Visiting the Isle of Jersey, My Ancestors’ Home
Having never heard of the Isle of Jersey when I began researching my matriarchal grandfather’s family, I soon learn that it’s the largest of the Channel Islands sitting in the English Channel much closer to France than England. After further exploration I discover that Jersey has a long and rich history, warm climate and incredible 35-foot tides - all intriguing to me. So, when an event in Tom’s family takes us to London it is the ideal time to finally explore the Isle of Jersey.
After several bustling days in London we are off on our adventure to Jersey. The train clangs along for three hours as we make our way from London’s Waterloo Station out to Poole on the southeast coast. In Poole we board the Condor Ferry which feels more like a super wide luxury airliner than a ferry. From our front row recliner seats, we marvel at the bluffs of Poole as we head out into the expansive English Channel. Jersey comes into focus after 119 miles and a brief stop at historic St Peter Port on the Isle of Guernsey. Finally, we dock at the harbor in St Helier on Jersey which is only 19 miles from France – how exciting!
Our Airbnb on Beach Road couldn’t be better. From the beautifully renovated one bedroom flat, on the second floor, it is one block to the beach and bus stop and a one mile walk into St Helier, the biggest town in the Channel Islands.
On our first day, as we walk along the promenade, in the chilly morning sunshine, we find Café Des Pas, a wonderful setting for breakfast. The tide is high this morning. That means the bath house steps and saltwater pool are totally underwater until low tide this afternoon.
We can see why the Isle of Jersey is named the Garden Isle as we continue into town. Palm trees and ice plants happily grow next to more northern vegetation similar to Seattle’s. Blooms abound!
Our walk continues through the complex maze of historic urban streets in St Helier. The beautiful architecture is an eclectic mix primarily built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Our first stop is 5 Rough Boullion Street where my 2nd great grandfather and grandmother, Josue and Elizabeth Garnier, raised their first eight children. The house is a typical three-story row house, a couple of blocks from the main roundabout. It’s hard to imagine why they left for Canada in about 1873.
Our next stop is the informative Jersey Museum and Art Gallery. Here is where we get the answer to my family question as to whether Jersey has English or French roots. Jersey has been English since William the Conqueror, in 1066. However, its relationship to the crown has always been “peculiar”. And, as far as DNA goes, the people are Norman which is a “flavor” of English. Culturally, there is a French influence. The economy was originally driven by fishing and agriculture. In the 1930’s tourism came into vogue via steamship and again after WWII via plane. Known for the Jersey Cow, Royal Jersey Potatoes and later the state of New Jersey, banking surpasses all these industries today and has increased the year around population to 98,000 residents.
On our way to a casual pub dinner at the White Horse Beach Bar and Eatery, we see low tide – simply amazing. The 45 square mile island doubles in size on some low tides.
Liberation Day, the day Jersey was finally liberated from a five-year occupation by the Nazis, is a big event in St Helier and we just happen to be here for the 74th Anniversary. On our second day, although 1945 was well after my family left the Isle, we walk into town see some of the parade – what fun.
Afterwards we catch a bus going north. As we wind our way out of dense St Helier we expect to break into farmland and nature, but picturesque stone homes just get bigger and gardens larger. A few potato fields, Jersey cow pastures and free-range chicken farms are interspersed. We disembark the bus at Holy Trinity Parish, my 3rd great grandfather's church, and find his lichen covered tombstone barely legible after weathering since 1878.
From the church we meander through vine covered lanes taking us to a series of footpaths which hug the grass covered cliffs of the northeastern shore. We walk west in the blustery wind admiring the rocky shore, white capped English Channel and other sporadic, hearty hikers with their dogs. Trinity Arms, a traditional English pub and eatery, is a great lunch spot prior to catching the bus back.
We expected rugged cliffs and rocky shores but didn’t really expect long sandy beaches. Today, our 3rd day, we take the bus to the northern end of a five-mile-long smooth sandy beach. The wind has died down and the rains haven’t yet begun. Many varieties of limpet and snail shells along with multiple seaweed species form the wrack or tideline. The grass covered dunes roll down to the seawall and are dotted with structures, many of which are remnants of defense. The Isle of Jersey has been in the crossfire of European politics for centuries.
Highly recommended by our host, we choose the unassuming Drifter’s Bar and Grill for our last night’s dinner. Dinner is tasty and the owner is the most engaging local so far. We have found residents to be proud of their heritage and eager to help us.
As we watch our departure from the ferry deck in the morning sunshine, I am just so happy that we came to the Isle of Jersey. It’s such a unique place. I think I understand why my ancestors lived here for four generations!
Family History for Reference:
The short story is that Louis G F Garnier, my 4th great grandfather, immigrated to Jersey from Normandy France in 1790 at age 24. He was sponsored by Mr. Robin, a ship owner, to be his gardener. Louis married Jeanne Brimmer, from Jersey, in 1793. They had five children including Josue Garnier, my 3rd great grandfather, in 1805. Unfortunately, it appears that Louis died in poverty on Jersey. Josue married Jeanne Chaufray, also from Jersey, in 1830 and had five sons, including Josue (Junior), my 2nd great grandfather.
Josue (Junior) married Elizabeth Coutanche, also from Jersey, in 1852. After Josue traveled to Tunis, Tunisia in 1872 to work on the new railway structures, Josue and Elizabeth Garnier immigrated to Ontario Canada with their first eight children including Jennie (9), my great grandmother in about 1873. Jennie married Thomas Hood in 1884 in Ontario and gave birth to Frederick Thomas Hood, my grandfather in 1888 (three years after his sister, my Great Aunt Pansy, was born). In 1890 Frederick and Jennie Hood immigrated to Michigan in the US, before she tragically died in 1893 at age 29. My grandfather, Pop-pop, as I called him, moved to Washington State, my home, in about 1910.
If you go:
1. Flights from London to Jersey are just over an hour. Many airlines offer cheap flights but not from Heathrow. We wished we had ferried out and flown back.
2. As Americans who drive on the left side of the car and right side of the road, we did not rent a car or take a car on the ferry. Walking, cabs (no Uber) and an island wide, clean and efficient bus system worked well for getting around.
3. We stayed in a wonderful Airbnb but there are also many hotels near or on the promenade which look nice with many restaurants close by.