Monday, June 20, 2011

Why you should keep on digging when researching family history

I had the birth, marriage, and death information for Sir John Campbell, KCTS some time ago. Why keep going?

There are a few reasons, but here is one of them: to learn what kind of man he was.

I've made inferences, which is really all I can do, given the lack of direct evidence about the man. However, there are a few eyewitnesses who described him as a soldier (Sir Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, commended him in his reports of battles in Portugal), as a prisoner of war in Portugal, and even in the House of Lords, he was a topic of conversation, albeit perhaps as more of a political football than as an individual.

None of this shed light on his home life, which is what I hoped to find out about as I continued the research.

Through a lot of persistent searching for anything about him, I thought I had found pretty much all I could in terms of books or articles mentioning him specifically, to the extent that these appear online. That will change with time, and there's a lesson: go back in a year, and then in another year, and another, until you are satisfied. More information becomes available all the time. Never close the door.

I also learned the value of tracking relatives beyond the immediate family. Well, "learned" isn't really the right word. "Proved" might be closer.

The best nugget came from searching his name in conjunction with the name of a house, Hunsdon House. How did I know to do that search? Because I traced Sir John's daughter, Elizabeth, his only surviving child. She married into the Calvert family, and lived for a time at their property, Hunsdon House.

Pushing further into the Calverts revealed two interesting sources: the published memoirs of Elizabeth's mother-in-law, Lady Frances Calvert (nee Pery), and the fact that one of Elizabeth's nephews became a very well-known public figure. He was Edmond Warre (1837 to 1920) who is remembered as a famous oarsman for Oxford and a long-time master and then Headmaster (1880 to 1909) of Eton College.

Edmond Warre, "The Head".
In Vanity Fair magazine, June 20, 1885. 
In Edmond Warre, D.D., C.B., C.V.O.: Sometime Headmaster and Provost of Eton College, by Charles Robert Leslie Fletcher (J. Murray, 1922), the Google Books copy, I found this passage.

"… Sir John Campbell (a Peninsular veteran who had married a Portuguese lady); he was not such a favourite with the children as Uncle Felix".

Because I don't have the actual book, just snippets, I can't easily see the whole page. I'm working on digging up interesting bits from the book for my next post.

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