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What Do I Think I’m Doing?

Posted by on March 22, 2014

At the last meeting of the Writing Family History group, we thought it would be good to take stock of our projects, so that’s what I’m doing.

My grandfather on the stone 'Wonderful' Walker sat on to shear his sheep, Seathwaite Churchyard, Lancashire

My grandfather on the stone ‘Wonderful’ Walker sat on to shear his sheep, Seathwaite Churchyard, Lancashire

Three years ago I was approaching near-retirement and clearing up my late parents’ house, my stepfather having died in the autumn of 2010, leaving some papers about my mother’s family and some genealogy he had uncovered.  A perfect time to begin what I had always intended to do in retirement – explore my grandfather’s family history, having done a little work on it forty years before, when I was researching his theatrical career.  The Faber Academy:Writing Family History course running from January to July 2011, was just the thing to set me going.  I would concentrate on his great-grandmother, Esther Casson, whose portrait I had known since childhood, and who, I’d always heard, was a remarkable, forward-looking woman.  She was the granddaughter of a Lakeland curate memorialised by William Wordsworth, the Reverend Robert Walker, nicknamed ‘Wonderful’ Walker.

I did not begin research until April 2011, and was chagrined to find there was little or no material relating directly to her. I expanded my project to include my own great-grandmother, about whom there was more information.  I coined the title: Marrying Mr Casson.  How many Mrs Cassons to include remains an interesting question. I am currently focusing on one more, of the intervening generation, daughter-in-law of my first Mrs Casson, mother-in-law of the third.  A difficult woman by some accounts.

It has been slow work, partly because I have given myself such a wide spread, and partly because of the paucity of direct material; I still have a large number of unanswered questions, genealogical and other.  The big question is: Is there a reading pubic for this, or is it of interest only to me and to some of my family?  Much of the information I have gathered has been circumstantial; reading around the context of these women is fascinating, but could tempt me into ‘info-dump’.

I must fictionalise my Mrs Cassons to bring them to life, but I have still not decided what is the shape and thrust of the work or its viewpoint. I am searching for a structure that will give an original slant on researching and inventing their lives.  I love stories of the winding paths people have gone on to uncover their family history.  But there is usually a revelation unveiled at some point in their journey, or a mystery solved. I have discovered no such buried treasure.

I intended to complete a first draft at the end of 2013, but have only reached the 1820s.  I shall continue writing a chronological account mixing fact and fiction, and then see what I really want to do with this study of three British women whose lives stretched beyond both ends of the nineteenth century.  I foresee at least another two years’ work, hopefully with the continuing encouragement and support of the Faber Academy:Writing Family History alumnae, as well as of the family members who take an interest in my project.


© Diana Devlin

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