“Why rake up events that oc­curred so long ago?”

Else Churchill won­ders why some peo­ple fail to see the im­por­tance of their fam­ily his­tory, and looks at a con­fer­ence that aims to high­light dif­fer­ent his­to­ries

Your Family History - - Agenda: What’s On -

Watch­ing Clare Bald­ing’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? a while back, I was struck by the se­crets the re­searchers had un­earthed for her. One line took her back to a suc­cess­ful en­tre­pre­neur – Joseph Christof­fel Hoagland (1841-1899) – who founded the Royal Bak­ing Pow­der Com­pany, once the largest man­u­fac­turer of bak­ing pow­der in Amer­ica. The Hoaglands de­scended from a Dutch im­mi­grant, Christof­fel Hoaglandt, who en­tered what was then New Am­s­ter­dam (later New York) in 1634, and died in 1684. He was re­lated to Sarah Rapelje, the first white Euro­pean Chris­tian woman to be born on New York soil.

One tele­vi­sion re­viewer I read wondered how it was that Clare didn’t al­ready know about this con­nec­tion, given that early set­tler an­ces­try in Amer­ica is akin to aris­toc­racy. If Clare had read the blog of one of our mem­bers, Roy Stock­dill, who looked at this story four years ago, she might well have done. How­ever, it seems the wealthy Hoaglands weren’t that im­pressed with one of their daugh­ters mar­ry­ing the buc­ca­neer­ing cham­pion polo player Ger­ald Matthews Bald­ing – who was Clare’s grand­fa­ther – and the fam­i­lies cer­tainly didn’t seem to have stayed close. I’ve read else­where that Clare’s fa­ther (whose pa­ter­nal line de­scends through a line of horse breed­ers and deal­ers) was more in­clined to talk dogs and horses than dis­cuss per­sonal mat­ters with her, and knew lit­tle about his mother’s fam­ily. I feel this is the typ­i­cal feel­ing of many peo­ple who aren’t in­ter­ested in the past, and who are, in fact, puz­zled by an in­ter­est in fam­ily his­tory. Why rake up events that oc­curred so long ago - what’s the point?

Se­crets and sto­ries will linger, but can be­come clouded within just a short time. Clare, who is con­nected to the Earls of Derby through her mother, was cu­ri­ous about her ma­ter­nal great-grand­par­ents’ re­la­tion­ship, won­der­ing if it was love match. Al­ter­na­tively, was it a mar­riage of con­ve­nience, given that af­ter be­ing wid­owed, Clare’s great-grand­fa­ther ap­peared to be­come part of a clos­eted gay po­lit­i­cal world in the 1930s, and was sus­pected of an af­fair with the artist Rex Whistler? She was lucky to find an in­sight into their story through amaz­ing per­sonal ar­chives of let­ters, cal­en­dars and scrap­books. To be gay or bi­sex­ual then was a crime, and clearly, many re­la­tion­ships at this time were com­pli­cated by the need for se­crecy. There is much fo­cus at the mo­ment on life be­fore the 1967 Sex­ual Of­fences Act, which de­crim­i­nalised ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. The Na­tional Ar­chives has a se­ries of fas­ci­nat­ing pod­casts on gen­der and di­ver­sity, along with a re­search guide on LGBT his­tory to be found in the records.

These are the kind of sto­ries we hope to spot­light at the joint AGRA/GOONS/HALSTED/ SoG ge­neal­ogy con­fer­ence in 2018 – Se­cret Lives: Hid­den Voices of our An­ces­tors. The con­fer­ence lec­tures will be aimed at fam­ily his­to­ri­ans in­ter­ested in trac­ing an­ces­tors who may be less rep­re­sented in main­stream records, whose voices are dif­fi­cult to hear, or who might be over­looked or in­deed elu­sive.

We’ve been think­ing about talks on bigamy, di­vorce, mar­riage break­down from the 18th to 20th cen­turies; LGBTQIA Lives, so­cial his­tory, records and cur­rent re­search; the crim­i­nal un­der­class; bagnios and bawdy houses; pros­ti­tu­tion in 18th cen­tury Lon­don; fallen women ( Vic­to­rian pros­ti­tu­tion and re­form); Vic­to­rian de­tec­tives, po­lice and crime; trans­porta­tion; so­cial de­pri­va­tion in Lon­don and other ur­ban ar­eas; so­cial de­pri­va­tion and life in ru­ral ar­eas; and re­search­ing fe­male an­ces­tors. For more in­for­ma­tion, see the web­site www.se­cretlives.org.uk.

Se­crets and lies will linger, but can be­come clouded within just a short time

Clare Bald­ing’s an­ces­tor Joseph Hoagland

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