Challenges in matching a name on a War Memorial with the correct military record

The image below shows that Face of the Ham Parish War Memorial which lists the parish’s casualties as a result of that war.  It is a stark list of initials and surnames, arranged in no particular order, and includes mistakes and spelling errors.  You might even notice that the son of Lord Sudeley, who had been Chairman of the Parish War Memorial Committee, is listed twice.  It’s not hard to guess the reason why that had to be corrected, but difficult to understand why they left the error on the face.  As you will see, they had form for erasing.

The WW1 Face of the Ham War Memorial

The explanation for the errors on this particular face is that this list dates from after the Second World War. That’s not because it took the good folk of the parish over two decades to get round to erecting it.  This face replaced what had previously appeared on the War Memorial.

Like the War Memorial for the neighbouring parish of Petersham, the original Ham War Memorial included the rank, full name and military unit of each casualty, and planning for this memorial started halfway through the First World War.

Between the two World Wars, the population of the parish of Ham had increased dramatically, with the building of housing estates on open land, to meet the urgent housing needs of the boroughs of Kingston and Richmond.  (The parish of Ham was formerly entirely within the borough of Kingston.)  This population increase meant that as many lives were to be lost in the Second World War, as had been lost in the first. In addition there were several civilian dead.

Rather than erect another memorial, the Parish Council decided that the names of the First World War casualties would be erased,  and their ‘entries’ condensed to initials and surnames. This provided the opportunity for transcription errors along the way, and this, as well as the minimal amount of information, caused considerable difficulties for me as the lead researcher.

E. PARSONS was one example.  A search of the CWGC  Casualties’ Database will generate 55 casualties for E. PARSONS, during the First World War, and with no rank, regiment or first name to go by, that’s quite a crop to eliminate.  Readers of the War Memorial blog, Ham Remembers, may remember similar challenges, particularly with those, before I could identify Ernest Parsons, who had passed through the parish yet left no record there.

One of the names on the 1914–1918 face was W.S. BENSON—it’s the tenth name in the first column.  As is the case with many local historians, familiarity with parish registers meant that I cheerfully recognised this surname as that of a large local family and surmised that he was probably the descendant of Thomas Benson.

Thomas Benson had arrived in Ham as a Market Gardener in the late and built up a business as a Potato Dealer, living in a comfortable house on Ham Common until his death. The domestic arrangements were a little complicated since Thomas’s first wife abandoned him, contracting a bigamous marriage, leaving behind six young children under the age of twelve, the youngest being an infant.  Two children had died in infancy.  Thomas soon embarked on a second relationship with his housekeeper, Sarah Fisher, having by her nine more children, most of them registered as Fisher but with Benson as a middle name.  The Fisher children simply dropped the Fisher after their parents’ marriage, some 25 years after the start of the relationship and a decade after the death of Thomas’s first wife.

While eight of Thomas’s sons survived to adulthood, I also had to factor in the possibility that W.S. Benson might be the illegitimate son of one of Thomas’s daughters, whose surname would also have been Benson.  Since the youngest of Thomas’s children was born in 1878, only he and the two a little older than him, would have been old enough to be conscripted, even when the ceiling was raised in 1916.  While I took stock of these sons, I focused more closely on the grandchildren.

In researching war memorials, one turns first to the CWGC database. This search did generate a W.S. Benson.  Following up the search results up, I found a casualty named Walter Stanley Benson, and then another, plain Stanley Benson, both serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps.  There was also Rifleman Jack W. S. Benson, a casualty from The King’s (Liverpool) Regiment.  Another Walter Stanley Benson, born in Hackney, served in the Royal Navy but survived.  It was helpful that the deaths of these men occurred close together, in April, May and July 1917, but a careful search of the local newspapers for that period did not report the news of the death of a Benson from either Ham or Petersham.

It was some time before a list of the original inscriptions, capturing them before their removal was found in a box in the Local Studies Library and Archive by one of our team  from the Friends of Ham Library.   Fortunately, a local historian, Sylvia Greenwood, had had the foresight to draw up a list of the names on the war memorial before the masons erased their details.  The belated discovery of this ‘Annex 4’ showed that the War Memorial had originally listed W.S.Benson, associated with the Scottish Rifles (The Cameronians).  We also found a list, drawn up by the Parish Council, and published in 1915, listing the inhabitants of the parish who were then ‘serving with the colours’, and this included Stanley Benson of Old Malt Cottage, serving with the 2nd Scottish Rifles.

I then searched the CWGC database, with a filter to extract a list of Benson casualties serving with The Cameronians.  There were five, all privates, listed in search results in the following order:
William Benson
Henry Benson
Peter Benson
Frederick Benson
M. Benson.

Tearing my hair out by then over Walter Stanley Benson, I tried a search of the Database Soldiers died in the Great War, for Benson.   Top of the list was someone in Brixton, Surrey (Go figure, as they say) but I scrolled down and further south on the list skimming over Bensons born in Islington and Whitehaven, Cumberland. Just about to leave that page, with the mouse heading to exit, I spotted Frederick Benson, born Ham Surrey, and serving in The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles). Looking for the Medal Index Card of this Frederick Benson, he was at the top of the list of Fredericks and serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Cameronians, his service number being 10129.  Replicating this search more recently, searching for just  Frederick Benson, he headed the list of 14 Search Results.

There was a Frederick in the Benson brood, the youngest child of their grandfather’s first marriage and the uncle or half-uncle of Thomas’s grandchildren.  He was born in 1856 and would have been too old to serve in the First World War.  His life was not easy but that is another story.

Soon after, as I worked through Thomas’s grandsons, I was to discover a Walter Stanley Benson.  It seemed I’d found a match.  He was the eldest child  of Walter Benson Fisher and his wife, Ellen Stevens and had been born at Mayleigh Cottages, and was duly baptised in Petersham.

By this point, I was ready to concede that this Frederick was in all likelihood ‘our’ W.S. Benson, and that it was possible that the Army had made a mistake or that he had adopted an alias.  On his card in the Medal Rolls Index, he is down as BENSON, F., and another hand has filled in ‘rederick’ to complete the Frederick.  Indeed it occurred to me as I looked at it, that the F could well be a transcription error, if he had become known in the Army as Stanley, and if someone, somewhere along the line, had misheard thn S as an F.

People sometimes reinvent themselves and change their names in a new town or even in a new job.  We know from the surviving parish lists that he was known as Stanley, and that indeed, in his family unit there was a second Walter in the family, Walter Henry, nine years younger than Walter Stanley.  At that time it was not unusual for children to be named after a parent, thereby carrying on family tradition, but to be always known by their middle names.   The younger Walter, Walter Henry, was born in the year before their father’s death and if their father was known to be in declining health, that might explain why he was also given his father’s name. The two boys appear in the 1901 Census, shortly before the death of their father, Walter, as Walter S and Walter H.

Walter S appears in the 1911 Census as Walter, perhaps because the Military Enumeration Officer, like Walter Senior had been in 1901, was a stickler for the facts.  And it was the 1911 Census that brought us full circle.  Walter Benson is listed at the Meeanee Barracks in Colchester, as a Private in the Second Battalion of the Scottish Rifles. He’s 20—the right age.  (Walter Stanley was born on 11 January 1891, and would have been 20 on 2 April 1911.)  Unlike his Benson cousins, who were born in Ham or further afield, he was born at Mayleigh Cottages in Petersham, so his birthplace is also correct here.

Finally, a search in the Register of Soldiers’ Effects, has ‘Stanley’ entered as Frederick.  There he is, with his gratuity divided equally between his mother, his brothers and sisters, his half-sisters, who included “Emily Morphew” (sic). I think ‘Emily’ is Violet Emmeline Buckner, the wife of Robert Morffew. I have written elsewhere about the Benson connection with the Morffews of Ham.

This makes me inclined to think that he did indeed voluntarily change his name. Prior to making the entries in the Register, the Army would have corresponded with the family to confirm their relationship with the deceased soldier.  He does indeed at last appear to be a safe match for the man recorded as Frederick on the CWGC Database.

Finally, a check of the panel list, confirms that our man is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial as F. BENSON.

Further Reading.

Frood, M.W., ‘Decision as to tribute to the gallant dead’,, accessed 20/1/2018.

