When in the early 1850s my great-great grandfather bade his final farewell to friends and family in the countryside town of Soham, England, I can only imagine that he carried with him a burden of heart-breaking memories. The scythe of death had winnowed many loved ones, both old and young, from the life of William Aylard. Only months or perhaps weeks earlier, he had buried Fanny (Levet), his wife of nearly ten years, following her death from pulmonary tuberculosis. As he closed the book on this chapter of loss, he brought with him the two surviving children Fanny had borne him: Sarah and William. His firstborn son, also named William, had died five years earlier, just before his first birthday, and would remain behind, buried on the grounds of the local parish church. And yet he left behind more than death and painful memories in Soham: he also left his oldest child, a daughter named Ann.
|William Aylard (1814 - 1886)|
Private Collection of James A. Aylard
When my uncle gifted me with extensive genealogy resources several years ago, I inherited a considerable trove of family history information onto which I could graft additional research of my own. But in that inherited data, Ann was a perplexity: a limited entry in the genealogy database with little detail beyond her first name (listed there as Anna) and the faint possibility that she had one day produced two sons who might have died in the First World War. Even her mother’s name - and whether that woman and William were actually married - were unknowns.
Ann’s circumstance touched me, and the lack of information about her intrigued me. Why did she remain behind in Soham? Did she live into adulthood? Did she ever marry? Did she have children? Where did life take her, if apparently never to the shores of her father’s adopted American homeland?
Whatever happened to the daughter that William left behind? That is a mystery that I will explore in coming posts.