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.