Family History and my faith

Looking at our family history can enrich and challenge our faith outlook and our understanding of why we believe what we do. Graham Naylor, a keen family historian, continues our series of how our studies influence our faith.

I was very close to my Grandparents. I look back with great fondness on their telling of familiar stories about family members. Grandad and his maternal family were Wesleyan Methodists from Cornwall. Grandad’s parents had married at Truro Wesleyan Church. His Grandfather was a Methodist preacher who in Truro circuit. This didn’t mean too much to me as a child. I wish I could ask more questions now! At a young age with my Grandfather I discovered my love of books. Grandad had inherited some ‘old’ books from his mother including, works about John Wesley and works of John Bunyan. These books, from the mid-late 19th century are some of my most precious belongings.

 One of my most ‘famous’ relatives from Cornwall was William Murrish, colloquially known as ‘The Miner of Perranzabuloe’, near Perranporth. He was a Wesleyan through-and-through and after his early death in 1861 a biography was produced by his friend and Methodist minister, William Davis Tyack.  

The Grave of William Murrish

Grandad’s Wesleyan upbringing ensured he had a superb singing voice which passed in the genes, we like to think, to my Mother, and although I do not profess to be an excellent singer, I do enjoy singing!

In the paternal branches of my family tree, the Naylor’s and intermarried families hail from Lancashire and Yorkshire. These two counties are well famed for non-conformity and my ancestors span many Christian denominations there – ranging from 17th century Recusants in and around Preston, early Quakers in 17th century Clitheroe and Irish Roman Catholics in mid-19th century Liverpool. The struggles and constraints within which these forebears lived are a testament to their religious integrity and are a marvel considering the persecutions they suffered in those days.

My upbringing and study of family history has certainly broadened my own faith outlook and my profound love of beauty in the diversity of the Church. To have an appreciation of this diversity and the role that church has played in the lives of my ancestors enables me to see the richness of the many denominations of the Church.

I began by recalling some of my childhood memories of Emmanuel Church in Plymouth – and here I shall finish. Why? This is where I now find myself ‘at home’ in church. I find I am no different to my ancestors, in wanting to worship the one true God in a way which feels relevant to my life today. As Emmanuel is also integrally linked with my family history, it enables me on a personal, and private level, to feel closer to my Grandparents and that is a very special thing indeed. 

Graham was a committed member of St Chrysostom’s while a student at MMU, he now works as a librarian in Plymouth and has a keen interest in local and family history – and likes to keep in touch with St Chrysostom’s!

This is the fourth in our series of how our studies influence our faith. Previous posts have looked at Metallurgy and my faithMathematics and my faith, and Entomology and my faith.

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About stchrysostoms

St Chrysostom’s is an Anglican (Church of England) parish church in Manchester. We’re an inclusive, diverse and welcoming faith community where people of differing backgrounds make friends. Find our Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2364267899/
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One Response to Family History and my faith

  1. Thank you so much to Blair Southerden who writes this detailed and fascinating response:

    “An interesting article, thank you.

    Since the age of about thirteen I have moved from Christianity, through agnosticism to aetheism, where I am now. However, family research has provided insight into different faiths. On my father’s side, my great (x4) grandfather Samuel Southerden was a Particular Baptist and member of the Particular Baptist Church of Christ at Rye, Sussex. On his death in May 1781 a meeting recorded He stood a Member of the Baptist Church at Rye 29 years. He was an Honerable (sic) member and made his exit in much Composure and serenity of mind. Signd Thos Purdy.

    His six children were all baptised into this church. A great grand-daughter, Sarah Southerden (b 18.03.1818, d 13.09.1890) married one Richard Ash Kingsford of Canterbury, Kent when she was 34 years of age, and Richard was three years her junior. The following year (1853) they sailed to Sydney Australia, and later moved to Brisbane, Queensland where Richard assisted his brother as a lay pastor at the Jireh Particular Baptist Church in Fortitude Valley, Queensland (wonderful names). John, the brother had been well known as a preacher in Particular and Strict Baptist Churches in Canterbury, England. Sarah and Richard had four children, and from their eldest daughter her youngest son was Sir Charles Edward Kingsford-Smith the aviator.

    On my mother’s side we have traced her father’s line back to the Dales in the sixteenth century. This family were Roman Catholics and convicted recusants. Using records of the Commonwealth identified how other members of the extended family in other counties also suffered the seizure of their lands for recusancy.

    My mother’s maternal line takes us to Bombay (Mumbai) in western India where the family were Parsis. Parsis originated in Persia until the seventh century when religious persecution caused a diaspora, initially to the area around present day Aden and in the ninth century to Bombay where they were permitted by the Hindus to settle and to live in peace. Parsis follow the Zoroastrian religion, identified as being the first monotheistic religion. The family, now generally known as Wadia are well documented because of their employment as the Master Shipbuilders of the East India Company. My great great grandfather and two of his cousins were among the first Parsis to visit England arriving separately in 1838-9. Grandfather’s diary records how he regularly had to refuse invitations to dine as his religion required that his food was prepared by someone of his own faith. The three cousins came here to improve their education, two training at the naval dockyard in Chatham, Kent as naval architects while gggf went to Whitechapel where he worked in the foundry of Seawards, studying steam engineering. In 1840he was appointed by the East India Company as the Chief Engineer of their steam factory in Bombay and in 1841 he arrived back in India to take up this position and he held this position until 1857 when he retired. However, by 1853 he had met my great great grandmother, a Christian, Marian Barber and by 1856 they had two children, a girl and a boy, Gustasp, who is my great grandfather. The circumstances of their meeting is unknown and is despite the fact that he had a Parsi wife and four children.

    In 1857, Ardaseer Cursetjee, Marian and the two children returned to England where they lived, initially at Hammersmith and then at Richmond, Surrey. A third child was born in 1859 in London and all three children were baptised together at St Peter’s church, Hackney in January 1862 and details of the birth in Bombay is recorded in the register of baptisms.

    I have written a family history for family and friends but it has subsequently had a wider circulation as a PDF document. This has come to the attention of other members of the extended family from both, as I now term it, the Indian and the English families of Ardaseer Cursetjee. In fact it was earlier this month that twelve cousins met for lunch bringing together seven members of the English family with five members of the Parsi family. What a glorious meeting that was.

    Two things have arisen from this story. A member of a genealogy group, married to a Parsi, provided me with a very detailed family tree going back through seven generations to about 1700 and which listed before this, a further six generations of the family from which I descend. She also provided me with a contact who was then at Cambridge University but is now a law professor in the US. Through this person I was invited to a social event for writer’s who were each producing a chapter of a book on Parsi history. We have kept in touch and last year she published a paper in a book about ‘life writings’ of the Parsis, taking four books, including mine as examples. It was fascinating, indeed instructive, to read how a third party can interpret social mores which I, so close to the story, had not perceived.

    I was also invited to join a community project based in Whitechapel (that place again!) which was researching advances in shipping and navigation made by the East India Company. The leader of the group and a majority of its members are of the Muslim faith and while discussions of religion have not distracted us from our primary project, the interest in family history is as strong within this group as in Christian or secular groups.

    Let me finish with the ‘motto’ of all Zoroastrians that is inscribed on great great grandfather’s memorial in Brookwood Cemetery: Humata Hukhata Hvarshta which translates as Good thoughts, good words, good deeds.”

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