I enjoy visiting old relatives. Really old relatives. Really, really old relatives. Over the last couple of days I’ve been visiting Peter Righton Atkinson, 1829 – 1888. He’s actually only a relative by marriage – he married my 2nd cousin 4 times removed in 1857 – but still fascinating.
I started delving into my family tree more than 15 years ago – my cousin had sent me a link to http://www.ancestry.co.uk, and I decided to take a look while I was drinking my morning coffee. I mean, how long can it take to do a family tree?? Lunchtime came and went, and I didn’t even notice…
I was hooked.
I have more than 11,000 individuals in my tree, I’ve traced some branches back to the 1600s, and I’ve found a few skeletons!!
Anyway, my son and I were in Winchester and I suddenly remembered that one of my relatives (Blanche Eliza) was married to a man who went on to become something high up at Winchester Cathedral. So we popped in to have a look. And me being me, I got talking to one of the guides.
Before we knew what was happening we were in the Virgers’ Vestry, and they were looking things up for us!!! It turned out that the guide we’d happened to talk to had a particular interest in the Latin inscriptions around the church, and had spent some time translating them all – including the one under a bust of my relative’s husband Peter!! So, we found the bust, and we took photos, and it was mightily exciting.
Now, most of my relatives were either fishermen, or agricultural labourers, or blacksmiths. Out of 11,249 individuals, Peter Righton Atkinson is the only one with a bust and a Latin inscription! And a Wikipedia entry!! He was a Canon at Winchester Cathedral, and Archdeacon of Surrey.
But there is a mystery surrounding this man.
He married my relative Blanche Eliza in 1857 in Manchester. Which doesn’t sound too mysterious, until you discover that at the time of the marriage he was a clergyman in Rochester in Kent (for anyone not familiar with the UK, that’s a hell of a long way from Manchester), and she was from Tasmania!! So – how the heck did they manage to meet in the first place, and why did they get married in Manchester?
The mystery deepens – they had a child (Blanche Isabella) in 1862. But by 1871 Peter appears to be married to another woman and Blanche Eliza has disappeared from the record completely. Blanche Isabella is still living with her father and his new wife. I can’t find a death record for Blanche Eliza, nor can I find any record of her returning to Tasmania. And divorce would not have been an option. What happened to her??
This is why we do family history research!! It’s for the skeletons, the mystery, the problem-solving…
We went back the next day, to do more research. We discovered that during his time at Winchester he lived at 9 Cathedral Close – which is now offices, so we were able to go in!! Sadly we could only go into the reception area, but it was still fascinating to see the building he’d lived in.
In the meantime, I’ve been emailing with the first guide we spoke to. He’s writing a book about the wall memorials in the cathedral and has asked me to supply the information I have about Peter so he can include it!!
If you’ve ever contemplated researching your family history, be warned – it’s highly addictive. And you can’t do it over a coffee.
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