The numinous adventure of The Pine Cone Story continues …
After a paddle in the sea, and a picnic on a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon, the weather suddenly turned. The sun was hidden by clouds, the heat became oppressive, the air humid. All seasoned campers will know the tell tale signs that a thunderstorm is on the way, and for us it led to a dilemma. We were planning to drive back to my mother’s house in London that night, after a visit to a second graveyard, but the thought of doing so with a damp tent was not appealing. After much pleading on my part, it was agreed to stop off at the second graveyard, in a place called Sturry, very close to Canterbury. By this point the offspring were tired, grumpy, and not nearly as co-operative as they had been earlier in the day. Not co-operative at all, in fact.
I was anxious to stop at the Churchyard in the hope of solving a second puzzle. I knew that George Jezzard, whose gravestone we had uncovered earlier that afternoon, had been born c.1735, but the whereabouts of his birth remained uncertain. Several others working on the line were convinced his father was one John Jezzard, born 1707 in Sturry, died 1777 in the same village. I had ordered a copy of John’s will, and John did indeed leave a large amount of money and land to a son George, in addition to bequeathing money and land to other named children. I had scoured the microfilm containing the Chislet Parish registers so often that it was on a permanent loan. I knew the names of some of John’s children, I knew the names of George’s children and they fit the naming patterns, but I couldn’t be sure.
I needed to find something which would convince me of the paternity of George Jezzard. I needed some sort of confirmation that John was ‘mine’; and for some reason, it felt as though the churchyard cemetery was the place to make the connection.
By the time we reached our destination, conditions were not good. The sun had disappeared behind the clouds which seemed to be lowering by the second. In contrast to our earlier visit, this churchyard was in a suburban area, but my heart sank upon realising that it was, in comparison, huge. Comparisons to needles in haystacks seemed wildly optimistic.
The offspring took one look, and wandered off, seeking shelter anywhere they could find it. My husband looked at the closest gravestone to hand, again covered in the same lichen and gunk as those in our earlier encounter in Chislet, and remarked ‘These are completely illegible. We can’t risk staying any length of time here.’ And off he wandered.
I walked along a couple of the paths of the cemetery, trying to read the stones, hoping to identify which area of the churchyard was oldest, but there seemed to be no rhyme nor reason to the layout of the graves. Although just past 5 pm, the gloom was deepening, but something said that the stone I was looking for was there, and it was up to me to fathom out how to find it. My heart sank still further as I spotted the rest of the family making their way back to the car.
Leaning against a tree trunk, closing my eyes, the only answer was to pray for help. This particular genealogical challenge was beyond me, and so the terms of the prayer were slightly assertive, along the lines of ‘If John was George’s father, help me find his stone within the next 10 minutes. Please. Thanks.’
Upon opening my eyes, the cemetery seemed darker still. I walked away from the tree and along a stone path which cut diagonally between two rows of stones, thus making attempts at reading inscriptions even more difficult as the gravestones were at an angle to the path. The path was uneven and worn with age, and stumbling slightly, I walked along blindly, frantically looking at gravestones as I passed, all illegible. Ready to admit defeat, unsure of exactly where I was in relation to the car, I looked ahead down the path, and from nowhere a ray of light broke through the clouds and, much further along the path ahead of me, illuminated four individual gravestones. Literally before my eyes, it became apparent that the unusual angle of the stones to the path, and the angle at which the sun shone on them, meant that it was possible to read the shadow of the inscriptions – exactly as described by blueagleranch in her response to the first pine cone story post (“ Photograph in raking sunlight when possible. You can use a mirror to focus light across the headstone”).
The largest stone was indeed that of John Jezzard. In addition to confirming his dates, it listed his wife (who had predeceased him) and numbered several of his children who had died in infancy. The adjoining stones were also family names.
Whilst scribbling down the inscriptions, the children appeared from nowhere with the camera, and I introduced them to their 7th x great grandfather. As soon as the inscriptions had been noted, the photos taken, and the formalities completed, the sun disappeared behind the clouds as suddenly as it had emerged, and the inscriptions on the relevant gravestones became as incomprehensible as they had been previously.
And before anyone asks, yes, we got the tent home bone dry. Truly a day of miracles!