Bessie’s parents Thomas and Mary Bridle (nee Mary Ann Courtney) were born in the parishes of Bradford Peverell and Charminster respectively. I can see an image of their marriage certificate on Ancestry (how amazing is that?!). On 22 May 1862 aged 21 and 19, they both signed the register after their wedding ceremony in neat handwriting. Thomas’s signature being particularly well-executed in copperplate style. From that I deduce that they both had a reasonable amount of schooling.

Flicking back and forth through the pages of the marriage register to see how their handwriting compared to that of other celebrants I noticed several other Courtney weddings including one where Thomas and Mary Ann were the witnesses. It seems that Mary Ann had cousins in the district and that the families were close. In my short study I encountered several “X” signatures, but in general most brides, grooms and witnesses signed their full names with varying degrees of dexterity. And that should have been that, but the first “his/her mark” signatures I encountered twisted my heart. Not only were this couple illiterate, but the bride was a 27 year old widow…

This is the sort of tiny detail that snags my attention and that diverts me from my main goal. Not content with satisfying my initial impulse to do a quick check to see how Thomas and Mary’s handwriting compared to that of their contemporaries, I wanted (needed!) to know more about the widow and her groom. It was easy enough to find them despite numerous variations of their surname – Treaves, Trevett, Treviss.

On the 1861 census, which was taken six months before the marriage, Elizabeth, a dressmaker, appears as the head of a household and has two daughters aged 11 and seven, and a nine year old son. Richard, an agricultural labourer, is her lodger. Was it a love match or a practical arrangement? By 1871 they have four more children, a girl of 5, boy of 8 and twin boys of nine. One of the twins has the same name as Elizabeth’s first husband. Perhaps an indication that he and the second husband had a friendly connection?

Eventually I realised that I had lost my way and halted my trip down that particular rabbit hole and, while hoping that their union was a successful one, dragged my attention back to my own forebears. I suspect though, that they will stay in the back of my mind. Elizabeth was a Charminster woman and her father was a shepherd, so they were likely known to my family. And then there are the indirect ancestors to think about – the other Courtneys who married in the early 1860s, how are they related to my GGG Mary Ann Courtney Bridle?

But for now, I’m back to trying to picture what life might have been like for nearly-seven year old GG Bessie in April 1871. More about that another day. Anything beyond the bare facts has to be speculation, so I’m a bit bogged down in research materials and trying to get my notes organised. Hopefully having decided to focus on Bessie’s immediate family, a fairly limited time-period (1871-ish) and location (Forston farm/Charminster) for now will help keep me focused.

Here’s a clip from Google Maps showing the entrance to Forston farm. Structurally the view is probably very similar as in 1871, but, apart from the sheep and some of the trees, most of the detail would have been very different.

Forston farm. Clip from Google Maps.

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