When Val Glass of Till Valley Archaeological Society began researching the schools in Crookham she little dreamt what discoveries lay ahead.
She focused her attentions on Andrew Todd, born 1844, son of an agricultural labourer, who was educated at Crookham Presbyterian School at a time when the school housed up to 70 pupils.
In 1861 Andrew remained at the school as a pupil teacher, starting when he was only 13. He worked there at least four years.
Her first amazing discovery was that by 1871 he had graduated from Glasgow University, having studied Latin, Greek, Physics and Mathematics and had become Mathematics Master at Amersham College, “a school for the sons of dignified gentlemen”, in Oxfordshire. No mean feat for a farm labourer’s son in those days!
Sadly, all efforts to trace Andrew after 1871 were unsuccessful; he had left the college, his father, who went on to become assistant parish overseer, had died in 1870 and by the 1881 census his widowed mother had moved to Newcastle. It seemed that Andrew had disappeared from the face of the earth.
Nevertheless, the research was included in the TillVAS local history exhibition currently on show at Heatherslaw Mill.
Then, shortly after setting up this exhibition, TillVAS chairman Heather Pentland met a couple of visitors looking around Ford Church. They started chatting and to her astonishment one of them stated that he was the great-grandson of a man who had come from Crookham, Andrew Todd!
Joe Barta had travelled from his home in San Francisco and was accompanied by his relative, Vivien Wilcock from North Yorkshire.
Heather whisked them along to Heatherslaw Mill so they could see the information held about their ancestor.
They were able to pass on details about Andrew’s life after he left Crookham. His absence from the 1881 census was explained: in 1874 he had sailed for New Zealand where he married Blanche Jones, also from England. He went on his doctor’s recommendation that it would improve his health.
A diary revealed his mother moved to Byker to support her daughter-in-law and children after son James died. In New Zealand, Andrew became a government surveyor and they had the first four of their children.
In 1883 they emigrated to America with the desire to try farming and settled in Hubbard, Oregon. Four more children arrived. He died in 1908, the result of a tragic farm accident.
Val said: “It is incredible how much information has been acquired since the chance encounter in June. Thank goodness Heather chose that particular moment on that day to pop into Ford Church! And Joe and Vivien, too!”