Seeing Past the Brick Wall

In my 2015 post, A Brick Wall by the Family Tree, I lamented a lack of information about my husband’s maternal aunt, Irene May Hampton. Her line stopped at her 1926 marriage to Ernest Joseph Sheppard, a bachelor, we’re told. If only I’d been interested in family history when my father-in-law and his second wife went to England in the early 1960s! They probably visited the relatives of Maurie’s deceased mother. Now here’s an update.

I was thrilled when the great-granddaughter of Ernest Sheppard contacted me via What a story she had! At first I thought we weren’t connected. When her Ernest married Rene, he’d already been married in 1915 to someone else – and fathered a child with her – because the ‘widow’ declared that her husband had died in the war in France! But when the man returned, she went back to him, taking her young daughter, and leaving Ernest alone. Had he told Rene all this?

We’d presumed his first marriage was annulled, but to sort it out, we purchased Ernest’s birth certificate, and his first marriage certificate. When I saw his details, it was plain that the 1915-marriage-Ernest, was the same person who’d wed Maurie’s Aunty Rene!

But what about her? On the 1939 Register of England and Wales I found Irene working as a book-keeping clerk in a steel construction company. She and Ernest were living in Essex, but no children were listed.

Later I discovered another marriage record for her: in fact two – in 1945! One gave her surname as Hampton, and on the other, it was Sheppard! I wondered if she’d learned about Ernest’s child, and if that had caused friction between them. His great-granddaughter had supplied me with a photo of him and his daughter in what looked like her debut portrait, where he looked very proud.

So we bought Rene’s second marriage certificate, and found that she’d informed the Registry officer of her divorce from Ernest, hence the two surnames as a note on the one certificate. Her new husband was George Harcourt Johnson. This was during the Second World War.

Sadly, Rene died eight years later, aged 54, and George died in 1972. I could fritter away hours searching online for more, but the most important question for me is this: Did they know Jesus as their Saviour? I hope we’ll see them in heaven, and Ernest too, who died in 1965.

Merely living on earth and leaving a trail of dates isn’t enough. There’s a holy purpose for our lives. God has a plan for each one of us, and if we don’t allow him to fulfil it, it’s a complete waste. I know of two famous men who were not married, had no children of their own, and were not materially rich. But their births, the events of their lives, their dramatic deaths, and the amazing blessings they bequeathed to mankind, are all recorded. Their mothers were cousins: Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Elisabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, were both women of great faith in God.

We could all wonder – what will people remember about us after we’re gone? But as CT Studd, the famous cricketer and missionary, wrote:

Only one life, ’twill soon be past.

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Jesus Christ said no-one was as great as John the Baptist. And John declared that Jesus was the long-awaited one who would take away the sins of the world! What legacies they left! And we can be sure they both have a place in God’s Kingdom! What great gatherings we’ll enjoy there when we’ve made sure that heaven’s our eternal destination.

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