For about seven months now I have been researching my family tree through Ancestry.com and in that time I have been quite successful, tracing four lines (Hedges, Stevens, Jones and Sarjeant) back to the beginning of the nineteenth century and in some cases well beyond. I have exchanged emails with a second cousin in Canada (to whom I owe a great deal as regards his efforts with the Sarjeant tree), visited the graves of ancestors I never knew I had in Wales and, having visited the Menin Gate in Ypres a year ago, discovered that my great-great-uncle is commemorated upon it having been killed in the second battle of Ypres in 1915 (there may be a second great-great-uncle who died at the Somme, but until I receive his death certificate I cannot be certain). Having done all this and talked with both my 95 year old grandmothers about their respective childhoods, and having looked at various photographs, these people I have drawn from the past have come alive, but it was only at the end of last week, that the fact these were once real people became truly apparent.
The furthest I’ve gone back with the Stevens family is to a certain John Stevens, a tailor, who was born in Oxford around 1812. The Stevens side of the family (my maternal grandfather) came to Oxford in 1952 from Reading, so it was strange therefore to find that they’d originated in the twon where I was born. He had six children by his wife Charlotte; John (1837), Samuel (1839), Elizabeth (1843), Rosetta (1844), Henry (1846) and finally, my great-great-grandfather, Jabez (1848). Having turned my attention recently to those to whom I am not directly descended, i.e. the siblings of great-grandparents and so on, I decided to look at the eldest sibling in this family, John.
Born in 1837, I traced him through the censuses and discovered that in 1857 he married Emma Fisher and with her had seven children; Emma (1859), William (1861), Henry (1863), Mary (1865), John (1867), Martha (1869) and Kate (1871). All of these I found listed on the 1871 census along with their mother, but, there was no mention of the father John. I looked ahead to 1881 and while I couldn’t find Emma, I found her children and her husband, and it was here in this document that the whole tree assumed a much more tangible dimension. In 1881 John was listed as a Pauper Patient in the Berkshire County Moulsford Asylum (now Fair Mile Hospital). Why he was in there I couldn’t say, but next to his name was his trade ‘Tailor’ (the same as his father) and the word ‘lunatic’.
Suddenly, this man seemed more real than any of those I’d previously discovered; so for that matter did his wife and their children, after all, if he was in an asylum, what had become of them? I couldn’t find any mention of Emma, but some of his children had been separated; Henry and John were living with their Uncle Samuel, also a Tailor; Mary was living with her Aunt Rosetta, and sadly, Martha and Kate, the two youngest sisters, were inmates at the Reading and Wokingham District School (workhouse).
Turning back to the fate of their father, John, I tried to find him in the 1871 census, and eventually I discovered him; it seemed his misfortune had come much earlier for he was at this time an inmate at ‘Broadmoor Asylum for the criminally insane.’ I’ve no idea yet what he did but clearly it was serious. Reading about the asylum I read that those found ‘not guilty’ of serious crimes through their insanity were at the end of their sentences assessed, and if found to be unfit for release were sent to county asylums which seems to have been the case with John.
As regards his wife Emma, I have yet to find any trace of her in the 1881 census. It might be of course that she died in the 1870s but a search for the record of her death yields a more likely date of 1885; this will of course require more research. As regards John, I found reference to a John Stevens, born in 1837 who died in the district of Wallingford (in which Cholsey – the location of the Moulsford Asylum would fall) in 1885. No doubt he never recovered his sanity or his freedom.
As to the fate of their children, that will of course need further research.