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.