Stones and Stories
If you should happen to find yourself in the graveyard of All Saints Church, in the village of Loose, just south of Maidstone, you might come across this stone, set to the right of the path as you walk along the east side of the church down towards the river.
One sunny day many years ago, with nothing better to do, I took my young son on a road trip, and revisited the village where my maternal grandfather’s family came from. It was just an excuse for a day in the country really, and I wasn’t expecting to find much trace of the family.
And then, I came upon this stone. I didn’t know it was there. Actually, I had never heard of the woman whose name was carved at the top – Hannah Obey. But, by chance, I happened to notice some of the other names, and realised that Sam and I were gazing at the gravestone of his great great great great grandmother.
It’s not so clear in the photo, but the lengthy text is still quite easy to read. It reveals a wonderfully complex web of relationships, and a fair amount of tragedy, almost none of which I was aware of.
The stone commemorates Hannah Obey, her grandson Albert Mark, her (twice-over) brother-in-law, Edward Wilkins, her granddaughter, Louisa, and her sister, Elizabeth (who was married to Edward). Also mentioned are her sons, Edward and Thomas, one of whom erected the stone in her memory some time after her death.
In memory of Hannah Wilkins of this parish who died July 6th 1848 aged 24 years left surviving 2 sons (viz) Edward and Thomas Also Albert Mark son of Edward and Esther Wilkins of this parish who died March 25th 1866 aged 4 months Also Edward Wilkins of this parish who died Janry 26th 1876 (after a long and lingering illness) aged 57 years This stone was erected by Edward son of Hannah and nephew of Edward Wilkins Also Louisa daughter of the above Edward and Esther Wilkins died 22nd May 1894 Aged 16 years Also Elizabeth wife of Edward Wilkins died 15 April 1910 aged 89 years
So many questions. Who was Hannah? Why no mention of her husband? Why bury her brother-in-law alongside her, but not her husband? What was the long and lingering illness that afflicted Edward? How did Hannah and her sister come to marry a pair of brothers? What killed young Albert Mark at 4 months, and his sister Louisa at 16 years? Why did Hannah die so young, and who looked after her sons? And, most intriguingly, why was there a delay of almost thirty years before the stone was erected (and what marked her grave in the meantime)? So much story. This stone encapsulates so much of what I love about genealogy. The randomness of finding it. The concrete solidity of the stone, contrasted with the fading historical records, and the forgotten family memories. The insight it gives into the lives of people at the time, and these people in particular. And the glorious hints of personal stories, which we are left to complete in our imaginations. And that's where The Descent of Chloe Jackson comes from. All those lost stories, those moments in the lives of ordinary people, those are the kind of stories I want to bring to life in my book.
As always, drop me a line if you’ve any ideas for a future Newsletter, or any photos of ancestral gravestones and the stories they tell.
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All the best