This week: Life's true mysteriesEdited by: Elle
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As a founder of the "Roots & Wings Group" and an avid genealogist and family historian, I have a keen interest in the mysteries that dwell in my family's history. It is as much fun to discover the facts and piece the story together as it is to retell the story to my relations and witness their reactions!
It is my grandmother's 90th birthday next month. It is always tricky to know what gift to give a person of that age. I was rather lucky, because as the family historian and genealogist, I was able to create a frame-worthy family tree for her. I hope it will both please and interest her, as well as spark conversation among the extended family at her birthday gathering.
Genealogy is the epitome of a complicated puzzle. With every fact you unearth, you see a little more of the picture. However, there is no box with a picture to follow as a guide, rather it is more like Sherlock Holmes trying to piece together a mystery. What happened? Who was there? Why and when? Sometimes we find out the answers, and other mysteries are left unsolved, gnawing away at genealogists as they try to sleep at night.
I had some poor ancestors, and one branch of the tree seems to abound with mysteries that quite captivate me. My 3x great-grandfather had six children, including a new baby, when his wife died. My first thought was that she died in childbed, but no, further investigation revealed that the baby was more than a year old when the mother died. Then I discovered a second wife who also died. What ho! A murder mystery? Alas, it could hardly be murder when the second wife died in a cholera epidemic that swept their small town. Hard to plan one of those. Then I discovered records that showed that between the death of the mother and the second marriage, the father and two youngest children were living in a workhouse in London, only to be kicked out and sent back to their small town because they 'did not belong to London' and therefore ought not be in the London workhouse. The other children were found separately in local workhouses. Why was the family separated? Why did the father and youngest children go to London? And I still don't know what happened to the mother!
Another mystery is that of my 2x great-grandfather. After his mother died when he was six, he ended up in a workhouse. The workhouses were dreadful places and eventually he ran away. Some time later, he 'begged for readmission'. What would make him beg for readmission to such a dreadful place other than the most extreme of circumstances? He later joined the army and had a terrible record, finally being discharged with a note that his 'conduct was bad and his habits intemperate'. He married and had ten children, but still showed up on censuses from time to time as a boarder living separate from his family. Did his wife kick him out? Was he travelling for work? We know that he did not permanently separate from his wife, as their youngest children were not yet born at that time. Finally, he died in WWI. But not on the field of action. No, he was at home in England. How did he die so far from the field of battle? Did his 'intemperate habits' catch up to him? He was only fifty. I am still trying to find the answers, and may never know the truth.
The more I discover of this particular branch of my family tree, the more they sound like characters from Dickensian novel. In fact, I found out that one of the orphanages Charles Dickens visited when researching for Oliver Twist was the same one that my great-grandfather lived in after he was orphaned at the age of nine.
Your ancestors could inspire a tale or two too. You never know what secrets they were hiding and what mysteries you may uncover if you go looking.
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