My Aunt JillPosted: April 12, 2012
In honour of officially launching www.englishgenealogy.webs.com I thought I’d reprise a few of my blogs about Genealogy.
Please check out www.englishgenealogy.webs.com. I have 35 years experience as a genealogist, starting long before the Internet came along. If you’d like to know more about where you came from, but dont have the time or expertise to Do-It-Yourself, I’m just the person to help.
My mother was born in May 1934 to an English couple visiting back home after some years away in the United States. They already had two American born children, a girl, Jill and a boy, Evan Michael.
Nobody living knows the story now, but for some reason the new baby was unwanted, and was dumped on her maternal grandparents and uncles. The family returned to the USA.
Mum’s Grandmother Jane-Caroline refused to allow her flesh and blood to be sent to the orphanage so for a while the baby, Jennie, was passed from hand to hand around the family, finally being adopted by the people that I called Nanna and Grandpa, who were in reality my grand-uncle Rowland Stroud and his wife Olive, who already had a son from a previous relationship, but no child with her husband. Nothing more was heard from my mother’s biological parents and siblings. Uncle Jack, Olive’s son, said he had seen Mum’s real mum and sister towards the end of WWII, either in Salisbury or in London, but that was all we knew. Just a couple of years after Rowland and Olive adopted Jennie they eventually had a child of their own, Maureen, giving my mother a sister at last
I have a teddy bear that was my mother’s and was allegedly her big sister, Jill’s before that, and we have some dolls clothes labelled with her name that were all her birth family left her. Jill Jones was an intriguing mystery to me always. I grew up hearing this story over and over again, and I suppose, in part it is one of the major reasons I ended up becoming a genealogist. I have always loved a mystery and this was such an intriguing one, bound up with my own origins.
You really have no idea how hard it was to find a person called Jones before the internet was around… There are hundreds of Joneses in every English speaking city in the world, and the ones I was looking for had not been seen since about 1945. I didn’t know how old the children were, or their precise names or where they were born. I had minimal details about the parents, where they had lived, where they had died. Nothing. When I think now of the countless hours I spent researching in telephone directories, I can’t help but laugh at how far off I was. All I managed to add to what I already knew was a marriage certificate and some very suspect and muddled notes on WW1 regiments and institutions
Bringing the story up to Y2K when I started using the internet. Other areas of my family tree could push back hundreds of years in just a couple of hours, but I remained stuck on my own grandparents, aunt and uncle with very little that was new but a few official certificates for a long time. I posted on message boards in the wild hope that someday someone would type one of those names in a search engine…
“Seeking brother ( Michael Jones) and sister ( Gillian or Jillian, nee Jones )
of Jennifer Ann (birthname Jones) b 15.5.1934 London England.
Evan Leslie Jones b 1898 North London (son of John / Agnes Martha (nee McDougal) Jones)
Caroline Frances (aka Frances) (nee Stroud) Jones b 1897 Portsea Hants (daughter of Henry Stroud and Jane Caroline (nee Philipps)Stroud)
Evan Jones and C.Frances Stroud married in Southampton Hampshire 2.2.1919
Evan served in Royal Garrison Artillery in World War 1
Frances was in the QMAAC (Queen Marys Auxiliary Ambulance Corps)
Jillian(or Gillian) and Michael born between 1919 and 1930
Seeking Gillian (Jillian) and Michael Jones and their descendants.. Whereabouts Unknown .. possibly USA? All information gratefully received on any topic mentioned here”
It was a complete stab in the dark, and nothing happened.
About nine years later I finally got a reply. It was from a woman in Ohio who said she believed she might be my first cousin, but at the same time she could barely believe it herself.
“I just saw this message and it brought tears to my eyes. My name is Jennifer Ann the same as your mother. Michael was my dad. Caroline was my grandmother. Jill is my aunt. I was named for your mom, apparently, and never knew it..
…. I just spoke with my mother …I am not named for your mom, but in a random and crazy coincidence, my mom chose that name for me without knowing about Michael’s sister. How amazing is that? Do get in touch. I have some information and a lot of questions. E-mail me?
At this point, I had been actively searching for these people since the mid 1970s so as you can imagine I was swift to answer.
It transpired that my uncle was deceased, but had an extensive family living in Ohio. More extraordinary, my near legendary aunt was still alive and living in Lemon Grove in Southern California.
In another completely bizarre coincidence, I was due to be in “SoCal” just three weeks later for a “Weird Al” Yankovic fan convention and so it was that I finally met the amazing, wonderful force of nature that was my so long mysterious Aunt Jill.
Jill and I hit it off immediately. The physical resemblance was striking, putting to rest any niggling doubts that my mother could be only a half sister. Jill was quite a girl, a down to earth practical person who knew her own mind and didn’t suffer fools gladly. There was no time to learn all I wanted to know about her in the short afternoon visit, and I promised to return the following year, which I did, and the year after, which, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was not able to do.
Three weeks ago I wrote to her and said I was finally returning, and she immediately invited me to stay. I was so excited to be seeing her again. It is incredibly hard to put across to other what this woman, whom I only met twice, meant to me. I was so pumped up at the thought of seeing her again. I really loved her far more than is reasonable of someone one has only met twice
Finding Jill at last was, for me, a symbol of so many things, a mark of achievement after all those years searching, and in a way it was also my gift to my own mother. Jill confirmed that her mother had been neglectful and harsh and that my mother had been the lucky one. My mother was able to dismiss all her “What ifs” and be glad that things had happened as they did.
Mum and Jill never met, but they did write each other letters in this last two years. Jill said she had always wanted to have a sister, and had never known she already had one. After my first meeting with Jill I was struck by the sadness of not having known and loved this great woman all of my life, and spent a while in La Jolla fighting back the tears for two little girls who never played together.
On Wednesday, an old lady, three days past 84, died far away on another continent. Part of me died with her.
My Aunt Jill, my mother’s sister, was a rebel, a free thinker, the wild one of the family. How I wish I had got to know her sooner than I did.