Starting with the village of Radwinter…

It’s exactly a week since I galloped my way towards and finally over the finish line of the National Novel Writing Month challenge. I have to admit that the week before I was looking at the possibility of not making it… I’d written every day but just not enough and I was very behind… however, I managed it, and completed it with an hour to spare and 53 words over the fifty thousand.

The story I was writing this time was about a mystery woman with a concealed past who starts living in shared accommodation in a small seaside town. This was my fifth year of taking up the challenge, and thank goodness, the fifth year of completing it… and as I finished I thought back to the other challenges.

The first year I did NaNo, 2013, I began a story which had been swirling round in my head for some time about a family of four brothers; I had a name for them, Radwinter, but little more. The story almost wrote itself, and I passed the 50,000 word eleven days early and went on to write over 73,000 words!

It wasn’t just my NaNo success with Radwinter, there was something about the characters, the situations, their dilemmas and difficulties reaching back into the past which intrigued me and if I had known on 30th November 2013 that I would write another five stories about them I would have been amazed, and no t a little disbelieving… Believe it or not, although Book VI is not quite finished yet, I began the opening scene for Book VII last night!

Radwinter is the story of a couple and their marriage, and a man and his family, and the history of that family explored through genealogical research…

Here is an excerpt from that first novel when Thomas Radwinter is finding out the origins of his family name:

I thought I’d start with Radwinter village… yes, I know, there are no Radwinter connections, but it just seems odd that our unique name is the same as a place… or maybe it is just a coincidence, or maybe Radwinter is a corruption of something else…

In Radwinter there is the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin and on the history site there are some wonderful photos of the reredos within the church, but it was bought and put there in the 1880’s; the church itself is over seven hundred years old. I’d like to go and visit and see it for myself; I’m not religious but I do like visiting churches… I wonder if Marcus would be interested as he’s a vicar? As well as the church it mentions chapels… are they different? I don’t know much about religion, despite Marcus… Primitive Methodists… what are they? Baptists… I really don’t know.

Looking at the history of the village it seems as if it was a busy place at one time; I really would like to go and see what is there now. According to the website there were blacksmiths, and many different shops including two butchers and two bakers (no mention of candlestick makers… stop it Thomas, don’t be silly… Rebecca is always telling me off for my childish sense of humour) there were sweetie shops, a fish mongers, general stores and even a tobacconist, and many different craftsmen such as cobblers and tailors and lots of other businesses.

No surprise that there are pubs, including the Plough and the Red Lion, and windmills… I guess it’s a farming area… Essex, that’s a farming county, isn’t it, and isn’t it by the sea too? I don’t know anything about Essex, apart from it being an overspill area for London, but it can’t all be like that. I’ve never been there… maybe I should look at a map… There were four windmills, it says… definitely a farming community, and a prosperous one too. Didn’t Constable paint pictures in Essex, or have I imagined that?

I’m onto the history page… Neolithic skeleton, bronze Celtic warrior, Roman roads and coins… medieval tile kiln and fishponds…  once it was Great Radwinter and Little Radwinter, perhaps that’s me, little Radwinter… 1066, Doomsday, a lord of the manor named Frodo… what? Really?

This page also tells me the village is near Saffron Walden and on the road to Haverhill, and on the River Pant… I must look at a map.

Onto the Radwinter Records page… a war memorial with no Radwinters on it, but how sad to see the same names cropping up, three men called Andrews, five men named Halls,  two Potts, two Ruses, three Swans and two Thakes… so sad… I don’t think I’m old but I bet they were younger than me… maybe some of them as young as my nephew Django… it doesn’t bear thinking about.

Radwinter seems an interesting place… I really want to visit… I wonder if Rebecca would like to go for a weekend there… probably not, she likes shopping and going on holiday to somewhere sunny.

© Lois Elsden 2017

Here is a link to my Radwinter stories:

Vanishing Act

It’s happened to me, and I guess it happens to most people who are looking into their family history, that the ancestor they are seeking seems to vanish. I was following my family, census by census until suddenly in 1871, there they weren’t… I checked death records, I tried spelling their names in alternative ways, I tried ignoring the father and looking for the mother and then the children. None of them appear in the 1871 census. What a mystery… but there they were, back again in 1881.