Frood, M.W., ‘Ham’s War Memorial as it was between the Wars’,, accessed 20/1/2018.

Secrets and Lies

First, another plug for Secret Lives, another major conference from the inimitable Halsted Trust in collaboration with AGRA, the Society of Genealogists and the Guild of One Name Studies. This will be held at Hinckley, in Leicestershire (31 August–2 September 2018).  It’s an opportunity not to be missed and Early Bird bookings are still available.

In my own research it’s Secrets and Lies that seem to be heading my way—or perhaps I’ve just got a bit smarter at anticipating them.  Recently it was a succession of examples of marriages within the prohibited relationships, about which I have already posted.

More recently still, it’s been finding evidence of a bigamous marriage.  One such marriage has a link with the grandfather of Walter Stanley Benson, one of the men on the Parish War Memorial in Ham, Surrey.   Stanley was the grandson of Thomas Benson, a Potato Dealer, who lived for many years at Malt House Cottage, Ham Common.   His records identified his father as Walter Benson.

Because Stanley’s service records are missing, only military documents relating to his death are available.  They give Stanley’s first name as Frederick, and the match seemed open to question since there were Frederick Bensons of military age in Ham.  Consequently the research was taken back to earlier generations in order to eliminate cousins, uncles and others with that name as candidates for this particular soldier.  And that’s how the bigamy was discovered.

In the 1891 and 1881 Censuses, Walter’s parents, Thomas and Sarah Benson, appeared as ‘head’ (of the household) and ‘wife’ respectively, with their Benson children.  In 1871 however,  Sarah Fisher was the ‘housekeeper’, and some of the Benson children appeared as Fishers. Walter Benson was there as Walter Fisher—his birth registration was subsequently found as Walter Benson Fisher.  In 1861, the census return showed that Thomas was ‘married’ and presided over a household which included five young Bensons aged from 15 down to 4, a housekeeper named Sarah Fisher, and two young Fishers, Emily (3) and Joseph (1 month).

Who was the wife missing in 1861 and 1871, and why could I not find a marriage for Thomas and Sarah between 1871 and 1881?  I dug further.

About 15 years before Walter’s birth, Thomas Benson had arrived in Ham with his wife, Mary Ann Martin, and two children of that marriage.  Mary Ann, the daughter of a wheelwright, Thomas Martin and his wife, Sarah, had been born in the parish of Ham on 9 February 1824 and baptised in Kingston the following month.  She married Thomas Benson, then a butcher, in 1845 at St Mary’s, Sunbury, despite her birth in Ham, when he was 23 and she was 21.  Thomas and Mary Ann moved to Ham, towards the end of the 1840s, with two children, another six being born in Ham. The last of these, Frederick James Benson, was born on 7 July 1856.

Mary Ann’s absence from the household in the 1861 census, where Thomas was clearly recorded as ‘Married’, did not, initially, seem particularly unusual.  Perhaps she was visiting relatives?  Perhaps Thomas had a housekeeper because his wife was incapacitated?

It is understandable that, following Mary Ann’s departure, and with an infant in the household, Thomas would have looked for domestic help.  At some point—whether before or after Mary Ann’s departure is not clear—Thomas embarked on a relationship with Sarah, the daughter of an agricultural labourer, William Fisher who lived a few doors away in Ham Street.   By the time Sarah’s son, Walter, was born in 1863, Sarah had already given birth to three children—Emily (3), Henry and Joseph.  These births were all registered in Kingston under the surname Fisher.

As each Fisher child had a turn to create further civil records, the Fisher was quietly shed. In  1882 Emily Fisher married as Emily Benson, a full two years ahead of her parent’s eventual marriage. Any doubts about her parentage were further reduced by the identification of her father in the marriage register, as ‘Thomas Benson, Potato Dealer’.

Emily’s birth was registered in the first quarter of 1858 which means she was born between about mid-November of 1857 and 31 March 1858.  If Thomas was Emily’s father, then his relationship with Sarah Fisher must have begun during the first half of 1857.  This cannot have been much more than 9 months after the birth of Thomas’s last child by Mary Ann Martin, Frederick James Benson, who was born on 7 July 1856.

In time, the children christened as Benson Fisher swapped the two surnames round—marrying, for example, as Fisher Benson.  Emily and Arthur, given simply the surname Fisher when registered, subsequently added Benson.  Eventually, in 1885, only seven years before Sarah’s death, Thomas did marry his long-term long-suffering housekeeper.

In preparing my piece on Walter Stanley Benson, I decided to ‘kill off’ all seventeen of his father’s full and half siblings whom I had not married off, and/or killed off already.  It’s basic family reconstitution, about which I can—and do, elsewhere—go on and on.  My U3A groups have learnt to anticipate that I’m going to prod them to reconstitute their family groups—they’ve learnt it’s trouble taken that will pay back.

While following up Thomas’s other children, I duly found Mary Ann’s daughter, Mary Ann Benson, in the 1871 Census, in Hammersmith.  She was there as ‘step-daughter’ in the household of George Hedger, a brewer, and his wife, Mary Ann Hedger.  Mary Ann Hedger’s birthplace matched that of Mary Ann Martin, though not her age. Subsequently it became clear that she was at least eleven years older than her second husband, which might explain the fudging.

Indeed, at the time of the 1861 census over which I had puzzled, Mary Ann and George been ‘married’ for about six weeks. All Mary Ann’s surviving children by Thomas were living with their father in 1861, with their mothering needs, and those of her own children, presumably catered for by his “housekeeper”.

Please click on the image below to enlarge it.

The entry in the Hammersmith Marriage Register for Mary Ann’s bigamous marriage.

Notice that Mary Ann declared herself to be a spinster, and stated that her father was Thomas Benson,  with “Dead” under the heading of occupation.  Thomas Benson was her husband, not her father, and he was anything but dead.  Perhaps she was thinking of her father, Thomas Martin, who was dead?  If the latter, the problem here was, that having lied about her marital status, and perhaps having already become known in Hammersmith as Mary Ann Benson, she could not easily switch surnames for this public event.  One small fib almost always leads to additional fibs in support of the story.

While Mary Ann Martin had given her age correctly in 1845, when she married Thomas, in 1861, the couple were simply declared to be of full age. Having found Thomas with his “housekeeper” in 1861, I’d been pretty quick to pass judgement on Thomas.  Finding Mary Ann with George, casts a different light on this.  Who bolted first?

Here are the ages provided for Mary Ann in various official records, with what I estimate was her ‘true’ age in square brackets.   At Mary Ann’s baptism on 28 March 1824, her birthdate is given as 9 February 1824.

6 June 1841: 15 [17, but fair enough, ages were rounded down].
12 May 1845: 21 [21].
30 March 1851: 25  [27].
24 February 1861: Full [37].
7 April 1861: 24 [37].
2 April 1871: 40 [47].
1876:  age at death, 45. [52].

This fudging of her age certainly made Mary Ann more difficult to find when I started this research some years ago.  Did George Hedger know that he had been party to a bigamous marriage?

Mary Ann died in 1876, so why did it take so long for Thomas to marry Sarah?  No, they weren’t married at the time of the 1881 Census.  That didn’t happen for nearly ten years.

Isn’t it often true that you solve one mystery, and a whole new set of questions bubble up?

More on the Bensons

Frood, M.W., ‘Walter Stanley Benson’,, accessed 30/1/2018.
Frood, M.W., ‘Challenges in matching a name on a War Memorial with the correct military record’,, accessed 30/1/2018.

Recommended Reading

Rebecca Probert’s Marriage Law for Genealogists: The Definitive Guide (Kenilworth, 2012) is what its title says.  It’s also lucid and fascinating.
London Metropolitan Archives, Dl/DRO/BT Item, 062/039, Saint Mary, Sunbury On Thames: Surrey, Transcript of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1845 Jan-1845 Dec, 12 May 1845.
London Metropolitan Archives, P80/PET, Item 007, Saint Peter, Hammersmith, Register of marriages, 24 February 1861.

What I’ve been up to over the past 14 months

Things were more than just ‘somewhat quiet’ on this blog in 2016, so here’s an update on what I’ve been doing.

