A DOORWAY into Essexís past has been opened by an American historian who discovered a copy of the Chronicle dating back almost 200 years among his family heirlooms. Amateur genealogist Robert Thorpe, 54, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, uncovered the July 14, 1815, issue of the Chelmsford Chronicle while moving home prompting him to contact the newspaper of today.
Robert, a self-employed graphic designer, first took possession of the paper in 1987, when his mother, Paddy Bellamy Thorpe, returned to England following the death of her mother, Grace Thorogood Bellamy.
"While cleaning out Grandmaís effects, Mom came across an old newspaper and brought it home to me," he said. "It seemed the proper thing to do as I am the family historian." After sealing it in encapsulation material for posterity, Robert packed it away and forgot all about it until he came across it again recently. By this time, technology had substantially moved on, and a quick e-mail to Essex County Councilís communications department put him in touch with the Essex Chronicle newsdesk so that his story could be told.
Since finding the old Chronicle, Robert has attempted to piece together the story behind its preservation over the last 188 years, and in doing so has uncovered details of his family history.
Robertís father was an instrument mechanic in the US Army Air Corps stationed in Alconbury during the Second World War. His mother was a radar operator in the WAAFs who married him and moved to the United States after the war. All of his relatives on her side of the family remained in England and can be dated back to the beginning of the 19th century.
"My grandmother was the daughter of Frederick and Emily Munson Thorogood, who lived in Baddow Road," said Robert. "It was from this grandmother and presumably one of her parents that this newspaper originated.
"I know my great grandmother Emilyís people came from the Felsted area, still close enough that they could have been the ones responsible for preserving the newspaper.
"The Munson and Thorogood families seem to have been fairly closely associated, marrying back and forth between generations, so Munson and Thorogood are the only surnames I can document as ancestors.
"I have been looking through the paper for either of these two names, but have not come across them yet. I assume there is an article about one of my relatives in the paper. Why else would it have been preserved for nearly 200 years?" Thanks to the assistance of Chelmsford resident Gloria Harris, who helped him locate his ancestorsí graves, Robert has also established links between his relatives and other families called Masson, Sorrell and Cooke, but has been unable to determine the exact relationship.
"I suspect that an earlier generation may have been responsible for saving the paper.
"My great, great grandfather, James Munson, Emilyís father, was only born in 1815, and he is the oldest that I know of from this generation.
"It is probable that someone in his parentsí generation, being adults at the time, kept the paper, but who these people might have been is a mystery to me." Robert is hoping to uncover the reason why a superficially unremarkable issue of the Chronicle has been preserved for almost two centuries. Anyone who has an association with Robertís ancestors or other useful information is asked to e-mail him on firstname.lastname@example.org.
PAPER CHASE: Robert Thorpe is trying to find out more about this Chronicle edition from nearly two centuries ago.
Hold the front page: Robert Thorpe and his mother, Paddy [wife, Karen was incorrect], with the 1815 Chronicle.
Copyright 2003 Essex Chronicle
August 1, 2003