Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Diary Part 2: A Mother’s Tale

It is quite some time since I wrote part one of the story of “the Diary”, so this second part is well overdue.  James Jesse Blake mentioned many people when he wrote his life story.  For many of these people, he didn’t just provide facts, he also gave an insight into their personality. So, this is the story of James Jesse Blake’s mother, her life and her character.

According to James Jesse Blake, his mother’s father was a widower with three girls and that he had moved up from Somerset to London to work on the Thames Tunnel – I have written his story.  Catherine Elizabeth Flower* was born in Timsbury, Somerset about 1820 and was baptised in the parish church there on 3 Aug 1821.  She was the oldest daughter of Jesse Flower and Mary Ann Hoare and had two sisters, also born in Timsbury, Harriet and Amelia, who survived childhood.  Another two sisters, both Elizabeth, born in Southwark, died in infancy.

Catherine lost her mother when she was eleven and her father when she was twenty, so was an orphan before she came of age at twenty one.  As a teenager, she went into service, so worked as a house maid somewhere in Greater London, I don’t know where. 

On 5 Oct 1846, Catherine married James Blake, a south sea mariner, in Aldgate Parish church, London.  According to The Diary, they moved from Aldgate to Park Street (now Milligan Street) Limehouse in 1848.  They stayed in Park Street for the rest of their lives, as shown by subsequent Census records.

Although she didn’t feature much in her son’s early recorded memories, Catherine emerges as a concerned mother once he started work as an apprentice.  James Jesse was living in Park St Limehouse while working at a coach maker’s in Marylebone.  After a year of walking 7 miles to and from work, Catherine finally allowed her son to lodge close to work during the week with him coming home at weekends. James would have been no more that eighteen at the time, so her reluctance to let him move out is understandable.  As his apprenticeship continued, he varied between living at home and living away depending on his health and behaviour.  James records a few instances of his mother insisting that he return home for varying periods.

After one of his many (yes, there were several) accidental dips in the Thames, slipping of a dock in fog, James Jesse was rescued by a Swedish seaman who inspired him to want to travel.  The seaman was headed for Queensland, Australia.  He mother said that she “would soon know that dammed nonsense out of you”.  This resulted in him having to live at home for some time.  It sounds like she was a woman who wouldn’t stand for any nonsense from her children and wanted to keep an eye on them.

Another time when Catherine exerted her authority on son James was when she reminded him that he needed to give his sister a wedding present.  She then helped him get one of his drawings framed as the present so was supportive of his talents too.

When James met his future wife, Eliza Todd, his mother had an important role. The two women first met without James present.  Eliza was sent by her Mistress to meet James’ mother soon after the young couple first met.  The mistress wanted to make sure James was a decent lad with honourable intentions and presumably thought his mother would feel the same.  When James and Eliza eventually married, Catherine helped them set up their new home and also hosted thier wedding dinner at her house. 

Throughout his married life, James mentioned his mother coming to help out when one or other of them was ill.  This included when James had to be nursed for three months after he was temporarily blinded by small pox.
Catherine died not long after the small pox episode, in December 1889.  She was 68 years old.

For so many ancestors, it is only the bare facts of their stories that can be known for sure, so it is special to have even a hint of personality; to know that someone care about their children’s welfare and did their best to look after them through childhood and as adults.  I do know from the facts that Catherine’s life couldn't always have been easy but thanks to The Diary, I know a little of how she coped with what life threw at her.

*Or Flowers.

Notes on Lineage: Me > Dad > John Edward Blake > James William Blake > James Jesse Blake > Catherine Elizabeth Flower

Monday, 22 August 2016

John Smith - Generation 3

This is the story of my third Bicester John Smith.  He was born around 1765 in the vicinity of Bicester.  Somewhat surprisingly, there is a shortage of likely John Smith baptisms and I have not yet found his.  I suspect he might be the son of John Smith and Catherine Gulliver, who were having children at the right time and have a suitable gap between other children that he would fit into, but have no proof yet.

I do know that John Smith’s father was a gardener working for a Mr Stratton who lived in the former grounds of the Priory of St Edburg.  Bicester parish church is dedicated to St Edburg.  I know about his father because, in 1816, a John Dunkin published a book, “The History and Antiquities of Bicester, a Market Town in Oxfordshire”. One of John Dunkin’s sources on the ruined priory was a letter from John Smith, explaining about some of the ruins he and his father had dug up while gardening.  I always think it is exciting to find the actual words an ancestor spoke or wrote, so here is a quote about a well:

“My father and Master Hudson repeatedly tried to empty it; but after they had reached a depth of seven feet the water flowed so fast that they were compelled to desist.  Close to the present building, my father also discovered a very neat coffin about two feet long; the bones were so small that he could not ascertain what they were, and there was no inscription visible.”

It sounds like they were not very successful amateur archaeologists.  The well they were trying to dig up was possibly one much visited in medieval times because it was believed to have healing properties.

