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Archive for September, 2011

[Note to my readers:  I apologize for the lengthy absence.  I already had some items scanned to do a couple more posts in my series on background-information sources when my computer broke and was out of commission for a week.  This was followed by a series of other unfortunate incidents that have limited the time I had to do such things as write long, detailed blog posts.  I hope to continue the series shortly.]

As a reconstructor of lives already lived, it amazes me sometimes how some people leave so much more of a paper trail than others.  Many of my posts are about people who have left a lot of surviving material, as there is so much from which to choose when writing about their lives.  I find the paper chase very satisfying, as I would imagine many other researchers do.  I enjoy researching those that leave a lot of records, because it helps me to really get a sense of their lives.  But I also find it extremely satisfying to research someone who left very few surviving records, as every scrap, every fleeting reference, is so precious.

I have been thinking about this last bit a lot as I try to reconstruct the lives of my folks who were living in the southwest corner of Devon around 1800.  I have an impulse to say, “They were ordinary people leading ordinary lives,” but looking through the window from the present to the past, I have no idea if that was really their experience.  From what I have been able to gather so far, my fifth-great-grandmother Ann Evans had my fourth-great-grandfather John Kinsman Evans out of wedlock.  The paper trail that this created is the only evidence I have that she ever existed at all.  I don’t know yet when she was baptized, whether she ever married, when she died.  John is the opposite of Ann – his name is so uncommon that his baptism record is the only one with this name in England for any time period on the IGI and his death the only one indexed on FreeBMD for anyone with his name.  This makes it easy to be sure I am ordering the correct documents, something that is not too common with Evans ancestors.

From what I have reconstructed so far, it appears that John Kinsman Evans had a half-brother also born out of wedlock, the child of John’s father and a different mother, Sarah.  I find it interesting that even through the lens of over 200 years, I find it difficult to  identify with John Kinsman enough to even call him “my fifth-great-grandfather,” although it seems he is.  In a way I find myself wanting to hop up the tree one branch immediately, to not gather anything about John Kinsman beyond that which will help me reconstruct his relatives, including the women with whom he was involved and their children.  But at the same time I find myself curious about this man who left a paper trail of the 1790’s version of child support orders due to having at least two children out of wedlock, to different women.  What was his life, his personality, like, that he made these choices in life?  What was it like for him to live with the consequences of his actions?  What did his family think of them?  Did they have to foot the bill, as sometimes was the case?

These affiliation orders (also more bluntly called bastardy bonds or bastardy orders) are where the paper chase ends for him.  I have found no references to him after the child support order for Sarah and her child.  If he married it wasn’t in the area of Devon where he had been living.  If he died it wasn’t in the area or the burial record was never made or doesn’t survive.  There are numerous John Kinsman records over the border in northwest Cornwall, but without ages being recorded in the indexes for those records, it is much harder to know whether any of them might be him.

I see telling the stories of the marginalized and the forgotten as part of what I do as a family historian.  So far I haven’t been able to find anyone else researching Ann Evans.  I hope that in trying to reconstruct her life, and in writing about her here, I have at least preserved a portion of her memory.  I have committed the fact that she existed to the modern paper of the internet, so that hopefully she will not be forgotten in the mists of time ever again.

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