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16 October 2014

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French Connections

By Madeleine Purswani
September 2004,
A digital story from Who Do You Think You Are?

"As a young girl whenever I was at a dance or party I was always told I looked French. I would shrug these comments off and say that I led an outdoor life and that's why I was tanned, but secretly I was flattered. And it did arouse my curiosity about where my family had come from.

One day my aunt answered some of my questions by telling me that my great grandfather was a Huguenot who had fled to Ireland.

His name was George Charlemont. He married an Irish girl called Mary Kernen so converting to Catholicism. Then he became a tenant farmer on Lord Power's estate in County Wicklow. As far as I know there were two daughters from the marriage, Mary, my father's mother who came to England, then Ann who went to Paris as a governess.

I thought this was a very romantic tale but my father showed no interest in these details. His own life had perhaps held too many hardships to allow for thoughts of the past and there were no documents or photographs of his mother, Mary, the direct link to George Charlemont.

Yet is it a coincidence that I enjoy visits to France so much, that I have learnt French in my latter years? My daughter Leila has obtained a first class honours degree in French, her work also involves further study of the French language.

Has George Charlemont's influence stretched across the generations, or is this my fond imagination? I wonder if the French connection will appear again among my grandchildren?

Madeleine Purswani


Please tell us a little about yourself.
I am a retired teacher. Now I spend my time at a health club where I go to classes in Yoga and Aqua. I also belong to a choir. My family and my grandchildren occupy me too.

What's your story about?
It is about my great grandfather who was a Huguenot and possible influences in future generations. It was a story I had heard from my childhood. My daughter Lila was particularly interested and so we decided to find more information on George Charlemont's background.

What did you find the most rewarding aspect about the workshop?
Listening to other people's stories, reacting to the human elements that were portrayed in their accounts and the realisation that the computer could play such an effective part in this process of storytelling.

How has this workshop affected the way you look upon your family history?
It is not just a matter of recounting dates but using photos and memorabilia to convey the essence of the past."

Your comments

"Yes the Huguenots came to Wales and Ireland from 1680's -1720's. Maybe several other generations of your family also had the French Connection. My family, and we are talking Gt gt gt gt gt grandfather, came to Wales from France. Then he went to the USA as a young man with his Huguenot community and settled along the banks of the Chesapeake as a farmer. We have an early 19th century family history written with all the details.Yes, many French came to Britain." Jane Straub USA.

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