On the domestic front, John Smith married Anne Bowden 1 Nov 1790 in Bicester and one of the witnesses was Martha Smith, perhaps his sister.  John and Anne had six children between 1792 and 1805, Harriet, Catherine, James, my ancestor John, Thomas and Mary Ann.

At some point, John Smith changed careers, becoming a school teacher.  He was school master at the Bicester blue coat school, a charity school for boys.  There were many blue coat schools around England and they got their name from the distinctive uniform worn by the children.  I have a photo of a former blue coat school in Hatton Gardens, London, showing statues of two children in their blue uniforms.  The Bicester charity school was supported by local gentry.

Blue Coat School, Hatton Gardens, London

John’s wife Anne died in November 1821.  The following year, probably on 2 December 1822 (I don’t have a reliable source for this date) John Smith married Mary Moore in Bicester.  John had at least another six children with Mary, taking his total to twelve: Benjamin, Mathilda, Emma, Eliza, Henry and Kezia.  Kezia was born when John was about 71 and so he might be the oldest father I have found so far in my family tree, although to be honest, this is not something I have taken much note of.  As well as his twelve children, who I think all survived to adulthood, he had over 30 grandchildren, although he did not live to see them all.  He did live to see some great grandchildren, including my ancestor Harry Smith.

Bicester in the 1820’s and 1830’s was an interesting but possibly not safe place to live.  In 1826, according to an extract from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868), there were riots in the main street that destroyed the town hall.  In 1832, the same source says there was a cholera epidemic that infected 70 people.  I have no record of any of the Smith’s suffering from Cholera, though.

By the time of the 1841 census, as well as being a school teacher, John Smith was a parish clerk.  As far as I can work out, a parish clerk was something of a jack of all trades, supporting the clergy with administrative and other tasks, possibly including leading the singing.  Also in 1841, John’s family were living in New Buildings, Market End, Bicester, near his son John.

In 1851, John Smith was an elderly man and the census says he was blind, although he is still listed as a parish clerk.  He, wife Mary and some of their children were still living in New Buildings.

In his will, John Smith seems to have owned two properties, one in New Buildings and one in Crockwell, another area in Bicester.  Curiously, John wrote his will in 1829 before all of his children were born, so they are not all named however there was a clause to cover this eventuality.

John Smith died 17 March 1858, age 93.  Did miraculous water from the well he and his father dug up contribute to his long life?

Saturday, 6 August 2016

John Smith – Generation 2

Having established that my Smith ancestors came from Bicester, Oxfordshire, as described in my previous blog post, my next challenge was to work back a few generations.  Luckily for my research, many of the branches of the Smith tree are less common names and so are easier to trace. However, for this story, I will stick with my one of my John Smith ancestors.

This John Smith was born around 1799, the fourth of six children of John Smith and Ann Bowden, and baptised 29 September 1799, in the parish church in Bicester.  There were actually three John Smith’s baptised in Bicester in 1799.  So, how do I know that I have the right one?  The first time I looked at the Bicester registers, I noted that one of the John Smiths was a twin.  I know, sadly, that the survival rate for twins was not good at a time when infant mortality was high, anyway.  

Something I learned while doing my anthropology degree was that until the 20th century in the western world (and still in some places), one of life’s biggest challenges was to get to the age of five.  Those who made it to five had a reasonable chance of reaching old age, if they avoided the risks of violence (for men) and child birth (for women).  So, I checked the burial records for the few years after the 1799 baptisms.  Unfortunately for the families concerned, two of the three John Smiths died very young and the logical conclusion is that the survivor must have been my ancestor.

Having survived the trials of childhood, John Smith trained as a plumber and glazier; plumber, at that time, being someone worked with lead (plumbum being Latin for lead), rather than the modern trade of working with copper and plastic water pipes.  I haven’t found a record of his apprenticeship yet.  Records from the later part of his life say that he was also a painter.

On 31 March 1823, John Smith married Elizabeth Ellston* in Bicester parish church, by banns.  They had nine children, including my ancestor John Smith.  Their oldest son, James, was born in September 1823.  I will leave the reader to do the maths but will say that it was quite a common occurrence...  Their last child, Ann, was born about twenty years later.

John, Elizabeth and their family can be followed through the 1841, 1851 and 1861 censuses.  For all that time they lived in Newbuildings, Sheep Street, Market End, in Bicester.  Sheep Street is the main street through the town and is now a pedestrianised shopping area but many of the old buildings are still there.  In the nineteenth century, as well as being a market town, hence Market End, Bicester was famous for hunting, although the Smith family did not belong to the hunting upper class.

John Smith died on 19 October 1870, age 71.  His death was announced in births, deaths and marriages column in the Oxford Times.  His death certificate says that he died of a diseased heart, congestion of the lungs and softening of the brain.  In modern medical terms, this probably translates to congestive heart failure and dementia.

Once again, I am pleased to have been able to discover so much about my ancestor in spite of his common name.

*There are various spellings of Ellston.

