Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Warners of Packwood

St. Giles Church in Packwood, Warwickshire

     In the rolling west midlands of England, to the north of the River Avon, once laid an ancient wood known as the Forest of Arden.  Majestic oaks flourished there, squirrels and sparrows frolicking among the treetops.  Dappled sunlight filtered through the branches and glinted off small streams at their feet.  From April through May the forest floor was a beautiful sea of sweetly perfumed English bluebells. As the years passed, small hamlets grew up from clearings in this forest-- Knowle, Hampton in Arden and Packwood among others.  They were home to minor landowners and numerous landless cottagers.  

     It was there in Packwood, in 1754, that John Warner, the son of William and Elizabeth Doston Warner, married Mary Kirby.  John's son William Warner, named for his grandfather, was baptized there at St. Giles in 1763.  William became an agricultural laborer like his father, and later married Sarah Payne who gave birth to their eleven children!  The youngest child, born in 1820, was James, who came to America in 1870.  James, along with his wife Ann Greenway and their sons, was the only Warner who left England; you saw his tombstone in yesterday's blog.  Why did James choose to immigrate?  Why leave his remaining family, the grave of his only daughter Maria who died at age 14 of pneumonia, and all he knew to come to America?  Especially at his age--he was 50 years old when he immigrated.  Today that is not considered old, but in 1870 the average life expectancy was less than 50.

    After much research, I believe James really had no other choice.  During the mid to late nineteenth century, the structure of English agriculture was changing, to the detriment of laborers. Landowners were converting their fields from grain production to pasture for the raising of cattle which required fewer laborers, and the industrial revolution, which I'm sure you recall from high school, was having dramatic effects even in the farming community where mechanization was growing, again displacing workers. The result was unemployment, migration to towns and cities, and immigration to America.  James had seen the writing on the wall years earlier when he sent his two oldest sons ahead to facilitate the family's move to New York. 

     James' older siblings who never left England were likewise forced from the countryside, becoming factory laborers and one a baker in larger towns.  Not one of the eleven children of William Warner remained in Packwood.  Not one of them did as well as James either.  He purchased his own farm in New York and prospered, his sons did even better becoming quite well off.

     It never fails to amaze me how much can be learned today about individuals who lived well over 100 years ago.  We have the internet to thank for much of that.  It was there I discovered the existence of the book, "The Forest Of Arden", by John Hannett with it's detailed descriptions of Packwood through the years, and also found the bookstore in England that would mail a copy to me.  Online I found other descriptions of the area, and the catalog of the LDS library on their website leading me to the microfilmed records of St. Giles church.  How much longer would it have taken me to find this information if I found it at all?

     I often wonder what my ancestors thought of all the inventions of "modern" technology that came to pass in their lifetimes.  Did they soon take them for granted, or were they as blown away by those innovations as I still remain by the internet?  I sometimes think how much fun it would be to pack Great-Great-Grandma and Grandpa into the old horseless carriage, show them around our world, and watch their reactions.  Thanks to genealogy I feel that close to them, and would love to know what they would think of it all.




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