Thursday 21 January 2016

#4 Charles Holland Sheaf - A Long Way from Home.

Not all our Sheaf ancestors stayed in the Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire area of England. Some ventured much further afield to other outposts of the Empire. One such traveller was Great Aunt Lou's older brother Charles Holland Sheaf.

Charles was born in the Cleeve Prior area in 1829, the third last child of William Harbidge Sheaf and Mary Tomes Holland. He was baptised in the August of that year at Welford on Avon.

Our next record of Charles is in the first English census in 1841. He is living at home on the family farm at Bickmarsh. His father was by this time dead so I guess that Charles would have been required to help out, along side his older brothers. It is unlikely that at 12 years old he would still have been attending school.

At some stage in the next 10 years Charles took the huge step of moving away from home and family. I don't know what prompted him to leave England, what route he took or even when he actually went; but I do know that he ended up in Wellington, South Africa. Today, Wellington is the centre of a prosperous fruit and wine growing region about 75 km from Cape Town; but in the 1850s I imagine it was pretty much a frontier town on the edges of the British Empire.  It was here that he died in 1851.

According to the documentation of his death, he was working as a police constable at Wellington. At only 22 years and 4 months, about 10 000 km from his home and family, he died alone in " a hired chamber near the lock up house at Wellington. His only possessions were "his clothes, a stretcher and mattress, a chair and one month's pay £3. "

Whether the news of his death eventually made it home or not I don't know. Certainly the document of his death accurately shows his parents' names and his place of birth, but by 1851 both his parents were already dead. Such a lonely way for a young life to end.

Saturday 16 January 2016

#3 Louisa Sheaf - Great Aunt by name, great Aunt by nature.

Great Aunt Lou was something of a legend in the Sheaf family, both at Honeybourne in England and in Australia. Although having no husband or children of her own, she was firmly enmeshed in the daily lives of those around her and a personage of some importance!

Louisa Sheaf was the youngest child of William Harbidge Sheaf and Mary Tomes Holland, my 3 x great grandparents. She was born in 1835 and had 10 older siblings. Her father was a farmer at Bickmarsh in the parish of Welford on Avon. When Louisa was only 2 her father died suddenly. According to a distant family connection Ian Tomes in England, who has a large collection of Tomes family documents and memorabilia, he drowned at Weston Lock in the Avon river. I have not yet been able to confirm this from documentary sources, but he certainly died intestate, which does rather suggest a sudden death.

Louisa's mother Mary must have been an amazing woman as she carried on the family farming business until her death in 1846; as well as providing for her large family.

After her baptism at Welford on Avon in 1835, the next record I have for Louisa is in the 1841 census. At only 6 years of age, she was living with a cousin's family in Badsey. John Sheaf, his wife Sarah and their grown up daughter Margaret had three little children living with them, and it appears from the 1840 Bentley's History and Directory of the Borough of Evesham that Sarah and Margaret ran a small preparatory school for infant children.

In 1851, Louisa was living and working in Northampton as an apprentice to a distributor of religious tracts! Apparently, Northampton was considered fertile ground for the Baptist movement and prodigious amounts of tracts were distributed weekly in a well organized and systematic mission.

 I don't know how long Louisa remained with the Cooper family in Northampton, but by 1861 she had moved again and was working for a Jewish family, the Myers, in Edgbaston, Warwickshire. This was to be a long lasting relationship for Louisa who remained with the Myers family for at least 20 years as a domestic servant and then a nurse domestic. Maurice Myers, his wife Mathilda and their children must have come to greatly love Louisa, as in the 1901 census she is visiting Mathilda at the home of her daughter Lella Samuels in Hampstead and is described as "friend". Another Myers child, Leopold, was eventually the executor of Louisa's will after her death in 1932 at the age of 98.

Interestingly, Louisa's impact on the Myers family possibly had far reaching consequences for many people in the broader community. In 1913, Leopold Myers gifted a country house at Cleeve Prior for use as a convalescent home for women. The home was known as The Gertrude Myers Convalescent Home, in memory of his own wife. Both Gertrude and Leopold had been directors of the Birmingham Hospital for Women and realized that a convalescent home providing fresh air, good food and rest could make a huge difference to the recovery of patients, especially for working women who might otherwise not get an opportunity to recuperate in peace and quiet. I can only imagine that Leopold's many years of association with Louisa, a perfect example of a hard working women, were instrumental in his choice of Cleeve Prior as the site for his charitable project.