Notes on lineage: Me > Mum > Daphne Madge Smith > John Henry Smith > Harry Smith > John Smith > John Smith

Thursday, 30 June 2016

John Smith - Generation 1

It is a while since I posted a story about one of my ancestors due to an injury that has meant not too much typing and this story is a shorter one too.

I have written about common names before but no name is so common in British ancestry as John Smith.  My maternal grandmother was a Smith, so finding a John Smith in my family tree was inevitable.  As my research has progressed, I have found several other ancestral Smith families, but I will focus on my grandmother’s family for now.

Adding to the complications of researching the common Smith surname, when I first started my research, the information I had was that the Smiths were from Woolwich, in Kent and south of London, or Banbury, in Oxfordshire and north of London.  Thanks primarily to census records, I discovered that the family had connections to both places.

This particular John Smith was born in Bicester, Oxfordshire, in 1832, and was baptised in the local parish church on 9 December that year.  He was the middle of 9 children of John Smith and Elizabeth Elston*; four boys and five girls.

In 1841, young John Smith was living with his parents, siblings and grandmother, Martha Elston (nee Guntrip), in Bicester Market End.  Ten years later, in 1851, not much had changed other than John having grown up to be a carpenter.

John Smith married Eliza Roberts 17 April 1854 in Oxford.

Although they married in Oxford, John and Eliza lived for the first few years of their marriage in Banbury, Oxfordshire, where their first two children, Emily and Harry (my ancestor) were born.  So here is the Banbury link from my earliest research.  The family were briefly back in Bicester, where daughter Mary Ann was born in 1860, before moving to Woolston, St Mary Extra, in Hampshire, where the family were living at the time of the 1861 census.  Woolston was a ship building and port area of Southampton. 

The Smith family soon moved again and around 1864, daughter Elizabeth was born in Sandhurst, Berkshire.  By the time of the 1871 Census, the family were in West Plumstead, Kent, which is next to Woolwich, Kent, where they were living in 1881, with George Roberts, John’s father-in-law, living in the household.  So I also found the Woolwich connection. 

Daughter Emily married Henry James Brooker in 1875.  Son Harry migrated to Australia in the 1880s.  Daughter Elizabeth married John Carriss around 1890.  Both daughters stayed in the Woolwich area.

1891 found John and Eliza back in Oxfordshire, this time in Headington, just outside of Oxford with 6 year old Frederick Marriott, possibly a relative, living with them.  Eliza’s father had lived in Headington in 1890.  Another ten years later, John, Eliza and Frederick were back in Woolwich.  I think they stayed as John was still there in 1911, as a widower, Eliza having died in 1904, living with his daughter Elizabeth and her family.

I am not sure what took the Smith’s all over southern England but I suspect it was John’s work as a carpenter and joiner.

John Smith died in 1913.  He was 80 years old, a good age at the time but not unusual for his family.

I am pleased that I was able to track the movements of the Smith family and show that such a common name doesn’t make research impossible.

Notes on lineage: Me > Mum > Daphne Madge Smith > John Henry Smith > Harry Smith > John Smith

*Also Ellston, Elstone and other variations.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Victorian Tragedy – part 3 of 3

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” - Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

This tragic family story ends, or perhaps starts, with Jonathan Hardy, father of Rebecca Hardy and grandfather of Mary Ann Simmonds.  Strictly speaking, some of this story pre-dates the Victorian Era but it is the Victorian writers Dickens, Hardy and the Brontes who wrote such tragic stories.

Jonathan Hardy was born 8 November 1807 and baptised 24 November 1807, in Upper Sheringham on the north Norfolk coast, the son of William Hardy, a shoemaker, and Mary Chapman. Jonathan was the oldest of at least 5 children and the only son I have found.  His siblings were all baptised in Norwich and I don’t know why his parents were in Upper Sheringham in 1807.

I have not yet found a record of an apprenticeship but Jonathan Hardy was probably apprenticed to a glazier sometime around 1822, when he was fourteen.

In January 1828, Jonathan Hardy was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment larceny, having stotlen a silk scarf from a Mr Joseph Engall of St Augustine’s, Norwich.

In 1830, Jonathan’s daughter Rebecca Hardy was baptised in Norwich and the record indicates that he was a glazier. I have not yet found a record of his marriage to Mary Carr, Rebecca’s mother.  Mary and Rebecca seem to have gone to Whissonset, Norfolk, to stay with Mary’s parents (see my previous post), while Jonathan stayed in Norwich.

On 21 October 1835, Jonathan Hardy was convicted of stealing a glazier’s diamond and sentenced to 7 years transportation.  Glaziers use industrial grade diamonds to cut glass.  After spending sometime on the Leviathan docked in Portsmouth, Jonathan was transferred to the Moffat and sailed to Sydney on 5 May 1836.

