Grandparenthood – a family historian’s perspective

Family History is all about relationships but how often do we consider what those relationships actually mean. Regular readers will remember that when I first became a grandparent, in November, I posted about The Maternal Line and suggested that it might be interesting to compare numbers of children, ages at marriage and ages at death of our female ancestors. Now I have acquired my first male descendant I have to think of something different. Edward Leo does have a direct male line of course but that is for his other grandmother (also a family historian) to pursue. I thought therefore that I would concentrate on grandparents on my side of his family. Grandparents have been much on my mind recently and not just because of my newly acquired status. When I married in 1980 the wedding ring of my maternal grandmother became my wedding ring. Yesterday, with regret, I had to remove this ring before my increasingly chunky fingers necessitated it being cut off. A lengthy session with margarine and ice cold water and mission accomplished. When I married, my grandparents’ initials and the date of their marriage in 1922 were still visible, engraved on the inside. After thirty four more years of wear, sadly, these are no longer legible but I have at least preserved the band intact. I have had a ring on that finger since I was eleven. First a copper band that had to be nail varnished on the inside to prevent my finger becoming green. This was replaced by a silvery metal version and then the wedding ring. I felt the need find a replacement ring for the fourth finger of my left hand. What better than the, slightly larger, wedding ring of my paternal grandmother, which now graces my finger. Tangible links then these rings from the past.

So how has the grandparent-grandchild relationship changed? On this side of the family, Edward has one living grandparent – me. I am younger now than any of my grandparents were when I was born. I have (so far) two grandchildren and they live 300 miles away. In the past this might have meant that I saw them rarely, if ever and unless I was comfortably literate, even the occasional letter would have been unlikely. It is too soon to say what aspects of my appearance or personality will be reflected in my grandchildren but I can see echoes of my own grandparents in me.2 March 2014 me and Edward 1

What then of these grandparents of mine, Edward’s great great grandparents? I was an only grandchild for all of them, unusual for the time. When I was born I had four living grandparents, although all had died by the time I was eleven years old. Even though I am fortunate to have a very good recollection of my childhood, this does mean that my memories of grandparently relationships are limited to the perspective of a young child.

Ivy and Gwen

Ivy Gertrude Smith née Woolgar and her daughter (my mother)

My mother’s parents lived within walking distance and we saw them weekly. They were able to provide regular support for my mother. Equally she was on hand to help my grandmother when my grandfather was ill and then when she was widowed. When my grandmother herself became unwell she came to live with us.

‘Granny’, Ivy Gertrude Woolgar, was 63 when I was born and died a month after my seventh birthday. She was a wonderful lady and the archetypal granny in everything except build. We played together regularly, she taught me to knit, recited nursery rhymes and did all the things grannies are meant to do. My first family holidays were on the Isle of Wight and Granny came too. My memories of Granny are a role model for my own grandparenting. Although I lack her dainty size, physically I have inherited most from this grandparent. In fact I wonder why, when I look in the mirror, she looks back.

Picture1My maternal grandfather and youngest grandparent, was Frederick Herbert Smith; he was 61 when I was born and he died the following year. Despite this I do remember sitting in the sunshine on his desk in the back bedroom that was his office. According to other relatives he was happiest with his own company. A Chartered Accountant by profession, his main hobbies were stamp collecting and train spotting. I suspect that in today’s world a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome might have been applied. He did everything he could to avoid family gatherings but nonetheless played with me and taught me to count his keys. There were thirteen but somewhere someone must have suggested that thirteen was not to be mentioned so I always counted ‘eleven, twelve, fourteen.’ What then has come to me from this grandparent? Physically, my short-sightedness but some aspects of my personality, such as the attention to detail and my self-sufficiency are his too. I wish I could have had the chance to get to know him better; I think we would have got on rather well.

Albany Home GuardMy paternal grandparents were much more aloof. We visited, perhaps monthly and occasionally went to Battersea Park, together with my parents. I was certainly never alone with them and have no recollection of anything that could constitute play. Albany Braund, ‘Grandpops’, a railway porter, became a grandparent at the age of 67 and died when I was six. He was also the only one of my grandparents to grow up in the countryside and I now live closest to his birthplace. I was always a little wary of his gruff manner. Although I didn’t realise it at the time it is likely that my maverick tendencies and my willingness to challenge authority come from this grandparent.

Elizabeth Ann Hogg 1912My fourth grandparent, ‘Grandmums’ Elizabeth Ann Hogg, was 69 was I was born, the eldest of my grandparents, yet she lived the longest, dying when I was ten. My relationship with her was a distant one and memories are shaped by her diabetes. We always had to shop for PLJ for her to drink and diabetic chocolate, neither of which were easy to obtain. I can’t identify how Elizabeth Ann has contributed to my genetic mix. I clearly remember the journeys to their house and the house itself but the personalities of my paternal grandparents elude me. Perhaps that in itself suggests that they were not child orientated. When one considers their background this is perhaps not surprising. Albany was only five when his widowed mother married again and left him to be brought up by his grandmother and then an older aunt, who had children of her own. He had contact with his three surviving grandparents, all of whom lived close by. In contrast, although three of Elizabeth Ann’s grandparents lived until she was a young adult they lived many miles away in Northumberland and Buckinghamshire, whilst Elizabeth’s parents had brought her up in London. Elizabeth’s mother died when she was twelve and family stories relate that her Northumberland grandmother came to look after her.

Unusually for their generation, three of my grandparents grew up as only children, the exception was Ivy; this probably had an impact on their ability to form other family relationships, certainly Ivy was the most family orientated of the four.

So young Edward, what will come down to you from all these ancestors and of course from your equally significant ancestors on your paternal line and the forebears of your maternal grandfather, whom I have not celebrated here? You will of course just grow up to be your own very special person but maybe sometimes echoes of your genetic forbears will travel down the generations and show themselves in you.

7 comments on “Grandparenthood – a family historian’s perspective

  1. GeniAus says:

    As I sit here in bed on a cold Sunday morning watching cartoons on TV with three little gorgeous grandsons I wonder what they will remember of us. Will it be our breakfasts in bed served by their beloved grandfather? Will it be the forbidden foods we serve them? The board game victories? The cuddles? Our conversations?

  2. […] 7. My 2014 blog post that I was particularly proud of was – the one about grandparenthood that I wrote when my grandson was born. […]

  3. kristin says:

    I like the way you remember and try to pinpoint what came down from which grandparent. I was lucky to have lost only 1 grandfather in my childhood. Two lived until I was in my mid-twenties and my father’s mother lived until I was 35. They all lived in the city I grew up in so I saw them often. This is a good topic for a post!

  4. Caro - Claire Wiles says:

    I did enjoy reading this posting about your grandparents and the relationships you had with each of them. It got me thinking about my own and I would like to try to put a few thoughts together about my own but it will have to be for another time

  5. Mary Ibbotson says:

    ……………………………………. Loved reading this. – Your grandmothers were both older than their husbands. When looking at family history, I’ve often found this to be the case, in spite of the convention that the man chooses a younger bride! (My mother was three years older than my father; I’m three months older than my husband; one of my sisters is older than her husband; one of my daughters-in-law is older than my son). Do we kid ourselves that the man is usually older? Were there more older wives in the past, or today? (Does it matter at all? Probably not!) My husband would probably say it’s to do with money, but that’s NOT TRUE in any of the instances I know about.

  6. Judy Cain says:

    Great post, and one every grandparent will identify with. I knew only two of my four grandparents, and one of those died when I was six, so I’d have had a hard time writing a post like this; but I love your sense of connection down the ages!

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