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18 Dec 2017

Hidden Roots: Behind the Marriage

All I really wanted was to find out something, anything!, about the couple in this marriage entry - which is for 1791 in Chesterfield, north Midlands.
Most of the marriages that made me were mature couples solemnly throwing their lot in with another, having had something of a life already. I didn't think this one was.

What lay behind the marriage was my biggest discovery of 2017.

I knew the only child of the marriage very well: Hannah. She founded a dynasty of hardworking, short-lived women, all working-class business women who took their plenty of nothing, and made plenty of something.

But her parents were one big closed door. And when you burst open a door, you don't get to control what you see.

Nathaniel Gee and Ann married for love, of that I'm sure. Their first and only child was already on the way. When Ann died the very next year, Nathaniel's next daughter (by a new wife) was given her name. He only reached 37 himself. So by 1810 the couple were both dead and their love folded up and gone like dry leaves.

Finding the story

You didn't tune in to watch me clang open filing cabinets, and scroll through microfilm for the right baptism. But tippie-toing along the path, DID lead to the right baptism, for both Nathaniel, and Ann. Bear in mind please I knew NOTHING about them. Not even their real ages.

Reality struck. There was nothing I liked about possible baptisms for Nathaniel in London fringes, the east coast or urban Manchester. Bearing in mind he died 1805, I like the look of this family unit, based in Derbyshire, but with a Nathaniel in the mix. Something needed exploring here.
I really thought there was a vacant position here for Nat, maybe the son of Jonathan and Sarah? To my amazement, the door clicked open and there were plenty of riches to behold. Turns out I was right.

The groom

Nathaniel Gee was baptised 1767 in West Bromwich, just outside Birmingham, our second city, some years before his parents came to Derbyshire. Jonathan and Sarah Gee married the previous Christmas (1766) in Dudley, administratively in Worcestershire, clear the other side of Britain's second city.

Wheesh!! The pages kept turning and turning. I scribbled 5 pages of trees no problem. I checked out 2 wills and there are at least two more to check at some point. The family kept rabbits, wine and something to do with hot metal. They were interesting and an eight-year old girl got a pet sow as a gift to bring piglets in to the family equation. And that's just the mother Sarah.

The father Jonathan - well he turns out to have been a formidable builder of canals. You name a big stretch of man-made waterway from the 1700s and this man Jonathan Gee had his finger in whatever pie there happened to be going. Let's just say I have a barge trip around the UK booked as a some-day project, and that is going to be all about Jonathan with almost no down-time to see all he did.

Nathaniel has the blood of 3 counties whirling in his veins, and that's great, but what about Ann?

The bride

Ann the bride was probably 17 years of age and definitely not 'from Chesterfield' as the marriage entry implies. I know now that Nathaniel was a bold young buck of 22 and capable of relabelling 'black' as 'white' if he chose to do so. He had his father's big ideas and all his talking shook his later children right up the ladder. A hundred years later, one of his granddaughters would hold court in Nottingham, giving the only published account available of life in that city across the 1800s. Effortless and faultless, she was a rich woman at the castle alright, and stuff the poor woman at her gate.

Ann was from a poor family with an ambitious and clever mother who died. She was probably baptised at Wirksworth, Derbyshire, right in the heart of John Palmer's famous project, in 1776. (John is researching the family of the ambitious and clever woman, and appears in Dave Gorman's Googlewhack with his website apparently managing to host the words 'baptise' and 'slurry' on the same page.)

I would like to tell you that the ambitious and clever woman lived a long and happy life and that her influence lasted. Well no and yes, in that order. Every single woman in the family since Ann's mother downward (on our line) had the ability to read and write. There were a couple of wobbles along the way.

I would never have believed that Ann from Wirksworth could be the lady marrying at Chesterfield, if it wasn't for the go-getting Nathaniel. Look at his bold signature. Can you believe he wooed a girl 20 miles away (under 18) got her pregnant and convinced the vicar at Chesterfield that she was of a majority age and also living locally, for three consecutive weeks? Of course he could! The two towns are marked on the above map.

The landscape west of Wirksworth, where Ann's less-than-spectacular father scrabbled a living from the lead mines, is quietly stunning. Although she shot her bow before attaining 20, she left a sister. Aha! I didn't mention her. The sister has descendants in the female line, who if they can shake their cheeks loose of genetic material will have the same uterine line as my father and other relatives.

Do you remember Hannah, only child of these remarkable parents? She's a remarkable lady also, in her own right. And do you think you might tell the name of her ambitious and clever grandmother, who whiled her short life away up in the hills of Wirksworth. That's right she was Hannah too.

My Hannah is locked securely into her own landscape, her patient and determined ambition a family inheritance. She did not die her mother's death at 20, she did not reach for the stars and get smashed on the rocks like her father. She was not extraordinary like her grandfather the canal-builder. She has a whole other family just like her somewhere about. We will find if the DNA matches, but even if not, the synthesised back-story of her parents remains my fondest discovery of 2017.

Read more in Love on the Canal the story of Nathaniel and Ann's romance.

Story penned for Elizabeth O'Neal's December blog party Holiday Twofer.