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The Wooster Family Group Founder Members

June Biggs (1930-2016)

Janet Coombes (1947-2020)

By Janet's Daughter Rachel

Janet was born at home in Watford in 1947. The daughter of Ellen Piercy and Richard Garlish, and sister to older brother Alan. She lived and worked in Watford until her marriage to John Coombes in the early 1970s. My parents moved to north-west London in the mid-1970s and my mother continued to work as a nursey nurse until my arrival in the late seventies. I have many happy childhood memories, of typical British holidays on windswept beaches, of numerous days out in London, and being taken for many walks in the countryside. Mum's main interest in my early years was geology, so I also have many memories of beaches and quarries, scouring and chipping away at rocks and cliffs, looking for the most wanted fossils. But this was all going to change.
My Mum also liked to get involved with any of my school projects, if it was Shakespeare, we visited Stratford-on-Avon. The Tudors, we went to an Armada exhibition and the Mary Rose. A castles project, it was off to the nearest castle. My Mum really enjoyed history. Then in my second year at senior school, the project was to research your family tree. Whilst most of the class were quite satisfied to research back as far as their grandparents, or the odd old family Aunt. My Mum took the project very seriously. We trailed off across London to see numerous elderly Aunts and Uncles, took copies of certificates and photos, and before long I was filling my exercise book with details of great grandparents, and beyond. My mum was hooked.
From then on, my school holidays involved visiting St Catherine's house and pulling huge books off the shelf whilst my Mum searched for birth, marriages and death registrations. With the advent of the internet, how things have now changed? My Dad and I had (and still have) a keen interest in birding, it became noticeable that our birdwatching days were centred near record offices, we would drop my Mum off at the office, go birding and collect her in the evening. The journeys home would be a mixture of the latest findings, both birds and history! With many of the Essex and East London records being held in Colchester, we all enjoyed many visits to Colchester and the Essex coast, and it is an area I still have an emotional attachment to today. It wasn't only the family history that interested her but also the social history too. If the latest discovery was that an ancestor worked in the London East End docks, the house would fill with numerous books about dockers, the east end, and shipwrights. The discovery that a great grandfather was a ship's cook and sailed the world on clippers ships, was a new line of interest, and more shipping books appeared on the shelves. Mum knew her paternal great grandfather came over from Germany in 1857, but the reason was unknown. Her father did start to tell her about her German heritage, but he was stopped by her mother as that "was something not to be talked about", given it was just after WWII at the time. This led to new challenges of researching family history in another country and another language. As I got older, school work, and then university and a career took over my life and I had less opportunity to help her in her quest. But my Mum's interest and passion continued to grow and the determination to get back further in history continued to flourish. My Dad and I showed our support by having days out to cemeteries and purchasing death registers as Christmas presents and yet more books!
Her discoveries lead her to many parts of the country, to Yorkshire (Hull), Hertfordshire, Sussex, and to my current home county of Suffolk. Little did I know that when I had been carrying out work in Polstead, South Suffolk I was returning to the village of my ancestors. I listened to many tales of her discoveries: a mayor of Poplar, a chair maker, a spectacle maker, the inventor of the folding anchor (only to have the designs stolen before patent), and the ship's cook. Many of the stories were sad, with families spilt up, many dying young, and a number of deaths in workhouses, although I suspect this is typical findings for many family historians. She joined a few family history societies the Anglo-German Family History Society, The East of London Family History Society, East Yorkshire Family History Society as well as being a founding member of the Wooster Family history group.
There were so many stories and discoveries but two really stand out. The first is linked to the Wooster family. One day my mother was chatting to my paternal grandmother (her mother-in-law) and mentioned that she had gone back a couple of generations and her great grandmother was named Mary Ann Sophia Wooster. My Nan then commented what a co-incidence as her grandmother was also a Wooster. This triggered a sudden deep interest into the Wooster family tree. Surely she couldn't be related to her husband could she? This is how my Mum became involved with the Wooster group, with the group's help she continued to trace the history back. Finally, after going back nine generations she found the link, a Moses Wooster baptised in 1629! My Mum and Dad were actually 9th cousins! My Mum had great pleasure and amusement in telling me I was my own 10th cousin. To this day I say it explains a lot!
The second story has its' ending in living memory. When my Mum first saw the death certificate of her great uncle William Garlish, she smiled wondering how the registrar dealt with two wives turning up to register his death. At the time she didn't know that her great Uncle's bigamous actions would be the start of a tragic story.
In the early 1990's Janet was indirectly contacted by an unknown cousin in Canada, Milton Garlisch. Milton was an orphan trying to trace his mother and his extended family, and by this stage he knew that William was his grandfather. The following research revealed that William had married Eugenie Derrizot in 1892, however in October 1902 it was an Esther Garlish who arrived at Bethnal Green Workhouse with her three children having been deserted by William. Esther's family was immediately split up, Esther was sent into service, the eldest son Ernest was disabled and sent to a hospital in Kent where he stayed until his death in 1954. The two youngest Elsie and Victor were sent to the workhouse school. At 15 Elsie was moved to Macpherson Homes and in May 1914 was sent to the Macpherson Home in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. Victor followed soon after. The following years are unclear but in 1923 Elsie unable to cope, left her three year old child Milton at an orphanage in London, Ontario. In the late 1980's having been harshly brought up in an orphanage and believing he had no family, Milton then in his sixties started to research his history and family. Sadly his mother and Uncle Victor could not be found, but he did find his extended cousins in England.
Milton came to England in 1995 as part of WWII commemorations, and we all went to meet him in Brighton, along with my great Uncle George (then in his 80s), who would have been Milton's mother's cousin. He was so pleased to meet some of his distant relatives. A little while later my parents travelled to Canada to stay with Milton and his family and were made to feel so welcome. A sad tale with a happier ending. As a side note it was a Margaret Garlish and Eugenie who both went to register William's death in 1922. William was obviously a colourful character.
Family history gave my Mum a huge amount of enjoyment over the years, she was passionate about family and social history, and became extremely knowledgeable about any subject related to any of our ancestors lives and livelihood. In more recent years birding has featured even more in our lives with me having met and married another birder. The four of us could be found on various bird reserves or twitches, and whilst three of us were avidly looking through our telescopes, my Mum would be sitting at our sides engrossed in a family history magazine or book. If something really took her interest, the whole hide would then know as she read out the article!
Sadly she was diagnosed with cancer six years ago, and was told it was terminal three years later. During this time her research continued but it was slower and more limited, she wanted to make sure that the family (myself, and her six nieces and one nephew) had copies of her research and articles, but sadly she ran out of time to complete this. I may not have the time at the present to continue her work, but I have promised that I will complete the document she started and put together something for the family. I do not want her hard work and dedication to be lost with her. Like everything in her life she remained determined and kept battling right until the end, she passed away at home with my father and I by her side, and we take some comfort that she is now at peace and no longer in pain. Her passing will leave a massive hole in my life and our family, but I think the world has also lost a very passionate and dedicated historian, who I'm sure will be missed by others, many of whom I have never met. I would just like to finish with a big thank you to anyone who knew my Mum and helped with her with her research I'm sure it was greatly appreciated and brought her joy. Thank you.

