No Relation

On moving to Hawkesbury Upton, we soon realise that living in a village means everyone knows your business. Although it is at first a little unnerving to realise that our neighbours appear to know our news almost before we do, there is a counterbalancing benefit: we get to know theirs too. This intimacy goes hand-in-hand with the local habit of greeting everyone you pass in the street. If you don’t already know them, you soon will.

The village grapevine is long-established and its roots go deep. Many of those who live here have also been raised here and still live close to their extended families. Plenty of villagers have known each other since birth, and in some cases so have their parents’ and grandparents’ social circles.

This is one reason why we have very little crime in the village. Misdemeanours are likely to be spotted by someone who not only recognises the culprit, but also knows the names and addresses of their mother, father, partner, children and second cousin twice removed. Someone, somewhere will be able to shop them.

Many families bear true  “village names”. These names pop up wherever indivuduals are listed around the village: the Parish News, Horticultural Show trophies, adverts in the village shop, paintings displaying the village school. Heartrendingly, they also adorn the war memorial on the village green (known as “The Plain”), some tragically repeated in both the First and Second World War inscriptions. At the Remembrance Day service held on the Plain, when the names of the war dead are read aloud, their descendants are among the crowd.

The graveyard in the parish church is also filled with village surnames. I find this strangely comforting: those buried here lie among friends and neighbours; it’s just a subterranean outpost of our community.

Assuming that villagers sharing a surname must be related, we are surprised to hear denials from some, particularly those who also look alike. Later we discover that they are indeed from the same family, but it’s divided by a longstanding feud. Feeling sorry for a neighbour who claimed to have no family to nominate in his will, we later discover he has relatives two streets away.

Equally, we discover family ties between those whose surnames are similar but differently spelled. Where literacy comes late to a community, the spelling of surnames evolves. The same happened with my own family across the generations.

Even as a new arrival, I want to belong to this village, and never want to move house again. It irks me at first to assume that no matter how long I livedhere, my name will mark me out as an incomer. It will take several generations before my descendants are perceived as village people. I wish I had a true village name.

To my surprise, I soon discover that I have. A neighbour asks if we are related to their cleaning lady or to a local builder who both share our surname. (When we meet the builder, he denies being married to the cleaning lady.)

This discovery gives me great heart. In future, if we’re asked about our connections to locals sharing our surname, we will say airily “Oh no, we’re not related!” And of course, they will assume that we are, and wonder what caused our family feud.

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