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      January 2013 > The rewards of historical research

The rewards of historical research

One of our most exciting new holidays for this year is a tour of Switzerland by rail – with plenty of opportunities to do some walking in the Alps.

It’s based on the diary of a Miss Jemima Morrell who undertook a very similar holiday 150 years ago in 1863 – on a conducted tour with a certain Mr Thomas Cook.

This was Cook’s first such tour of Switzerland and we thought it would be a good way to celebrate the 150th anniversary by creating our own version. But who was Jemima Morrell?

In her journal she simply describes herself as ‘Miss Jemima’, but where did she come from? I was challenged with finding out as much as I could about this remarkable Victorian lady – and the results were pleasantly surprising.

There were two main objectives – firstly to confirm that she did indeed come from the town of Selby (pictured above) as we’d been told, as this would make her ‘local’ to our offices; and secondly, to see if I could locate – and make contact with – any of her, or her family’s, direct descendants.

The first task was relatively easy, as I have access to – a great resource for family tree research (other equally good sites are available).

After a few searches, I found several references to her and her family living in Selby on the census returns for 1841, 1851 and 1861. Her father was the local bank manager and, as those of you who have ever undertaken this kind of research will know, such documents give names, ages, occupations and addresses.

She was born in 1832 and so would have been 31 when she went to Switzerland with a group of friends which included her younger brother – ‘Mr William’ in her journal.

On her return, she married John Broadley Greenwood, a wealthy landowner, and they had a son. The son married but had no children. Dead end – sadly Jemima has no direct descendants, so I had to look at her brothers’ lives.

The elder one married and had two children – but neither of them had any children! Only William left – would he have descendants? This time I struck gold.

William Wilberforce Morrell (named after the famed anti-slavery MP) had two sons, Cuthbert and John Bowes. Little did I know what influential men they were, in particular John Bowes Morrell whose list of accomplishments is quite remarkable.

Cuthbert never married but JB did and so did his three children, who had children, who had children. Not only that, but JB’s legacy is all over the City of York, once you start looking – not least the University’s John Bowes Morrell library and Bowes Morrell House, a conserved and restored medieval house on Walmgate.

Internet search engines have also yielded much useful and fascinating information, particularly in the search for out-of-print books. I have since managed to get a copy of “Miss Jemima’s Swiss Journal” (reprinted from the original 1963 edition) from the Thomas Cook Archive in 2002; William Wilberforce’s “Antiquities and History of Selby” (above, with illustrations by Jemima Morrell, see bottom image); and “Three Generations” by Ann Vernon, a biography of JB Morrell, which sheds light on Jemima and how her authorship of the Journal was finally proven.

The joy of this kind of project is suddenly finding a valuable nugget of information just when you thought that that particular avenue of research was coming to a dead end. Sometimes even making subtle changes to internet search terms can yield surprising results and make the link between hitherto seemingly unconnected facts. It’s hugely enjoyable following the trail, playing the detective and seeing a story blossom from a few vague facts into the full story.

The end result is that a couple of weeks ago, the phone rang in the office – it was John Morrell, one of Jemima’s great, great nephews. Later that same day, I received an email from his brother Nicholas. Mission accomplished.

Posted: 25/01/2013 13:53:28 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: heritage, journey, opinions, Switzerland, UK

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