We went to France for a week during the second half of July - to the Loire valley. This was a really smashing break - our first visit to that part of the world and certainly an experience that would be worth repeating. We visited a number of chateaux and other places of beauty or interest, and the trip also included our first experience of Paris. We only had a few hours in the French capital, but that was sufficient to convince us of the necessity of a return visit of longer duration as soon as we can make it.
Jan and I tried to speak French as much as we could during this trip. We had been having French lessons since last autumn in preparation for this holiday, and we very much enjoyed trying to converse in the native language of our hosts. It was good fun. I don't say that we were all that brilliant, but we could make ourselves understood, and on the whole we understood the people with whom we were conversing.
Some of my kinfolk have suggested to me that there is French blood in my ancestry. This may or may not be true, but I've found no evidence of it as yet. My mother used to say that Hannah Guyatt (1857-1903), my great grandmother and the wife of James William Smith (1853 - abt 1908), was of French descent, and this belief has been repeated to me by some of my other cousins.
What I know for sure is that Hannah was born in London, and neither of her parents were French. Her father - John Guyatt (b abt 1827) was born in High Wycombe, Bucks, and her mother - Caroline Smedley (b 1820) was born in Walworth, Surrey. I don't know where her grandfather was born, or who his parents were, but it seems that he and his spouse migrated to High Wycombe
from somewhere else.
The available information on surname distribution in the nineteenth century suggests that most people bearing the name Guyatt were recorded in the south of England - in Hampshire and Wiltshire - so my guess is that the identity of my Guyatt 3 x great grandparents may lie in one of these counties. However, I haven't yet worked out how to pin down my forebears. This is on the back burner at the moment, pending a moment of inspitation!
What is apparent, however, is that although it is possible that the Guyatts do originate in France, we have to go back a number of generations to prove it.
Continuing the French theme, last Saturday Jan & I went to the Maliphant Jamboree at Bristol, which was attended by about 33 people in all. This was the first such event to be organised, and was in fact a gathering of the Maliphant clan. You may be wondering who the Maliphants were / are. Well, they appear in Jan's family history. Jan's 2 x great grandmother was a certain Ann Maliphant (1836-1916), and she married Evan Hughes (1834-1916) in 1855 at Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire.
The history of the Maliphant clan has been traced back a very long way indeed - back to the father of Henry Maliphant (d 1590) who was named Jenkin Maliphant (dates unknown). There is then a gap in the records - I believe of about 200 years - before more Maliphant sightings were found. I have to say, here and now, that neither Jan or I can claim credit for this research. Most of it was carried out by Gordon Maliphant who, I'm pleased to say, attended Saturday's jamboree, which was organised by one of his sons, Bruce. Bruce is in the process of taking over the custody of Gordon's records, so if you want to know anything about this clan he will be the person to contact.
"Where's the French connection?" I hear you ask. Well, it has long been assumed by Jan and I that the meaning of the name Maliphant is derived from the French "bad child". The story, which I assumed had some basis in research, was that the Maliphants probably came over with the Normans. However, in conversation with a number of attendees on Saturday, Gordon said that this theory of the origin of the Maliphant name was conjecture. He has never been able to put it to the test. Oh well, back to the drawing board.
Anyway, we very much enjoyed our visit to the Maliphant gathering, and thank Bruce very much for arranging it. We met a number of people who we have never met before, and Jan was able to meet up with a long standing correspondent and friend - Mavis.
All this leads me to one or two general comments.
Firstly, I never cease to be impressed at the helpfulness of family historians. We really are a very friendly lot - most of us are happy to share our knowledge with others, so you should never be afraid to ask for help. Mostly it is a reciprocal thing, in my experience. The process of helping others often results in you gaining a bit of extra knowledge or learning a new technique.
Secondly, most family historians have a taste for the exotic. If we can find a criminal among our forebears, that is just great! If he or she was transported to Australia that's even better! Gipsy ancestry is usually welcomed, and whatever reservations the English & French people may have about each other according to national stereotypes, the prospect of French ancestry is something that certainly seems to whet the appetite.
Lastly, be wary of family folk lore, or uncorroborated stories. Don't dismiss them out of hand, but bear in mind that they can be very diverting, in more senses than one!