Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Getting to Know the Cornwood Churchwarden

One of the great benefits I have derived from volunteering as the Online Parish Clerk (OPC) for Cornwood and other Devon parishes was in meeting Marilyn Sharp, the Churchwarden for St. Michaels and All Angels Church in Cornwood.

St. Michaels and All Angels Church in Cornwood, Devon, England (photo by Wayne Shepheard, 2004)
From the first time I made contact with her, she has been totally supportive of my goal to learn everything I could find out about the parish where my Shepheard ancestors originated. She willingly shared data she had accumulated about the burials in the church cemetery along with other information about the community and its residents. In my assisting of others researching their families in the area, she has often been able to pass along tidbits about the people and places where they had lived.

In 2004, my wife, Linda, and I had a chance to visit the area. Marilyn, her husband, Bas, and friends, Brenda and Graham Gregory, took a great deal of time out to show us all around the parish, as well as direct us to sites of interest in the surrounding area. I had a chance to see all of the places I had only read about, mostly online, and, most importantly, discover the former homes of many members of my Shepheard ancestors. Many of the residences dated back to the 17th century. Marilyn’s kind attention made the visit most memorable.

One amusing story happened when we drove out to the original Shepheard estate, called East Rooke. It highlights one aspect of meeting people and doing things on the Internet.

Left: the main house at Rooke, the ancestral home of the Shepheard family in Cornwood, Devon, England; right: Wayne in one of the typical parish lanes; both photos taken in September 2004
In early 2003, just after I became an OPC, I had an email from a school-girl in the area who had found my website.  She was looking for information about the population of Cornwood in the 1800s for a class assignment.  I was able to provide her with the totals from the various censuses between 1841 and 1901 for her report.  Anyway, it turned out that she and her family rented East Rooke, the farm that used to belong to the Shepheard family.  Small world! 

When we went to see the place in the fall of 2004, Marilyn, who was very anxious to give us a proper and friendly introduction to the current resident, approached the girl’s mother and introduced me as “the man who has been talking with your daughter on the internet!”  As you might imagine, Mom was bit taken aback to start with but warmed up once she heard the whole story.

On several occasions, Marilyn has carried messages back and forth between me and the current Vicar. I think, because of her involvement, I have been able to obtain significantly more information about the parish than an OPC might normally get. Many times, as well, she has been able to provide me with some historical perspective on the parish and area families.

We were able to partly return the favour by entertaining Marilyn, Bas, Brenda and Graham for a few days in 2008 – showing them places around Calgary, Alberta, Canada that were very different from the pretty little villages and countryside of Southwest Devon, England.

Left: Graham, Brenda, Bas, Linda, Marilyn and Wayne at the Hoodoos near Drumheller, Alberta, Canada;
Right: Bas, Marilyn, Brenda and Graham at Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada; both photos taken in September 2008
We have become very good friends with Marilyn and Bas over the past decade. We regularly exchange messages, and the inevitable email jokes, and try to keep up with the happenings of our two families.

It is very valuable for family historians to get to know people who live in the areas where their ancestors lived, to get first-hand observations about, and some insight into the history of the locations.

In our case we have been truly blessed with meeting and getting to know the Churchwarden of Cornwood.

Thank you Marilyn, for all your help and for just being you!