Oral History – The Importance & Pitfalls

Oral History SeriesOral history can give us a clue of where to look, but should not be added to genealogical databases unless you can verify the accuracy of the research or you have identified that an individual has been added on the basis of oral history.

In my own case, as I have shown before, I often record family trees in my notebook as a way of clarifying what I know and can confirm. If I am unsure, and I am working on a hypothesis I insert an “H” into the tree and this is my working tree, effectively the stage before I inserted the material into Roots Magic.

The same Great Aunt that I have already talked about in this series shared numerous facts with me over the years. One of those facts, from as far back as 1989 was that

“Grandpa Harris has been diddled out of some land on Wanborough Common by his niece Jane”.

For clarity, this Wanborough is in Surrey (the other Wanborough is in Hampshire). This branch of the Harris family were originally from the area of Frensham, Surrey and Headley, Hampshire, but I knew that Wanborough, Hampshire bore no relevance to this piece of oral history.

I was able to pin point the niece Jane too and did, in the early 1990’s meet her descendants, who have not kept in touch! I also asked the sister’s of my Great Aunt, and they too recalled the information being well known within the family.

A few years later after my Aunt told me this, I revisited the subject with her again. This time there was more details……

“Grandpa Harris had gone to London and sought legal advice, but there was no way to proceed”.

Interesting, and the plot thickened. Without this oral history the details would have been confined to the past and I would never have likely known.

I came across the notebooks of the vicar, Rev Laverty of Headley, Hampshire.  In those notebooks there is a reference to the estate of a Daniel and David Harris. The notebook reveals this:

p.281 Letter:
4 Field Court, Gray’s Inn, W.C.,
Telephone 2525
Telegraphic Address: “HUNTSMOOR, LONDON”
20 April 1888
Dear Sir
You may have heard from Mr WRIGHT that we have been obliged after all to abandon the claim by Daniel HARRIS to the fund in the Court of Chancery.
We find that Letters of Administration were taken out to the missing Legatee’s Estate many years ago by Henry HARRIS who described himself as the cousin of the missing legatee. If this were correct that is to say, if the missing legatee’s father was legitimate, David HARRIS’ share would be a few pounds only and to prove that it is incorrect requires an action in the Probate Court which would exhaust the whole of the fund.
We beg to thank you for the assistance you have so kindly given us in the matter.
We are, Dear Sir,
Yours faithfully,
R S Sayle & Son & Humphreys
To: The Rev W H Laverty
Headley Rectory

The entry in the notebook actually provides more questions than answers. Is this the same estate my Aunt referred to or different? The connection to the family is tenuous, not because these Harris’ were not related to Henry, but because there is also connections between the Harris and Bridger families in the same area. (My Grandmother descended from the Bridger’s as did my Grandfather). There was a great deal of intermarrying in the broad context of my maternal family because when people live in rural settings then the marriage pool is small and people tended to connect with others through the extended family. No Facebook or the internet in those days!

My Aunts would not have known of the existence of the notebooks and likely of the Rev Laverty. Why did the information make it into the notebooks of a vicar of another parish?

Well, Headley is not that far from Wanborough, Surrey. No more than 20 miles or so. The Harris family were from Headley originally and many remained in the village.

Thirty years on and I still have no idea of the absolute accuracy of the claim from my Great Aunt. There was clearly something going on and it might be quite nice to see what I can establish to prove or disprove the oral history. More on this as research continues.


From the personal collection of Julie Goucher

Grandpa Harris was named Henry and born in September 1844, christened on 4th October the same year.

He was one of triplets, of which two were boys and the third a girl. The other boy died in 1844 and the a girl, died in 1881. (There was also a set of twins born in 1837, but that is a story for a different day!).

The Harris’ were agricultural folk. They were labourers and not wealthy. Their life would have been hard. Therefore the actions that Henry took would have likely yielded the interest of others in the village even though Henry had moved away.

The photograph shown above is of Caroline nee Ellis and Henry Harris on their 60th Wedding Anniversary in 1924. Caroline and Henry were my great, great Grandparents and I was delighted when my Grandfather’s first cousin gave this to me. We were at the home of my Great Aunt and I said that I wondered who took the photo to which my Aunt replied she had.

That is so special and is exactly why oral history is so important.

About Julie Goucher

Genealogist, Author, Presenter, native Guildfordian, avid note taker and journal writer. Lover of Books, Stationery & History; Surnames, Butcher & Orlando One-Name Studies. Pharos Tutor for all One-Name Studies/surname courses as well as Researching Ancestors from Continental Europe.
This entry was posted in Genealogy, Harris, Headley Hampshire & Frensham Surrey, Oral History Series, Puttenham & Wanborough. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Oral History – The Importance & Pitfalls

  1. Pingback: Oral History – A Pinch of Salt or a Grain of Truth? | Anglers Rest ~ Julie Goucher

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