My late father was an expert on matters historical. His real area of expertise was Booker. T. Washington (perhaps a less-than-obvious choice for a public-school-educated ex-soldier!), but he also researched, and became an expert in, his own family line. Read on…
Not sure when, not sure why – but my father (who taught History and, perhaps because he was a quarter American, was most passionate about American History) traced the Browning family back to 1364. The original parchment copy ends, with the birth of my Great Aunt Elizabeth (full name Elizabeth Margaret Alienora!), in 1912 – and I have subsequently updated it to include my father’s generation, my own and the birth of some of my parents’ grandchildren.
I have owned a copy since I was in my late teens, and it has travelled with me from Oxford to Aberystwyth to Weston-super-Mare, to the village I now live in – and, if all goes to plan, will soon accompany me on the next stage of my journey.
This part of the family tree starts with the marriage of Sir John Browning to one Alice Maltravers in 1364. Their son, also John (as was my father!), married my namesake, Alienora Fitznycoll (daughter of Sir Thomas of that ilk) in 1396 and they popped out a couple of sons, the details of whom I will not trouble you with!
On my paternal grandmother’s side (the Norrish family), we get the American Connection (about which I have written before) – after my Great Grandfather, Arthur Norrish, married Ella Delahay Henderson, a woman from Baltimore, Maryland, having set up a wire mesh-producing company in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania.
At some point, the Brownings joined matrimonial forces with the Clan Elliot (who had a long connection with Hermitage Castle in Hawick, on the Scottish Borders).
Through my mother’s side, the Scotts, both Scottish and Irish blood comes into the mix.
I think I know why this has come back to prominence in my mind, when, for many years, the creased old Family Tree has lain forgotten in a drawer: I am feeling both excited and afraid, untethered and, in a sense, rootless. Having dissolved my marriage, and, in my own mind, gone back to the Browning name; having revisited the house I grew up in (in Headington, Oxford) last Friday; being on the verge of upping sticks myself and finding a new home, all feels, on the one hand, up-in-the-air and anxiety-producing; on the other, full of limitless possibility and renewal. Knowing where I come from helps me to have a sense of continuity, solidity and peace.
Just as my far-off ancestor, Sir John Browning, appeared on the Tree after his marriage – so, in a very different sense, will I start my own new sapling when I begin again.
But I am linked, forever, to many generations of Brownings, Elliots, Scotts, Norrishes – and divers other surnames not mentioned in this post.
Does it matter? Not in any snobbish way, no. But, with chains being cut all around me, that sense of family connection is very important.