Everybody has their own route into things. Different inputs leading to similar outputs – or at least travelling down similar roads.
In the case of my journey into genealogy – family history – the inspiration was my grandfathers. All four of them. Yep. You read that right.
Growing up, every Friday we would visit my mother’s parents – Eva and Otto Frysol – and have tea with them after school. I suppose at some point I might’ve asked why Grampy spoke with a funny accent. I suppose at some point my mother (or possibly one of my brothers) told me that he was German and had married my grandmother after the war. I think this blew my mind somewhat as I knew that, well, the Germans were the enemy during WWII. At some other point I was told, or found out, that my mother’s maiden name was not the same as Otto’s. This was due to the fact that her father was not Grampy, but an American soldier, named Ellis Howard Adams, who Eva had met and fallen in love with and then married. Parental forces had stopped my young grandmother and her daughter from crossing the ocean to be with him (or so I have been told – although the picture of Eva below was taken to be her passport photo).
I can’t say that my mother’s parentage was ever an issue – it certainly wasn’t for Otto. He was her father. End of story. He was my Grampy. End of story. But what of Ellis? My mother remembers playing with his two Purple Heart medals as a child, and also of receiving birthday cards upon occasion, and there were letters to Eva. Apparently two of my grandmother’s sisters attempted to trace him in America through The Red Cross – unfortunately the response was that he had remarried and didn’t want any contact. Which seemed to be enough for my mother. She had her ‘dad’. She didn’t need anybody else. But curious? Perhaps.
My father’s parents were a different story. His mother, Norah, was older than Eva, and I only ever remember her as an old woman – shrunken and papery. Which is a shame. I only saw her a few times a year … maybe my birthday and Christmas when we’d deliver her Just Brazils and Simple soap. Consequently she didn’t play a large part in my childhood mind. She had been widowed the year I was born. I can’t recall meeting Grampy Eddie, but he met me nonetheless. The story has it that he was severely ill in hospital whilst my mother was pregnant, but wanted desperately to see his youngest grandson. He held on until I arrived and was presented to him. To honour him, I was given his name – Edward – as my middle name.
But, as is obvious, there is another twist in this story. Eddie wasn’t my father’s biological father. That lay with a man named Robert Leslie Payne (although – to complicate matters further – he’d been adopted by his maternal aunt and her husband so was known by the name Robert Leslie Stanfield for the vast majority of his life). He had also been a soldier in WWII, and also American. Unlike Eva and Ellis, Bob and Norah weren’t married. And unlike Ellis, Bob wanted to know my father – even going so far as offering to adopt him, something Norah was against.
Again, my father was raised by his stepfather and considered him ‘dad’, and that was as far as it went. There were a few phonecalls as a teenager and even when he was engaged to my mother, but no true contact. Almost 15 years ago, in a restaurant, I asked my parents’ permission to try and trace their fathers and any related family. They agreed, with certain caveats.
And that was how I developed my
obsession interest in genealogy. What I found and where it took me? That’s for another post. But these four men – Ellis, Otto, Eddie & Bob – all contributed to my life, either through nature or nurture, and their presence is felt in everything I do.