Coincidentally... by Ann Evans

My dad, Edward Carroll

Wouldn't it be nice to get so famous that the Who Do You Think You Are? TV team did a programme on your ancestors? They make it look so easy with allocated genealogists and historians doing all the leg work then coming up with the results effortlessly. Ah, if only! Although doing the research is half the fun.

There's something fascinating about tracing your family tree, discovering your roots, seeing what skeletons are lurking in the cupboards. And of course, the great thing is, with self publishing there's nothing stopping anyone from producing the finished story as a book or website without any major financial outlay should they want to. 

My research has taken me back to the mid 1800s so far and I was lucky in that my mum wrote her life story in notebooks, which I'm busy transcribing. I just wish I'd asked her more questions when she and my dad were still around.

My mum, Violet Carroll (nee Hardy)

I'm also scanning in some old photographs including a large one of my grandfather in his Edwardian attire which has practically crumbled to bits. So it's a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle. My good pal, Rob who takes all my photos for articles and ebook covers, will re-photograph it eventually, and then (hopefully) work his magic to restore it on his computer.

My ancestors all came from Sunderland, County Durham and a year or so ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to do an author school visit up in Sunderland. In fact, although I can't be sure, I think the school I visited had connections with the school my mum actually attended.  
I didn't get time to do very much research other than the school visit. So I'm quite excited to be going back up to Sunderland to a different school this coming week. It's to Red House Academy in Southwick, Sunderland - coincidentally, the very district that my parents were born and grew up in. And this time I'm taking an extra day before and after the school visit to do some proper research. 

Sunderland from the end of Roker Pier.
I'm always intrigued by coincidences. As a little child going to the library with my mum, I found the fact that there was an author with my surname absolutely amazing (well I was only about six). This was Lewis Carroll - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and I was totally amazed to later discover that he had connections with Sunderland. Lewis Carroll whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson often visited his sister in Sunderland and her husband the Rev Charles Collingwood of the Holy Trinity Church.

Holy Trinity Church, Sunderland.

He certainly found inspiration on his visits to the north east coast. The Walrus and the Carpenter is believed to have been composed as he walked along the beaches of Seaburn and Whitburn and he wrote his famous poem Jabberwocky while visiting the Wilcox cousins in Whitburn.

On my visit to Sunderland this week, I plan on going to see the statue of his Walrus in Mowbray Park, and the statue of himself in Whitburn Library. I got to see the blue plaque commemorating his stay at the Holy Trinity Church last time I visited. The church is barely a stone's throw from where my mum and dad were born. 

Statue of Lewis Carroll
in Whitburn Library.
Maybe my great grandparents who were around  in the mid 1800s when he made one of his visits (I know, I don't look old enough!) bumped into the great man. Maybe they stopped to chat... “And your name, my dear sir?” asked Charles Lutwidge Dogson. Maybe my great-granddad pulled the cloth cap from his head and answered, “My name? Why it's Carroll, sir. Why do you ask?"
Okay, so I'm a writer, and the imagination does tends to get a bit carried away at times!

Doing my research for the family tree, I spotted the fact that quite a few well know writers have connections with Sunderland and County Durham. Terry Dreary for one was born in Sunderland. Lord Byron's family home for a time was Seaham House in County Durham. 

Engraved portrait of Charles Dickens
after the 1838 drawing in chalk
by Samuel Laurence.
Even Charles Dickens has connections. In fact in August 1852 he took his amateur acting troupe up north to perform in Sunderland's brand new (and barely completed) Lyceum Theatre. The play was Not So Bad As We Seem by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. (Another coincidence - I live in Lord Lytton Avenue – named after the above writer!)

There's a fascinating letter written by Charles Dickens that tells of that night, definitely worth a read:

Another writer who didn't have such a good time up north was the 18th century playwright Oliver Goldsmith, most famous for She Stoops to Conquer. Another random coincidence, I played Mr Hardcastle from the play when I was at school. Help! I can still recall the opening line “I vow Mr Hardcastle, you're very particular." Unfortunately (and sadly) our class of 13 year olds really didn't do the famous play justice - although we did get a lot of laughs. Probably not where they were intended though! Actually Oliver Goldsmith didn't get justice either when he was in Sunderland as he got arrested for an offence committed by someone else! He eventually left Wearside on a ship bound for Rotterdam.

So, coincidences - do you come across them very much in your life?
Kaleb Nation said: "Confidence is merely the puppeteer's curtain, hiding the hands that pull the world's strings." 

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JO said…
I haven't done the family tree thing, but am aware of generations of women who have ended up bringing up children born into other families, either through fostering or step-parenting. The fosterers obviously set out to do that, but the step-parents (and I'm one) fell into it. Quite a coincidence? Or something about a family story replaying itself?
Susan Price said…
A lovely post, Ann - thank you.

Jo, one of my family stories tells how my Great Grandfather brought home with him one day - in a very Wuthering Heights manner - a boy of around 12 or 13. He simply told his wife that the boy would be living with them from now on. No explanation (my GG Savage wasn't a man you questioned.)
From all I was told, the boy was part of the family for the rest of his life (although I don't know his name.) It was not a particuarly happy family (brutal father, not named Savage for nothing) but perhaps it was better than what he had before. My family's comment was that this wasn't all that unusual in that time and place - working class Black Country, around 1910-ish.)
Ann Evans said…
Thank you Jo and Susan. There's so many hidden stories just waiting to be unearthed when you look back.
Lydia Bennet said…
yes lovely post, I love old family stories. So you are a 'mackem', Ann! I must admit I laughed at your coincidental typo - Terry Dreary! He hates teachers, schools and libraries so perhaps it's suitable.
Lydia Bennet said…
ps, I did a crime fiction gig at Whitburn Library, they were a great bunch of people and very appreciative, great fun.

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