A Scrap of Family History

My Great-Uncle Willie was born around 1905 and died before I was born. My mother’s mother was his big sister. I love this photo of them as children with their grandparents and a rather blurry auntie.

William&Mary Johnson with Grandchildren William&Mary and daughter Sally ca 1910
Willie (centre) in around 1910

Like all the men in his family, Willie grew up to be a miner, and he spent his life working 15-inch coal seams. My mum remembers him as a gentle man who played his gramophone for her and loved his allotment. He never married.

Mum has kept Willie’s old wallet for over 60 years. A 1931 diary is tucked inside. Willie would have been in his mid-20s then. It falls open at one poignant page.

Diary 1931 inside pages

There’s Willie’s name and address in neat cursive handwriting, and some detailed gardening notes. There’s also a sprig of purple heather and a silver-paper memento with the note ‘Granny’s Golden Wedding, Dec 7th 1930’.

That suggests the elderly couple photographed on their doorstep got married on December 7th 1880. Their son Robert, who was Willie’s father and my own great-grandfather, was born on 12th July 1882. I know this because Willie kept his father’s birth certificate neatly folded inside his wallet.

Also in there are family photos, plus three of an unknown young woman. Mum guesses she’s the girl who broke Willie’s heart. He said it never mended.

After my mum, there’s no-one to remember my Great-Uncle Willie. I’m privileged to be able to touch a small scrap of his life.

Wallet 1931
A time-capsule in a wallet, 1931

4 thoughts on “A Scrap of Family History

  1. As we become the older generation, we become the custodians of family history. Often the detail is conjecture and noone will ever know what the person was really liked or what really happened. Families use catch-all phrases (broken heart, confirmed bachelor, liked a drink, never spoke about the war etc). With a more open society and the prevalence of social media, will future generations know our secrets?

    Liked by 1 person

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