The Pettits

Susannah Pettit b1848

A bit of background

This Sunday Story is a bit of a tear-jerker.  I am carrying on down the direct line of my paternal ancestors, moving from George Pettit b1822 to his second daughter and my great-grandmother Susannah, born 1848.   If I were able to meet just one person from my Pettit side, it would almost certainly be this formidable lady.

My search for Susannah started in the late 1990s, and she has caused me a lot of stress and heartache over the years.  I was determined to find out as much as I could though and found a lot of information about her later life, and that is something that will be covered further on.  It is a sad tale, so if you are prone to being a bit tearful you may want to get the tissues ready.

Susannah’s story

My first note about Susannah was written on the 27 December 2004, and relates to a search I carried out with my Mum in the towns of Eyke and Bromeswell, trying to find the houses that her parents lived in. I also diverted to Pettistree, another place with significance in Susannah’s life.  Finally we passed through Woodbridge looking for a certain house, but nothing of use was found in any of those places.

A lot happened in between that initial note and the next written on the 12 November 2005.  Most of it was record searching, and I unearthed a tremendous amount of information.  I had a visit to the County records Office to view some closed documents specifically about Susannah, and all that I saw there was rewarding in the data revealed but very sad indeed as it was all about her eventual demise and end.   There’s more about that below, but I will start at the beginning.

Susannah was born on the 18 May 1848 in Boyton Suffolk, daughter of parents George and Mary (Ling).  I have a copy of her birth certificate.  Roughly three weeks later she was baptised in the parish church of Boyton, on the 11 June 1848.  From there we move to the 1851 census where she made her initial appearance.


Susannah is shown in the 1851 census aged two, with her elder sister Amelia and parents George and Mary. Sadly, her elder sister does not appear in any other census records anywhere, so it is likely that she died early, not an unusual occurrence for children at that time of the century.  That was not the case for Susannah, she could be found in a good few more records.


Ten years later and things had changed in George and Mary’s household.  Susannah was there, shown as Hannah.  As mentioned in George’s story, the census enumerator may simply have written her name incorrectly or was confused by a likely strong Suffolk accent.  If you live in the area you will know what I mean.  With them was a brother for Susannah.  The seven years old boy was called George after his father.  Another sister had been born, two years old Elizabeth, and a cousin called William Pettit.  He was seventeen, born in the workhouse at Nacton.  He had become a journeyman bricklayer but was destined for a different career in later life.


Susannah’s name is mis-spelt again in this census, this time as Anna.  I am sure that was down to George’s accent.  Still with her parents, Susannah is now aged twenty-three and unmarried.  With them all are George, sixteen and following in his father’s footsteps as an agricultural labourer, Elizabeth aged twelve and a scholar and two new brothers.  The elder was called William aged nine and also a scholar, followed by Herbert aged six who was attending school too.  He ties in both sides of my family, having a sad connection with Lowestoft.  More of that in his story when it is written.  The final person recorded in the census was a grandson for George and Mary, called Horace.  At the time I looked at this record I had no idea who he might be, but you can read a lot more about him later in this story.


This census sees exits and entries.  As is becoming customary, Susannah’s name is once again recorded incorrectly, this time as Annah and her age was not given correctly either.  I think you already know what I am going to blame about the name.  I am a proud Suffolk boy, and would be so happy if George’s accent really was that strong.  She is shown as being thirty, something less than she was.  Susannah’s sister Elizabeth had exited to go elsewhere, but brothers George and William were still in the house aged 26 and 19 respectively and both agricultural labourers.  George and Mary’s grandson William was there in the house aged eleven and already in the family business as an agricultural labourer, but he had been joined by another grandson called John.  He was four and born in Pettistree.  Do you remember that town name from earlier in the story?  There is every chance it is going to appear again.  John was a mystery just like William ten years earlier.  Who was he and where did he come from?


