Joan Kersey Corder

Joan Corder in her Library
Joan in her personal library

A brief announcement of the presentation of a manuscript, entitled Akin to Jane, appeared in the Jane Austen Society's annual Report for 1953. It was the first major work by Joan Corder, and the first thorough record of the descendants of George and Cassandra Austen. Her benefactions had already been acknowledged in earlier Reports - in 1951, for the coloured sketch of an Officer of the Oxford Militia (in which Henry Austen had served); and in 1952, for a printed list (presumably the one we know of, that includes Henry's name) and, outstandingly, 'the Sultan of Turkey's Medal commemorating the capture of St. Jean d'Acre, probably that presented to Charles John Austen.' (The name printed in the Report was Charles James Austen, a surprisingly lapse on the part of the proof-reader!) Her name appeared once more, in 1954, for the gift of a volume of the Historical Report of the 86th Foot (a regiment that took Henry's interest). This volume, for 1794, included Charles Austen, a chaplain, but he wasn't related to Jane's family.

Joan Kersey Corder was born near Ipswich in 1921, and lived in Suffolk until 2004, when her god-daughter took her to live with her near Portsmouth. She died in April 2005. During WWII Joan spent four years as a plotter in the WAAF, then returned to her family home to keep house for her widowed mother and to work on Akin to Jane. Having completed it, she spent the next four years visiting every Suffolk church, taking photographs for her Effigy Monuments in Suffolk. In 1957 she started work on a new Dictionary of Suffolk Arms, which was published in 1967; and worked from 1965 to 1973 on her definitive edition of the Visitation of Suffolk for 1561. In 1967 she was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. From 1988 until 1998 she worked on her Dictionary of Suffolk Crests. Her achievements as a herald and genealogist were considerable; thanks to her, Suffolk is better served for heraldic reference than any other county in the British Isles. Her working methods for large surveys have become the standard.

It has been said that it would have been dangerous to mention, in her presence, the use of more modern tools than a pencil, an ancient typewriter, and boxes of card indexes. Using these tools for Akin to Jane, presumably relying as much on postal correspondence with family members as on reference works, she was able to record some 330 descendants of George and Cassandra. (A long list of acknowledgements is to be found here.) She could never interest a publisher in the work, to her enduring regret, and it exists in only two copies. The Jane Austen Society's copy, now at housed at the Jane Austen's House Museum in Chawton, has been in such regular use that it is on the point of being too fragile to handle. Her god-daughter has assured me that she would have been immensely pleased to know that it is now being made available to the public.