Monday, 17 March 2014

Check and check again!

I've just learned (or relearned) a valuable lesson; always check that the data all matches up, always double-check the actual record image if you can, and put your research in context!

I was looking for Charles Hatch, born 1816 in Shoreditch; he is the brother of the man I'm convinced was my great-great-grandfather, Thomas Hatch. I thought that tracing Charles could help me delve into the Hatch family in general.

I have Charles' baptism, which matches up with Thomas' in terms of their address and father's occupation. I also have Charles' wedding to Jemima Nash in 1840, which also matches. So far so good. Charles and Jemima had one son, Charles, born just before the census in 1841. So I then looked for them in 1851 census, with the birthdates and places of both Charleses and Charles snr's profession (butcher) as clues.

There are lots of trees containing Charles snr. They all show Charles snr - the same Charles who married Jemima - marrying another woman, Caroline Amos, in 1847 in Kent and going on to have a family with her. So Jemima must have died before then - and sure enough I found a possible Jemima Hatch death in 1843. Those trees also show poor wee Charles Jnr dying in 1843, and I found that record as well. I looked for possible Charles and Caroline and there they were in Kent; Charles was a butcher, with the correct birth year. Again, so far so good!

Then I noticed that something was wrong; this Charles' birthplace was given as East Peckham, Kent. That's not right. I know sometimes enumerators make mistakes, or white lies are told; could this be one of them? I searched for Charles, Jemima, and Charles jnr in the 1851 census and had no luck. Maybe this was my Charles after all? But returning to the 1841 census, the Charles born in East Peckham appears in Kent - with his wife Amelia, not Jemima - while my Shoreditch Charles and Jemima appear in Bethnal Green.

Then I had the idea to look at the 1851 households living at Charles and Jemima's 1841 address - New Nichol Street in Bethnal Green. And sure enough, there was my answer.

Jemima Hatch, widow, aged 36 and her son Charles. That would mean the Charles who died in 1843 wasn't Charles Jnr - it was Charles Snr. This would have been such an easy mistake to make - without all this tedious searching and checking I could easily have given myself a whole bumch of totally unrelated family members!

Now there are a few reasons this didn't show up in my searches. Jemima's name is written here as "Jemmia", an understandable mistake; on Ancestry the surname is transcribed as 'Heatch', also understandable given the curly scroll of the capital letter H; and Charles' age is incorrect. I can only assume the census taker heard "seven" instead of "eleven". But I'm far more inclined to believe this is them than that Charles Snr misrepresented his birthplace for the rest of his life.

Transcription is often tricky, and looking at previous addresses or at the addresses of other family members has often paid off for me. I looked for my great-grandmother, Sarah Hewitson, and her family in the 1891 census for months before finding her this past weekend. Again, the transcription was wrong - in this case, way wrong, Hewitson being transcribed as Newcamp - but when you look at the handwriting it's quite understandable!

And how did I find them in the end? They were living next door to Sarah's married aunt, Alice. Another good reason to research sideways as well as straight up and down!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

All the single ladies

I "collect" everyone I can in my genealogical work - not just direct ancestors, but all their brothers and sisters and their children. It's given me some fascinating stories, and helps in the genetic genealogy side of things - if I know what surnames are connected with my second and third and fourth cousins, it helps me find out precisely where our connection lies. But the stories are more important to me - one of the main reasons I do genealogy is to find out about the lives of all these past people.

One of the most challenging tasks, for me, seems to be finding the later lives of unmarried women.

The single ladies often don't have jobs - or at least not the kind that lets their names appear in newspapers or advertisements. They often don't own property, so they don't appear on those lists. And it seems in many cases they outlive their siblings, so there are no useful obituary notices inserted by family.

Take my bloke's Byrnes ancestors, James and Anastasia, who arrived from Ireland in the mid-1850s. They had 12 children, five boys and seven girls; but they had bad luck with their daughters. Two died in childhood and one at the age of 18; only two of the girls married, and only one of them ended up having children. The two daughters who remained single, Ellen (born 1869) and Mary Agnes (born 1875) are a special interest of mine.

The two girls' whereabouts are known in 1904, when their father James died intestate; Anastasia swore an affidavit giving their locations. Ellen was living in Koondrook, Victoria, where the family farm was located - so probably with her mother - and Mary Agnes was living in Prahran. Both are just described as "spinster". I would love to know what Mary Agnes was doing in Prahran - as far as I know, there were no family members living there, and no profession is listed. I can't find her on the electoral rolls - at least, not that I can say is her with any certainty.

