Part I — Old books and basements
I had dreamed about traveling to England, Scotland and Ireland to research genealogy and capture enough ambience to write a book. The dream started to come true when my sister and her husband said, “We’re going to England.” We decided to combine itineraries and go together.
I had been to England once before. I considered myself a veteran because I had taken a tour of London on a double-decker bus. While Debbie and Eddie visited the sights, I went digging for ancestors.
There’s never enough time, as people who have been researching their families for decades can tell you. I narrowed my search to the family of Thomas English, my ninth great-grandfather who moved to Ireland in the 1600s. There I was in London, looking for Irish records.
I found them in the basement of St. Magnus the Martyr Church — English churches have creative names. I followed paper signs for the Irish Genealogical Research Society to a spiral stairway leading to the basement. I held onto the railing as I descended narrow stone steps. I ended up in a small library, where three faces looked up to register the newcomer.
The Society members were kind and helpful. As I pored through books, the lady asked me if I’d like some tea. It was rainy and chilly out, so I accepted gratefully. I expected a paper cup of warmth which I would sip quickly and then continue with my work, but she meant “Tea.”
Everyone pushed their old books and research aside when she brought out a tray complete with teapot, milk, sugar, and “biscuits” (cookies). They chatted with each other as if sitting in a living room. It was an unexpected highlight of the trip.
I found mention of Thomas English in a book that was so old I was in heaven just to handle it. I love old books wherein an “s” looks like an “f” and the language is eloquent.
Thomas Wight’s “History of the Rise and Progress of the People called Quakers in Ireland” recorded the meetings in Ireland and detailed many hardships that Quakers endured during that time.
It said that a (Quaker) meeting was started at the house of Thomas English in Moate in 1659.
I wasn’t as lucky at the British Library, since the genealogical reading room was closed. But the Library had a museum of old books and manuscripts on display. I saw old Bibles, an early collection of Shakespeare, Beowulf, original sheets from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” and Jane Austen’s childhood satire.
While the Englishes did not live in Scotland, my ancestress Mary Glendenning Hoggatt did (Mary of the Hoggatt House in High Point and the first grave at Springfield Friends).
After exploring Edinburgh Castle together, my family remained as tourists while I skipped off to be a scholar in the National Library of Scotland reading rooms.
For those who have never been in a reading room, it’s a collection of books and records so wonderful or old that no one can check them out.
I found a marriage index record for Mary’s parents, David and Margaret (1685), and a reference in the 1715 town minutes that David was to be paid 20 Scottish pounds per year to care for the town swans.
My favorite find in Scotland was in Inverness. I don’t mean the Loch Ness — although yes, it was beautiful and no, we didn’t see Nessie. I mean Leakey’s Used Books. It was filled with books and more books, plus maps and a cafe upstairs. A bibliophile’s dream.
I bought a collection about England’s social history during Thomas English’s lifetime.
Did I mention that I love books?
Next week: The Search for Thomas English, Part 2 — Stone Walls in Ireland
published in The Archdale-Trinity News, August 24, 2006.