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Authors: Fay Sampson

Father Unknown

BOOK: Father Unknown
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A Selection of Recent Titles by Fay Sampson
available from Severn House
Fay Sampson
This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
First world edition published 2011
in Great Britain and in the USA by
9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright © 2011 by Fay Sampson.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Sampson, Fay.
Father unknown.
1. Fewings, Suzie (Fictitious character)–Fiction.
2. Women genealogists–England–Fiction. 3. Unmarried
mothers–Fiction. 4. Detective and mystery stories.
I. Title
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-154-5  (epub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8087-1  (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-389-2  (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
To Mary and Bob
xcuse me.'
Suzie had been aware for some time that the large woman at the next microfiche reader was uneasy. She had seen her leaning forward to peer at the handwriting, switching between low resolution and high. There had been the occasional mutter of: ‘Darn it!' Now she sat back with a sigh and turned to Suzie.
Her request was apologetic, but with a veiled determination. The accent, as Suzie had guessed it would be, was American.
She judged the stranger in the Record Office to be some ten years older than herself, perhaps in her fifties. Her hair was a striking dark brunette, carefully curled. The glossy red lipstick matched the silk scarf at the neck of her expensive-looking brown suit. The immaculate get-up made Suzie feel scruffy. She was aware that her flat pumps were scuffed, that the currently fashionable ‘natural' look perhaps needed a little assistance by the time you had teenage children, and that there was a moth hole in her printed cotton skirt which she had hoped no one would notice.
She was a little relieved when the American woman disarranged her hair by running a red-nailed hand through it.
‘You know, I've been going crazy, staring at this for the longest time, and I still can't make sense of it. I think it says “a base child”. Would you know what that is?'
Suzie opened her mouth to answer and shut it quickly. Like every keen family history researcher, she had been itching to share her expertise with a newcomer. Not only did she have years of experience to draw on, but she knew this county and its resources intimately. All her father's family came from here, back, in some cases, to Norman times and almost certainly to Saxon.
But this question threw her on her guard. Of course she knew what a ‘base child' was. She had them on her own family tree. A colourful human story, from one point of view, though annoying because you would usually never find out who the father was. But she hesitated to say the word to a woman she had only just met, from another culture.
The woman was talking on across her silence. ‘I know “base” means “low”. Does that mean he was a younger son? Or were these guys on the wrong side of the tracks, socially?'
Suzie played for time. ‘Would you mind if I had a look?'
‘Be my guest.' The woman shifted her bulk from the seat.
Suzie peered at the screen. She read aloud. ‘
Seventeen thirty-nine.
Was baptized Adam, son of Johan Clayson. A base child. Third of August.
‘Excuse me. Did you say
Clayson? That's John, surely. Look. There's an h.'
‘No. Johan. With an a after the h. It's a variant of Joan. J. O. A. N. You get all sorts of spellings. Joane with an e at the end. Jone – like that, but without the a. Johan, with an h. Even Jane. They're all the same name, really. You sometimes get different spellings for the same woman.'
‘But it has to be a man. Look at the rest of the page. It only gives the child's father. Or . . . maybe Adam's father died and this is a posthumous child. Is that what you're saying?'
‘I'm afraid not. It tells you here why they haven't named the father. It's what you were asking me about. A “base child”. It means Johan Clayson wasn't married to Adam's father.'
Even without looking round she felt the tension of the silence. Then the electricity exploded in a thunderous cry.
‘You're telling me he was a
Suzie swivelled the chair. The woman's face had turned almost as scarlet as her scarf. Behind tortoiseshell glasses her brown eyes flashed.
‘That's a preposterous suggestion! Is this the way you folk usually insult someone new to your country?'
It was not the reaction Suzie had expected. Shock, maybe. People reacted differently to the discovery of illegitimacy in their ancestry. For some, the more colourful the story, the better. For others, it brought an obscure sense of shame, something that could not easily be shared with the rest of the family.
She had not thought that anger would be directed at her personally.
Then she saw the teardrop quivering in the corner of the woman's eye.
It was shock, not anger.
Suzie stood up and put a hand on her arm. ‘I'm sorry. I can see it's not what you were hoping for. That's the thing about family history. We never know where it's going to lead us. Look, there's a coffee machine outside. Why don't we take a break, and you can tell me more about your Clayson family. From the sound of your accent, I guess you've come a long way on this trail.'
