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16 October 2014

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Russ Palmer: The Thread

The Thread

By Russ Palmer
September 2004,
A digital story from Who Do You Think You Are?

"There are times when the thread of generations is stretched close to breaking point. My family line came close to extinction in the 1840s.

1841, my great great grandfather, Daniel Hannibal - an illiterate agricultural labourer from Essex - enlisted in the Army. Within days he was aboard ship, off to join his regiment stationed in Afghanistan.

Before he reached the regiment, it was wiped out by Afghan tribesmen. Our line could have ended then. It wasn't the only time.

Returned to the depot in Ireland he met and married Catherine, an Irish girl, a survivor of the potato famine. My great grandmother Mary, Ann, was born in the quiet interval before Daniel was posted again, bound for war in the Crimea.

Daniel survived the cholera that ravaged the troops as they gathered for the campaign. He fought at the Battle of the Alma. He saw his companions dying around him at the bloody Battle of Inkermann. He survived the cold and hunger of the Russian winter. Thousands died.

In 1855 he was shipped back to Scutari, to the hospitals where Florence Nightingale had just begun to improve conditions. Before her reforms it was likely he would have died from dirt or disease.

After 21 years in the army he was discharged to take his family back to his birthplace in Essex. Although his years of service had left him with advanced tuberculosis, he survived the journey, just. Daniel died on the day he reached Essex, he was just 39. Had the family not returned his daughter, Mary Ann, would never have met or married my great grandfather.

Through a chance contact, Daniel's medals, pay book and discharge certificate were returned to the family and the story became central to our lives. When my youngest son was born in 1984, we named him Daniel, and so the thread goes on..."

Please tell us a little about yourself.
I am a retired headteacher from Hampshire, married with two sons. I have been tracing my family history for 35 years and I am currently the editor of the Cambridgeshire Family History Journal.

What's your story about?
My story reflects the history of my great-great-grandfather, Daniel Hannibal, who fought in the Crimean War. He was an ordinary foot soldier from Bridbrook in Essex.

Why did you choose to tell this particular story?
Daniel's life came close to ending on many occasions and our family line would have died with him. I have often thought about this as I have watched my own sons growing up. We named our youngest Daniel after his ancestor.

Any additional comments?
As I was undertaking the research into Daniel Hannibal's life a chance contact with a medal collector meant that his medals, service record and family certificates came back to the family.

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