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A Family Story 6th August 2008 Family History
Joan had often wondered why she had never been allowed to be evacuated. Also, her Mother, Dolly and her father, Thomas Abraham, were very secretive about their family. Joan had often said to them that she would have loved a brother or a sister but her words were met by stony silence.
In 2001, after both her parents had passed away, Joan, now 71 and her three grown up children, Angela, Christopher and Julia decided to use The Internet to try to solve the family mystery. Angela, an Art Historian, decided to begin by looking up her grandparent’s marriage certificate. However, when she put Thomas Abraham and Dolly into the search engine, there was no marriage certificate for them around the 1920’s and 30’s, which would have been about the right time. But there was a marriage certificate for Thomas Abraham Maber and a May Constance Nicholls in September 23rd 1913. Maber is such an unusual name and, combined with Thomas Abraham, Angela reasoned it must refer to her grandfather. Had her grandfather been married before marrying her grandmother, Dolly? Was there a child of this union? Angela searched the birth records and, she found that just three years after the marriage, a son, Douglas Thomas Maber was born on 28th July 1916.
In great excitement Angela phoned her mother Joan, now living in Spain, and broke the news to her that she did indeed have the brother she had always longed for.
Joan was ecstatic. Julia now joined the family hunt to find the whereabouts of Douglas Thomas Maber. Disappointment was to follow. Douglas Thomas had died just the previous year in the year 2000. If only, they thought bitterly, they had begun the search in 1981, when Dolly had died, eight years after Thomas Abraham.
But, Angela reasoned, there still could be other members of the family out there to find. Had Douglas Thomas had any children she wondered? Back she went to The Internet. She found that Douglas Thomas Maber had married Elsie Annetta Sheppard on 17th Dec 1936 and they had a daughter born 16th October 1945. This daughter was still alive and married to Gerald Whawell. Luckily, Whawell was another unusual name. She found out from the internet that there was a Mr and Mrs Gerald Whawell living in Folkestone, Kent, close to where her mother’s brother, Douglas had died the year before. Angela sent a letter to them. Unfortunately, the Whawell’s, having both lost their fathers on the same day in the same hospital on the same ward had reassessed their lives and had just moved (after being 34 years in the same house!), to Devon to be near their daughter. Angela’s letter was not forwarded to them. Not hearing any reply, Angela and her mother Joan thought that the trail was now cold. Maybe Thomas Abraham’s first family wanted nothing to do with the second! Joan however, would not give up. She decided that she would telephone every Whawell in the Folkestone phone book. The very first Whawell she rang was Gerald’s younger brother who was able, after some persuading, to give her Gerald’s phone number in Devon.
The phone rang in Devon.
I answered it. My father was Douglas Thomas Maber. I was the daughter born to Douglas Thomas and Elsie Annetta 16th October 1945. I knew that my grandfather, Thomas Abraham had left my grandmother May Constance for another woman when my father was 11. When my father, Douglas was about to join the army he visited his father, Thomas Abraham and was told to “Go away. There is nothing in my will for you. I have a new family now”. Crushing words for a 17 year old to hear! He knew that there was a baby in the house and he thought her name was Joan. Douglas never saw his father again, but he always wished he could have met his half-sister. Just before he died he wrote his memoirs and, in the book, he said sadly, that he wished Joan and he could have met. “Maybe we could have been friends,” he wrote. In his book he wrote all about his childhood, his life in the army and his long and happy marriage. It was almost as if he were writing his life down so that if, against all the odds, his sister Joan might one day read it he would know that he thought about her and cared for her. And, as a tribute to his half-sister he named me after her. I was to be called Joan Angela Maber, but my mother pointed out that my initials would have been J.A.M. so I was called Angela Joan…and the lovely cousin who searched and found me…well her mother (never knowing of my existence) named her Angela Joan as well! So the brother and sister, who had never met, both called their firstborn child ‘Angela Joan.’
At Christmas 2001 my Auntie Joan and my cousins Angela, Christopher and Julia all came to Devon to stay with me. It was so special. Christopher looked just like the photographs they had of Thomas Abraham. Julia looked just like my daughter. I looked so much like my Auntie Joan we could be sisters and, as I hugged her tight, I hugged her not only for myself but for my father too.
Did Thomas Abraham and Dolly ever get married? Well, I was able to tell Joan to look for their marriage certificate around 1971 which was when the new Divorce Reform Act was brought in. My grandmother, May Constance, had showed me a letter around that time from a solicitor citing separation of 5 years as grounds for divorce. Thomas Abraham was able, at last, to divorce my grandmother and marry Dolly. One Spring morning, when his daughter Joan was at work, he and Dolly traveled across to the far side of London, where nobody would know them and were married secretly at Hillingdon Registry Office on 17th May 1972, just a year before he died. The newly-weds then came home and never said a word to anyone. They must have imagined that their secret would die with them. Joan now feels she knows why she was never evacuated. They maybe thought that documentation involved might have allowed the secret to escape. They wanted to keep her close so that no questions were ever asked. Joan, Angela, Christopher, Julia and I see each other often and we all enjoy exploring other times in our Family History.

Angela Whawell

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