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Guernsey, Channel Islands

Ancestry Tour - August 2012

Over the last year, I've been researching our Ancestry and that inspired me to do a "hands on" in Europe this summer. Back in December, Lois and I made the decision to do an Ancestry Tour to the Channel Islands.

My grandmother, Ethel Ivy Sneath, came to Canada in 1910 from St. Peter Port, Guernsey, Channel Islands aboard the Empress of Ireland. She and other members of the family, her mother Mabel Violet Lake (1878), brother Thomas Ernest Sneath (1900), sister Mabel Eva Sneath (1905) and uncle and aunt William Charles Sneath (1878) and Flossie Sneath (1879) departed from Liverpool, England and arrived in St. John, New Brunswick on April 15, 1910. Passenger List

Four years later the Empress of Ireland shipwrecked.

The Empress of Ireland 1906 - 1914

RMS Empress of Ireland was an ocean liner that sank in the Saint Lawrence River following a collision with a Norwegian collier, the Storstad, in the early hours of May 29, 1914.

The accident, which claimed the lives of 840 passengers and 172 crew, remains the worst disaster in Canadian maritime history. There were only 465 survivors. Most passengers were asleep and drowned in their cabins.

The Empress was built by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering at Govan on the Clyde in Scotland and was launched on January 27, 1906. The liner, along with her sister ship, the Empress of Britain, was commissioned by Canadian Pacific Steamships for the North Atlantic route between Quebec and Liverpool in England. The ship had just began her 96th sailing when she sank.

The wreck lies in 130 feet of water, making it accessible by divers. Many artifacts from the wreckage have been retrieved. Some are on display in the Empress of Ireland Pavilion at the Site historique maritime de la Pointe-au-Père in Rimouski, Quebec. Due to the accessibility of the wreck, many people have died diving to it. The Canadian government has passed legislation to protect the site. Empress of Ireland Wikipedia

August 23 - 24 Calgary to London & Channel Islands

Today was never ending. I was totally exhausted by the time we reached Guernsey. Getting to the Airport, through customs and up the the air at 6:40 pm went without a hitch. I was on a huge plane. All seemed to be going well until I decided to turn out my light and have a sleep which, apparently, was not an option. The bright florescent light along the wall was malfunctioning and although the whole plane was dark, 4 of the rows on my side were in broad daylight. Try as I might, I couldn't sleep. By the time we reached the hotel in Guernsey I was a zombie.

Our cabby from the Airport, Tricky Dicky (Chamberlain), was a great tour guide and we made arrangements to meet him tomorrow to drive us around the Island. The whole Island is only 9 miles long by 5 miles wide. It's not going to be difficult to see what we need to see in the 2 days we are here.

We are staying at the Peninsula Hotel. There is no internet in the rooms, but the lobby is very comfortable and the wifi has great strength. We ate in the bar area and then went through our Ancestry to collect addresses and areas we wanted to visit tomorrow. It was after 1 am when we finally headed back to our room. After a beautifully relaxing bath, I hit the pillow. I think I may have been asleep even before that.

Saturday, August 25 - St. Peter Port
We asked for a wake up for 9 am. Lois got up. I didn't. She went to breakfast and journaled and finally came to wake me up at 11:30. With a bit of prodding, I was moving. We caught a cab to St. Peter Port.

Guernsey, Channel Islands

The Channel Islands are an archipelago of British Crown Dependencies in the English Channel, off the French coast of Normandy. They include two separate bailiwicks: the Bailiwick of Guernsey and the Bailiwick of Jersey. They are considered the remnants of the Duchy of Normandy, and are not part of the United Kingdom. They have a total population of about 168,000 and their respective capitals, St. Peter Port and St. Helier, have populations of 16,488 and 28,310. The total area of the islands is 194 km².

The Bailiwicks have been administered separately since the late 13th century; common institutions are the exception rather than the rule. The two Bailiwicks have no common laws, no common elections, and no common representative body (although their politicians consult regularly).

Guernsey Patois French

Patois is based on Norman French, but like many regional dialects, it is in danger of dying out. Generally only older residents and a handful of enthusiasts still use the language. Until the Second World War, English was hardly spoken but the evacuation of half of the island's population to England ended centuries of tradition. Many children returned to Guernsey not knowing the patois.

