Climbing Family Trees: My Friend Ann by Linda Whiting

Climbing Family Trees

More great stories, poems, and helpful hints about genealogy and searching for your family's roots from the twin authors of "Climbing Family Trees: Whispers In The Leaves"

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

My Friend Ann by Linda Whiting

“ MY FRIEND ANN”
Linda Whiting
“Cloth napkins,” I uttered in awe. “I’ve always wanted cloth napkins!” Susan Quan looked up from the microfilm she was reading. We were alone in the small Family History Center at the time. Learning what my outburst was about, Susan began kidding me. “What else did she have?” I read down the list from the 1721 Last Will and Testament, items Ann Hoccom Morris was leaving to her nine children: “Sheep shears, a looking glass, a stool, a wooden table, two benches …” “Anything in there about a microwave?” she asked. “What about a fridge? Any mention of a car?” she added with emphasis. We both laughed. My moment of jealousy was over.

I thought about that experience often during the next week. I am a direct descendant of Ann’s, but by now I also felt we were friends. I knew we were a lot a like too and it pleased me she had owned something really nice, like cloth napkins. It had been almost exactly a year since I’d made the decision to search for her by researching her maiden name.

At the time, there were so many questions I couldn’t answer. Parish records revealed her first husband, John Hoccom, died suddenly, leaving her with a farm and children. Then, less than a year later, a son followed his father to the grave. I wondered if some accident had occurred or if a dreaded disease had robbed her of both loved ones. I pondered, too, how she had survived it emotionally. The questions swirled in my mind. I needed answers, but the records were silent.

Then I discovered, less than a year after her first husband’s death, amazingly, she married again. Now even more questions haunted me. Had this couple known each other before? Was he a friend of her husband John? Was it a marriage of convenience? These questions became more plausible when I learned that the man was the farm foreman of a landed gentry’s estate near Ann’s farm. Clearly, There could have been something besides love in the marriage for both of them; he would get to work his own land, and she would get someone to manage her farm.

I unearthed the record of Ann’s second marriage to William Morris in 1688, but Ann’s maiden name wasn’t mentioned, only the fact she was a widow. To find her maiden name, I realized I was going to need to also find a record of her first marriage. That became my plan, and if that wasn’t possible, I decided I would order every record available during the years she and John Hoccom lived until I could find one where someone mentioned her maiden name. Every week I ordered a microfilm or two from the Salt Lake Library and had it sent to our local Family History Center in Phoenix. I served as a volunteer in the Family History Center and there was ample time for members of the staff to work on their own genealogy lines when there weren’t any patrons to help.

I figured finding Ann Hoccom was just a matter of hard detective work. I would eliminate all possibilities until the cherished maiden name appeared. First, I scoured parish records, then marriage indexes, then genealogies. Further digging led me into land records, court records, and probate records as the weeks and months flew by. More than six months later on a Saturday morning, as I was diligently reading the old English handwriting on a microfilm, an unexpected thought came to my mind, “You’ll never find the marriage record. It wasn’t recorded. But don’t stop looking.” I was startled by this inspiration as, frankly, it wasn’t what I wanted to hear! I decided, however, to be obedient and continue looking.

Often while searching for Ann I felt her presence. This wasn’t troubling to me, as it was a loving feeling. There seems to be a separate set of rules for spirits when it comes to contacting earth for anything having to do with family history. When I would drive in the car, thoughts of her would come to me. As I was lying in bed, drifting off to sleep, I would think of her and laugh. She wasn’t about to let me forget! And when I thought of her I saw her too: shoulder-length light brown hair, pulled back, very distinct features. I had no idea how I knew what she looked like, as I had never read a description of her in a record.

After searching about a year for her maiden name, I decided to take a gamble and check if Ann had a will. Women during this time-period seldom left wills, so I knew it was a long-shot at best.
Much to my surprise, when I ordered the Diocese Index of wills for the year of her death, I found she had recorded one! When the will arrived I scanned through it hastily, disappointed once again, not to find her maiden name. The last two pages were the itemized list of her possessions: cloth napkins, sheep shears, etc. The first page, however, appeared to be her own written words. First she bore her testimony of Jesus Christ. I could feel her spirit as I read the words, “I resign my soul unto the hands of God my Creator, humbly imploring the pardon of all my sins which I look for only through the merits and mediation of a dear Redeemer… My body I bequeath to the earth, firmly believing that I shall receive the same again at the general resurrection.”

Next, she named her children, starting with the oldest. To her eldest son, Thomas Hoccom, she left one shilling. To her eldest daughter, Elizabeth Nickles, she left five shillings. As I read those words, my mind jackknifed open. Wait a second, I thought! She didn’t have a daughter named Elizabeth! Then it all became clear. This was why I had been searching for a year. It wasn’t to find her maiden name at all; it was to find this daughter! This Will was the only record that connected the daughter’s name with Ann! The spirit told me my search was over. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for Ann, as I was finally able to find her complete family, with her help. As a loving mother, she knew her family wasn’t complete until each child was listed together on the family group sheet and other family records. I silently asked one last question, “Will I ever get to meet Ann?” The answer came softly to my mind, “Yes.”

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