Is it odd that my genealogical fantasies include stumbling across local, 19th Century glass negative plates at a 2nd hand market or that someone contacts me about some amazing long, lost family heirloom? Unfortunately, this hasn’t come true, but I was able to make it happen for a lucky lady in England!
Earlier this year I visited a 2nd cousin of mine who is into genealogy as much as I am and just before leaving she brought out the most amazing old book that she purchased from an antique dealer many years ago.
The large, earthy, marbled tome was a bit tattered, but it contained over 300 pages of musings, thoughts, poems and events of a woman living through the mid to latter half of the 1800’s.
The pages are all meticulously decorated with cutouts, illustrations and mementoes. On one page she fan-girls her favourite writer, Eliza Cook, known as a proponent of political and sexual freedom for women, who believed in the ideology of self-improvement through education.
Another page shows the wings of a flying fish sent from India and sadly on one page is a letter from her dying cousin Lucy, who writes;
‘My Dearest Cousin, I have had a long and dangerous illness from which I am sorry to say I don’t think I shall ever recover. The Dr gives me but very little encouragement. He has been attending me ever since my little boy was born.’
The next page’s title, ‘My cousin Lucy is dead.’
The author is never named, there’s no address, not even a town given, although there are a number of illustrations from Cornwall and Devon.
My cousin knows I’m quite handy at finding info on the internet, so she gave the book to me to try to figure out who it belonged to and to possibly find a direct descendant to forward it to. I love a good research challenge and was happy to just be able to read through such a great piece of history.
So I took it home and one evening started reading through and writing down any clues.
- Daughter Katie, born around 1866
- Son W.H. Rogers, died 24 Jan 1866
- A grandfather named James Everett, died 28 Jan 1867
- Grandmother Nancy Everett, died 19 Nov 1867
- Grandmother Anne Rogers, died 6 June 1868
- Cousin Jane Stanbury, died 3 August 1868
- Cousin Lucy Marchant, died 1869
- Son William, born 15 Aug 1870
Oddly enough, while I was flicking through the pages and reading this woman’s memories. I subconsciously started referring to her as Sarah; this is Sarah’s book, Sarah’s child that died, Sarah’s daughter born, etc. But nowhere is the name Sarah mentioned.
Weird, but I dismissed it.
Starting with W.H. Rogers, I searched death records in England and quickly found the child was William Henry Rogers, born 1851 and died 1866 in Stoke Damerel, Devon.
This led me to his birth record which notes his father as also William Henry Rogers and his mother as… Sarah. *cue creepy music*
So this WAS Sarah’s book!
But, Sarah who?
I couldn’t find a marriage for William and Sarah, so I looked at the grandparents, James and Nancy Everett, first using their death dates to ascertain their location – Bodmin, Cornwall, and then finding a tree for them. One daughter stood out, Hannah Everett, and sure enough, she married a William Ferris and they had a daughter Sarah Ferris, born 8 October 1826 in Stoke Damerel, Devon.
All the pieces suddenly fell together and I had most of Sarah’s life before me.
She married a Mr Trezise sometime in the late 1840’s, they had a child Francis Trezise, born 1849 in Torpoint, Cornwall. But the husband dies and Sarah shacks up with William Henry Rogers, they have a child, also William Henry, around November 1850, born in Torpoint. In the 1851 census, Sarah is living by herself, earning a living as a dressmaker, in Stoke Damerel, but soon marries William in early 1852, also in Stoke Damerel.
They go on to have a number of children and later take on the Richmond Walk Inn, in Devonport.
It’s not known when Sarah died, but it was after 1901, as she makes it in the 1901 census living with one of her children.
The next task was to find a direct descendant. The first trees I had found online weren’t well researched and weren’t descendants of Sarah, but I eventually found a lady’s tree who was a direct descendant of Sarah’s daughter Kate. Furthermore, the owner seemed to have a healthy interest in family history, having uploaded a number of their own photos to the tree.
So I sent a message.
‘I have a bit of an odd story for you, but I’m sure you’ll find it quite exciting!’
A few days later I received a reply.
‘Wow! A really wonderful story to hear and yes I am more than excited!
Your timing is perfect, only last week we were on holiday with my father (he’s 72 this weekend and is Sarah’s great-grandson) and we were talking about this part of his family and how we would like to know more about them. He and his sister will be absolutely thrilled about this book…’
When reaching out to strangers, it can cross your mind that they won’t value the item, but I was so pleased to find that the family realised how important the book is.
My cousin was ecstatic and so relieved that the book she saved, finally got to go home!
Still holding out that one day something similar will happen to me!
If you’d like to flick through the book, it’s been digitised here.