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.

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