Your ideas, comments and advice
In February 2015 the story of my great aunt, Evelyn M Pike, was published in this magazine. She was ‘My Family Hero’ because she had committed her life to a career in nursing and, among several honours, had received the Royal Red Cross medal from George V in 1920, for her valiant efforts during the First World War.
Imagine my surprise when I was contacted (on 11 November) by a medal collector and dealer who had obtained my details through our private tree on ancestry.co.uk. He asked me to send him a photo and further information about Evelyn, as he had acquired her medals.
We knew that the medals had been passed down to another relation who was not married, but we had always assumed that they would stay in the family. She died in the summer, and somehow the medals were put into an auction at the end of October.
I passed on the dealer’s email to my uncle. He is the only surviving relation who actually knew his Aunt Evelyn, and also the person who gave me much of the material to start my research into her life. Naturally, he was saddened to think that a total stranger was now in possession of several medals and her nurse’s cape, and he ended up buying them for far more than the dealer had paid.
We are thrilled to have them back in the family, where they belong. However, it is unfortunate that a member of the family has had to pay a substantial amount of money to get them back.
The medals are a very important part of our family’s history – so maybe we were complacent and should have kept in closer contact with the relation to ensure that they stayed with us. They happen to have a monetary value nowadays
– but so many things are of sentimental or historical value within a family. They cover the aspects of a life which cannot be found in the resources online.
In my role as ‘family archivist’ after my father died, I went into the loft in my parents’ home and searched for everything I could find relevant to his family history. Among many obvious things, I discovered an old carrier bag full of the letters he had written to his parents during the Second World War, when he was serving in India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). My mother had no idea it was there, so it would have been seen as rubbish and thrown away. Instead, I have the letters as a fascinating insight into his time in the Royal Air Force.
Photographs, certificates, letters, postcards, diaries, books, prizes, toys… the list goes on. So borrow and copy what you can, get names on the back of photos, and make it known that Great Grandad’s old paint box does actually mean something to you, and you would rather see it in your house than in a skip. Collect and collate as much as you can, before it is too late.
Our family history is more than just a tree of names – although ironically in this case, it did help to bring our medals home.
Susan Rose, by email
EDITOR REPLIES: Wise advice Susan, and I’m glad the medals returned to Evelyn’s family.
These medals were awarded to Susan Rose’s great aunt Evelyn M Pike for her services to nursing