Going…..going…..gone.

isaac  churchgate 003

These two photos are of the same grave, taken a few years apart. It is sad to see how the elements have weathered the sandstone, leaving the inscription almost illegible. Fortunately my mum and I recorded it many years ago, but if we had tried to do that now I think it would be almost impossible. This particular headstone is a good example of how much information can be lost if we don’t get to it before the weather does.

This is the last resting place of Isaac and his sister Rebecca. Although you can no longer read most of the inscription on the stone it used to tell us that Isaac was 21 when he died in 1829. It also informed us that Rebecca was married to William Hilder, she left one surviving son and she also died in 1829. The parents of the 2 siblings had arranged for the stone to be put up and they had also put their own names on it.

From this information we were able to find a baptism for Isaac in a nearby village, and those of all his siblings……except Rebecca. So if she hadn’t of been mentioned on the headstone we wouldn’t have know she existed. But she did exist, so we tracked down her marriage – 1828 in Brighton, Sussex. This is many miles away from where she had lived with her family. Had some kind soul not transcribed the record and put it on a cd we wouldn’t have found it.

The last sighting of Rebecca at this time is of her entry in the burial register, under her married surname.

The problem here is that the siblings were born and died before 1837, this is the year that the recording of births, deaths and marriages became compulsory in England and Wales. Details were (supposed to be!) collected locally and transferred to a central register -at the General Register Office. Because of this act we are able to search for our ancestors easily as the details appear on various websites and usually we find what are looking for – although sometimes it takes a while, but don’t we all get that glowing feeling of satisfaction when we find that elusive marriage?

And because Isaac and Rebecca lived and died before 1841 they don’t appear on a census return.

So what can we do about ancestors who died before this? how can we find out more about them? Well we can look locally at Parish records from before 1837, we can search old newspapers for family notices or in Rebecca’s case we can try and find her husband and child in the 1841 census to see what became of them.

But……..

we can only do this if we know about them.

Having finally tracked down Mr William Hilder in 1841 we found he had married again and had several more children with his new wife. Rebecca’s 12 year old son was living with his father and stepmother, of course no mention was made of his deceased mother.

So without the information this headstone had provided us with at one time we wouldn’t have known about Rebecca or her marriage and child.  Quite possibly anyone researching backwards from themselves to Rebecca’s son wouldn’t know his real mother or her family, not without the help of that little bit of knowledge from her headstone.

Headstones can sometimes be an important resource that may be able to provide us with information we wouldn’t find anywhere else.

So where were we….

Like many people I like a quiet walk through a churchyard, I like to explore the old stones and sometimes take note of a name or two and see what I can find out about them. About 15 years ago I was walking around a Sussex churchyard with my mum and the thought occurred to us …why not record some of these stones? many of the memorials were from the early 1800s and were rapidly falling victim to weather – the soft sandstone losing the lettering once carved into it. So we began to spend our spare time there, on hands and knees with paper and pens (yes it was in the days before Tablets!) and in all weathers, desperately trying to read inscriptions that were terribly faint and almost illegible.

In the end we recorded well over a thousand headstones. It was a very difficult project, we didn’t get it right in some cases but we tried our best, visiting local archives to try and get as many names and dates right as possible.  We purchased death certificates, read obituaries in local papers dating back to Victorian times. But it was great, and we had fun doing it. When complete we felt we had achieved something, and many people who had long since gone were remembered and now have become like old friends to us, albeit some of them probably have the odd chuckle at my expense about that ant incident.

One nice part of our project was the people we met, both in person and online. We received photos of Edwardians now residing in our churchyard whose families had since emigrated, we were able to help people find long lost ancestors buried in a church miles away from where they should have been and we learnt a lot about the history of the area and its people.

So back to the name of the blog…. One of the oldest headstones we recorded had the rather sad inscription ‘Seized by death and prisoners made, three infant children’ and I was intrigued……..