A Series of Chance Encounters
A series of chance encounters led to a joyful meeting on the Families In British India Society. Read on below to find out more about this fascinating story!
Valmay Young’s Story
I work as a Casual Searchroom Assistant at Suffolk Record Office in Bury St Edmunds, where I had been called in to cover Reception for a few hours one afternoon in January. Charlotte arrived at Reception and asked to speak to one of my colleagues whom she had spoken to earlier on the phone. I called my colleague to Reception and she took Charlotte upstairs to the Search Room.
Unfortunately, whatever Charlotte had come to look at was of no help to her, but she had a few other questions for my colleague about other areas of her research. As they stood talking in front of the Reception desk, where I was sitting, I overheard the word ‘India’. This always gets my attention! Charlotte was explaining about one of her ancestors that went by a different name when he was in India and asked if my colleague knew of any records she could check to see if he had changed his name officially. My colleague was unsure if she could help Charlotte, so I decided, at this point, to approach the conversation, as I had a similar case with one of my own ancestors in India.
We spoke for quite some time about different resources for Charlotte to try. Different areas of her British India research, and mentioned that I was Webmaster and Trustee for the Families In British India Society (FIBIS). It turned out that Charlotte was a member, so I offered to do a look-up for her at the British Library, if I had time, as I had to attend a Committee Meeting there the following week. I also told her about the ‘Who Do You Think You Are – Live’ show at Olympia, and Charlotte thought she might like to attend.
The next week when I was in the Asia Pacific and Africa Collection Reading Rooms at the British Library doing Charlotte’s look-up, one of the FIBIS volunteer researchers, Noel Gunther, saw me and came over for a chat. As he was talking to me he seemed to become distracted by what I was looking at and eventually asked, “What name are you researching?” When I answered, “Wray.” he looked surprised and asked why, so I explained about Charlotte coming into the Record Office etc. Noel’s jaw dropped, and he took me by the arm and led me to his desk in the Reading Room. He opened up his family tree on his laptop, and showed me how they were related!
Neither Noel or Charlotte knew of each other’s existence! When I went home I e-mailed Charlotte and put her in touch with Noel.Needless to say both Charlotte and Noel were extremely excited at finding each other! I mentioned to Charlotte in a follow-up e-mail that Noel would be at the WDYTYA – Live show, so she decided she would definitely attend.
What Are the Chances?
Charlotte says that when she was in India she felt her ancestor, Thomas Wray, was guiding and helping her with her search to finding out more about him. I think she might be right, and that he continued to guide her for the following reasons.
• I was only in the Record Office three hours that week.
• I just happened to overhear the word ‘India’.
• I only visit the British Library every two months for Committee Meetings and don’t normally have time to do research in the APAC Reading Rooms, but on this rare occasion I had one hour to spare.
• I normally only see Noel at the two Open Meetings FIBIS holds every year and the annual ‘WDYTYA – Live’ event, but just happened to bump into him in the Reading Room that day.
It is this series of chance encounters that happily led to Charlotte and Noel meeting for the first time at WDYTYA – Live. They managed to help each other fill in gaps in the family tree, and exchange stories. Plus, I got to see Noel’s Grandmother’s famous ‘Birthday Book’ at last! But I’ll leave that story for Noel to tell!
Noel Gunther’s Story
I only started researching my Family background in 2007. As my “Roots” are in India, (I was born and educated there) my Family Research is mainly done in the British Library.
On one of my recent visits there, while talking to a fellow researcher, Valmay Young, the webmaster for Fibis, I noticed she was looking at the records of somebody with the name of Wray.
I commented that my Great grandmother’s maiden name was also Wray. Unfortunately I had not yet started researching on this side of my family, but Valmay said she would, with my permission, pass on my e-mail address to the lady for whom she was doing the research.
On the very next day I received an e-mail from this lady, Charlotte Harwood, confirming that we were related.
Charlotte then bought a ticket for WDYTYA for Sunday 28th March 2010, especially so as we could meet, and exchange some mutually useful information.
To say I was thrilled is an understatement!
Charlotte Harwood’ Story
”On January 10th 2010, I slithered out of my icy road and set off to Bury St. Edmunds to find the Records Office.
My gt gt grandfather, William Pearse and his wife Susan [nee Joslin] had left Jersey in the Channel Islands to embark on a new life in India about 1851. For some reason, William Pearse became William Pym in Bombay and I had no idea why?
A relative had suggested that I might possibly find an answer in Philimore and Fry, the only copy of which in the county, I discovered was in Bury Records Office.
I duly searched the pages of the book to find an answer to my question. Alas, no joy.
I returned to the enquiry desk where I started to chat to one of the ladies, Valmay, asking if she knew of any furter publications, where I might discover why my ancestor changed his name on emigrating to India.
Valmay disclosed that she was the FIBIS [Families in British India Society] webmaster and suggested that possibly FIBIS might be able to help.
After further exchange, I mentioned my Anglo Indian ancestry and asked how I might extend my information on George Wray, another ancestor, the first Wray in my family to go to India, at the end of the eighteenth century. The conversation moved on and Valmay kindly offered to check on a few details for me during her next visit to the Britsh Library, in London.
I emailed her what I knew from my own research at the BL…George Wray had a son Thomas William Wray, who had a son Hugh Archibald Wray, my gt grandfather…
In due course, to my great surprise and utter delight, Valmay emailed to announce that another FIBIS researcher, Noel Gunther, had noticed the names she was checking on and had said that he, too, was related to Thomas William Wray, so he and I must also be related!!
It was a very exciting moment for me to read this. I had dreamt of such a discovery for a long time.
Noel and I emailed and arranged to meet for the first time at the WDYTYA show at Olympia on Sunday 28th February.
Forty days from that initial conversation with Valmay,it was wonderful to meet this new cousin! We had a lot to talk about and share and it has made all my research very well worth the while.
Thomas William Wray had two wives. I am descended from the first, Harriet[nee Prayers] and Noel is descended from the second,Julia Eliza[nee Clark].
Noel was born in India, also confirming my belief that some of my ancestors remained there after Partition, but I did not know how to find them.
These chance encounters and fateful coincidences are very special. Thank you to Valmay for being the catalyst!