The ghosts of the Brown family have haunted me for many years. They were the first names on my family tree. They were the reason for starting my family history research. Their descendants are the ones I want to reunite. Why? I couldn't tell you. Maybe it's sentiment, maybe it's curiosity, maybe deep down they are just a part of me. I just know I need to connect with them.
The Browns stare down at me from the family photo on the wall, 13 faces frozen in time; I watch them, they watch me. I can make our eyes meet, but that's as far as it goes. They have their time, I have mine and as the years roll by we are moving further apart. The only physical connection we can ever have is for me to find their descendants: my lost cousins.
I should have grown up with a huge family, but that was not to be. Richard Henry Brown and Ellen Warren, my great-grandparents, had 11 children but their descendants are scattered. Early in the last century they began leaving Bristol; first Joseph to Australia, then Robert to Canada. Reginald and Ernest followed Joseph a few years later. The Great War proved a disaster for the Brown family. Apart from the two eldest boys, who were married with children, all the Brown boys joined up. Reginald and Ernest fell within 10 days of each other in 1916, Sidney died early in 1917.
After the war the family seems to have gradually drifted away from each other. The girls, Alice, Gwen and Gladys, kept contact with the boys, but the boys didn't seem to keep contact with each other. Consequently, most of the Brown grandchildren and great-grandchildren grew up in ignorance of each other.
Alice and Gwen did not marry and although Gladys married twice, she had no children. I discovered that the two brothers who emigrated had children, and I have found some of their children. We are very happily reunited.
My research has shown that brothers Harold and Edwin, who stayed in Bristol, had children, and indeed I have now contacted one of Harold's daughters and found his other daughter's daughter. I am still looking for his son and his family. Edwin Brown's daughter was still alive a couple of years ago, and has emigrated to New Zealand. She is at the top of my "wanted" list.
Will I ever reunite the family? Well, perhaps some of them don't want to be! So far, we have all been delighted to find each other and our family history has been enriched for the reconnection. Later this month I will actually meet one of the "lost" Brown cousins (although he actually has another surname) on his visit to the UK from Australia. The thought thrills me, but actually, no matter how wonderful my new cousins turn out to be, I will always love the silent stillness of my family, steadily watching me from behind the glass on the dining room wall.
H C Rickard
4 weeks ago