For me family is everything. The most important people in the world are the ones immediately akin to you and you should “do or die” for them. That is the strength of feeling I have about my family and that attitude has given rise to some incredible family moments over the years that have reinforced these feelings even more. We are very close as a family it is fair to say. Very recently I had a birthday and received a most thoughtful gift from one of my brothers that shouted of the bond we share as a family and made me feel most special. That gift was a piece of paper hidden within a birthday card! Not any old bit of paper – this paper was special and made so by what was on it and what follows is an account of what came about as a result of receiving that bit of paper.
Those who have read other stories I have shared to this site may be aware of who exactly H. Emile Doo was. I have written about him before and if you wish to recap his story then you may read it here
The Doo family are one of the stalwart branches on my family tree – one of those thicker branches that support lots of off-shooting lines with many cousins. I have been doing extensive work recently on this branch and my DNA trail just this past week led me to a 5th cousin in Australia that comes from this line so with that family heavily on my mind it seemed an appropriate time to make this wonderful visit happen. I was at last going to fulfil a wish and get my picture taken outside my ancestor’s shop. That was all I wanted and all I expected, but “wow” I got so much more from this experience than I ever dared hope!
On Friday 9th March 2018, myself, my brother and my mother made the trip to Dudley in Worcestershire to The Black Country Living Museum which is the home of Emile’s chemist shop. We were excited for different reasons that brought us together and united us in our interest. The name Doo is special to my mum beyond it being her direct family line. Holmes Doo, who was the brother of Emile’s Great Great Grandfather James Doo and mum’s Great Great Great Grandfather was the first person she found when beginning her family history journey and so she was excited to make a connection with someone that connected to him. With her ageing years she felt that she would perhaps never get another opportunity like this again so I was very happy to share my birthday gift with her. My brother is probably the next biggest family history buff in our immediate family after myself and so he gets, understands and shares my passion for ventures like this, plus, he was looking forward to making the trip without his children for a change and to be able to absorb the events of the day and take his time around the exhibits without the distraction of children rushing him round all the interesting stuff to get to the sweets and souvenirs at the end.
The museum itself in it’s entirety is a masterpiece in my opinion and well worth a visit. It is like stepping back in time when you walk through the doors and anyone with half an interest in social history will enjoy a visit here. There is enough to keep old and young interested for an entire day. There are people dressed in period costume walking around the open air exhibit acting as guides and they were wonderful people. Everyone we spoke to was engaging and expressed an interest in us and once they heard of our connection to Emile Doo, their interest peaked further. Each spoke of him as if they knew him. He was their local celebrity and they seemed genuinely excited to be meeting living descendants of this man and encouraged us to hold off paying a visit to the shop until after lunchtime if we could as that was when all the school groups that were there would go home and it would be much quieter for us inside the shop. It was lovely that they all wanted us to have the best possible experience. As we came over the crest of a hill approaching the street where the shop was, we could see it in the distance, looking tantalisingly close and indeed it did seem very popular with lots of school groups going in and out of the tiny premises so we took our time and visited many of the other exhibits, gradually making our way down to our true destination and then we were there!
I had finally done what I had set out to do all those years ago when I first discovered Emile and his history. There would be those that say, “It’s a chemist shop – big deal!”, and they would essentially be right but I FOUND HIM and he is MY ancestor and this was tangible evidence of his life and there is a feeling that accompanies these discoveries that can only be understood by those who have taken that journey and discovered for themselves. Emile had one daughter who never married and so he did not have grandchildren and this branch of the Doo family tree ends here and yet he is still being appreciated by thousands upon thousands and Emile and his family are not forgotten and that is an incredible thing!
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At the beginning of my tale I hinted that this was the birthday gift that kept on giving and so it was! There were unexpected surprises to come once I stepped inside this little world that was once Emile’s. There was a lovely gentleman we met inside who was “in” the role of Emile and he proceeded to tell me all about him until we told him who we were. Then he brought out a treasure – photographs of Emile Doo and his father James who was a chemist himself and owned the shop originally prior to passing it on to Emile! I could not believe that we now had images to go along with the names we had researched. Suddenly, there he was – staring right back at us!
(James Emile Doo, 1858-1915)
There is something about having old pictures that brings all the history alive. When you hear the stories you can see the faces and it makes understanding their experiences all the more real and having possession of these images was incredible for us and added to the magic of our day. This kindly gentleman who stood where our Emile once stood was even considerate enough to allow us to have our photo taken alongside himself and for added measure gave me some labels from the dispensing bottles to take home and add to my collection of memories. I am not so sure that they are original but they were certainly a lovely touch. Out the back of the property we went into Emile’s garden which was a true chemist’s garden, designed and laid out to grow everything he would need to make his own preparations. The history we have researched informs us that he did just that – many of the medicines people came to him for were of the home grown variety and Emile was far far more than the chemists we know of today – he was chemist, health visitor, social worker, dentist and vet all rolled into one! We saw his original dentist’s toolkit pictured below which was frequently used to extricate teeth from patients in the room at the back of the shop – every snippet of information was just exciting to take in – a wondrous experience!
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An obligatory visit to the gift shop at the museum brought further reward as my eagle eyed brother spotted a local history book that contained this wonderful image of dear Betty – Emile’s only daughter and my 4th cousin twice removed – we now had images for 3 generations of Doo family!
A more detailed exploration of this book having got it home has revealed it to be a particular gem for our family containing several more images of the Doo family and also the Barnsley’s who were the parents of Emile’s wife Kathrene and the Golding’s to whom the Doo’s are also connected. Whilst reading the book we discovered where Emile and his family were buried so the following day before returning home we decided to pay a visit to the cemetery to see if we could find the grave but we first paid a visit to the local archives situated next door to the museum just as a chance visit to see if they had anything else of interest there about Emile and helpful staff there led us to this article that was printed in the Dudley Herald to mark his retirement at age 83!
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A little bit “high” off the back of that delightful little find we made the mile and a half journey (or thereabouts) to St Andrew’s Churchyard in Netherton which was the location of Emile’s final resting place in the family vault. We knew the section of the cemetery that the vault was in but not the location of the grave exactly so set about looking over names on stones and very quickly again, my eagle-eyed brother found it and I can’t begin to tell you the feeling we got from being able to end our little adventure in this way – at the very place where Emile completed his journey through mortality and to be able to pay our respects to the man that had made his way into our hearts. Emile’s father and his sister Daisy who died in infancy are also buried in the same cemetery. We did try to find their graves also but were unsuccessful, perhaps because they were buried in the older part of the cemetery where many of the stones no longer exist and graves are collapsed, but it was still nice to have come and seen what we were able to find and reflect together on the life of this man and his family.
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And so ended my two days in Worcestershire, very peacefully in a churchyard within earshot of the church bells that marked time every 15 minutes. With today’s technology making family history research ever more accessible, you don’t have to leave your armchair to discover your heritage. But, every once in a while there is nothing like a field trip to bring you closer to those names you discover and it was lovely to have been able to share this experience with some of my loved ones – a birthday gift I will always treasure.