As an unmarried woman of limited means, it appears that Louisa didn't ever have a home of her own. Once she had finished working for the Myers family, she lived with various relatives. In 1891 she was living with her much older brother Thomas Holland Sheaf, my 2 x great-grandfather and then in the 1911 census, she was recorded as living with her niece by marriage Kate Sheaf (Careless) at Sunnyside, Cleeve Prior. She also featured in stories of life at Honeybourne as told to my father by his mother and grandmother, as she was an aunt to both my great grandfather George Cornelius Sheaf and my great grandmother Louisa Sheaf. It is in fact quite likely that great grandmother Louisa was named for her.

Once great grandma Louisa emigrated to Australia leaving her husband and step-children behind, she kept in touch with her dear Aunt Lou.
I have a very short letter from Great-Aunt Lou to her niece Louisa in which she says:

"Just a line to wish you may have a Happy Bday and that you may spend many others and under much more happy circumstances. I am giving you a purse with initials which was given to me but which I have never used and which I hope you will accept with my love and best wishes for the coming season. A very Happy Xmas and a much brighter New Year when it comes. Aunt Lou."

I think this photo, taken at Honeybourne in 1921 on the occasion of a family wedding encapsulates what was probably a delicate position for Great Aunt Lou: biological aunt to both Louisa Sheaf on her right and Louisa's husband George Cornelius Sheaf on her left - caught in the middle of a difficult marriage with family loyalty going both ways.

To my mind, Louisa was the ultimate great Aunt. She supported herself from a very young age through hard work; she had the ability to build positive relationships with those around her and she lived to a great old age, becoming something of a legend in the process. Her headstone in the churchyard of Cleeve Prior simply reads "Oh Rest in the Lord". And rest is what I think she deserved after such a long and busy life. Here's to Great Aunt Lou!

Thursday 7 January 2016

#2 Emlin Holland - A Name for All Time.

When I first started looking at the family tree, this was a name that jumped out at me. I love the name Emlin - it seems romantic and slightly other worldly. I have never known anyone named Emlin and one of my research goals was to look at where this name might have come into the family.

Emlin Holland was baptised on 3rd June 1800 in the parish church of Mickleton in Gloucestershire. Her parents were Thomas Kemble Holland and Mary Tomes (my 4 x great-grandparents). She was one of 10 children and fell right in the middle of the family.

In 1816, she married Cotterell Corbett a tanner, at Church Honeybourne. They settled at Lichfield in Staffordshire where, in 1822, they began their own family. Their first child, named Emlin for her mother, only lived a few days but between 1823 and 1829, another five children were born; the last being another Emlin Holland to carry on the name.

In 1830 Cotterell Corbett died in Lichfield and was buried back at Lower Quinton where his branch of the family originated from. How Emlin managed for the next few years I am not sure, but in 1835 she married again, this time to a distant relative of Cotterell's; a farmer by the name of George Sheaf. George was a son of Samuel Sheaf and Sarah Harbidge and the older brother of Charles Sheaf from last week's post.

Between 1836 and 1842 Emlin and George had four sons, William, George, John Holland and Samuel. Along with some of the children from Emlin's first marriage, the family lived and worked on a farm at Marlcliff, near Bidford on Avon.

In 1852, just before her death, this very early Ambrotype was made of Emlin. According to a distant family connection in England, in a letter to my Aunty Thea, it was taken in the front doorway of the farmhouse at Marlcliff. 
He says " one can just see her key ring, which we still have, with her name on it - Emeline Corbett - Lichfield"

And as for the name Emlin, I have traced it back through her family line to Emlin Winchester, born abt 1612 in Ascott-Under-Wychwood in Oxfordshire; the sister of our direct ancestor Anne Winchester. It appears in various spellings as Emlin, Emlyn, Emeline, Emmaline and survived in the family naming traditions for 400 years! 

Saturday 2 January 2016

#1 Charles Sheaf - Miller to Madness

The fascination of family research is not in the names and dates, but for me, the stories behind the facts. The story of Charles Sheaf, my 4x great-uncle is a perfect example.

Charles was the youngest son of my 4 x great grandparents Samuel Sheaf and Sarah Harbidge. He was baptised at Bidford on Avon in 1801. Curiously, his baptism is also recorded in the register, on the same date, in the church at Wolston in Warwickshire. The two parishes appear to have been sharing a clergyman who wanted to make sure he didn't miss a soul!

