Selling Grandma!

I have long been accused of this peccadillo. And why not?  I’m sure neither of them would mind…

I recently received an email out of the blue from an umpty umpth cousin descended via the Mapley branch of my family tree. Needless to say, I‘d never heard of him!  Mapley is quite an obscure and rare surname; it’s not even listed in my copy of the Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames although Mabberely, Mabley and variations are.    In 1891, according to, 84 families with this surname lived in Buckinghamshire and made up 57% of UK Mapleys – including my mob.

My newly-acquired cousin is directly descended from my great grandma’s sister, Nell.  Nell married Andrew Frederick Mapley (known as Fred) who owned a baker’s in Newport Pagnell High Street a few doors down from his father-in-law’s rival bakery.

Now I know about this family because my grandfather grew up at the Mapley bakery following his father’s untimely death aged 28 (TB).   My granddad wasn’t particularly fond of Auntie Nell but his cousins were like brothers and sisters, and I met some with my grandfather.

I’ve written about Fred before (Family Tree Magazine, Christmas 2017).  He mysteriously disappeared in late 1912; just didn’t arrive home one evening.  The following April, his body, virtually unidentifiable except for his clothing, washed up in the River Ouse.  Was he pushed, did he slip, did he jump? No option is palatable. The first thing my new cousin told me was that the family believed Fred had committed suicide because his business was in debt.  I’ve seen the death certificate and the coroner, as befitted attitudes then, was diffident about apportioning such a damning verdict. The entry concluded, ‘No evidence as to how body got into water.’

Back to selling grandma….    or should it be grandpa?

A photo of the bakery belonging to both my and my new cousin’s great-something-grandfather, is on the front cover of one of my books.  It was at this bakery that my granddad’s Auntie Nell grew up, presumably over the shop.  Also on the front cover is Harry Mapley, one of her sons who died aged 27.

And now, thanks to my cousin Dean, I have a photo of Auntie Nell and Uncle Fred. Curiously, my granddad never mentioned him.  I put it down to the Victorian sense of shame tainting even a hint of suicide.    I shan’t be selling this photo.  It’s not mine to sell….

But I have put some family on the front cover of my next book . Naughty me….

I had a little bird, It’s name was Enza, I opened the window, and in-flu-enza

This little ditty was a skipping song chanted  by children during 1918 and 1919.

Although WWI ended on the 11th November 1918, deaths continued into the following year and beyond.   Why?  Firstly, there was the second wave of Spanish Flu (some historians believe the first wave shortened WWI by several months if not years) the virulence of which killed up to 50 million globally  – nobody knows the accurate figure.  And secondly, many young men who returned injured from the front died a protracted death from wounds. However today I’m writing about Spanish Flu.

This virulent pandemic seriously misrepresents Spain. It got its name when the virus migrated from France to Spain where, without the censorship of war, it was more widely reported.

Because of the different policies, some areas were particularly badly hit; Leicester and Coventry suffered high casualties – one in four deaths in 1918 were from influenza – but Manchester (over 2000 deaths in 1918 rising to 3143 by 1919) got off relatively lightly.  Here, James Niven, Manchester’s Medical Officer of Health, realising the virus attacked the lungs, recommended personal sanitation and isolation if ill.  He suggested closing dance halls, theatres and schools but his exhortations to avoid crowded places were ignored during celebrations for Armistice Day and Manchester deaths peaked in late 1918 and early 1919.     Overall 228,000 people in Britain were to die a particularly gruelling death for both patient and those nursing them.

Unlike other epidemics, victims were generally younger and fitter; the majority of afflicted were aged between 20 and 45.  It attacked all classes not just the poor and was a particularly upsetting death starting with ‘la grippe’ before quickly developing into pneumonia or, more distressingly, heliotrope cyanosis when the skin turned lavender, mahogany coloured spots appeared on cheekbones and ears (indicating a shortage of oxygen) and a person who was well in the morning suffocated and could be dead by dinnertime.

How do you know if an ancestor was a casualty of the Spanish Flu?    Few doctors wrote influenza on a death certificate.  The key clue is the timing – 1918 and early 1919.  If an ancestor died during this period  aged under, say, 50 and you read pneumonia or septicaemia on the death certificate, they probably died of Spanish flu.  And yes, I have spotted it on death certificates in my family….