Happy New Year!

New Year’s Day might be widely celebrated as the beginning of a year, but to many it also represents another occasion too – births, deaths, marriages, baptisms….

So here comes 2012! How do you see in a New Year?

Whilst still just another 24 hours, looking back it has played a role in a range of historic events in my family. Here’s a list of some of them.

On this day: 1st January..

  • 1815Sarah Yarrow was baptised at Little Thetford, Cambridgeshire.
  • 1890Thomas Kempton Yarrow married Kate Sarah Kempton at St Mary’s Church, Ely, Cambridgeshire.
  • 1898Eliza Freeman married Arthur Digance at Coveney, Cambridgeshire.
  • 1921Leonard Arthur Barber was born in Witchford, Cambridgeshire.
  • 1986 – Sidney Albert Fitch dies aged 77 years.

Has someone in your family tree marked New Year’s Day for a different reason other than a new year?

Surname Saturday: Dunham

The DUNHAM family of Witchford, Cambridgeshire is the subject of today’s Geneabloggers SURNAME SATURDAY meme.

This week’s Surname Saturday post focuses on research I’ve been doing today. This morning I found my link to two new maternal family names, one of which is Dunham (the other is Foreman), so I’ve been typing this entry all day, covering the amount of information that I’ve uncovered in just a few hours.

Witcham church
Witcham parish church, Cambridgeshire, has seen a mixture of building extensions through the years, and more recently removal of headstones to ‘make the grass cutting easier’!

My connection to the Dunham tree happens in Witcham, Cambridgeshire in 1815 when John Hawkins married Jane Dunham. These two people were to become my Gt x 5 Grandparents, with my ancestry following down through their daughter Sarah Hawkins.

John Hawkins, who was illiterate at the time of their 1815 marriage, worked as a labourer. He was born about 1796 in Witcham.

Jane Dunham, who could at least sign her name in 1815, was born in about 1793. At the time of the marriage, the Banns and Marriage entries state that they were ‘otp’ (of this parish), however no trace of Jane could be found in the church records until the Banns.

The censuses

Having found the 1841 census entry for John and Jane, along with their growing brood of children (they had eight in all), the shortcomings of the 1841 census was unable to tell me which village Jane was actually from.

The 1851 census revealed the clue – it was Witchford – a village I have personally had connections to all my life, and in fact I was named after it (it’s St Andrew, although I wasn’t fortunate to be named the ‘Saint’ bit… yet). It’s one where several other of my ancestral families have lived and still do, and many of my ancestors and relatives have been buried.

Witchford, Cambridgeshire
St Andrew’s Church at Witchford, Cambridgeshire, home to yet another ancestral name.

With this piece of information I was able to rummage through the Witchford Parish Register and found Jane’s baptism in January 1794. Her parents were given as William and Alice Dunham.

The family grows

I then looked to see if this Jane had any siblings – with a rummage either side of her own baptism. I found four other siblings – 3 sisters and 1 brother. Having gauged the range of the births, I then crossed my fingers and looked for a William and Alice marriage.

There it was! William Dunham married Alice Foreman in Witchford in June 1789.

Next up was the burials. Another rummage revealed what seemed like an unfortunate picture:

  • William Dunham – he appears to have died in 1844, outliving all but his daughter Jane.
  • Alice Dunham (née Foreman) – died age 52 in 1821.
    • Elizabeth Dunham – the oldest, born in 1790. She died weeks later.
    • Alice Dunham – Born abt 1791, died in 1800.
    • Jane Dunham – my descendant, born 1793 – married John Hawkins.
    • William Dunham – Born abt 1797, appears to have died in 1799.
    • Rebecca Dunham – Born 1799, died 1800.

From this, it appears that after marrying Alice, they both have undergone insurmountable pain and heartache by outliving all of their children apart from my ancestor, Jane Dunham.

There’s no indication as to why the children died – disease? prematurity? harsh conditions? malnutrition? The possibilities could be anything at this period in history where life expectancy for adults wasn’t as it is today, and infant mortality rates were still high.

The Baby and The Hornet

After giving birth to an illegitimate son, Sarah Dewey left for Australia aboard The Hornet.

A family rumour finally unravels into a story of difficult choices.

Years ago I recall being told about a story in my maternal Dewey family from Witchford, Cambridgeshire, that, although rather scant on details, was essentially a story of emigration and how its impact ‘broke up’ the family that were left behind.

Having researched the Dewey family group in which it was believed to have occurred, I had found nothing. No sign of anyone leaving for foreign shores, other than those in the First World War.

I gave up looking. Perhaps it was just an idle rumour with an element of ‘Chinese whispers’.

However, it was a message from fellow researcher and distant relative Craig Watson who gave me the piece of information that I needed – his ancestor had emigrated, and he had found one of my ancestors in the passenger lists.

The Baby

In 1856, 18 year old Sarah Dewey gave birth to a son. She was not married. Just days after he turned six months old, she left for Australia without him.

I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for Sarah, my Great Great Great Grandmother to decide to hand her son (my Great Great Grandfather) over to her ageing parents and leave everything behind to start a new life in Australia in the mid nineteenth century.

An illegitimate child brought with it a significant stigma. Not just for the mother, but also for the child, who would find it hard to escape from the negativity from the disapproving society around them. Illegitimate children were often brought up by their grandparents – making them appear to be a sibling to their own mother, or the mother would soon marry in a bid to avoid the ‘shame’ of being an unmarried mother.

As for the baby, John Freeman Dewey – my Great Great Grandfather, he married Elizabeth Boulter, a seamstress of the neighbouring village of Wentworth, and also a single mother. Together they went on to have nine children.

The Hornet

Hornet, an American clipper ship of the 1850s
Hornet, an American clipper ship of the 1850s

Perhaps Sarah knew that her son John Freeman Dewey would stand a better chance in England with his grandparents, rather than with her on a lengthy voyage at sea to an uncertain future in a ‘new’ country?

Was Sarah running away? Had she faced problems in England and thought that a new life was the best thing? Had she fallen out with her parents? Unless letters miraculously appear, I guess I’ll never know.

On 24th May 1857, Sarah boarded “The Hornet” – a clipper which was well known for its speed. Sarah is noted as ‘government assisted’. She arrived in Hobson’s Bay on Wednesday 2nd September, according to the ‘Shipping Intelligence’ column in The Argus newspaper.

I’ve found no record of her activities whilst in Australia – so far there’s no clue as to what she did, who she met, or whether she wrote home to her parents and son.

Her younger sister, Rebecca Dewey, followed Sarah out on an 87 day voyage aboard the ‘Commodore Perry’ to Australia in 1859, but unlike Sarah, Rebecca stayed in Australia. She married a Cornwall-born Joseph Kendall and settled with him in Geelong with a family of eight children. It is from her, that researcher and distant relative Craig Watson descends.

Coming Home

Something made Sarah return to her family in Witchford in 1861, just missing the census, aboard the “Donald McKay” clipper. Perhaps it was her mother’s ailing health that made her return?

Her mother, Mary (née Tabraham) died in 1866 although I do not currently know her cause of death. Her father re-married to widow Isabel Watson in 1878, and Sarah herself finally settles down to marry at 42 years old, to widower John Gooby in 1879.

Sarah died in 1896, just weeks before the birth of my Great Grandfather.

Further Reading: