Amanda Redman's father died in 1980, when Amanda was in her mid-teens. Until this family history project emboldened her, she had never felt able to ask her mother about her family's past.
The little information she did pick up while growing up was based only on gossip and hearsay. She picked up the theory that her mother's side of the family, the Herringtons, was in some way cursed, a belief that was reinforced in the minds of many family members when Amanda herself was badly scarred at the age of 15 months - after an accident involving a pan of boiling soup. There were also rumours of illegitimacy in the family, an abusive grandfather and mysterious uncles.
To discover the truth Amanda spoke to her mother, Joan. She learned that her mother had suffered an extremely strict upbringing. Her father, William, Amanda's grandfather, was something of a tyrant and ruled the house with an iron fist. He had served with the army in India, where Joan was born - according to his daughter, he was an excessive drinker. After 20 years his problem led to his discharge.
Amanda also discovered that one of the most intriguing members of the family was Joan's half-brother Cyril, the illegitimate son of Joan's mother, Agnes. He had been born in 1918 or 1919, before Agnes married William Herrington. Unsurprisingly, Cyril's relationship with his stepfather was fraught. The pair had a grievous falling out, though the exact reason behind the row was not known, and Cyril went to Falmouth to live with his grandmother. In 1940, Cyril disappeared completely.
Through discussions with family members, Amanda discovered that Cyril's life had ended in Liverpool. Family legend also had it that he had married and had a child. Amanda wanted to see if she could find this missing relative of her own generation, a cousin she had never met. Eventually, she found find out that Cyril's child, Karen Herrington, was alive and lived in Liverpool. Amanda paid her a visit.
Amazingly, the pair look remarkably alike. Karen and Amanda were delighted to meet one another and fill in the gaps in their respective family histories. Karen was able to tell Amanda all about Cyril and William's troubled relationship, which meant discovering details that Amanda found difficult to stomach.
It turned out that Cyril had confronted William because he had broken the jaw of Cyril's mother, Agnes, in a domestic row. As a consequence, Cyril had left home and never seen any members of his immediate family again. Amanda was fascinated and wanted to learn more of her grandfather's abusive nature.
Joan, her mother, confirmed that William was a strict disciplinarian, who frequently smacked his children. She told of how when he returned from work, the atmosphere in the home changed completely. Her mother lived in fear of him. Agnes was a timid woman when around her husband and, perhaps understandably, was unwilling to confront him about his bullying behaviour. His drinking, a problem confirmed by army records that Amanda examined, compounded his abusive nature.
To understand her grandfather, Amanda felt she needed to learn more about his upbringing. Through asking family members, and looking up records in a range of archives, she discovered that his own father (Amanda's great grandfather) was named John Clair. He married Angelina Youngman in 1884, at the height of Queen Victoria's reign. John was an incredibly strict father, the archetypal Victorian, a strict moralist and devout Christian.
All the children, William in particular, hated him. Angelina - Amanda's great grandmother - was a different matter - her children adored her. Amanda was intrigued to find out that Angelina, despite eventually becoming a middle-class Victorian housewife, had been born illegitimate - foreshadowing the birth of Cyril. One of the intriguing facets of family history is the way that patterns often repeat themselves, and similar fates befall different generations.
Angelina's story was like something from Oliver Twist. Her father, it emerged, was a Dr Sweeting, while her mother, Susan, was the doctor's housekeeper. The pair had obviously conducted an affair, but had decided that a man of his standing could not lower himself to marry a domestic servant. Therefore Susan was dispatched to the workhouse to have her child. Somehow, despite these inauspicious beginnings, that child had met and married the respectable John Clair.
All these snippets of information have combined to provide a more coherent view for Amanda of one side of her family's background, and she's delighted that her uneasy sense of a murky family past, containing worrying dark secrets, has been replaced by certain knowledge.
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