Seeking Great-Aunt Ba-ba

Some people make a lasting impression on you and in the case of Great-aunt Ba-ba it was just as well for I only met her once as a child when she was very elderly.  Someone of twenty seems ancient to a youngster, as for being ninety, I just couldn’t get over anyone being that old or that much fun.

Gt Aunt Baba (Frances White) 90th bithday about 1965

photo take by me about 1965, which means she would have been born around 1875

Great-aunt Ba-ba was a ‘spinster of the parish’, a description that conjures up a sad and somewhat diminished individual whereas in reality, if she was anything to go by, they were far from that.  Lively and interesting, I adored her instantly but was too young to ask her any questions about her life.  I doubt if I would have been told much anyway for that generation were far too busy living in the present: perhaps the effect of surviving two world wars.

Frances White - auntie baba - and Clara Joyce Shortland

On the left, about 1925

One story I heard many times from my father was of how when he and his brother were sent to stay with her in the school holidays they were allowed to run wild, something that wouldn’t have been tolerated by their strict parents.  This would have been about 1920 and to reach Rudgwick in Sussex from the Thames Valley took the whole day.  Once there they would spend all day running free through the woods and cowslip-ing in the meadows.  On trips to the south coast my father would always make time for a detour to show me his playground and Aunt Ba-ba’s wonderful house. postcard of Greenhurst, nr Rudgwick

about 1918-20

So how did she get her pet name?  I have no idea – I understand that her real name was Frances White – and there is no one now left alive that can answer the question. Perhaps her name was Barbara, or is that too simple an explanation? I had another great aunt that was called ‘Toddles’ so perhaps silly names were just a family thing!

Frances White - auntie baba


I’d always assumed that Frances White was just a family friend for, in days past, it was customary for children to call them aunt or uncle out of respect.  Recently I have discovered another old family photograph – that of Charles William Langston-White and this could be a missing link.  His mother Norah Langston (my first cousin twice removed, whatever that means) married James William White in 1909 – he was born in Sussex.

charles william langston-white, aged 3yrs 3mths

“aged 3yrs 3mths” so taken June 1916

Could Great-aunt Ba-ba have been related to this White family?  I would have thought it probable but, so far, my researches have drawn a blank and I have found no trace of her having even existed in the public record books.  Fortunately I have these few photos of her and my memory to prove she existed.

If there are any enthusiastic genealogists or amateur sleuths reading this I will be grateful if you can find out more.


5 thoughts on “Seeking Great-Aunt Ba-ba

  1. John, what a mystery there are no records. This does need following up so I hope one of your Sussex readers can pop into the SRO, in Lewes I think. Is there even no death certificate? Presumably she died post 1965 so her death would be traceable via the Death Records in the PRO? Or was her name not Frances White? I wonder if she did active service at home during WW1? Do you know her occupation? What a wonderful house. Have you been to Rudgwick and asked around? I wonder where she is buried? It’s all so frustrating for you, do write a blog when you find out more.

    • I really have very little more information about her, Norma. I would guess she died about 1967. I don’t know where she was living at the time of her death. She was a housekeeper when she lived in Rudgwick and there is a big country house nearby so perhaps my great-aunt’s house went with the job? It is just possible that her name wasn’t Frances White at all but I’m as confident as I can be that it was!

      • I’m intrigued to know how you came to think her name was Frances White, was it from Census Records? I research my family history so I know how it feels to hit a brick wall!

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