Genealogical records are not perfect… As a result genealogists work with a trail of imperfect and inconsistent breadcrumbs, and we use these traces to recreate the lives of our ancestors. Sometimes we do a good job, sometimes we do a poor job, and sometimes we may not know the difference. Trapped within [our] DNA, however, are the stories of [our] ancestors. (Blaine Bettinger)
A BOOK OF FAMILY DOCUMENTS
The documents that appear in this ‘book’ are there, not as the result of some process of careful selection, but simply because they happen to have survived into our time out of hundreds that must have perished. One can only guess how and when they came into my father's hands but he, wise man, preserved them, for which we must be grateful. Some, for example the Whitham letters, are hardly "family" letters at all, except in so far as we share with some Whithams a common ancestry in the Thompson family.*
Others, such as No.12, a letter from great-aunt Agnes Smith relating what was to prove great grandmother Christian Smith's [Christian Trotter 1776-1842] last illness touch us most intimately.
But, intimate or remote, these papers all help in their different ways to give an insight into the life of a vanished age. Quite often they shed light on the characters of the persons concerned, whose virtues and frailties we glimpse through their writings. So, perhaps, we come to know some of our ancestors rather better.
This is, then, a random collection, but it adds unquestionably to the scanty store of information from which we have to build up our picture of the family past. As such, it is invaluable.
PHILIP AYNSLEY SMITH
Lilac Cottage Westleton Suffolk
Letter from Agnes Smith (1803 - 1871) to her sister Jane Smith (1807 - 1885)
Loanend, Sept 13 1842
I received yours and would have answered it before this, but I have been very unwell, until within this day or two I have not been out of bed After you left us, Helen and I went to Cheswick on the Friday where my visit was cut short as I came home on the Tuesday, P. being very unwell she blamed having done more than she was able the Day before you left with the ironing, feeling at the time unwell her complaint had been infectious as I had it in the same way, a kind of English cholera common at this season of the year P. and I are well again but I am sorry to inform you that my mother took it yesterday it is what we all along dreaded what the result may be is hidden from us her bowels are very much affected and as you know the way she goes on it is a dreadful complaint both to herself and those who have to do anything for her she has not tasted food of any kind for these two days and cannot be persuaded to take the least drop of medicine to assist nature in her weak state if there is not a change for the better soon it appears almost impossible that she will stand it long but she has went through a great deal and even yet the strength of her voice astonishes us as a person in previous good health is soon reduced very low with a complaint of that kind.
My Father’s eyes has not improved he has been attending Dr. Moffat for the last ten days who has been practicing at Berwick upon the Eyes by applying the fumes of Prussic Acid to them, which was said to have performed the most wonderful cures we had heard of the thing before and treated it as a bit of quackery but people will do a great deal for sight and Dr Cahill advised my father to make a trial of it as he assured him it would do no injury if it did no good the first time it was applied to my Father it affected him very much with pain in the head & sickness so that he nearly fainted and had to go to Bed in the Doctor’s lodgings for nearly an hour in the subsequent
I must now conclude with love to you all you will hear from me soon again about my mother
I remain, my dear Jane
Your affectionate sister
P.S. as it is probable you will receive this on Friday I will write a few lines if possible to reach you on Sunday as you will be anxious to hear how my mother is.
Cahill, part of that nexus of civic leaders in Berwick, had been a medical attendant or doctor at the Berwick Dispensary and Infirmary since 1815, and was its secretary in 1818-1829. This charitable institution, at 18 Quay Walls, benefited the ‘sick poor’ and industrious sick within a twelve-mile radius, and treating around 140 persons a year between 1814 and 1854. (The Local Historian, May 2007 p110.)
As DNA can now tell you that a third cousin shares zero DNA with you - do you feel less related to them at that point? Or what about the third cousin who shares more than normal with you? Is there now a difference in how you view your relation to both of those?’