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16 October 2014

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Under the Eye

By Keith Rattenbury
September 2004,
A digital story from Who Do You Think You Are?

"All my life I have felt overawed when comparing myself with the achievements of previous generations of Rattenburys.

The focus of this anxiety was in my grandmother's house. She had a silver tea service engraved with name of the Reverend John Rattenbury, his portrait hung on the wall. My great great grandfather. He was there watching everything I did, with an air of benevolent disapproval. Like the Mona Lisa, his eyes followed me round the room. He was first and foremost of the awesome ancestors.

Sometimes people would recognise my name - "Are you one of the Rattenburys?" I would confess, but try to play it down. And gradually over the years my sense of connection grew weaker as I got on with my own life and found my own identity.

Then in 1992, Rev. John made a surprise reappearance in my life. We'd moved to York and joined the local Methodist church and I had taken up lay preaching. I was due to preach in our own church. Someone showed me an article from an old Yorkshire Herald, "New Wesleyan Chapel, Haxby. The opening service will be held on August 13th 1879 as follows: The Rev J Rattenbury of London will preach at half past two..."

It felt like John had come off the wall - the passive and judgemental portrait had become a real person, still formidable, but part of the community that I belonged to. And I was able to take a part in something he had started. In fact I could do him a service, he had been too ill to come to Haxby - he had died the following December.

So I took Rev. John into the pulpit the night I preached - and together we were able to link past glories and future hope. I helped him to fulfil his obligations, if a little late. And he helped me reconnect with my family's history."

Keith Rattenbury


Please tell us a little about yourself.
I'm married with a grown up family, and live in the York area. I work as an occupational therapist. I am also a lay preacher in a Methodist Church and regularly lead worship in the area.

What's your story about?
It was going to be about the life and work of my great grandfather, but it became more of a story of the links between us. It was triggered by a remarkable coincidence - but I did not really choose to tell this story - it sort of developed during the process.

What did you find the most rewarding aspect about the workshop?
The comaraderie and the opportunity to concentrate on one thing.

How has this workshop affected the way you look upon your family history?
It has helped me to see myself as a part of my family's history, rather than a "looker on"."

Your comments

"I am a tour director, and my tours end in Victoria BC, with the Rattenbury story. After it ends, my clients are eager to know what happened to the great architect's descendants. I have learned about John, but there the story ends." Dale Pollard Kelowna BC Canada.

"To respond to the latest comments - Yes, Irene, Morley Rattenbury was my father's cousin and thus the great grandson of the Rev John. I'm afraid he died about a year ago. Hello Bill - we've been in touch through Genes Reunited, didn't know you had found this little effort!" Keith Rattenbury.

"Good story and his family related to the Murdered Francis Rattenbury and had family from nr where I live in Banbury." Bill in Oxford

"I enjoyed you story very much only coming across the web site by accident.Are you any relation to Morley Rattenbury who was a Methodist minister in otley? He retired to Silverdale. I believe he had 4 sons." Irene from Otley.

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