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23 Dec 2013

God is love but get the certificate

Never has so much been owed by so many to so few certificates.  The aha moments came years ago, but now it’s time to prove it.  Imagining that I could swim a kilometre, and imagining the certificate ensuing, is no fun compared with this A4 documentation.  I’m extracting four from Wales, one from Suffolk, and one from Blackburn.  Wales, Suffolk and Blackburn!  Not places with a good deal (anything?) in common.

Minister of surprise

I’d no sooner transcribed the 1846 certificate, Merthyr, for cousin Ray in Gwent, commenting on its thoroughness, when he sent me a photo of the Baptist minister that had conducted the service, whose photo had been kept by the family in Manhattan.  He was clearly an influential man, this Thomas Davies of High Street Baptist Chapel, Merthyr.  Of the five Francis sister marriages, the rest were in Anglican churches and often lacked basic detail.  Not this one.  We have precise places of residence, detailed occupations (no ‘iron worker’ here) and the father approved as he attended the marriage.  In a world with corrupt, absent politicians; despicable, cruel employers and dead, illiterate fathers, perhaps the ministers alone provided a way through God through the hell-hole that was 19th century Merthyr Tydfil.  (The only question being how Thomas Francis, labourer, or farmer till nearly 40 in the far west of Pembrokeshire, can become a fitter in Merthyr Tydfil bringing his whole family to that town.)  This was certainly not the last we'd hear of Baptist Minister Davies.

A dozen Marys - two dozen husbands

There were 12 Jenkins girls called Mary that married in Merthyr across the five-year period in question, and no word of which bloke they married (choice of two each time), and even if we assumed that Mary Jenkins married, say, William Jones, how to find what happened to them?  Yuk, yuk, yuk.  So I turned the whole thing on its head and just ignored that as a ‘finding aid’.  I decided to conduct the idiotic search of all Marys age 22, in Merthyr Tydfil in 1861.  Puzzlingly, I found her straight away – the most likely candidate was Mary Bromham (formerly Jenkins).  I’m having to wait a little longer for this certificate.  It's now arrived - and fits neatly into our tree.  The bride was 17, the minister Davies (remember him?), the witness a cousin and the father's name correct.

Don't ignore Cohens

There was only one Donald Jones born in Queensferry, Flintshire, and I believe he was the only one married in the district too.  Donald was the name given by cousin Rhona (two years his junior) as son of Tom Jones, but could I find Tom’s marriage!  Or the birth of older sister Margaret?  No.  Actually little did I know I’d found, and rejected Tom’s marriage to Mrs Cohen, 1919, Manchester as the last name just seemed too alien for our Welsh family.  But it was the right one.  I’d also been misled by an electoral roll entry for Sealand which looked right, but was actually another family entirely.  Really, the one piece of evidence I didn’t have, was the name of Cohen.  It turned out the first husband was Lazarus Harris Cohen born two years after his parents’ arrival from Russia.  No less than 5 Lazaruses were born to Cohen families in the Cheetham district of Manchester.  The whole street was Russian (most probably actually from Lithuania).  Lazarus was working I believe in Purfleet hospital as part of the Royal Army Medical Corps, contracting flu ‘which is raging all around here’ and dying in 1918.  He had been working as a tailor in London and was not strong physically.  His widow remarried near her home town of Eccles (to Tom Jones) the following year, moved to his hometown of Queensferry; her younger sister later joining them in Flintshire.

