Sometimes you learn something new about family history that alters the way you see your ancestors.
My great-grandmother, Jane Elliott Stevens (later Birks) was Unitarian from a Unitarian family. However, she seems to have held a variety of open-minded beliefs – including an interest in the then-fashionable spiritualism. I discovered this from a notebook of typescript family history material by my grandfather that I have recently acquired from my mother. He was doing what we would now call ‘oral history,’ and had a number of pieces by his mother. I would never have guessed that the very practical sect of the Unitarians included members who practiced spiritualism; and that even ministers dabbled in it. She also attended sessions held by the famous (and now forgotten) David Duguid, later to be revealed as a fraud. By the time that she had written this memoir she had lost two of her children, May (Mary Elliott) and Ernest, as well as her husband. The contact she believed she made was with her father, John Stevens of Topsham (1794-1883); she was his only child and family memories suggest he was a strict parent. Her brother-in-law, Richard Elliott Birks, was a successful unitarian minister who spent his later years in America; I find it surprising that a man who gives the impression of being tough-minded and ambitious should have been interested in spiritualism. The touching reference to his dead baby son maybe hints at a more sensitive man.