11 July 2023
Katharine McKinnon shares the story of an auction find that led her to a missing ancestor, the missing sister of eight girls.
I was told that my maternal great grandmother, Annie Newman (b.1871, Coleby, Lincolnshire) was one of seven sisters who grew up in a tiny two-up two-down cottage, in Coleby near Lincoln. My Nan, Mabel, was Annie’s only daughter.
The cottage where Katharine's great-grandmother Annie was brought up
In 1985 I started researching my family history, starting with these seven sisters. Pretty early on with the help of the Lincolnshire Family History Society, I found the marriage of their parents, Robert (b.1821) and Sophia (nee Crampton b.1830) Newman in Coleby in 1854. Tragically, their only brother, Charles, was born in 1855 and died shortly afterwards. But hang on, I counted eight daughters, what happened to the missing sister?
Fast forward to 2009. I was about to attend the graduation ceremony for my MA in History. With days to go, I got a surprise phone-call. It was the head teacher of Coleby Primary School who had got my contact details via the family history society. Was I aware of the Victorian sampler that was up for auction on Saturday? The girl who had sewn this was Jane Newman, aged 12, who had attended Coleby School in the 1870s. I thought, yes this is one of the sisters. How on earth had it come up for auction? It turned out there was a house removal a few weeks prior and in one of the boxes was this sampler.
I live in Merseyside and the auction was to be the day of my graduation. I had not traced my family history forwards to my 21st-century cousins. I tried phoning a few family members, but nobody was free or were willing to pay the reserve price or more for the sampler. Back to the head teacher – she asked if I would permit the school to bid for the sampler. Jane had been a pupil there and they wanted to make a feature of the sampler. I was more than happy for the sampler to go to the school.
Sitting in my graduation ceremony, my thoughts drifted to the auction. The sampler had fetched nearly twice the reserve price but the school were successful. After a further talk with the head teacher, and an item in the local Lincolnshire paper, I said that any member of my wider family had an open invitation to visit the school and see the sampler and the exhibition, which is on permanent display.
The following summer, my husband, father, uncle, aunt and I made a very proud trip to Coleby Primary School where we were treated like royalty. In the following years, several descendants of the seven sisters have made similar, happy visits.
This is a cautionary tale – trace your family tree forwards and wider and always check your attic before you move. Jane Newman was the eighth and missing sister who died shortly after the sampler was completed, aged 12, in 1872. This sampler had been kept by her sister, Annie, who was born three years later. Jane was the sister she never knew.
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