Convict indents from the 1830s contain a wealth of information.  Jonathan Hardy, age 29, could read and write.  He was protestant, married with one child and a glazier and painter.  He was 5ft 4.5 inches, so not tall.  His complexion was dark ruddy, hair was dark brown, eyes dark hazel and whiskers carroty.  Perhaps this last trait was passed down the generations, as my father had ginger colouring in his beard.  Jonathan had a cocked nose and scars on the left side of his upper lip, the top of his left little finger and on his left hand.  Maybe his scars were from cuts from working with glass? The indent also mentions his previous conviction.  Interestingly, most of the convicts had past convictions, which doesn’t fit with the myth that people were transported for very petty crimes.

In 1841, Jonathan Hardy married Ellen Walsh in Sydney, NSW.  Jonathan and Ellen had at least two children, Rebecca and Elizabeth.  This is not the only example I have come across of living children’s names being re-used, particularly where one parent is different.  Presumably Rebecca was a family name or had some other special meaning to Jonathan.  Both Australian daughters married in 1859, Rebecca to Donald Starchan and Elizabeth to Michael Murray, and were living on the New South Wales Central Coast in the 1860’s.

I haven’t yet found a death record for Ellen but Jonathan married a third time, to Sarah Gafney, 9 April 1860, at St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral Sydney, NSW.  Sarah was an Irish Catholic.  At the time of his marriage, Jonathan was describes and a Painter living at Millers Point.  Jonathan and Sarah had son Jonathan born in 1861. 

In 1863, Jonathan Hardy was listed in the NSW Sands Directory living in Wentworth St, possibly in Parramatta, and working as a glazier and painter.
On Saturday 8 February 1868, Jonathan, his wife Sarah and son Jonathan were visiting their Gosford relatives.  They went out shell collecting and then took a small punt out on the Brisbane Waters.  The boat capsized and all three on board drowned.  The bodies of Jonathan father and son were found the following morning and Sarah a few days later.  They were taken to the house of son-in-law Michael Murray, who lived on the shoreline.  Michael and Donald (Strachan) identified the bodies.  The inquest found that it was an accident. The incident was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald and other newspapers.  And so ends this three part tragedy.

Finally, it is curious that just over a hundred years later, some descendants of Jonathan Hardy migrated to Australia and settled on the NSW Central Coast.

Notes on Lineage: Me > Dad > John Edward Blake > Alice Mary Elliston > Mary Ann Simmonds (AKA Hardy) > Rebecca Hardy > Jonathan Hardy

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Victorian Tragedy – part 2 of 3

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” - Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina.

Researching my ancestor Rebecca Hardy has been like doing a jigsaw puzzle where, first, I had to find the pieces.  I hope I have found the right pieces and put them together correctly.

Following on from the story of Mary Ann Simmonds* in part 1, Rebecca Hardy probably married William Simmonds in 1852, although this is one puzzle piece I haven’t found yet.  William and Rebecca had three daughters born in the Wisbech area of Cambridgeshire, Caroline, Lydia and Susannah.  In the 1861, Census Rebecca, recorded as born in Norwich age 33, and her daughters were living in the Wisbech workhouse in Cambridgeshire.  People ended up in a workhouse when they had no money and no other options.  As stated in Mary Ann’s story, life in work houses was regimented and tough by did provide food, shelter and sometimes work.  William was not living with his family in 1861 and I have yet to find where he was.

By sometime around 1862, the family were all together in Woolwich, Kent, where son Thomas was born, before they moved to Plaistow, Essex.  Rebecca hardy died 18 January 1865, in Plaistow, age 35 years old.  Her causes of death were listed as Jaundice, Partus Prematurus (sic) and Exhaustion, which sounds like complications around a premature birth. I have no record that the child survived.

One other thing to note, as per part 1, the mother’s name on Caroline and Lydia’s birth certificates was given as Rebecca Harding.

So what was Rebecca’s life before she met William Simmonds?  In the 1851 census, Rebecca, recorded as born Norwich aged 22, is listed as being a lodger and concubine living with Ann Taylor, John Briton and William Smith.  Concubine probably indicated living with a man she wasn’t married to, perfectly acceptable in the present, rather than prostitution.  Rebecca had neighbours who were listed as prostitutes in the census.  Based on the order in which her household’s names were listed, I assume she was co-habiting with William Smith, which, as explained in Mary AnnSimmonds’ story, means he is probably also my ancestor.

Anyone good at maths might have noticed that the various ages for Rebecca found in different record so far mentioned don’t all add up.  This is quite common in family history research due to a combination of ignorance (if the person didn’t know), lies and administrative errors. Norfolk Parish Registers have recently been digitised, so I searched for baptisms of Rebecca Hardy and Harding for a period between 1825 and 1835 in the vicinity of Norwich.  Luckily for me, there were very candidates and I was able to narrow it down to one possibility.  Rebecca Hardy was born 12 February 1830 and baptised 27 February 1830, in Norwich St James with Pockthorpe, the daughter of Jonathan Hardy, a glazier and Mary “late” Carr**.

The one complication was that I found a burial for a Rebecca Hardy on 30 Oct 1831, at St Miles Coslany, Norwich, infant.  However, looking at this register infant seems to indicate under one and children aged 1 or older had their age listed.

