Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Lucking out on English Research

Wow. Hard to believe it has been nearly a year since I last posted anything on my genealogy blog. Life has a way of getting into the way of research and time has a way of zipping by. I did manage to take a trip to England in April and lucked-out on an extraordinary opportunity. I found myself somewhere that most people will never get to visit...inside the library and office of the official royal historian to Westminster Abbey. The Abbey was actually closed due to the fact that the Queen was attending service. However, a series of conversations with the guard at the door-bookshop manager-"man in the red cape at the cloisters"-led me down those long corridors, over burial stones, to the library door. We were buzzed in and told to wait before the Abbey's historian and librarian, Tony, took us up some narrow stairs into a room filled with ancient books and manuscripts. It was amazing! I felt like we were in the restricted section of Hogwarts!  Tony took us into his office which was filled wall-to-wall with the histories of Britain and the world. Books with crumbling spines, yellowing pages and dusty covers. I told Tony I was looking for an etching of my ancestor Sir Henry Spelman (who, himself was an Antiquarian) as well as a photograph of his burial stone (he is buried in a location not accessible to outsiders). Tony carefully lowered a huge book down onto the large table and flipped through a series of original etchings from the 15th century. I watched as faces of kings, queens and knights flew by until I recognized Henry's image. "That's it!" I yelled out with excitement! Tony then took the big book into a smaller room to make a copy for me and returned not only with two copies but also with an image of Henry's stone. We chatted a few more minutes about the upcoming wedding of Prince William (in which he was attending! Lucky guy!) before I headed off, beaming from the thrill of a lifetime! 

Westminster Abbey

Lighting the Way



Me! A descended cousin of Sir Henry Spelman

Sir Henry Spelman, Antiquary
copied from the original etching

Burial spot inside Westminster Abbey

Although most of the time, genealogy research is done nowadays online, there is nothing like getting out into the field and traveling to the places our ancestors roamed. You never know what you may stumble upon!