Sometimes it is not the story of a single person who holds the most interest, but that of the family as a whole. Douglas Holland lived his whole life in and around Chelmsford, living first with his parents, then his older sister, and then eventually in a care home, where he passed away. His immediate family had all passed away by then – small wonder, as he was in his late 80s – and so his name was referred to the government’s Unclaimed Estates list.
Most of the Holland family tree was very straightforward. Both his father’s and mother’s families were railway people and had moved to Essex from elsewhere – his mother’s family originally migrated from Sheffield, and his father’s people from Peterborough. Douglas’s father, Ted, lost his mother at an early age and was raised by his older sister, Nellie. There was, however, another sister – Flossie Holland. She stayed in Peterborough, and married a local man, Jack Thomas, shortly after her sixteenth birthday. Jack worked in the local cattle market, and lost his hand at work, which he had replaced with a hook.
The marriage did not last long, as Flossie passed away at a tragically young age, only 31 years old. However, in her fifteen years of marriage, she had eleven children – all single births. Richard, the oldest, died as a baby, but the other ten survived and were scattered to the four winds.
Each of Flossie’s children has their own story, and every one of them is fascinating. The younger children were fostered out to local families. One, Tricia, the very youngest, was formally adopted by the Edmonds family in Lincoln. Another, Vickie, passed away as a child in St Ives whilst being fostered, before she could be adopted. Yet another daughter, Pearl, was raised in March, although never adopted, and was the only one of the ten to stay in Peterborough in the long term.
The rest of the children moved further away, not only within the UK but overseas as well. Many of them were initially fostered to Liverpool. Charlie, like his mother, had a huge family, having twelve children with his wife May, and remained in the docks. Similarly, Gracie stayed there and had five children of her own – but unlike her mother she had no husband to help support her until much later in life. Another sister, Josie, was a GI bride, and moved to Illinois. Yet another, Beth, married a Jamaican sailor and settled in South London. Jimmy joined the Navy and settled in Portsmouth. Between them, Flossie’s children have left well over fifty living descendants, and more than thirty of them were beneficiaries to Douglas’s estate.
Flossie Holland lived quite a short and sad life, all told. Yet despite her children’s various upbringings, many of them stayed in touch. Some branches of the family were in touch with one or two others or knew what had happened to them despite having lost contact. Piecing together the stories of Flossie’s children, each unique, was a fascinating and rewarding project which reveals the power of family knowledge and the half-remembered stories belonging to them.