I have been doing genealogy since my teens. It has gotten much, much easier in recent days, as more and more records are scanned and available on line. One upon a time you had to send to England for copies of hopeful extracts from parish records, now you can look at the records on your home computer and print them off immediately if they pertain to your ancestor.
You only get little peeks into the lives of your ancestors, but sometimes those peeks are fascinating. For example, I think parts of the life of Thomas Mosses, my great, great, grand-father would make an interesting novel.
Thomas was born in 1799, and worked in London, England as a wood engraver. Back then, wood engraving was the way to illustrate books, and there are still a lot of books in libraries (or for sale on google!) that he contributed to. On some records, he’s listed as an artist, on others he’s listed as a wood engraver or just engraver. He appears to have lived a rather ‘romantic’ life!
In 1820, when Thomas was 20 or so, he married Ann Walker, who was a couple years older than him, at the parish church in Islington. The next place he shows up in on the bapismal record of a pair of boys in 1824: Thomas Alexander and William George. They could have been twins, but more likely, Thomas just liked to get this task done efficiently. The next baptism for Thomas and Ann was for Isabella in 1826. Then things get interesting.
April 3, 1831 Ann is buried. She is about 35 years old.
In 1835 , there are two baptisms where Thomas is the father. George, son of Thomas and Ann, and Harriet son of Thomas and Elizabeth. More searching revealed Thomas, widower, married Elizabeth Rogers January 1932 at St. Anne Limehouse. It is not good for man to be alone, as the Good Book says.
It doesn’t look like he was alone much, though. According to the records, on July 7, 1831 Thomas Alexander died, but on the same day daughter Ann was born. On the baptismal certificate (June 1837, but her birthday is recorded) Ann was born to Thomas the engraver and Mary Mosses at a parish a little out of the way from where the normal family baptisms were done. Mary?! Still no sign of a marriage certificate for Thomas and Mary, but if baby Ann was born in July 1831, she was likely conceived in October 1830, and Ann the wife was still around. A little cheeky to name the illegitimate child after the wife you were cheating on, isn’t it?
His wife Elizabeth died July 1836. He married again, to Sarah, who was about 30. Presumeably that was in 1837
Thomas Sr. was buried March 1844. He was only 45 years old. He left an interesting legacy in artistic expression, and baptismal records!
Almost a year after his death, in February 1845, Thomas Sr shows up in the church records again as another pair of his kids are baptized. Another son Thomas, who was born to Thomas and Elizabeth in April 1835, and Sarah Ann, born to Thomas and Sarah in 1838.
Sarah lived a rather long life, dying in 1867. Elizabeth’s children had long lives, and son Thomas, who was my great-grandfather, offers many of his own mysteries. Ann’s children fared the worst. Isabella died in the workhouse at 24 years. I’m not sure whether George or William George lived to adulthood.
Just these little snippets suggest a very interesting stories unfolding, don’t they? A whole book could happen just in 1830-31.
In Diana Gabaldon’s Voyager, Claire remembers her love left in 18th century Scotland, and her return to his time:
He had been fixed in my memory for so long, glowing but static, like an insect frozen in amber. And then had come Roger’s brief historical sightings, like peeks through a key hold; separate pictures like punctuations, alterations, adjustments of memory, each showing the dragonfly’s wings or lowered at a different angle, like the single frames of a motion picture. Now time had begun to run again for us, and the dragonfly was in flight before me, flickering from place to place, so I saw little more yet than the glitter of its wings. (p. 338)
I am peeking through keyholes, but I would love to see these wings fly!