Eight years later, in 1912, Anastasia died. She did leave a will, and she left all her property "unto my three daughters" Ellen, Mary Agnes and Bridget (who was married). I find it interesting that her still-living daughter Alice, who was married and living in Queensland, is not mentioned in the will. A family dispute? We'll never know. At this stage Ellen was still in Koondrook and Mary Agnes in High Street, Prahran. And that is where my knowledge of Mary Agnes ends. I can't find her on electoral rolls; I can't find a record of her emigration, marriage or death; she may be one of the myriad Mary Byrnes but none of them can be definitely pinned down. I don't know what happened to her, and that blank space on the tree is bugging me.

Ellen, on the other hand, I have traced; but I don't feel I know any more about her life for the crumbs I have discovered. Still in Koondrook in 1914, by 1919 she was living in Waitchie, a tiny town over 50km from Koondrook. Fewer than 150 people live in Waitchie now and it doesn't seem to have been much bigger then. I wonder if she had a friend there, perhaps someone she lived with, or did she live alone? The electoral roll just says "home duties" and gives no street address. She was still there in the 1920s, but by 1931 was living in Boundary St, Kerang. And that is the last I have of Ellen until her death in 1940 in the Beechworth Mental Hospital, which gives more clues, but also more questions.

An inquest was held into Ellen's death, and I read it in the Public Records Office. It's terribly sad; she was admitted into the mental hospital in late September 1940 and was described as "a feeble old lady suffering from melancholia" who "had had 'heart attacks' in the train from Sunbury and arrived in a collapsed condition". She became a "chair patient", which I assume means that she was mobile but otherwise needed care. She died in December that year, of arterio-renal sclerosis; she had seen a priest the night before she died.

Poor Ellen, with her melancholia. I wonder what she'd been doing over her life. By 1940 all but three of her siblings (not counting the elusive Mary Agnes) had died; two of the survivors were in Queensland and one still in the Koondrook area, all elderly themselves, of course. Why was she in Sunbury, and why did she go to Beechworth? (Since she arrived in a condition of collapse, I wonder if she was sent there rather than went willingly). The death certificate correctly gives her parents' names, including mother's maiden name, and her place of birth; was a relation on hand somewhere to give those details? I wonder if there is more in the archives - perhaps in the Public Records Office - for me to discover about these Byrnes single ladies. I hope so.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Accentuate the positive

This is my first time participating in a geneameme! Thanks to Jill from GeniAus for posting some questions to get me going.

In 2013...

An elusive ancestor I found was: my maternal great-grandfather, Frederick Edwards, the story behind my blog's title. He'd previously seemed to just appear out of thin air at his wedding. It was through a very roundabout means of checking out neighbours and previous addresses that I found him, and it's turned out to be quite a tale of Victorian illegitimacy, drama, multiple families, mistresses and bitchy codicils in Wills! 

A precious family photo I found was: my great-great-grandmother, Sarah Edwards, Frederick's mother. This was kindly shared by a distant cousin who is also descended from her. 

An important vital record I found was: the death certificate of another great-great-grandmother, Eliza Hewitson nee Bye. I knew she'd died between 1881 and 1901 but didn't know which death was hers. It turns out that my mother had the certificate, obtained from the BMD registrar in pre-internet days! Eliza died in 1893 from "Exhaustion of Mania with Epilepsy" in the London County Lunatic Asylum, Ilford, when her youngest child (my great-grandmother Sadie) was only five. Now I need to research precisely what Exhaustion of Mania might be in modern terms. 

A newly found family member who shared: the same cousin who came up with Sarah Edwards' photo also shared her father John Edwards' Will, as well as lots of other family information. There have been many others, though, including a third cousin of Rohan's who shared a precious photo of their great-grandparents' wedding in 1892!

A genealogy conference/seminar/webinar from which I learnt something new was: the Family History Feast at the State Library of Victoria. Apart from the deeply moving and fascinating story of the lost Fromelles diggers, I learned a great deal about the records which the Public Records Office of Victoria might have in relation to soldier settlement, which will help with Rohan's grandfather.

A great repository/archive/library I visited was: the Public Records Office. Not only did I get to view one Will and three inquests, which were all a great help in my family tree research; I also got to read and touch the Geelong Assisted Immigrant Remittances book recording the deposits for Rohan's great-great-grandparents to emigrate to Australia. I didn't expect to be handed the actual book, for some reason! It was very moving to see the actual X "mark" and to learn precisely where in Ireland they came from.

A geneadventure I enjoyed was: transcribing the letters home which Rohan's grandfather, Percy Byrnes, wrote during the First World War. The process opened up so many emotions. It was fascinating to read Percy's little travelogues describing the voyage as well as England and France; we learned about the Australia of 1916, as well as the countries he was writing about, through him. It was also tremendously moving to read his words to his mother, trying to comfort her - while his letters to his father were much more frank, and also insistent that his father looked after "the block" and planted what Percy told him to! The way Percy was virtually mobbed by English girls was greatly amusing, and it was so interesting and sad to research all the other boys from Nyah district he mentioned and to find out their eventual fates. I am proud of the finished product and it has opened up so much understanding for us about the family; I hope that we will eventually make the letters public either by publishing them or through blogging.

