A Bit Of Family History

As I have mentioned previously, I am sporadically tracing my family tree, something I’ve only really become interested in recently. Perhaps it is mainly an older person’s interest, although I don’t think I’ll explore that now. But I’m keen to pass on the information to my children and grandchildren especially, so they can do further research if they feel like it.

As well as the family connection, though, much of my interest is both the exercise of solving a puzzle – it has much in common with a detective story – and to attempt to ‘see’ something of the person behind a list of dates and names. It is comparatively straightforward to accumulate lists of these folk with no more information than a sort of ‘Fred Bloggs born 1750, married Mary Smith 1770 died 1820’ which is really of little interest to me.

But if you know where to look (and how to search) there is often more information available about our ancestors, although you also need a very large slice of luck to dig up interesting details of the lives of the average person. In my research, then, I have found a few folk, of whom I knew absolutely nothing to start with, not even their names, and have been able to build up a bit of a picture of their lives.

That’s what it’s all about, I reckon.

Here, then, is an example:

My Great Great Grandad was Frederick John Platt. He was born in 1826 or 1827; I cannot find his birth record, but all other documents are consistent in his age.

A couple of census entries:

1851 the family are at 2 Wilmot Street, Bethnal Green. They were: William Platt, 49, Handloom weaver, Ann, 59, Frederick J, 24, Sarah Susanah, 22, also William James Platt, 26, his wife Sarah, 28, and William James 4. All bar William James Junior are Handloom weavers.

1861 at 1 Green Street, Bethnal Green. They are: Frederick J Platt, 34, Broad silk weaver, Louisa S, 30, Broad silk weaver, Louisa M, 6, Frederick W, 5, Henry G, 1, George W, 1 month. All were born in Bethnal Green.

So far so good, but then there is a Crisis.

In 1861 Louisa Sarah Platt of 1 Green Street, age 30, died. It must have been very soon after the census was taken (on 7th April) as she was buried on 21st April. I obtained a copy of her entry in the Death Register, and it tells us she died on 14th April 1861 – ‘Found dead at 1 Green Street, Twig Folly Bridge, Bethnal Green’. She was aged thirty and the cause of death was given as ‘exhaustion after her confinement’. You can see on the 1861 census the youngest, George W, is recorded as one month old.

Green Street, Bethnal Green, from Cross’ Map of London 1851. Twig Folly on the right of the map gave its name to the bridge where Green Street crossed Regents Canal.

Then on May 8th 1861 we find the following Poor Law Removal judgement:

Frederick Platt, 34, of 1 Green Street, 5 years last 25 Jan, 3 Parliament Street, Cambridge Road, Mile End, B G (Bethnal Green). Weaver.

Was born at no. 10 Geo. Gardens B G never (ye?) has lived in B G all his life father before him. Had married at St. James the Less 1853, 12 June Co produced to Louisa Sarah, who died 3 weeks ago, Louisa 7, Frederick 5, Henry 17 mos, George 5 weeks, – B G

And then in another hand:

Father pd taxes Harts Lane B G Road about 17 yrs ago and Cranbrook St. about 2 yrs. He lives at 2 Cranbrook St.

I am unclear what the ‘removal’ part of the judgement refers to and can only assume it either means the children were taken from him, or they were all evicted from the property. The final paragraph about his father having paid taxes, I am guessing meant the authorities were then willing to provide some sort of support for the children. He had married Louisa Sarah Whalley sometime between April and June 1853, in Bethnal Green – June 12th according to the Poor Law Judgement – and after she died eight years later, his world seems to have fallen apart. And it seems to have happened so quickly! Less than three weeks after Louisa is buried, this judgement is passed upon the family.

But I suspect the family may already have been in some trouble.

Bethnal Green saw a huge influx of Huguenot immigrants during the late seventeenth and early eighteen centuries, almost exclusively silk weavers. Although I cannot find any evidence to back it up, I was told in my childhood that Mum’s ancestors were Huguenots, and that would suggest the Platts were the ones referred to. Whether Platt is an Anglicized version of a French name, or a Platt had married into a Huguenot family, though, I have not been able to determine. Over the years from the Huguenots’ arrival in Britain, though, various laws were put into effect to protect the British silk industry from foreign competition. However an 1860 treaty with France allowed silks to be imported duty free and very soon the industry was in freefall. Unable to compete in price with the imported cloths, huge numbers of weavers were thrown into poverty.

The next definite sighting of Frederick John Platt is in 1877 when his son, Frederick William, is married. On the form, Frederick John’s occupation is given as undertaker, and Frederick W is a commercial clerk. Clearly, they were no longer part of the weaving community. It is worth noting here that Frederick J’s older brother, William James Platt, has his occupation recorded as undertaker in the 1871 census, having also been a silk weaver prior to this date. It seems probable that Frederick either worked for him, or they were in partnership for a while. William then continues working as an undertaker for the rest of his life

After this, Frederick J seems to again drop off the radar for a while. I have a couple of other possible sightings but cannot find any census record for 1881 that I can be sure are his.