The census of 1891 sees a huge change for Susannah.  She has left her parents’ home and gone to live in Castle Street, Woodbridge, Suffolk.  She is shown as being 41 and a housekeeper.  She is still sill single.  Her name in this census is finally spelt correctly, so perhaps her accent was not as strong as that of her father.  With her were Charles Seaman, aged forty-five, boarding in the house.  He was a general labourer and was born in Woodbridge.

 This census finally ended the mystery of George and Mary’s grandsons from previous census records.  Horace was shown as Susannah’s son, as was another new arrival on the scene.  He was called William was aged 9 and a scholar, born in Pettistree.  There is that town connection again. From all the census records it can be seen that Susannah had three illegitimate sons, Horace, John and William.  The first and third appear with their mother in this census, but where was middle son John?  A quick check of the record for his grandparents found him with George and Mary, still working as an agricultural labourer.  The mystery was solved at long last.


This census showed another big change for Susannah who had married her boarder from ten years earlier and had become Susannah Seaman.  She was living in Crown (or Crows) Lane, Wickham Market in a three roomed house.  Charles did not appear on the census.  Susannah is on her own aged fifty-two and shown as wife.  That is a rather bare and stark record, and sets the tone for the next period of her life.

Major events

Before I move on to the inevitable final part of Susannah’s story I thought it might be an idea to look back over the events of her life before 1910.  I need to stress at this point that I am not being judgemental, nor should any reader of this story.  Life in the period that Susannahlived in was massively different to the rathe soft lives we all lead today, even if we think we work very hard.  In the main life was much more physically demanding at the turn of the twentieth century and a completely different set of values applied.

It is clear that Susannah had three children born out of wedlock, perhaps an extraordinary thing for that period of time.  I have found no indication of who the father might have been for any of the children.  She went to the workhouse in Nacton to have her first son Horace, who was my grandfather.  That must have been an absolutely awful experience for her.  Workhouses were a place of toil and misery, not guesthouses for the unfortunates. If you were there it is because you were in trouble and there was no other option.  You were seen as a burden on the local taxpayer, so you would not have been popular either.  I have wondered why her parents did not take her in at the time of the birth, but that is an unanswerable question.  She did move back in with them after the births of all her children, so it might be that they were just not able to cope with the physical aspect of the birth.  It is significant too that she had John and William in Pettistree, but I cannot find out why.  There was no workhouse, nor has there ever been an establishment like that there.  I have not been able to find any other family members living in that town, so where did she go?  It is another mystery in a fascinating life.

The marriage of Susannah and Charles Seaman

Susannah married Charles Clifford Seaman on the 28 April 1891 at the Register Office in Woodbridge.  He was a bachelor, aged forty-five and a labourer resident in Woodbridge at the time of the marriage.  His father was James Seaman, a coal porter, but deceased.  Susannah was a spinster, aged forty-two and also resident in Woodbridge.  Her father is correctly shown as George Pettit, a labourer.   The marriage was witnessed by her eldest son Horace and an unknown Louisa Diggins.

Susannah’s time in hospital and death

At this point we come to a sad part of Susannah’s life, so you might want to break out the box of tissues now.  I still get affected by my findings, even though I have developed a bit of mental toughness and can divorce most of my feelings from the raw emotion that some findings produce.

My research showed that late in her life Susannah had been admitted to St Audrey’s, a mental asylum in Melton, Suffolk.  I had to contact the local mental health authority to get a letter of authorisation to view the records as there was a 100 year rule on their content.  That period has expired so I feel comfortable in revealing some of my findings.  I have comprehensive notes, but it would take too long to show everything, so I what you see here are short extracts.  I will begin with information I found in the admissions record.

Being unaware of the date of admission for Susanna, the first records to be searched were ID407 B3/3 and B3/4, the List and Indexes of Patients.   The source documents were two very well kept handwritten notebooks, which made the searching of names extremely easy.   Nothing was found in B3/3, which was a pleasant surprise as the records ran from July 1882 until the 9 October 1905, meaning that Susanna’s admission must have been after that date, and she had a relatively short time in residence.   The second list, running from 24 July 1882 until the 19 April 1912, was searched and revealed Susanna’s name, as hoped for.  It showed that Susanna’s Register Number was 10159; that her name was Seaman, Susanna; the Date of Admission was the 14 April 1909; she was admitted and being therefore being paid for by the Woodbridge Union; and that she died on the 2 March 1910.   The fact that Susanna’s date and causes of death were already known through her death certificate did not cause any surprises, but questions were already forming in my head as to why she was admitted when she was, and what was wrong with her that was sufficiently bad enough to cause her death just 11 months after being admitted.

