Carnforth family mystery partly solved

Three months ago Deborah Fleming threw a pebble into the pond of the internet to try to trace her grandfather who lived in Carnforth.

By Michelle Blade
Friday, 2nd October 2020, 3:44 pm
Gerald Pedersen.
Gerald Pedersen.

Deborah from Tasmania, wanted to shed some light on an enduring mystery which had blighted her mother’s life from early childhood and was keen to solve it before her mother Valerie died. Valerie had last spoken to her father Gerald Pedersen when she was 17-years-old at Carnforth railway station and had always wondered about his life and times in the subsequent years.

Deborah explains: “Three months ago my mother lay dying at her home in Cambridgeshire. I was locked down by Covid on the island of Tasmania in faraway Australia. I threw a pebble into the pond of the internet in what I thought was a forlorn hope of somehow solving some of the mysteries surrounding her Lancashire born father.

“A preliminary search and a couple of emails quickly led me to local genealogical volunteers who got to work and who also arranged to provide the information I supplied to the Lancaster Guardian for possible publication.

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Valerie Pedersen.

“My little article explained that my 89-year-old mother had always been haunted by the mystery of the break up of her parents marriage in 1933 when she was only three-years-old and her baby brother was one.

“Her own mother, my grandmother, died aged 95 without ever breathing a word about why she fled from one end of the country to the other with two small children never to return. And all this in an era when divorce was very rare and in fact scandalous.

“My mother always adored her handsome father with the Norwegian surname even though she only saw him a handful of times.

“He did attempt to reclaim her but was rebuffed by his wife’s protective family. “He disappeared from my mother’s life entirely after one last meeting on Carnforth railway station when she was in her late teens.

Derek Pedersen, left, and Valerie Pedersen.

She did know that he had remarried. She was led to believe that his second wife was perhaps jealous and discouraged contact with the first family.

“It blighted my mother’s entire life because she spent her childhood being passed from one relative to another without a home of her own. She was poorly treated in a couple of those homes.

“Her experiences left her with frequent bouts of depression. In a matter of a few days after publication, information and offers of help started to pour in.

“A gentleman called Ian W was incredibly helpful. I still have no idea how he managed it but in a matter of days he produced a six generation family tree for my mother. It was full of fascinating information.

Anders Pedersen.

“Perhaps the biggest bombshell of all was the discovery that my mother’s grandfather Conrad Pedersen was born in Sydney in Australia in 1870, not Norway as she had always believed. How remarkable that within 100 years, his great granddaughter (me) would find her way back to that same country, indeed that same city, and make a life and career there. “Australia was good to me. I became a successful television producer and I was even

honoured with an Order of Australia medal for my contribution to the media.

“It was Conrad Pedersen’s father Anders who born in Norway - in Telemark in 1843. He was a master mariner and a migration agent. “And it was even established that he sailed one time with the British politician and philanthropist Lord Shaftesbury. A contemporary newspaper article reported that during one particular voyage Lord Shaftesbury spoke to Anders, the master mariner, at length about Australia because he was curious about the continent.

“It got even better when Ian was able to send photographs of both Conrad and Anders, neither of whom bore much resemblance to my mother’s noticeably handsome father and the man from whom her own good looks derived.

Conrad Pedersen.

“But it was fascinating to see these two lost images from the past. There were smaller surprises too. My mother was christened Olive Valerie Pedersen not Valerie Olive Pedersen as she always styled herself!

“She hated her first name. It was a trait she shared with her father. He, it emerged, was christened Cyril but always went by the name ‘Gerald’ or “Gerry’ which doesn’t appear at all on his birth certificate.

“All of this I was able to relay to my mother and discuss with her during our daily phone calls.

“My mother died, in her own home as she had wished, on August 6 just two months short of her 90th birthday.

“One final piece of the puzzle sadly arrived too late for my mother but it was of great interest to me.

“A very kind lady called Elaine, from Preston, wrote to the Guardian with some information about Gerald Pedersen.

“It transpired that she worked in a shoe shop on Cheapside in Lancaster in the 1960s. She was only 15 and it was her first job.

She became friendly with a lady called Gladys Pedersen who was lonely after the death of her husband Gerald. “This was the mysterious second wife who, my mother was led to believe, influenced Gerald’s decision to avoid contact with his children.

“Elaine remembered the widowed Gladys as a charming person in her mid-fifties who often tearfully reminisced about ‘Gerry’ and their many happy years together. “She remarked on how Gerry always kept his ‘handsome looks and figure’. Elaine’s recollections painted a vivid picture of my grandfather . “He really sounded so much like my mother, his only daughter. She too was so very notable for her good looks and upright, slim figure which she kept right through to her late eighties. Gladys ,who was considerably younger than Gerry, went on to find happiness in a further marriage to a widowed butcher called Burt who ran a shop on Market Street in Lancaster.

“Gladys gave Elaine a wedding present when she, in turn, married. And at that point further contact was lost. So my pebble in the pond didn’t solve the mystery of what happened in that first marriage nearly 100 years ago.

“But it did provide a treasure trove of information that certainly enriched my mother’s final weeks and gave her a great deal to think about.

“I am not sure what my mother would have made of Elaine’s letter.

“It might, I suppose, have added to her sadness. Elaine’s recollections make it clear that the second marriage was very happy indeed and that Gerry was a good husband to his next wife.

“For my part I am very happy to have received this unexpected vignette - a thread of connection with a grandfather I never met - even though I grew up in the south and midlands of England no more than a few hours drive from where he lived out the rest of his life, in Lancashire. “I wonder if he ever thought about his son and daughter and the probability of grandchildren. That part of the mystery will almost certainly never be solved.

“Again my deep thanks to the kind people of Lancashire who responded so generously to my appeal for help.

“I am so very grateful to them and to the Lancaster Guardian.”