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Rory Bremner

Rory Bremner - How we did it


Great-grandfather: John Ogilvy

Step 1

We learned that John Ogilvy survived the Crimean War, before being promoted and sent to India. The family archive provided more clues about what happened next.

Rory's mother had made notes about the children of a Judge Waters of Madras. The note said that Judge Waters' second daughter, Harriet, was the mother of Evelyn Ogilvy (Rory's grandmother), making her the wife of John Ogilvy. We also found a receipt which referred to a proposed monument for a Mrs Ogilvy in the government cemetery at Simla in India.

Step 2

Walter, Edith & Evelyn OgilvyWalter, Edith & Evelyn Ogilvy

To see whether the Mrs Ogilvy buried in Simla was Harriet, we went to the India Room at the British Library to search through colonial death records. Rory discovered that Harriet Ogilvy had died in 1874 aged 34. The cause of death was recorded as dysenteric diarrhoea following childbirth. Using his grandparents' marriage certificate, Rory worked out that Harriet had died giving birth to his grandmother, Evelyn.

Step 3

After Harriet's death, John returned to England with their children. Three years later he accepted a post in Bermuda as deputy surgeon general, leaving his children behind. Rory read a personal letters written by John Ogilvy to his three children as he departed for Bermuda in 1881. The letter conveys the challenges of sustaining family life whilst serving in the military overseas, and implies that he might never return.

Step 4

Rory wanted to find out whether John had ever made it back to his children. We consulted the census of 1891. John had indeed made it back to Britain, and at the age of 59 was retired and living in Bournemouth. However, John now had a second wife, Emma Ogilvy, who was only 32 years old! Harriet's children, Edith and Evelyn Ogilvy, were listed as part of John's household, but there were also at least four other new Ogilvy children.

Step 5

John only lived for another eight years after this census, and died in 1899 in Frimley. Rory set out to look for his obituary at the Surrey History Centre in Woking. In the obituary, Rory discovered that John had died suddenly at home.

Unusually for the time, we also found that John had been cremated. In Britain cremations had been illegal until 1885: just four years before John's death. The first British cremation had taken place at Woking Crematorium, which was where the obituary said John had been cremated.

Step 6

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John Ogilvy’s memorial

We went to Woking Crematorium to look at the crematorium records. Rory found an entry for John in one of the oldest registers. We found the memorial stone of John Ogilvy in a small disused ashes cemetery, where Rory reflected on the parallels between John's life, that of his father, Donald, and his own.

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