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The English Family my own included

The Family in Different TimesPosted by Graham Thompson Tue, January 12, 2016 14:35:05

The English have less and less contact with their genetic families. I wish to look at this development by first examining my mother's northern family from Durham, then comparing it with my father's family, which is more typical of my own life and family situation today. In later blogs in this category I will compare the English family in these examples with Belgian and Danish families, both which I know intimately and for long periods.

I recently got back in contact with a long lost cousin on my mother's side after more than 50 years. Ken Haywood is now the second oldest surviving member of my mother's family and is busy collecting information on the family tree. Our grandfather came, with his father and the rest of the family, to the mining village in Durham in the 1890s, in order to find more stable and well-paid work as a miner. My mother's grandfather, a Haworth by name, came for similar reasons from Bacup, Lancashire, about the same time to the same village, and his daughter married my grandfather in 1909. They settled down and almost all the male children, four brothers, also became miners, as well as most of their sons, my cousins. My mother and her children were the exception, along with her younger brother who made a career in the RAF.

The pit closed in 1965, prompting some of the brothers of my mother to either retire, or one younger one, to move to the North Notts coalfield at Worksop. This was the father of Ken, and his three younger brothers still live in the area. Many of the other cousins then moved into other occupations around Durham, if they could find them. In this family then, apart from my mother and her youngest brother, there was originally a large extended family of up to 18 adult males and their children all living within one village from 1890 until 1965, and up to the late 1970s there were 9 males remaining, who had not died or moved away. Today there are only 2 male cousins and 1 female from the family left alive in the village, 2 more have died and 2 have moved away since 1970. This, I would claim, is typical for what I would call a settled English family living in the 20th century and surviving two world wars. Only one of my cousins in Nottinghamshire still worked down the mine before the last pit recently closed, but mining, one could say, has always been at the centre of the Haywood family's lives. Here we have a pattern of settled job experience in maybe one or two locations with strong family links giving mutual support.

My cousin Ken now has little contact with his home mining village in the north, his last meeting with those left living was at the funeral of my mother's youngest brother, retired from the RAF, in Catterick two years ago. The family slowly lost contact with one another after my grandmother's death in 1971. I lost contact with the village after this too, though I did make one more trip there in 1991, at which time there was only one remaining uncle living there. However in the 1950s and 60s the family was an incredibly interactive unit, and I remember as a boy visiting at Christmas, New Year and in my summer holidays for two or three weeks, during which I witnessed at my grandmother's house a steady procession of her sons and grandchildren coming through the door. Everybody helped one another, and events like New Year and Christmas were celebrated together, sometimes with three sittings of 12 or more people each at my grandmother's table: grandparents and their children (my uncles), then my older cousins, and lastly myself and the younger cousins and "bairns" (great grandchildren).

On my father's side there was a very different pattern - one might call it the dispersed family pattern, quite the opposite from the Haywoods. From shortly after his marriage to my mother during the war, my father started a series of jobs for the army and air-force. I went to 10 different schools as a boy, but in his lifetime my father lived in over 50 houses in more than 30 towns. His parents were similarly nomadic, though of course my mother had lived in one village all her life until shortly before she married. It changed drastically thereafter, her life following the Thompson pattern rather than the Haywood. My Thompson grandfather came from Luton, his wife from Sheffield. There are traces of Italian blood in the Thompson side and sometime in the early 19th century this Italian strain moved to England and became workers, helping to build the railway line between Kings Cross London and Edinburgh. Their itinerant labours probably laid a curse on the whole family.

I have two living Thompson aunts (out of four) living in Vancouver, Canada and an uncle in London, Ontario. There are many more Thompson cousins living in Canada than England, most of whom I have never met and, of course, they have children and now grandchildren there. My parents were frequent visitors to them and my grandparents, who themselves immigrated there in the 1960s, after the first wave of emigration in the 50s. I have never visited Canada, even if one of my daughters has once done so, just to meet the "Canadian" cousins. I have one sister who lived in one town in the west country where her husband came from, for 33 years - an exception for the Thompsons. But in 1993 she "upped sticks" with her husband and went to live in Cyprus for 16 years. She is back in the west country now after her husband's death, living close to her two children.

My own children grew up and went to school in one neighbourhood in Swansea, Wales, where I went to college. But after my divorce I have lived and worked in four different countries - first Tanzania, on and off for about 4 years working as a researcher and development worker, then later as a teacher in Brussels, Belgium, 16 years, and now in Denmark, 7 years, where I intend to retire. I see my 3 children twice a year, as they all live in England, but none of them live close to one another. They see each other and their children maybe four or five times a year. So this is a typical dispersed family whose make-up has been thrown apart by migration, job mobility and general love of travel and the exotic. My parents visited more than 13 countries for their holidays, mostly outside Europe, including the States, Hawaii, Russia, and Tunisia (but never again Africa, said my mother afterwards). My sister and I have a longer list! The average English families probably lie in the middle of the extremes of the Haywoods and the Thompsons.

How these families contrast with Belgian and Danish families for patterns of migration and contact we shall see in the next blog in this series.

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