North Northumberland Family History Society, north Northumberland branch

A portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
A portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

The latest meeting of the north Northumberland branch of the Northumberland and Durham Family History Society produced, as usual, plenty of interesting stories from members’ own families.

It included children named after ships transporting the parents to Australia, a ring given by Bonnie Prince Charlie to a supporter and an actual skeleton in the cupboard.

Changes of name seemed to be surprisingly common; from the case of someone becoming an heir on condition he changed his surname, to two females in a family changing their forename from Appelina to Euphemia.

We also saw some old family photographs, ornaments and a silk christening veil.

Some of the stories caused amusement, for example, the baby girl who was christened Olive Alice instead of simply Olive.

The mother had responded to the vicar’s inquiry as to the intended name with a comment to a relative ‘I think we’ll call her Olive, Alice’.

The vicar mistakenly included the name of the person being addressed.

A member of a Berwick merchant family led an amazing life for a woman born in Victoria’s reign.

After completing her education in Paris, she decided to travel to Russia to become a governess to two sons of a Prince in Petrograd.

When the 1917 revolution broke out, the Prince was shot and she escaped with the Princess and children.

The governess is reputed to have driven the Bolsheviks out of the palace. Their jewellery had been sewn into their corsets to conceal it.

Eventually, the governess reached Kiev and journeyed by train to Vladivostok where she boarded a ship from Japan to the West and then home to Berwick.

An account appears in June 2, 1918 edition of the Berwick Advertiser. Her father repaid her fare loaned by the British Consul.

She continued as a governess in this country, always refusing a wage as she considered her payment was provision of board and lodgings.

It is difficult to think of a more exciting adventure for a young woman in those days.

We were not surprised to learn that she was the sister of the Berwick spy whose story was told to us a couple of years ago by the same member, one of the same family.

Another story dealt with a child born in the workhouse.

Far from being dealt a blow for life, she profited from the opportunities for apprenticeships offered to such children, obtaining a post in a spinning mill, then running an inn with her husband and living a relatively comfortable life.

And the skeleton in the cupboard? This story alerted us to the unexpected things which may pop onto the screen when Googling. Be warned.

We did not discover any real record-breakers among our stories but one member claimed she might have the oldest ancestor.

This was her mother who had just celebrated her 100th birthday. The entire meeting was filled with fascinating stories which aptly illustrated the saying that truth is stranger than fiction.

We meet again at 10am on Saturday, April 18, at Bell View, Belford, when Janet Brown of the North East War Memorial Project will be telling us about the project. Do join us if you can.