About eight years ago, I began researching my family tree, using online databases and subscription sites, such as Ancestry. It was time to build on the information I had picked up over the years. An anecdote here and a recollection there.
In a relatively short span of time, I was discovering ancestors, places of origin, dates, families and occupations. All fascinating stuff, particularly as my father’s line has always been a bit sketchy.
I now know that my 3 x great grandfather, Benjamin, was a ship’s baker, born, 1819 in Somerset. He married Sarah Pitman in Holy Rood Parish Church, Southampton, in 1845 and, eventually, three children arrived, Benjamin in 1846, John (my great grandfather) in 1848 and Eliza Marie in 1852.
They all lived in a terraced house on the quayside in Southampton, with an ironmonger on one side and an Italian Jeweller called Galimberti on the other.
Life would have been tough for them in this area. Conditions were pretty insanitary, and in one street, 77 people shared the same toilet. Hardly surprising to learn that an outbreak of Cholera claimed 240 lives in the city in 1849.
Typically of any busy sea port at that time, there was a constant hustle and bustle, and some pretty unsavoury characters going about their business too.
In 1857, Benjamin sailed on the vessel, Atrato, to the island of St Thomas in the West Indies. He never returned.
His death was a mystery to me, until a volunteer at the Caribbean Genealogy Library turned up a document that listed Benjamin among the victims of a yellow fever outbreak. He was 39 years old.
I couldn’t help wondering what later became of Sarah and her children. Four years after the event, she is recorded on the census returns as a ‘Bonnet-maker’, but living in a street where prostitution was rife. Hopefully, she wasn’t driven to such desperation.
Although Sarah’s fate is unknown, I recently made unexpected contact with Jean, a distant family member who revealed an intriguing link between Sarah and Herbert Pitman, 3rd officer on Titantic, survivor in charge of lifeboat no 5.
Jean and I plan to meet and share what information we have. Slowly, a few more pieces of the picture are falling into place. The names on the records are showing me that they once lived and breathed, laughed and cried, loved and lost.
© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges