Touching The Past

Sometimes it strikes me as curious how we place significance on things that are quite arbitrary. For example, we celebrate anniversaries on the same date each year, a consequence of the earth returning to (roughly) the same position in its orbit around the sun, give or take an adjustment for leap years. Similarly, Sir Roger Bannister’s memorable achievement was to run a particular unit of distance in four measures of a particular unit of time.

Today, of course, is remembrance day, a date chosen because it marks the time and date on which hostilities ceased in World War I, and on which we commemorate all those who have given their lives in the armed forces then and since.

My father was born on 14th February 1911 and died on 3rd January 1969. As what would have been his one hundredth birthday approached I realised that I knew practically nothing about his parents or their ancestors, and soon afterwards I began researching my family tree. I had a head start, because some research had been done a few years ago by other family members, and I had copies of some birth, marriage and death certificates, particularly on my mother’s side of the family.

During the course of this research I discovered that, while my father was born and raised in Sunderland, the Jacobs branch of the family comes from the Cambridge area, where his father was born. It was relatively easy, using the Family Tree Maker software and resources from the web site, to trace the family using public documents back to my great-great-grandfather, born in Chesterton, Cambridge, in 1797. Research by others traces the line back further, to my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, born near Cambridge around 1600.

On this day, I’m inclined to remember my great-grandfather on my mother’s side, Samuel George Stedman. My research along this branch goes back another three generations to his great-grandfather, about whom I know relatively little. But of Samuel George Stedman, a lot is known.

He was born in Hackney on 26th March 1871, just before the 1871 census, and is recorded as being seven days old on the census form. His father, Henry, who was also born in London, was 36 years old at that time and is listed as a baker. His mother Mary, nee Blake, was born in West Clandon in Surrey, and was 30 years old. He also had an older brother, Henry John Stedman, born in 1865. Samuel was baptised at St Barnabas, Homerton, on 16th April 1871.

By the 1881 census Samuel is listed as a scholar, still living with his parents. His father is listed as a shop keeper, and his mother as a charwoman.

Samuel married Ellen Hobby at Holy Trinity Church in Islington on 25th May 1890, both aged 21. His profession at that time is listed as Collar Cutter. Both lived at separate addresses in Liverpool Road. The 1891 census shows them living at 96 Hornsey Road, Islington, and again his occupation is listed as Collar Cutter.

The first of five daughters, Ellen Bessie Grace Stedman, was born 15th September 1891. Rose May was born 8th April 1893. Katie Stedman, my grandmother, was born 13th March 1895, and Lily Violet on 25th April 1899. Samuel, Ellen, and the four daughters, aged 9, 8, 6 and 2, were all living at 126 Hornsey Road at the time of the 1901 census, at which time Samuel’s profession is listed as Coal Carman. The youngest daughter, Ethel Ivy Stedman, was born 7th April 1903.

By the time of the 1911 census, Samuel and Ellen still had four daughters at home. Katie was in Yorkshire working as a servant. Samuel’s profession is listed as Coal Porter. The eldest daughter, Ellen, is listed as a Factory Hand, Syphon Fitter. Sadly, the second eldest daughter, Rose, died a few months later in the summer of 1911.

The 1912 electoral role record shows Samuel, presumably with his family, living at 160 Hornsey Road: three rooms, second and third floor, unfurnished.

Samuel George Stedman was killed in France on 10th August 1917, aged 46, serving with the 734th Labour Company, Labour Corps, as part of the British Expeditionary Force. He left behind a wife and four daughters. His death certificate lists the cause of death as a fracture of the spine. The British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards indicate that he was awarded the Victory Medal and British Medal.

Samuel George Stedman Death Certificate

There’s an enormous amount of information available through public records: births, baptisms, deaths, marriages, electoral role, military records, and so on. This information is likely to remain available long into the future. One source of information won’t remain available, and that’s the information held in the memories of older relatives. If you have any interest at all in finding out more about your ancestors, now would be a good time to speak to your older relatives and gather as much information as you can, information that will help you to match records to individuals, such as dates of birth, death, marriage, names and places.

But today, thanks to those public records, belongs to Samuel George Stedman, gone but not forgotten.