Greg's Family History

An Unlikely Coincidence

I am an Essex boy who has lived near Stafford in the Midlands for more than thirty years. One Saturday afternoon (in Telford Shopping Centre) I had a bit of a ‘mid-life’ crisis. I was suddenly very homesick and felt that I had little ‘connection’ with the place where I live. I had been researching my family history for several years and all my ancestors were in Essex!

The following day, I did a routine ‘google’ of one of my more splendid ‘brick wall’ names - Thomas Harley Harraden. To my surprise I got a hit – a death notice from a nineteenth century South African newspaper:

Death Notice

This death notice started me off on a trail which led round the globe, a plot worthy of Catherine Cookson involving civil unrest, riots, emigration, border skirmishes, the Chinese Opium War, marching across India, the lunatic asylum and eventually back to Stafford - where I found that I had hundreds of ancestors after all!

I now know that the hospital in Stafford where my children were born is built on the fields where their ancestors farmed. For years I have performed in concerts in Stafford churches without knowing of the family connections which I have with them. I often have lunch in a cafe whose windows overlook a graveyard where many ancestors are buried. To top it all, it was possible to trace one line back into the fourteenth century – giving me deeper roots in Staffordshire than I have anywhere else.

Recently I have discovered that my 5th great grandfather, Thomas Brookes of Stafford, was apprenticed to Joseph Starkey, a member of the family who built the house in Wheaton Aston where I lived until recently and whose family history I had researched before starting my own.

I suppose I shouldn’t feel so surprised by all this as logic suggests that we are probably all related in some way or other – but when we find the proof of the connection it feels like a massive coincidence – at least it did to me. I wonder how long it will be before I find my ancestral links to my current home in Bridgnorth, Shropshire!

UPDATE (November 2016): After unsuccessfully trying to trace Thomas Brookes' line for several years, I finally discovered a document at the Lichfield Records Office which has enabled me to identify his parents and wider family. It turns out that the John Starkey who built the house where I lived for many years was Thomas Brookes' first cousin once removed (John was the grandson of the sister of Thomas' mother.) Quite a coincidence as I had no known family connection to the Midlands when I moved there.

At present I am living in Brewood, Staffordshire, where Thomas's uncle, Edward Barlow, farmed at The Hyde. Edward and several of his family are buried at Brewood. I have not yet found a connection to Bridgnorth but (as Thomas Brookes came from a family who lived in the border parish of Mucklestone - part Staffordshire, part Shropshire) I am a little nearer and I suspect it is only a matter of time!