Myra Brown (1921-2002)

From Jennifer Rooks:

MYRA BROWN nee Thompson nee Keesing was born in New Zealand on 21 November 1921 to parents Emmanuel and Lucia Keesing nee Kemble. Her great grandfather, John Bailey Wooster was born in High Wycombe and transported to Tasmania aboard the "Norfolk" in 1834.
Lucia Mary Kemble married Private Alfred Morrow in Auckland, New Zealand in 1911 but they eventually divorced. She then travelled to New South Wales in Australia and married Emmanuel Ralph Keesing in Sydney in 1917.
Emmanuel was born in Auckland in 1864 and was the youngest child in a family of 13 children. I started to track him in the Electoral Rolls and found him living in Brighton, Sussex, England in 1901, New Zealand in 1911 and 1914, and New South Wales in 1917 and then back in New Zealand in 1920 until his death in New Zealand in 1941. His occupation in his later years was an accountant. Emmanuel and Lucia divorced sometime before 1933. There were two daughters from this marriage, Roberta Mavis born 1920 and died 1920; Myra Susan Alberta was born in 1921.
I tracked Lucia in the New Zealand and Australian Electoral Rolls but kept coming up with nothing so decided she must have remarried. Lucia was still living in Auckland in 1928 and then I located a Trove entry for her new marriage to John Michael Johnson in 1933 in St James Catholic Church in Sydney. The next few Electoral Roll entries were in New South Wales until her death in Sydney in 1974; John Johnson was still alive in 1974. There were no children from this marriage that I am aware of.
Myra was living in Sydney when she married Thomas Samuel Thompson in 1939. Between 1939 and 1955 Thomas Michael, Lawrence James, Beverley, Jeanette, Margaret, Roy and Kenneth were born in New South Wales. Myra and Thomas lived in the Sydney area until his death in 1968.
About 1980 Myra married Sydney Edgar Brown, a widower, and they moved to the Drummoyne area of Sydney where they lived until his death in 1986. During this time they made a trip back to the cousins in Buckinghamshire and it was during one of these visits that the idea of a Wooster Family Group was born with Myra as the English contact for family in Australia and New Zealand. In 1977 Myra became an active member of the Society of Australian Genealogists - SAG.
For several years letters crossed the seas between June Biggs, Janet Gordon and Shirley Wooster as internet was not a common way to communicate and then her communication stopped. Several attempts were made to locate her. In 2005 I visited these ladies who also were related to me, having only met them via an email and I was asked to be the Australian representative and also to try and locate Myra. Over the years I have made enquires and written/telephoned various Thompson families living in the Sydney area. In late 2012 I decided I was going to locate her and started my search in earnest and again many closed doors and brick walls. A welcome and unexpected email from a member of SAG in February 2013 informed me of her death prior to 2005.
Having been advised of her passing she will be sadly missed by her friends and family in England, Australia and New Zealand.

Myra Brown Emmanuel Keesing

From Shirley Wooster:

I met Myra on a number of occasions, and enjoyed her company. I admired her enthusiasm for family history and stamina for someone in the evening of her life to travel so far to undertake research here in England. The 1980's being a time when records were at scattered locations. She would come (with Syd in tow!) for months at a time, and rent suitable accommodation, so she could spend days at the archives; where I understand she became quite well known! Evidently they spent Christmas 1981 in England and she loved the snow!!
She was also well known to members of Bucks FHS, and in the 80's she was in contact with Barry Sutcliffe, who had carried out the B, M&D for High Wycombe. Picking out all the Woosters for Myra! Evidently she and Syd spent some time staying with Barry and his family.
My first contact was by telephone, and after the usual niceties she quizzed me as to my appearance! Wanting to know the colour of my hair and eyes!! I responded assuming she had seen the manifest for the "Norfolk" the ship which transported her ancestor to Van Deimen's Land. It being usual practice to list a description of the convicts. Because my name was Wooster, I might have carried the genes down the generations.
Myra first met June Biggs in 1982 and between them they knew how all our lineage linked together. In fact Myra put me right as, at that time I was unaware of my particular ancestor's first marriage! It was Myra who put me in touch with June. Our first membership list included Myra.
I have always hoped that her family preserved all her work, for the effort she made to research.


  Page last updated

  13 August 2020