Stych of Newbury

 

 

Before bidding adieu to my grandparents, the Stych surname merits a closer look. Some have suggested it may be Eastern European—when Ursula and I visited Prague in 1981, Jan Stych was conducting their Radio Symphony Orchestra. Also in the U.S. Midwest are many Stychs allegedly of Czech origin.  

However, for our Stych clan, there's much stronger evidence showing us afoot in England in 1066 when King Harold learned to his chagrin that six day marches prior to battle are contraindicated. So I prefer to believe that the Stych below honored might indeed be the  umpteenth grandson of a pragmatic Stych huscarl who swore allegiance to Harold at Hastings—with a pragmatic aside that his was an undying allegiance...

 

At the time, baronetcies could be awarded by the Crown to raise money...put up cash, welcome to Sir Stych. Unfortunately for William, it was England's last Catholic king James II who bestowed this particular honor.  Allegedly a tad disliked, King James was turfed a year later by a Protestant parliament and a civil war ensued.

 

As Catholic fortunes waned during the conflict, did William have second thoughts on his allegiance? Did he switch horses? Since he and later his brother did manage to retain the title after the war, it's very possible that his pragmatism won out.

 

So if we do happen to have a landed baronet in our lineage, his descendants must have been as inept as I with money management. Because centuries later we meet up with my great granddad Joseph Stych in Birmingham with occupation listed as bricklayer's laborer. I'd guess he's at the bottom end of the pay scale unless there's a bricklayer's laborer's assistant.  

 

In Birmingham at the time, there were a hive of Stychs and the area is still the locale for many of those with our surname in the U.K. There was also speculation that some might have been of German origin from the Isle of Man. That island's fish stocks had drastically declined by the mid-1800's and during ensuing emigration to the mainland, it's alleged some Germanic Stykes adopted the local moniker Stych to ease assimilation. Do you my kin have an occasional itch to don lederhosen and dance the polka?  If so, relax...it's genetic.

Great-granddad Joseph and wife Ann register the birth of my grandfather Joseph on July 25th, 1869. Ann with an X confirmed their address as Back 30, Buck Street where it lists her as 'Ann Stych, late Baker, formerly Stych'. Does this mean she was born a Stych, wed a Baker, lost a Baker, wed a Stych?  Their older son my great-uncle Charles had been born in 1865 which is consistent with an 1864 marriage certificate for Ann(e) Stych and Joseph Stych. But I can find no record of her prior marriage to a Baker...it remains a mystery.

 

Regardless, in 1873 their older son Charles is already lodged in the Middlemore Home Orphanage. Joseph follows brother Charles two years later in 1875. Why the two year disparity?  Did father Joseph cut bait in 1873...there's no death record. Did Ann struggle on with her youngest until her possible death two years later? But I could not find a death record for Ann. Did both parents abandon their sons? 

Whatever grim events ensued, Middlemore documents record that Charles and Joseph were shipped off to Canada on the SS Scandinavian in 1875. Arriving at Quebec City in June, they are sent on by rail to Toronto with their Middlemore custodian. After a brief respite, each are then assigned to different rural foster families here in Ontario. 

Charles and Joseph were just two of the thousands of children sent to the colonies in the late 1800s. Known as Home Children here in Ontario, they were essentially indentured servants until their late teens and unquestionably some were treated harshly. But some also found kindness...at least compared to the then grim slums of industrial England.

 

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The local Middlemore office continued to monitor conditions in the foster homes and prepared periodic reports on both boys. Great-Uncle Charlie was assigned to the William Gowan family near Hornings Mills and earliest notes report him as being untruthful, slow and dull. By age eighteen, it's downgraded to behavior very bad but promises to do better. Charles doesn't surface again until age thirty-three when he marries Mary Ann Noble who was age forty-two.

 

I faintly recall Uncle Charlie arriving at our farm in the late 1930s driving an old touring car—touring being a no-roof model popular in the Twenties. The lower cost of other enclosed vehicles...and our Canadian climate...soon squashed its popularity. But it's likely Mom sent him off to the fields to find my Dad and it's very unlikely he was ever invited into our home. His reputation as ne'er-do-well had preceded him. 

 

Charles survived his wife by several years but died penniless in 1944 so Dad had to settle his debts...and his body. It was a raw windy day when he and I hacked a grave out of the frozen ground near Rosemont, Ontario. The headstone's still there, a nice one in fact. Maybe Mary Ann's family contributed...

