When we started our genealogy travels, we found our way to Apple River, Illinois, just on the Wisconsin border. Here our family had been farmers, and here is an old cemetery where they buried their dead; its name is West Ella Highland Cemetery, and it was named by a great-great-grandfather after a town in the East Ridings of Yorkshire. The name must have had important associations, because a certain grandmother was named Ella, too. Kirk Ella churchyard
The place names to the west of Hull all had family meaning to us now, so we decided to go from Hull to Anlaby to Kirk Ella to West Ella to Swanland, with a stop at two churches, in Kirk Ella and in Swanland, where many ancestors had been baptized, married, and buried. We were amazed at how much this country had changed in 175 years. These towns are pretty much in a line, with Swanland about 7 miles west of downtown Hull, and those 7 miles took us from boarded up slums of lower-class Hull to one of the wealthiest small towns we have yet seen in England.
We took a bus from downtown Hull as far as Anlaby; we were hoping to visit the library there, but it was closed, so we proceeded on foot. Anlaby was an older middle-class suburb of Hull, somewhat like the area where we are staying in York. When we passed the sign Welcome to Kirk Ella, Drive Safely, we found a well-to-do upper middle class suburban town with detached houses and good-sized yards, neatly gardened.
The churchyard at Kirk Ella stood out, surrounded by a stone wall and filled with big old trees and nineteenth-century tombstones. We had seen burials of ancestors and relatives recorded in the Kirk Ella parish register, but we also knew that most of the markers then were wood or soft stone which did not last. Moreover, the Kirk Ella church had itself fallen into disrepair in the middle of the nineteenth century, and a local subscription was raised over many years to rebuild it. Just the central columns date from the 12th century, other parts from the fourteenth, fifteenth, and seventeenth centuries, Kirk Ella church but the church is generally a nineteenth century reconstruction following the older architectural style. The old square tower, with its eight pinnacles, had collapsed, and was restored in 1883, with new pinnacles built to top it off. Later in our walk, in another town, we happened to see part of one of the ancient tower pinnacles, displayed as a statue in a beautiful garden.
We were fortunate to find that preparations for a wedding were in progress, so we were allowed into the church to look around, admiring the high stone arches and stained glass windows. We examined the plaques inside the church dedicated to the Sykes and Sparks families, who were lords of the manor in the eighteenth century. We especially enjoyed a sign on one wall commemorating an important event on May 21, 1932; the vicar of 53 years had died, and the church bells were half muffled and a peal of grandsire doubles was rung - 5040 changes in three hours. My, mustn't the town of Kirk Ella been excited and amazed -- and mustn't the bell ringers have been exhausted. Their names, and the name of the conductor, were also on the plaque.
At the advice of the ladies in the church, who knew the names of our relatives as common in those parts, we took our lunch at the Wheatsheaf Inn next door, which was quiet on a weekday afternoon, and then continued our walk up a gentle hill to the west.
Welcome to West Ella, Drive Safely. By this time there was little traffic on the road, mostly BMWs and Mercedes, along with service vans of men in the construction trades. The houses, with immaculately manicured gardens, ranged in age up to two hundred and fifty years. Regardless of age, each house was in perfect condition, with freshly painted trim and railings, brick-paved drives with attractive patterns, ancient carefully preserved trees and shrubs. There were few newer homes; only a small number of lots had been available on the street. These newer homes blended in architecturally, but were A smaller West Ella home considerably larger, in the range of five thousand square feet, with multiple-car garages. On the right through a line of trees we caught a glimpse of the West Ella golf course, one of the nicest we'd seen in England. One of the roads was Fairway Drive.
Near the top of the hill we saw a large brick wall on the left, perhaps 12 feet high. Parts of the wall were modern, but parts were older, and the wall was topped with nineteenth century decorative stone balls. The wall was around 250 feet long, and we believe the property must have once been the manor house of West Ella. There were two large gates in the walls, and we looked in to behold an incredible new property under construction; It was three stories high, with multiple chimneys, and appeared to be three to four times as large as the other houses along the road. We decided it wasn't likely to be a movie star, but more likely a successful businessman from Hull. Not a hereditary lord, either, but part of the new upper class defined by wealth rather than titles -- that was our guess.
A few hundred feet further along we saw the sign Welcome to Swanland, Drive Safely. A few days ago we had laboriously copied down the terms of a 1783 lease. A great-great-great-great-grandfather and his brother, had leased about 60 or 80 acres of farmland and pasture for 40 pounds a year; the property was located on the border between Swanland and West Ella. We tried to imagine what this country was like then. There were some open fields, one with canola, another with horses grazing, and we crossed over the highway bypass. Looking due south down the hill we saw the magnificent towers of the Humber Bridge.
After two or three fields, we were back in suburbia. Swanland was a tiny village in the eighteenth century, but it's a neat little suburb today, with solid well-kept homes, a large new Anglican church (a rarity), and a tiny downtown with a mere -- a little duck pond -- next to another country inn and the post office. It looked like a scene out of Milly Molly Mandy. The old Swanland Independent Chapel, where many family members had been baptized, was now the tiny Swanland library.
As we took all this in, we wondered why our ancestors emigrated. Why would they leave this beautiful rich farmland, this charming old village of West Ella. Then we realized that only one of the houses we had seen had been standing in 1831, when the family headed to America, so we have no idea of the Once a chapel, now Swanland library local conditions at that time. We do know the church at Kirk Ella was in a terrible state of repair in the 1830s, because they were just taking up the subscription to restore it. We know that the family emigrated in pieces, too. They had eleven children; four of the five oldest had already married and stayed in England, for years after the first group had left. The two or three youngest children stayed in England, too, perhaps finishing school while living with an older married sibling. So it was the parents and about five children who traveled to Wood County, in western Ohio, and bought farms, and about ten years later moved again to Lafayette County, Wisconsin, where they were gradually joined by the others. Most of this large family is buried in West Ella Highland Cemetery, just outside of Apple River, Illinois.
On the wall of the railroad station in Hull is a small brass plaque, which reads: This plaque commemorates the 22 million people who passed through the Emigration Platform at Paragon Station, Kingston upon Hull. Between 1850 and 1914 it was the first stop for up to one thousand people a day who were on their way from mainland Europe to make new lives in the USA Canada and South Africa.
So there must have been good reasons for ancestors to emigrate. One of these days we'll get the rest of the story. The nice thing about our hobby is that we don't run out of things to do!