Tracing The Origin Of An East London Family

Twenty years ago I began researching my mother’s family after she and her mother (my maternal Grandmother) had passed away. I knew I had so many questions about their family which I needed to be answered. Where did my Grandads family come from??? Was my Gran descended from Huguenot refugees. Why did my Gran keep in touch with a family in Canada.

My first query to focus on was where Grandad’s father was born. My grandad died when I was 5yrs old and growing up whenever I asked this question – no one seemed to know where we came from. All I knew was the family were very much based in Walthamstow, East London. There were so many ‘myths’, but they were a family who over the years had had very little contact with one another let alone tell each other family history. It didn’t help my Granddad was the youngest bar one of 11 children, and my Gran had told me many of his older siblings had emigrated in the 1920’s. The remaining part of the family in England had been told that my Great Grandad was from Alsace-Lorraine, and to add to the confusion my mother had received a tea set from the Belgian authorities. This was a thank you from the Belgian King after Belgium was liberated at the end of the war, so this was another possibility When I realised my Gran had been writing to my mum’s paternal cousins in Canada I contacted them, they had been told we were from Belgium. 

In the 1980’s my aunt had gone to St Catherine’s House (where birth, death and marriage certificates were kept) to look up the marriage of her grandparents and this certificate raised the possibility that Great Grandad could well be from Germany. These tales of Belgium and Alsace could actually be an attempt to take attention away from their ‘foreign sounding’ surname during WW2. I found out much later in my research that my little old great grandfather had escaped the anti-German feelings and riots in Walthamstow during WW1 because he was the ‘nice old German’ who lived at the end of the street – how lucky was he!

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