There may be reasons why people are not on the census; maybe they were travelling, maybe some of the records are not complete for some reason. I haven’t yet found where my family went, but in my novel about a family in search of their roots, ‘Radwinter’, they do find an answer to the mystery.

My fictional character Thomas Radwinter is searching for a relative who had been living in the seaport of Portsmouth in the 1840’s and then disappears. It occurs to Thomas that maybe his ancestor boarded a ship and went somewhere, and an obvious destination at that time was half-way round the world to Australia.

Most people know that thousands and thousands of people, men women and children were transported to Australia as convicts. The prisons had become full and containment of criminals was becoming a major problem in eighteenth and early nineteenth century Britain. Running out of space for all those sentenced to imprisonment, many were housed in chains, in hulks, old rotting ships moored along the banks of the Thames. Previously, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries North America received those transported from the British Isles, sent to work on the plantations. The American War of Independence, 1775-1782, put a stop to that.

At the same time, Australia and the antipodes offered vast, seemingly limitless opportunities for farming, forestry, whaling and mining, and sending ne’er-do-wells far away not only got rid of them, but also ensured there was a labour force which needed minimal if any payment. It was a primitive and brutal life for all concerned. More than 165,000 convicts were transported to Australia

However, not all the travellers to these far off lands went because they were forced to; my family went to Tasmania in 1839 as merchants and traders, importing fine wines from Europe, porcelain and silk from China, and tea from India to their warehouses in Hobart. They exported wool, whale products, timber and minerals in their ship, the Lady Denison, until it sunk… or maybe the convicts on board overwhelmed the captain and crew, threw them overboard and sailed for San Francisco!

My character Thomas discovers that his family also went on the long voyage, round the Cape of Good Hope across the Southern Ocean to a new life. Thomas investigated his history as I did. He, and I, had a successful outcome to our research, thanks to the internet! The many very good genealogical web-sites make it possible to do in-depth research from home!

So, if your family seems to have disappeared, try looking up shipping lists and manifests, and records of passengers travelling from British ports… There are a lot of lists with a lot of ports, a lot of ships and lots of passengers – in fact in 1852 alone nearly half a million people emigrated to Australia!  However, playing the genealogical detective and with a little determination you might very well find your missing ancestor!


Hello cousin!

I’m very interested in genealogy – not just the dates and places, but trying to find out the stories of the people who were in my family before me. Like many others, I have so many stories my parents and grandparents and I want to be able to find out if there is some element of truth in them.

For example my dad always said we had ancestors who came from Scandinavia, they came into Norfolk, into King’s Lynn and were either pirates or pilots… was this just one of dad’s stories or is there some truth? he also said we had Romany ancestry… again, true or just a story he had heard from one of his relatives?

There seemed to be a way I might be able to find some answers, and I had my DNA tested. I was amazed to find I had a great big percentage of Scandinavian! I was also surprised to find a significant Irish element – maybe it’s not so strange I love Ireland! There were other interesting aspects to, nothing which said definitively ‘Romany’ but some things which suggested where we might have got our dark hair and dark eyes from!

I had my DNA tested through, and one of the advantages of that is you are told confidentially of other people who have had it done who show a possible connection. I came across someone who might be a fourth cousin – who might share the same great-great-grandparents as me… and good grief! They do! I wrote to them, and they replied, and lo and behold, their great-grandfather was my great-grandmother’s bother! So hello cousin!!

Looking up the Brontës

Many of us are fascinated by genealogical research, and looking through old records and census returns… one little offshoot of this is to look up the nineteenth century records of people we know from other areas… for example the Brontë family.

In the 1841 census, in the parish of Bradford in Yorkshire (the West Riding) in the registration district  of Keighley, in the town of Haworth, you would find Patrick Bronte, born in 1781 and aged 60, his sister-in-law Elizabeth Branwell of the same age who was born in Cornwall, and  two of his daughters,  Emily Jane aged 20 and born in Yorkshire, and Ann, a year younger; also in the household was fifteen year old Martha Brown who we can guess was a servant.

