Friday, October 02, 2009

Mythes and Legends

There is a book called The Lost Villages of England, but I doubt Mythe, Dorset is in it.  Mythe is likely too lost, and was never enough a village, to attract anyone's notice.  Mythe is nothing more than the ruins of a couple of cottage walls hidden amidst the nettles on the edge of the woods, down the gentle green hill dotted with pheasants, past the shepherd's cottage, and along the old footpath from the village of Mapperton.  Mapperton itself is a tiny village, comprised only of a few cottages, a school house, a church, and Mapperton House: the modest country home of Lord Sandwich. 

For me and an Englishwoman named Sally Beadle, however, Mythe was the motherload.  Mythe (pronounced with a long "i" sound) is the tiny spot from whence both our families sprang.  William and Sarah Mabey lived and raised their 12 children at Mythe.  Two of their middle children, Thomas and Eliza, are mine and Sally's ancestors, respectively.  Thomas and his family eventually joined the LDS Church and emigrated to America, while Eliza married Isaiah Thomas and stayed in Dorset. 

At the time of the 1841 census, there were about eight families living at Mythe.  As we stood amongst the rubble of this old hamlet, Sally pointed out that it's probably one of the few places on earth quieter now than it was 150 years ago.

Sally found me online several months ago.  My dad had asked me to find some new Mabey names for him, and I found it easiest to bypass software and build my tree right on  A couple of months into my search I got an email from the Online Parish Clerk (pronounced "Clark") of Dorset England.  She asked if I was willing to be contacted by an individual interested in my family tree, and the rest is history.  This relationship has definitely been to my benefit more than Sally's,  as she has added much more to the family tree than I have.  In my defense, Sally lives right in the shadow of the original family villages.  Her branch of the family never left Dorset.  Her findings and friendship have been a great boon to me. 

It just so happened that when we met I was just a few months away from this planned trip to England.  So this week my sister Sara and I, our husbands, and our children, met Sally and her family in Dorset to tour the old villages.  Sally and her husband Alan and mother Bettie were delightful and energetic hosts.  They cooked mountains of delicious food for us (what you've heard about English food does not apply to home-cooking) including high tea.  They took us on a dizzying tour of winding lanes and tiny villages, and on that priceless walk to Mythe.  Sally's knowledge of the area is truly a gift.  She knows more about these small hidden hamlets than most locals because she rode the lanes on horseback for years.  Many of us may have the same pieces of family information, but I believe Sally is the only one who can connect all the dots.  We can't lose her.

I've never previously been one of those who people who wanted to search far and wide for gravestones.  But finding these villages really meant something to me.  I've spent three years working on Our Father's House, my great-grandfather's book about this family, and I feel very connected to them.  I feel I know them as intimately as I can for not knowing them, and even have felt their support in my life or research at times.  Still, at Mythe I felt the vast chasm between my life and theirs--I couldn't fathom the kind of life they would have lived there, and I'm sure they couldn't imagine mine now.  Yet it really is just raising kids, supporting your family, and trying to find joy along the way, isn't it.  I  felt something powerful at Mythe.  I'll never forget it.  Sally, I'm forever grateful to you for connecting me to the physical past of my family, and for keeping their stories alive.



Brooke said...

Sounds like a great trip. I can't believe the perfect timing of all this. To have met and found Sarah just in time for you visit there.

Emily said...

So cool! My father is a historian and we are always taking these little trips to "ghost towns" in Indiana... it is so fun to imagine!

Emily said...

Talk about ancient ruins! Enchanted times, I can see. Yes, you, your ancestors, all of us are doing the same things: raising children, finding joy in the journey, learning to love... it connects us all somehow despite physical differences. What a blessing to have met Sarah!

Charlotte said...

What a great story. So often lately I've wanted to simplify and live in some remote place where life is slower paced and simpler.

JenSav said...

Just caught up on the last 10 days of your trip. I love the picture of you and Steve in front of the bridge as "honeymooners." You look great but what is even greater is that to me it sums up what you are and what I admire about you. You are a traveler, an adventurer, in body, in mind, in spirit. Reading your excerpts about philanthropists I've never heard about and in places I would never think to visit (the Clink museum, etc.) put me in awe of you, again. You live life to the fullest and seem to have a unique ability to sense the importance of the things you're doing as you're doing them. You find lessons in the small things and articulate them for the rest of us. This entry about Mythe was particularly beautiful (although I would love to see YOU in more of the pictures so hand the camera to Steve!) and grounded me in my small life of raising kids, trying to do good and find joy in the process. So I thank you for your insights and for sharing them so lovingly on yet another of your journeys. As the travelers of the past used to say, "God Speed" Em. I cherish you.
- Jen