This week, amidst obsessively checking for houses coming on the market and trying to stop myself mentally moving in to one I like, I have been researching the lives of Alice and May. The full story will appear on Granny’s Tales shortly. Alice and May are not newcomers to my family tree; I have known them all my life. I should qualify that, they both died before I was born but their photographs are in the treasured family album and they formed part of the lexicon of family lore that was repeated by my mother and great aunt. ‘Auntie Alice’ was one of my great grandmother’s sisters and ‘Cousin May’ was her daughter. The stories went something like this:
Alice’s first husband was a Mr Fludder, who was May’s father. Alice then married Mr Hart. May married a William Pleoney or Fleoney. Auntie Alice died in a fire when home alone in Whitstable, Kent. Normally, the family stories that were passed to me have proved to be pretty accurate when placed under the scrutiny of documentary family history research; not so these ‘facts’ about Alice and May. Decades ago, I established that almost everything I’d been told about Alice and May was wrong.
May was illegitimate. Her birth was registered as May Bula Dawson. Although there were Fludders in the area, there is no evidence that Alice was ever in a relationship with on of them and she certainly didn’t marry one. When Alice married Thomas Sanders Hart, a widower, nine years after May’s birth, May took the surname Hart and was to claim that Thomas Hart was her father when she married. Married that is to a William Dear. Goodness knows where Phleoney came from. Who was May’s father? For a long time I suspected the solitary Mr Bula who could be found in the census closest to May’s birth. Was it indeed a Mr Fludder? Was it, as May claimed, Thomas Hart? I am now, thanks to help from another researcher, pretty sure I know which is correct but I am afraid you will have to wait for the release of Alice and May’s story to find out.
Then there was the ‘burnt to death in a fire’. Well not unless she caught pneumonia as a result she wasn’t, as pneumonia, coma and thrombosis is what is on Alice’s death certificate. I looked in the newspapers, for mentions of a fire in Whitstable around the time of Alice’s death to no avail. This week I tried again. Additional newspapers have been made available. Yes, there was a fire, yes someone died whilst home alone but it wasn’t Alice. Who lost their life? Why did the family think it was Alice? Stand by for the big reveal, although diligent researchers might be able to get there first, even with just the few clues that I have given you here.
Finally, I’d welcome comments on May’s attire in this photograph. She was born in 1889, surely this is shockingly short. Could it be some kind of theatrical costume? The never-ending hunt continues.