What Happened to Dorcas Hamilton?
When my mum was a child – around 5 or 6, say, although the details on this are somewhat hazy – she knew a girl called Dorcas Hamilton.
I say “knew”. Dorcas was not a close friend: in fact, my mum only recalls actually speaking to her maybe two or three times. Despite this, however, Dorcas somehow captured my mum’s imagination – partly due to her unusual name, but also because Dorcas was, according to my mum, an uncommonly pretty child, with a beautiful olive complexion and long, dark hair. (My mum somehow thinks her parents were Italian, however ‘Dorcas’ is actually a Greek name, and ‘Hamilton’ is Scottish in origin, so who knows…) My mum thought she was the most beautiful person who ever lived.
Then, one day, Dorcas and her family disappeared.
Hold up: that makes it all sound a lot more dramatic than it actually was. When I say they “disappeared”, I don’t mean they vanished under mysterious circumstances, in some kind of “Local Family Missing” kind of way. I sort of WISH that was what had happened, to be honest, because it would make this post a lot more interesting, but, no, all I mean is that one day my mum realized she hadn’t seen Dorcas for a while, and, well, she never saw her again, basically.
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My mum may not have seen Dorcas again, but she DID think of her from time to time. Once, when I was about 10, for instance, she thought she saw what could have been an adult Dorcas on a bus in Spain, during a family holiday. She didn’t speak to the woman, but she watched her for a while, and she wondered about Dorcas, and what happened to her.
And she’s still wondering: but now, so am I.
Quite a few years ago now, you see, Dorcas Hamilton somehow came up in conversation. It was probably a conversation about names, or something equally innocuous, because I remember my mum mentioning she had always loved the name. I did too, and I also loved the story of beautiful Dorcas, and how she’d one day disappeared.
“All my life,” said my mum that night, “I’ve been looking for Dorcas Hamilton.”
“Wait,” I said, “I have to write that down. It sounds like the opening line of a book.”
And it does, doesn’t it? It has something a bit, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” about it, so I typed it into a note on my phone, and it’s been there ever since. Now and then I’d look at it, and think, “That’s the first line of my book,” but, me being me, I never actually WROTE the book, or, indeed, did anything other than having a quick look on Facebook to see if I could find Dorcas Hamilton for my mum.
As it turns out, there are quite a few Dorcas Hamiltons on Facebook: and I know this, because I searched again this weekend. None of them are HER, though, which, OK, isn’t THAT strange, really. There are plenty of people in the world who aren’t on Facebook – or, indeed, Google, for that matter – but who definitely exist. My dad, for example. And… other people. Like, there must be other people who aren’t on Facebook, right?
But here’s the strange thing: not only is Dorcas Hamilton not on the internet (Or not as far as I know), when my mum was looking through her old school photos a few years ago, it occurred to her that Dorcas was not in any of the photos, either.
Well, OK, we thought. Maybe she was sick on the day the photos were taken? Perhaps she had already moved away? My mum had always assumed Dorcas was the same age as her, but, when she really thought about it, she realized that none of her memories of Dorcas involved school. She had only ever seen her outside of school, which suggests that either she went to a different school from my mum, or that, although seeming to be the same age, she was perhaps a year older or younger, and so in a different class.
“Or maybe she didn’t exist?” I suggested, when this came up a few years ago. “Maybe you just imagined her?”
But no. My mum was adamant that Dorcas Hamilton was real. She has very clear memories of her. She remembers exactly what she looked like. She knows where she lived: on a street in my mum’s home town which was demolished years ago, to make way for the public swimming pool, but which a little bit of research reveals did, in fact exist, and which people were, indeed, living on back in the early 1950s, when Dorcas and her family were last seen there.
“You need to ask your friends if any of them remember her,” I suggested. My mum agreed that she should do this, but time passed, the pandemic started, and Dorcas Hamilton was, once again, forgotten.
Then, a few weeks ago, my mum finally had the opportunity to meet up with her best friend from childhood: a woman who went to school with my mum, and still lives in the same town. If anyone else would remember Dorcas Hamilton, it would surely be her.
And yet, she doesn’t.
She remembers the street, exactly as my mum describes it, so we know the location was definitely real. However, she does not recall a girl called Dorcas: not at school, not around town, not anywhere.
“OK,” I said, last weekend, when my mum delivered this news. “That’s it: I’m writing a book about Dorcas Hamilton, but, before I do, we need to find her.”
So, once again we hit up Facebook and Google. I searched the census records for that town in the 1950s. Finally, I got my dad to log into his Ancestry account (My parents went through a genealogy phase a couple of years ago, and have researched the family tree(s), going back a few hundred years) and search the births, marriages and deaths records for some trace of Dorcas Hamilton.
And there just isn’t one.
If Dorcas Hamilton ever existed, she has left absolutely no trace – or not that I can find, anyway.
The obvious conclusion is that she didn’t exist, then. And yet, my mum is absolutely certain that she did: and, bear in mind that this is not a recent idea that’s come to her. It’s something she’s mentioned a few times over the years, having quite literally spent her whole life convinced that she once knew a girl called Dorcas, who one day disappeared.
So, did she?
Er, hard pass.
I have no idea if Dorcas was real, or what happened to her if she was. I kind of lean towards the idea that she wasn’t, but there are obviously plenty of plausible explanations why there might not be any record of her online (It wasn’t her real name, my mum misheard the name, she went by the name “Dorcas”, but was registered as “Doreen” or something…) or why other people may not remember her. For instance, my mum’s recollection (And bear in mind that my mum would’ve been very young at the time) is that Dorcas and her family only lived in the town for a short period of time – less than a year, we think – so, if she didn’t go to my mum’s school during that time she obviously wouldn’t appear in any school photos, or necessarily be known by my mum’s friend: who would also have been very young at the time, and whose own memory can’t be considered infallible.
We will probably never know, in other words. But I would LIKE to know. And if I can’t know for REAL, well, I’m thinking I might just make the answer up. And the rest of the story, of course, because what I’ve written above is not the plot of the book I want to write. It’s not going to be about my mum meeting a girl a handful of times, then spending the rest of her life wondering what happened to her, obviously. I mean, I’m pretty sure the real Dorcas Hamilton (if there even IS a real Dorcas Hamilton…) isn’t going to pop up one day and sue me, but, all the same, whatever her story is, it’s not mine to tell. Er, mostly because I don’t know what it is.
I do, however, want to use it as inspiration for the book I DO write (Or ONE of them, anyway…) … which will, very loosely, be about a girl called Dorcas Hamilton (Yes, I can use the name. There are, as I said, plenty of people called Dorcas Hamilton in the world, just as there are people called “Harry Potter” or whatever, and none of them “own” the rights to their name…) who one day disappears. It will be called “What Happened to Dorcas Hamilton” and the first line will be, “All my life, I’ve been looking for Dorcas Hamilton.” The rest, meanwhile, has still to be written but maybe by putting my intention out there into the world, I’ll be motivated to actually make it happen.
And, of course, if anyone out there happens to know what DID happen to Dorcas Hamilton, then please get in touch: you have no idea how much I’d like to know…