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Alice or Ann?

It was very exciting to be wrong. I was fairly sure that Alice Ames was Sr Alice Faith; Alice Ames was definitely a member of the Third Order, being at Holy Cross House (the home of the Third Order) in 1891, at the Hospital as a Serving Sister in 1901, at the Norwich Mission House on Colegate in 1911, and back at the Community House in 1939. A death record for Alice A. Ames says that she died between July-September 1941; Sr Alice Faith died on the 30th September. I was fairly sure that I had found Sr Alice Faith, but I needed the year of death to confirm it, and I knew that we had the years of death for our Third Order Sisters somewhere. On my last trip to Bungay, I found them. I was pleased to discover that Caroline Smith was indeed Sr Rachel Faith (see Faith Sisters, April 2022). Caroline Smith died in between October – December 1936, and Sr Rachel Faith died on December 16th 1936, aged 88. It was lovely to have this confirmed.

But when I came to Sr Alice Faith, I was in for a surprise. Sr Alice Faith died in 1898. Yet Alice Ames is recorded as being in the Community in 1939. How was this possible? I’m fairly sure they didn’t record ghosts … As it happened it was fairly easily solved, when I arrived at the details for another Third Order Sister, who had also died on the 30th September: Sr Ann Faith. At which point, it occurred to me that Alice Ames middle name was Ann, and Sr Ann Faith had indeed died in 1941. So it seems that Alice Ames is Sr Ann Faith, not Sr Alice Faith. Which explains why I haven’t found anything for a possible ID for Sr Ann Faith before, and leaves me with nothing for Sr Alice Faith – whose name may or may not have been Alice.

However, it was exciting to be wrong: I was glad to ensure I had the correct identification for Sr Ann Faith, even if her first name had led me astray to begin with. I will also be glad to check the House of Mercy registers at some point for additional confirmation, or proof that I am still wrong about something. There is still information that doesn’t match up: the document I have which includes years of death is a typed copy, which also includes ‘years in religion’ (how long a Sister had been in the Community from the time of her Clothing as a Novice). Sr Rachel Faith had been ‘in religion’ for 66 years, which if my maths is correct takes it back to 1870; yet Caroline Smith is registered as a Penitent at the House of Mercy in 1871.

It’s possible our information is wrong; equally possible there is another explanation yet to be uncovered. Other uncertainties include the back story of Alice Ames. Born in Colchester in 1865, she is in 1871 living with her grandparents in Norwich, but I can find no record of her parents. In 1881, Alice Amis (born 1865, Colchester Barracks) is at our Cottage Home Refuge in Norwich; this was a half-way house for girls before they came to the House of Mercy, so apart from the surname it all fits. I can find no trace of Alice Ames in 1881: is Alice Amis in fact Alice Ames? If the surname was pronounced with two syllables, it could sound very like Amis. If Alice was born at the barracks, that may explain why I can find no trace of her parents. There is a story here to be uncovered; whether the traces of that story are still in existence, I don’t know. In some cases, we may just remain uncertain.

It would be so much easier if I could be certain. Sr Eleanor was professed in the Community in 1876, but later left. In the 1881 Census, she is at the House of Mercy as Eleanor Williams, age 45, born in Doncaster. It is the only reference to an Eleanor Williams of the right age and birthplace that I can find. However, the 1891 Census has Ellen Williams, age 55 born in Doncaster, and a Sister of Mercy (which we are) as a boarder with a woman called Margaret Turner in Wakefield, Yorkshire. Is this in fact Sr Eleanor, and why did her name change? and if she did change her name, why is she Eleanor and not Ellen in the 1881 Census? I may never know. It would be nice to know, to be sure I have found exactly the right person, to be able to pin down the story – as far as can ever be discovered – of these Sisters, and then move on to the next one. I am beginning to realise that some Sisters may remain forever a mystery, however helpful it might be for us (me) to know more of their lives.

I am not very often excited to be wrong; it is much more satisfying to get it right. Being wrong carries with it overtones of blame and shame, of messing up. Yet, surely one of the key points of Christianity is that we do get things wrong and we do mess up. It’s why we have prayers of penitence. For God is a God of compassion and mercy, who does not shame us for being wrong; who is willing – and longing – to forgive us and help us move on.

To live in total uncertainty would be potentially damaging; yet to live with a limited amount of it can be helpful: to remind us that we are not always right; to enable us to see that those we disagree with may not always be wrong; to help us to see beyond the surface, and to remind us that the lives of others may not always be what they seem. Just as Alice Ames turned out to be Sr Ann Faith and not (as seemed obvious) Sr Alice Faith, so may we remember that the easy judgements we make about others and the quick labels we put on them may be misleading; just as theirs may be misleading for us.

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