A topographic map of Thacher Island and the Thacher family crest graced the walls of my grandpa Thacher’s home office. As I child, I found these to be curious, but, admittedly they were lost in a flurry of exotic items from around the world that filled my grandparents house.
My grandparents were travelers. After they retired, which was probably before I was born, they bought a big long RV and took road trips across America. They also flew to far away places like Taiwan and Japan. They boarded cruise ships to Mexico and the Bahamas. Basically, they were always on the road and they brought back items from these far flung places – items which I studied with great interest, but could never, ever touch. This was forbidden! Their’s was a delicate house filled with glass curio cabinets in which we careful trod with our hands clasped tightly by our sides.
I don’t remember my grandparents talking with me much about our ancestry, but when my grandmother passed, my father kept the box of family papers for safe keeping. Before I moved to Europe, he gave them to me in the distant possibility that I might go and visit the home of our ancestors in England.
The box of papers sat in my attic and I nearly forgot about them. Until I started to plan our trip to England to visit my friend Adam. I recalled the Thacher Family hailed from England. So, in the last few hours of my trip home, I climbed the stairs to our attic and pulled out the box of papers. I pulled out the file, which was larger than I expected, and found a precisely organized stack of papers: a genealogy, a family history written by John Totten, and even an envelope of lovely old black and white family photos captured outside a farmhouse somewhere in middle America.
I didn’t want to risk taking the documents to Germany with me, too precious to loose, so I snapped some photos with my iPhone before we rushed off to the airport.
I noted the town where my oldest documented ancestor: Reverend Peter Thacher I, had lived: Queen Camel. After I settled back in to my apartment in Germany, I asked my husband if he would be ok with replacing a night in Liverpool with a night in this tiny town in the heart of Somerset county. Adventurer that he is, he agreed and I opened google maps and found the only hotel in town – the Mildmay Arms. There was no website, only a number to call. Straight-away I dialed them up and booked a room. Excitedly, I told the lady at the other end of the line my family story and she made a meek attempt to feign interest. I, for one, was floating! I could not believe I would soon walk in the town where my ancestors stood in the 1500’s!
But before we went to the town we enjoyed our Dead Guys Bike Tour of Oxford with Adam, followed by a few days hiking in the Lakes District. Finally the sun rose on the appointed day. It was time to visit the birthplace of Thachers!
Our journey took us south on the M5. Instantly, the Lake District fells disappeared below the horizon. I wondered if our near brush with death on the striding edge of Helvelyn had been a dream? We passed through industrial Birmingham before exiting the motorway in Bristol. As the streets narrowed, the number of pedestrians increased. The time was mid-afternoon and school kids in uniforms, reminiscent of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, roamed the streets in packs headed for home.
We patiently sat in after school traffic and admired the interesting architecture.
Soon, we left behind the city and entered the beautiful, hilly countryside of Somerset county. The number of cows soon surpassed the number of people. As the kilometers clicked by, I anxiously searched the road signs for the first indications of Queen Camel.
As we made our approach to town, we marveled at the beautiful scenery. Hedgerows butted up to rolling hills, carpeted in green grass, dotted with lush trees.
We entered the north side of Queen Camel via High Street – the English version of Main Street, and saw St. Barnabas Church on the left. St. Barnabas is the church where my ancestor Reverend Peter Thacher I was the vicar commencing in 1574 and continuing for nearly all of his adult life.
We parked in front of the Mildmay Arms, I grabbed my camera, and we walked directly to the church. Hoping it was open!
The sun was shining and it was a gorgeous day! I walked up to the closed church doors, pushed on the latch, and was delighted when it opened with a solid click.
I had read in the family narrative written by John Totten that John Thacher – one of the sons of Peter and the brother of my ancestor who had sailed to America – Antony – was buried in the church and his headstone was inside the door. As I opened the interior doors to enter the sanctuary, I looked down and there it was! Even with the proper spelling of Thacher, which is often misspelled Thatcher. Our family name comes from the trade of making Thatched roofs. At some point Peter departed from the trade and became a Puritan preacher, his sons followed in his path – studying the ministry at Oxford.
The church was empty and we slowly roamed in the quiet space admiring the architecture and searching for other signs of my family heritage.
We found a plaque commemorating the visit of another Thacher relative from Florida. We learned that he made donations that contributed to the creation of a small chapel which is called the Thacher chapel and is used for small services.
Around the corner from the commemorative plaque we found a roster of church preachers.
I eagerly searched the list and quickly found the name of Peter Thatcher, 1574. Again, the spelling was wrong but, enough genealogy work has proven that it’s the same guy.
We continued to slowly roam around the church and I admired the detailed wooden carvings and decorations.
We met a deacon who is one of the church caretakers and he explained a bit of the history of the church. It was built in the 1300s and has been through some transformations over the years. When it became a puritanical church in the 1500s, perhaps when Peter was the Vicar, some of the colorful decorations were painted over. These have now been restored to original color and you can see them in this photo.
An eagle hovered behind the pulpit. Adam had informed me that the eagle is a puritan symbol. I wondered if this one went back to the time of Peter?
As we left for the evening, we paused to admire the impressive doors.
We checked in to our room for the night. Then we made our way to the pub at the Mildmay Arms and met some friendly locals. We had some good-natured debates about vocabulary and they pulled out the local translation guide!
The next morning we roamed a bit more and met some friendly cows and another chap who was also on (as he put it) “the dawn patrol”.
The surrounding pastures were connected by walking paths and very interesting steps to make it easier for walkers to cross fences.
We entered back in to town and roamed the streets taking in the beautiful architecture and pausing along the Cam river.
As we ambled through town, we met up with the deacon who was on his way to open the church and he gave me the key to hold!
We spent our last few moments taking photos and writing postcards in the church cemetery and reflecting on the multitude of changes in the world since this church was built in the 1300’s!
Finally, we shoved off for the drive to London. It was hard to leave behind lovely Queen Camel. Along the way, we quite by accident stumbled across Stonehenge. So, we stopped to snap a few photos from a pasture road.
As we left behind the beauty and peace of Somerset county I reflected on my ancestry and the courage of my relatives who crossed the ocean in a boat in the 1600s. Only at that moment did I realize that I am perhaps a 20th generation American! No wonder I’m so addicted to Liberty and our American principles. My freedom loving ancestors must have passed down the dominant Rebel/explorer trait. Perhaps I’ll write more about the family history later. Now I’m off to enjoy a rare sunny day in Germany.