When we got married, my husband and I decided to spend our honeymoon touring around Northumberland, which is where my mother was brought up, and where I later discovered that a number of my ancestors on that side of my tree were born. I think that even then I was interested in the areas where my family had originated, and that influenced my choice of honeymoon destination.
As we married in Kent it was a long journey for us, so we chose to spend the first night of our honeymoon in Huntingdon, simply because it was a reasonable distance to drive after the wedding. We arrived in the early evening and booked in at a pretty Georgian ivy-clad hotel situated by the river.
As soon as we got there, I felt a sense of ease and of being at home. The place had an odd sort of familiarity about it, although I had never visited there before to my knowledge. I was a bit puzzled by this, but thought nothing more about it at the time. We had a meal and a pleasant stroll around the town, and the following morning drove on to Hexham in Northumberland; a beautiful region to visit, and the starting point for our holiday.
About nine years passed, we had moved to Berkshire and were imminently expecting our first child. At this point I also started to become curious about my father’s family; he was unable to tell me much at all about his forebears, as he was orphaned by the age of five and brought up in Kent in the ‘Homes for Little Boys’ at Farningham. All he knew was that he was born in East London and assumed his ancestors were too.
I have vivid memories of going with him to St. Catherine’s House in London to start tracing his side of the family tree. This was a joint effort; my father was partially-sighted so couldn’t read the indexes, and I would have struggled to lift the heavy tomes from the shelves in my ‘delicate’ state, so I selected the books, he moved them and I read them.
We eventually discovered that we were descended from a family of hairdressers; the last two owners of the business were spinster sisters calling themselves ‘The Misses Key – Court Hairdresser’, who had premises in Spring Street, Hyde Park, which is just round the corner from Paddington Station in London.
On consulting the census records, I found that in 1841 the Misses Key, their siblings and parents, Edward and Rebecca (my great x3 grandparents), were living in the City of London. Both Edward (also a hairdresser) and his wife Rebecca were recorded as ‘not born in county’. The 1851 census elaborated further stating that Rebecca was in fact born in Northampton, although as Edward had died before this census was taken, I was no further forward in finding out where he was born.
My first breakthrough occurred when I found a contact via the Northamptonshire Family History Society. She told me that she had seen a baptism record for Rebecca in Northampton and also a listing for a marriage in Huntingdon for Rebecca’s brother James Ratnett to a Frances Key.
I was intrigued by this coincidence and on further investigation I discovered that Frances had a brother called Edward (who would have been the right age to be my great x3 grandfather) and a father (as well as a brother) called Samuel. On the Huntingdon census returns for 1841 and 1851, Samuel junior was a hairdresser, so I was almost certain that I had the right family. However, I had no definite proof yet, and it was another five years or so later before my suspicions were confirmed.
At the end of last year I made another contact through Genes Reunited, who had a great deal of information about the Key family’s history, including notes, photos and diaries from Edward’s grandson Harry.
A diary entry revealed the following:- “Grandmother Key (nee Ratnett) lived in Northampton. She married a celebrated court hairdresser from Huntingdon named Key who came to live at Northampton”
This to me was the final proof that my great x3 grandfather, Edward, was indeed the one from Huntingdon. Through further research I discovered that Edward and Rebecca’s eldest son had drowned in the Great Ouse at Huntingdon, not far from the bridge shown in the photograph on the front page of this issue.
So, my family’s story had come full circle; Edward left Huntingdon for Northampton, where he married in 1821, subsequently moving to London. My father and I were born in London, and I returned to Huntingdon for the first night of my honeymoon.
So, was this the explanation for the familiar feeling I experienced when I visited there? I’ll leave you to decide…..
Helen in Berkshire
© Helen in Berkshire 2008