Our schedule was much too tight as we could have stayed the week in Dover; it was just lovely with lots of interesting and historical things to see. We traveled along the south coast on our way to meet our distant cousin who had agreed to meet us for tea. We passed castles along the way that just begged us to pull off the road and linger for a few hours. Alas, we needed to move on and were content with seeing the beautiful beaches and countryside from the car. Somewhere along the way, our radio came on in the car with a warning about traffic conditions just ahead including detailed information about the motorway we were traveling and our direction – quite a fun surprise since we had never heard of anything like that before.
We reached cousin Rick and Linda’s house near Titchfield about mid afternoon as they were finishing up a yard sale event at their house. It was fun to meet them and hear about their lives over tea. Since tea is not really a special event where we grew up in the US, it was especially meaningful to share it with these new relatives and friends. As you might expect, the conversation turned to family and genealogy as they told stories about some of the places we were planning to see. It just notched up the excitement level as we heard about the charming small towns and churches where grandma and grandpa lived as children.
We spent the night in a hotel on the harbor in Southampton, the port where the Hinde family boarded the Teutonic for New York in 1906 to begin the adventure of their lives. The next day we took a slight detour to the little town of Risely and looked through the graveyard without finding any familiar names. We went to the vicar’s house and got permission to go into the church to look around. We learned so much about England from that stop. There was an elevated section just off the sanctuary that had been built for the lower classes; they were not allowed on the main floor along with land owners in the upper classes of the time. There was a rope hanging near the back for ringing the church bell and the vicar said that training sessions were underway for bell ringers in preparation for an important anniversary celebration. The church was decorated for a fall harvest celebration from the previous week.
We also learned about conkers. Two people in two days had cautioned us to “Mind the conkers.” So we asked the vicar to explain. Conkers are chestnuts – horse chestnuts to be more precise. They look a lot like a buckeye – but larger. In the fall, they are on the ground and could cause quite a nasty fall if you step on them in a certain way. Children – historically little boys – in England search for the largest and strongest conkers to use in a game called . . . conkers. You tie the best conker you can find on a string by drilling a tiny hole in the conker and threading the string through the hole. Then you spin your conker on the string while your opponent spins his in the opposite direction until you conk them together. The objective is to break your opponent’s conker. I confirmed this story with British friends here in the states who just raved about the childhood memories that flooded back when thinking about playing conkers with their friends in England.
We wondered about how grandpa and grandma Hinde could have met since Risely was so far from Kempston and speculated as we made our way north to Buckinghamshire just an hour or so north of London. A few days later we discovered that there are two Risely’s in England – the one we visited and one within walking distance from the town where grandpa lived. Sigh . . . so much for planning. That’s why the original documents we had made such a big deal out of Riseley *Bedfordshire* England!
One of our first stops was the city grave yard in Kempston just to see if we could find any Hinde grave markers. The office to the cemetery was closed so that we could not ask about records or locations – so we carefully stepped through the conkers and covered the entire cemetery in about an hour. We made our way to Turvey where great grandfather Hinde was supposed to be buried and found one distant cousin buried there next to a beautiful church.
We finally got to the correct Riseley church where grandma and grandpa were married in 1898. A friendly local directed us to the vicar’s house and he was very friendly and helpful. The church is quite old and the vicar explained that the main section was built first and then a side portion build later. The “new” section was 250 years old as I recall. The iron door was built by a famous metal worker from London and is still working and being used every day. The vicar apologized that they only have records back to the 1600s in the church – a pretty foreign concept to us since churches in the US are generally only 100 or 200 years old. We were able to get some good information about some in-laws from the ledger kept there. I took a few pictures inside including one with my wife standing on the step where her grandparents stood a hundred years ago and pledged their love for each other. It was a poignant moment for both of us as we soaked in the feeling of that place and imagined the beginning of their lives as a married couple.
Doing some research in this area? Here are some resources that helped us.
Tel: 01234 350931
Fax: 01234 342163
A great set of microfiche with both church and public records from Bedfordshire – many not online yet.
Taos County Historical Society
Buckinghamshire Family History Society
Bedfordshire Family History Socieety
Other neat links:
Gene Hall is a genealogist with almost 30 years of experience and the CEO of FamilyTrackers, Inc., a world-wide genealogy exchange dedicated to serving the needs of genealogists, genealogical societies, professional genealogists, and transcribers all over the world. FamilyTrackers is located at http://www.familytrackers.com/
About the author: By Gene Hall