War Memorials
What readers of this blog may have worked out, is that since 2012, much of my time has been spent on military research, particularly on the people commemorated on four local war memorials.  I blog about them and you can find the fruits of this research on those blogs.  If you scroll down the right hand sidebar, you will see a blog roll for three of these war memorial blogs.  I also collaborate with other war memorial researchers, give talks to groups, young and old, with an interest in the war memorials and also in local history—the younger ones being school parties and Scouts.  I have also been doing some training of groups researching war memorials in Surrey.

Among those servicemen I researched last year, at the request of their relatives, were two WW2 fighter pilots in the RAF.  I continue, where I’ve been able to trace relatives of the men and women on the war memorial, to share their stories, including, sometimes, some indiscretions that I have n’t upload for public view.

One of my personal projects has been researching the South African Military Hospital in Richmond Park.  I shared my research at the time with the Hearsum Trust, and I subsequently contributed the information that appeared for that hospital in the Richmond at War exhibition in the Museum of Richmond.  I even managed to sneak in a photo of my grandfather in his hospital blues. When I think of the slightly baffled looks when I mentioned this hospital not much more than five years ago, I’m pretty chuffed that these days hardly anyone—at least locally—blinks to hear of its existence. I see from What’s On, The National Archives’ guide to forthcoming events, that, among other WW1 related topics, there’s going to be a talk on the hospital at the National Archives in September, organised by the National Archives and the Richmond Local Studies Library and Archive.  You can read about the South African Memorial in Richmond Cemetery on in several posts on my South Africa Remembers blog.  []

Teaching and Learning
I attended the Final Conference for The Fleming Project held at the University of St Andrews last June.  In December I completed a module, Understanding Latin in Documents and Archives, offered on its M.Litt pathway by the University of Dundee.  I absolutely relished that, and also the Ecclesiastical Archives course I had taken immediately prior to it.  The Lambeth Palace Library is a haven for a researcher, and I hope for reasons to revisit it, as also the Church of England Record Centre in Bermondsey and Dr Williams’ Library.  And at the National Records of Scotland, the church records for the parish of Lethendy and Kinloch provided insight into the compassion and values of its Minister, my relative, Andrew Kessen.

In courses and events that provided some of my Continuing Professional Development, a Study Day at the fascinating Freemasons’ Museum stood out. I have sought advice from the librarian and archivist in the past, but even during this Study Day, as I listened to the speakers, I began to feel that I was developing a ‘nose’ for freemasons—and went home to run a check on a family of shipbuilders, ancestors of one of my younger relatives, finding not only  a lodge named after him but also an East End school, one of eleven which he founded.  In my research for clients, a man’s following certain professions, or turning out to have associates or mentors who were freemasons, has often provided the nudge to follow up in Freemasons’ records.

Come January this year, I was preparing for a module in Palaeography & Diplomatic, so that month I did my usual ‘stunt’ of including my current enthusiasms in the Dundee syllabus for the U3A family history groups I lead.  While I was engaged in all manner of Latin in archives, they had had a fast-track guide to making sense of Memorial Inscriptions—and it’s not a one way flow of knowledge in the U3A. A member of another group of experienced researchers offered a suggestion that provided a clue to solving an enigma in one of a group of Latin memorial inscriptions which I was translating in All Saints’ in Kingston.   (Thank you, Alistair Brechin.)

Unfortunately, thanks to careless (and thoughtless?) builders renovating a local shop, a piece of grit tore my cornea, the worst such tear I’ve ever had.  Never have I appreciated the value of the zoom function, which allowed me to continue to develop skills in Palaeography, but the tear took several weeks to heal. In the final week, I went to the National Archives to look for a drawing in the State Papers.  I became quite emotional when I found I was able to follow every word of the supporting document with ease—thanks to our brilliant tutor.

Because of these research and educational commitments, I’ve not marketed my own family history practice this past year, beyond responding to fresh research requests from some of my regulars. Amongst those r eturning for more over the past year have been my own relatives, returning clients and three scientists from two academic institutions. And of course, members of my U3A groups who bring to our meetings their research hurdles and challenges.

Within 24 hours of submitting my Final Assignment for the Oral History module last week, there was an intriguing request in my Inbox.   So, as I have loose ends to tie up—war memorial posts, mainly, but also long-term projects that were on ‘pause’ and intriguing research requests—I’m delaying starting my dissertation until next year.  This family and local historian is officially back in business.




Prohibited relationships and an encore for that annual blister

                              “that annual blister
Marriage with deceased wife’s sister…”
W.S.Gilbert, Iolanthe, 1882.

Readers who follow my war memorial blogs, may remember Ham’s Home Guard, and his grandmother’s marriage to her deceased husband’s brother, at a time when this was still prohibited. So as not to emphasise that aspect of Frederick’s family story, that post included a link to a post on this blog, .

Over the past year, I’ve come across several more of these ‘taboo’ marriages but this week, I found a particularly interesting case—a woman whose marital and unofficial relationships included two which broke the bounds of affinity.

With one of my U3A groups, I’ve recently looked at the advantages of using the FreeBMD together with the new Indices of the General Register Office, in helping to unravel a research ‘knot’.   This is especially useful when researchers ‘move sideways’ to reconstitute a family group, and to follow up and  ‘kill off’ the siblings and cousins of their ancestors. Nearly everyone can think of post-1837 knots or niggles, where a difficulty is often that there are multiple registrations of potential interest which one would like to narrow down without the expense of paying for certificates.  Search results on the new GRO indices reveal information previously unavailable on Free BMD or the old GRO search results.

Of all the new releases in documents by the various providers in 2016, the release of these new indices will have the widest impact for amateur genealogists.

This is how the new indices enhance the information obtained from search results:

  • The new GRO Birth Index will identify the mother’s maiden name for births from July 1837 to June 1911 and the full name of the child i.e. without contractions.
  • The new GRO Death Index will provide the age at death for the period July 1837 to December 1865 and also the full name of the deceased.

To provide an example, to one of my U3A groups, of the benefits of using Free BMD and the GRO side by side, I chose to attempt to resolve a puzzle facing one of my group members who had researched her great-grandfather, one William Bartholomew, into the 1890s.  She had found a man of the same name, birthplace, occupation and age, living, not with his wife, in 1901 and 1911, but with a ‘Rachel’  (1901) and a Harriet Amelia (1911).  In the 1911 census, William claimed that he had been married to Harriet for 17 years.  Thorough searches revealed no matching marriage registration.  William’s second wife was, moreover, still alive. There was a child in the household, Hugh Cecil Bartholomew, whose birth had been registered in 1897, and in his father’s household in both censuses.  The birthplaces for Rachel and Harriet, and the year of birth that might be deduced for each woman, from the ages provided in the censuses, matched exactly.  Two documents were lined up for viewing: a possible death registration for William in 1912 and the 1897 birth registration for Hugh Cecil. Could a GRO index cement the deal, and make it worthwhile applying for certificates?

The GRO index gave us the maiden name of Hugh Cecil Bartholomew’s mother as Bartholomew.  Hugh’s baptismal record described his parents as “William and Harriet Amelia Bartholomew”.

Searching for the birth of Harriet Amelia Bartholomew, we found it in the first quarter of 1857, in Marylebone. It was not an auspicious start, as her baptismal record shows that she was born on the Ides of March, a day with such unfortunate, powerful associations that even airline flights on that day are noticeably cheaper than on other days in the same week.

Life had not been easy for the infant’s parents, Thomas Joseph Bartholomew, (b. 1823) a shoemaker, and his wife, Sarah Ann Giles (b. 1824), a dressmaker.  They had lost three of their eight children in recent years and Thomas himself was to die before the end of the year,  leaving his widow with four young children ranging in age from 13 to a few months.   Thomas  and Sarah had lived in her mother’s household in Paradise Street, Marylebone from the time of their marriage and following her mother’s death in 1861, Sarah Ann took over her mother’s business as a Second Hand Clothes Dealer.   Four years later she married Joseph Bannister, some seventeen years her junior.  He was a Licensed Victualler and Sarah Ann moved, with her three surviving children, William Robert, Hugh and Harriet to live at Joseph’s public house, The White Lion, at 49 Green Bank, in the parish of St George in the East.  William Robert became Joseph’s assistant at the White Lion, acquiring the skills that would soon enable him to manage a public house, the British Oak in Stamford Hill.   Sarah Ann died in 1877 and it is possible that Harriet moved back to Marylebone, where she married Charles Hart.

