National Share-a-Story Month takes place every month to celebrate the power of storytelling. Share-a-Story Month is one of many initiatives of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups, an organisation that was started in the 1960s in response to parents' desires to learn more about children’s books and how to encourage their own children to read more. However, it is not just children who relish stories.
It is human nature to appreciate the drama, emotion, and narrative of personal and social events. A 2017 study in Nature Communications, indicated that ‘storytelling is a powerful means of fostering social cooperation and teaching social norms, and it pays valuable dividends to the storytellers themselves, improving their chances of being chosen as social partners, receiving community support and even having healthy offspring.’ This is certainly true of genealogists: family history is all about telling the stories of our ancestors.
In a sense, every month is Share-a-Story Month for genealogists. Here at the Society of Genealogists, we welcome members and others to share stories with us and each other at our events and via our social media. Sharing stories with us may also include depositing your research. This can allow others to explore papers, photographs, and other family documents that can reveal further stories.
A recent discovery that we made in our collections at the Society of Genealogists provides a snapshot into the misfortunes of one family and tells an extraordinary tale. The paper lists members of the Bridgeman and Arrowsmith families, giving details of their years of birth and death. While some are recorded only with these basic details, the information on others helps to form more of a narrative story.William Arrowsmith was the eldest child of George Arrowsmith and Mary Arrowsmith (formerly Bridgeman; 1729-1786). His parents had married on 28 October 1745 at St Mary’s Church, Shaw cum Donnington, near Newbury, Berkshire, England (ref, Findmypast; Berkshire Marriages Index; Berkshire Family History Society).
William was born 27 April 1747, and the paper reveals that he was apprenticed to a shoemaker in Newbury. He travelled from there to London, where one morning his shop mate decoyed him down the river and 'got him into a Ship then going to set Sail I believe for America'. The entry ends mysteriously with the words 'and has not since been heard off [sic].’
After this astonishing revelation, the paper then returns to giving basic birth and death details for William's siblings, including George junior, and the marriage details of his sister Hannah (1751-1823).
As genealogists, we know how to use parish registers, local newspapers, and ships’ passenger lists to research further into the lives of families such as these. Frustratingly, the story of William Arrowsmith as revealed on the paper from the Bible is incomplete. Perhaps with further investigation into resources in the USA and elsewhere, we can discover more and give this tale the conclusive ending it deserves.
And let’s hope it’s a happy one.
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