Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Chapter 49

Harry McFry learned a couple of important (and expensive) lessons soon after he started researching his own family history, and they were lessons he now kept firmly in mind whenever he was researching others’: don’t believe anything anyone tells you that they ‘remember’ about their family, and always try to triangulate your information.

His own father had left a sketchy note outling his family descent, when he’d died some fifteen years previously. When, much later, Harry had developed his own interest in genealogy, he’d used the note as his guide, leapfrogging generations backwards in one go, so that he was soon digging around in parish records for his eighteenth century forebears. Then, something an aunt had said to him at a family funeral had rung alarm bells, and he’d gone back to look at his father’s research and realized, with horror, that it included a fundamental error. Two years of his own searches had been, he knew then, in vain. He’d had to start all over again, from scratch, and it had un-nerved him to lose, at a stroke, so many of the ancestors he’d come to know so well. Older and wiser, now, Harry never took on trust information someone else gave him.

Triangulating his information became his trademark. If possible, he didn’t want just one piece of information about someone’s existence, he wanted two, three … sometimes more. If he found someone on a census, he’d want to find them in a trade directory, too. If it was a marriage or death certificate, he’d want to find out about the witnesses at the marriage, or the person who informed the death. That was just how Harry was, now, as young Danny Longhurst was starting to appreciate.

“So, Danny,” he said, slowly, “what do we ‘know’?”

Danny looked at the pages of facsimile copies on the desk between them.

“Well … we know that Laurel Blyth McFry is a female, born 25 January 1974, in Birkenhead, to Philip McFry, a company director, born in somewhere called Sutton Howgrave, North Yorkshire and Colleen McFry, maiden name Blyth. Place of birth ‘Not Known’. The birth was registered at Birkenhead, on 29 January 1974.” While Danny read this information out, Harry patiently input it into a genealogical software programme on his PC. “Next!” Harry barked, so that Danny shifted straight to Laurel’s father’s birth certificate.

“Philip McFry, male, born 27 February 1924, Howgrave, North Yorkshire. Father, James McFry, Clothing Business Owner. Mother, Anne McFry, maiden name Lawrence, born Topcliffe, North Yorkshire. Registered at Ripon, North Yorkshire, 3 March 1924.” Danny was getting the hang of Harry’s style, and moved straight on to the marriage details for Philip and Colleen, even while Harry was still on the screen for Philip McFry.

“Marriage, 3 June 1970, of Philip McFry, aged 46, Bachelor, Company Manager, of 73 Topcliffe Road, Thirsk, North Yorkshire. Father’s name, James McFry, Clothing manufacturer (deceased).” Danny waited a moment or two, while Harry caught up with him. “OK, Danny…” Harry said, “…fire away!”

Danny was enjoying working with Harry like this. Whenever he’d pieced family histories together himself, it had been working alone. There was something different about working alongside someone like Harry. He continued his task with relish:

“Colleen Blyth, aged 23, Spinster. No occupation. Address, 73, Topcliffe Road, Thirsk, North Yorkshire. Father’s name ‘Not Known’. Danny saw Harry pause from his typing, and look up at him.

“OK – so we know they were possibly living together before they got married. And that’s quite an age gap, wouldn’t you say? “ Harry asked, almost rhetorically.

“Old enough to be her father!” Danny exclaimed. They looked at each other. But they both knew: however complicated this story was, that was one complication they would be unlikely to have to deal with.

No comments: