Welcome to the fascinating world of genealogy. When I first started my search many years ago, I had no idea where my adventure would lead. I now know people in the US and Canada, and in Australia who are all linked to my tree. I have ancestors who were transported for trivial offenses and others who packed up and emigrated to look for a better life.
I always felt a bit sorry for the ancestor who was sent to the penal colony in Australia. He was a baker by trade, and was sentenced at Newcastle Quarter Sessions to 14 years transportation for ‘receiving wheat, knowing it to have been stolen.’ Rather harsh, as he didn’t actually steal it himself. Once their sentence was up, the convicts were not brought back to the UK and most of them stayed on. Our chap however was one of the few who returned, so will have either worked in Australia to save enough to buy passage back, or would have worked his way back as crew on the returning ship. We know he came back because while he was away his sister had died at the age of 24 and he later erected a memorial stone for her. The inscription included the statement that it had been erected by her brother ‘on his return to his native land after many years spent abroad.’ I suppose that was one way of describing it.
One thing that fascinates me is how our circumstances can change how life turns out. I found this with the sister of my great great grandfather. She had a child out of wedlock, and 5 years later married someone who was very unlikely to have been the father of the first child. They had 3 children of the marriage and in 1832 emigrated to start a new life in Canada, with their 3 children, leaving her illegitimate child with the elderly grandparents. The children living in Canada went on to do well, and made good marriages. The families bought land and farmed; doing so well that by the next generation two of them were in the habit of spending their winters in Florida to escape the harsh Canadian winter. The girl who was left behind had an illegitimate daughter of her own; married a labourer who later became a miner, lived in poor conditions in a mining village and possibly took to drink. She died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 50. It’s the background information that turns names and dates into a family story.
You never know what will turn up in the search, and there will possibly be a few skeletons fall out of the closet, but things that were viewed as shameful by our ancestors we readily accept now. Equally we may feel they acted harshly or irresponsibly, but we should not judge them as we don’t know the circumstances they found themselves in. The thing is to remember these were different times and life was hard for the working class.
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