I had not been able to find my Rebecca Hardy in the 1841 census.  As I couldn’t find a marriage for her parents, I decided to look for a Rebecca Carr instead.  I found Rebecca Carr aged 9, in Whissonset, Norfolk, living with Jonathan and Mary Carr** and some other children.  Jonathan Carr was a Farmer and my guess is that the three minors in the household were all grandchildren.

Having found Rebecca, I then needed to locate Mary Carr.  As for Jonathan Hardy, his story will be told in part 3, except to say that an 1836 record indicates he was married with one child and he was no longer in a position to take care of his family.  Mary Carr, age 22, was buried 24 December 1834 in Whissonset.  I also found burials for Jonathan Carr on 20 November 1845, and Mary Carr on 7 November 1846, both in Whissonset.  This would have left Rebecca an under-aged orphan, so I thought it was likely that she would have ended up in a workhouse.

By some piece of luck, I found an index of Gressenhall Workhouse inmates on a Norfolk Museum website.  Rebecca Hardy of Whissonset was on the list as being “out” or discharged in January 1849.  It also made two references to the Guardians minute books, which happen to be available to browse on  On 28 February 1848, Rebecca was brought before the board charged with refractory behaviour, which meant insubordination or violence.
She was punished with solitary confinement and to be kept on a bread and water diet for two days the following week.  Then on 22 January 1849, Rebecca Hardy was allowed a sum of 2 pounds on going into service of Mr Stammers of Gressenhall for 12 months.  Presumably after completing her 12 months service, Rebecca made her way to King’s Lynn where she was living in 1851.

While I have found and put together some of the puzzle pieces, there is still more to find.

*I have stuck with one spelling variation for names in this story so as to not confuse the reader, however in the original records I have come across other variants of several names.

**Both Mary Carr’s are listed in some records as Mary Ann, presumably namesakes of Mary Ann Simmonds.

Notes on Lineage: Me > Dad > John Edward Blake > Alice Mary Elliston > Mary Ann Simmonds (AKA Hardy) > Rebecca Hardy

Monday, 28 March 2016

Victorian Tragedy – part 1 of 3

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” is the opening line of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and I think this holds true for family history.  It is more often the sad and bad stories that left records and, I think, make the most interesting reading.  Happy families who lived contentedly in one location for generations didn’t always leave much trace of their lives.  This is not a story of a happy family.

I discovered my ancestor Mary Ann Simmonds* early on in my research but I have only very recently uncovered the full story of her family, which I have decided to cover in three blog entries.  She is of particular interest to me as she was the last ancestor of her generation where I couldn’t find both parents.

Years before the days of digitised records, when the 1881 Census index was published on microfiche, I found a Mary Ann Elliston living with her husband and children in West Ham.  It said she was 24, so born around 1856, and from Lynn, Norfolk.  I rightly assumed that Lynn was King’s Lynn.  Also in the house was her father William Simmonds, born in Lincoln; extended family members in census records are always an exciting find.  However, it took me a while to discover the red herrings.

I was not able to find a likely birth for Mary Ann around 1856 in the registry office indexes.  I did discover that Simmonds is a challenging name to research because of the many spelling variations – y instead of I, an optional d and varied number of m’s.  Also, indexers sometimes transcribe capital S’s as L.

Mary Ann Simmonds married George Elliston 1 February 1874 in West Ham, Essex.  The marriage certificate said she was of full age, which did not fit with the 1881 census index, and listed her father as William Simmonds, which did.

I resolved the issue of Mary Ann’s age after careful checking of the original 1881 census record and by getting a copy of her death certificate.  Mary Ann died 7 Feb 1885 from small pox, aged only about 35, leaving 3 young children, Alice (my great grandmother), George and Walter.  Small pox vaccination was made compulsory in the UK in 1853 for new born children, so Mary Ann had missed out on this by just a couple of years.

Confirming Mary Ann’s age didn’t help me with locating a birth record.
My next step was to search other censuses for Mary Ann and her family.  I haven’t found her in the 1871 census.  I assume she was working as a servant and that the age and place of birth place given were incorrect.  I have come across a few possibilities.  I did find William Simmonds*, a widower from Upwell, Norfolk, living with children Caroline, Lydia, Susanna and Thomas, all younger than Mary Ann.

I was easily able to locate birth certificates for Caroline and Lydia, thanks to their less common names.  The certificates both give their mother’s name as Rebecca Harding.  I have not yet found a marriage certificate for William Simmonds and Rebecca Harding (or any other variation of their names).

It took some imaginative searches, making good use of wildcards and filters, to find Rebecca and her daughters in the 1861 census.  They are listed by their initials only, living in the Wisbech workhouse in Cambridgeshire and the surname indexed as Semmons, although I think it looks like Simmons in the original record.  Mary Ann’s place of birth was given as King’s Lynn.  Wisbech poor law union covered the Norfolk parishes of Upwell and Outwell, the other Simmonds children were born.  A workhouse was where people went when they had no money and no other options.  Life in work houses was regimented and tough by did provide food, shelter and sometimes work.  I have not yet found William Simmonds in the 1861 census.  It is possible that William had moved away to find work, leaving his family in the workhouse until he could support them.  This seems likely given that son/brother Thomas was born around 1862 in Woolwich, Kent.

