Thomas Hodgetts, Second Fleeter- Identifying Our Ancestor

For many years several family historians researching and writing about the “Thomas Hodgetts” who was transported on the Second Fleet, have argued over his origins. All records we have been able to gather together stated he came from “Staffordshire, England”. However there are several “Thomas Hodgetts” born in Staffordshire about the same time. How can we identify our Thomas Hodgetts from the rest?

 Anyone who has followed any of my research and blogs will know I am a great believer in digging long and deep into the “Parish Chest Records”. From these we can get down to the local level not only of our ancestors, but all their friends and family too.

 Over time I sorted through all the surviving Parish Chest records of many, many parishes in Staffordshire, in my quest for Thomas Hodgetts.

 I was finally rewarded when I found the Examination Certificate of an Ann Hodgetts, when she applied for assistance, on 13 January 1790, to the Vestry of Wednesbury, Staffordshire.

 This parish meeting was made up of the Vicar, Parish Clerk, and Overseer of the Poor. Church Wardens might also attend. Their job was to administer the parish funds. They had the reputation of being very careful with parish funds, especially in difficult times as was the case in Wednesbury in the latter part of the 18th Century. Only those who had a very good case would get the needed assistance.

 In her examination, which was given under oath, Ann Hodgetts stated, among other things, that she had married Thomas Hodgetts some years before and she had three children, who were desperately in need of assistance. She gave their names and ages. She also stated that her husband had been ‘transported’ and she had no one to turn to for assistance.

She finally stated that she had not at any time applied to any other parish for assistance. This would suggest she did not approach St Mary’s, Whitechapel, London, for help as some have claimed.

 Having transcribed this document and gleaned several important clues, I could now move forward on my research into the origins of our Thomas Hodgetts.

 Meanwhile, on the very day that Ann Hodgetts had been examined at Wednesbury, Staffordshire, some 170 miles to the south, in Portsmouth on the coast of Hampshire, others waited. Several ships were anchored in the harbour waiting for the wretched winter gales to abate so they might sail.

These included the Justinian, Guardian, Surprise, Scarborough and Neptune. These five ships were to make up the Second Fleet bound for New South Wales.

 On board the Scarborough was our Thomas Hodgetts, who had lost his appeal not to be transported and to serve out his sentence in England.

 On board the Neptune was our Harriet, a free woman, who arrived on the shores of New South Wales several months later claiming to be the wife of “Thomas Hodgetts”. She certainly wasn’t Ann Hodgetts who had changed her name and was sailing towards a better life. Who was she, and how did she get a ‘free passage’ on the Neptune?

 On the 19th January 1790 the weather improved and the Fleet set sail for New South Wales.

 In recent blogs I have stated that I have begun to put together our Hodgetts family history.

Most family historians know that a family history is more than a list of names and dates. You need the story around these names, dates and events. However, it does not mean that you should fabricate a wonderful fictional story with no basis of historical and contextual truth just because you want your ancestors to be so. Nor should you thoughtlessly manipulate names and dates to fit this fictitious story.

 There are many, many published books and articles that suggest how to go about putting together an interesting family history based on facts and evidence. There are also on-line writing courses on that very subject. Just Google it. You will be surprised how much there is. You need to find that book or course that fits what you want to do.

 I have written and published many books on history and family history, but each one is different, and I try to approach each project with new eyes. At the same time there are basic things I need to think about when I start to write.

Time, place, circumstances, law, custom, mood, suspense, pace and ‘voice’ are some of the things I need to keep in mind. Indeed there is much to think about as I begin to put my words down on paper.

I know I will not find it an easy project, and there will be much frustration and editing, but I can but try.

Taking the above mentioned document of Ann Hodgett’s Settlement Examination, this is one way I might use it in the family story.

 Ann Hodgetts, the wife of Thomas Hodgetts, in desperate need, applied to the Wednesbury Parish for assistance for herself and her children on 13 January 1790. (Referenced Footnote)

Or perhaps this way.

Ann sat huddled in the icy tomb. She clutched her thin brown shawl around herself and stared down into the darkness, where her much-mended shoes should be. She couldn’t see them, nor could she feel her feet. Her shoes were wet with melted snow, and her feet had literally frozen into them. She was completely numb with cold and hunger.

 She had prayed long and fervently for many months, that this hour would not come.

Firstly to Mary, the Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and Mother to all mothers. In the beginning in the long warm days of summer Ann’s prayers had been answered, and she believed that she had been delivered from this terrible fate. In those days Ann had hope.

 However, as the barmy days gave way to chilling winds and long dark nights, it seemed the saintly Mother no longer listened to her supplications. When Ann knew Mary had deserted her, she then prayed even longer and harder to St Bartholomew, the patron Saint of this very church, and then to all the heavenly host, but to no avail. By now, Ann’s hope had faded away.

