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Somerset & Dorset
Family History Society

The Greenwood Tree – June 2020

Emigration to the New World proved to be the most popular theme for The Greenwood Tree in memory as members sent in a record number of contributions for the June edition. Editor Paul Radford previews the special edition which has four extra pages and which will be mailed to members at the end of May and which SDFHS members can already view or download from the Members Area of the Society’s website.

Greenwood Tree - June 2020
Finding My Mayflower - Donna with James and Hannah Small
Donna Heys with ancestral graves

Quantity and quality do not always go hand in hand but I am confident members will be suitably astounded by the wealth of outstanding stories on the Migration theme. It tapped into a very rich vein indeed. We were particularly blessed to have articles from two Dorset residents who have successfully traced their family trees back to the Pilgrim Fathers, who sailed on the Mayflower from Plymouth precisely 400 years ago. Donna Heys describes the steps that you have to go through to join the Mayflower Society, open to proven descendants only, and tells the tales of her pioneer ancestors. Carrie Southwell was a small child when she was taken to Plymouth to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Mayflower sailing and was told of her own family connection to William Brewster, the religious leader of the Pilgrim Fathers. She visited his original ancestral home in Nottinghamshire a few years ago.

Rebel's Return by Isaac Sailmaker
Island of Barbados painting by Isaac Sailmaker

Author Andrew Stephenson reveals his research into the life of Yeovil doctor Henry Pitman, who was exiled to the Caribbean for his part in the Monmouth Rebellion. Though the good doctor eventually returned home, he set off of his own accord on another adventure-filled trip to Barbados where he witnessed some horrifying racism and cruelty before prematurely ending his days there.

From Chard to Wild West cavalry
The US 8th Cavalry around 1870

Carole Bonifas tells the extraordinary story of John Dutton Bonifas who left Chard to serve in the US Cavalry in the Wild West and who returned to try to find proof that he was descended from the family of Baron Sherborne in order to make a claim on a San Francisco estate worth $3m dollars.

The story of Somerset-born Ellen Male, as told by great-great-grandson Keith Howell, is no less remarkable. She disappeared from view for a while to emerge in Utah with the Mormons and married twice there though her first husband was still alive in Wales. Her colourful and slightly confusing life meant she acquired no less than five surnames at different times.

The Clue in the Newfoundland Benville tea rooms
The Benville Tearooms in Newfoundland

Perhaps the most intriguing story was the means by which Canadian Susan Way eventually discovered her family roots in Dorset. It involves a famous explorer, the name of a Newfoundland Tea Room and a chance sighting on an Ordnance Survey map. You would have to read it all to unravel the mystery.

There are too many other great emigration stories to list here and, though most of the edition is taken up with the theme, there are other notable features. The recently introduced ‘The Greenwood Tree investigates’ section looks into the amazing story of the Somerset preacher who put himself at odds with his parishioners to the extent that they boycotted his church for at least 12 years. 

Dunster Yarn Market
Dunster Yarn Market

Somerset Spotlight regales us with the delights of the medieval village of Dunster, the SDFHS Photo Project looks at old Weymouth photographers and their holiday snaps, and there is a bumper Letters to The Editor postbag as well as the usual What The Papers Said and Book Review sections.

Paul Radford
Editor, The Greenwood Tree