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In an ancestor's footsteps

Two years ago, our family began planning to attend the London Olympics. We also began work on the Thompson/Tomson History Walk.

Two years ago, our family began planning to attend the London Olympics. We also began work on the Thompson/Tomson History Walk.

After decades of researching our family history, we wanted to walk in the footsteps of our English ancestor, Thomas Tomson, from his ancestral village, Leyton, to the River Thames, where he boarded the ship Abigail in 1635.

He arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and, a few years later, hopscotched to eastern Long Island, where he helped found a number of towns, before arriving in Elizabeth, N.J., in 1664 as one of the Elizabethtown Associates.

Early on, we made a critical connection by e-mailing the Leyton and Leytonstone Historical Society and their secretary, David Boote. Opening a dialogue with David proved vital to the success of our mission. David introduced us to Mark Carroll, who would also play a central role in our family walk. Our months of corresponding with David and Mark resulted in a greater degree of authenticity in re-creating the beginning of our ancestor's arduous journey.

We hadn't given much thought to the proximity of Leyton, where our walk was to begin, and Olympic Park in nearby Stratford. Although David had warned us that we had picked the worst day to walk, we stuck to our plan. If young Thomas could face the hazards of his day, then we could find our way around Olympic security. It could have all turned into a disaster rather quickly save for David, our intrepid tour guide.

We met at St. Mary's Church in Leyton, a congregation with a 400-year history. We were greeted by David; Mark; Roy and Ina, Historical Society members; the vicar; and other congregation members. After a fascinating church tour, we set out on our journey, with David leading the way down the High Road, the main thoroughfare out of town in 1635. At times, we would break while David explained the significance of local historic sites.

Perhaps the most critical juncture of the walk was the bridge over Lea River at Bow. The crossing appears on John Norden's map of 1597. One of the roads leading to the bridge was the main road to Romford, home of the Tomson family's parish church, St. Edward the Confessor. From there, we headed west to Stepney Green. Thomas had received a "license to pass overseas" from a magistrate in Stepney. Such a license was required of anyone leaving the country, to prevent debtors or convicts from escaping sanctions.

It was late afternoon when we finally arrived at the Thames, a journey of about six miles. We went for a celebratory repast at Prospect of Whitby Pub, a tavern with a 500-year history, where we enjoyed fish and chips. It was comforting to think that our ancestor, Thomas Tomson, may have passed before this same pub on his way to the New World. And who knows, he just may have stopped in for his last meal on English soil.

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