Charlotte, meanwhile was a short-term position with the White family at Upperwood House in Guiseley, also in the West Riding of Yorkshire; she had three charges, Jasper, Arthur and Sarah. Ten years later, Charlotte was at home; the family had a visitor, Charlotte’s friend Ellen Nussey. Martha Brown, the servant girl, was now a young woman of twenty-five, and there was another servant, eighty-one year old Tabitha Akroyd born in Haworth. Charlotte Bronte. Somehow over the ten years between surveys, Patrick has aged an extra four years – his date of birth is now recorded as 1777, not 1781, and his place of birth Ireland, and he is described as ‘Incumbent Or Perpetual Curate Of Haworth’.

In 1861, the inhabitants of the parsonage in Haworth have changed slightly; still in residence is eighty-four year old Patrick; all his children have died, he is alone apart from his son-in-law, Charlotte’s widower, Arthur B. Nicholls, and Martha Brown, now the housekeeper. There is another servant, Eliza Brown, who I guess is probably Martha’s younger sister. If you look back at the 1851 census, you can find Arthur B. Nicholls there in haworth, listed as ‘curate’ and living in Sexton House.

It’s really interesting to undertake  little journeys into the past like this; no doubt i could have found exactly the same information on any of the many websites devoted to the Brontës – but not as much fun!

I’ve used my interest in genealogy and family history research in my Thomas Radwinter series of e-novels; her is a link:



The mystery of Great-Aunt Caroline

My husband had always been told by his father, the story that his great-great-aunt had run a pub in Gosport in Hampshire. His father, he doesn’t think had ever been to the pub, but he knew the name of it and the fact that Caroline had been the landlady.

So last weekend, we visited Gosport, found the pub, took pictures and went inside and had a pleasant couple of hours chatting with the friendly people there. We weren’t exactly sure when Caroline had been in residence, and whether she was here when the present building was in existence (probably built about a hundred years ago) or whether she had been landlady of the previous pub of the same name which had had a thatched roof and had burned down.

We were very pleased with our adventure but it was only when we were back at our hotel and I tried to pin down Caroline and the pub when I found a difficulty. I could find no trace of her listed as landlady, and what is more I could only find details of her life in Portsmouth where she and her husband had a shop not far from where Charles Dickens was born. Maybe it was her daughter, also Caroline, maybe young Caroline had the pub with her husband George… but no, I couldn’t find any connection between her and the pub.

So what had gone wrong with the story my husband’s father had told him? He was so sure of the name, so sure of the pub’s name and location… where had the error arisen? I ferreted about a bit more in the details I already had, to see if there was another Caroline somewhere in the family tree… and yes… I came across an even more distant woman, a great-great-great-aunt of my husband, a Caroline but not with his surname, his great-great-great paternal grandfather’s sister. Could she be the woman who had the pub? back then it would have been the one with the thatched roof… I must investigate further!

I have not given surnames but I will when the story is complete – even if I don’t find the answer!

I have written several novels, the Radwinter series about a  character who solves fictional genealogical mysteries… If you haven’t read them yet, here is a link to them and my other e-books:

Radwinter… 1-4, book 4

Over the last two weeks I have been sharing excerpts from my novels about Thomas Radwinter; he starts by tracing his own family history, and then later investigates other people’s stories, and not just genealogical ones, but mysteries in their everyday lives.

Each of the four novels starts with an introduction from Thomas which is amended in each novel as his personal life changes.

