The feature on Huguenots in your last issue (October) was excellent, and the records really can open up hidden gems in the unlikeliest of places.
After my first child was born eight years ago, I decided to start looking into my wife’s ancestry
for their sake, tracing family from England to Jamaica and even Asia. Over that time I’ve often been guilty of focusing on the more exotic ancestors, and not spending the same effort looking into Londoners who seemed to have more ‘boring’ lives.
My wife’s 4x great grandmother Sarah Saint (1817–1901) seemed to be one such ancestor – a silkweaver from the Bethnal Green area who married another weaver called John Burton and lived what seemed a poor, but pretty normal life. For years I thought nothing more, until I recently decided to look into her Saint heritage. Through a mix of fellow researchers on Ancestry, the use of Google and records that distant relations kindly shared with me, I found something amazing.
Sarah was indeed quite poor, backed up by incredibly detailed workhouse records, but also of Huguenot origin. This meant that when being taken in by the
French Hospital after falling on harder times, she had to prove her lineage – something that goes back to Élincourt in Oise, France, in the early 1700s. This also helps explain my wife’s fairly large share of Western European origin in her DNA results.
It seems Sarah lived out many of her last years at the hospital, weaving silk while she was there. Some of her actual work is on display at the Huguenot Museum in Rochester (near where the hospital now is).
But the surprises didn’t stop there. When Prince William and Kate got married a few years ago, her dress was designed by a certain Sarah Burton of the Alexander McQueen fashion house (name purely a coincidence). This Sarah Burton apparently took inspiration from the silk garments woven by Huguenots, and specifically her namesake who died at the hospital in 1901! So our ‘boring’ silk-weaving ancestor has only ended up inspiring the wedding dress of the future Queen! Nicholas Larkin, Romford, Essex
Editor Replies: What a wonderful story, Nicholas, complete with a remarkable link with royalty.