Finding Uncle Malcolm

A newly-discovered uncle reveals a sad premature infant death, and a quest to locate his unmarked burial plot.

Six months ago, as I walked with my mother from the freshly dug grave of my paternal uncle, and the funeral party began to disperse, my mother told me that this was not the first uncle buried in that particular cemetery.

I was confused.

Lawn Lane Cemetery, Little Downham
Little Downham Cemetery has seen burials since the 1870s, and lots of my family are here.

She went on to tell me that my aunt (her sister-in-law) had been on the phone from the US, and had talked about how there was another sibling, a little boy called Malcolm, who died when he was young, and she was just a teenager.

This was the first time I’d ever heard of such a person, and I’d researched for years to find generations of relatives, and didn’t really know how to feel about having one so close, yet so ‘lost’.

The following day I checked for baby Malcolm in the GRO indexes, which handily now include the mother’s maiden name. Sure enough, there he was – Malcolm Paul Martin, born 5th April 1958. I realised that without this maiden name, I’d never have spotted him.

Unlike the rest of the siblings, I’d never have independently spotted him without that maiden name, which in turn led me to see that Malcolm was born in a different district – rather than in Ely, he was born in Newmarket. An odd choice for a family living within 5 miles of Ely.

Whilst there’s little else of interest on the birth certificate, the death certificate reveals much more.

Again, I would never have spotted him, as this time he’s registered as having died in Cambridge… and not just that.. Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge.

The death certificate goes on to say that he died aged 2 weeks, and gives the cause of death as “1(a) Pneumonia, 11. Prematurity congenital abnormalities Hair Lip.”

Cause of death of premature baby in 1958
Malcolm’s death certificate reveals he stood little chance at life.

This was my grandparents’ final child. They were now in her early 40s, and their oldest child had been born almost 21 years previously. With his prematurity, his cleft lip (as it’s now called), and the striking blow of pneumonia, it meant that poor little Malcolm stood no chance. Being born prematurely in 1950s would have been hard enough, but not being able to take in those vital early nutrients due to problems with his cleft lip would have made him weaker, and he’d be weakened enough to stand no chance against pneumonia.

Premature baby care has advanced dramatically since, as has cleft lip surgery, and I know that the NHS deal with cases like Malcolm’s over and over again, and I’m sure that the outcome is more favourable these days. Malcolm never came home, and so my father’s memory of him is missing. I find that very saddening.

My aunt’s phone call, which is ahead of her visit in June, prompted me to try to locate his burial. She thought she remembered that he was buried in Little Downham cemetery, and so I decided to find out.

I made contact with the team at St. Leonard’s Church (the cemetery is attached to the church), and they were able to put me in contact with the Clerk of the cemetery records. I’ve been in this cemetery a lot. There’s loads of my relatives there, many with headstones, and many without. I knew I’d not seen a headstone for a Malcolm Martin, as I’d have noted it down – and at that time, the attitude to infant deaths was different even then, and the cost to erect a headstone would have been a chunk of the family’s much-needed income.

On Saturday I met with the Clerk and he, with the burial book in hand, led me to where he thought the grave site was. Whilst the cemetery had originally started recording burials in the 1870s with a nice plot map and clear notes (like Ely cemetery a few miles away), apparently they soon gave up, and reverted to a list. This means some detective work was needed in order to work out the most likely location.

After looking at the burials listed before and after Malcolm’s, we felt that we’d found the plot, particularly as the burial immediately before his had a headstone still standing.

Child gravestones at Little Downham
The most likely location of Malcolm’s grave – to the right of the low-lying middle grave by the path.

So, as today would have been the 59th birthday of my Uncle Malcolm (still feels weird saying that), I feel that I can put him in my thoughts and welcome him into my family where he belongs, and kind of wish him a Happy Birthday too.

Surname Saturday: GIDDINGS

Surname Saturday – it’s the turn of the Giddings family from Fleet, Lincolnshire and later from March, Cambridgeshire.

My Giddings ancestry from Lincolnshire and later from Cambridgeshire provides me with one of my favourite photographs in my collection.

Elizabeth Giddings (1831-19??)

At some point between October 1791 and December 1793 my 5x Great Grandparents Thomas Giddings and his wife Rebecca (née Watson) left the village of Fleet on the border of Lincolnshire and brought their family of at most 3 children to March, Cambridgeshire.

By 1798 the couple had grown the family to 5 children with the youngest, Daniel Watson Giddings (my Gt x4 grandfather) having been born that year.

The Giddings family appear to have been Baptists, attending The Providence Baptist Church in March – this is certainly the place of many of their appearances in parish records.

Illegitimacy

In 1852, my Gt x3 Grandmother Elizabeth Giddings (pictured) gave birth to my Gt x2 Grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth Giddings. This must have been a real test for both Elizabeth and Sarah as illegitimacy was heavily frowned upon during this period and both mother and child would have bore the weight of the ‘disgust’ of the community they lived in. Elizabeth would have been encouraged to marry. Despite this, Elizabeth remained unmarried for another 10 years, finally marrying a Charles Lincoln from Potton, Bedfordshire in 1862. Together they had a daughter, Jane.

Tragedy

Sarah Elizabeth married my Gt x2 Grandfather James Martin from Little Downham, Cambridgeshire and the couple settled down to rear a family of 13 children. Sarah must have been as tough as her mother, as she saw six of her children plus a son-in-law and daughter-in-law all go to the grave in her lifetime. One son died as an infant, another was killed when he fell from a horse as a working child. She then lost a daughter and son-in law, and two sons as a result of the First World War. I’m unsure of the cause of death for one of her daughters and her daughter-in-law. All in all, Sarah and her family suffered terrible losses.

Sarah died just five years after her mother in 1925, aged 72 years at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.

New season of Littleport Society meetings announced.

I’ve just received the latest edition of The Littleport Society magazine, so thought i’d share the event info with you that covers the next few months. I’ve been a member of the society for years now and they are exceptionally helpful.

2009

  • 1st September: Alan Litshel – “Bottles 1870-1920”
  • 6th October: Hilary Ritchie – “History of nursing at Addenbrookes Hospital”
  • 3rd November: Malcolm Gaskill – “The Devil in Cambridgeshire – the witch hunting campaign 1645-1647”
  • 1st December : Iain Harvey – Christmas organ concert (in St George’s Church)

2010

  • 5th January: Tessa West – ‘Companion to Owls – life of a Huguenot family in the fens in the 1600s’
  • 2nd February: AGM and member’s short talks
  • 2nd March: Gordon Easton – ‘Growing up in the fens – a humble tiller of the soil’
  • 6th April: Bill Wittering – History of the Royal Mail
  • 4th May: Peter Carter – The Last of the Eel Catchers
  • 1st June: Gerald Siviour – East Anglia Railways – the last 50 years.
  • 6th July: Mike Petty – ‘Fenland History on your computer – the library on your laptop’

All meetings are held on the first Tuesday of each month (except for August when there are no meetings) at 7.30pm at the Village Hall, Victoria Street, Littleport, Cambridgeshire. Non-members are welcome.

Please note that events/talks are subject to change.