My interest in family history began because of my odd surname. Depending on the pronunciation it could sound French. During the war my father was in Paris with the rest of his troop after D-Day. He met a family with the same surname and they let him stay with them. Months later, the young lady of the house was still writing to him, much to my mother’s disapproval! I was intrigued. I determined to find out if we did in fact have a French background. Not something I have got to the bottom of, but it is possible the name is Huguenot.
When I started on this quest – and that’s what it is because Family History is a life’s work – there was no internet. All research had to be done by turning pages, searching through the physical archives. I’ve been to St. Catherine’s House in London, umpteen parish churches to trawl through their baptism records and then finally I discovered the Mormon church and their archive.
However, one of the best starting points is the family. Advice – ask, ask and ask again. Get as much info from elderly relatives as you can. Names, places, rumour and gossip. One day it will pay dividends.
I won’t bore you with a blow by blow account but I have discovered a great deal. My ancestors were ordinary folk working hard for a living, and desperately trying to make ends meet. They lived in Macclesfield in Cheshire. A town famous for the manufacture of silk. The women worked as ‘throwster’ or ‘piercers’, and the men, ‘weavers’.
You can see the Durrant family about a third down.
The only two that had money emigrated to the USA in the eighteenth century. Caroline Durrant, and a few years later her sister, Kate. Kate left under a cloud and took her older sister, Caroline’s name. Even today I have difficulty trying to persuade her descendants that she is really Kate and not big sister. They don’t believe a word of the tale I told them!
Caroline moved to a town called Paterson, New Jersey. A number of Macclesfield folk moved here. I believe it too manufactured silk. Caroline went with her husband to start a new life. She prospered and went home to Macclesfield often. Kate, set off on her own and made her own way.
Kate Durrant is one of the more colourful among my ancestors. A pretty girl, with dark hair, she found herself pregnant at twenty. Not unusual, it had happened to one of her sisters and the family had rallied round. But they ostracised Kate. She was forced to give birth in Macclesfield workhouse. Why? I asked myself. What was the story here?
Kate Durrant was ‘lodging’ with her big sister, Eliza. One day Eliza returned home from the silk factory early and found Kate in bed with her husband. She kept him but threw poor Kate out. When she found herself pregnant it was accepted that the child was Eliza’s husbands and the family wanted nothing to do with her. The poor child died in the workhouse and is buried in a common grave in Macclesfield cemetery.
Kate must have been at rock bottom at that point. She made the decision to emigrate to the US. She landed at Ellis Island and set about finding a husband. She married well. Gave birth to two daughters and was pampered by her American husband’s family for the rest of her life.
Today we have the internet and sites like Find My Past and Ancestry, plus the free ones, like Family Search. Here you can find births, marriages and deaths, parish records and the census information. All of it vital to the family historian.