“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, Frederick Carter 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, Degrees of affinity in marriage law.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.