As we grow older, many of us seek to learn about our ancestors—perhaps so they won’t be forgotten, perhaps to discover how they have influenced our own identities. For Angela Fortnum, this time came after her mother’s death “rekindled her interest in genealogy,” for her mother had “often regaled [Angela] with tales of life at South Newington Mill and about [her] great-grandfather Charles…”. This slim volume is a record of Fortnum’s research concerning her maternal grandparents, beginning with speculations about her lineage in the Middle Ages, when surnames reflected occupations, and extending through her grandfather, Harry Page, who died in 1959.
Fortnum uses all the tools of genealogical investigation, including church records, censuses, death certificates, and wills, to uncover her family history. Where possible, she provides copies of the documents. Thus, readers learn from one will that John Page, “my four times GGF [great grandfather]” bequeathed to his daughter, Lydia, “one feather bed Bedstead Feather Bolster and Pillow.” (Fortnum preserves the original punctuation).
Fortnum’s ancestors worked as weavers, bakers and millers, and the churches they were affiliated with ranged from Quaker to Wesleyan Methodist to Primitive Methodist. Two of her maternal great grandfathers served as parish clerks. As an offshoot of her studies, Fortnum provides photographs and descriptions of the churches her forefathers attended. Some she recommends for visits, such as St. Mary’s church in Bloxham which has “a magnificent Gothic-style spire.”
Pages and Leaflets of North Oxfordshire is a slender read that is more a record about the family than a full-blown narrative with a compelling story arc. To enlarge her audience, Fortnum would need to add depth to her work, expanding, for instance, on the history of the various churches and their role in her ancestors’’ lives and detailing the texture of her relatives’ daily routines—placing it all in historical context.
As it stands, this book isn’t likely to appeal to a general audience but will make a wonderful family keepsake.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.