For my Writers in Stone writing group, the topic set for this month was ‘Newcomers’. All sorts of ideas sprang to mind, newcomers into a situation, newcomers into a class, newcomers into a neighbourhood… so many thoughts, so many different things which could be written. I began to wonder if there was a name ‘Newcomer’, maybe German in origin – I don’t know why I thought that, but it just occurred to me as I pondered. I looked it up and found that there were people with that surname – Carrie, John, Christian, Francis K., Scott Newcomer, and another John Newcomer… so I could write about people called Newcomer. I looked at family history and found that in the 1841 census, several families appeared; what started as research became my piece of writing:
In 1841 there were only twenty-two Newcomers, not new-comers, but people called newcomer. With so few, you have to wonder if they were all related. 1841 was the year of the first census, and in it we find, on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent Augustus and Sarah and their baby daughter Emma.
Up in London, just fifty miles away from Sheppey, thirty-year old Eliza is living and presumable working as a servant. There are no details where she was born on this census, so we don’t know if she was related to Augustus – and actually we don’t know whether he was related to some of the other Newcomers.
Edward and Nancy Newcomer live up in Yorkshire in Sculcoates, and over in Wales in Ruthin, Denbighshire, Frances and Richard live with their adult daughters, Frances, Jemima and Maria.
However, most of the Newcomers live in Lincolnshire, near Louth, Thomas and Mary and their six children live in Fotherby. Do they have a seventh child, a daughter Catharine aged twenty and living in the wonderfully named Pidley-cum-Fenton? Is Catharine a servant cum nanny to the five children in the family she lives with?
What happens to these people and families? Looking forward ten years to 1851, there only appears to be two Newcomers, young Thomas from Louth who is now a butcher and shopkeeper with his sister Eliza as his housekeeper. So where are all the others? Did they pass away in some epidemic? Did they move abroad maybe to one or other of the colonies, Australia maybe, or Canada?
No… Thomas and Eliza’s parents appear as Newcomen, a transcription error. Thomas senior and his wife Mary are living on a 90 acre farm with two ag labs, agricultural labourers, and a servant, and son Robert and a previously unnamed daughter Fanny live with them.
Over in Wales, the Newcomers are now Newcomes, and it’s revealed that Richard is a vicar, and there is a son, William who didn’t appear with the family on the previous census. William is a farmer with four agricultural labourers working his 124 acre land.
Of Nancy and Edward we can only guess – maybe it’s them who appear in the census, and in fact she is really Ann and is actually ten years older than her husband. In the days of greater illiteracy, it was common for people to be unsure when they were born, and maybe she didn’t want to seem quite as old as she actually was.
By 1861 the censuses don’t allow us to trace any of the original people we met in 1841 – some will have died, young women married, names changed to Newcomb, Newcome, Newcomen and people will have moved, misremembered their details, or remembered ones which were mistaken twenty years earlier.
In 1871, there seem no link to the names which appear, but in 1881 Maria Newcomer is named – is she one of the vicar’s daughters from Denbighshire? No, she comes from Ireland and she turns up again ten years later, with her name now spelt Mariah.
And that’s it for the people we found in Sheppey, Piddly-cum-Fenton, Louth, Ruthin and Sculcoates.
If they were my family I would pursue them in more depth, chase up the loose ends… as it is, they may just become an inspiration for something else I write…