J0.03 Genealogy notes

Family Tree sample 2

Click here for an interactive family tree of Alma Warren, originally created by obiwanspicoli, and used and modified with their permission. Alma Warren is, of course, strongly based on Alan Moore. Alma’s family members, for the most part, are also based on Moore’s family. The main data in the tree is that presented in Jerusalem, but I have also done a good deal of independent research into Moore’s real-world genealogy, and have included much of that data in the Biographical Notes of each person.

Where significant differences appear between Moore’s real-world family and the characters in Jerusalem, this may simply be due to Moore having less access to genealogical data when he began writing in the mid-2000’s than I do today with much more of history being digitized and searchable. On the other hand, differences may be deliberate, for artistic effect. Some of the larger topics that came up during my research are discussed in detail below.

Snowy’s Siblings

THOMAS JOHN VERNON
Thomas John Vernon (undated; c.1905?)

While John “Snowy” Vernall appears to be strongly based upon Thomas John Vernon, his siblings are much less anchored than he. TJV did have several siblings, but none match anyone in Jerusalem. For detailed discussion of Thursa, see below. Messenger Vernall may be based on sibling John Messenger Vernon, but JMV died before his second birthday, which Messenger Vernall clearly did not. Similarly, there was an Appelina Vernon sibling, but she died before her first birthday. (Child mortality was high then, but TJV also had many siblings who survived into adulthood.)

Conversely, Thomas John Vernon had a large number of siblings who seem to have led ordinary lives that don’t match any of the characters appearing in Jerusalem. Perhaps Moore wanted to make the impact of Ernest Vernall’s madness on his children be more pronounced than the madness of Thomas Jesson Vernon had been in the real world? (But see “Who’s Ginger”, below.)

The elusive Great Aunt Thursa

Moore has been mentioning “Great Aunt Thursa” in autobiographical sketches and interviews since at least 1984 (“Brasso with Rosie”). In every case, he describes her as his “Great Aunt” and he shares the anecdote about her playing the accordion outside during the Blitz. This strongly suggests that she was a real person, or at minimum, a story that was really told as true within the family.

But, as mentioned above, there is no one of that name (or any similar one) among Thomas John Vernon’s siblings. Even Moore seems not to have known exactly where Thursa fit; in a 2016 interview he says:

There’s also much talk of a Great Aunt Thursa, who I’m certain existed, and yet Leah, who’s been doing a lot of the digging up of the genealogy of the family could find no trace of her, so whether she was a family friend who was known as an Aunt, or an actual relation is unclear.

I have, after much research, developed 2 hypotheses about who the “real” Thursa might have been. Neither is certain, but I see sound reasons for either.

Hypothesis 1: Thirza Mallard

Joe Mallard (Sylvia Doreen Moore’s dad; Alan Moore’s grandad) had an older sister Thirza. (The name is consistently spelled that way in all records I’ve found.) She’s the same generation as the fictional Thursa Vernall, albeit on the complete other side of the family tree. Thirza Mallard (like Thursa Vernall) would technically be a “great-grandaunt”, but actual usage is much less clear. During the Blitz, Thirza would have been alive, about ages 61-62.

If Thirza was mad, it didn’t stop her from marrying, having many children, and living to the age of 65.

Hypothesis 2: Theresa Maud (Canham) Vernon

While “Thursa/Thirza” is a real name, and enjoyed some popularity between roughly 1850-1950, it seems like it might also be short for “Theresa”. And there is a Theresa on the Vernon side, albeit a surprising one. Theresa Maud (Canham) Vernon already has a different character based on her in Jerusalem: Celia Vernall, mother of Audrey! [After first writing this, I came across what looks like very much like another case of splitting one real person into two Jerusalem characters; see “Who’s Ginger?”, below.]

Theresa Vernon is one generation younger than the fictional Thursa Vernall, but would still often be referred to as a “great-aunt” in common usage. She would have been about ages 42-43 during the Blitz (when Audrey would have been about ages 11-12).

If Theresa went mad, she definitely didn’t inherit her madness from the Vernons, as she married into the family. And if Theresa was a famed accordion player, it would certainly be unsurprising that her daughter Audrey would take up the same instrument.

Who’s Ginger?

The characters of Ern and “Snowy” Vernall have a lot of similarities in Jerusalem:

  • Both work as painters.
  • Both do work at significant heights.
  • Both go mad.
  • Both have their hair turn from red to white.
  • Both have nicknames based on their hair color.
  • Both change address frequently.
  • Both have many children. (Admittedly these last two are very common.)
  • Their real-world analogs are both named Thomas J Vernon.

Similarities between father and son are not, in themselves, unusual. But looking at their real-world equivalents, certain anomalies start to show up…

In various interviews since at least 1997 (“Correspondence From Hell”), Moore has made reference to his mad “great-grandfather” Ginger Vernon. In every case, Moore uses the term “great-grandfather”, never “great-great” or “twice great” grandfather, but a single “great”. Nor does he ever make reference to more than a single male ancestor who went mad. Yet, in Jerusalem, it is only Alma Warren’s great-great-grandfather who is called by the name “Ginger”. Tellingly, though, Alma’s once-great-grandfather is almost universally referred to as Snowy, based on the color of his hair.

