Since my last update a month ago I’ve learned so much about my family’s past. So much that I don’t think I could begin to fit it all into this blog. A few weeks ago my husband and I, equiped with nothing more than a camera and a few names and dates, took a short trip up to an area north of Hexham in Northumberland. I wasn’t sure what I was going to find, when I set off on the journey I told myself that even if I didn’t find a shred of evidence of my family that just being there in those places they were from would be an amazing experience in itself and well worth the trip.
I packed some sandwiches, snacks and drinks for the road, printed out some documents I’d found and maps and we set off early on a Friday morning not sure what to expect. The plan was to visit a string of villages, all which were associated with the Parish of Chollerton through the 19th century. First we visited Chollerton, then Barrasford, Gunnerton, and finally a bit of a treck up to Northumberland National Park and some small rural farming communities of Falstone and Thorneyburn.
First stop was Chollerton, I was able to find stacks of baptism records from the 18th and 19th centuries in the Durham Diocese Bishop’s Transcripts on the website FamilySearch.org. Most of the baptism records I found for my family were from Chollerton’s St. Giles Church, which up until the 19th century was the only church serving the villages of Chollerton, Barrasford, Gunnerton and other surrounding villages. We pulled up and had a quick chat with the Vicar and he welcomed us to take a look around. I took a little wander through the church cemetery and while I found plenty of Dodd surnames on headstones, nothing I found matched first names and dates that I had. Still, it was amazing to walk into the tiny church and be in that place where many generations of my family were baptised and married. I left a donation and took home a little guide about the church, explaining a brief history of the church which has been in the area for centuries and has records dating back to the 17th century.
After our brief visit to the church in Chollerton we set back on the road toward Barrasford. Barrasford was listed as the birthplace for several generations of the Dodd family so I knew this village was going to be most important of our journey. We arrived in the little village and had a wander around, walking down the main lane that runs through the village and checking out the scenery of rolling mossy hills and Haughton Castle, a country mansion that lies next to the village. After a little walk around we decided to rest our damp feet in the local pub and inn, the Barrasford Arms. This is where I made my first discovery of the day.
As I was coming out of the ladies room I was checking out all things hanging on the walls of the corridor when I spotted a survey of the village from 1813. The hand drawn survey included a map of the properties in the village as well as a key identifying who each property belonged to. On this survey I saw the name of my Great Great Great Grandfather John Dodd, as well as the occupation of shoemaker which was a great indication this was the right John Dodd (a frustratingly common name in this part of the country) and I was able to see which property on the key had been his.
This was a really amazing thing to find just on the wall of a little pub! Unfortunately the building no longer exists, but seeing that my descendants are a permanent part of the history of this place was really special.
After having some hot drinks in the cozy pub and a lively conversation with the barmaid who was amazed by my story and what I’d found, we got back in the car and set off on the rest of our adventure. To put the entire day into one post would probably be a bit much so I will save the second half of the day for the next instalment. As I walked around Barrasford I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to leave this gorgeous place, but experiencing how remote these villages were gave me a lot of insight into their reasons for moving to Gateshead in the mid 19th century and then onto Detroit after that. Getting from village to village even by modern day means was a lot of driving down winding country lanes and I can only imagine what these journeys would have been like with horses as the main mode of transportaton.
In my next instalment I’ll reveal some of my amazing findings up in the very remote rural communities of Falstone and Thorneyburn and finally our enlightening visit to the Heritage Centre in Bellingham.