I have had another letter from Jennie Sanderson, the direct descendant of Hannah Raw’s brother, John.

To recap for anyone who has not been following this ever-evolving story, my family had no idea how we came to have Hannah’s sampler, which she embroidered in 1835 when she was nine years old. It was found rolled up in a drawer at my late Nana’s house, along with others done by my ancestors. We are not related to Hannah’s family.

I had sent Jennie a picture of Hannah’s sampler, and of her grave showing the the flowers that I had placed there after tracking it down with the help of readers. Jennie said she was very moved by it: “What a lovely thought to take the time to travel to the grave and lay flowers. On behalf of Great Aunt Hannah, thank you.”

Jennie also has a theory as to how we came to have Hannah’s sampler. She is descended from Hannah’s elder brother John, who was born two years before Hannah. She thinks my great great aunt, Jane Lacy, who made one of the samplers, must have been friends with Hannah, and writes: “I know that my Raw/Sanderson families were Methodists, so maybe the girls attended the chapel in Glaisdale (where John was baptised in 1823) and worked their samplers there. It’s very early for a ‘state’ school, so a Sunday school where the girls could learn their ‘letters and numbers’ seems quite likely.”

She adds: “Strange, isn’t it how the spirits of these little girls from the 1830s have materialised 188 years later via these samplers to raise your curiosity and, thankfully, because they were kept safe by your family, have found their way onto your mum’s kitchen wall, and have brought these little girls back to life.”

This story leads me on to another family mystery – if you can bear yet another one! In my dad’s study I noticed a little book tucked on a shelf, a book that I have been aware of for many years, but which I hadn’t paid much attention to.

It is a small leather bound mass book dating from 1688. I have no idea how it came into our family’s possession, but it belonged to one of my dad’s uncles.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Inside the front cover of the small Mass Book dating from 1688 that was my dad’s study

I would guess that, with my dad’s writing career and interest in Catholic history, his uncle felt that Dad was a suitable person to pass it on to. We have no idea how my uncle got hold of it, whether it was passed down by generations of our family, or if he simply picked it up in an antiques shop.

The front page states that the book is a "Collection of Prayers Containing the Mass in Latin and English" and was printed for a Mr Turner "at the Lamb in Holbourn, 1688". Opposite, pasted to the inside the of the front cover, is a label with my uncle’s name and address, plus a handwritten note saying "page 305".

When I turned to that page, there was a pencil mark next to a certain verse, which follows instructions on how devout Catholics must receive Holy Communion.

"Let the tongue touch the inner side of the lip, to receive the Host, and bring it into the mouth, which being reverently held on the tongue, till it be moisten’d, is so to be let down into the Stomach without chewing."

And the bit that has a pencil mark next to it reads: "Then take the Absolution, which is a little wine." We are then advised to return to our prayers and refrain from spitting, if we can!

Catholic persecution had begun after Pope Clement VII refused to annul Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon in 1534. Henry declared himself Supreme Head of the Church in England and had all Catholic monasteries destroyed, although it was during his daughter Elizabeth I’s reign (1558-1603) that it actually became illegal to practice Catholicism.

The date of the mass book, 1688, comes right at the end of a brief respite from persecution under King James II (1685-1688), but apart from that, practising Catholicism remained illegal until 1791, and so to carry such a book after 1688 would have been very dangerous. It might explain why it is so small, so that it could easily be hidden.

Can anyone out there shed any more light on this precious family treasure?

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