As a small child, I remember been told my great-great-great-great-great grandfather was once a Lord Mayor of my home city of Kingston upon Hull. His name was Thomas Wallis, a descendant of my maternal grandmother's side of the family. He was a woodcarver by trade and his self-portrait and a carved chair he crafted were exhibited at the house of William Wilberforce's birthplace when I was a little girl. I remember visiting along with my mum and grandmother, climbing up the staircase of the old house, looking up at the painting placed on the wall of the landing. Underneath was the chair he'd carved. I was in awe. I remember been told about other family members visiting too...many commenting on the likeness of our ancestor to familiar faces in our family...a definite likeness to some. I felt proud of my heritage in the way any little girl would.
About twenty years later, I remember visiting the now renamed Wilberforce House Museum with my mum. After wandering around, we noticed the painting of Thomas Wallis and his chair were no longer exhibited. Curious about the whereabouts of these items, we asked a member of staff about them and mentioned Thomas Wallis was once a Lord Mayor of Hull. We were told it was likely his portrait was on display at the Hull Guildhall; where other portraits of Lord Mayors are displayed. Disappointed but satisfied with the response, we left and I never thought much about my "famous" descendant even after I began researching my family tree many years later. A project that is still very much a work in progress.
Fast forward to now; a time with information at our fingertips, thanks to the internet. Recently I was trying to find some information about the children evacuated from Hull during World War Two. My late uncle was an evacuee and I wanted to know the criteria for children been sent away from their families. Whilst looking around the web page, I saw a link for Lord Mayors of Hull and clicked. There is a list of all who have held the position. Not knowing when Thomas Wallis held this civic role, I scrolled through the list of names and the monarchs who were on the throne during the span of the records. After scanning the list and double checking I found out the only Lord Mayor with the surname Wallis was Towers Wallis who held this office in 1710...too early to be my 5 x grandfather and the first name isn't a match either. No likely relative of mine called Wallis had been Lord Mayor. As I was in an investigative move, I decided to let Google help me out to find out the importance of Thomas Wallis to my family.
I searched for self-portraits of Thomas Wallis and came up trumps on Art UK I wanted to know more about this gentleman and I was happy to discover there are more than one self-portraits...one is held by Wilberforce House Museum...BINGO!! The others by Louth Museum. I also now know his full name was Thomas Wilkinson Wallis...something I was unaware of as I can't remember how his name was displayed when I originally saw the painting in Wilberforce House when I was small.
The Louth Museum's biography of Thomas W Wallis is enlightening with its information. He was born in Hull and raised around the village of Roos...information that could fit within my family tree, even though he was born in 1821...a little late for him to be who my family claimed him to be. However, I continued regardless. I found he spent his adult life in Louth, Lincolnshire...a point which heavily cast a shadow on him being a close relative. The deciding factor to dispell any family connection comes from a link within his museum biography. It sent me to his autobiography, a book he published which not only catalogues his work over sixty years but includes information about his family tree. Once I read that part, I knew he wasn't who my family claimed. He was neither a Lord Mayor or a direct descendant. He was an acclaimed woodcarver.
Am I disappointed? Not really. It is easy to see how a self-portrait in a local museum by an artist with the same family name could cause people to put two and two together and come up with the wrong conclusion, at least when it comes to a family connection. As for the Lord Mayor connection, I have no idea where that came from? I'm happy to have solved that mystery. For me, reading extracts from Thomas Wilkinson Wallis' autobiography made the search worthwhile..it's fascinating reading. With the information I know about him, I'll one day pick up researching my family tree to see if I appear as a twig somewhere on his. I don't know how many Wallis' lived in Hull during the early part of nineteen century but you never know, my family and his may be connected somewhere?