How an Ipswich Star advert helped a woman find her family
- Credit: Archant
Marian Thornley, who has roots in Suffolk, managed to discover more about her long-lost grandfather thanks to our newspaper.
Marian Thornley has always known her family roots stem from Suffolk – but she has spent her whole life seeking a missing piece of her ancestral puzzle. It wasn’t until she and her brother Dave placed an advert in the Ipswich Star that she was able to find that missing piece.
Now residing in France, she said: “My mother, Jean Jordan, grew up in Ipswich, surrounded by an extended family living in Bath Street. Her father, Jim Jordan, had suffered greatly during the First World War, having been injured several times and spending the last year of the war in a POW camp in Germany – incidentally, winning the Military Medal just before his capture.
“His health never really recovered and when my mother was two years old, and her younger brother only six weeks old, Jim died of heart attack,” she continued.
Jean’s mother Maudie, now widowed, struggled to bring up two small children on a widow’s pension, and had to get a job taking in washing to make ends meet. This saw Jean living between various aunts and uncles on Bath Street and elsewhere in Ipswich.
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“In those days, it was normal for people to never mention family members who had passed away, and so too, Maudie never mentioned Jim. My mum grew up thinking she had never had a father,” Marian added.
Marian’s mother Jean later married and moved to Kent to be with her new husband, losing contact with her Suffolk relatives in the process.
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“I grew up in the 60s, together with my three siblings, knowing nothing about our Suffolk heritage or about our grandfather Jim.
“However, we knew and loved our grandmother, Maudie, who often came to stay and then lived with us before her death. If I had a pound for every time I wished I had asked her about her childhood and about Jim, I would be rich.”
Later in life, Marian and her brother’s curiosity got the better of them, and they decided to take their search for her grandfather a step further.
“As with many people, it’s only in later life that such things become important, so about 30 years ago, my older brother became inquisitive and placed an advert in the Ipswich Star asking if anyone knew anything about Jim Jordan.
“To our great surprise, a letter arrived in the post the following week containing a very delicate, faded scrap of newspaper. It was a cutting from a 1917 newspaper, featuring a photograph of Jim in army uniform, saying that he had won the Military Medal for bravery on the field.”
Astonished at what she’d received, Marian couldn’t believe her eyes. “This was staggering,” she explained. “Suddenly our grandfather’s face was staring out at us from all those years ago.”
So who was the elusive sender? The newspaper clipping belonged to Edward Madder, one of the sons of Jim’s many sisters - who came from a family of 15 children.
“Emily Jordan had evidently torn the article from the paper and placed it in a bedroom drawer, where it had laid for 30-odd years until her death in 1950. Edward had found it while clearing her things, and being of a family history turn of mind, had held on to it.”
Possessing the missing link, Marian was then able to piece together the rest of the family history on her maternal side.
“This treasure was the starting point of our family history research,” she said. “Since then, we have managed to piece together Jim’s wartime experiences, in which we found out he was injured three times and thus serving in the 1st, 2nd and 7th Battalions of the Suffolk Regiment. His pre-war experiences came courtesy of the Suffolk Battalion archive at Bury St Edmunds.
Marian has managed to venture as far back as the 17th century, discovering her ancestor, Thomas Jordan, died in the village of Great Finborough in 1684.
While some family historians rely mostly on tracing genealogy via births, marriages and deaths, Marian has continued to seek information through newspapers - finding a wealth of information.
“There are criminal records, court cases, stories of fights and misdemeanours. But there were a couple of very tragic stories.”
Over several generations, the Jordan men worked as bricklayers and lived in very unsanitary parts of town, such as Payne’s Court off Tanners Lane.
“In 1874, when typhoid raged through the town, the authorities decided to force the residents of these courts to close off their wells and install the town’s water supply. Unfortunately, the residents were told they had to foot the bill. Many of the residents simply could not afford to pay, and so were summoned to court to explain why.
“My unfortunate ancestors, Mary Ann and John Jordan, stood in front of a panel of judges and tried to say that the drinking water was fine. It had wriggling creatures in it, but they said it was fine. The court sniggered, and an official said something sarcastic, to which everyone laughed,” Marian explained.
Following the court incident, Mary Ann suffered yet another tragic turn, after going into a furniture shop to pay off a bill. “The shop was in darkness and the opening to the lift shaft was left unattended. Mary Ann fell down the shaft and lay there for several hours before being found. She spent the rest of her short life in bed, surviving on £20 that somebody gave her.”
Tragic stories such as these were a hard read for Marian, but have ultimately given a deeper insight into her family’s past, and where her mother came from.
“It was very painful reading these stories, but the newspaper archive has shone a beam of light onto the lives of our ancestors who lived not that long ago.
“Edward Madder has also sent me some stories about Jim’s father, a larger-than-life character who played jokes on the landlord of his local pub, The Black Horse pub in Ipswich.”
Marian’s research has also taken her across the county, allowing her to meet an assortment of distant relatives and share her extensive findings.
“Since starting the family history project, I’ve visited Ipswich and the surrounding villages,” she explained. “I’ve met long-lost cousins and written a couple of books. And it all started with an ad in the newspaper!”
Have you been researching your family history? Do you have an interesting discovery to share? Email