Love in the Archives – The love letters of George and Sophia Sherwood and a genealogical romance.
My Dearest Husband – My Darling Little Woman
Much has been written about George Frederick Tudor Sherwood, esteemed genealogist and Founder Fellow of the Society of Genealogists. The role he played in the early years of the foundation of the Society is immeasurable, hosting its early meetings at his offices in the Strand and as the first Hon. Secretary, later Hon Treasurer and then Chairman of the Executive. He worked fantastically hard and was one of the pioneering agitating genealogists in the early years of the twentieth century. He died in 1958 aged 91 and his obituary in the Genealogists’ Magazine of that year is accompanied by a portrait photograph of a man with a reserved, almost diffident look. Many of the manuscript research notes dispersed within the Society’s Document Collection are annotated and numbered in Sherwood’s distinctive hand and originated largely from his professional genealogical practice.
Amongst the special collections of the Society of Genealogists can be found the single box of the Sherwood collection comprising notes on his own family history in Berkshire and Kent. The collection also contains correspondence, accounts and other family ephemera. There are photocopies of the touching letters from Sherwood’s son Ralph, Private in the 2/25th Cyclist and 3rd Reserve Battalion regarding his training and service in the First World. The originals of these letters were deposited with the Imperial War Museum in 2000. The collection description gives a rather terse account of a second set of letters in the files – namely “Correspondence between George and Sophia Sherwood (nee Gibbs) covering their courtship, marriage and George Sherwood’s work as a genealogist amongst other subjects”
The earliest letter is dated Monday 11 March 1889 and addressed to “My Dear Miss Gibbs” in which the 22 year old George, just beginning his genealogical career, arranges to meet 26 year old Sophia at Walham Green Station the next Wednesday assuring her
“I could have discovered the house without the slightest difficulty as I made a special point of finding out its exact position when at the British Museum today. Had it been otherwise could you imagine for a moment that the trouble would have been anything but a pleasure? My cold is, on account of your good wishes, fast disappearing, in fact I feel quite robust in anticipation of meeting you … yours ever George F Tudor Sherwood”
The couple married later that year. They are kept apart much in life as George travelled extensively about the country for his business to look at records held in churches, libraries and local probate courts. He writes from Leicester, Nottingham, Canterbury and elsewhere often staying in local hotels. In one six month period during 1897, for instance, he visited Winchester, Wells, Andover, St Asaph and Peterborough. He writes of his unsuccessful searches.
“after a stiff day’s work at the Probate Registry – 10 to 5 – I have just finished tea – chop, mince pie and coffee – and a pipe. A cold sleety, windy night … With another day’s work I shall finish, but I am afraid in regard to Hadden the search will not give us the information we want …
… How is my little woman getting on? I hope tomorrow evening to get a train that will land me home not later than 10. “
George and Sophia fall into the tradition of exchanging Christmas and Valentines letter each year. The envelope of the 1891 Christmas letter to Sophia is charmingly decorated with doodled heart shape shields. On the night before Valentine’s day in 1890 George writes
“My darling little woman
As you have just requested me to come to bed shortly in such beseeching tones and you think I might make it half past eleven, also taking into consideration that the little woman never has her own way, your valentine’s letter must of necessity be a short one. Need I say that the wish dearest to my heart is that we may be no less happy than we are now, each successive year bringing with it its own valentine in the shape of mutual affection, heath and peace of mind? For in the first place mutual affection is the talisman which in great measure ensures the last named, carrying with it toleration of each other’s failings and smoothing most of the difficulties in the path of life”
Several of George’s letters ask Sophia to forgive his failings. Their early years were a struggle together. There doesn’t seem to be much money in the life of a record agent. Debts are paid by borrowing from family and dipping into Sophia’s box. She sends him the key at one point imploring him to take the locket within. Separated frequently, they do miss each other terribly. Each spends time with their own aging parents and family and George is with his father, “the Guv” when he dies. In 1905 George writes from Somerset House “Of course I do miss you. I have been cold in bed at nights and slept badly”. George tries to keep house while Sophia herself is away but doesn’t seem to be very successful at keeping down the dirt or the mess of his working life and documents scattered around. By 1911 George has taken his office in the Strand where he is to host the Society’s inaugural meeting and presumably takes some of his working life out of what was to become the family home at 50 Beecroft Road, Brockley. However his rooms in the Strand were pretty soon overwhelmed by the growing collections of the Society of Genealogists that were housed there until 1914. George was editor of the Pedigree Register from 1907 “for authenticated genealogies and family history” and wrote extensively on genealogical matters and his genealogical business was finally taking off as he actively campaigned for greater access to public records.
The 1911 Census shows George and Sophia together at Beecroft Road with their 5 children, having been married 21 years. Their only son Ralph aged 19 is working with his father as a record agent. His sister May Sophia aged 20 is a pupil teacher. Presumably daughters Constance (16), Katherine (14) and Barbara (11) are still at school.
This happy marriage lasted 38 years until Sophia’s death in 1927 aged 64. By this time George was playing a prominent role at the Society of Genealogists as its “consummate administrator” and devoting much of his time to the development of the Society’s Great Card Index and D-Manuscripts (miscellaneous manuscript research notes arranged by surname, now known as the Document Collection). The letters between Sophia and George are just part of the Sherwood personal and genealogical papers found in one of the Society’s 350 Special Collections of family papers and genealogical research, and have been touched on only briefly in this article. They deserve to be read fully and transcribed as a personal history. The papers are, however, typical of what may be found in the Society of Genealogists’ Special Collections which are packed with personal papers, diaries, letters and photographs as well as pedigrees and genealogical notes.
Aged 62 George Sherwood met his 2nd wife Mrs May Ethel McIntyre nee Trinder at the Society. She was about the same age as his daughter May and had been a member herself since 1925 and secretary to one of the early Fellows. They married in 1929. George died in 1958 and an obituary appears in the Genealogists’ Magazine. Mrs May Sherwood returned to work for the Society as Archivist after her husband’s death and retired in 1966. Her own obituary in the Genealogists’ Magazine in 1975 shows George had been lucky again with his choice of partner as she was remembered for “the warm and friendly interest she took in everyone with whom she came in contact with and her genuine desire to help others with their problems. Added to this, her lively nature and robust sense of humour made her a most enjoyable companion at all times”. George and May were both profoundly devoted to the Society of Genealogists.
Society of Genealogists – Sherwood Collection
Family Matters. A History of Genealogy by Michael Sharpe, 2011
Society of Genealogists: A Century of Family History, Else Churchill, Nicholas Newington Irving and Roy Stockdill – eds, 2011.
Valentines Day 2012.
© 2012, Society of Genealogists. All rights reserved.
Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!