I have to admit, that as much as I am fascinated by the dates, details, and documentation of genealogy, my absolute favorite aspect is the stories. It is something very special when I discover a story or stories that really tell me about what kind of person one of my ancestors was. While I am persnickety about gathering documentation and evidence for each person and as well as their data, I really am enthused when I find stories about them. To me that is the best part of genealogy!
Naturally, the farther back you go the fewer stories you tend to find. So it was with great delight that I found a particular story about my great, great grandfather, Nicholas Phillipps, who was born in St. Minver parish in Cornwall and it was one of those times that family myth dovetailed with reality (which in my experience can be a rare occurrence).
For some reason, when I began my genealogy work, while I started with myself and worked back in time as everyone rightly suggests, I had spent the vast majority of my time and energy on branches of the family other than my own. I had great fun going deep into my wife's family lines in the Molise district of Central Italy. I really enjoyed delving into my historic roots in Bohemia, now Czech Republic. I loved learning about my one line that originated in Kent, England. I had traced many of these lines back to the 1600s when I got to thinking that I had not really touched my Phillipps branch past my grandfather and his stepfather. Then one day I dove into the Phillipps family.
I was lucky to come from a family that loved to tell stories. One was a story that I only had a vague recollection about from my grandfather, 'Gramps' Phillips. Gramps would tell the story about a relative who, though blind, had learned how to tell money solely by the feel of the coins in his hands. I must admit that, unfortunately, I did not pay particularly close attention to this story.
Recently that memory came roaring back as I found a newspaper article from the Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, published on March 2, 1880. It was titled simply "A Blind Postman". Was I ever treated to this surprise: it was the story my Gramps had told me!
It was quickly evident that this story was about my great, great grandfather Nicholas Phillips. Written by Charles Waring Wood, it is a Letter to the Editor and it explains Nicholas' life. It seems that he lost both his eyes to an accident at age 18. This was in addition to having already lost his father. Undeterred, Nicholas became a rural message carrier (prior to the Royal Post) and six days a week walked 14 miles carrying messages from Wadebridge to St. Minver and back. The story continued to say that in 1854 when the government was set to appoint a postman, "the farmers and parishioners voted for blind Nicholas Phillips to be kept on". He then even added the village of St. Kew on his round and the miles increased to 17 a day. For sixteen years he had been carrying out his work 'to the satisfaction of all' and at a wage of 14 shillings a week. The writer estimates that Nicholas had walked more than 134,400 miles .... 'about five times and a half round the world'.
At the time of this Letter, Nicholas was about 60 years old, still walking his route as Mr. Wood pointed out with 'no guide but his walking stick, no companion or protector but his God'. Nicholas died so poor that his wife and family could not even afford a gravestone.
This is the stuff that makes genealogy come alive. These are the type of stories we need to remember about our ancestors and pass to coming generations so they are not lost.
Nicholas may not be Royalty or a celebrity, but he certainly is one of my favorite heroes.
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