There are a number of other medical records that I have, but I think the most telling of all of the records is this one.  It is a direct copy from the notes I took on the 13 March 2007 and is in italics.

The final record to be checked, ID407 B1/9 Admissions, yielded by far the most information, which came as something of a surprise to me.   I had only about an hour and a half remaining in the day, which left me a bit short on time to transcribe the information, although I did succeed in the main.   It was not possible to copy some of the poorer handwriting, but those notes referred mainly to medical treatment, so they were not vital.   Some of this information is very enlightening, but a little upsetting too.   The transcription follows, followed by my own analysis and summary at the end.

All personal details for Susanna show exactly in the ways already described in previous documents, with the exception of her religion, which is given as dissenter.

There are then two section (A and B), which deal with facts at the time of admission.   Section A is headed Facts Observed At The Time Of The Examination, and contains the following statement:   “States that her husband has been using some ‘electric stuff’ to torment her, says that every unexpected sound drives the life out of her.   Talks without ceasing, with great rapidity.”

Section B relates to Facts Communicated By Others.  The statement says “Mrs Pettitt – daughter in law – that she will not take her food because her husband puts something in it to get rid of her, cannot look after herself, doesn’t sleep, is difficult to manage.”

History is the next section, which repeats all of the details of Susanna’s mental health history.   Under a sub-heading of Any Further Observations (Personal or Family), there is a statement which says “Three children, youngest 29 years.   Father and Mother died of senility.”

The next part concerns Aetiological Factors.   The section is reproduced below:

             Principal                                       Cardio Vascular Disease

            Address of Friends                       Husband’s name and address given

            Form of Mental Disorder            Confusional Insanity, not epileptic or suicidal

 The next section is the most upsetting, as it is not wholly clinical information, some of it is quite personal in nature.   The information given is:

“Weight 4st 11 1/4 lbs.   Nutrition and musculature poor.   Left leg has been amputated below knee.   Heart is normally sized and situated.   Sounds are hurried and indistinct, but no evidence of cardiac disease.   Pulse 95, somewhat irregular, weak, and of fair tension.   Some dullness with________?, RM at upper part of left lung.   Upper part of right lung is subtympanic.   No evidence of active disease.

Tongue dry, pale and slightly covered with fur.   Bowels active.   Appetite poor.   Teeth – almost nil.

Urine – acid, cloudy, sp gr 1020.   Slight amount of albumen present.

Nervous system – Superficial reflexes exaggerated and sustained.

Pupils – Small, equal and dilate very slightly in dark, ancus senilus present.

Temperature – Sub-normal.”

There is a lot more information to be read, but I think the extracts I have shown show the picture.  Susannah died at 4:50pm on the 2 March 1910 in the Suffolk District Asylum, Melton.  The final entry in her records is this one.  It says simply “Patient gradually sank during the past week and died at 4:50pm today.”

 She is buried in an unmarked grave at a location I have yet to find.  There is no doubt that she was a tough and independent woman with no time for religion at the end of her life.  I like to think that we would have got on with each other well.

Family Tree – one generation up and down

If you are viewing on a desktop or laptop you will see a small family tree for Susannah, showing one generation up and one down. This might help you view and understand her immediate familly a bit better.  Sadly, due to size restrictions, this view is not available on a mobile phone.

Descendants of William Pettit 1771 and Lucy Buckingham

Records held

1841 census

1851 census

1861 census

1871 census

1881 census

1891 census

1901 census

Birth Certificate

Marriage Certificate

Death Certificate

Suffolk County Asylum Notes