Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Waterloo Man

Sharing the information that I have in my Beeston database with those who get in touch about their own families often brings unexpected rewards - and surprises.

When Mike Sheldon got in touch early last year, he already had the outline of his family sketched out and I was able to offer what I had, adding some detail and family connections that were new. The family lived in Beeston throughout the 19th century and, like many of that time, contributed to the way it worked then - as framework knitters, silk mill workers and lace makers.

When Mike got back to me the other day, his story showed why it is important to look at all branches of the family and all the associated detail - not just the bare facts of dates and places.

It was when he decided to take a look in detail at the burial details recorded for the family that one entry stood out. Alongside the entry for the burial in Arnold, Notts of Thomas Sheldon, Mike's Great, Great, Great Uncle, was the fascinating note, "Waterloo Man". Clearly, as now and following most wars, local communities were careful to honour and respect their fighting men.

Thomas had clearly broken away from the life in Beeston that was continued by most of his family and become a soldier and had seen the wider world. And, significantly, it meant that there was a good chance that the Army had kept a full record of his life.

Sure enough, at the National Archives at Kew, Mike discovered his discharge papers, dated 1840. They told him that Thomas had joined the Royal Horse Artillery in 1811, aged 16 years old, was a Driver and Gunner at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and had stayed in France for 3 years 6 months. Later he served in Ireland - which is probably where he met Margaret, his Irish wife - and then in England.

Afterwards, as the census had already indicated. he worked at the Royal Hospital at Woolwich as a Coachman to the Director General of the Hospital. Later listed as a Chelsea Pensioner, he moved back to Nottinghamshire and settled in Arnold where he died in 1875, aged 80. It was the record of his burial at St Marys Church, Arnold that provided the clue to the story of his life.

The lesson is clear - follow every detail as lives are not always as straightforward as they first appear.