Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Friday, May 9, 2014

The House of Burgesses

Grandma Gertie (Solander) Burgess, Albert, Luella, c. 1917
Luella Alma (Burgess) and Paul French, 1960
Back in 1976, the bicentennial year, before Mama started to slip into her long goodbye, the dementia which eventually took her life a decade later, I'd been regaling her with the plans Bob, my husband, and I had made to visit Hawaii that summer. Initially, I'd hoped for a trip to the east coast. I longed to see the Tall Ships, and visit Philadelphia. Who wouldn't want to take a picture of the Liberty Bell to celebrate two hundred years of independence?

But Bob and I waited too long to make travel arrangements, back in those pre-Internet days when prospective travelers had to book an appointment via Princess telephone with a certified travel agent. By the time I got to my agent's office, all reasonably-priced motels and B&Bs were fully booked.

Glancing around her office at the travel posters, I fixed my gaze on Diamond Head.

"I've never been to Hawaii," I confided. "Let me check with Bob tonight and I'll phone tomorrow. Maybe this could be an alternative." Bob concurred and we booked a tour via AAA of Oahu, Kauai, Maui and Hawaii.

I'd been going through the itinerary stop by stop, my voice rising in excitement, until Mama held up a hand.

"Good Lord," she said, "Why in the world would you`want to go to that tourist trap? I bet it will be just like Tiajuana."

Greatgrandfather John Burgess, c. 1919
Mama's travels had been limited to occasional forays across the California border into Mexico and two airplane trips with my father, accompanying him on business trips to Chicago and to Miami. She'd complained bitterly about the weather in each of those cities, living all her life in temperate Los Angeles County.

"Don't you have any curiosity about the rest of the world, Mama?"

She started to shake her head, and then paused.

"Well, if I could find out where my father's family lived in England before they came to America, I'd want to go there and see if I had any cousins or other relatives."

Nobody really seemed to know. Grandpa Joe had died in the early '40s and Grandma Gertie didn't keep in touch with the remaining Pennsylvania relatives as often as she did her own Solander siblings and their families. Besides, in 1976 she was 86, and her memory was fading.

Last week I finally discovered where they'd come from...and it was through a wonderful genealogy website that traces the history of the Burgess family back to northwest England. I'd Googled Grandma Gertie's name, hoping to find the date of her death, and a link to a website called Burgess of Davensham came up. I wondered how Grandma got on that website so followed the link. Grandma had made a Most Wanted list! I read this plea:

Joseph Burgess and Gertrude Solander of Los Angeles
Joseph Burgess was born in Pennsylvania and moved to Watts, Los Angeles Co. California. Where he is found on the 1920 and 1930 census He is know to have had at least 2 children Albert (born 1909) and Luella (born 1914) Any information on this family would be greatly appreciated.
I surfed around the website a little, and read this:
This site is dedicated to the Burgess family originally from Davenham, Northwich, Cheshire, England. Our earliest recorded ancestor Peter Burgess married Mary Burrow in 1772. My line then moved to Bakewell, then to Matlock Bath and finally to Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Enjoy your visit and please alert me to any corrections.
You could have slapped me upside the head and called me Philip Marlowe...that's how powerful a detective I felt. I rummaged through the photos I'd stashed in my duffel bag and recently sorted when my sister died the end of February. I fired off an email with updates on Grandpa and Grandma, their progeny and my complicated relationship to both Albert, my birth father, and his sister Luella, my adoptive mother.
Though I've been to England over a dozen times, I'd never actually been to Northwich, but I'd been at the railway station at Chester in Cheshire, on a train trip from Manchester to Holyrood, Wales. I'd no idea of course, that this is where those ancestors had lived during Victorian times. I'd heard the family rumor that Greatgrandfather John had been a gardener for the queen...and my newly discovered distant cousin in Canada, who maintains the website, verified that rumors have abounded for decades that some members of the family might have been in service to the royal family.

I'm still browsing and uncovering information. But,'s my Mother's Day present to you...though you never got to these places, my next trip to England I'll visit Matlock Bath, where our branch still seems to have roots. 

I wish I could take you with me, Mama, but I know you'll be with me in spirit.


  1. Oh my goodness what a breathtaking discovery. I know you are digging deep to discover those roots.

  2. Thanks for posting this. I will share it with my girls, Luella's great granddaughters [Luella-Joel-Todd-my girls]. Maureen French