Guernsey Donkey

Guernseymen are traditionally called ‘ânes’ or donkeys . The exact origin is hard to pin down however one is that donkey is appropriate for the general stubbornness of the Guernseyman.

Guernsey people claim it is a symbol of their strength of character. Jerseymen are traditionally called ‘crapauds’ or toads. I think I'd rather be descended from a donkey than a toad - but to each his own!!

In the 6th century Christian missionaries visited the islands. From the beginning of the 9th century Norse raiders appeared on the coasts. Norse settlement succeeded initial attacks, and it is from this period that many place names of Norse origin appear, including the modern names of the islands. The islands were annexed to the Duchy of Normandy in 933. In 1066, William II of Normandy, a vassal to the king of France, invaded and conquered England, becoming William I of England, also known as William the Conqueror.

In 1259 Henry III officially surrendered his claim and title to the Duchy of Normandy, while retaining the Channel Islands. Since then, the Channel Islands have been governed as possessions of the Crown separate from the Kingdom of England.

German Occupation 1940-1945

The islands were the only part of the British Commonwealth to be occupied by the German Army during World War II. The Channel Islands remain covered in German fortifications. The British Government demilitarized the islands in June 1940 and the Lieutenant-Governors were withdrawn on June 21.

Before German troops landed, between June 30th and July 4th, 1940, evacuation took place. Many young men had already left to join the Allied armed forces. 6,600 out of 50,000 left Jersey whilst 17,000 out of 42,000 left Guernsey. Thousands of children and a number of Guernsey head teachers were evacuated with their schools to England and Scotland.

The German occupation was harsh. Over 2,000 Islanders were deported by the Germans. Jews were sent to concentration camps. There was Partisan resistance and retribution and accusations of collaboration. Slave labour (primarily Russians and eastern Europeans) was brought to the islands to build fortifications. There were 65,718 land mines laid in Jersey alone.

The end of the occupation came after VE-Day on 8 May 1945, Jersey and Guernsey being liberated on 9 May. The German garrison in Alderney did not surrender until 16 May and it was one of the last of the Nazi German remnants to surrender. The first evacuees returned on the first sailing from Great Britain on 23 June, but the people of Alderney were unable to start returning until December 1945.

Parish Boundaries

Tricky told us that people from different Parishes did not intermix. Apparently, if a man from one Parish courted a lady from another, he would be stoned. Interesting though this may seem, the disadvantage was inbreeding resulting in birth defects. The German Occupation stopped this and fortunately the boundaries restricting courtship ceased.

According to the Ministry of Defence, a very high proportion of women "from all classes and families" had sexual relations with the enemy, and 800-900 children were born to German fathers. As horrific as this had been, new blood was introduced to the Island effectively stopping the inbreeding and birth defects. In addition, new blood lines were created through those that evacuated to England.

The Mystery Tour

We were to meet Tricky at the Weigh Bridge Taxi Rank at 2:00 but we arrived at 1:00. He was already there so off we went. Tricky called our tour the "Mystery Tour"- because (as he told his wife) he had no idea where he was going. Not to worry Tricky - neither do we.

The next four hours was a whirlwind of streets, hills and houses and the colourful commentary and inside "Stories by Tricky". We learned some new words to add to our vocabulary.

  • bumff - information
  • fagged - tired
  • tart (referring to a building) too glamorous for what it is - looking trashy
  • donkey - stubborn person - what's in it for me?
  • patious - Guernsey french language
  • ludite - technically challenged

We pretty well managed to see all the areas where our ancestors lived. We found:

  • Vauvert Street - David & Elizabeth Lake
  • Brock Road - Emanuel Lake
  • Allez Street - Alice Amelia Lake
  • Cambridge Park Terrace - Amelia Le Noury
  • Roland Road - Eliza Travers Lake
  • Camp de Roi - John William Lake
  • Elim Cottage - Eliza, James, Albert & George Lake
  • Bordage Street - Elizabeth Jane Chant Lake & Reta Mabel Lake
  • Pollet Street - Reta Mabel Lake, Elsie Trenna Lake, Amelia Marina Lake, LeNoury family and William Ivey Lake
  • Bouet Street - Jabez Elworthy Lake, John Jabez Lake
  • Cornet Street - George Thomas Lake, John (Jack) Coombes Edith Jane Browne Coombes & Edith Dorothy Coombes

We saw the St. Peter Port Hospital now the Police Station. John Jabez Lake was a patient there. Pollet Street is now unique shops and restaurants. The A & F Manuelle cracking yard in St. Sampson is no longer there. There are shops on it now.