Let’s look now at what we were able to establish about Harriet’s marriages—focusing on her husbands, the date of the marriages, and the length of each relationship.

  1. Harriet and Charles Giles (b. 1857) were married at All Souls, Marylebone on 2 April 1879.  On 3 April 1881, the census reveals her, as housekeeper to her step-father, Joseph Bannister, at The Sovereign, a public house in Tyssen Place, Hackney.  Her husband Charles, a warehouse foreman, was not recorded at this address in 1881; his death was registered in Stepney in the second quarter of the following year.   A Joseph Hart, born in the fourth quarter of 1882, for whom the new GRO Birth Index reveals a mother’s maiden name of Bartholomew, was thought to be the son of Charles and Harriet. His baptism in October 1882, at St Thomas, Clapham Common, confirmed his parentage, and notes his father as ‘deceased’.  Joseph does not appear with Harriet in any census, and possible death registrations in the late 1880s have yet to be evaluated.
  2. On 10 May 1883, Harriet married her stepfather, Joseph Bannister (b. 1840) at the parish church of St John, in Hackney.  This was a marriage within the prohibited degrees at the time, and while marriage between a step-parent and a step-child only became permitted as recently as 1986, it is still prohibited today if the relationship has been of parent/child.  Harriet was only eight years old when her mother married Joseph Bannister so this marriage might well have been forbidden or void today.  Joseph’s death was registered in the second quarter of 1886, in Hackney. Since this marriage was never challenged during the ‘joint’ lifetime of both parties, the law regards it as valid.
  3. In 1887, just nine months’ later, Harriet married her first cousin Harry Thomas Bartholomew (b.1853) a solicitor’s clerk and, like Joseph, also a widower.  Harry’s first wife had died in 1885,; the couple had had a daughter in 1876.  Harry died on 8 June 1891 in Greenwich.
  4. On 8 March 1892, exactly nine months after Harry’s death, Harriet married toher fourth husband, another widower, George Stow Alp (1843–1914).  Their marriage, however, did not survive for long and George returned to his native Essex.  While there may be a record for an annulment, or divorce, which has yet to be discovered, but George was to describe himself as married in 1901 and in 1911.
  5. It is thought that in about 1895, Harriet entered into a relationship with William Bartholomew (1837–1912) also a first cousin, but more significantly, the older brother of her third husband, a relationship which was still within the prohibited degree of affinity for marriage.  It was not until 1921, that a change in marriage law, permitted marriage to a deceased brother’s wife.  She simply reverted to using her maiden name.  William and Harriet had a son, Hugh Cecil (1897–1936) but were never able to marry.  Apart from the risk of the prohibited relationship being discovered, there was also the graver risk of being discovered to have made a bigamous marriage in George’s lifetime.

Bereavement played a part in her life from the start.  Harriet never knew her father, and was brought up by her widowed mother.  She was widowed for the first time when expecting her first child, and, by then, motherless,  had no immediate relatives able to support her, other than her eldest brother, William Robert, himself a licensed victualler, and close to his sister, who was a witness to his marriage. It was a further blow when her brother and his wife died within a short time of each other in 1884, leaving Harriet as the guardian of their two young children.  She would have had her hands full, with her son, a toddler, and her young niece and nephew, as well as the work she was expected to do, keeping house at ‘The Sovereign’. All four of Harriet’s marriages were short-lived and it is likely that her son, Joseph, also died in childhood.

At least the relationship with William endured, lasting significantly longer than all her marriages put together and resulted in the birth of a  second child. And if you’re wondering, Harriet did not remarry after William’s death, nor did she move from Walthamstow, though it’s quite possible that she entered other relationships which have left no record.   The new GRO Death Index provides the full names of the deceased, so we could match ‘our’ Harriet to a death registered in Walthamstow in 1931. Her son, Hugh Cecil, died in 1936, leaving a widow, but no children from the marriage.

Recommended Reading
If you would like a better understanding of Marriage Law, I can warmly recommend Rebecca Probert’s guide, Marriage Law for Genealogists (published by Takeaway, Kenilworth) 2012.   There’s more to marriage than just establishing a date and details of the parties involved, and serious researchers will find this engaging guide illuminating.

More Wells siblings: George & Alice

Daniel and Sarah Wells brought at least seventeen children to St Andrew’s Church, Ham, for baptism.  I now move on in this post to the next two in line in the search for this couple’s descendants.

They are George Arthur Wells (#4) and Alice Mary Wells (#5) who were the fourth son in the family and the fifth child/first daughter respectively.  We learn, from their records of their baptisms, that George was born on 24 October 1877 and Alice on 25 August 1879 and for both of them, there are corresponding birth registrations in the Registration District of Kingston relating to their births in Ham.  Everything above board there, then.

For George, Ancestry hints at a George A Wells, aged 24, and a Metropolitan Police Constable in the 1901 census, when a George A Wells was enumerated at 28 and 29 Carlton Terrace, Paddington.  Until now, I have ignored this hint for the reasons which follow based on this age and birthplace.  This man’s age is given as 24, and we know that our George would not have reached this age for another seven months.  It’s an understandable mistake, however, if the person providing this information to the enumerator was basing it on the individual’s year of birth.  This is something Ancestry does all the time, and gets wrong three quarters of the time since the census is taken three months into the year.  At that point three quarters of the population have not yet reached the day in that year on which they will reach the anniversary of their births.    However George A Wells’s birthplace is given as Richmond, Surrey and we know that our George was born in Ham, and that all of Ham was included in Kingston.

Here’s what I did.  I looked on Free BMD for birth registrations for a George A Wells for the period 1Q 1876 to 4Q 1879, in the districts of Richmond, Surrey, Kingston Surrey and finally in the county of Surrey.  I found no results in Richmond, and a George Arthur Wells in Kingston in 4Q 1877, while in Surrey there were two results—the Kingston one already viewed, and a George Albert Wells in Farnham in 3Q 1877.  Indeed, the Metropolitan Police Constable looks much more likely to be our man, and, as with other children in this large family, the middle name of one became the first name of a younger sibling.  There is a point, indeed, at which Daniel and Sarah ran out of middle names.

For Alice Mary Wells we have been able  to locate her in the 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses but were not able to identify her with certainty in the 1911 census.  Searching on Free BMD from the quarter in which 1901 census fell and the quarter in which the 1911 census fell, there were ten marriages of an Alice Mary Wells. A careful paging through of the Ham Parish Register of Marriages revealed that, unlike most of her sisters, she did not return to the parish for her marriage.

Following their 17 children, it was something of a surprise to find that Daniel and Sarah had relatively few grandchildren.  A factor may have been that the children perceived the difficulties of being part of such a large family.  The two people most interested in both the War Memorial research and the Wells family of Poynter’s Cottages, had, at that point in my research, been unable, in the absence of any research budget, to contact descendants of Daniel and Sarah. Contacts made to people who had these children on their Ancestry Public Trees, via their Ancestry usernames, did not respond.  One explanation could be that their Ancestry subscriptions had elapsed/

At some point, there had also been an Ancestry tree hint for Alice Mary Wells on the St Peter’s and St Andrew’s War Memorial Tree. I’m a bit wary of viewing those, especially if I’m at a dead end, because experience tells me that in that situation, taking note of an unsourced or inadequately sourced tree is risky.

I took a quick—and vehemently cynical—peek. At first sight, it seems that the Alice Mary Wells of the tree hint is on seven Ancestry Member Trees. Two of those can be immediately ruled out as not of interest.  On the remaining five trees, Alice appears as Alice Mary Eldridge, and she is not attached to any parents on any of those five trees.  Her year of birth is given variously as 1879 and 1881 and her place of birth as Kingston in one case and Richmond in the others.  Given that this Alice Mary eventually had four Eldridge and an earlier daughter, Dorothy Wells, and the location of her birth is flagged up in two cases as Kingston and as Richmond in the others,

Snip of 1911 Census entry

Snip of 1911 Census entry

I looked for this family in the 1911 census return for Hastings, the birthplace of Alice Mary Eldridge was described as born in Richmond—not visible in this snip—was then aged 30, while her husband was said to be 27.  We know that Alice was born on 25 August 1879, so she would have been 31 on 2 April 1911.  Perhaps at some point she, or with the census return, he, knocked a few years off her age?  This census entry is likely to be the source of the 1881 given for her year of birth and the ‘Richmond’ given as her birthplace.