His story started in the autumn of 2013 but two years later his world had changed completely, for the better. However, in his search for his family roots Thomas has discovered some uncomfortable truths, and now wants to share them with his brothers:

Beyond Hope

Actually it was a bad idea… I decided I really ought to tell my brothers about what happened to Raddy and Sylvia… They had a right to know, and it was a burden on me to have that knowledge alone… also Kylie, who is never wrong, kept nagging me… not nagging me in a nagging way I don’t mean but… well… anyway…
I don’t think it would have happened the way it did, except Marcus sort of precipitated it… and somehow or another, I agreed to meet him on the anniversary of Sylvia’s birthday at the cemetery where her ashes are scattered.
It was the first time I’d been there since her funeral… um… seventeen years ago. I can’t really remember it, for many reasons. I guess the main one is that she was a spectacularly useless mother, a drunk, and one by one, us four boys left her – I was rescued by Marcus when I was in my teens and lived with him until I married for the first time.
I don’t remember John or Paul at her funeral, but I guess they must have been there… anyway, I’d agreed to meet Marcus at the cemetery, ‘…and you can tell me the story about her and Dad, the true story… it will be rather fitting, don’t you think?’ he said.
Fitting… maybe not, but I agreed, reverting in a way to how I was BK, Before Kylie, when I was childish and submissive…

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but Paul and John were there too. None of us knew there was a particular spot where her ashes had been put, but Marcus led us to it, a small plaque with her name on beneath an azalea full of blooms despite the vile weather. He was quite snappy with Paul that he’d never been here.
We hadn’t said anything very much apart from greetings and bro-hugs, but I thought how serious we all looked, not at all like our usual selves.
I don’t mean we’re always grinning like Cheshire cats or laughing our heads off, but Marcus these days always looks calmly benign, Paul looks positively smug, and John has a gentle, contented expression, reflecting his new found happiness. Like me he has recently married, his lovely Polish wife is Justyna, and he has a baby daughter, Julia.
Today, Marcus looked distant and severe as I remember him from my childhood, Paul looked grim and ready for anything, as if flexing his muscles under his black leather jacket, and John looked distracted and almost gloomy.
I guess it’s the memories of our different childhoods with Sylvia Mae Radwinter, née Magick… And today I have the horrible task of telling my boys the truth about her, the dreadful truth… It’s been a great burden, shared only with Kylie, and she reckons telling them will lift it from my mental shoulders… I deviate and try and be amused by ‘mental shoulders’.
“Thomas, I know you have something to tell us about Mum and Dad,” Marcus looked like a disapproving headmaster.
“I do,” I replied somewhat more forcefully than I meant to. I was nervous, I guess, and felt awkward holding an umbrella. Marcus had one too, Paul had a beany hat which must be soaked by now, and John had a hoody, darkened by the downpour. It would have been better to be indoors somewhere, sitting round a table with a cup of coffee or a pint of beer. “And I have to say that I’m not sure I should tell you… some things are better unsaid, unknown…”
Paul made a little impatient noise, John was staring at the ground and Marcus was looking at me with his icy blue eyes.
I took a deep breath and told them a story, a story of a young woman with a brutal husband who had three children, and then a beautiful daughter by another man. The other man was a distant cousin, and they had loved each other as long as they’d known each other.