In 1825 Charles married a young woman called Mary Lunn. They were married in the parish of Norton and Lenchwick. In the next year, 1826, their first son Charles was born and baptised at Norton and Lenchwick. Charles senior was described as 'miller of Harvington Mill' in the baptism entry but sadly this same year, he was also declared a bankrupt ' dealer and chapman'. The business and all the families associated goods and chattels were put up for auction. How difficult this must have been for a young family embarking on their new life together, with the added pressure of a child to take care of.

By 1827, the family had moved to Hanley in Staffordshire, where 4 more boys were born, only one of whom survived past the age of 5. How Charles was supporting his growing family, I have not been able to find out; but in about 1834 the family moved again, this time to Birmingham where the family grew in size to include another son Robert and two daughters. The 1841 census has the family residing in Christ Church Passage in Birmingham and Charles is employed as a 'commercial agent.' Presumably this is some kind of salesman.
Between 1842 and 1846 four more children were added to the family, but then disaster struck.

Just a couple of months before the baptism of the last baby, Stephen Peter, Charles was admitted to a provincial lunatic asylum somewhere in Warwickshire, as a pauper. To compound the tragedy poor Mary died in 1849 and this young family was left effectively orphaned. In 1850 Charles was again admitted to an asylum, this time at Haydock Lodge in Lancashire and by the 1851 census, he had been moved to an asylum in Birmingham where he appears to stay until April 1855.

The children by this stage were scattered. Eldest son Charles had married in 1847 and by 1851 had established himself as a printer with a business in New St, Birmingham. In the 1851 census his younger brother Robert was living with him as an errand boy and his younger sister Sarah, who was about 12, was also living with him and was attending school. Samuel (born in Hanley abt 1829) was living with his uncle George Lunn at Fladbury and working with him as Assistant Miller. Margaret Mary was attending the Blue Coat School in Birmingham as a charity student and baby of the family Kezia was housed at the Wanstead Infants Orphan Asylum.

 By 1861 Charles, who must have somewhat recovered from his mental illness, was living in Birmingham where he was described as a 'visitor' in the home of Catherine Bishop a retired Laundress. Charles was listed a 'printer' but he was not working with his son Charles, who had by this time, moved back to Hanley in Staffordshire and was working as a printer there. Maybe Charles senior took over the Birmingham business, but it may also have been wishful thinking as the census shows his age as being dramatically understated by about 20 years! Margaret Mary and Kezia both joined their brother Samuel with Uncle George Lunn at Fladbury. Margaret worked as a dressmaker and Kezia as a nurserymaid.

In 1868 there are further signs of Charles' mental deterioration. He posts odd advertisements in Birmingham papers for a pamphlet called "Trial Trip or The Way to Heaven". He also posts a poignant request for tidings of his son Charles the printer and Samuel 'believed to be in distant lands. Samuel was actually very distant by this stage, having died in 1865. Charles senior calls himself the proprietor of the 'Birmingham Medicated Dispensary and physician to the Press". In 1869, he was remanded for causing a public nuisance in New St, Birmingham. This was near where his son Charles had once had his printing business. The Ari's Birmingham Gazette printed an article about his court hearing, with a partial transcript. It appears from this that the police and the courts in Birmingham were very familiar with Charles and his ramblings. He was remanded for several days until he was less "excited' and then released.

By the time the 1871 census came around, Charles had moved to Aston, where he described himself as a 'dealer in pens and pencils'. The last information I have managed to find about Charles is a death record for a Charles Sheaf in 1879 at Macclesfield in Cheshire. I have sent away for his death certificate to confirm my theory, but I suspect his death to have occurred at the Cheshire County Asylum; a not surprising end to this sad life.

Edited 16 Jan 2016:
I have now received the death certificate for poor Charles and he did indeed die at the County Lunatic Asylum, Parkside, Macclesfield on 12th July 1879. His cause of death is recorded as general senile decay and congestion of the lungs.

52 in 52

This year I have challenged myself to write about one ancestor per week for the entire year. This may be overambitious but I sincerely hope I can make a decent job of it!

I have no particular criteria for the people I will choose. It may be that I find them interesting or perhaps I will simply document what I know about a mysterious ancestor in the hope that I will attract the attention of someone who knows more than I do! Sometimes I might choose an ancestor for whom I have solved a knotty research problem - always very satisfying don't you think?

Anyway, that being said, it is time to start.....