The day after our adventures in Ditchling the cousins graciously took us to The Keep so I could explore a little. This was particularly kind since I was the one out of the four of us who really wanted to spend a little time there, getting to see the collections and trying to find family records. I got a morning of research with some help from a number of people, including my cousin; the others were quite good about doing a little wandering and then sitting and talking over a cup of tea.
The Keep is a new repository and building, opened in the Fall of 2013, which is a partnership of the East Sussex Records Office, the Royal Pavilion & Museums Local History Collections and the University of Sussex Special Collections and puts all of these records in one place. I thought I had taken a picture of it as we arrived but apparently I didn’t. So here is a picture, courtesy of the Wikipedia Commons.
This building also houses the library of the Sussex Family History Group, which is staffed by volunteers of the Group. It was in their library that we started and I was lucky enough to find Judy and Colin Excell on duty that day. They were both very helpful in finding me places to start my searches in, and I came away from them with copies of several pages from a book about the Ditchling church group and several references for transcribed wills to send for; I also took an application to join the Group (which I did as soon as I returned home). One of the record sets available to members (I’m not sure about non-members) is a collection of transcribed wills and probate records. With the information from Judy I was able to request and have emailed to me two wills from the early 1700s.
I spent the rest of my time getting oriented to the microfilm collection and looking for several specific wills. I was thrilled to find two of the ones I was looking for (William Denman of Cowfold in Sussex, 1738, and Michael Marten of Fragborrough in the parish of Ditchling in Sussex, 1750), and was able to get digital images of the pages which I downloaded to my thumbdrive (I came prepared!). I think I paid The Keep 10p per image for this service. On a quick skim on the microfilm reader I could see that William Denman mentioned several children, including his eldest son William, who we think is the father of my emigrant ancestor William Denman. I also found that Michael Marten mentioned two of his daughters (perhaps the only two children still living when he wrote the will), both of whom were married to Denman men. One of them, Ann Marten, was married to a William Denman and we think this is the same son William from the William Denman will. This is the place in the search where a knowledge of very local geography and social history is so important and where my new-found cousin is particularly helpful. Now that I’m home again and the winter holidays are behind us, I am starting work on transcribing both of these documents.
Unfortunately, the William Denman who married Ann Marten does not seem to have left a will. It would have been so convenient if he had and had mentioned his son William who went to America! If memory serves, my fourth great grandmother’s (Ann Boorman’s) father did leave a will naming her and that she had gone to America.
All in all, I left The Keep well satisfied and excited to follow up my finds. As is often the case, I was left with questions and thoughts about how to follow up. I think there are new English record groups in my future. I wish I lived a shorter plane flight from this new repository. I would happily spend at least a week visiting it daily to research.