Some more inventive searching led me to a Rebecca Hardy living in King’s Lynn in 1851.  I have not identified William Simmonds.  I will cover the details of Rebecca’s story in part 2, however the key points from the 1851 census for this story are:
  • It was taken on 30 March.
  • The household lists Ann Taylor as head with John Briton, William Smith and Rebecca Hardy as lodgers, listed in that order.
  • Ann and Rebecca are listed as Concubines.  As far as I can work out, that may have just meant they were living with men they were not married to.  They had neighbours who were listed as prostitutes…

I now knew that Mary Ann must have been born sometime between 30 March 1851 and mid-1852, as her sister Caroline was born in July 1853.  Wondering if Mary Ann might have been illegitimate, I searched for a Hardy or Harding birth certificate.  Mary Ann Hardy was born 7 December 1851 in the Union House, St Margaret’s King Lynn (a workhouse).  As well as finding a birth certificate, I also found a record of the birth in the Norfolk poor law records on  Single women often ended up at workhouse hospitals for their lying in (i.e. labour). Readers who are good at maths and biology might have worked out  that Mary Ann was born roughly 9 months after the 1851 census was taken.  This led me to the conclusion that William Smith is the most likely candidate to be her biological father.  Given that Mary Ann was known by her step father’s surname and he lived with her family later in life rather than with any of his younger children, I wonder if Mary Ann had any idea of the circumstances surrounding her birth.

In spite of her difficult early years, my hope is that Mary Ann found happiness during her marriage.

*I have stuck with one spelling variation for names in this story so as to not confuse the reader, however in the original records I have come across other variants of several names.  I have also referred to my ancestor as Mary Ann Simmonds, rather than Hardy, as that is the name she was mostly known by.

Notes on Lineage: Me > Dad > John Edward Blake > Alice Mary Elliston > Mary Ann Simmonds (AKA Hardy)

Monday, 14 March 2016

Common Names

My ancestor Robert Pearson spent much of his life living on his farm in the parish of Kirkland near Penrith, Cumberland, at the base of Cross Fell, the highest peak in the north Pennies.  The area is renowned for thick fogs and the Helm Wind, which makes a shrieking noise and is the only named wind in England.  Thanks to Google street view, I did a virtual tour of Kirkland and I suspect the area has changed little in hundreds of years.  The church appears to be in a field in the middle of no-where and there are a few old farm houses in nearby.  It looks like something out of Wuthering Heights.  But was Robert Pearson’s life lonely and remote?  I think not.  He had 13 children.

Robert Pearson was born about 1766, possibly the son of William Pearson and Sarah Monkhouse who was baptised 24 August 1766 at St Michael’s Appleby in Westmoreland.  I need to do more research to confirm this.  There are several other possible Robert Pearson’s baptised in the area around that time.

My first certain record of Robert is his marriage to Anne Blenkinsop*on 9 August 1793, in the parish of Kirkland near Penrith in what was then Cumberland.  Their first child, John was born early in 1796 and their last child, my ancestor Jane, was born in 1821.  They had five sons and eight daughters.  At least one of the daughters died young, I am not sure about what happened to many of the others; Pearson is a common name and so challenging to research.  Most of the children had common given names too, including an Eliza and an Elizabeth, both living with their parents in 1841.  One daughter had a less common name, Tamar, which might be a helpful clue for further research.  A John Pearson married Tamar Braithwait in 1724, in Kirkland. Also of interested ins their daughter Frances, as this name was passed down the family, as can be seen from the lineage outlined below.

As mentioned, Robert was a farmer.  On his death certificate he was described as a Yeoman, which suggests he owned land rather than leased it.  I don’t know what he farmed but his third son, Joseph Pearson, seems to have inherited the farm.  The 1851 and 1861 censuses say that Joseph was a farmer of 57 acres.

By 1841, Robert Pearson and Ann seem to have retired to Newbiggin, near Dacre, on the other side of Penrith to Kirkland, although the census still lists him as a farmer.  Just to complicate matters, Newbiggin is also the name of a Westmorland parish next to Kirkland.  There are several Newbiggin’s in the area, so it is necessary to be extra careful to make sure I am researching in the right location.

Robert Pearson died 11 December 1845 of natural decay.  His age was given as 80, so my guess is that natural decay is another term for old age.

Robert left a will, but I have not yet obtained a copy of it.  Maybe it will fill in some gaps.  Researching this family is certainly a challenge given the common names.

*or Blenkinship.  There are a lot of variant spellings for this surname.