The husband, a monster, not only abused his wife, but, I believed, abused the little girl… I don’t think he knew that another man was her father, I think he was just a vile rapist…
My brothers were staring at me now, staring as if they didn’t know me, had never seen me before… They had never seen me like this; this was my lawyer persona… cool, cold almost…
That little girl was Sylvia, Sylvia Mae…
“You can’t know that Thomas… it would have been before the war… eighty years ago…” Marcus protested. He had adored Sylvia as the three of us hadn’t… and he had always been her favourite. “You have no way of knowing that,” Marcus was icily disapproving and suddenly very, very angry. In the past I would have made a blustering, embarrassed and ashamed apology and immediately backed down.
“I do know it, Marcus, and I have evidence to support it.”
Paul glanced at me and moved his shoulders slightly, encouraging me to continue. John was staring fixedly at the rose bush, but I felt that his thoughts were elsewhere, and wherever they were it was not a happy place.
I didn’t rush to answer Marcus, how I have changed!
“On a December evening in 1956,” I began at last, “Sylvia was alone at the lodgings where she lived in Castair. She had somehow managed to leave home, leave the man who had abused her. I think the person who saved and liberated her was Raddy, your father Edward. He was an amazing young man and we should be very proud of him.”
Paul made a little noise, a little emotional coughing sound.
“Earlier that year Sylvia had been attacked in the street and when Raddy went to her defences he ended up with the head wound which left that scar across his forehead… he nearly died, and the brain damage he suffered affected his life… the headaches, the hangovers that weren’t hangovers…”
“No… God, no!” Paul exclaimed. He snatched the sodden beanie hat from his head and rubbed his hand over his short spiky silver hair. “No… Poor Dad…”
I continued; one evening the vile man who had brought Sylvia up went to her lodgings and forced his way in… I didn’t know exactly what happened but there was an incident… he was hit over the head with an iron umbrella stand and killed.
Fucking hell, Paul murmured, John was staring at me now, his blue Radwinter eyes like icy sapphires. Marcus was pale and his eyes were burning into me. I had a mental gulp but straightened my mental shoulders and continued.
Sylvia had run to her mother, Grace who had called Raddy. Leaving Sylvia safe, Grace and Raddy had gone back to the lodging house and arranged the body so it looked as if he had drunkenly fallen downstairs… the inquest’s verdict was exactly that.
Sylvia’s true father had taken her mother away to the Isle of Wight, the four of them agreeing to stay apart…
I looked at Marcus; he’d told me several months ago that he’d overheard a conversation between Sylvia and her mother brokenheartedly agreeing that they should keep away from each other… Marcus was only a child at the time but had been very disturbed by it…
Now he looked as if he’d seen a ghost….
“You mean mum killed her own father?” John spoke for the first time, staring at the azalea again.
“Yes, I do mean that.”
Apart for the sound of the rain pattering on the umbrellas and leaves of the plants, there was silence.
“I don’t believe it,” Marcus said at last.
“I do,” said Paul, and seemed to mean something else. He’d told me he hated her, he’d told me she used to hit John… not smack, not slap, but hit he’d said.
I looked at John now and he was staring at me. Suddenly he turned away and stood with his back to us.
“Fuck!” exclaimed Paul, too loudly for this place. I think Marcus would have reprimanded him except he looked in shock.
I suddenly felt really, really angry… I don’t know why… or maybe I did deep down…

