Edward 'George' Jennings circa 1947 © Allan Jennings

Edward ‘George’ Jennings circa 1947 © Allan Jennings

My great-great-grandparents were born in County Mayo, Ireland, John Jennings in 1838 at Killadoon, Ballintubber, and Anne in 1844 at Arthavalley, Ballintubber.

I think that it is highly likely that the great potato famine after 1845 was the reason that John and Anne’s families decided that they needed to move in order to feed their families and survive.

How must that feel when there is no other option than to move, not just to a house down the road, but to a totally different country?

The great catastrophe that was the potato famine was particularly bad in Co Mayo, where nearly ninety per cent of the population were dependent on the potato.  Over 100,000 people died in Mayo alone.

Many Catholic families that came to England settled in places such as Wootton Wawen near Henley in Arden.  During the summer months the population in rural areas often doubled owing to the great influx of harvest labourers and their families.  John and Anne’s first two children were born in the area. Despite being extremely poor, – or perhaps because they were so, they went on to have 11 children.

I wonder how they would have been treated by neighbours and officials?  They had no money, no skills, spoke with a strange accent, and were probably illiterate, as John had to sign his marriage certificate with a cross.  How would we treat similar people today?  What would we say about them?

George Jennings circa 1940 ©Allan Jennings

George Jennings circa 1940 ©Allan Jennings

However, one of John and Anne’s children, my great-granddad Edward, who was known as George, ‘got on’, – he became a builder. He helped to build the houses in Llewellyn Road, and even bought one, much to the disgust of his boss who thought he was ‘getting above his station’.

One of George’s two sons was my granddad George who became a painter and decorator and lived in Warwick.  He had three children, one of them being my dad John.  John went to All Saints School in Warwick, and later married at the Parish Church in Leamington.

John Jennings ©Allan Jennings

John Jennings ©Allan Jennings

It was only when I became interested in genealogy and my family history that I found out that my family were originally Catholics and came from Ireland, whereas I am Church of England and English. My dad was not aware of his roots either.  He came out with his usual line of “no one told you a thing when I was growing up, children were there to be seen and not heard.”

It took very few generations before the roots of my family were forgotten, so are you sure that your family come from where you think they do?


©Allan Jennings September 2009