Not long ago Mr N & I took a trip to the Welsh borders in search of an ancestral village or two. I had romantic ideas about the little sheep farm where Great Grandmother Cadwallader was born in 1848 and when we arrived at the farmhouse, not far from Offa's Dyke, I took pleasure in imagining the ups and downs of farming life in this beautiful landscape.
The house had been rebuilt but there were still hens clucking by the doorstep and eggs for sale at the gate.
In photographs Great Grandmother looks as if she had managed to weather life's storms quite well...
...and her daughters, my Great Aunts, were legendary to me (though I never met them). They were attractive, strong, successful - so I was told.
In my mind this was a family story of hard work and striving to improve life for future generations - but that is not quite so.
A few weeks ago a new genealogical resource came online - the British Newspaper Archive. There was no warning to the keen researcher - no "Proceed with care!"
Great Great Grandmother and Grandfather, Hannah and William, were married in 1833 and set up home at his Father's farm, in these Welsh hills...
...the first newspaper report I found was about Hannah, who by 1836 was the mother of two young boys.
Things were becoming much more murky than I'd imagined.
I caught up with William in 1851...
... then Hannah and William in 1858. At this time my Great Grandmother was 10 and her younger brother was 6 years old.
Not quite the bucolic scene I had imagined, more squalid than picturesque...
By 1861 the farm was lost and in 1868 Hannah, by this time in her 50s, was in the news again.
My illusions are shattered, but Mr N says that this new information explains a lot!
For more about wild Welsh farming folk I recommend the film "On The Black Hill" and Bruce Chatwin's novel of the same name on which it is based.