A book of Gruchy family history

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A book of

Gruchy family history


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Val Ford proudly displays her Gruchy family book


This article by Alasdair Crosby was first published in the Jersey Evening Post in May 2008


Is your name Gruchy, or a variant thereof? Or do you have family or ancestors with that name? The quest for a family history inspired Val Ford to find out everything she could about the family. She lives in Essex, but her family comes from Jersey.

Her research culminated in writing a book entitled 'Gruchy: Footprints on the Sands of Time', which should satisfy the curiosity of everyone interested in the Gruchy name.

Members of the Gruchy family with their extensive family tree

From a foreign island

She wrote in the preface to the book: 'The inspiration for this little project was, of course, my own Gruchy family. As a child, having a grandmother who came from a foreign island called Jersey was something to brag about in the school playground, but I don't remember Grandma telling me much about her family origins.

'By the time I was really interested, as an adult, she wasn't there to ask. So I turned to other family members, only to find that lots of pieces of the jigsaw had been lost. I was on a mission.'

Val started contacting Gruchys all over the world, and hundreds of sources have been used in her book. The book includes the Gruchy crest, and motto Fais ce que tu dois advienne que pourre - do your duty come what may.

She gives some valuable advice about confusing Gruchys with de Gruchys: 'Please be aware that Gruchys get very upset when they're referred to as 'de Gruchy', and vice versa, I'm sure. The names were, of course, originally from the same family, but the lines have been separate for more than 500 years now. We Gruchy descendants can all trace our ancestry back to Ralph Gruchy, born in 1450 in Trinity'.

In the book there are stories about Gruchys in public service, schools and teachers, merchants and mariners, Gruchys in the wars, and farming Gruchys.

Guatemala

With dairy farmers from all over the world recently gathering in Jersey to celebrate the island's famous breed of cow, it is appropriate to summarise from her book a story about a Gruchy who introduced the Jersey cow to Guatemala.

"John James Gruchy was born in Richmond, Yorkshire, on 27 March 1861, the second child of Philippe Gruchy of St Helier (1829- ) and Jane Le Gros. When his wife died, Philippe remarried. His second wife, Marie Therese Gruchy, was also born in Jersey, in 1821 in St John.
"Philippe and Marie Therese were both school teachers and taught in Bodmin, Cornwall, before returning to Jersey with their two children. By 1881 Marie Therese had died and the family were living in Verte Rue, St Mary, with daughter Mary Ann's new husband, John Le Masurier, a farmer. Philippe was still there with his daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter Eunice in 1891, when the property was known as Richmond House.
"John James had attended Victoria College (where his name is inscribed on the Queen's Medal board) and Oxford University. He was an outstanding student, with a particular gift for foreign languages, and his father expected him to take up a career in the Empire. In the 1881 census John's occupation is given as 'Indian Civil Service Probationer'. He passed the entrance exams with flying colours, and Philippe's graduation present to him was Passage to India. What nobody knew was that John had other ideas.
John James Gruchy
John James and Alexandra Gruchy in 1938

Writing in 1998, John James' son David told the dramatic story of his father's life:

"The date and time for the ship to depart for India was announced, along with the dock location for loading. At the appropriate time the whole family gathered at the dockside with going-away presents, good wishes and goodbyes, not knowing when they might see John James again. Boarding took place and the family departed. John James had already investigated where the ship leaving for America was docked and had purchased passage on it. By good fortune the ship that was soon to leave for the USA was anchored only a short distance away. As soon as the relatives were out of sight he hurriedly started moving his belongings to the other vessel."

American citizenship

John James arrived in New York on 9 November 1881. He worked for a while at a leather manufacturing company in St Louis, Missouri, became an American citizen and in 1885 was selected to go as a company representative to Guatemala.

He soon left the leather manufacturing company to pursue his interests in Farming, both cattle and crops. Now known as Don Juan Gruche, he became manager of a finca or farm called Palo Blanco in San Jose Pinula, near Guatemala City in the Central Highlands, where he lived with his wife Alejandra Lopez ad their eight children until 1916.

John James' first project was to establish a good dairy business. He knew about the superior qualities of Jersey cattle for milk and butter production. The American Jersey Club had been established at various agricultural colleges in the US ad they were importing cattle from Jersey by the 1870s. John James imported the first Jersey cattle to Guatemala from America in the 1890s. The Jerseys adapted well to the diverse climatic and geographical conditions of Central America. They have become the main dairy breed for Guatemala and now make up over 60 per cent of all registered cattle in the country.

Maiz de Gruche

John James next turned his attention to improving the local corn crop by careful selective breeding, with remarkable success. In 1910 he was presented with a gold medal diploma at the Guatemala National Fair, in recognition of his corn which is still known in the area as Maiz de Gruche, a dual-purpose variety with large stalks and ears for grinding into silage, and a good appearance, flavour and food value for general consumption by humans as well as livestock.

The family moved to the USA in 1916 and rebuilt their lives in the Rocky Hill community of Wesson, Mississippi. A ninth child, Daniel, was born there in 1919.

It was Daniel who, as an adult, became interested in searching for his family roots and travelled to Jersey, where he met descendants of John James' sister, Mary Ann. They in turn visited their cousins in Mississippi. On a trip to Guatemala in 1990, Daniel met the manager of the Palo Blanco finca, whose boss had been trying to track down any Gruchys who were descended from John James.

The Guatemala Jersey Cattle Association accomplished its wish to honour the man who had introduced the first registered Jersey cattle to Guatemala, had helped to design and build the first sanitary dairy barn in the country and the first brick and cement vertical silo.

They invited as many of John James' descendants as could attend, and two sons,David and Daniel, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren took up the offer.

A portrait of John James was unveiled, and a commemorative plaque placed in the historic barn, still in use 89 years later. Dr Tejado, ex-president of the association, paid tribute to the 'well-mannered and serous man, who spoke in a strange way and laughed quietly', calling him 'a true exponent and precursor of what the Peace Corps would do a century later'.

Above all, he would be remembered by all the people of the country as the man who gave them the Maiz de Gruche, so prestigious that it is taboo to plant other varieties which might contaminate the genetic line.

Most of John James' descendants have stayed in Mississippi or moved to other parts of the USA. One granddaughter lives in Canada.
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