Notes on lineage: Me > Dad > Helen Frances Ruth Akeroyd > Percy Tomlinson Akeroyd > Frances Elizabeth Tomlinson > Jane Pearson > Robert Pearson

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Valentine’s Day: the Diary part two and other stories

I recently read a blog post that asked where the reader’s sixteen great great grandparents came from.  Mine came from seven English counties, two Australian States (then colonies), Scotland and Wales, so were from all over the place.  This led to me to wonder about how these people and my other ancestor couples came to meet and have children.  With Valentine’s Day coming up, I thought it would be nice to share some of the stories I know.

To get into the right mood, here is the oldest wedding photo of direct ancestors that I have – Walter George Charley and Constance Mary Macdonald.  They both lived in the same part of Melbourne, Australia.  A piece of lace from this wedding dress was sewn into a wedding dress worn at a family wedding last year.

I have written before about my great grandfather James JesseBlake who wrote his life story.  He described how he met his future wife, Eliza Todd.  One Sunday morning, James left London to visit a friend in country Kent.  One his way home, he went to a church in Greenwich to have a look.  A church service was just starting so he decided to stay for it.  There was a young lady, Eliza, sitting nearby who couldn’t find the service in the prayer book, so he gave her his book.  After the service, he walked her back to the ladies school where she was a servant.  A couple of weeks later he went back to the same church service in the hope of seeing her again, which he did and he was then also introduced to Eliza’s mistress.  Soon after this, they met each other’s families. They married a few years later.  It is rare to have this much detail about regular people, in most cases the only option is speculation.

I do have some ancestors who were related in some way prior to their marriage and so must have been well known to one another.  I previously told the story of Priscilla Goodyear who married her brother-in-law John Camp Shephard.  A couple with a similar story from the Akeroyd side of the family are George Newsome and widow Hannah Talbot nee Blakeley, married in 1800.  George Newsome was a widower whose previous wife was Hannah’s sister Jane.  At the time of both the Goodyear-Shephard and Newsome-Blakeley marriages were within prohibited degrees of affinity, which means they shouldn’t have been allowed to marry.  Now marrying a sibling in-law is legal in England.  In both cases, the couples were married some distance from where they lived and so would not have been known to the minister who performed the ceremony.

It is not just in-laws who married.  I have at least two sets of first cousins who married, while this seems a bit odd to modern sensibilities, it was not unusual in the past and was never a prohibited degree of relationship under English law.  Oscar Kirby, born in Wales, married his cousin Harriet Partridge, from Gloucestershire, in Stroud registry office in 1878.  They married in the registry office because they were Plymouth Bretheren.

James Rideout and Caroline Bennett were also cousins, both from Tollard Royal in Wiltshire, where they married in 1821.  I have written previously about James and Caroline’s fathers, Ambrose and Jasper, who were literally partners in crime.

Another story that may make for uncomfortable reading is that of Thomas Rowley and Elizabeth Selwyn, parents of Eliza Rowley.  Thomas was an officer in the NSW Corps and travelled to Australia, arriving in February 1792.  On the same ship was a convict Elizabeth Selwyn.  Apparently, the officers got first pick of the convict women.  Thomas and Elizabeth’s first child, Isabella, was born in November 1792, 9 months after they arrived in the colony.  As they stayed together until Thomas’ death in 1806, although they weren’t able to marry, it must have worked out okay.

On a happier note, in my early days of family history research, my grandmother, from Yorkshire, told me about how she met my grandfather, who then lived in Hertford, on a Mediterranean cruise that she had gone on as a twenty-first birthday present from her uncle.  My grandfather gave her a Spanish doll that she still had.  When she told her parents about the doll, they knew it was a serious relationship, at the time well brought up young ladies did not accept gifts from men.  They wouldn’t have met if it not for that cruise.

In many other cases, my ancestors lived in the same village or same corner of London, so probably knew each other growing up.  In some of those cases, they had gotten themselves into situations where they had little choice but to marry when they did, with the first child arriving a little too soon. 

Whatever the situation, most of my ancestors found themselves married for many years, I hope happily, like this ancient couple, Harry Smith and Louisa Jenkins.  I don't know how they met but they were married for 55 years.

Monday, 25 January 2016

My first Australian

As it is Australia Day, I thought I would write about my first Australian ancestor.  Eliza Rowley was born, according to family lore, on 25 Apr 1804, although no baptism record has been found.  Her monumental inscription (see below) suggests that she was born in 1803.   According to an obituary, she was born at Kingston farm, her family’s home, in what is now Newtown in Sydney.  There is still a Kingston Road and a Rowley street there today.

Eliza’s parents were Captain Thomas Rowley, an officer in the NSW Corps, and Elizabeth Selwyn, a convict.  Although Eliza was illegitimate, her father acknowledged her and her four older siblings, Isabella, Thomas, Mary and John, in his will and they all took his name.  There may have been a sixth unacknowledged posthumous child, Henry Rowley. 

