Following Robert’s Trail

Over the next 12 weeks, I plan to research my ancestor, Robert Carey. He has long been a favourite ancestor of mine since we first found him mentioned on the baptism of his son, John. I had already set wheels in motion bringing some of the resources together before embarking on this new and more focused study into his life. My hope is to write something that is of interest to my family about our shared ancestor that they are then able to pass down.

What do I know already?

Robert Carey was a private soldier in the 42nd Regiment of Foot, now known as The Black Watch. Although they were a Highland Regiment, Robert came from Ireland and signed up during the Napoleonic Wars. After the retreat from La Corunna, the 42nd Regiment arrived in Musselburgh, a town to the east of Edinburgh in Scotland. This was where he met his future wife and where they would later settle with their family.

I know that Robert fought at the Battle of Waterloo and retired from the military due to injuries sustained during the campaigns he was involved in. His military papers give details of his injuries and where he sustained them along with where he enlisted, a rough age and place of birth and how long he served for.

After Robert married, his wife accompanied him around Europe. I know this because his son, John, was baptised in Musselburgh but his birth place in later census records say he was born on the “German Ocean”, what we now call the North Sea. His daughter, Mary, was baptised in Lanarkshire a few years later. It wasn’t until 1820 before the baptisms of the children seem to be within their new settled town of Musselburgh.

Why Robert Carey?

This 12 week idea is something entirely new to me. I mentioned in the previous blog that this was inspired by M. Diane Rogers‘ presentation. I was already wanting to write something up for my family for Christmas and had started pulling some old and new notes together. The wheels were already in motion and I didn’t want to miss an opportunity in making myself more accountable and more organised.

I have a few really interesting family members who I’d love to research and write about, but Robert’s life has been an interesting one since discovering him. I’d set out originally with my mother to research our family tree after her father died. He was a huge fan of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, both the books and the TV series featuring Sean Bean. I have always felt that if we’d started sooner we could have shared what we found about his ancestor with him as the family had never passed the stories down. Researching Robert makes me feel closer to my maternal grandfather.

Another reason I’ve been so interested in finding out more is due to DNA. After taking my first DNA test in 2016, I have ended up in contact with cousins who all descend through Robert who are now all over the world. One of my closest cousins, though perhaps one of the furthest away, is a DNA cousin in Australia who I’ve been talking to from very early into the DNA searches. He’s managed to bring together a group of us on Facebook and we all share interesting finds in our research. I feel very close to these cousins and that it was meant to be that we would come together to research our shared heritage that I had felt we had lost.

How am I approaching this?

There are parts of Robert’s life that I know have been complete brick walls. The part of his life that will have a story from the early 19th century will be his time within the military. My 12 weeks will be looking into what I already know from his military record and how that one journey ties into what was a very tumultuous time in modern history. Although there may not be exact records telling me where he stood on the battleground, if he was injured and unable to fight at certain battles, or even what he thought of what his circumstances were, being able to follow his trail to some of the biggest battles during this period will hopefully be of some interest to my family.

I am looking at this like I used to with university research, but I know that if I write an academic paper that it won’t interest many of my family members. While I’m researching the records for what Robert was up to (or at least what the regiment were doing), I will be looking at presentations on family history writing and how to engage a wider audience than just the hardcore family historian DNA cousins who are also chasing the answers. It needs to be something that anyone in the family can pick up and read.

Getting started…

Yesterday, I read an introduction plus two chapters of a book. This morning, I’ve read another couple of chapters and noted down some questions I had that I will hopefully be able to follow up. The book was written by another private who served in the same regiment at the same time but written a few years after events. I am hoping it gives me a good grounding and a look through the eyes of someone who was there. The soldier had to retire from the regiment before Waterloo because of an injury, but already I have a better idea of where they were in Ireland around the time Robert enlisted. I think reading the entirety of this book should give me some direction on where to look next through my piles of books!