It still puzzles me why no one has yet discovered that Alice’s parents were Daniel and Sarah.  Just to eliminate the possibility of two Alice Mary Wellses born in the Kingston and Richmond districts, I did another broad search for Alice Mary Wells on Free BMD from 1Q 1878 to 4Q 1883 finding no results in Richmond, and one result in Kingston, but that Kingston result was the only one generated for the county of Surrey and matches the information we have on the baptismal record for the daughter of Daniel and Sarah.  In addition, there is no other registration of the birth of an Alice Mary Wells in Kingston and no Alice Mary Wellls registration in Richmond for the entire period 1837–1915.  Searching for the period 1902 to 1907, ten women called Alice Mary Wells were married and one of them is the Alice Mary Wells who married Albert Ernest Eldridge in 1904, in Hastings.

Going back to the household in the 1911 census, I took a closer look at the two Wells children in the household.  One of them, Dorothy  Lucy Wells is described as ‘Daughter’ so presumably the daughter of Alice, rather than Albert, though it is possible she was their child, but born before their marriage.  Arthur Henry Wells is described as a nephew, so the child, perhaps, of one of Alice’s siblings.  Every member of this household, except for Alice, was born in Hastings.

Dorothy Lucy Wells is said to be aged eleven. If this is accurate, she must have been born in the period 3 April 1889 to 2 April 1890.  There is no matching birth in Hastings for a Dorothy Lucy Wells, or even for a Dorothy Wells for the period running from the second quarter of 1899 up to and including the second quarter of 1900.    To be doubly sure, I searched again for the period 1Q 1898 up to and including 4Q 1899 and this time for the whole of England and Wales.  There were nearly fifty results, amongst whom was Dorothy Lucy Wells, whose birth was registered in Poplar in the third quarter of 1898.

I found a Dorothy Wells of the ‘right’ age, the daughter of Ernest and Daisy Wells in Poplar in the 1901 census, and born in Cubitt Town.  Thanks to Simon Fisher’s extremely helpful website (see sources, below), I was able to establish that Cubitt Town fell in the Poplar Registration District in 1901.  This child, therefore, matches the birth registration I found, and can be put on the research ‘back burner’ for the time being.

I scanned the registration districts for the fifty births of any girl named Dorothy Wells, to see whether any were born in places to which Alice might have gone to give birth to her child e.g. where she had a brother and sister-in-law living, or another close family member living, or in Richmond or Kingston.  I also scrutinised registration districts in the area from which Alice’s father, Daniel, had emigrated to Ham.  None of these stands out in this list.

Nor could at that time discover, without ordering his birth certificate, whether his father, or more likely, his mother was a sibling of Alice Wells.  This, too, I put on hold.

Some months later, I made contact with one of Alice Well’s great nieces, and we had a conversation about her Wells grandmother.  After a long chat, as we ended our conversation, after some hesitation, she told me that her father had discovered, very late in his life, possibly only about the time of the death of his mother, that he had an older half-brother.  Following up on her grandmother, Alice’s sister, I discovered that she had married in the first quarter of 1911.  I had indeed found her in the 1911 census, but initially ‘rejected’ the document, because her birthplace was so wide of the mark.  Returning to view that entry, I realised, and subsequently confirmed, after further investigation to identify and match the husband in earlier censuses, that the householder had transposed the birthplaces of the couple, who were his lodgers.

Arthur’s aunt Alice, was not only close in age to her sister, and the two were both in service in Streatham in 1901. Perhaps even more importantly, she too, had had an illegitimate child. Alice is the most likely family member to whom her sister would have turned for support and Arthur Henry is very likely to have been this ‘missing’ half-brother.  It may even be that the P in the birth registration listing for Arthur Henry P Wells, is even a hint at the surname of his biological father.

Alas, it now seems clear that Arthur Henry did not ever become part of the family of his mother and her husband.

There’ll be more quite a bit more about why we think Sarah saw being ‘in service’ as the best opportunity for her daughters. Perhaps we can even see her hand in the workplaces of her daughters, ensuring that every one was in service near to at least one of her sisters, and sometimes they had the fortune to be in service in the same household!

Afterthought—research tip
To be quite clear, for the sake of family historians unfamiliar with this area, Ham was part of Kingston until the 1930s, when the northern part of Ham became part of the borough of Richmond.  The southern part of the parish is still in Kingston.  Confusion can also arise in that Ham is also a place name found in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Residents of small places have always been inclined to add the name of the nearest large town, when mentioning their parish to people who live outside the local area.  Even in London people often assume that Ham is close to West Ham—which it isn’t, so one usually avoids misunderstanding by tagging on the borough’s name, as in “Ham, in Richmond” or even, less frequently, “Ham, in Kingston”.

If referring to Ham, to an enumerator, Alice is likely to have been asked “Ham, where?” and have given the name of the nearest town she thought the enumerator would have heard of. If her husband the information, he might have based it on their travelling to Ham, via Richmond, if and when they visited his wife’s family.

This is an aspect family historians need to consider where an ancestor, born in a hamlet or village, emigrates  to a distant urban area.  He or she is likely to add on, or give when challenged, the name of the nearest large town, even if it falls in a different registration district to the birthplace.


Fisher, S.J., ‘London/Surrey Registration Districts/Churches’,, accessed 21/5/2016.

The National Archives, RG14/4762, Schedule No. 259, 1911 Census for England and Wales.



Charles Austin Pittar, MC

Charles Austin Pittar was the brother of Dorothy Mabel Austin Clarke, one of the ‘Civilian Dead’ whose names are recorded on the War Memorial in the parish of Ham, Surrey.  Dorothy and her husband, Sydney, were killed in an air raid over Ham in 1940, and their post is on my blog for Ham’s War memorial.  Charles was Dorothy’s only sibling.  It seems churlish to overlook Charles Pittar, and so I’m posting about him here, just to rescue something of his story, for his sister’s sake.

Lieutenant Charles Austin Pittar, M.C., (1898–1921)
The Coldstream Guards,
Died 1921, buried at Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford.

Charles and Dorothy were the children of Charles William Erskine Pittar (1863–1931), and Mabel Frances Austin (1876–1955), who were married in Dresden on 20 August 1897.  (I am intrigued by that marriage in Germany, and hope one day to discover a little about the background to this.)

Charles (known also as Charlie or as Austin) was born in Calcutta, Bengal on 17 August 1898 and baptised there three weeks later.  His father was born in Kidderpore in 1863, where his paternal grandfather, Charles Frederick Pittar was a solicitor. His maternal grandfather, Ware Plumptre Austin, was also a Civil Servant, in Madras so the marriage of Charles and Mabel was in one sense another example of the prevailing dictum, ‘like marries like’.

Educated at Eton, like his father before him, Charles proved to be, according to a short biography included in the catalogue when his sword was auctioned in 1998, someone who ‘excelled at athletics, and was an accomplished scholar.’

Alexandra Churchill, in Blood and Thunder: the boys of Eton College and the First World War echoes this, describing him as ‘a phenomenally talented athlete and a bright boy’.  She also notes that he ‘had trouble with his eyesight and so operated with divisional troops rather than a fighting unit’. In connection with the events in which this was alluded to, she notes that ‘one of his main responsibilities in the hot weather’ prevailing on that day, was to get sufficient water up to the men on the fighting on frontline.

In an attempt to find out the cause of Charles’s death, and its connection to his military service, his service record was viewed at The National Archives. His medical declaration, made when he applied for a commission in 1916, does not record any eye problems. In the first category, for ‘serious illness or injury’ he does declare a kidney problem which occurred in 1911 and “was cured by the end of 1912”.

For the second and third categories, Charles strikes out the words “except as stated below”.  For the fourth category, ‘good vision for near and distant object… without the aid of glasses’, he does not strike out those four words, but nor he does he insert any information in the space below.