Genealogical records of the the real-world analogs of the Vernalls reveals some interesting occupational information. Thomas John Vernon (Snowy Vernall) has a well-documented, almost uninterrupted career as a painter from at least age 16 through age 75! (A single record from 1886 lists him as “Labourer”.) This matches the character in Jerusalem well. But his father, Thomas Jesson Vernon (Ern Vernall) never worked as a painter. He seems to have been an engineer for most of his life, changing to a shopkeeper in his 50s.

Further, I have been unable so far to find any historical mention of St. Paul’s Cathedral being restored in the 1860s. Conversely, there are many references to restoration projects starting in the 1890s – just when Thomas John Vernon would have been in his prime.

It looks probable that Moore, whether accidentally or on purpose, split a single ancestor, “Mad Ginger Vernon” into two separate characters in Jerusalem.

Other Stories

My research turned up a few people and incidents that I suspect Moore would have put into Jerusalem, had he been aware of them at the time.

A disability story: Alice Maud Vernon

I am interested in disability activism. So I was pleased to discover a disability story revealed while researching Moore’s ancestors.

Thomas Vernon (aka John Vernall, father of Ernest), lived in Nottingham, Nottinghamshire. In 1842, he had a daughter Alice Maud Vernon, who was deaf from the time of her birth. (And apparently “dumb” as well, though the data is less consistent there. The term “dumb” is no longer politically correct, but will be used here because it was the term on all the paperwork at the time.) In the 1851 census, Alice, age 8, is going to school. It’s unclear if she is then going to a specialized school for the deaf, or if such a school even existed in Nottingham at that time.

deeaf-and-dumb-land-articulation-001-1024x873-1
Illustration from _Deaf and Dumb Land_, Joseph Hatton, 1896. This shows a female teacher from the same school, albeit 5-15 years after Alice stopped teaching.

By the time of the 1861 census, Alice, age 18, is in London. She is working as a School Teacher at the “Asylum for the Support and Education of Indigent Deaf and Dumb Children” in the Borough of Southwark. This institution seems to have usually had a few deaf/dumb teachers, though most were not. Alice continued to work as a Teacher at least through 1881 (age 38).

Alice grew up in Nottingham. For the 1861 and 1871 censuses, Alice was living at the school in London, along with many other teachers, students, and miscellaneous staff. In 1881, though she still lists her occupation as School Teacher, she is living with her married sister, Mary A. Daft, back in Nottingham. In 1891, she is living with her brother John M. Vernon in Nottingham and lists no occupation.

pennhome-almshouses
Pennhome Cottages c.2020

 

Pennhome
Pennhome Cottages, 1878

By 1901 (age 58), Alice is “Living on own Means” in a house by herself at Pennhome Cottages, Haydn Road, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire. (Her father died in 1886; perhaps he left her enough to live on?) Alice is still living there in 1911 (on “Private Means”). This house was (and still is) is part of a charity specifically providing living spaces for elderly widows or spinsters.

Alice doesn’t appear to have ever married or had children. She died in late 1916.

The hypothetical sad fate of Louisa Vernon

The character Anne Vernall (husband of Ernest) seems to be based on Louisa Ann (Harrison) Vernon. Tracing her life through genealogical records paints a picture of a fairly typical life of marriage and children. The records show her death in London in late 1871, aged 48. By the time of the 1881 census, her former husband has remarried.

But are those records accurate? Because there’s a (different?) Louisa Vernon who only starts appearing in London records in May of 1871. And the records she appears in are exclusively records of workhouses. A lot of records. This Louisa Vernon is in and out of the workhouse system until 1881, when the records stop mentioning her. These workhouse records of “Louisa Vernon” seem to all be the same woman. Exact details of her age vary, but that’s extremely common in 19th century records, and they’re all close to the same age. None of the stays in a workhouse overlap, and a few are clearly consecutive.

Did Louisa Vernon do… something in 1771 that made her family say “You’re dead to us!” And for them to mean that so firmly that they actually filed paperwork faking her death? Abandoning Louisa to homelessness? The evidence for this is certainly flimsy. But it would be an interesting story.

Brushes with the law

Thomas John Vernon (basis for “Snowy” Vernall) was arrested on suspicion of a fowl crime, described as follows:

On the 13th August, 1889, at Wootton, feloniously did receive and have in their possession fifteen tame fowls, the goods of John Howe, well knowing the said fowls to have been stolen.

The records are slightly confusing, but Thomas seems to have been arrested along with 4 other suspects on either the 16th or 19th, and they were all “Bailed” on the 21st. (“Bailed” may have a somewhat different meaning at the time?) One Samuel Smith is recorded as Guilty, with Thomas and the other three as Not guilty.

Prior criminal records are also briefly noted, so we see that Thomas has been arrested “Twice for using obscene language, drunk, &c., in 1895.”

Watchmaker

Thomas Vernon (analog of John Vernall, father of Snowy) was at first a Clockmaker, then over the 1850s gradually moved over to making watches. Figures of literal and metaphorical watchmaker feature notably in Moore’s most famous work, Watchmen, and chapter 4 is even titled “Watchmaker”.

 

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