Family, trees, and memories

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An annual ‘Bluebell Walk’ became something of a tradition for Mum and I during the last few years of her life, although there were one or two years when the walk wasn’t possible because Mum was too ill (one year we went for a ‘Bluebell Drive’ instead). Now, Mum is no longer here to walk with me – but I can still trek through the trees of our favourite wood and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of nature for both of us. So yesterday, I did exactly that.

The venue for our Bluebell Walks was, and is, one which is easily accessible by road, which was just what Mum needed. It does make the wood a very popular place of course, meaning that when the bluebells are in flower, finding a parking space can be tricky! So I set off early yesterday and was rewarded with a good parking spot and, for a while, a sea of bluebells almost to myself.

While bluebells predominate, they are not the only flowers on show. There is also a profusion of stitchwort, its white blooms contrasting beautifully with the blue. In the darker and damper places, flora from earlier in the season such as wood anemones and lesser celandines still survive, though for the most part they look a little bedraggled. Elsewhere, the gorgeous yellow archangel and deep pink hue of red campion flowers can be seen. If there was one thing Mum loved, besides her family, it was a dazzling display of flowers: our woodlands in the Springtime certainly provide that! And while the forest floor is awash with colour, the trees themselves and the air above them resonate with birdsong. Native wrens, robins, blackbirds, chaffinches and great tits are joined by melodious migrants such as willow warblers, chiffchaffs, blackcaps and garden warblers (I always have trouble distinguishing the songs of the last two!). I would often hear my first cuckoo of the year during my Bluebell Walk with Mum.

Along the edges of the wood are views across pasture bejewelled with buttercups, and a patchwork quilt of fields and hedgerows beyond. As I listen to the skylarks serenading me in the sky above, I look at the cattle and remember than Mum’s grandfather Samuel Atcherley was, at the time of the 1911 census, a cowman and that his farming forbears kept their own cattle. I also wonder what he would make of his vegan great grandson!

Among the wildlife wonders to be enjoyed on a Bluebell Walk are butterflies. Yesterday I was treated to views of peacock, small tortoiseshell, orange tip, speckled wood and a couple of brilliant brimstones (one of which settled and posed long enough for me get the photo above). I suspect that Mum was not the only member of the Atcherley family to appreciate sights such as these. Llewellyn William Atcherley, when Chief Constable of Shropshire in 1906, was elected a member of the Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society (according to that Society’s Transactions). Copies of the Annual Report & Proceedings of the Chester Society of Natural Science, Literature & Art show that “Mrs. R. Atcherley” (Caroline, the widowed Mrs Richard Atcherley) was a member of the Society from 1909. In 1914 her daughter Hope Atcherley was listed as a junior member, having joined in 1913, and in 1915 she was listed below her mother as an adult member while her younger sister Hester Atcherley appeared in the list of Junior Members. Going even further back, the London Daily Post of 18 October 1740 shows that the library of lawyer Roger Atcherley (or Acherley as his name was usually written), which was to be sold following Roger’s death earlier that year, included Eleazar Albin‘s natural history volumes on birds and spiders.

After our Bluebell Walks I would often drive Mum home via a small copse which, instead of being full of bluebells, is packed with ramsons. On a warm Spring day, with the car windows down, the nose detects these pungent plants before the eyes do: an alternative name for the species is wild garlic. The experience is almost one of olfactory overload, but both Mum and I enjoyed the aromatic assault! It turns out though that I need not have taken a detour en route home, because last year I found a small patch of ramsons in a corner of our Bluebell Walk wood. I made the discovery when taking family members into the wood by way of an access point I don’t usually make use of, on the evening last May when we scattered some of Mum’s ashes and I read out the following short verse:

Amidst the bluebells
And the oaks above
Now you are part
Of a place you loved

At dawn and at noon
At the setting of the sun
Here is where mother
And nature are now one

In this glade, in the shade
In this special place
Is where we will remember
A mother’s smiling face.

As my Bluebell Walk neared its end yesterday, I looked up at the twisted branches of the oaks overhead, thought of the twists and turns of the branches of Mum’s Atcherley family tree, and remembered with pleasure meandering at leisure, with Mum, through this wonderful wood. A happy coincidence of natural history and family history. Soon, the foliage will filter out much of the sunlight and the flush of Spring flowers will be over. But next year, the bluebells will be back – and so too, I hope, will I.