Vauvert Street

Most our ancestors were in the Vauvert Street area. David and Elizabeth Lake lived there in 1881. David and Elizabeth Lake were our second great grandparents. It was home to many relatives throughout the years.

Cambridge Park Terrace

#7 Cambridge Park Terrace was a real treat for us. We were not only able to find the home but spoke with the people that own it now. They said they have a complete list of everyone that owned it and would be able to email it to us. We got their contact information and took several pictures.

There is a park across the street from this home. There was a duel held there.

Elim Cottage

We found the Elim Cottage next to Wesley Church. Eliza, James, Albert & George Lake, the children John Jabez and Frances Lake lived there in 1891. Frances had already been committed to the Insane Asylum in Plymouth and we don't know where John Jabez was. Elim Cottage was deserted. Lois wanted to peek in the windows, but we wouldn't let her out of the car. If I wake up tomorrow morning and she's gone - I'll know where she is.

Bordage Street

Picture of Bordage St taken in 1880. In 1911 Elizabeth Jane Chant Lake was living at No 2

Pollet Street

Picture of Pollet Street in St Peter Port circa 1900.

Many of the family lived here including:

  • Reta Mabel Lake 1901
  • Elsie Trenna Lake 1901
  • Amelia Marina Lake 1881
  • Le Noury family 1841

William Ivey Lake was born here in 1868.

St. John Church

Brothers Albert and George Lake married sisters Annie and Lillian Lock at St. John Church. It was open and we were able to tour through it. The cemetery was in bad shape. Headstones were tilting or fallen down. The whole feeling can be summed up in one word - spooky.

The Little Chapel

The final step on our Mystery Tour was unscheduled and at Tricky's suggestion. In the middle of the island there is the absolutely fascinating "Little Chapel". I have never seen anything quite like it. Every inch is unique.

A work of art and a labour of love, the Little Chapel is possibly the smallest chapel in the world. It was built by Brother Déodat who started work in March 1914. His plan was to create a miniature version of the famous grotto and basilica at Lourdes in France.

Guardianship of the Little Chapel now rests with The Little Chapel Foundation. The Little Chapel is beautifully decorated with seashells, pebbles and colourful pieces of broken china and the College has an ongoing programme of repairs and improvements.

In December 1913 Brother Déodat (given to God) arrived at Les Vauxbelets. When he saw the woody slope of land facing the valley he formed the idea of building a grotto like that at Lourdes. In March 1914 he built a tiny chapel, 9 feet long by 4.5 feet wide. This chapel was criticized and so Brother Déodat spent the following night demolishing the building. Thus ended the first chapel. The Little Chapel

Brother Déodat soon set to work again and in July 1914 the grotto was completed and officially blessed. Not long afterwards he built a little chapel which measured 9 feet by 6 feet. This survived until September 1923. Brother Déodat demolished it in that month because the Bishop of Portsmouth was so fat he had not been able to pass through the doorway. Thus ended the second chapel.

In 1939 Brother Déodat returned to France because of ill health. After his departure the care of the Little Chapel was entrusted to Brother Cephas, who continued to decorate the building until his retirement in 1965. The building lacked necessary maintenance for several years until, in 1977, a committee was established to restore the chapel. The foundations were stabilized and the roof renovated. Much was accomplished but the work of conservation and restoration is never ending.

Brother Déodat soon set about the construction of a third chapel - which we see today. The building operation proved laborious. Day after day he collected pebbles and broken china to decorate the shrine. Then suddenly the Little Chapel became famous, thanks to an illustrated article in the Daily Mirror. Islanders brought coloured china to Les Vauxbelets; the Lieutenant-Governor offered a remarkable mother-of-pearl; presents poured in from around the world.

Next - 2013 Western Giants


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