Just a gentle word of warning for all those tipping a tentative toe into the absorbing - and totally addictive - hobby of family history. You have no idea what you might be letting yourself in for. It’s not just
that your nearest and dearest will wonder at your obsession with the Distant Dead, nor your habit of taking about great-great-great grandparents or second cousins several times removed. No, believe me, the problem comes when you find yourself completely taken
over in the pursuit of any old Tom, Dick or Harry. Or, in my case, Elizabeth, John and Susannah...
I was late (as usual) turning up for yesterday morning’s
church service, so I had to slink into one of the few side pews which wasn’t taped up to prevent access, hoping that nobody would notice me. Or, perhaps, recognise me, disguised as I was in my face mask. Though, to be honest, I think we are all getting
pretty accustomed to seeing the person behind the mask these days.
Anyway, one of the benefits of sitting in a side pew is being able to see close up - and ponder
upon - the beautiful stained glass windows along the church walls. Obviously I should have been paying more attention to the service but I found myself transfixed by a story of another mother and a baby.
The window which had captured my attention was dedicated to one Elizabeth Fowler who died, aged 33, in 1852. So far, so very sad - I hear you say. But underneath Elizabeth’s inscription was another - to Susannah Fowler
who died in 1863, aged 11 years old. Mathematics is not my strong point but I couldn’t help surmising that Elizabeth might well have died giving birth to Susannah. How sad if that motherless babe then succumbed to death just eleven years later. I have
never heard of Elizabeth or Susannah - but suddenly I just have to know more.
Okay, I hear you. They are nothing at all to me. This long, lost family is not mine.
But this is the problem with being possessed of just enough knowledge, from one’s own researches into Births, Marriages and Deaths, Census records and Burial Indices - you know exactly how to find out more...
Back home, I am on the case immediately. I find Elizabeth and her husband, John, quite easily in the 1851 Census. It turns out that John was the Inn Keeper of the Sea House Hotel, built in 1785 and rebuilt in 1849. Queen Adelaide,
wife of King William IV, stayed there in 1849 - did Elizabeth meet her, I wonder? Apparently the Sea House Inn was the highest quality hotel in Worthing at the time and was renamed the Royal Sea House Hotel after the Queen’s visit.
Next I turn my attention to little Susannah. How did she fare after her mother’s untimely death. I really, really need to know...
Eventually I find her on the 1861 Census, aged 9 and a pupil at a boarding school in the Brighton area. Oh, poor motherless Susannah! And I know what’s going to happen to her - it’s unbearable!
You see what I mean, don’t you? These two poor lost souls should mean nothing to me but now they do. What’s more, I feel that I need to know more - should I pay out for
Susannah’s death certificate so that I know how and where she died and, most importantly in my mind, who was “present at the death”? My research tells me that Elizabeth at least is buried somewhere in the churchyard - I think I must go for
a wander and try to find where she is buried and whether her little daughter is with her. Or should I just comfort myself that they are remembered together on the stained glass window where I first made their acquaintance?
So, heed my warning before you find yourself carried away with the stories on TV programmes like “Who Do You Think You Are?”
Genealogy is, indeed, a wonderfully absorbing hobby - but you never know where it might lead you...