The letters were saved by Percy's mother, Annie Louisa, and we visited her grave in Swan Hill and thanked her for it. I feel I know Percy so well now, and am looking forward to working on the next stage of his adventure, his life in politics!

Another positive I would like to share is: finding that there is a genealogical community and there are people who will be generous in sharing their information and their discoveries! I'm only new to the community, but in turn I hope to help others through my own discoveries.

Thank you, Jill. To tell the truth I was feeling a little discouraged about my family history work after discovering someone who was rather possessive of a mutual ancestor and criticised that I made information public; this is a great meme to end the year on and realise that there is still so much wonderful work to look forward to! 

Sunday, 24 November 2013

What's in a name?

I have tended to roll my eyes at people who give their kids ridiculous names - er, I mean "unusual" names -  but it certainly makes genealogy more interesting to get a break from the regular Sarahs, Williams, Roberts, Annes and Elizabeths. They can be damn useful too, not just because of the relative ease of tracing a more unusual name, but because it can give some inklings into the family character and culture.

For instance - the place-based names. Take my partner's 2x great-grandfather, Henry Judd. Born in Hertfordshire in 1835, he came to Tasmania as a child, and became one of the early settlers in the Huon; he explored and prospected, and after his death the Hobart Mercury described him as "the most indefatigable of the old Huon pioneers". Henry named one of his daughters Amelia Franklena, probably in reference to either the Franklin River or the town of Franklin, Tasmania, where she was born. Henry's son William Joshua Judd continued this tradition, naming his second son Eric Huon after the Huon district. It does interest me that Eric was not born in the Huon, but in Victoria.

I did think this was a quirk of that particular family until I found others in the tree with place-related names, including my partner's grand-uncle Charles Murray Byrnes (whose father Thomas Byrnes was a water bailiff in Koondrook, Nyah and Swan Hill, all places on the Murray River) and his great-grand-uncle, Edward Cecil Northcote James, born (unsurprisingly) in Northcote.

The James family also held to another form of unusual naming, that of naming children after an admired or exalted person. Cecil Northcote James' father was named Charles Lemon James. I was puzzled about where the "Lemon" came from as it didn't seem to be a family surname. I found my answer while researching Falmouth, where Charles' father William Hill James was born. He was baptised a Quaker, and one of the prominent Quaker citizens in the area was Sir Charles Lemon, 1784-1868, MP and baronet with strong links to Falmouth, the mining industry, and Cornwall in general. Another of William Hill James' children was named Harriet Dunstanvill - presumably a connection to Dunstanville Terrace in Falmouth.

Sadly my own family are not nearly as entertaining with names for the most part. I do have a cousin a few times removed with the middle name "Jubilee" - and he's not alone for children born in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. My favourite unusual naming family, though, belongs to my first cousin 3 times removed, Eliza Fitzgibbon. She married a gentleman whose surname was Aris, and their children carried on the A theme with double-A names, except the eldest and youngest:

  • Annie Eliza Aris 
  • Albert Alfred Aris 
  • Arthur Alexander Aris 
  • Amelia Adelaide Aris 
  • Agnes Alexandra Aris 
  • Augustus Archibald Aris 
  • Arnold Adolphus Aris 
  • Algernon Aubrey Aris 
  • Francis John Aris 
One can only wonder what happened with Francis John. He was born in 1912 and named for his father, who died only two years later; perhaps he was already ill, and little Francis was named in love and honour of him?

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

"The violent Vincent"

Everyone has black sheep in their family tree. I quite like finding out about mine. One of the most entertaining of my black sheep is Vincent Hickman, my 3x-great-grandfather. It's a sad tale in its way.

Vincent was born in Somerby, Leicestershire, in about 1810. Somerby then had fewer than 400 inhabitants. According to Wikipedia the "surrounding countryside is very attractive and is often referred to as 'High Leicestershire'. Much of the Parish is several hundred feet above sea level and there are often superb views to be found." 

