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16 October 2014

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Family Puzzle

By Mick Henry
September 2004,
A digital story from Who Do You Think You Are?

"Family history is so often incomplete.

It is rather like buying a second hand jigsaw. There's the risk of missing pieces.

As a child, we often visited my grandparents on a Sunday for tea and Leena would be there. We never really asked who she was, or how she was connected to my grandmother but I felt she was part of the jigsaw.

Later on, when my first marriage broke down, I sensed my father's deep disapproval of my divorce, but at that time I had no idea why. When I started to look into my family history I began to understand.

I discovered that my grandmother had a secret. No one in our family knew that she had been married to George Douglas Thornton in 1917.

They had two children. George Douglas and Eileen May (Leena) and all seemed well.

Then five years later their marriage broke down and my grandmother was left with two small children, was pregnant with a third child, Beryl, and had no way of financially supporting herself or her family. In the mid 20s there was little sympathy for single mothers.

As life became harder she had to have Leena and Beryl fostered and gave up her son George to Barnardo's.

Eventually she found work in service in Maidenhead, and was able to recover her two girls, but George was lost to her forever.

Somewhere in all these difficulties she met the person I would know as my grandfather, Edwin Arthur Henry, and my father, Edwin James, was born.

My Grandmother was never able to explain to my father about her first marriage and he was relectant to confront his mother. He never fully understood the muddle of his past or confronted the emotional consequences and families to him represented confusion and chaos.

Quite unconsciously, Granny passed down to my father her shame and fear of seperation and those feelings have been passed on to me too. Finding this missing piece in the complex jigsaw that was my grandmother's life has helped me continue my own journey.

Mick Henry


Please tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in Maidenhead in 1952. When I was six, the family moved to Shurlock Row where my parents ran the local newsagents. I currently work at the University of Sussex where I am a Chief Technician in their Chemistry Department. I have had an interest in family history for over 30 years and I have been on the Executive Committee of Sussex Family History Group for over 25 years.

What's your story about?
My story is about my grandmother and how families can unconsciously pass down the patterns and behaviours from the past and how, if we embrace these problems we can free ourselves and move on. Family history is personal. My granny's story must have been shared by many others too. This is a way of acknowledging their struggle but not blaming them for passing it on.

What did you find the most rewarding aspect about the workshop?
The people who helped us. The team were brilliant and not contaminated with the vile PR stuff that most workshops are filled with. These people are part of the real family of the world. Celebrate them or lose them!

How has this workshop affected the way you look upon your family history?
It has given it a wider audience. I was already aware of the emotional side of family history, but this has given me a chance to explain it to a wider audience."

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