Saturday, 6 December 2014

The mysterious Mrs. Michael Fitzhenry and her 13 children

Occasionally a search result makes you sit back and think "That's amazing, how haven't I known about this person before?"

From the Lake Placid News (New York State, USA) 18 October 1929, page 5.

Perhaps it's because that person might not actually exist...
East Dedham, England certainly doesn't exist. There is a small village in England called simply Dedham (on the Essex and Suffolk border) but historically there were no Fitzhenrys there at any time.
East Dedham, Massachusetts (named after the little village in England) has a handsome population of Fitzhenrys. 
However I can't believe I had missed a Fitzhenry couple with such a spectacular child rearing career.

"Mrs. Michael" would have been born in 1888 or 1889 to be spoken of being 40 years old in the present tense in 1929.
To squeeze in 13 children AND to have had several of them old enough to have children of their own, she would have had to start in her teens. 

My all time record holders Enoch Fitzhenry and his wife Abigail Hartt had 16 children (no twins). Abigail was pregnant with her first child aged 16 and had her last at 43.

So I thought I was looking for a woman who married a Michael Fitzhenry between 1905 and 1910.

The only Michael Fitzhenry I could find in the database who came close to this number of children (and only managed a measly 12 children) was my own great great great grandfather Michael and his wife Sarah Phillips in the East End of London, but that was back in the 1830s.

Of the East Dedham Fitzhenrys, there was a Michael who married Catherine Bishop who was born in New Brunswick in 1888. But they didn't marry until 1920 and only had 7 children in total.

So I thought this woman would remain a mystery... or maybe just the figment of a slow news day and a column inch to fill, until I turned around the family tree to look at it from Catherine's point of view.

She had been married to a William Fleming in 1904 aged 16. She then had 7 children with him from 1905 to 1918. 
So although the newspaper article was almost correct - there were 14 children rather than 13! - only half of them were born as Fitzhenrys.

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Sunday, 15 June 2014

1966 and All That ...

Some of the best stories in family history are passed down from person to person... until the chain breaks and then if it isn't written down somewhere, the story is lost.
As it's Fathers' Day and there seems to be some football on in Brazil, it gives me the perfect excuse to tell the tale of "My Dad and the World Cup Tickets".

Dad was a Spurs fan. But he would watch any football going really, so when someone offered him two tickets to the World Cup at Wembley in 1966, there was no way he was going to refuse them. These weren't just any old tickets either - they were books of tickets which got you into each of the ten matches played at Wembley during the competition - including the Final. He paid £60 for the pair. *

Mum was not pleased. This was the equivalent of over 3 months mortgage payments and more than Dad earned in a month as an engineer. They had a baby (me) and another on the way. 

Dad sold the two Final tickets for the same £60 he had paid for the whole book of tickets. And yes, he did go to all of the other matches. And yes, he did cry when England beat Portugal in the semi-finals (the Portuguese family he was sitting next to were crying for other reasons).

Dad bought me a World Cup Willy mascot who I kept through childhood when lots of toys fell by the wayside, followed me to college and then everywhere I've lived since. He still looks marvellous even if he does leak sawdust every so often. Nearly fifty years on, World Cup Willy is still waiting for another England win.

* Dad himself paid way over the odds for the tickets, as the match tickets sold singly cost 7 shillings and 6 pence, with tickets to the Final costing 10 shillings standing going up to £3 15 shillings for the best seats)

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Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Spin Like a Fitz!

Out intrepid FitzHenry family from Sidmouth (Devon, England), not content with swimming the English Channel, are now embarking on another challenge. 

They are going to cycle from Berlin to Paris in six days - 1566 miles which is a mile for every day the First World War lasted.
They are undertaking this feat to raise money for 3 very worthwhile charities:
  • Help for Heroes
  • The Soldiers' Charity
  • The Royal British Legion
Their fundraising website is here. Please visit it, leave a message of support and make a donation.
FitzHenrys of Sidmouth, we salute you!

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Saturday, 1 March 2014

Miss FitzHenry the gallant governess - but who was she?

A new newspaper database has gone online from the National Library of Wales. Although the papers are mainly from Wales (and some are in Welsh), provincial papers often did what we would now call "retweeting", and filled up column inches with stories they had harvested from other publications. So even if you ancestors weren't Welsh, their exploits from the rest of the UK and even abroad may be featured in these newspapers. The website is searchable by keyword and even better, it's free.
Thank you National Library of Wales

So, naturally I put in the keyword "Fitzhenry" and was very surprised when this article turned up at the top of the list. It's from "The Weekly Mail" (which was published in Cardiff and circulated throughout Wales and into the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire and Somerset) and dated 21 Aug 1897

Hats off to Miss FitzHenry, but I've no idea who she was!
This are the clues I'm working from. 
She is stated as English (rather than Irish) which narrows it down a bit. 
She would have to be educated to be a governess (rather than just a nanny) and have conversational French.
She is described as young, but I'm assuming that she would be at least 18 years of age to be out in the world, and perhaps less than 30. If so, this puts her birthdate between 1867 and 1879.
She is unmarried.

Saint Aubin-sur-Mer is on that curve of the northern French coast between Cherberg and Le Harve and. It would be a nice place for a summer holiday if you were a French family from Paris, which evidently Prof. Ernest Minault and his family were, as the Lycee Victor Hugo is in Pari.
What do we know about Prof Minault? 
Again very little. From Ancestry's "Paris and Vicinity, France Electoral Rolls, 1891" collection, he was born in Saint Sauvant in the Department of Vienne on 26 April 1861 and lived at 9 Rue Vintimille. Madame Minault was not listed as French women did not have the vote at this time.

I have one strong contender, Henrietta Fitz-Henry, the daughter of Captain William Fitz-Henry of Winchester and Ashtead.
On the English censuses, she is always a teacher.
She is not present in the 1891 census, but returned to London for the 1901 census.
She was born in St Peters, Jersey, which is a French speaking island.
She was single.
She had to make her own way in life, as her father left her nothing in his will.

Ideas anyone?

Stop Press: this is the actual article from "Le Temps" (Paris) from 17 August 1897. Apart from telling us that Miss FitzHenry threw herself into the sea fully clothed (I bet those Victorian dresses weighed a ton when wet!), there is no more to identify her.
The clipping is from the excellent French newspaper site Gallica from the National Library of France.

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