I recently had the opportunity to interview Anne Powers, author of the recently published A Parcel of Ribbons – The Letters of an 18th Century family in London & Jamaica. Here is what Anne had to say –
As you researched the story of your ancestry was it always your intention to publish this as a book or did it just happen that way?
I had no idea that what I would find would be so interesting or worth writing a book about – but when I found the Lee letters I felt they deserved a wider audience. That’s how the book came about, and while I was working on it I felt I wanted to share my Jamaican research, so that was how the website was born.
What was the biggest surprise as you researched and wrote ‘A Parcel of Ribbons’?
The biggest surprise was discovering the connection with Jamaica. I had been searching for an ‘Indian Princess’ and had spent quite a lot of time looking at the Lee family of Virginia, searching for a family Pocahontas. I knew there was someone called Richard Lee in the family and I had found his Will which connected him to my mother’s great grandmother. Then I found his 1851 census entry. This was the first time place of birth was recorded and I was astonished to find he had been born in Jamaica in 1765. Had he not lived to such a great age I’d probably never have realised the family had been in Jamaica, nor that my ‘Indian Princess’ came from the West Indies.
Are there any tips you would like to share about the research or publishing stage of your book?
Most of my research has been done on the internet, or by contacting people directly. People are incredibly helpful when it comes to family history research and I wrote to a number of people along the lines of ‘You have no idea who I am, and do feel free to bin this letter, but….’. On numerous occasions people got back in touch, often to say they could not help, ‘But, do try my cousin so-and-so’. I always enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope and give full details of my email and phone so they can choose how to make contact.
Although so much material is now available on-line, including wonderful scanned images of parish registers and other documents, there are times when only an actual visit to see an original will do. The best advice I could give for that is to be sure you know in advance what you are looking for, that you have all your own id with you to register as a reader, and to allow plenty of time. We are so used to instant access on-line that sitting waiting 40 minutes for a document to be brought up can seem a slow process, especially if it is handed out one page at a time. Plan to have something else to be getting on with while you wait – even if it’s just grabbing a coffee!
As for publishing, I decided to go down the print-on-demand route as it gave me full control – the down side of course is that you do have to do everything yourself which otherwise would be handled by an agent and a publisher. I am very happy with how the book has turned out – now I just have to hope others are too!
There are always stories that pop up on the fringes of what you are researching – which is why my ‘Jamaican Connections’ database on Ancestry now has over 5,500 individuals, and my family one is almost as big. I record lots of people who may not be of interest now, but who might be relevant one day. I am intrigued by the story of the Rooker family. Lydia Rooker is mentioned in my book as the ‘lady from Chelsea’ with a fortune, who married schoolmaster William Rothery. She had several sisters who made interesting marriages (one whose husband made his fortune in Jamaica) and a brother involved as a key witness in a court case concerning the murder of two little apprentice sisters. I’d like to find out more about them.
Set among the sugar plantations of Jamaica and the balls and masquerades of Georgian London the story is told by the Lee family in their own words. In 1749 thirteen year-old Robert Cooper Lee sailed to Jamaica taking a parcel of ribbons for sale. When his family was left all but penniless, Robert and his brothers forged new lives in Jamaica, fathered children with women who were the descendants of slaves and supported their sister left behind in England. Robert returned to London with his family in 1771. A prominent attorney, respected throughout Jamaica and among the West Indian lobby in London, he had built a fortune that enabled his children to mix with royalty. This remarkable collection of letters tells a story of triumph against adversity, of a family that suffered sickness, bankruptcy, sudden death, a clandestine marriage and an elopement. Through it all the bonds of family endured.
A Parcel of Ribbons – The Letters of an 18th Century family in London & Jamaica
was published in July 2012 and is available from HERE