In Search of Ancestors in India: David Vincent Hassett and the six generations

Still day 1 in the British Library, and my search was up to my Great Grandfather, David Vincent Hassett, father of Elaine Cynthia Hassett. I was hopeful of finding his record and Edith Aileen Hassett (his wife, Elaine’s mother). This would have been a successful day for me.

David Vincent Hassett’s baptism record proved no problem at all:

David Vincent Hassett_Bap_c

This record provided new information:

  1. Baptism date: 27th March 1912
  2. Conditional baptism
  3. Birth date: 23rd September 1896
  4. Parents names: James and Martha Hassett
  5. Abode of parents: Bombay
  6. Profession of father: Engine Driver (Retired)

A number of fascinating points emerge from this. Firstly, the baptism date is almost 16 years after David’s birth and is highlighted as a ‘conditional baptism’. What this means is that, at age 15 1/2 years, David was baptised, and either (a) he was previously baptised and this was deemed invalid, or (b) he was not baptised previously, claimed to be Catholic, but this could not be proven.

Here’s what the Archdiocese of Bombay states:

If a baptised non-catholic wants to embrace the Catholic faith he/she must first be properly instructed in the faith. After instructing the person concerned, the priest must ascertain whether his/her baptism was validly administered. If the baptism is invalid he/she should be baptised. If the baptism is doubtful the person must be baptised conditionally and an entry must be made in the Baptism Register with a remark that the person was baptised conditionally.

If the person claims to be a Catholic but the fact of baptism cannot be established with certainty, the person should be baptised conditionally and the baptism should be registered in the Baptism Register of the parish with a remark that the person concerned was baptised conditionally because the proof of baptism was not available.

There are many possible explanations for David being ‘conditionally’ baptised at 15 1/2 years and any explanation at this point would be speculative. See religion-online for a useful overview of Baptism in the Indian Context. The most likely explanations are:

  1. a previous baptism was deemed invalid
  2. to be a ‘Catholic’, “baptism is a ‘necessary’ and ‘required’ rite due”
  3. to marry in a Catholic church, baptism was required
  4. to enter into a sexual relationship, you must be married

Alternatively, David may have required the baptism for a specific form of employment,but more likely, baptism was required as he reached an age of ‘transition to adulthood’ and all the responsibility that would come with that, for example: work, marriage, children. Perhaps, David’s parents just delayed his baptism – this, i’m told, was not uncommon in India.

In any case, what really got me excited about David’s baptism record was not his conditional baptism. His parents names were listed as James and Martha Hassett – a breakthrough! Counting myself as ‘generation 1’, my parents ‘generation 2’, Grandparents – Stanley and Elaine – ‘3’, David and Edith Hassett ‘4’, this put James and Martha as ‘generation 5’ in the ‘Hassett’ lineage. Sitting in the middle of a virtually silent British Library (aside from an old woman sporadically shouting at her friend for ‘not doing things right’, and the plethora of people coughing, spluttering, sneezing – generally spreading their ‘lurgy’) getting to ‘generation 5’ was a huge breakthrough.

The excitement of this led me to forget my pursuit of my Great Grandmother Edith Hassett’s records and to immediately search for ‘James Hassett’. To my amazement, instant success. I won’t include James’ records here, that’s for future blogs. James’ baptism record stated his parents as ‘William and Isabella Hassett’. ‘Generation 6’!

Suddenly in a loss of self-control, I set about searching every name found so far, which led to twelve names (including those already obtained): Elaine, David, Edith, James, Martha, William, Sophia, William, Isabella, John, Regina, and Mary Anne.

Exciting finds included surnames of apparent Portuguese ancestors: ‘De Silva’ and ‘Pereira’. This caused me to daydream of how my football ‘career’ would have been boosted with a surname such as ‘De Silva’ or ‘Pereira’ – but led, more importantly, to a very peculiar discovery.

Cover picture credit: David Wheeler

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30 thoughts on “In Search of Ancestors in India: David Vincent Hassett and the six generations

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