If you would like to find out what happens to Thomas, here is a link to my book:

… and here is a link to my other e-books:

Radwinter… 1-4, book 2

Over the next two weeks I am going to share excerpts from my novels about Thomas Radwinter; he starts by tracing his own family history, and then later investigates other people’s stories, and not just genealogical ones, but mysteries in their everyday lives.

Each of the four novels starts with an introduction from Thomas which is amended in each novel as his personal life changes.

His story starts in the autumn of 2013, but continues the following year; this part opens when he is looking into the maternal side of his family, the Magicks. He uses a genealogical site, MyTimeMachine, and here he is ploughing through all he can find out about the Magick family, but being Thomas he works in a back to front way, starting with the 1841 census, rather than with more recent generations:

I got a bit of a shock, I can tell you because there were no Magicks in 1841. I thought there might have been at least one of us. I soon got over my shock though as I remembered the way the Radwinters had seemed to disappear and reappear, so I changed the setting on the search of the 1841 census to allow variations in spelling.
I came up with fourteen different names which had an approximate similarity to Magick; there were Macks and Moggs in Cornwall which I had already discarded, and now, from my fourteen names I also got rid of Migus, Mogus, Mugus and Mugack straight away. They seemed too much like a firm of small town solicitors… and that was too uncomfortably close to my former life.
Then I also got rid of Mages, Magus, Maguss and Mayguss… maybe they were a firm of accountants… Stop it! Concentrate!  These seemed names related to each other, as did Magos and Maguss and Meggis, so I discounted them too.
That leaves me with Magwick, Megicks and Megwick and I can see that maybe a name something like one of these might have changed into Magick. I might have to go back to the discards, but I’ll have a little look at these three names and see where they lead. I worked so hard on the Radwinter trail that now I’m quite adept at finding my way through the records on MyTimeMachine.
It’s a good site, but I haven’t properly tapped into all its resources; I want to look at maps at some point to see exactly where my ancestors lived; I want to look at newspapers, I’m sure there’s plenty of reports about the Radwinters in Easthope.
Back to the 1841 census. The Magwicks all come from the south-east, Sussex and Surrey: Chichester, Worthing, Midhurst, Chailey, West Firle & Newhaven, Farnham and Hambledon. I’ll look them up on a map in a minute. The Megicks all come from Lampeter in Wales, and the Megwicks come from the north-east, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
I side-track, looking at names… It’s so interesting the waves of popularity of different names and in this small selection there are a few unusual ones too, Jenat and Clement…
Back to the task in hand, back to MyTimeMachine, and I’ve lost the page; I call it up again, and I do one of those funny things I sometimes do, and I typed Hagick instead of Magick… and up pops a family of Hagis’s, including Horatio Hagis. What a name!
I’ve seen before that sometimes whoever transcribes the census returns (and I’ve read somewhere that prisoners in jail do it) – makes errors; it’s understandable because to be frank, sometimes the writing is pretty illegible. I just have a feeling about Horatio, I mean what a splendid name, Horatio Hagis!  There are six Hagis’s, John and Ann who are adults, and their children Charlotte, 9, Elizabeth, 3, William, 0, and Horatio 11.
I’m supposing Hagis was mis-transcribed from Magic; I hesitated to look for some reason and I took my cup through to the little kitchen at the back of the house and washed it up, dried it, and put it away. Rebecca trained me well… Rebecca, my ex-wife…
I always feel guilty that I think about her. I mentioned it in a mumbly way to my brother Paul who was married and had four boys with his ex-wife; he said it was normal; I’d been married to Rebecca for nearly ten years and had been with her before that, not exactly half my life but a long time. It was to be expected, he said. I still don’t like it… I don’t like remembering the last horrible year of our marriage, and maybe don’t like to remember even more the previous not horrible and sometimes quite happy years…
I went upstairs to check on Kenneil; he looked so sweet, I was overwhelmed with love for this little boy and stood smiling down at him in a soppy way. He’s a little rascal sometimes, not surprising really; but he’s a good little chap and when he gets used to this new life with me and his Mama I’m sure he’ll be fine.
Back to Horatio; I have such a strong feeling about him. I look again at the transcription; John and Ann and the younger three, Charlotte, Elizabeth and baby William are all in Bedminster, I have no idea where that is. Horatio is in North Witchford and I have no idea where that is either.
John and Ann live in Watery Lane in Nailsea, in the registration district of Bedminster in Somerset, and when I go onto the copy of the census page I can see that their name really is Hagis, not a misreading of Magic. The writing is so extremely faint that I have to zoom right in and squint at the screen. I can’t make out what occupation John has, I think it might be boat something, boat builder maybe? But it looks more like boat liner and then I realise it’s not a B but a very curly C and he is a coalminer. Coalmining, in Somerset? Really? But that’s where all the farmland was flooded; it looked flat and farmy and not a bit like a coalmining area, but this was a hundred and seventy years ago.  He has three children, and he is definitely Hagis not Magic.
So, to young Horatio Hagis and here he is on his own in North Witchford, and my heart sinks… he is in a workhouse…
But however sorry I feel for young Horatio, I have to check and see if really he’s Magic not Hagis; even if he is, it doesn’t mean that he’s anything to do with us. I’m getting the feeling that, just as Radwinter was adopted by my namesake Thomas, Magick too might be a name which has muddled itself into existence at some time in the nineteenth century.
I sit back from looking at the facsimile of the census return for Horatio in the North Witchford workhouse and wonder if perhaps this time my back to front way of working is a bit stupid; maybe I should start with my parents, Sylvia Magick who married Edward Radwinter, known as Raddy, then find her parents and work backwards as far as I can. I’ve begun to think of him as Raddy, not Edward, it’s easier, not as painful…

If you would like to find out what happens to Thomas, here is a link to my book:

… and here is a link to my other e-books: