The investigation of family history is popular among the users of St George’s Chapel Archives; we often receive enquiries from people who believe they have an ancestor buried here, or who know that some past member of their family held one of the roles within the Chapel – Canon, Lay Clerk or Virger, for example. It is always a great pleasure to help people to find out a little more about their own personal history. However, we recently discovered a letter containing an enquiry about family history with a very different motivation.
On 11th December 1935, the rector of Great Haseley, Reverend P.H. Bown wrote to St George’s Chapter Clerk, Lewis Stainton, with an urgent request [SGC XVII.57.19]. A Dr Benary had written to Reverend Bown from Germany, begging him to procure “with all possible speed” baptismal certificates for members of his family. These documents were so urgently necessary to Dr Benary “to enable him to satisfy the German authorities that he has no Jewish blood in his veins”.
Specifically, Dr Benary was looking for the baptismal certificates of his great-grandfather, William Birkett, a former rector of Great Haseley, his son Henry Augustus (Benary’s grandfather) and each of their wives.
Reverend Bown knew that William Birkett had come to Great Haseley as curate-in-charge in 1832 and become rector in 1846. He wrote to the Chapter Clerk on the chance that there might have been some information in the records at Windsor on Birkett’s wife and on her origins that help Dr Benary to prove his own background.
At the time that William Birkett was rector of Great Haseley, the parish was one of the livings of St George’s Chapel and to this day the Chapel Archives holds records relating to the transfer of land ownership and the appointment of incumbents in many of its former livings. However, Mr Stainton, the Chapter Clerk, was able only to confirm the date of Reverend Birkett’s appointment by Vote of Chapter as rector of Haseley; no information relating to Mrs Birkett could be found.
Jill Hume, Archives Volunteer