• 52 Ancestors 2022, week 4: Curious
Emma Charlotte Hearn, née Whipp, my great-great-grandmother. The child is, as yet, unidentified.
Emma Charlotte Hearn, née Whipp.

If you're playing along at home, you may have noticed that I skipped last week's #52Ancestors post and it was purely because the topic - favourite photo - was just too hard!

I'm currently in the process of scanning thousands of photographs that belonged to my great-uncle and great-aunt, Jack and Mary. Amongst them are so many fantastic photos, they, too, are becoming some of my new favourites. I'll keep working on my favourite photo article and publish it at some point over the year.

On to this week: all things curious.

Researching your family history is all about answering questions. Who were my 3x great-grandparents? What was it like living in the 1800s? Does this house still exist? Where do I come from? With patience and hard work, many answers can be found but some will be left, cruelly, unanswered.

For this week's #52Ancestors, I'll be looking at a few of my own unanswered ancestral questions, all three of them relating to my 2x great grandmother, Emma Hearn, née Whipp. 


1. The Mystery Photo Album

Some time ago I was given a beautiful, although battered, family photo album, which I believe belonged to Emma. Inside there are 39 photographs of some of my ancestors, yet just 3 have writing on the back on them to indicate who they might be. One is labelled "Mr R. J. Whipp", and is likely to be my 3x great-uncle. 

Another, the one seen above, has a label on the back giving a description of the man (dark hair, blue eyes, bright complexion), and is addressed to a Mrs Hearn at a rough address I know she lived at.

One also has had the writing on the back covered over in ink which, so far, I've been unable to read. This photo is curious in itself as it appears to be a Victorian post-mortem portrait of a mother holding her deceased daughter. Who was she?


Photographs above, left: A mother and her deceased child? Right: Writing on the back of the card has been heavily inked out.

I've tried all kinds of magic in photo processing to try and read the writing, and it's just doesn't appear to be readable in any light. That mystery remains - for now.

If you'd like to see the other photos in the mystery photo album, you'll find them here.


2. The disappearance of John Hearn

There's a family mystery surrounding my 2x great-uncle, John Hearn, one of Emma's sons. The story goes that he disappeared during WW1 travelling to America to buy horses but, so far, I've actually managed to learn very little about him. It's very possible that one or more of the photos in the album above are of John.

Born in Buxted, Sussex, in 1875, his family moved to the western outskirts of Reading, Berkshire, before his first census appearance when he was 6 in 1881. Ten years later, he's a groom - so would've been looking after horses - as were his father and brothers on the Hardwick estate, Whitchurch-on-Thames. 

The only other bit of information I have about him is a brush with the law just before Christmas 1906 when he was charged with being "drunk in charge of a horse and wagonette", and was fined 5 shillings (£27 today) and costs.

There's a potential (but rough) match for him as a boarder in 1911, but I can't find a match in 1901, nor can I find a reliable death entry - it really is as if John disappears at some point after 1906.

An extract from Emma Hearn's will. It reads: "In the event of John Hearn not being found from twelve months after my death, the furniture and effects to become the sole property of Robert Hearn".

And, just because it's interesting, here's a map from the late 1890s showing Hardwick Farm, on the far left, where the family lived and worked. Click the image for a larger, higher resolution image, or view the original on the National Library of Scotland's website. Images used here reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a CC-BY-NC-SA licence.



3. Who was Johann Heine?

Emma's marriage to my 2x great-grandfather wasn't her first. In 1866 she married Johann Heine in the magnificent parish church in Marylebone.

On the face of it, their marriage certificate should be helpful, it gives their names, their parent's names, even that Johann was a baker. The trouble is, just like John, I can't find any good matches. 

Besides the possibility of numerous spellings of Heine, I'm actually surprised by the number of London-based Johann Heines that come back in Ancestry search results around that time!

I've trawled through trade directories, incoming passenger lists, censuses and so much more. I've got a couple of close matches or coincidences, like a Johann Heine confectioner in Islington (actually just a few minutes walk from an old office I used to work in), and a Thomas Negus, the same name as one of the witnesses on his marriage certificate, being a baker in Enfield Wash but that's very much north London!

I can't even pin down birth dates as the ages are just given as "of full age".

I'm hoping, that as more records get published something will help unlock this mystery.


If I get any updates to these mysteries, I'll be sure to keep you posted!