Joseph and Hannah Downing: The Oldest Couple in Essex

My grandfather, Aubrey Downing, passed away last year at the grand old age of ninety-six, and I had the privilege of giving the eulogy at his funeral.  Of course, I just had to sneak a bit of family history into it by telling the congregation that it was no surprise to me that my grandfather had lived so long - he came from a long line of long-lived Downings.   The average life expectancy for a man born in the 1700s was about 35.  Our three Downing ancestors born in that century far exceeded that.   John Downing  (my 5th gg) lived to 88, Joseph Downing (my 6th gg)  lived to 77, and Samuel Downing (my 7th gg) lived to 73.  However, Joseph Downing junior (my 4th gg) took it a step further and made headlines with his old age. Read more...

Catherine Downing: The life of a lunatic

Catherine was the older sister of my ancestor Henry Downing. Like many young women of her time, she went into service at a very young age. At the age of fourteen, she spent five months in Surrey Lunatic Asylum. On her discharge, she found another position as housemaid with a family near Chelmsford. Her next employer, however, was a step up. Horace Lloyd was a wealthy barrister and counsel, living in Sussex Gardens, Paddington. Horace Lloyd was so posh that he even has a Wikipedia entry. This environment must have been very unnerving for a poor girl from rural Essex and could have tipped her fragile mental health over the edge. Read more...

James Dorr: Transported to Australia

When I first read the 1819 will of the Southminster Downing patriarch Joseph, one thing stood out.  Joseph had stipulated that upon his wife's death, his capital should be divided equally amongst his children, "except my daughter, Sarah Daw [Dorr], the wife of James Daw [Dorr], who has before been provided for". Read more...

Angelina Appleton: A Victorian Bigamist

Angelina Appleton, born 1848 Bigamist of Southend-on-Sea, Essex, and my 4th great aunt  Angelina Appleton was baptised on 30th April 1848, the fourth child of William Appleton, gardener of Leigh-on-Sea, and his wife Elizabeth.  Her older sister, Harriet, was my great great great grandmother, and the wife of Henry Downing, the subject of my last … Continue reading Angelina Appleton: A Victorian Bigamist

Henry Downing: the effect on a young family of the death of a parent

Henry Downing, 1847-1898 Painter and Decorator of Southend-on-Sea, Essex, and my great great great grandfather In the 19th century,  the death of a parent could spell financial disaster for a previously comfortably-off family, like the Downings.  Families needed a father to bring in money, and a mother to look after the home and children.  A … Continue reading Henry Downing: the effect on a young family of the death of a parent

Frederick Allen Downing: finding the father of an illegitimate child

Frederick was an obvious choice for a starting point for this blog.  His parentage was the biggest mystery in my family tree, and at one point, I thought it an unsolvable mystery.  It turned out the answer was staring me in the face all along. Read more...