Death of a Smith

Did kind-hearted Harriet Blowers take in an errant deaf uncle as well as her 3 orphan granddaughters?  Despite having a daughter in (then) attractive Yarmouth, another in pretty working Cheshire and another selling frocks in Crouch End, it was with none of them that Henry Smith, aged 78, died, a lowly ‘farm laborer’.  He also had sons somewhere, but probably was appalling at keeping touch.  He was never mentioned by anyone, and at times ran a pub.  The connecting factor in all of this is his deafness (source 1881 census) and the fact everyone hated his wife (who died at some point).  What’s nice though is he must have been close to a sister that he followed to Suffolk, and it was her daughter who witnessed the death.  Harriet is a great character and it’s lovely to have her gate-crashing into our family.  I wonder what Henry’s daughters thought.  Harriet had 3 Australian granddaughters to bring up (plus the last of her 13), was the village’s unofficial midwife and ran the post office despite being illiterate.  She drew the line at 2 grandsons ‘one of whom later ended up in prison’ (true?).  But what a great send-off for Henry, at the Greyhound Inn, Ilketshall St Margaret.  It was while googling ‘Henry Smith’ and Ilketshall that I came across his burial in the village church there.  Once again I knew that Harriet would be on the death certificate (just call me psychic) but it was wonderful to see it printed and worth the tenner/ Harvester meal for the privilege.  I got in touch with Harriet’s granddaughter some years ago.  She knew everything, even more than what I’d already guessed; but she would now be 89.  I’ll have to settled for imagining her knowing all about Henry, as nobody else does, that’s for sure.

Local BMD records lead the way

Continuing the trend of certificates telling you things you already knew, we have Alphonso Jennings.  I had no proof that he was a relative and no clue from the censuses who were his parents.  Yet thanks to this website I was able to extract this information about him.  That’s right, two previous names for the mother.  It took me no time to home in on Margaret Teresa Riley who’d married Simon Burrows (that had died the previous year).  I also guessed that Alphonso Jennings (b 1864) was the father.  He moved around a lot and we can’t find him at all in 1891, perhaps he’d married overseas and that’s why he couldn’t marry Margaret.  More likely they just got together in urban Blackburn, and maybe split up after.  When their son was born, they said they were married, but Margaret doesn’t keep the name Jennings.  This was a repeat performance for Margaret, who’d pretended to be the wife of Thomas Maskell, (Irish?) iron labourer, in 1885.  The certificate bears all this out for the 1897 baby.  It’s not often one spots a person’s birth and thinks ‘oh they must be related let me find out how’.  Alphonso had tough early years but we think did well later in life, moving to Bradford, Yorkshire.  He was a wartime soldier and his great-grandson also fought, in Afghanistan.  He may have had a horse named Foxiburrows.  A great addition to the tree.
Postscript: his mother’s sister Mary Lorn left over £1000 and two houses at her death.  Does any of this money or property go to Alphonso?  No – to his illegitimate brother and his sister Margaret.  It’s maybe possible Mary didn’t know about Alphonso – or more likely, she chose her heirs based on their need: Margaret was unmarried and the brother was renting from her and had a small family.

Jonesing for a lead

More guesswork.  Richard Whitehead born about 1877 in Wales turns up in Bolton at 35 staying with his aunt Sarah.  This got me thinking – who on earth is he!  I suspected the eldest boy Thomas (1853) who is back at home mid-life described as ‘married’.  The only Richard I could see was John Richard born in Abergele on the North Welsh coast.  Sure enough Thomas is there with him in 1881, though never after.  The marriage certificate confirms things nicely – the occupations of father and son, leather dresser given which is exactly as they were in all censuses.  Ages is the main discrepancy – Thomas was 19 but gave his age as 24.  The bride, Miss Jones, was late twenties and possibly pregnant.  Thomas slowly loses his inflated age and by 1911 is only over-stated by a year.  It’s still a bit odd that he’s forty (not 37) when living with his mother, who ought to know her eldest boy’s age.  The nice extra clue is the couple’s only census together with Thomas middle initial of T correctly given.  In a twist, she later forbids her own son from marrying until he's 21.

Howard I know?

The last in this septology is not a certificate at all, but carries the same weight.  I knew that Joan Walker most likely married in Kensington, around 1971.  There weren’t really any other suitable candidates, except possibly in Scotland.  This lady went to live at Kingswood, Surrey, which was exactly the ‘family centrale’.  I hoped that the probate indexes could provide me with the one clue I needed – Joan’s middle name ‘H’.  I was certain it would be Howard.  If so, this would really give me sufficient ground for getting in touch.  Sure enough, in the Royal Courts of Justice court 38, the 1980s computer screen flashed up on the probate indexes with next of kin Joan Howard Walker.  A nice result.

Postscript.  As punishment for citing Wales, Suffolk and Blackburn (Lancashire) as unlikely matches, I now find that Annie Roberts from Lancashire married in Wales and that her step-daughter (Mrs Roberts) died in Suffolk.

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