Many of the officers’ service records have been extensively weeded out, so one cannot say whether there were further investigations and there seem to be no papers indicating eye problems in what survives in Charles’s file.   Without a budget for any of my war memorial projects, I could not justify applying for his civilian death certificate and there was at that point simply no further clue to the cause of his death, in what survives in his service record.

In November 1918, Charles was awarded the Military Cross, the citation reading:

‘For conspicuous gallantry and initiative while on daylight patrol. He left his lines in broad daylight, accompanied only by his orderly, and scouted right up through the enemy outpost line, a distance of some 700 yards. He showed great daring and enterprise and the information he brought back was of the utmost importance.”

Soon after the award of the Military Cross was gazetted, Charles Pittar was affected “moderately seriously” by the influenza epidemic.  He recovered, but was regarded as still unfit for duty, so the Board recommended two weeks’ sick leave in the U.K.  His return to the field was delayed until late January 1919, by his spraining his ankle in Oxford.  Within a few months, Charles Pittar had relinquished his commission, but was allowed to retain the rank of Lieutenant.  He was demobilised on 14 May 1919.  His service record, which was weeded as early as 1933, mentions the report of his death in The Times of 2 September 1921, but gives no details.

The evidence his father gave at the inquest into Charles’s death, shows a modern reader that it was a result of his military experiences in France. His father said that his son suffered from severe depression after leaving the army and returning to Oxford, where he was a member of Queen’s College. The intention was to follow his father and both his grandfathers into the Indian Civil Service.  Another report, in The People includes the information that Charles was 2a fine scholar who had passed his examination and was to have entered the Indian Civil Service shortly.”

Charles appeared ‘quite normal’ on the evening of Sunday 28 August, and after dinner, retired to a room he used as a study, in an annexe to the family home, Elmdene, 374 Banbury Road.  The following morning, his father found a note from Charles, warning people that there was gas in the room, and that they should avoid an explosion.  There his father found Charles, dead, with a tube nearby, attached to the tap of the room’s gas heater, which was turned on full.

And always this cloud…

These words, taken from his farewell letter, were read in the Oxford Court by the Coroner:

I cannot ask you to forgive me for what I am going to do and I don’t think you will ever realise my general state of mind. There seems to be a sort of cloudbank that oppresses me.  Today, I have been in a most extraordinary state—a mixture between deep depression and wild excitement, and always this cloud. 

The findings of the inquest were that his death was caused by “temporary insanity”  and that verdict appeared in papers across the country.  The headline (‘A War Suicide’) in a report of the inquest in the Portsmouth Evening News, lays bare the cumulative pressure of the war, on a fine officer, and a brave soldier.  People knew what was unsaid.

Charles is buried in Wolvercote Cemetery, where there are a number of CWGC graves, many of them of airmen, based at Wolvercote Aerodrome.  He is survived, and remembered, by his two great nieces.

I am grateful to Elliot Metcalfe of the project Dorset in the Great War whose comment, six years ago, to an earlier version of this post, helpfully confirmed my suspicions about the likely cause of Charles Pittar’s death.

Further Reading

Churchill, A.J., Blood and Thunder: the boys of Eton College and the First World War, The History Press, 2014.

DNW Auction Catalogue, , accessed 29/3/2016.  This link is not currently arriving at the correct page.

Eton Roll of Honour,, accessed 22/5/2016.

North Star, Student’s Suicide—Oppressed “By Sort Of Cloudbank”, p.1, col.4, 31/8/1921.

The People, ‘Always The Cloud’  4 September 1921, p.7, col.4

The London Gazette, Supplement 29903, 12 January 1917, p.578,.

The London Gazette, Supplement 30997, p. 13165, ‘2. Lieut. Charles Austin Pittar, C. Gds, Spec. Res.’, 5 November 1918.

The National Archives, WO 339/82737, ‘Lieutenant Charles Austin Pittar, Coldstream Guards’, 1916–1922.

Portsmouth Evening News, ‘A War Suicide’, 31 August 1921, p.6.

Degrees of affinity in marriage law

At one of the primary schools I attended, the Book of Common Prayer was in use, and during school assemblies, I would  page through the book, absorbing the forms and language of the Anglican rituals.  There was much to intrigue me and to arouse my curiosity.  What could ‘the churching of women’ possibly be? It was thus that I became aware of the ‘table of kindred and affinity’ which specified the types of relationships for which marriage was prohibited.   The prohibited relationships included close blood relatives (kindred) and people who were already related as in-laws (affinity).

Recently, when exploring aspects of marriage law, I touched upon the question of prohibited relationships with one of my family history groups. “Who,” I asked them, “could a man not marry?”  It’s a long list so I added I would be happy with a minimum of ten responses.  Once someone had tentatively ventured a prohibition that hadn’t automatically occurred to them (“a man could not marry his grandmother”), getting to ten became more achievable.

One of the relationships which I have long known is no longer prohibited, is the marriage of a man to his widow’s sister. My great aunt, Gertie, married the widower of her sister, Kate in 1947, three years after Kate’s death, and only a few months before he  died.  Such a marriage was no longer the ‘annual blister’ and had been valid in England and Wales, since 1907, though, I understand, even after that act, the clergy retained the right to refuse to marry a couple whose relationship was within that degree of affinity.  Gertie, the youngest of five sisters, had been part of their household for decades, her mother having died shortly after Gertie’s thirteenth birthday.

Earlier this week, I began putting together the background of Frederick Joseph Edmund Carter, a young Home Guard, who, while on duty, drowned in 1942 at Teddington Lock. As I worked on this, I came across the marriage, in church, in 1903, of a man to his deceased brother’s wife.

That marriage took place four years before the eventual passing of the Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act (1907). Tolerance regarding the marriage of a widower to his deceased wife’s sister had been growing throughout Victoria’s reign but even so it was not until some years after the Queen’s death that an act was passed to allow such a marriage.  The case ‘for’ was helped by the Biblical account of Jacob’s marriage, first to Leah and then to her sister, Rachel.

The repeated calls for the law to be changed were even echoed in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe:

He shall prick that annual blister
Marriage with Deceased Wife’s sister.

The Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act was not accompanied by the passing of a similar act enabling a man to marry his brother’s widow. It was not until 1921 that such a marriage became lawful with the passing of the Deceased Brother’s Widow’s Marriage Act so the marriage of this couple took place 18 years before the act which would have removed the prohibition on that marriage.

When, in 1903, William James Neighbour,  (1875–1936) married Jane Ann East (1864–1953), the widow of his brother, John Thomas (1861–1897)   their marriage could well have been challenged and they ran the risk of a third party bringing an action to have the marriage annulled.  Jane married John in the Church of St Thomas, Bethnal Green, not far from her native parish of Shoreditch, in 1883.  He died in Chelsea in 1897.

William had married his first wife, Minnie Eliza Harper, in Christ Church, Chelsea, in 1895.  They had one child, Lilian, who died aged 1, in 1898, also in Chelsea.  Minnie’s death was registered in Chelsea in the last quarter of 1900.  The 1901 census, taken on 31 March, has Minnie’s widower in the household of his sister-in-law, Jane, and her children at 31 Caversham Street, an address which had previously been the home of John and William’s parents and where the brothers had grown up.

When John Thomas died, his widow was expecting their youngest child, Violet, and would have needed support to raise her young family. What could be more natural than that William would return to his parents’ old home after the death of his wife in 1900.  Indeed William and Minnie, who had been living nearby in Manor Street, at the time of the birth of their daughter, might have moved to Caversham Street, to be with Jane and her children after the death of her husband.

Just over two years later, William and Jane were married in the Parish Church of St Mark, Old Street.  The bride and groom gave their address as 8 Huntingdon Street.  Within a few years the couple had returned to Chelsea, where the youngest of their two children was born, and where the couple lived until at least 1934 when they last appeared on the Electoral Roll for Kensington and Chelsea.  By the time of William’s death, in April 1936, the family was living at 137 Tudor Drive, Ham.

The validity of the marriage does not appear to have been challenged before such a marriage became legal, so, under marriage law, can confidently be regarded as valid.

Note for descendants of Joseph Neighbour and his wife Elizabeth East

In resolving some of the anomalies discovered in attempting to match Frederick Carter to the couple living at 137 Tudor Drive, I was able to find out a little more about the descendants of Joseph Neighbour (1830–1896) and his wife Elizabeth East (1830–1894) than appears on some online family trees.  If you are a relative, I will certainly share this information with you, should you wish to have it.

