acquired copies of the records relevant to both my maternal grandparents, who were children at the time, but got no further as further searches had come up fruitless.

Throughout her life, my mother had been most pedantic that her maiden name was spelled Sweeney “with three Es.” Of course it should have occurred to me earlier to ignore that and, lo and behold, I find that most of the records from 1901 backwards are listed with the spelling of Sweney, sometimes Sweeny and even Swaney. (Important lesson: never, ever trust 'family stories'.)

Listing for John and Ann 'Swaney' in Stepney in 1841

Hence, by trying various spellings – double checking other details, such as locations, dates, ages, occupations and other family members listed, via census records, I’ve now got the line as far back as one John Swaney (as he’s listed in the 1841 Census in Stepney), Sweeny in 1851, Sweney in 1861 and 1871, born 1809, who died, in Stepney, as John Sweeney, in 1878.

He had married Anne Elizabeth Gabbaday (b.1811). They never stray outside the East End of London; an area famous for successive influxes of foreign immigrants - then, in particular, Irish weavers and Ashkenazi Jews.

The surname Sweeney is now most commonly found in the Province of Munster and in County Cork in particular where the majority of descendants can be found and, there are those who claim that John Sweeney (or his parents) were born in County Cork, but have yet to see any records that can confirm this.

And the origin of the surname Gabbaday, I'm told, is probably Jewish.

To put these ancestors into their historical context:
See: Timeline of the formal Regency

Friday, 17 July 2020

Everyone has a story

Randomly, I came across this definition. Unfortunately, a business already has the name Sonder, so I didn't want to tread on their toes. The term 'inherited craziness', however, jumped out at me and I doubt even my own relatives would disagree with that for a family history blog.

sonder 
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

Family history is all about learning the truth in those family stories.

It's helpful to me to note how and where I made discoveries - otherwise I'll soon forget. The same with methodology: I'll include notes on that so I can look back and remember how to do it and where to look. The memory is not what it was! There's the hope it will be helpful to someone else too.

Beyond that, the blog format was primarily a great way to keep, organise and cross-reference my own notes, where I could also include links, photos and other media quite simply. And, whilst I could still do all of that and make it private, i.e. only for my own use, it may be of interest to others. If I'm really lucky, a long Lost Cousin might find something relevant to them ...

If you're related to any of the people written about, I'm guessing you'll recognise them from the surnames. If you are, do please get in touch. Whilst I'm happy to share research, records, family trees, I won't do so publicly and only to vetted individuals. Depending who you are, I might tell you who I am, if you ask. That information isn't public to protect me, as well as other people who are still alive. And even if you aren't in any way related, I hope you will still enjoy or learn something from these as stand-alone stories.