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Shropshire parish registers go online

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On Saturday, 26 April 2014, Findmypast (in conjunction with Shropshire Archives) officially launched their Shropshire parish register collections – baptisms, banns, marriages and burials spanning 1538 to 1900. Most of the records had actually gone online just over a week before, and I found them, quite by chance, on the morning of Good Friday. Since then, as you can imagine given that the Atcherley family has its origins in Shropshire, I have been busily searching the records.

Shrewsbury, from the Shropshire Gazetteer of 1824.
The records of its churches are now online.

Because of some poorly written register entries (and also, it has to be said, some dodgy transcribing), the name Atcherley turns up in a weird and wonderful variety of forms in the new records, besides the standard variants of Atcherly and Acherley. The alternate spellings include Atchaley, Atcherby, Alcherley, Acharty, Asherley, and even Athehenley and Mcherley! I have also found register entries under two other names which are surnames in their own right, Atherley and Ackerley, which were in fact for Atcherley family members.

The great thing is that with Findmypast‘s new search system, which so many have complained about since its recent introduction, I have found it quite easy to track down all these variants – I really don’t think I would have been able to find them all under the old system. Certainly, I wouldn’t have found them so quickly. (With regard to the much-criticised changes, I did avoid the Findmypast website for a couple of weeks or so after they were introduced and so I did not experience their early incarnations. I know that the Findmypast team was quick to acknowledge that they hadn’t got things right and also quick to set about changing things. Lots of tweaks and improvements were made as a result and those who are willing to try can now reap the benefits.)

The upshot? I have tracked down around 250 baptisms, some 200 burials and around 100 marriages, for my Atcherley kin in Shropshire. (Which shows how small a family the Atcherley clan is, given that these are all the records I could find in their county of origin over a period of some 350 years!) The vast majority of the register entries are ones I already knew about from published transcriptions and/or from many hours poring over microfiche readers, hand-written transcripts and even an original register or three, at Shropshire Archives. But there are some records which are completely new to me, including a marriage which resolves a long outstanding “who was Elizabeth?” query, and some baptisms showing at least one Atcherley family in a place I wasn’t expecting to find them! Some of the records confirmed information in the early 19th century pedigree notes of the Rev John Newling, copies of which were obtained for me by Martin James of Family Heritage Search back in March (and about which I will have more to say in due course). Now I have to work through my online and offline Atcherley trees to incorporate the new information!

Even though there is not a huge amount which is new to me in the online registers, it is just brilliant to be able to look at the wonderful, true-to-life colour images of register pages going back to the mid 1500s – it’s pretty much like looking at the real thing. (And given the condition of the real thing – some of the older registers are falling apart – it is good to know that there should now be almost no need for anyone to handle the originals.) A personal highlight for me was finding two signatures dating back to 1662, written on a page of the Baschurch register by my own 9x great grandfather John Atcherley in his capacity as Church Warden. His baptism was recorded in the same volume, back in 1613.

There were a few issues with the record collection which Findmypast was impressively quick to resolve after I highlighted them via Twitter, and there appear to be a few gaps in the online coverage of the archival holdings – some pages missing from registers, and possibly some registers missing. Findmypast is, to their credit, keen repair any such omissions as soon as possible.

Overall, the online registers are a magnificent resource which will be of immense value to people like myself researching Shropshire roots. Well done to Shropshire Archives for arranging the top quality digitisation of their parish register collection. Thanks to the clarity of the images I have been able to confirm quite a few names (particularly marriage witnesses) which were illegible to me when checking copies on microfiche. Well done also to Findmypast for putting these digitised registers online, indexed and with a search system that enables us to find the people within them. (Now we need the reinstatement of the transcription error reporting facility, as lots of names – and even dates – need correcting!)

There are more parish registers which are to join those from Shropshire online at Findmypast in (I hope) the not-too-distant future, including those of Staffordshire (which should also feature quite a few Atcherleys). Hopefully others will come along too, and there are other collections at Shropshire Archives (such as their Quarter Sessions records) which it would be great to see online – particularly if the digitisation is of the same quality as for the Shropshire parish registers.

So, at the risk of sounding like Oliver Twist, please can we have some more?!?

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