Another plug for Family Reconstitution

If you research a War Memorial, you unravel the links joining the families in a Community.  This is no surprise to addicts of Family Reconstitution but that approach itself ia certainly a theme that my family history groups might sometimes feel I over-stress.

And why not, when time and again, we prove that its rewards include the resolution of many a research puzzle.  It also provides useful information about population history for local historians.  The publication of the 3rd edition of Andrew Todd’s inimitable guide, Nuts and Bolts—see details belowhas provided me with the perfect excuse to revisit aspects of this tool, as a theme over three sessions in the months ahead.

The 2nd edition became one of my key texts for family history research, and I never tired of dipping into, again and again. I have two copies of the 2nd edition to loan out to other members of my U3A groups, and I’m now enthusing over the 3rd edition to the extent that several members have already ordered their own copies.  However, if you already have the 2nd edition, then that gem has probably already fostered the analytical skills you need.  There are some additions, more diagrams, and the layout is easier on the eye.

One thing that I have done since buying the 3rd edition, was to obtain a second-hand, ex-library copy of An Introduction to English Historical Demography—its details also below.  Andrew Todd mentioned that Wrigley provides  ‘an especially detailed account’ of family reconstitution techniques in Chapter 4, which runs to over 60 pages.  This is particularly helpful for local historians, recording data for an entire parish. A more recent text is available at extortionate prices—caveat emptor.

Researching the men and women commemorated on Ham’s War Memorial, often requires me to reconstitute the families in this closed parish, in some cases right back to the early 19th century.  As with other parishes I have researched, Ham’s 19th century and early 20th century working residents turn out to be related to many others in the parish.

Researching a war memorial that provides very little information other than initials (which can be incorrect) and surnames which may be misspelt, matching a name to a service record can be tricky. Most of those listed could eventually be found recorded within the parish at one point, for example in a census, or in parish or borough records.

H.GUNNER and E.PARSONS, had no obvious link with the parish.   In the case of these two, there were three soldiers on the CWGC database of casualties, who could have been H.GUNNER and 60 who could have been E. PARSONS.  In both cases, family reconstitution helped me to match these names to the correct servicemen, and, in time, documents were found which enabled me to establish their link with the parish.

H. Gunner, never a resident in the parish, was Harold Anson Gunner, the son of a Headmaster whose work had taken his family from Huntingdon to Cornwall.  Harold, who boarded for many years in a house in Wandsworth, was a member of the Choir of St Andrew’s Church while E.Parsons  was Ernest Charles Parsons, the son of a Wiltshire policeman, and was eventually linked to Oak Lodge, a large house on Ham Common. As he had previously worked as a manservant in a large house in Cornwall, he may well have been employed at Oak Lodge as a driver or footman, in the service of Alexander Mackenzie Hay, a self-styled “newspaper proprietor.”

As a professional family historian, I avoid using the stories of my clients’ families in articles or in my blogs. Fortunately, the voluntary research that I conduct into War Memorials, provides what was initially an unanticipated bonus:  it bountifully makes up for that restraint, since the documents I find and the arguments I construct in verifying relationships in that research, provide abundant resources to stimulate the interest of the enthusiastic learners in those groups.

Now, as a resident within the former parish boundaries of Ham, when I walk its streets and pass the houses and workplaces of “my” war memorial people, I reflect on their stories, their families, their associates and their neighbours, losing something of the feeling of myself as an Incomer in a parish which retains still a sense of being ‘closed’.

Recommended Reading
Todd, A., Family History Nuts and Bolts: Problem-solving through Family Reconstitution Techniques, published Andrew Todd, 2015 (3rd ed.)
Wrigley, E.A., (ed.), An introduction to English Historical Demography from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth century, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1966.

Negotiating around a would-be soldier’s fib

The Ham War Memorial project has no budget behind it, so as I research the stories behind those commemorated on its blog, I have many opportunities to remind myself of the analytical skills that the many family historians relying on free sites need to develop.  In my classes, we use these sites extensively, and indeed, for beginners, I do all I can to make Ancestry and Find My Past out of bounds for the first few months after which we look at and transcribe documents, as a warning against taking Ancestry’s ‘transcriptions’ too seriously.

In my ongoing pursuit of relatives of the three Wells brothers of Ham I have been looking for their descendants and those of their siblings.  One of their brothers was Daniel Herbert Wells, the third son of Daniel and Sarah.  After his marriage in Ham, in 1898, to Alison Margaret Turner, the couple moved to Westminster but were living in Balham by the time of the birth of their eldest child.

In the 1911 Census, for which Daniel was the householder, the family was living at 4 Tantallon Road, Balham and he records this child as George John Herbert, gives his age as 8, and his birthplace as Balham, which at the time was in the Wandsworth Registration District.  Using this information, for George John H., and for George J.H., generated no matches, even when extending the location beyond Wandsworth and Surrey.

In Army Service Records, I found an attestation form, dated 2 October 1918, for a John George Herbert Wells, giving his next of kin as his mother, Alison Margaret Wells, at 4 Tantallon Road, the same address at which the family had been enumerated in 1911.  This is presumably the same child who was 8 in 1911 yet when attesting on 2 October 1918, he gave his age  as 18 years 2 months, suggesting his birth could have been registered in the third—or possibly the fourth—quarter of 1900.

Searching on Free BMD for a matching birth registration for the quarters March 1898 to December 1904 in Surrey drew no results and there was also no child in the household when Daniel and Alison were enumerated on 31 March 1901.  We know also from Daniel’s response to the ‘fertility question’ in 1911, that in the course of their 12 years of married life, two children had been born, and both children were with their parents on 2 April 1911.

This also indicated to me that the order of his Christian names was rather more flexible than I had thought. However, given that many people at that time were named after a relative, but used their second name in daily life, I had already considered modest variations in my search for a relevant birth registration.

It seemed likely that this young man had ‘enhanced’ his age in order to sign up with ‘the colours’. This was not uncommon, and is understandable, given the loss of his three Wells uncles within a relatively short a period of time.

As no fault could be found for Daniel’s arithmetic in 1911, and given his occupation as a draper, he would have been efficient at working with multi-base arithmetic, we can assume that his son was born in 1902, if he had not yet his birthday in 1911, or in 1903 if he had.  The age given for his daughter, Marjorie Constance Wells in 1911, fits with her birth registration in Croydon in the third quarter of 1907. (Her birthplace of Thornton Heath fell within the Croydon Registration District.)

In spite of my presumption about his father’s grasp of arithimetic, I generated a search for the births of all Wells children born in Wandsworth from the March quarter of 1901 to the December quarter of 1904.  This revealed four possible registrations and in spite of the expansion of the date range for the search, four stood out, all within three of the expected four quarters for a matching result:

  1. Herbert George John Wells in 3Q 1902
  2. John Wells in 3Q 1902
  3. George Wells in 4Q 1902
  4. Herbert Wells in 1Q 1903

I did ‘discount’ candidates born outside the expected quarters, but these were Georges or Johns with a middle name that was not one of the various combinations we have seen for Daniel’s son, of the same three names.

The presence of all three of the names of interest suggest that the first registration on the above list, is a match for our young recruit.  Herbert George John Wells enlisted in a reserve battalion of the London Scottish, when he was barely 16. He got away with enhancing his age because he was already 5ft 10in in height.

Fortunately, more than one page of his service records has survived, and amongst the surviving pages is a discharge form in which his name is presented as Herbert George John, an indication that in this respect bureaucracy had eventually caught up with him.

Of interest is his stated preference for the London Scottish, failing which “any Scottish regiment”.  While his mother was born in Sunbury, her first names, Alison and Margaret, were relatively common in Scotland, so this preference could indicate that his maternal line included some Scottish ancestors.

I am inclined to think that he was never known as Herbert and that this was a case of having to register their son, and not being entirely sure which they would call him by.  Herbert was Daniel’s middle name, and, like the names Thaddeus and Edmund, appears frequently in earlier generations of the Wells line and as middle names in this younger generation.  This may have been important enough for it to have been given as his first name, with George and John being names the couple had not yet settled on.  The 1911 census suggests that their son was called George while a child, and his attestation, that he preferred to be known as John.