 

So why did Charles fare so poorly? Well, consider that at only age eight he entered an orphanage, not exactly a supportive environment. And he was already in his rebellious early teens when consigned to the Gowan's home in Canada. So knowing how critical are these early years, already he was playing a lousy hand.

 

Granted, with the record of Charles as untruthful and slow and dull, the Gowan's patience may have been sorely tested. Forty years later his nephew my brother Austin was also described as slow during diagnosis of his schizophrenia...and his intermittent bouts of moodiness and frustration persisted a lifetime. But he always had family support. Uncle Charlie did not.

 

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For his brother Joseph Stych my Grandpa, it's a happier tale. Fostered by the Isaac Walton family in Albion Township, at nine he's listed as member of the family. Behavior is noted as very satisfactory throughout his teens and in 1888 there's a final notation...adopted! The waif from the proverbial Birmingham gutters had done himself proud.

 

Two years later at age twenty, Joseph marries Mary Emma Lyons age twenty-three. Mary Emma had been born to Nancy Austin and John Lyons in 1867. I only remember Dad's grisly recall of his Grandpa John...his face was all eaten away from cancer of the jaw. There is evidence Dad much admired his Grandma Nancy because he named his oldest son Austin.

 

On Joseph's and Emma's marriage certificate, Joseph's mother is listed as Elizabeth. Six years later on brother Charles' marriage certificate, his mother is listed as Jane. Yet we know from birth records that it was Ann, so their mother's name from years ago in  Birmingham had been forgotten. In both documents, the father is correctly identified as Joseph.  

 

My grandparents raised to adulthood four sons and four daughters, all self-reliant and fiercely independent. Large families were not unusual in those times, but to my knowledge they lost only one infant to disease. That was very unusual.

 

Grandma Emma died a year before I was born...but she did leave evidence she was not a shrinking violet. Her sons always displayed marked respect for the women in their lives and her daughters never accepted secondary roles in relationships. This was particularly true of my Aunts Emma and Pearl—divorce was almost unheard of during the early 20th century but these two promptly moved on with appropriate cause. Uncle Bill also took his turn later. My father buried his three beloveds.

 

Grandpa's death at age sixty-nine was also appropriate to an independent spirit. In a tree to remove a dead limb, he was found slumped back against the bole. Up a tree without a breath. It was likely a stroke, an ailment not uncommon in our family. Little Joseph had finally found his rest a long long way from Birmingham's Back Buck Street. 

* * *

Back to my brother Austin's impact on our lives. He was a difficult man, not a bad man. Within his limitations, he tried to be kind. So ours was not a consistently unhappy home. To the contrary, there were long intervals of accord and optimism, particularly as hard times waned at the onset of the war.

 

Regardless, particularly during the Depression years, there were many moody interludes and  that's when I learned how to offset them regardless the source. And typical of a child or teen, regrettably this often meant generating a snippy attitude of my own, finely tuned to piss everybody off. Dad would then get ticked at both of us. Mother would soldier on with a stiff upper lip...self-denial with a duty mask.

 

So accountability for these intermittent stresses in our home remains hazy but I can say with certainty that my brother was not the sole contributor. But gradually I did become aware of the pain my immaturity could cause. Later in high school my competitive instincts blossomed ...shades of Mom in her teens...and we began to relate as adults. Those few years are my most cherished memories while on our farm...and I only hope they were for my mother also. 

 

Many decades later, a psychologist confided to me that survivors of a yeasty childhood tend  to be more competitive. So just possibly did this early exposure to situational stress help me survive my early years on Madison Avenue in Manhattan? And crosstown traffic? Probably not...martinis were my too-frequent antidotes. My sister Jean escaped the bulk of this yeast because she lived her high school years with her grandmother and later with her uncle Clarence Wood in Bradford. 


But on school holidays at home, Jean would resolutely spoil her precocious kid brother. And when a wee tad, my very occasional special treat was to share her bed. In later years she'd recount the one night she woke and panicked because I'd disappeared. Until she looked under the bed...there was Wimp (my nickname) sound asleep on the cold hardwood floor.

 

Every summer my world was awash with light—I adored her. And as the decades passed, I came to know in my heart that regardless the situation, she would always be in my corner. It was a gift of love of incalculable value.

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