Saturday, 23 February 2013

Who is nephew Joseph?

At the 1891 Census, Joseph Davies was a Cab and Carriage Proprietor living in Vale Road with his wife Jane, their eldest son John (aged 20) and a boy named Joseph Davies. The youngster was described as the nephew of the head of the household.

Logically a nephew with the same surname would be the son of one of Joseph's bothers. There were four of them and until this point I have no firm evidence that any of them had children (or that they ever married). Locating further information on the background of this boy could add significantly to the family history. The Census form provides only three pieces of information: that he was a nine-year-old "scholar" born in Southport, Lancashire.

Since the Census was conducted on 5 April 1891, the date of birth of young Joseph could be anywhere in the period April 1881 to March 1882. There are only two parishes whose names include the word Southport and both (one established church and the other Wesleyan) share the same physical location which was (then) located within the Ormskirk Registration District.

In that District and timespan, there were just four Davies births registered and none of them was named Joseph. Even when the time constraint is relaxed to include Mar 1880 to Mar 1883, there are no births registered for Joseph Davies in Ormskirk. We must conclude that Joseph (or the Census enumerator) was "mistaken" about his nephew's place of birth.

Broadening the search to include the whole of Lancashire on the restricted timespan captured 581 Davies births, nine of which had the given name Joseph. They were registered in Ashton, Blackburn, Bolton, Chorlton, Liverpool, Salford (2), Toxteth Park, and Wigan.

Since Southport was on the edge of Ormskirk District remote from all of these possibilities, it is unlikely that any confusion over the birthplace was geographical. Perhaps it was linguistic. Might someone "mishear" Salford as Southport?

This is a suggestion worth consideration because the family does have a connection to Salford. That was where our 2xgreat grandmother Jane was born in 1877. It was also where her mother (3xgreat grandmother Jane) died in the September quarter of 1881.

One of the Salford births was also registered in the September quarter of 1881 raising the possibility that young Joseph was the son of his uncle's sister. Their surnames are the same because Jane DAVIES had married John DAVIES.

It was not unknown for a man whose wife died in childbirth to hand over the baby to a family member while he got on with raising their older children. What would make this case unusual (if that is what happened) is that in November of 1883, John (and his second wife, Elizabeth) sailed for Australia with the rest of the children. What could have caused him to leave his younger son behind?

A writer of fiction might offer (melodramatically) that he could not bear to look on the child who had "taken" his wife's life. Or perhaps that Uncle Joseph saw the boy as the heir to the family business since his own son John was employed elsewhere as a general labourer.

As an historian dedicated to evidence-based conclusions, I can only marvel at where I can be led by a single puzzling line in a census return.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Ancient manuscripts

The recent QSA Bulletin from the Queensland State Archives describes plans for a forthcoming skills workshop titled Deciphering old handwriting.

That sounded particularly useful and I had visions of investigating long esses and the various abbreviations that were common in former times. In order to whet our appetites, the Archives posted digital images of the types of document that you might need help to interpret.

At least one of the documents selected was a very poor choice. It was not very old at all and the writing was just the same as I was taught in school ...

It can be quite confronting when you are forced to recognise that you are turning from a descendant into an ancestor!

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

A bunch of roses by any other name

One of the perennial topics debated when family historians gather is How do you distinguish among family members with the same name?.

There are lots of ways to approach the problem but sometimes you encounter a situation where you think that barcoding might be appropriate.

When I began to search for our 2xgreat grandmother, I knew that her maiden name was Jane DAVIES and the family came from north Wales. She turned up quickly in the census and everything tallied but the date of birth. I knew Nan was old but she could not have been that old.

It turned out that I had not found our 2xgreat grandmother at all, but our 3xgreat grandmother whose maiden name was also Jane DAVIES before she married John DAVIES.

I was prepared to keep mother and daughter separate in my head, but my concern grew when I encountered another John and Jane Davies of similar age in the same place. I realise that there are lots of very common names in Wales, but the parallels between these couples were worrying.

It was small relief to learn that Jane (the mother) had a brother John who had married a woman called Jane. He probably thought nothing of it, since their brother Joseph had also taken a wife called Jane. And young Sarah's husband was John as well(mercifully, not Davies).

Add a couple more Johns in the next generation (cousins of our Jane the younger) and it begins to look like a naming nightmare.

Of course, when the extended family gathered, the issue probably never arose. Almost all those present would have had another name by which they were usually known to the others. Those unique nicknames would have avoided any confusion. What a shame they neglected to pass them down for the benefit of long suffering family historians in centuries to come.

Monday, 18 February 2013

What's in a name?

I have always referred to our 4xgreat grandmother as Susannah with an "h" because that was the name under which I first encountered her when studying census returns. On the other hand, her baptismal record shows that on that day in 1816 she was recorded as Susanna.

This inevitably leads to the question (much loved by genealogists) What was her real name?

It is important to recognise that Civil Registration of births, marriages and deaths started on 1 July 1837 in England and Wales. So there is no legal basis for preferring one form over another as the official name.

We might argue that the name ordinarily used by the person is in fact her "real name" for all practical purposes and that was (unconsciously) my basis for taking the form used in the census return, but there is a difficulty.

The record of the marriage of Susannah in 1835 shows that she, her husband and her mother all "made their mark" as a form of signature. Since they were unable to write their own names, they were unlikely to be able to recognise and correct an "error" made by a literate person. Almost certainly, the records of Susanna(h)'s name were all made by others

A study of the relative frequency of the two forms in printed language suggests that the with-h variant was briefly the more popular a couple of decades before our 4xgreat grandmother's birth but has been declining ever since. Why then would educated people consistently prefer the "older" version?