As an adult Vincent settled in Wymondham, Leicestershire, about eight miles from Somerby. It was in Wymondham that he married Jane Morrison; since they married in August 1834 and their first child was born in November 1834, it was probably a marriage of necessity.  Wymondham is also very pretty, but sadly, Vincent was unable to appreciate this beauty, as for much of his life he was blind. This was the result of an altercation which Vincent started and which he must have sorely resented himself for. The Leicester Chronicle of 28 November 1835 tells the story:
A man residing at Wymondham, named Vincent Hickman, was at Melton market on Tuesday last, and for a considerable time amused himself with annoying a man who was selling hardware in a cart, rapping the man on the shins, pulling and tossing his goods about, and striving by every means to interrupt him in his business. Irritated at length by this treatment, the man gave him a blow on the face, having in his hand at the instant some articles for sale, when unfortunately a sharp point entered one of Hickman's eyes, and instantly deprived it of sight. Considerable apprehension is entertained that the other eye will be lost; and the sufferer now lies at Melton, a sad example of the folly and danger of carrying a joke too far.
I don't think Vincent did lose the sight in his other eye immediately. He continued to work; in 1841 he's working as an agricultural labourer and in 1851 a grocer and general dealer, and there is no indication of a disability (although in 1851 there's a place in the census to record it). He and Jane had nine children, at least seven of whom lived to adulthood. However, in the 1840s, Vincent begins to get in trouble with the law; the tensions this must have caused in his marriage would be exacerbated by the fact that by the mid-1850s he is described as being blind. Again, the papers of Leicestershire and Lincolnshire record his charges. On 15 September, 1846; drunk and disorderly, paid 12s costs. In 1854 he was charged with 'Simple Larceny' but the charges dismissed "no bill" - meaning there was not enough evidence.

On 20 February 1855, Vincent was charged with assault following a night out drinking, described in the Lincolnshire Chronicle:
James Morrison, of Wymondham. labourer, was fined 2L, and costs 1L 1s. 6d., or six weeks' imprisonment, for assaulting Mr. Gascoigne Hurd, of that place, publican.— Vincent Hickman, also of Wymondham, labourer, and a "regular rough," was fined 5L., including costs, or two months' imprisonment, for assaulting Mr. William Brown, of that place, thus: —Both these last named defendants were drinking at the inn, and behaved so badly that the complainants assisted to turn them out; after which Hickman, who is nearly blind, begged to shake hands with and be forgiven by Mr. Brown, whose hand was no sooner within his own than he struck and tried to strangle him. When his punishment was pronounced by the magistrates, Hickman became so grossly abusive towards them, and so foully swore and roughly assaulted the police in the room, that he was properly punished with another fine of 20L, or two months' more imprisonment.
The Leicester Chronicle describes Vincent as "the violent Vincent". He appears to have made quite an impression.

Vincent presumably served his four months, but that didn't persuade him to stay out of trouble, and he continued to appear before the magistrates:

  • January 1857 he is described as "a blind man" and charged with poaching using a dog to find game
  • July 1857, more drunk and disorderly
  • June 1858, drunk again, and committed for two months in default of sureties
  • April 1860, drunkenness
  • October 1861, drunkenness
  • January 1864, drunkenness; this time, with his previous offences, Vincent was sentenced to three months' hard labour
  • June 1866; Vincent assaulted a bailiff while in the execution of his duty and was fined two pounds, or two months' hard labour
  • In January 1867 Vincent was a victim of crime for once; he accused Thomas Hickman, carrier of Wymondham, with assaulting him. This could have been Vincent's son Thomas, or his brother Thomas. I'm still trying to find out.
  • In April 1867 Vincent was drunk again.
In the 1861 census Vincent is a grocer, and marked as 'blind' in the infirmity column. He's living with his wife and seven of his children; most of them are ag labs, but 19-year-old George is a shoemaker. George was my great-great-grandfather. 

Vincent Hickman's headstone in Wymondham, Leicestershire.
Vincent Hickman died in the Union workhouse at Melton Mowbray on 14 July 1869, a year after his wife's death. I can't help but wonder how much of his drinking, violence and anger were related to a self-hatred born on that market day in 1835 when he teased a man into lashing out at him. Even partial blindness must have been a bitter thing to bear for a young man with a family to support, and all the more so since it was his own fault. 

Tuesday, 29 October 2013


This is where I'll be recording my genealogical findings and research, as well as jotting down things that puzzle me or odd things I discover along the way. There's so much that doesn't fit into a tree context, and the great joy of working on one's family history is discovering that people are, and have always been, exactly the same, all throughout history.

There are two trees I am tracing: mine, and my husband's. Mine is the dull one. With the exception of a French line they all seem to have been English, all clustered in a few counties, and all unremarkable (ag labs, shoemakers and the like). Even my DNA, according to the racial profile on, is 99% British and Irish. Booo! There have been a few fabulous stories I've discovered, though.

Rohan's is the interesting line. His ancestors include illiterate Irish immigrants, English and Scottish royalty, convicts, Italian fencers, Cornish miners, Quakers, and the first Jewish settler in Tasmania. Some of his lines (the noble ones, obviously) I've traced back centuries; others are brick walls because of the lack of records.

And the name of this blog? My greatest triumph so far, finding where my great-grandfather, Frederick Edwards, came from. It's the breaking down of a brick wall through serendipity, research and the kindness of others. I'm still in the middle of finding out what seems to be a juicy Victorian story - illegitimacy! multiple marriages! family feuds! and dollmaking! - and I'll share it along the way.