At this point, I allowed myself the luxury of searching for a baptism and a death certificate, finding both in the first search.  The latter was high on the list with the former just making it into the first 50 results. The registration of the death of a Herbert George J Wells in Uckfield in 1989 provided the same date of birth as did the baptism, in Ham St Andrew for Herbert George John Wells, the son of Daniel and Alice (sic).  Their address then was 27 Coalbrook Mansions, Balham.  Both these documents could be found by those with access to Ancestry’s library edition at their local library.

[This baptism would have been found rather earlier had I not had a mission to use the free sites.  A loose search for Wells baptisms in Ham, the parish in which the couple wed, would have considerably shortened this exercise.]

Free BMD showed a single possible marriage, for a Herbert G J Wells to a Kathleen M Ewart in the second quarter of 1938.  Kathleen M Wells is a non unusual combination, but a search was made on Ancestry for all records with a birth given of ten years on either side of 1912.  The most interesting search result was for a Kathleen Marjory Ewart in the 1911 census.  I then searched for the the death of a Kathleen Marjory Wells and the discovery of a death registration for someone with that name in Uckfield in November 1988 provides a link with the death registration of our Herbert in the same district just four months later.  Without obtaining the certificates this cannot be assumed to be 100% secure, but I would think it fairly safe to risk a wager.

Unfortunately a search on Free BMD did not cover any Wells births in England & Wales for the period 1938 to 1955, where the mother’s maiden name was Ewart.  So, ultimately another dead end on the descendants’ front.




Gold Star advice: follow up the lives of your ancestors’ siblings

I like to regard myself as a committed family reconstitutionist.  Andrew Todd, in Nuts and Bolts, makes a strong case for family reconstitution and it’s perhaps the tool I recommend most ardently to my students and colleagues.   Time and again I see the benefits of following up the siblings of your ancestors, something that amateurs, aiming their sights on getting further and further back, dismiss as a distraction.

In my work on the Ham War Memorial, I have researched three grandsons of John George Darnell and his wife Elizabeth Chambers.   They are George Samuel Darnell, William Alfred Read Fricker and Harry Thornton Fricker.

Online family trees provided no clues to a Thornton so today’s post is also an offering to George’s great nieces.  When they passed on to me a copy of George’s last letter home, in which he referred to news he had received of ‘Thornton’ and his military association with ‘the Canadians’, my curiosity about Harry’s middle name grew.

I began the quite unnecessary task—in terms of this a memorial project—of tracing the person whose surname was behind his middle name. Those who know my determination to hang on to any bone with even a sliver of meat on it, are probably rolling their eyes at this point.  So I started to dig and here’s how and why I dug.

Readers of the post about William Fricker will know that I have found the namesakes behind the recurrent surnames Read and Sumner in this family.  I wondered whether Thornton, which is used just the once amongst these grandchildren, might provide a clue to one of their ancestors.  Harry is an established nickname for Henry so, at the back of my mind, I had been anticipating finding a possible namesake in a relative or friend called ‘Henry Thornton’.

Having eliminated all Harry’s grandparents as potential sources of Thornton, I proceeded to look for great grandparents.  The census revealed that Harry’s great grandmother, Sarah Chambers, had been born in Wakefield, and, as I was already aware that Thornton is a surname originating in Yorkshire, I was keen to establish whether this might have been Sarah’s maiden name.  Public Profiler indicates that, in 1881, Thornton was to be found in its highest frequency in the very area of Yorkshire in which Sarah was born.

I was able to locate James Chambers’ marriage to Sarah finding that this leap day baby married on his 20th birthday—which was also his fifth—on 29 February 1824.  In this search, I specifically avoided using ‘Thornton’ and searched only for a bride called Sarah. As his wife was not a Londoner, I did not enter a place for their marriage, intending, if necessary, to refine the location later.  The results prioritised three marriage records, one of which was that of James Chambers and Sarah Thornton, in Isleworth, a year before the birth of their daughter, Mary Ann.  While not contiguous to Ham, Isleworth is within easy reach of it.

The ages given for Sarah Thornton in the census returns of 1841, 1861 and 1871 (45, 65 and 75 respectively) suggest a birth in 1795 or 1796, with 1795 being more likely, given the date on which the censuses were taken.  The 1851 census, in which she was employed as a Cook at Rose Villa, Ham Common, in the household of William Stedman Gillett, gives her age as 51. She may have underplayed her age, or her employer may simply have guessed at it. On the other hand, the burial register entry for Sarah, in the fourth quarter of 1880, gave her age as 86, suggesting a birth in about 1794.

I found two baptisms for a Sarah Thornton in Wakefield, in the period 1793 to 1798.  The first, on 29 June 1794, was for the daughter of Henry and Martha Thornton.  Martha does not appear in the names of any of the Chambers granddaughters, who were named Mary Ann, Emma, Harriet Jane, Sarah and Elizabeth, the latter being the grandmother of Harry Fricker.   Harriet is a name also derived from Henry. Following up the marriage of Henry and Martha, will provide a possible clue to Martha’s maiden name.  This Sarah would have been less than a month away from her 86th birthday at the time of the death of Sarah Chambers in December 1880.

The second ‘Sarah Thornton’ was baptised on 24 December 1796, also at All Saints, Wakefield.  She was the daughter of Thomas Thornton and Mary.  As Mary Ann was the name of the eldest daughter of James and Sarah, if they were following the traditional naming pattern, we cannot rule out this second Sarah as being the wife of James Chambers.  Mary Ann was also the name given to her only daughter by Louisa’s maternal aunt, Sarah Hodgkins. This second Sarah Thornton would have been 83 rather than 86 at the time of the death of Sarah Chambers and have been 44, 64 and 74 in the 1841, 1861 and 1871 censuses.

Throw into the pot the combination of economic hardship, vanity and innumeracy and narrowing down the Sarahs can become even more confusing. One also has to consider whether a minister might have followed the not-infrequent custom of giving ages at death with the next birthday in sight, for example by noting “in her 86th year” for someone aged 85.

There is a third  possible Sarah, the daughter of John Thornton, who was baptised in on Christmas Day 1797 at St Peter’s in Leeds but as Sarah’s birthday is consistently given as Wakefield, she has not been investigated at this stage..

Sarah Thornton outlived her husband by a decade, and was a resident, towards the end of her life, in the Old Almshouses which were off Ham Street.  Her life overlapped that of her granddaughter, Louisa, the mother of Harry Thornton, by twenty years, so Sarah may well have talked about her parents to her granddaughter.  This could have encouraged Louisa to name her second son after Henry Thornton, who may have been her great grandfather or perhaps a great uncle given the same name.

Further ‘confirmation’ that Harry was named after someone called Henry Thornton, came with the release of the Register of Soldiers’ Effects.  This can offer, in the absence of a service record, provide at least the name of the next of kin.  I am finding it invaluable!  When I first began to research Harry, this was not available online, and the only records to which I had recourse, were his Medal Index Card, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s database, the associated resource UK Soldiers Died in the Great War, and his battalion’s War Diary.

Despite all the records, including his birth registration, in which he appears as Harry Thornton, and even his being called Thornton by family members, there was no marriage registration for a Harry T Fricker.  His entry in the Register of Soldiers’ Effects, records that he left a widow, “Elizabeth R O”, and a daughter, Lilian, born on 31 March 1913.  A fresh search on the inimitable Free BMD for this marriage, using the name Henry, found a Henry T Fricker’s marriage in Whitchurch in 1912, and a check of the relevant page gave one of the two possible brides as Elizabeth R O Wiltshire.  Given her string of names, it is almost certainly the ‘correct’ match.

It shows also that, in spite of a birth registration as Harry, his link to someone called Henry Thornton was known to him at the time of his marriage in 1913. It doesn’t seal the deal on Henry and Martha Thornton being the parents of Sarah Thornton, and thus the great great grandparents of William, Harry and George, but it helps to make them rather more convincing contenders for the role.

 Further reading:
Todd, Andrew, Nuts and Bolts:  Family History Problem Solving through Family Reconstitution Techniques, Allen & Todd, 2003.  There is a more recent, revised edition (2015).