When I was about thirteen, my mother quietly told me that my father had been married before he had met her, that it had been one of those war time marriages when they were both very young and which, like so many, should never have happened.
The marriage had produced a daughter who had been adopted after the marriage broke up and so, somewhere, I had a half sister a few years older than me. Apart from a feeling of sadness for him, I had no problems with my father having been married before.
It was never spoken of with my father. I have no idea whether he actually knew that my mother had told me. Perhaps he asked her to tell me but I can imagine that she thought that the time was approaching when I might ask questions. After all, if I came across their marriage certificate, I might wonder why my parents were married three weeks after I was born and not the year before, as I had assumed. She explained that Pa and his first wife had separated some time before and that it took time to track her down to obtain the divorce, by which time my birth was imminent and I guess my mother wasn’t very keen to get married whilst carrying a large bulge.
And so, technically, I was a bastard. This bothered me not one iota. I knew that my parents married from love and that’s all that mattered.
My mother told me that my sister’s name was Sandra. Thereafter, every time I met somebody named Sandra who was a few years older than me, I wondered….. In fact, I worked with somebody who fitted the parameters but I never raised the matter.
When my father died, my brother and I found some autobiographical notes amongst his papers covering his early life, school and work. He referred to his first marriage and gave the name of his wife. And there the notes ended, as if it was too painful to him to go on.
Fast forward to 2004 and my aunt’s request that I research the family history. I signed up to Genes Reunited and entered the names of my parents and grandparents. My father’s details included his full name, John Anthony Jefferys and his birth in 1922, in Calcutta, India.
Then it occurred to me that, if my half sister was looking for her birth father, Genes Reunited was probably the only way for her to find him, or at least, his family. And so I added her and her mother’s names and their year of birth.
Some years later, Sandra’s husband and son started researching their family history, including entering the Martin surname on Genes Reunited and Sandra suggested that they look on the website for her father, John Anthony Jefferys, who she’d tried to trace for many years.
And so it was that, in June 2008, I received a message through Genes Reunited from Sandra’s son saying that he thought John Anthony Jefferys was his mother’s father.
For some minutes it reduced me to a gibbering wreck, wordlessly gesticulating at the screen, wondering about my next move. Taking a deep breath, I pulled myself together, replied to my newly discovered nephew and then worked out what time it was in South Korea, where my brother was teaching English. The next day I telephoned him. “Are you sitting down? I’ve got some news for you.”
Over the years, my brother in-law Vince and my nephew had been able to make some headway in researching the Martin family but there had been a few problems, especially with regard to Vince’s grandfather, about whom Vince knew very little. I had resolved to help them sort it out but there had always been too many other research projects which got in the way.
Sadly Sandra died last year. In July this year, Vince and his son announced that they were coming to see me in my new home. I realised that I had a three week window of opportunity and did nothing else but research the Martin family.
Vince sent me copies of all the birth, marriage and death certificates which he’d obtained and I followed the family through the censuses and then back into the parish registers.
My brother in-law is a Gloucester lad through and through, descended from three generations of Gloucester folk, but I had to tell him that his 2, 3, 4 and 5 x great grandparents came from Minehead in Somerset. However, he’s still a Gloucester lad and won’t be switching his support away from the Gloucester rugby team any time soon. And, as my brother is an Exeter supporter (being a Devon lad born not far from Exeter) it means Vince and JJ will still be debating the merits (or otherwise) of their teams whenever Gloucester plays Exeter.
I couldn’t have researched the family so quickly if he hadn’t already obtained most of the certificates and was able to get a few more from the local registrar far quicker than if I’d had to order them from the General Records Office.
I was also aided by two members of Genes Reunited who had listed some of the same Martin family in their family tree, Ann Edwards and Linda Hayward, who kindly gave me access to their trees. I was able to verify the entries they’d made.
And my thanks are due also to the people who transcribed the parish registers for St Michael’s Church, Minehead, for www.Genuki.org.uk and freereg2.freereg.org.uk. I made great use of both websites.
Now my brother in-law has a family tree detailing his Martin ancestors and wider family from Gloucester back to 1725 in Minehead, Somerset. Generations of the family were baptised, married or buried at St Michael’s church and I’m looking forward to hearing of his visit there. Perhaps there are some gravestones waiting to be discovered.
Next: The Early Years