A Christmas Project
by Jennifer Ball
This article was originally published in the August 2002 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.
The type of Round Robin letter that many people choose to circularise around their friends and family, usually at Christmas time, is not for me.
I dislike the impersonal nature and the innate boastfulness that seems to be inherent in such missives. However in October I995 I had what I thought was a brilliant idea (less so later when I became snowed under with pieces of paper!) Why not produce a little magazine to circulate among the extended family of my maternal Sole descended relations?
We all know one another and on occasion do have the opportunity to meet up. I reasoned it would be a chance to gather among the pages, to renew acquaintances, to learn a little more about each other and of our joint ancestry. Also, I thought it might help the younger generations to see where we all fitted in.
I have noticed that such ideas are difficult to get rid of until one does something about them so I quickly jotted down suggestions for inclusion. I also wrote a circulation list and noted possible costs and problems. The circulation list numbered twenty because I was not going to copy it to each individual member but to family groups. We only had an old computer without scanning facilities or graphics so it was to be a word processing, cut and paste, photocopying job. I wrote to the families and told them about the idea. I asked them to give the project some thought and to come up with contributions together with photographs if possible.
Not everyone was enthusiastic which was fair enough. Some needed encouragement and wanted an explanation of what was expected of them. Others needed to discuss their ideas to see if they would be suitable for inclusion, but there was enough response to go ahead with the project. Memories were certainly stirred and I got long phone calls sometimes at inconvenient moments and would stand (because they usually came during early evening when I was cooking dinner in the kitchen!) pencil poised and paper handy in order to make notes.
Early on I had mentioned my idea of producing a magazine for the family to my husband. After his initial reservations he became quite interested and I doubt if I would have succeeded without his help especially with regard to the Family Tree. Family Tree? Where did that come in you may ask? Have you ever heard of a first issue without a free give away gift? I answer: The Tree was to date from the marriage in Folkestone, during 1876, of my Great Grandfather Edward Sole to Sarah Harriet Marshall (nee Clark). It would come down to the present day and cover six generations with a few photographs as illustrations.
We discussed various ideas for a title for the magazine and finally decided on Family Gathering. Obviously apt as it was a gathering in both senses. My cousin Coral wrote from her home in America, where she has lived since her marriage in 1955, to tell us something of the wildlife of Florida and the beauty of the beaches and Nature Parks there. Another cousin wrote an update of her family doings together with a photograph taken on holiday in Scotland. Both her daughters wrote too and told us of their children’s interests.
My Uncle Ernie wrote about his wartime service with the R.A.F. This gave me a chance to mention my own father who served with Bomber Command and the fact that he found time to illustrate a little book called Service Slang. Another cousin's son told us how he had written his car off when he hit a deer on the way to work one misty morning. Our son wrote about his and his wife's membership of the Thames Vale Advanced Motorcyclists, our daughter wrote about her family and fourteen year old Julie gave us an insight into her diary for the first half of the year.
Three of the younger children wrote letters and I used these just as they came. Six years on no doubt the senders would squirm but they are a lovely reminder of childhood. My mother's cousin from Brighton recalled the London bombing and one night in particular, Saturday 10th May I941, when her sister was killed as they sat with their mother in the block of flats they lived in Limehouse. It seems unfair not to list everyone who contributed but there were recipes, book recommendations and a photo-quiz too.
I chose to write about Great Grandma, Sarah Harriet because she was an ancestor common to us all. After Edward Sole died in I884 she married for a third time and therefore he was not related to the Brighton contingent. So that there was no mistake, I named everyone and their relationship with Sarah. In I995 she had fifty eight descendants and Edward forty nine. There have been a few more added since! This article was reproduced in Soul Search in November I999.
The photographs worked beautifully. I collected the ones I wanted to use both for the magazine and the Family Tree, trimmed them down, stuck them lightly onto two sheets of A4 paper, sometimes overlapping, and had them colour photocopied and reduced at the same time. This also reduced the cost and the quality and clarity were great.
The finished article? It consisted of five A3 sheets printed on both sides so that when it was folded into its A4 format there were twenty pages. The front page carried Ruby Wedding congratulations to Coral and Leo. The print used for the title was snow capped in the true Christmas spirit of the comics of old. It had been photo-copied and reduced, pasted and copied again with other items and trimmings.
We were pleased with the result. It had been hard work to make the Christmas deadline for posting but it had been fun too. Ingenuity had been tested and problems solved. We both felt that everyone would enjoy reading Family Gathering and they did.
The photograph below shows numerous Soles and descendants gathered together to celebrate the Diamond Wedding Anniversary of Victoria (nee Sole) and Ernie Kemp. They married in Edmonton on 2nd September 1933.
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