But then on September 15th 1884 Frederick John Platt, widower, 57, marries Sarah Mansfield, widow, 45, at St James the Less, Bethnal Green. By now he is described as a provision merchant of 40 Cranbrook Square.

One way or another, it seems he had managed to rebuild his life.

The 1891 census records a Frederick Platt, 65, ice cream vendor, and Sarah, 52, at 33 Quaker Street, Spitalfields.

And then? A Frederick Platt aged 74 died in Whitechapel, July – September 1899. That seems to be him. If it was, then he seems to have fallen upon hard times again. In January and February 1892 and then frequently from February 1895 through to February 1899 a Frederick Platt, widower, is recorded as being in and out of the workhouse at Stepney. His profession is given variously as wood chopper, labourer, or blacksmith’s assistant, and cause of admission each time as bronchitis or rheumatism.

We don’t realise how lucky we are.

40 thoughts on “A Bit Of Family History

  1. I admire you for such dedication in searching out all of your family’s previous generations and history, Mick. Funnily enough, I’m very familiar with some of the areas you mention. My paternal grandparents came from Bethnal Green/Whitechapel and I know Regents Canal well from my own teenage courting years.

    You have done an awful lot of research; I hope your children, grandchildren and generations to come will appreciate knowing all these fascinating facts and details. Looking back, I wish my parents left me with more knowledge about their families from the time they left Eastern Europe to come to the UK. I know very little about those times. I know I could start researching my own family now – it’s [almost] never too late. I have the concentration skills of a gnat right now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think everyone wishes their parents had told them more – or they’d asked their parents those questions! I certainly wish I had, since there’s so much I don’t know or am unsure of that they could have told me. Old family photos, too – who are those people?!?

      Who knows, maybe your paternal grandparents knew my relatives in that area. There were quite a lot of us, not just the ones mentioned above.

      And no, it’s never too late. There’s loads of information out there.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t know if genealogy is an older person’s thing, but as I get older my eyes definitely tear up easily over stories like these. The unrelentingly difficult lives so many of our ancestors endured is a testament to the human spirit and also, perhaps, a roadmap to who we are today.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was fortunate in that I had an aunt who did a considerable amount of legwork on my Dad’s side, including a story here and there. Unfortunately, she recorded it all in text format, not tree. My Mom did some too, but being Scandinavian that soon turns into Johanson or Andersdotter (son or daughter) sir names that everyone has in their tree.

    I converted it all to a tree in Ancestry and added to some branches, but added little to the stories. As you suggest, that humanizes it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My father began the research about forty years ago, but after he died the notes he made just sat around in a file until I picked them up a couple of years ago. Much easier now with most things online. I use Ancestry too, but haven’t made a tree.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You’ve done a great job of researching your family history! I grew up hearing stories of my parents’ families, but what I’m most grateful for is that before he died, Dad took the time to write the names on the backs of family photos.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Mick, this is very interesting. People in Britain do have it much better now. The same can’t be said for other places in the world, including South Africa. There is huge poverty here. Hats off to you. I can’t even track down my own half brother and sister. Not that they’ve ever show any interest in finding me.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. This really was a fascinating read. I admire the work you’ve put into it. I’ve done just enough research to have some hints and glimmers of what it was like for my forebears, but like others have said, I’d give anything to have my parents and grandparents back so that I could ask some of the questions that have developed over the years. I’m in the somewhat odd position of being the ‘end of the line,’ so to speak. There’s only one aunt still living, and three cousins. With no kids or siblings to be interested, too, it seems a little beside the point to do much genealogical research — there’s no one else to care.

    That said, there are some terrific stories that I’ve unearthed, and they have made some good blog fodder! I only learned about ten years ago that my favorite aunt in childhood was a well-publicized embezzler who spent a bit of time in the slammer. What’s most amazing about that is that no one in the family, or even in our small town, ever breathed a word of it to me. I guess they knew how fond I was of my aunt, and just didn’t want to erode that affection.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not the end of the line, by any means, since I have children and grandchildren as well as a niece and nephew, but on my mother’s side apart from us the line has virtually died out. I have one cousin, her brother’s daughter, but she has no children. And the line from my Mother’s mother’s sister (are you still with me?) has died out. The relevance of all this is that I’ve had to research that side of my family completely ‘cold’; I’m recognising names that turn up, because they were mentioned in my childhood, but have nothing else to back up my research.

      As for your aunt, I’ve found a few family secrets, too! Probably all families have them.


  7. the further back we can go Mick, the more fascinating it becomes. Like you I have had various relatives in the Workhouse, mainly it seems when farm labourers were not needed. Those records can be quite heartbreaking. I pray we never return to those days./

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You had great success in digging for information about your family history is worth celebrating. Out here in India, Hindus can gather information about their ancestors in Haridwar. People visit this city upon the death of their relative with ashes. The Pandits here keep extensive records of the family. It is a very interesting system. I’m not sure if you know about it.

    Liked by 1 person

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