Sometimes genealogy can be a disappointing hobby. Take this week for instance. My mum and I have been researching our family tree for many years, and one particular branch has us stumped. No sooner do we think we have got somewhere when our ancestors laugh in our faces (possibly stick two fingers up at us too) and then do that annoying Ha-ha just like Nelson from the Simpsons.
First of all my mum received a Will she had ordered, it had mentioned the Executor as being one of our family. We could see no reason for this but of course on reading the Will all would be revealed and we would be able to work out everything that eluded us so far about this family. Oh we were excited, the Will would give us a clue that would lead us to the real baptism of great x many Grandad Francis Shearley. And there his dad would be waving to us outside the church beckoning us in to join the family for the baptism and learn all kinds of names and dates to add to the family tree.
What a let-down that Will was. It told us nothing we didn’t already know. And to add insult to injury Francis and his wife Maria didn’t even get left anything in it. And it cost my mum a tenner! – looking closer his dad obviously wasn’t ‘waving’ at us from outside the church. Ha-ha.
While waiting for this wonderful Will to arrive my mum found us a little diversion to keep us occupied.
My mums Grandma, Edith Shearley, had an older brother Frederick who, amongst his many children had a son named William.
William was born in Greenwich, London in 1889 and when he left school he started work at nearby Deptford Bridge Station as a parcel porter.
Every night after work he would return home to his parents house near Blackheath Common. Meanwhile a few minutes walk away lived Nellie Crowe a young woman from Tonbridge in Kent, who was working as a cook in a private house.
At some point in 1911 William and Nellie met and decided to get married. They were married in Lewisham in the spring of 1912 and errr, fairly soon after, their daughter Beatrice (named after Williams sister) was born. All good so far. However poor William died in 1915 leaving Nellie and Beatrice to fend for themselves. Nellie decided to move closer to home, and we next found her in Sevenoaks, Kent working at the station as a ticket collector.
Now all we really knew of Beatrice was that she died in 1917. We had to know why. We just had to. My mum scoured the newspapers of the time and found an obituary for the little girl.
Beatrice had lived in the Hip Hospital close to her home for a year and a half before her death. She was suffering from what was called ‘hip disease’. This was a very painful condition which caused inflamed joints, abscesses and could even dislocate bones. It is now believed to have possibly been a complication caused by tuberculosis. Many children died from hip disease and autopsies did show that some of them had TB deposits in their lungs.
After 16 months at the hospital Beatrice went home. It had become obvious that she didn’t have long to live and perhaps Nellie decided it would be for the best to take her daughter home and care for her there.
Beatrice was buried at the (then) fairly new cemetery near her home and as it is only about an hours drive away – via Marks & Sparks – we decided to go and find her. We were sure we would find her headstone and maybe it would help further our research.
Our outing was quite unusual, I managed to drive to the cemetery without getting too lost, we arrived to find not only was the cemetery office open but a kind soul was there to find the burial in the register and even walk us to the spot. My mum had forgotten her notebook and pen but not to worry I had my camera and …..
…..oh bugger, no headstone. Just a patch of grass, squished between two unrelated memorials. It must be the wrong place. Surely little Beatrice had a headstone? we walked around checking but no it was the right place. We stood there looking down at the grass, just where Nellie must have stood with her brother Percy and sister Alice beside her. Some of the nurses from the hospital had attended the funeral too so there would have been quite a crowd there.
It has left us with more unanswered questions. Beatrice seems to have no family buried close to her. None of her Shearley relatives attended her funeral. She has no memorial to mark her last resting place and yet someone purchased the grave for her. Arghhh!
So yes, it is sometimes a disappointing hobby, but then it is one that gives us great satisfaction when things do eventually slot into place.
In the meantime if you ever find a Francis Shearley please do tell him we are looking for him, and give him a little ‘wave’ from us won’t you.
In memory of Beatrice Shearley aged 5.