There is much value to be gained by ‘going deep’ in our family history, genealogy, and the history of the times in which those ancestors lived their lives.
I recently uncovered an example of how ‘going deep’ can provide additional interest and colorful features to your family history. After all, it is the stories that tend to attract the most interest in our ancestry work by others. And this is a very good thing!
My 4x great grandfather was a fellow by the name of Edward Billing of St. Breward, Cornwall. He married Mary Lean, whose nephew was John Lean and who changed his surname to MacLean and wrote the definitive three-volume history titled “Trigg Minor”.
Edward and Mary were married in Michaelstow in 1783 and had at least seven children, the eldest who was Phillippa. It is this daughter, Phillippa that drew my attention while I was recently working on the Billing branch of our family tree.
Phillippa married Richard Peter and were the owners of Penhale farm on the boundary of the great Bodmin Moor. You can see in the 1841 United Kingdom Census that by that year Mary was a widow living at Penhale and had at least four servants/laborers working for her at Penhale, one of whom was Matthew Weeks.
By all accounts Matthew was one of those manual laborers. He was described as gap-toothed, illiterate, with a pockmarked face, and walked with a pronounced limp. Just three years after the above Census Matthew would stand accused of the murder of Charlotte Dymond, one of his fellow servants at Penhale.
The Charlotte Dymond case became, and still is to this day, one of the most notorious cases of capital murder in Cornish history.
In the end, Matthew was found guilty of the murder of Charlotte Dymond and was hanged in front of a crowd estimated at 20,000. He had only spent 10 days in the Bodmin Gaol.
I began to read and study more on the case of Charlotte Dymond and discovered that there are many troubling aspects related to the guilt of Matthew Weeks. Matthew made two statements to the authorities, one which told of his innocence and a second later statement, in very flowery language not at all indicative of an illiterate farm laborer, admitting to his guilt. There were multiple additional inconsistencies and evidence that did not match up with Matthew and his supposed murder of Charlotte.
As a genealogical historian, I find one additional aspect especially intriguing. It is not my original thinking as I read about this aspect of the case in Pat Munn’s book “The Charlotte Dymond Murder: Cornwall 1844”. Author Munn asks why would as fastidious a historian as Sir John MacLean, a man who wrote exhaustively about the history, intricacies, and families of Cornwall ignore this entire branch of his very own family? She also asked why he decided to ignore the fact that there is a most distinctive monument to Charlotte Dymond on the edge of Bodmin Moor at Roughtor.
As I read more about the murder case, I noted with interest that there was much intrigue, unrequited love, and other matters within the family and servant/laborers surrounding Charlotte at the time of her murder. And, especially in today’s environment, it is hard to overlook the fact that Matthew testified that Charlotte had been given her notice of termination by Mrs. Peter.
Then there was the matter of the defense of Matthew. While the official media reports of the day held statements to the effect that Matthew was given a vigorous and full defense by his attorney, when reading the case transcript, it appears that his attorney took only one hour to present his entire defense. One hour in a capital murder case?
The jury took just 35 minutes to find Matthew guilty and the judge then immediately sentenced him to death by hanging with his body buried in the coal yard of the prison.
Perhaps this is why to this day, some 170 years after her death, the ghost of Charlotte Dymond is still reportedly seen walking the Bodmin Moor in her ‘Sunday best’. Could it be that she is still not able to be at rest due to the hanging of the wrong man, who also happened to be the love of her life?
Going deep in our genealogy adds so much to our family trees
This story has added a wonderful aspect not only to our family tree, but it has just the kind of allure that can draw in the young, the young at heart, and the simply curious in the family.
To me, going deep is the only way to go in genealogy. Besides, it sure makes our work in family history all the more fun!