Last month I played Mrs Fezziwig in the Alan Menken / Lynn Ahrens musical production of A Christmas Carol. As part of my preparation, I re-read the original Charles Dickens story on which the musical is based.
The kindly Fezziwigs feature as one of the happier memories from Ebenezer Scrooge’s life. Guided by the Ghost of Christmas Past, he revisits the warehouse from where Mr Fezziwig runs his business, to enjoy once again a fine Christmas Eve party where food, friendship, wine, song and enthusiastic dancing are the order of the day, and everyone is welcome.
Reading the original account of that long-ago Christmas Eve party, I realised something that wasn’t made clear in the musical. As a young man, Scrooge had not merely worked for Mr Fezziwig; he had been apprenticed to him. Understanding the apprenticeship system before the Industrial Revolution is an important part of genealogy. Evidence of an apprenticeship may open the door to a whole range of records, including trades guild membership, freedom of the city or town, perhaps an entry in historic local directories, and much more.
Dickens didn’t think it necessary to tell us what, precisely, was the nature of Mr Fezziwig’s trade. However, lost, by now in the challenge before me I realised I could easily find the information I needed. There should be a record of the apprenticeship agreement, probably held at the London Metropolitan Archives. As a master of his trade, Mr Fezziwig would have been a member of the appropriate London Livery Company; and upon completion of his apprenticeship, young Scrooge would have been eligible for membership too – generating more records. Depending on the dates, the apprenticeship may also have been recorded on the UK, Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures, 1710-1811, and with names like Fezziwig and Ebenezer Scrooge they would be easy enough to track down. This would also provide Mr Fezziwig’s first name, which would help me to find his marriage, and by extension the first name of Mrs Fezziwig, which should enable me to find her baptism and perhaps information about her background… By the time I remembered that Scrooge and the Fezziwigs were fictional characters, I had quite the mental To-Do List!
Be warned! Genealogy is strongly addictive and can addle your brain! It can transport you to previous time zones, while causing a serious loss of all sense of time in the present one. ‘Just quickly checking this record’ can turn into hours following through from one rich, newly-discovered seam of records to the next. It may provoke concerned glances between loved ones when you tell them what you’d really like for Christmas this year is a handful of death certificates. And it may ignite a previously unknown wanderlust for holidays in the most unlikely of places (‘You want us to spend a week visiting disused MINES????!!’)
It’s on that cautionary note that I’ll end my genealogical jottings for 2018. I’ll be back in January with more.
In the meantime, to those of you who celebrate, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.