In the beginning…



My first interest in researching our family history stems from the stories I remembered my grandmother telling me about about my great-grandmother Ellen Wilson Hemingway, who was known as Ellen, daughter of John Wilson, but actually began life as Ellen Fozzard. My grandmother, Lilian Maud Hemingway, had told me:

“Mother was a mannequin – she was disowned by her family – her family were wealthy mill owners – her mother had a servant and she was driven about in a carriage”.

What I found was that Ellen was a dressmaker before her marriage and therefore probably also could be described as a mannequin, as dressmakers would model their samples in those days. Also, she was illegitimate, know by her step-father’s name of Wilson, but she legally still had the surname “Fozzard”, as shown on her marriage certificate…maybe her illegitimacy is the origin of the theory that she was disowned. Connections with the mill-owning Fozzards of Dewsbury and Batley, which I initially pursued, were not found. Perhaps the family assumed some connection, as the name is so unusual. However, Ellen’s husband was a textile engineer and they DID have a servant, whom I found enumerated on the Dewsbury census.

I also have some vague recollection of being told that Ellen’s family was associated with the fishing industry at Fleetwood. My cousin remembers that too. The Fozzards certainly had no connection with the west coast, having come from a line of stonemasons in West Ardsley, near Wakefield, but Ellen’s husband was named John Wilson. Wilson is a known name in the historic fishing industry on the Fylde coast, so perhaps there is a connection there to be explored. Like all family stories there were things I found to be true and other things perhaps exaggerated or attributed to the wrong person. I spent a long time researching the Fozzard and Hemingway families and, by this time, my appetite had been whetted and I became well and truly hooked. It was the beginning of an amazing journey into the past and I am still travelling.

Grandma Sheard, Dewsbury, 1916

My grandmother, Lilian Maud Hemingway, with Eric and Hector , Dewsbury, 1916

Inset is a picture of my grandmother Lilian, taken in 1916 with the children of her first marriage to Harry MacDonald, Hector (standing) and Eric (seated), who were my mother’s half-brothers. I have a great affinity with Lilian; like me, she was widowed early and re-married. A merchant sailor, Harry died from pneumonia aboard ship and my grandmother believed that he was buried at sea. I recently discovered that he died from pneumonia in the Spanish Flu epidemic in Dec 1918 in the Dardanelles, and he was buried in a British cemetery on a small island nearby. Similarly, my first husband died from hemorrhagic pneumonia in 1985. Both of us were left with two young children to rear.  Both re-married. Like me, she mostly wore purple and also in common is our love of amethysts.

I guess I’ve spent thousands of hours, since 2005, on researching my family. People often ask “how do you know it’s true?” and “where did you find it all?” Well, the simple answer is that I don’t know it all to be true…some links are accepted as true, based on the evidence available from one-name studies and checked by myself…and many more are proven to be true through documentation I have unearthed. In some cases the “truth” is based on a combination of evidence from parish records, census, birth, marriage and death certificates, property deals and wills. Together, they allowed me to piece together the families and build up a picture of my ancestors and their lives.

The details that are printed in this web site do not contain my research notes, of which I have over 1000 pages. Where links are uncertain that is noted down in my research notes, but of course, in this web site such “unproven” are not identified. When I find a link is definitely not viable, I edit the website accordingly, so some minor changes have been made over the last couple of years.

At some stage I must publish my findings in a family book for my children, grandchildren and beyond, but I am still agonising about the format and content of that and how to make it “palatable”. In the meantime, I intend to publish here a collection of some of our family stories, which you can find links to in the side bars left and right.