“Hi, I’m visiting because my ancestors lived in Horsham, quite a long time ago.”
“Oh, when was that, First World War?”
“More like the 1600’s…”
It’s my first genealogy travel trip, and I’m in Horsham, West Sussex, England. I’m tracing my 11th great-grandmother Ferris Quynell, who lived in Horsham from 1587-1627.
I’m definitely questioning why I didn’t start with an easier ancestor. Perhaps an ancestor who lived after the 1850s, when there were lots of records available. But I live in England, Ferris Quynell’s name has always fascinated me, and when I plotted the locations of all my English ancestors, Horsham was the closest to where I live. So Ferris it is.
Here’s what I know of Ferris’ life:
- She was baptized in St. Mary’s Church, Horsham on April 17, 1587.
- Age 18, she married Francis Bushnell (he was age 25.)
- They had 11 children.
- Her second child was my ancestor, also named Francis Bushnell.
- Ferris died in childbirth along with her infant daughter Elizabeth in March 1627.
- A decade later, her husband and remaining children all immigrated to America and founded Guilford, Connecticut.
Ferris was 39 years old when she died.
I’m turning 39 this year.
Connecting with Our Ancestors
My goal with tracing my roots is to move beyond the names and dates that dominate genealogy.
I want to connect with the ancestor and her lifestyle. Understand the place where she lived, the rhythm of the year, the wild plants she would have used for food, medicine, and beauty.
I’m curious about questions like:
- Will I feel a connection with these places, rituals, plants, foods, remedies?
- Is there anything from her life that I can incorporate into my own?
- Is there still a connection between us, beyond the common sequences in our DNA?
- And ultimately, do I feel that my life is deeper, better, more meaningful by exploring these connections?
It’s July 4th, 2018, and I’m on the train to Horsham. (I do see the irony in choosing this day to do my first genealogy trip. It’s American Independence day. Plus, my ancestors took on so much risk and hardship to immigrate to America and start a new life. And what have I done? Immigrated back to England!)
My ancestors took on so much risk and hardship to immigrate to America and start a new life. And what have I done? Immigrated back to England!
The 40-mile journey takes just over an hour with one train change. The same journey in the 1700s took more than 9 hours by horse and carriage. So in early 1600’s England, it’s doubtful Ferris ever visited London.
I’ve got a general plan for the day, and a backpack full of gear. I’ve got a notebook, pens and pencils (apparently many archives only allow pencils), cloth bags for foraging local plants, ziplock bags (not sure why, they’re just often useful!), my phone to use as a map and camera plus extra battery pack and charger, my audio recorder plus extra memory cards and batteries (hey, I’m a podcaster!), sunglasses, a bottle of water, blister plasters, kindle (for the train journey) and reading glasses.
My general plan is to visit The Horsham Museum, take their free Wednesday Horsham history walk, visit St. Mary’s Church and search through gravestones in the churchyard. I’d also like to “connect with nature” – meaning have a hunt around for the local wild plants Ferris might have used, and just generally see if I feel any connection to this place. Oh, and leave some room for synchronicity.
My assumption is I’ll have everything wrapped up before the 2:30 pm history walk.
Ohhhhh, how naive I am…
Did My Ancestor Hug This Tree?
After arriving at Horsham Station, I decided to walk through Horsham Park on the way into town.
As I enter the park, I’m immediately struck by an amazingly huge tree. It doesn’t look like a tree I’ve seen anywhere in England. And it’s SO huge, two people could just touch fingers if they wrapped their arms around it.
My imagination kicks in: This tree is so huge, it must be really old. Surely this tree must have been here when Ferris lived in Horsham, right? What luck! Maybe she had picnics under this tree. Maybe she put her hand on it, just like I’m doing now…
Turns out (after checking with the local parks service) that it’s a Giant Sequoia which was imported from America and planted in the 1950s. How that tree grew so immense in 60 years boggles my mind. Impressive and a beautiful work of nature, but it’s not the connection I was looking for.
As I walk on the path through the well-manicured park, past the climbing wall and swimming pool, and through the carnival rides being set up for the weekend, I try to imagine how wild this place would have looked in the 1600s, a little town surrounded by dense woodland.
I stumble across the Human Nature Garden – a garden dedicated to (get this!) how humans use plants for food, medicine, and perfume! Bingo. That’s exactly what I’m looking for.
I’ve got a bit of an advantage in researching Ferris because I’ve lived in the UK for almost a decade, and know a lot about the wild English plants you can use for food, medicine, and beauty.
The garden included many of the usual suspects for English plants: rosemary, thyme, sage, lavender, St. Johns Wort, borage, echinacea … but what really caught my eye were the hollyhocks. Hollyhocks are such an old-fashioned garden plant, and I have good memories of making hollyhock dolls with my grandmother in Iowa.
One plant glaringly missing from the Human Nature Garden? Nettles!
Ok, so you’d be hard-pressed to get any English gardener to willingly plant nettles – but they are one of the most abundant and useful plants for food and medicine. Super nutritious, tasty and they grow everywhere! I’ve used them for nettle & peppermint tea, nettle soup, nettle pesto, and even rosemary & nettle hair rinse.
