So we set off to spend an afternoon in Ditchling with our new-found cousins and to meet the widow of the archivist for the Old Meeting House and another avid Denman researcher (who is related to the Sussex Denmans but much further back in generations).
To briefly recap the two lines of most interest to me (and my cousin): I descend from William Denman and Ann Boorman who married in 1790, lived in Hythe in Kent and migrated to America in 1795 with 3 young children. My cousin descends from Michael Denman and Elizabeth Hubbard who married in 1784 and raised their family in the area of Hurstpierpoint, Sussex. I have also connected with another cousin who descends on this line from a different son than my English cousin. It is discovering the parents for both William and Michael Denman that we are interested in.
A relative , John Bluet Denman, in the 1970s or early 1980s created a family tree for my line (for my uncle, Richard Denman) showing William as the son of William Denman and Ann Marten and showing Michael as also the son of these two. At least one other Denman researcher has also placed my William as son of William Denman and Ann Marten. With no church register currently available, and no will for the father William, to date there is no evidence supporting this part of the tree. Apparently there was a church register of births and deaths originally, which was seen and used by various researchers (including perhaps John B. Denman and certainly Leonard Maguire, archivist for the Old Meeting House) but which has gone missing since the mid-1980s or so. This register covered approximately the years 1737 – 1810 (during which my ancestor William was born and baptized as an adult into the church and Michael also would have been). As a congregation of a non-confoming and often persecuted church in England the records were never part of the officially recognized public records like the parish records or Bishop’s Transcripts and I’m told that records were often kept at a member’s home rather than the church (even after there was a church building).
One of the pictures that didn’t get taken was of the tea party we had on the small lawn in front of the the cottage (which is on the left side of this picture, with the chapel on the right) between the house and the old gravestones . It was a beautiful sunny afternoon with a clear blue sky and the border of flowers against the cottage front wall was in full display, as shown in the picture. We sat around a low table on which there was a tea pot, cups on saucers, and a plate piled high with “rock cakes” made by our hostess that day. After we had all been served with a first round of tea and cakes, she brought out a plate of freshly-baked lemon cake. Yum! There were books piled in the corners to look through when I could pull myself away from the conversation, which meandered from Denman family history to Mr. Maguire’s archival interests to current-day church interests.
There were two particularly interesting experiences that afternoon. One was seeing the chapel itself and the memorial tablets around the room.The other was the adventure of climbing down an old wooden ladder into the cellar of the old cottage and seeing the bare stones and original underpinnings of the structure. One of the stones could be seen to have a number carved into it but I could not tell if it was part of a date or something else. Unfortunately, the crypt under the chapel which contains my putative relatives is no longer accessible. Recent work on the floor covered over the entry – no clue why they would think no one would want to see old graves/memorials! So the archival notes by Mr. Maguire and the memorial tablets in the chapel itself are all that is left.