Saturday, 11 October 2008

Runs in the family?

Listening to: Combat Rock (The Clash)
Weather: wind hammering the front of the house

My mum visited us in Westray for the first time last month. She travelled by train from Exeter to Aberdeen, took the ferry over to Kirkwall before moving on to see us - pretty fair going for an 80-year-old.

The force is certainly strong in the old girl and her mind is still sharp as a tack, even if she has fully embraced the 'mad old lady' thing. A lifelong academic - she was one of only a handful of female undergraduates at Trinity College, Dublin in the late 40s - she spent a good bit of time studying in in the family history section of Kirkwall Library.

Among the Irishmen of various shades of orange, a smattering of English Midlanders and the occasional 'continental' in my family background is my mother's grandfather James Bews, a farmer from Tankerness on Orkney Mainland.

I won't bore you with the mass of information unearthed, but Mum traced the family back to the mid-1700s, discovering in the process that James was running the family farm at the age of 15 before heading south in 1879. His silver medal for ploughing, won in 1874, is on display in Kirkwall's museum.

We did a little tour of East Mainland and found the old house and, after asking permission from the current tenant, took a few pictures which, obviously, won't be appearing on t'int.

What Mum didn't find was any living relative - possibly a good thing, although it would have made for a more interesting blog post than this is turning out to be. All our close family in Orkney are in Tankerness Hall cemetery. . .

That's my great, great, great grandparents. . .

. . . and that's my great grandfather's little brother. I was interested, although I can't imagine you would be.

I've no idea what this is all meant to mean, although I suppose it does give me some sort of blood tie to the place - if that's important.


fiwa said...

That's very cool. I have always wanted to trace my family tree, but I'm just a bit on the lazy side. Those tomb stones are beautiful.

Your mom sounds like a great lady - is she still there?

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Wait a minute! What about Rodney Bews? Are you a Likely Lad too? Your mum sounds fantastic - all that way independently at the age of eighty! Cherish her and hug her while she is still as she is -compus mentis with a zest for life. It won't always be that way.

Ginni Dee said...

Congrats on your mom still being so independent and with all her mental faculties in tact. My dad is spry and in good health at 84 but his mind is slowly going due to that demon Alzheimer's.

I love those old tombstones and have always found such things terribly fascinating. How cool to be able to trace your family back so far. And even better that you've come home to roost!

I, like the view said...

your mother sounds like a fantastic lady!

I love old gravestones and the lichen on them


(so glad that this piece didn't turn out to be about stomach upsets from eating something dodgy)

Sian said...

You could follow in your ancestors foot-steps and enter a ploughing match. Bet you'd be a show stopper if you used Teddy and Merlin!

KAZ said...

I thought the second stone said 'Marks and Spencer' - but on closer scrutiny I see you aren't the heir to that particular fortune.

Anonymous said...

Well, I was going to ask the same as Yorkshire Pud.
And well done, your mam!

Dave said...

What Kaz said (I have an excuse - eye operation on Thursday).

ziggi said...

There's an artist chappy up the road here called Philip Bews - any relation?! He's quite good, perhaps he is your alter ego!

Malc said...


Mum left a couple of weeks ago - shortly before the point where we'd had enough of each other.


I wish! Sadly Rodney is a Bewes not a Bews. Bewes is an English name, while Bews is thought to be one of the (derogatory) names given by the invading Norsemen to the inhabitants of Orkney. Something to do with being short, dark and not very bright.


Sorry to hear about your dad. Alzheimers and other forms of dementia are absolute bastards. What makes it worse is that drugs that have been developed to ease the condition are harder to get in the UK than crack cocaine.


It took me three days to get your last comment - duh!
Mum is what they call 'a character'.


The furrows might be a little lop-sided, I fear.


Sad, isn't it? I'll have to hope for the lottery - which reminds me, I must buy a ticket one of these days.


The old girl is rightly quite chuffed with herself. Her next plan is to drive from Exeter to Shrewsbury and back in a day to collect my daughter for the half-term holiday.


Erk - good luck. Will you be awake while they do it?


He's supposed to be a very good sculptor. You never know, he could be related. Somehow I'd rather be related to Rodney Bewes.

lampworkbeader said...

What fascinating finds. Your mum sounds like quite a woman.

elizabethm said...

Your mum sounds fantastic. Love her now (redundant comment, sorry). And it is interesting and important to discover a connection with where you are now. I have a favourite quote about there being no co-incidences and was taken aback after we came here, chosen I thought for good value property prices and surprising proximity to transport links which no one else seemed to have noticed, to realise that my grandmother came from about five miles away. It is J.G.Ballard I think: "Deep assignments run through our lives. There are no co-incidences."
Not sure about the hyphen there now.

Mig said...

Wow! I hope I could do half as much if I make it to Eighty! It sounds as though your family don't bow to age of any degree - *running the family farm at the age of fifteen*.
Quite neat to find you've returned to your ancestral homeland all unawares :)