Whilst Tita Falcieri may be perhaps the most interesting, and indeed the most glamorous, part of my family history thus far, he certainly isn’t the only focus of my attention. In fact, my family history spreads wide and far through England, Scotland and Ireland right back to the 17th century.
The origins of my Scottish roots have been of great interest to me for some time. I’ve known they existed for as long as I knew about Tita but my work on his life really did take most of the attention. Thankfully, because I have Celtic roots, they have also been easier to research, from a geographical perspective at least.
The point at which my two earliest familes on my Celtic side come together, is in 1826 when Simon Gallagher, a native of Dublin, Ireland, married Ruth Rome of Graitney, Scotland, in Holme Cultram, a village in North Cumbria. Their lives, I presume, were far from easy. They were, from what I tell, a poor agricultural and labouring family making ends meet the best way they could. And I suppose they probably couldn’t even write since their marriage record is the last time the Gallagher name is used in its true form.
After that, and in every single record, it is corrupted to a phonetic version of its original. Their first three children are registered under the name Gallower and Gallowher. And in all subsequent parish and census records they are recorded as Gollifer, Gulliver, Galyhoo, Gollafer, Gollipher, Oliver and Olifer. I am sure there will be others to add at some point. I have become used to searching for multiple variations whenever I am looking for them in old records. It’s all a part of the genealogical challenge and I do enjoy a challenge.
When the head of the household, Simon, committed suicide in 1851, half the family chose the name Oliver, and the other half chose Gollipher or versions of. I am told they did this to distance themselves as much as possible from the disgrace of such a crime (as it was regarded back then). Even now there are branches of the Gulliver/Gollipher family still out there. We of course are the Olivers, but it is strange to think that we should actually be Gallaghers. It is an interesting new perspective.
Earlier this month I took myself off to the Borders to see where the family came from in North Cumbria and the Scottish Lowlands. I wanted to get a feel for where they lived, the size of the communities, the landscape. It’s all very well seeing maps and images, but until you visit somewhere, you can’t really know how a family behaved or what they were up against or indeed how their environment motivated their life choices. It has been an important part of my exploration.
The family seemed to have moved fairly constantly and in less than 20 years had resided in six different villages and hamlets. Some of them – Wheyrigg, Langrigg, Kelsick and Bromfield – are nothing more than hamlets of some six or seven properties – small farming communities living hard lives for a hand to mouth existence. When I see these places now, even in their modern state, I can understand how hard and how isolated life must have been then, and I appreciate why the next generation were so keen to improve themselves and move to the big industrial towns and cities for better lives. There was nothing romantic about the set up back then.
Simon and Ruth had five children, three of whom, at least, married. Two had families of their own. One, a daughter Ann, provides a conundrum though. After Simon’s death, Ruth took her remaining family and moved to the village of Low Hesket and it was here that Ann began to produce children out of wedlock, four in all. I thought this would have been unusual for the time, and wouldn’t have gone unnoticed in such small church fearing communities. But as it turns out, illegitimacy was rather more common place than you might expect and I found consistent evidence in the records as I searched for evidence of my family in the old parish records.
Ann doesn’t appear to have hung around in Low Hesket to care for her children and it was her mother Ruth, now in her 60s, widowed and presumably without much of an income since she is listed as a ‘labourer’ in the 1871 census, who was left to care for the children. This is borne out in the 1861 census, before the birth of her last child when Ann is listed as a servant in a house in Southport, over 100 miles away.
Ann’s daughter Anne, who’s descendents I have chatted to via email, didn’t remember ever meeting her mother and certainly the children all seem to have been aware of their fatherless status. Even so, they made good in the world and had better lives than their forebears.
Going back the other way I’ve been very interested in my Rome family on the Scottish borders. They aren’t a big family. They aren’t even a clan, but websites suggest they were linked to the Johnstones. The Romes also married into families like Graham and Scott and so far back as I’ve gone are prevalent around Gretna, Annan and Canonbie. I am told the Rome family was a border family right back to the 12th century and if that’s true that feels pretty special to me. But I want to do more research into it.
Indeed, in Canonbie there are still Rome’s living in the village which is an exciting prospect. We know little about the Rome side of the family compared to the Oliver’s for whom we have a huge number of files, photos and recollections. Venturing from cities such as London where many of the families eventually found their fortunes, back to the lowlands of Scotland and, heaven knows where else, is an exciting adventure and one I am keen to repeat over and over.
I have ancestors on the other side of the country around Lowick, Berwick on Tweed and possibly even Lindisfarne Island, who became joined with my Olivers when they took the decision to move from Cumberland to Gateshead in the late 1860s, and they are next on my hit list.
The story never ends, and a recent rekindling of correspondence with living relatives has brought forth all sorts of interesting stories recollected from the last 70 years. These are precious interactions. In the next 20 years all those people will probably be gone, and unless we document everything now, information will be lost forever, Much of it already has, and you can never get those oral histories back again.