For me and an Englishwoman named Sally Beadle, however, Mythe was the motherload. Mythe (pronounced with a long "i" sound) is the tiny spot from whence both our families sprang. William and Sarah Mabey lived and raised their 12 children at Mythe. Two of their middle children, Thomas and Eliza, are mine and Sally's ancestors, respectively. Thomas and his family eventually joined the LDS Church and emigrated to America, while Eliza married Isaiah Thomas and stayed in Dorset.
At the time of the 1841 census, there were about eight families living at Mythe. As we stood amongst the rubble of this old hamlet, Sally pointed out that it's probably one of the few places on earth quieter now than it was 150 years ago.
Sally found me online several months ago. My dad had asked me to find some new Mabey names for him, and I found it easiest to bypass software and build my tree right on Ancestry.com. A couple of months into my search I got an email from the Online Parish Clerk (pronounced "Clark") of Dorset England. She asked if I was willing to be contacted by an individual interested in my family tree, and the rest is history. This relationship has definitely been to my benefit more than Sally's, as she has added much more to the family tree than I have. In my defense, Sally lives right in the shadow of the original family villages. Her branch of the family never left Dorset. Her findings and friendship have been a great boon to me.
It just so happened that when we met I was just a few months away from this planned trip to England. So this week my sister Sara and I, our husbands, and our children, met Sally and her family in Dorset to tour the old villages. Sally and her husband Alan and mother Bettie were delightful and energetic hosts. They cooked mountains of delicious food for us (what you've heard about English food does not apply to home-cooking) including high tea. They took us on a dizzying tour of winding lanes and tiny villages, and on that priceless walk to Mythe. Sally's knowledge of the area is truly a gift. She knows more about these small hidden hamlets than most locals because she rode the lanes on horseback for years. Many of us may have the same pieces of family information, but I believe Sally is the only one who can connect all the dots. We can't lose her.
I've never previously been one of those who people who wanted to search far and wide for gravestones. But finding these villages really meant something to me. I've spent three years working on Our Father's House, my great-grandfather's book about this family, and I feel very connected to them. I feel I know them as intimately as I can for not knowing them, and even have felt their support in my life or research at times. Still, at Mythe I felt the vast chasm between my life and theirs--I couldn't fathom the kind of life they would have lived there, and I'm sure they couldn't imagine mine now. Yet it really is just raising kids, supporting your family, and trying to find joy along the way, isn't it. I felt something powerful at Mythe. I'll never forget it. Sally, I'm forever grateful to you for connecting me to the physical past of my family, and for keeping their stories alive.