Ferris likely had her own garden and would’ve grown plants to use for food, medicine, and beauty. Since seeing the Doctor was expensive (and dangerous in those days), women were expected to provide the health care for their families. So women would share recipes for balms, lotions, compresses, teas, plasters, tonics and more to keep their families healthy. Literate women would even keep a “Stillroom Book” (like a recipe book, but including more than just food) of their most successful creations. I’ve been reading several herbals and homemaking books from Ferris’ time to try out some of the recipes, but that’s a story for another post…
Exploring Horsham Town
If you live in the UK, you’re going to think these next pictures just look like a normal market town. Everyone else in the world, get ready to say “Oh, that’s so cute!”
The old parts of Horsham are CUTE. The buildings are just so completely English, even though the thatched roofs have been replaced by tiles. Here’s the original market hall which existed during Ferris’ lifetime, now it’s a Bill’s Restaurant.
Ferris lived at the end of the Tudor period (the era of Shakespeare), which has a very distinctive architectural style. So I’m on the lookout for timber-framed houses filled with “wattle and daub” (so you’ll see dark oak beams surrounded by a clay composite material, usually white.) I’m sure you’ll recognize the style:
I’m feeling a bit frustrated because I’ve not found a map of Horsham town from the 1600s, so I’m not sure where Ferris lived. Unlike with more recent ancestors, you can’t just find them in a census to discover all the family members, occupations, and address! I did find a mention in the church records that in 1610 her husband Francis was paid to “Color the Font” of the church – so perhaps he was a painter or decorator. If so, they probably lived in town, but I just don’t know.
The one place I DO know she visited, was St. Mary’s Church.
St. Mary’s Church, Horsham
St. Mary’s Church was built in the 1200’s, replacing a Norman church on the same spot. It’s been the center of Horsham life for a long time.
I know (from the church records) that Ferris was baptized, married and buried here. Her children were baptized here too. She definitely spent a lot of time in this building.
There’s also a mention in the 1626 church register giving… “a Seate under the new gallery stayers for Pharis Bushnell, the wife of Frauncis Bushnell, to belong to him and his heirs forever.”
Cue romantic visions of sitting in the exact same pew my ancestors did… I wonder if it’s still there?
I spoke with two lovely volunteers during my visit to the church, but unfortunately, we just couldn’t figure out where the “Seat under the stairs” might be. There are stairs going up to the bell tower, but not in a location that makes sense to sit under. We couldn’t find any other stairs in the original church. Obviously, there were stairs in the church during Ferris’ lifetime, so I need to do a bit more research here. So I didn’t get to sit in the same seat on this trip, but it was very cool to be in the exact place where so many of her major life events happened.
Hunting for Gravestones in Horsham
My final stop of the day was to search for gravestones with either the name Bushnell or Quynell on them.
I know Ferris was buried at St. Mary’s along with her daughter Elizabeth in 1627 because it’s recorded in the church register. But the church history webpage says the earliest stone is 1690, and I’ve contacted the church previously and they have no record of any graves with either of those surnames. That seems a bit strange to me as my research shows the Quynells were in Horsham for several generations before Ferris. You would think some of them continued on in town even after the Bushnell’s immigrated to America. Clearly, there’s more to discover about the fate of that family line…
Nonetheless, I thought I’d have a look around for myself. I started by looking through the gravestone index book with the helpful church volunteer. Flipping through the pages, I was surprised at how many were listed as “illegible” or “unknown”. Well…
But I’m not one to stick to the walking paths… just off the path the cemetary gets a bit more wild:
I had to strongly resist an urge to start cleaning off the gravestones and going on a serious hunt for Bushnells and Quynells. Clearly, this is more than a one-woman project, and it was getting late in the afternoon. (But Horsham folks, if you read this – isn’t there something we can do about this amazing historic cemetery? At least to get the stones photographed and put online for future genealogy research? Get in touch!)
Around 6:30pm I finally boarded the train back to London, absolutely exhausted.
I can’t quite believe I actually did it. From one perspective all I did was take a day-trip to Sussex – but this is the beginning of a long-time dream. I’ve been thinking about tracing my roots by actually visiting my great-grandmothers’ places for SO long, and this little day trip was the official start.
So, did I feel anything?
Did I feel any supernatural shivers or some deep connection to Horsham? Honestly, no.
But I noticed the next morning on my walk along the Thames, that I appreciated England a lot more.
I noticed I was really loving my little town, the flowers, the river, and then it occurred to me — after my visit to Horsham, I’m feeling a lot more connected to England, and all its English-ness.
Normally I get stuck on the story that I’m a foreigner here, and that I don’t like the weather (yeah, boring, I know.) I’ve never quite felt like I fit in. But after telling countless people during my visit to Horsham about my deep roots in England up to the 1600s, something shifted in me, and I realized, you know what, this IS my place too. Sure, it’s not 100% perfect, and I don’t know if it’s my forever home (honestly, I’m not sure I’ll ever have a “forever home”), but there is definitely a part of me connected to this land, and I understand now that I really DO belong here. For me, that’s enough proof that this project is taking me in the right direction, towards feeling more connected with my place, with my ancestors, with myself. Onwards!