If you have been researching your family history for a long time then some individuals, stories or discoveries become more memorable to you than others. There is a lady I have never had the pleasure of meeting but for whom I have a particular affection for – dear Clariss!

(Clariss Brown, 1882-1972)

In my previous post I spoke of a treasured letter my former father-in-law sent me in which I found snippets of information that would ultimately open up to a world of discovery for me. It was in that letter that I first found Clariss. She was my father-in-law’s Grandmother and was at that stage just a name with an approximate year of birth coupled with some information relating to her husbands and children. This was the limit of my father-in-law’s knowledge about his mother’s family and it extended no further.

Armed with names and dates I trotted off to my local family history research library to see if I could find Clariss and her family to at least verify that my father-in-law’s information was correct and then hope to find new information to add. This was my very first venture into family history research proper and I was excited but I was naive. I didn’t have my own computer with which to do a search on 21 years ago and so it was “old-school” approaches to research that I turned to – micro-film reader, cranking of handles to find the right page, right surname, right year! I had expected to go to the library and type a name in the computer and hey presto, up she would pop and everything I wanted to know would be there but Clariss would prove to be a big learning curve for me. The date of birth that had been supplied was an approximation only and of course that initial approximation was incorrect so to crank your way through to the right place on a micro-film reader to not find what you are looking for and to then crank your way back to the start of the film to have to go and start again with another reel for a different year and different quarter was disappointing. I didn’t find Clariss in that first day of researching. After 3 hours I returned home with nothing more than arm-ache! I had also discovered that I needed to heavily brush up on my geography. I had been told Clariss was born in Lower Beeding but hadn’t realized that births, deaths and marriages were registered in districts and so Clariss’s entry wouldn’t say Lower Beeding but rather the district to which Lower Beeding belonged to at the time of her birth and I had no clue what that was and again was limited by the technology available to me back then – no google to rely on so was given a tome of a book to look up registration districts and their associated parishes. I was tired, fed-up and very disheartened and was already wondering if this was something I should stick at. I was a single-parent of 2 young children going through a divorce and was quite sure I had enough to fill my time with without wasting 3 hours or so of my day that could have been filled more productively. Then I had a vision in my head of all the times I’d been with my mother and the joy and energy that would come to her whenever she had a little success accompanied by the proclamations of “I’ve found him! I’ve found him!” as if these were real people! “But they are real people…”, I thought “…and they need to be found – for your children!” and with that I vowed to not give up.

It was a few more visits before Clariss was found – she didn’t make it easy – I found her marriage first or rather her marriages as she was married twice and I ordered her marriage certificates to discover her father’s name and then her birth was finally discovered not as Clariss but rather as Clarice – again, rather naively as a new researcher, I had assumed that names would retain the same spelling from document to document. 21 years has taught me different and I now know that if one spelling brings no results in a search, try a different spelling! Yes – I proclaimed “I’ve found her! I’ve found her!” and as I write, I can feel that same emotion I felt that day at having found her. It’s a very real, almost tangible emotion only those who have the “bug” will understand fully and that feeling completely made up for the arm-ache and disappointing days and continues to fuel my next search over and over again.

And so I present Clariss to you all, born Clariss Brown on the 9th Dec 1882 in Lower Beeding, Sussex, daughter of George and Emmaly Brown. She wasn’t famous or noteworthy (except to me!) but the details of her life that have unfolded over time have become embedded in my mind and heart as if she were my own Grandmother. Family was important to her I guess for she was one of seven children and went on to have twelve children herself. She first married aged 23 to an Italian man, Alfredo Ragazzone, who worked as a chef onboard a ship (a true love story, apparently!) and sadly died at sea just two years after they were married in the year following the birth of their son George Roy Alfredo Ragazzone who changed his surname to Parker once his mother remarried. She did so the following year to a man named George William Parker, a fish salesman at Billingsgate and they spent the rest of their days together having a further eleven children being “that house on the street that had all them kids”. George Parker died in 1969 aged 81 followed 3 years later by dear Clariss, aged 90. A book written by one of her daughters came to light several years later telling the life story of Clariss and her brood of children from her perspective and was a fascinating insight into a woman I already held great affection for.

(Clariss with George William Parker, abt 1933)

Clariss will forever remain a symbol of hard work, devotion to family and motherhood and treasured not least because she was my very first discovery and I had worked hard to find her. I learnt much finding her and the skills I learned have helped me find many more.

(Thanks go to Carole Mann, granddaughter of Clariss for the images included in this post)

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