Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Letter to the Editor

Part II

Sometime in 1984, a young lady name Lori Anne Chinery wrote a letter to the editor of the East Anglian Daily Times.  This is a local newspaper that covers the county of Suffolk in England in which Ipswich is located.  My mother was born and raised in Ipswich and my grandparents were still living there at the time.

Lori wrote providing some detail of her grandfather Fredrick George Chinery, who happened to be my grandfather’s brother.  To recount from my previous post, “Uncle Fred and the Gramophone[1], Uncle Fred’s story had been recited to me as a long distant uncle that had drown due to the sinking of the ship he was on, during the evacuation of Singapore in WWII.  There was never more information than that.  Many years later, I inherited his gramophone; a family prized possession, which he had personalized with his initials stenciled across the top.

Lori’s letter told of Fredrick’s life.  It told the story of whom he had married and of his two children. It stated that he had been in Shanghai, and then Singapore when the Japanese laid siege on the city.  He was one of the last people evacuated from Singapore.  Unfortunately the boat he was on was “torpedoed in the Malay Straits” and he was presumed drown.   The letter went on to say that Fred’s family consisted of his wife Judith and their two children and they ended up on a boat destined for England But they disembarked in Cape Town, South Africa and the family remained there ever since. 

I do not know much about my grandfather’s initial communication back to Lori, but I have recently inherited her first letter back to him.  She told my grandfather in more detail about her family.  Imagine, my grandfather meeting his brother’s family over 40 years after his death.  I wish I had been more interested back then to ask questions. 

Unfortunately grandfather died the year following this reconnection.  Luckily for me, my aunt, (older sister to my mother), maintained sporadic communication with Lori.  Very lucky as Lori moved several times, sometimes to different continents.

All these years I carried Uncle Fred’s gramophone with me wondering how I would ever get it back to the family to which it belongs.

Fast forward to 2013 and my surge in interest in family genealogy.  I knew my aunt had been the one person in our family that had the same interest, and over the years she shared with me some of the information she had uncovered.  I knew she had to have records stashed somewhere.   I started calling her asking her questions.  We talked in general about our English family and she would recite names and dates.  One day she told me she was getting all of her records together and was going to send them to me. 

Several days later a big box arrived.  It was filled with pictures, and copies of birth, marriage and death certificates.  I was mesmerized for days.  I started sorting and planning how I was going to get them all digitized and on my computer.[2]  I also went out and bought a large fireproof box to keep everything in.

Amongst all the papers was the original letter Lori sent to my grandfather.  More items from Lori were postcards announcing a trans-continental move, Christmas cards and more.  There were pictures of Fred and his wife.  And there was also a copy of the newspaper letter to the editor.  Suddenly, I was much more interested in this family and making contact.  It was 2014; there had to be some way to find Lori online.  Besides, I now had her married name.

It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.  I tried basic online searches and of course Facebook.  I finally got a promising hit when I found a professional website for someone of the same name dedicated to her craft.  I quickly sent her a note via that webpage.  Then, I found a professional FB account.  So I sent her another note.  That led me to someone that was a friend of her FB page and that sealed the deal.  It was her sister.  From her sister’s FB page, I found Lori’s personal FB page.  I sent her another note.   I did preface my last note to her with the fact I wasn’t stalking her, but with each subsequent note, I was becoming more convinced I had found the right person.  (Did I mention this all happened in one night?  I’m surprised she answered me back!)

I introduced myself.  I am sure it must have been strange for her to get a message out of the blue from a 2nd cousin, who was in the USA and had a Hispanic last name!! 

Lori and her sister “friended” me on FB and suddenly I had two new cousins.  We chatted back and forth and got to know each other.  Now I really was hell-bent on getting this gramophone back to the right branch of Uncle Fred’s family.  But, Lori was still in South Africa and her sister was in the UK.  This was not going to be easy.

And then one day, my aunt called out of the blue.  She called to tell me of a phone call she received that could not have been timelier.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Uncle Fred and the Gramophone

Part 1

Growing up as a pre-teen in my mother’s native England, I always heard family references to “Uncle Fred”, the older brother of my grandfather, Arthur Chinery. 

Frederick George Chinery seemed like a mythical figure to me.  My aunts spoke of him with great reverence.  They would recount the story of him having died in WWII due to the sinking of the boat he was on, by the Japanese, when Singapore was evacuated in 1942.   But, I just don’t remember them saying much more about him. 

I had also heard that when he left England, he left behind one of his possessions.  This item was his gramophone.  The gramophone was held in tight possession by his half sister Ethel May Norman (Flack).  And there were several people in our family that wanted to inherit this treasure.

Frederick George Chinery was born the 26th of February 1908 at Frinton Lodge, Great Holland, Essex, England. [1]  His parents were William Henry Chinery and Lydia Matilda Boreham.  Subsequent records search indicate that they were not married at the time of his birth.  In fact, in the UK 1911 Census, he and my grandfather are given the last name of Flack, Lydia’s last name from her deceased husband  Both their births are recorded as Chinery though.  Fredrick is the first of 4 children William and Lydia have together.  William had 5 children from a previous marriage; Lydia had three previous children.  Both of their first marriages ended due to death of their spouses.

My aunt Ethel, Fredrick’s older half sister was a very strong willed woman.  I remembered her well from my younger teenage years.  She had suffered a stroke at one point, and the prognosis was not good.  But she pushed through and eventually left the hospital.  She walked with the use of a cane as long as I could remember afterwards.  And she always kept her wits about her.

Several years later (about 1983-1984), I had returned to England now in my early 20’s.  I was in the USAF, and I would often drive to the Ipswich area to visit my grandparents.  On one of those visits, Aunt Ethel surprised me by asking if I would like to have Uncle Fred’s gramophone.  She remembered a story about me when I was a younger boy; I was fascinated with wind up gramophones and I had saved my allowance until I could afford to buy one for myself.  I quickly said yes, happy to be the new owner of this family heirloom. 

It was black, with gold lettering stenciled on the top.  The initials were FGC, although the F for some reason was very worn out.

It was around this time a letter to the editor of a local newspaper was brought to the attention of my grandfather.   The rest of the story takes another 30 years before it begins to play out.

[1] England, General Register Offices, Birth, Marriage and Death Registrations, Birth Registration; Apr-May-Jun; 1908; Registration District Tendring; County Essex; Volume 4a, Page 803, Line 350.