I found this funeral card in a box of odds and ends at a boot sale. I thought it looked interesting so I bought it and took it home. Later that evening I sat down to see what I could find out about Samuel. This is where my troubles started. I began by looking on the census for Samuel, and I was really lucky to find him aged just 7 days old on the 1861 census. This doesn’t happen too often to be honest, usually I find people that are born in a census year are born just after it was taken, so I have to miss out a whole 10 years of their lives until I can find them on the next one. Even more annoying is when people pass away in a census year just before a census is taken- especially if this is the 1911 census which is oh sooo interesting, although now I am thinking about it perhaps the most
thoughtless unhelpful people are those who are widowed but marry again just before a census so have a different name as well as changing the surname of all their children to their new spouses name ( I can hear Kristoff now … you got engaged to someone you JUST met?!*) anyway I digress…
Back to Samuel, born in Hackney, East London he was the son of Fanny and Charles Billson and he was one of 11 children. His dad Charles was a Pianoforte Maker, and when I saw this I thought oh that sounds interesting. So I began reading up on Victorian piano makers thinking Mr Billson probably had his own factory, maybe had his name engraved on metal plaques inside each of his pianos etc etc when I discovered that just because someone has the job title pianoforte maker doesn’t necessarily mean he actually made the piano. He could have just made part of it. He could have put the strings inside or put the legs on or polished the lid. But what I did discover a census or two later was his eldest son was a Pianoforte Maker Journeyman, i.e he had made it to the top of his trade and probably did a lot more than fit the keys. And it may be that his dad did too but I had spent so long reading up on the piano business that I hadn’t found out.
Back to Samuel. Again. In April 1871 Samuel’s father died and by December 1872 his mother had married again. I found the family living together in 1881 and noticed a small addition to the household. A 5 year old girl named Minnie, and although she had the same surname as the head of household she was listed as an orphan. So I wondered where she had come from, I searched for her birth, I looked for her parents, her christening, I tried to find her in a workhouse. I found nothing to help me trace her start in life. I found her in 2 more censuses the 1891 with the once again widowed Fanny and a last glimpse of her in 1911, aged 34 and alone in the workhouse. I could have cried for her.
I think this has been a good example of how fascinating researching the past can be, and how easy it is to go off on a tangent and totally forget what you were trying to do in the first place.
I feel bad for Samuel. I had all good intentions of researching him, and I suppose to some extent I have done. He grew up, got married and had 9 or 10 children. He lived and died in East London. He became a Bootmaker and later on in life a window cleaner. But in a way by having a peek into his life we have learnt a little about some of the people around him so I thank you for that Samuel.
I would still like to know more about the little orphan though……
*For those fortunate enough not to have seen the movie Frozen this is a quote from it. To those of you have seen Frozen apologies for starting THAT song off in your head. Again.