A few months ago, having experienced a lot of browser and loading issues with Genes Reunited, I put my family tree on Ancestry. I wasn’t happy about it, it meant that my tree was now in two places and that I’d have to update it twice, assuming I’d ever get the problems with loading my information on GR sorted out that is. But it did open up my research to a different, wider audience and I’ve had a few inquiries from folk, most aren’t connected sadly, but I have had two outstanding connections on my husbands side of the tree, and on two surnames I was beginning to think no one else had any interest in…. the Goldings from Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire and the Palmers, mainly from Surrey.

On his mothers side, hubby is descended from Francis Palmer, c1785, and Maria Cruttwell, 1782, who to the best of my knowledge both came from Wokingham in Berkshire. Francis was a Draper and he settled just over the Berkshire border in Chertsey which is in Surrey. Francis and Maria had 6 children, 4 of whom survived. Hubby’s 2x Gt Grandfather was George (1816), the oldest surviving child of Francis and Maria. I also knew some of the family info for his younger brother Alfred (1823), but had drawn a complete blank on Maria (1825) whom I assumed had married, and Henry Cruttwell Palmer (1832). I’d come to the conclusion that Henry had either died young or had left England for pastures new as he was not to be found on any census after 1841.

Enter Ancestry and a request from an older gentleman named Bernie who lives in Wisconsin for some more info on my Palmers. Turns out Henry Cruttwell Palmer DID leave England for America, at the tender age of 17 in 1849, and Bernie is his Gt Grandson. Further more, he sent me a lovely little letter with a narrative and some printed photos of my husbands relatives. The photos were of Henry, who by the way told everyone his middle name was Charles!, his wife Sarah Sandborn, both looking about 45 – 50, and a stunning photo of Henry’s mother Maria, Hubby’s 3x Gt Grandmother. Maria looks very old in the photo and I know she died between 1858 and 1860, so photography wise, this is a very early print. In return I sent him some things I had, announcements and write ups of weddings from newspapers etc.

Just last night he sent me another email, this one contained two letters that he’d typed up from the originals (that are in his possession!), both letters were written in 1885 by Grace Caroline Palmer and George James Palmer, children of George (1816), and sent to their Uncle Henry in Wisconsin. Copied below is the letter written to Uncle Henry from George, and what an incredibly fascinating little piece of history it is. It’s made all the more stunning to me because it really brings alive the people I’m researching. The letter mentions the passing of George (1816) and with sadness recounts the very personal details of his death, as well as giving me more to go on to find the death of Georges wife Grace. I knew that the brother mentioned in the letter, Harry and his wife, ran a drapers/dressmaking business in Maidenhead, but the letter tells me that they weren’t doing very well. I also knew that George, the letter writer, was married, lived in Colchester and was in the Wine/Provisions trade, but the way he writes about his little family is so heart warming and filled with affection. The Ernest he mentions is my husbands Gt Grandfather and that Grace Caroline was known as Carry.  Nothing of consequence really, but just small, personal details that lift them out of the past and into my imagination.

It’s very easy when you’re researching your family history to forget that these people were real, they laughed they cried, they worked hard, they married and had families of their own, they suffered through terrible personal loss and tragedy, often at a very young age. It’s finding things like these letters that really put things back into perspective for me, they’re not faceless names staring back at me from a computer screen, they are our own flesh and blood, and they were once as alive as I am. I’m very grateful to Bernie for not only sending them to me, but also having the fortitude to cherish them and look after them all of these years. He also says he has more items, including his Gt Grandfathers journal, memoirs of his life and more photos too. I think I’m going to like Bernie!

2 Queen Street

Colchester, England

June 9th 1885

My dear Uncle,

I am writing to tell you how very much we all appreciated your kind letter of sympathy on the death of poor Father. After a very painful and distressing illness beyond anything I can possibly describe. He was taken ill last November with softening of the spinal cord, paralysis set in within a few days attacking him in the lower bowels, increasing so rapidly that the doctors informed us he could not live more than four or five days. He, however, lingered , suffering very much till March 19th when he was happily relieved from all pain, just a week after the anniversary of our poor Mothers death, He was quite conscious to the last and remembered that day, longing to be taken on the same date.

Uncle Alfred called a few days before his death, but speech had gone, and all he could do was to hold him by the hand for a long time, thus wishing him the last goodby.

He expressed a wish to be buried at Stravis (where also my Mother was buried) which we thought only right, especially as he had his own piece of ground in Stavis Church Yard.

Through all his suffering and sad illness we heard no word of complaint, all who attended him expressing it was a pleasure to nurse him, being grateful for all that was done for him, bearing all with Christian fortitude fully prepared to meet his Lord.

I should have answered your kind letter before but being my Father’s executor (with my brother-in-law Wm Roach). I have found my time much occupied as the work of carrying out the will has fallen on myself.

I will now tell you a little of my own affairs. I have been here about 13 years and am Manager to a firm of wine Merchant – with an interest in the business. About 7 years ago I married the daughter of W. D. Blyth, draper of this town, have three children, George Helmore, Henry Blyth, and the last a little girl, Eleanor May, 13 months old, all very strong and healthy. The boys are now getting quite companions aged respectively 5 and 4, and being great boys make a great deal of fun.

My eldest Brother, Harry, is at Maidenhead in a small business as a draper. His wife attends the dressmaking, but fear they are not doing well. My sister, Grace, Carry, as we always call her is a few years younger than myself and married Wm Jas Roach of Medina, Newport, Isle of Wight. She has three girls & one boy. James is in large way of business running three large flour mills. Ernest, my youngest brother, just over twenty-one is in an ironmongers shop at Ventenor I. W. and I think will turn out a good man of business

You will be, no doubt, receiving letters from other members of our family giving you more minute particulars of themselves. I am sending for your kind acceptance, a photo of our poor Father, taken from a small one and almost the only one taken and trust you will like it. I think it very good of him but the photography is not as good as that I have seen from your country.

My wife Lois (?) sends (?) love to yourself, wife and family, hoping to hear something occasionally from my Father’s Brother, who I have only heard of by name until your kind letter brought us into near relationship.

I remain, yours affectionately,

G. J. Palmer

This is a letter written by George James Palmer (born abt. 1852) to his Uncle Henry Palmer in LaValle, Wisconsin, USA on June 9, 1885. Typed from the original by Bernie xxxx. The ? are where the original is hard to decipher.