The woman dabbed at her eye with a tissue, careful even now to avoid smudging her mascara. ‘Gee, I'm so ashamed. I don't know what got into me to speak to you like that. Prudence Clayson. And yes, I've come all the way from Pennsylvania, USA.'
‘I'm Suzie Fewings. I'm sorry if I was the bearer of bad tidings. But really, it's not unusual. I've got several of them on my own family tree. Most people have. Why don't we have that coffee, and I can tell you more about them, and about being an unmarried mother in the eighteenth century. I guess your Johan had a lot harder time than she would have now.'
Prudence Clayson sniffed. A quiver ran through her large form. Then she pulled herself together. The red lips smiled bravely. ‘Thank you, Suzie. That sure would be nice. I'm feeling a bit disorientated right now. I came looking for something so different.'
‘I'm always being surprised,' Suzie said. ‘That's what I love about family history.'
They sat in the sunlit social area. Suzie tried not to feel embarrassed by the face Prudence Clayson made when she tasted the coffee in her polystyrene cup.
She chatted away, to put the American at her ease. ‘Honestly, it happens all the time. I've got some odder cases than yours. There was little William Eastcott. His mother Susan actually was married, but only a month before William was born. And the parson entered his christening in the baptismal register under his mother's maiden name. Any child born within two months of the marriage was deemed to be illegitimate. There's no mention of his father. It makes you wonder whether her husband Thomas Lee really was little William's father, or whether he was bribed to marry Susan Eastcott at the last minute and save them being a burden on the poor rate.'
She saw that Prudence's hands were still unsteady as she sipped her coffee. She dredged her memory for more stories. ‘And then there was Elizabeth Radford. She came from a good family. Her father was a wealthy tanner. She bore one child out of wedlock. But that wasn't the end of it. Her father died, and only a month afterwards, she married Thomas Dimont. Her second child was born three months later.
‘It's wonderful what you can tease out, just by comparing dates and putting two and two together. My guess is that Elizabeth's father wouldn't let her marry Thomas, even when she got pregnant the first time. Thomas was a Dissenter, a Presbyterian. Maybe her father refused to let her marry someone he thought was next door to a heathen. But love triumphed in the end. They had a string of children baptized at the Presbyterian chapel.
‘So you see, I know you weren't expecting your search to turn out this way, but really, it's not unusual.'
Prudence's face brightened a little. ‘My Adam was a Presbyterian. I guess that's why he left your England for the New World.'
‘Good for him. Of course, not all my family scandals turned out that well. The most colourful one was Charlotte Downs, from my mother's family in the south-east. She bore three illegitimate children, two years apart. She never married. I went to a meeting of the Family History Society where they had a talk about illegitimacy. The speaker told us that means she was probably a prostitute. Not a bit like your Johan.'
Prudence's face registered renewed shock. She put down her coffee cup and shook her head slowly. ‘You sound so cheerful about it. Almost like you think it's fun. Call me naive, but I really didn't think I'd find anything like this in my own family. Just the opposite. We're really proud in the Clayson family that we're descended from the old settlers way back in 1767. That's the oldest record I've found of the name in Pennsylvania. Adam Clayson, timber merchant in the settlement of Come-to-Good.'
‘What a lovely name.'
‘So you see, when I found out he was supposed to have come from these parts, I couldn't wait to find out more about him. A God-fearing Dissenter. Puritan stock. Somebody my children could really look up to. And now this. I guess I had the wrong idea about how straight-laced your Dissenters were.'
Suzie let the silence linger before she said gently, ‘But he
all that, wasn't he? If you've got the record of his life? If he founded that chapel at Come-to-Good? Just because he was born on the wrong side of the blanket, it's not his fault. It may not have been Johan's fault, either. We just don't know. She might have been a servant at the big house and her employer, or his son, took advantage of her. It happened a lot, and the girl usually got thrown out of her job, to add insult to injury. And if you look at the baptismal registers, the first child was often born less than nine months from the wedding. It was quite normal for the young people to sleep together and only get married when the girl had proved she could bear children. Maybe Johan's boyfriend let her down. Married someone else. Or died.'
‘You're trying to make me feel better, aren't you? But it still hurts.'
Suzie looked at Prudence reflectively. She was finding it easier to empathize with the pregnant Johan than with this degree of prudish shock. But the woman was out of her element, in a foreign country. She had travelled across the Atlantic with high hopes of a very different outcome. She deserved some sympathy. ‘Are you staying in this area? Is your husband with you?'
BOOK: Father Unknown
8.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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