Posted by: Admin | August 7, 2010

THE SATURDAY INTERVIEW 6 – Rich

MAKING A PRESENT OF THE PAST

Richard Nichols is a project50 email subscriber, so I am delighted to have him as the subject of this week’s Saturday Interview. A new Grandad at 52, Rich has found himself caught up in a new mid-life pastime as he took over his own parents’ thirty-year quest to unravel the secrets of their family tree.

The Nicolls Family Crest

“35 years ago my parents were shown a magazine article about ‘Hanging Judge’ Augustus Nicolls who was said to have put a curse on the village of Faxton, Near Lamport (Northants) in the 17th century,” Rich tells me when we meet. The judge, who died in 1616, was said to have been poisoned by four women, “allegedly to stop him passing sentence.”

His imagination was sparked by this intriguing story, laying the foundation for an interest in genealogy that has now become a passion.

“It’s like unravelling a mystery, tracing all these family members,” he admits. Did the passing of his own father last year, days after the birth of his first grandson, throw the past into greater relief, I wonder? “Certainly, it made me want to write it all up for Zander.” Rich documents his search for his routes in his blog, “essexroots“, but he has another, more private blog for the little boy. “He might not be interested when he grows up, but at least the information will be there for him and he’ll know where he came from.”

The newest generation

It’s important to Rich that Zander has the right details. Another family member has written up the family tree, but “A lot of the research my cousin came up with just didn’t feel right.” Reading his blog, I can see that Rich finds romance in his quest, revelling in the quaint place names and enjoying visiting the places where his ancestors have lived. Two years ago, after being made redundant, he took the opportunity to travel to India to look for the birthplace of his maternal grandfather, Harry Essex, (Pop).

“Pop was born in the Punjab. His father, George Essex, was a British Army Officer who broke his neck in a diving accident in 1897 in Lucknow.” Quite a military family, then? “Oh yes. I had an uncle who fought in the Korean War and Levi Essex, Harry’s great-grandfather, was awarded the Waterloo Medal in 1815.”

Ancestor, Levi Essex, was at the Battle of Waterloo

Rich’s quest to find his roots in India took him on an odyssey from Mumbai, to Delhi, to the Punjab by train to Ambala, where Harry was born. “I felt an instant connection to Ambala,” RIch says, “and finding Harry’s name in the baptism register there was a spine-tingling moment.”

With only ghosts for company, it was, however, a lonely three weeks. “Apart from Ambala, no one spoke except in restaurants and on trains. The Taj Mahal took my breath away, but it was a lonely experience.”

Since returning from India, Rich has continued to trawl the internet, using ancestry websites, the Records Office at Kew and Google Earth to trace members from all branches in his family tree. Last month he even found himself at a Tearle family reunion where he met a distant relative. When will his quest come to a conclusion?

“I’m almost satisfied, there are just a few loose ends to tie up. Plus I want to put the meat on the bones of some of these stories”

I sense a reluctance to let go – after all, researching the family tree has taken up a great deal of his spare time for more than two years. “I like seeing these glimpses of the past, but once it’s done, it’s done,” Rich says firmly.

After all, the new generation of the Nichols family has begun to arrive and, watching Rich play with Zander, I have a feeling that once he’s unravelled the mysteries of the little boy ‘s legacy, Rich’s attention will turn to the future.

Thanks for talking to me, Rich. If you think you can shed any light on the Nicolls or Tearle families, or would like to read more about Richard’s discoveries, you can contact him via project50 or through his own blog.

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