Captain Thomas Rowley died in 1806 from consumption and his estate was left in trust to his five named children, so Eliza would never really have known her father.  The estate was mismanaged, in part because the trustees returned to England while the children were still minors.  A court case in 1832 provided a final pay out to four of his children and their spouses.  Isabella died young and her husband made no claim on the estate. Here is a link to the case:

Eliza Rowley appears in various early musters and census, living with her mother. They seem to have lived in Newtown, although the family also had land in Burwood and Liverpool, where her older brothers lived.  During her childhood, Eliza would have seen Sydney grow from a garrison town into a small city.  Her family played a role in the growth of the young colony, with her brother John being part of expeditions trying to cross the Blue Mountains to the Western Plains.

On 25 Aug 1826, Eliza Rowley married Henry Sparrow Briggs, whose story was the first that I told.  They married at St John’s Parramatta.  Eliza and Henry had ten children, three of whom died in infancy.  Henry’s story covers some of the family’s experiences.

Eliza lived as a widow for 16 years after the death of her husband in 1866, dying 27 September 1882.  She was still living on the family farm in Newtown, where her son, my ancestor Frederick Henderson Briggs, was a dairyman.  According to an obituary, Eliza died sitting under a pear tree in her backyard, at the house where she was born.  Eliza’s death certificate says that she died of Syncope, which means she passed out from some unspecified cause – Wikipedia suggests a number of possibilities.

Eliza was originally buried in the family vault at Kingston, which was later moved to Waverly Cemetery, Sydney.  Her inscription says Eliza, wife of the above [Henry Sparrow Briggs], died 27 Sep 1882 aged 79 years.

Notes on lineage: Me > Mum > Daphne Madge Smith > Esther Ilma Lees > Fanny Sarah Eliza Briggs > Frederick Henderson Briggs > Eliza Rowley

Monday, 11 January 2016

An Innkeeper’s Daughter

Jane Grimshw Spedding was born 28 Feb 1789 in Batley, Yorkshire; the ninth of eleven children of Charles Spedding and Mary Ellis.  She was on the only one of the children to be given a middle name.  At the time in England, middle names were not common and in fact, based on my family history research, were not common until the mid-1800s.  My assumption is that Grimshaw is a family name and that in 1789 there was a reason to commemorate it.  I haven’t yet found definite Grimshaw ancestry but her grandmother, and mother of Mary Ellis, may have been Sarah Grimshaw.  More research is needed to be certain as Ellis is a common surname.

Jane was baptised 8 Mar 1789 in Batley parish church.  At the time, along with some other parishes in Yorkshire, that church used Dade registers.  Dade registers have the advantage of recording a lot of information that wasn’t normally recorded, such as Jane’s date of birth and the names of her grandfathers, Robert Spedding and John Ellis.  This is very useful for proving links between generations.  The short time of about a week between birth and baptism is thought to have been the norm at a time of high infant mortality.

During Jane Grimshaw Spedding’s lifetime, Batley changed from a small community of farmers and weavers into an industrial town, quadrupling in size.  Jane’s family were well off.  Her father was a butcher and innkeeper who was leader in the local community, taking on such roles as church warden and overseer of the poor.  The inn was the “Bull and Butcher” and in 1801 the family lived there.

Another sign of the status of Jane’s family was her marriage by licence on 12 Jul 1809, Batley, to John Akeroyd.  I don’t know why they got married by licence but there are a few possible reasons: John was illegitimate, so it is possible that Jane’s family didn’t approve of him; they came from different parishes, so there may have been an issue with calling banns or it may just have been a status symbol for Jane’s family.  Jane was not pregnant, another reason for a licence.  Her first child was born a respectable ten months after the wedding.  One odd thing about the licence is that Jane is sworn to be aged twenty-one and upwards but she was actually only twenty.  It is possible she didn’t know her exact age.

John Akeroyd was a farmer from Wragby and may be worthy of his own story being told at some point.  When John and Jane married, he may have been responsible for his two young and recently orphaned half-siblings, Mary and Robert Bennington.  So Jane probably became an instant mother, as well as wife.  Between 1810 and 1821, Jane and John had six children born in Ryhill, near Wragby, where John was a farmer.

The family then moved to Batley, and had four more children, including my ancestor Abraham Akeroyd, born in 1827.  The move to Batley took place a couple of years after Jane’s father Charles died in 1819.  Following the move, John took over the “Bull and Butcher”, although he also continued as a farmer.

Sadly, in 1839, John Akeroyd died of Cholera.  He left his farm to his “dear wife Jane”.  From the names listed in the will, it appears that two of his children died before it was written.

In the 1841 and 1851 censuses, Jane Akeroyd is listed as a farmer and in 1851 she had 12 acres.  I wonder whether she kept running the family farm through choice or necessity.  Jane had grown up sons in 1839 who could have joined the family business but they also had their own jobs.

Jane died in 1855 and was buried in Batley churchyard.   Abraham Akeroyd named his daughter born in 1856 Jane Grimshaw Akeroyd, in tribute to his mother.

Notes on lineage: Me > Dad > Helen Francis Ruth Akeroyd > Percy Tomlinson Akeroyd > Frederick William Akeroyd > Abraham Akeroyd > Jane Grimshaw Spedding