I suspect that the answer lies in the role of the church. A literate man in North Wales in the mid-nineteenth century would have been very familiar with his Bible and would know of the role of Susannah (with Joanna and Mary Magdalene) in the Gospel of Luke. Anyone hearing the name would immediately bring to mind the New Testament spelling. Everyone, that is, except the Rev E Roberts on the day of the baptism. Perhaps he was one of those modern vicars.

There is one other reason for believing that Susannah's name should be spelled in that way. Although their parents were illiterate, the Davies children could read and write. Two of them (Joseph and Sarah) gave daughters the name of their grandmother. Both Susannah Davies (b 1867) and Susannah Hollingsworth (b 1876) are with-h, so I reckon that their granny was too!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

So what about Susannah

Our 4xgreat grandmother Susannah (wife of Thomas DAVIES) gave her age on the 1851 census as 35. That would place her birth in 1816.

There were 1300 girls baptised Susanna(h) in the United Kingdom in 1816; but, perhaps surprisingly, there were just 6 in Flint. Even if we include adjoining Denbigh in the search, the total number of candidates is only 13. That should be a manageable list to explore.

The 1851 Census also shows that Susannah's eldest child, John, was aged 15 which indicates his birth was probably in 1836 and that a search for his parents marriage should begin in 1835.

Both of these propositions are confirmed by the Flint Parish Registers. John (son of Thomas Davies and his wife Susannah) was baptised on 14 February 1836 and his parents (Thomas DAVIES and Susannah HUGHES) had been married by banns on 23 May 1835.

Among the 6 candidates listed as being christened in Flint during 1836 was Susanna Anne HUGHES but studying the image of the church record revealed a surprise. On 28 January 1816 in the Parish of Whitford, twin daughters of William and Elizabeth HUGHES were christened Susanna and Anne by the Reverend Edward Roberts.

Further support for the argument that this is indeed our 4xgreat grandmother comes from the fact that one of the witnesses to the 1835 marriage was Elizabeth HUGHES.

Census records from after the death of Thomas (in 1856) show that Susannah lived in the households of several of her daughters and daughters-in-law until her death at age 71. She was buried in the Rhuddlan parish churchyard on 25 February 1887.

In the course of her life, Susannah raised 9 children and assisted in the care of not a few grandchildren. There is however no evidence that she ever lived with her eldest daughter Jane (as an adult) or that she ever met Jane's youngest daughter Jane who was born after the family left Wales.

By the time of her grandmother's death, our 2xgreat grandmother Jane was 17000 kilometres away in Queensland.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

The birth of Thos Davies

We have established that our 4xgreat grandfather, Thomas DAVIES, was buried in Rhuddlan on 12 February 1856; but to date we have been relying on estimates of when he was born.

Thomas's burial record states that he was 49 years old at his death. So his calculated date of birth falls in the range February 1806 to February 1807. On the 1841 Census return, Thomas's birthplace was recorded as Flintshire, Llanasa.

A search of the Flint Baptism Transcriptions shows that no record meets those constraints exactly. Opening the time window to Jul 1805 - Dec 1807 yields just two possible candidates; born in July 1805 or September 1807.

A man born in July of 1805 would have turned 35 before the 1841 Census and would not have had his age rounded down to 30 as "our" Thomas did. On that basis, this is the most likely baptismal record for our 4xgreat grandfather.

Thomas was baptised at Llanasa on 27 September 1807. His parents were Thomas and Jane. Unlike some other documents of Flint baptisms, this page offers little in the way of additional information. We are not told Jane's maiden name or young Thomas's actual date of birth. The record does indicate that his father was from Gwespyr (an ancient village about a 15 minute walk from Llanasa).

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

When did Thomas Davies die?

Thomas DAVIES of Rhyl was our 4xgreat grandfather. His grand-daughter Jane travelled to Queensland in 1884. Just to make the investigation of family history more challenging, Jane was the daughter of Thomas's daughter Jane who married John Davies thereby ensuring that the younger Jane appeared to have her maternal grandfather's surname!

The 1851 Census showed Thomas (an Agricultural Labourer) and his wife Susannah living in Rhyl with 7 children ranging in age from 15 years to 3 months. At the next census (in 1861), Susannah is recorded as the widowed head of a household of 7 children including 2 born since 1851. Edward, the youngest, is listed as being 6 years old.

We can infer that Thomas died at some time in the period 1853 to 1861. It is a reasonable assumption that he would have been buried in Flintshire, since that is where had lived for his entire life. Unfortunately, the Flint Burial Transcriptions show that no fewer than 42 men named Thomas Davies were buried in the county during the relevant period. We need to narrow the search.

The 1851 census return listed Thomas's age as 42 which would indicate a date of birth in 1808-9. In 1841, his age was given as 30 but it must be remembered that this would have been rounded down and the actual value could be as large as 34. Hence the birth would fall within 1807-11.

When this additional constraint is added to a search of Flint Burials, the number of candidates falls to just 3. And one of those actually lived 10 weeks past the census date on 7 April 1861.

Thus, we can state with some confidence that Thomas died in February 1856 or October 1857. Can we be any more precise?

The 1857 burial occurred in the Parish of Llanasa while that in 1856 took place in Rhuddlan (the location of other significant life events for our family at this time). Is it possible to identify the Thomas from Llanasa in a way which would eliminate him from consideration.

The 1851 census records Thomas Davies, Quarryman, living with his wife Ann in Llanasa with no children.

So I am quietly confident that 4xgreat grandfather Thomas DAVIES died in February 1856 and was buried by the parish vicar, Thomas Wynn Edwards, on the 12th day of that month.

Which makes today the 157th anniversary of Thomas's burial, and prompts me to ask When was he born?

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