How a Historical Novel Inspired my Genealogy Research: In Praise of Gopher Holes

In my blog post “They Aren’t Rabbit Holes they are Genealogy Networks” I wrote about my deep dive back into 15th and 16th Century documents while trying to locate the origins of 17th Century English immigrants to America. This is the another part of the story. It all started when Dale and I were planning our second genealogical research trip to England. Once we had a rough itinerary I took a look at my Family Tree Maker tree to see if I had any other ancestors in the areas we were visiting. That is how I discovered my murderous ancestor, Nicholas BROOME (1450-1517). Nicholas is my 13th great grandfather. His father was John BROME (1410-1468) and he was the purchaser in 1438 and owner of the lovely moated Manor house, Baddesley Clinton, which is now a National Trust Property.

Baddesley Clinton Manor

John BROME was Under Treasurer of England and was murdered on the porch of Whitefriars Church in London over what appears to be a property dispute back in Warwick with John HERTHILL, who just happened to be the steward of Richard Neville, aka the Kingmaker. [I feel as if there is more to this story than the historical record has revealed so far.] Well, it seems young Nicholas, some three years after his father’s murder met up with John HERTHILL in Longbridge Field on his was back from Barford to Warwick. It is here in Longbridge Field that young Nicholas, now almost 21 takes the life of John HERTHILL.

This 1889 Ordnance Survey showing Warwick, Longbridge Field and Bridge End where Nicholas had a residence

In addition to Baddesley Clinton, which lies some 10 miles northwest of Warwick, Nicholas, upon his father’s death, acquired the lovely Brome Place strategically located just opposite Warwick Castle in Warwick. At the time there was a bridge that crossed straight over to the Castle. Nicolas suffers no imprisonment for his crime and atones for this and future sins—but perhaps that deserves its own blog post.

While doing research on Nicholas BROME I found a lovely short historical novel called “My Husband: The Extraordinary History of Nicholas Brome by Anne Elliot ” which I devoured before my trip. It mentions the Guild of the Holy Cross in Stratford on Avon which I had been to before. Anne Elliott cleverly uses Nicholas’ membership in the Guild of the Holy Cross as a vehicle for her characters to meet. And that became the future inspiration for my research, because I realized that fraternal organizations were a powerful network where people would meet and do business.

We sometimes tend to forget that our ancestors were nearly as good at networking as we are. Arguably their financial success and very survival may have been predicated on these religious and trade associations. The larger landowners in a given area would likely belong to more the one Guild. We find the BROME family as far back as the 1300’s in Guild of the Holy Cross in Stratford on Avon (founded in 1353). We also find them in the Guild of St Anne in Knowle where records begin in 1451. Although many would belong to just one Guild the wealthy may have belonged to several. And although one would presuppose the Guild had a tight geographic area that is not always the case. Knowle’s Guild through the monastery’s land holdings included membership for Solihull, Henely in Arden, Erdington, Corley (north of Coventry) Brailes, Wiloughby, Shuckburgh, Shenington and Halesowen. And members could be even farther afield.

The Guild Chapel of the Holy Cross and Guildhall in Stratford on Avon

So this really is a long winded way of justifying gophering. If we pay attention to things we learn in one place, they can turn out to be valuable in a completely different venue, simply because we learned something about the way things work. So maybe you spent 5 days or 5 years tracking down an ancestor that turns out not to be yours. I can assure you, what you discovered is not lost energy. The tunneling down gopher holes is not wasted. Something you learned will pop up again, and you will know just where to go because you have been there before.

I do believe that those with more open minds, and well developed intuition will be rewarded as much or not more as the more traditional or methodical researchers ( although both both bring their own rewards). If you are a gopher, take heart, in the end you will be rewarded. New discoveries sometimes take looking at data from a new perspective and there’s nothing like gophering to change your perspective. It could be a novel, a TV program or a book on a completely unrelated matter. It can all be put to good use, eventually.

As for Nicholas BROOME, he twice murdered and at his behest is buried just inside the door of St. Michael’s Church at Baddesley Clinton, standing upright so that in a final act of penance, people will trod upon his head for ever more. Thank you grandfather Nicholas for continuing to be a source of inspiration. And thank you Anne Elliott for bringing his story to life.

Kelly Wheaton Copyright 2021. All Rights Reserved

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