 Would she and her children now be sentenced to a terrible death, through no fault of their own?

 Suddenly the heavy door of the church creaked loudly, and a draught of chilling winds entered the inky darkness. A single candle spluttered into life and a shadowy figure glided down the nave to light the altar candles, one by one.

 Soon other shadowy figures entered and set up a trestle and chairs three parts of the way up the nave, below the pulpit, and in front of the choir stalls. This was some distance from where Ann sat, towards the rear of the church, in what had been in better days, the family pew.

interior2

Interior of St Bartholomew’s Church, Wednesbury prior to the alterations of 1827.(from: A History of Wednesbury, in the County of Stafford’ by JN Bagnall Published 1854, by William Parke, Wolverhampton.) Retrieved From <http://dp.genuki.uk/big/eng/STS/Wednesbury/StBartholomew/picture2> on 25 May 2017

The door opened a third time and in strode several portly figures, some with chains of office hanging from their necks, to be seated at the table. To sit in judgement for, and with God himself. For a full minute a foreboding stillness settled on the ancient stone church.

 Then one of the figures of judgement rose and bellowed into the darkness. “This Vestry is now in session. All ye seeking benefit, come forth!”

 Ann rose slowly and shuffled forward. Thus began the Settlement Examination of Ann Hodgetts. (Referenced footnote)

Or somewhere in between. I would value comments from Hodgett descendants, as I know there are a lot of you out there.

Bell Ancestors, Going to America-Postscript

In recent times I get telephone calls and receive emails from people all over Australia asking what website they need to access to download their ‘family history’.

When I inquire a little deeper they tell me they have an important family birthday celebration coming up and the ‘family history’ would make a great gift.

Then I ask, why they thought it was on the Internet and so easily accessible? Yes, they were avid fans of ‘Who Do You Think You Are? And,yes, they had seen the advertisements on the television. They had tried the suggested site,but couldn’t find what they were looking for, so thought it must be on another website, and I would surely know which one.

Family historians who have been ‘doing their family history’ for some time know that it is not all about the collection of names and dates and entering them into a data base to reveal their ‘family tree’.

I believe it is a life time journey, where the solving of little family puzzles, finding that elusive document, sharing ideas and stories with not only with like minded people, but if you are very blessed, people, who are actually connected to the same family.

Just as it takes time, work and dedication for a seed to grow into a mighty tree, it takes time, work and dedication of many people to ‘grow’ your ‘ family tree’.

Unfortunately with the ‘fast and furious’ digital age people ‘want everything now’ with instant gratification. I know many get so disappointed, and some even angry that I can not give them the instant answers they were expecting. Sometimes I will suggest I meet them in the local library and we have a look on the Internet to see what we can find, and perhaps, even someone, who is researching the same family. If they are not even interested in doing that much, I have to tell them I cannot help.

I am very aware of how the information gets onto the Internet. It is the work of many, many thousands of people,who over time, have collected, indexed, scanned and data-entered massive amounts of information. Sometimes it is actually part of employment and people get paid to do it, but mostly it is usually many thousands of volunteers and family historians, who are ‘giving back’ to their family and community. The Internet is not some super software program, which has collected the information out of the ether and sorted it into files we can miraculously access, and download with our computers and smart phones.

I am always hopeful that the large ‘free’ as well as subscription websites might make that fact a little clearer to their subscribers and users.

Computers and the Digital Age make wonderful ‘slaves’ for researching our family history, but we always need to take care they do not become the ‘masters’. It is not all on the Internet.

I believe the most important part of family history is that everyone in the family should be encouraged to take part no matter how large or small their contribution, but everyone should also be acknowledged in some way for that contribution.

For example,take my last blog- Bell Ancestors, Going to America.

If I hadn’t made time on my busy trip to England to meet with Joan and Ivy,(as they are not on the same family line as myself);

If Ivy hadn’t been encouraged to bring out all those dozens of photographs;

If she hadn’t told us the story of those reputed uncles;

If I hadn’t followed up on the story, when I returned home;

If Glenda and Jim hadn’t been prepared to spend many hours on a difficult and a rather thankless task of combing through many, many records, (and by the way it wasn’t their branch of the family either);

If they hadn’t passed the information back to me;

If I hadn’t done anything with it, or wasn’t prepared to spend the time collating and fitting it with other records I had collected over the years;

If I hadn’t contacted Joan and Ivy with the results,and if they hadn’t then contacted these cousins in USA;

Then so much family history would have been lost again. What a terrible tragedy.

I have always been very grateful for the friendship, love and dedication to service not only with my own family research, but the ‘family history’ community at large. This is what I’m trying to pass onto the next generations. One way I have found is encouraging them all to take part at our family gatherings, as well at other appropriate activities.

Blogging also gives me the opportunity to acknowledge so many in the past, and also the present too.