Mary Ann Allen (1807-1884)

In the course of your research, have you ever come across any relatives who just sit there, perched on your family tree, and no matter how many times you tried to find either a marriage or a death record for them, you simply cannot move forward? I think we all have quite a few of those, so you’ll understand my utter joy when I was recently able to knock down a little brick-wall after years of intense search.

For a number of years I’ve known that my Colwallian ancestors, Thomas and Sarah Allen, had begotten ten children. My main problem was tracking all of them down on the 1841 census and beyond. OK, so I knew already that one daughter, Margaret, died in 1839 aged only 22, after what must have been a very short-lived marriage to a man called Thomas Croft – this much was clear from her gravestone, which also features her parent’s respective date of death, as well as that of her younger, unmarried brother Henry. Phew! Two down, eight to go.

Fortunately, records for Colwall and the surrounding area are relatively well preserved, and it was fairly easy to find marriages for most of Thomas and Sarah’s children. There was just one daughter Mary Ann, who I simply could not find the answer to. Did she die young? Or had she moved away? She could have emigrated, or have ended up locked up in some dreadful Victorian institution and was forgotten by all who once knew and loved her. The answer was just impossible to fathom with the tools I had at my disposal.

Time to review the facts: Mary Ann Allen had been born in 1807 – and was baptised in the parish church of Colwall on Boxing Day 1807. The fact that she was born thirty years before the introduction of civil registration in England and Wales made it highly unlikely that her marriage (if indeed she had survived to adulthood and found herself a husband) had even made it to the General Records Office. Entries of death were equally misleading or seemed improbable, and anyway, with a common name like Mary Ann Allen (and all its variants!) I was not willing to fork out an arm and a leg to cover the cost of countless death certificates.

For years I resigned myself to the idea that I would never learn what had become of Mary Ann. I was ready to accept the idea that she had died young, even though I didn’t have any records to prove it, and that would have been that. Then, not so long ago, someone told me about the online index of wills of the Herefordshire Records Office, where I could also order a copy of my ancestor’s will. The Allens, I knew, had been living in the area since at least the 1600s, and owned some property in Colwall as recently as the 1960s. Surely some of them must have owned land and made a will at some earlier stage during those three centuries!

Eureka! I found what seemed to be my ancestor Thomas Allen’s will, dated December 1842 (this had to be him, since my Thomas died in January 1843, as per his gravestone). I sent for a copy of the will and held my breath for a few days. Then, at last, I got an e-mail, with a PDF file attached, and before I could say Jack Robinson, there was the rather fuzzy copy of my four-times-great-grandfather Thomas Allen’s will.

I scrolled down the “Amens” and the Christian burial details and the other usual jargon one finds in this kind of document, only to find that the section where he disposed of his worldly goods was fuzzier than the rest – in fact, it was practically illegible. I was able to discern a name here and there, but for the most part the few key lines which mentioned Thomas’s children were a blank. Undeterred, I decided to contact the Herefordshire Records Office again and asked for a clearer copy of that particular page. Their staff member was most obliging, and very soon I found myself reading what turned out to be a key piece of the puzzle.

There it was, in black and white, Thomas’s list of children: Thomas, Edward, Joseph, the unfortunate Henry who is buried with his parents… oh, and Mary Ann! But she wasn’t Mary Ann Allen any more, but “Mary Ann the wife of Richard Alford”! Now there was a surname I hadn’t heard of before,! And so, I set out to find Mary Ann’s marriage to Mr Alford.

A snippet of Thomas Allen’s will, where he states that his daughter was by then the wife of Richard Alford.

My luck ran out pretty quickly. At every turn I drew a blank: no Allens marrying a Richard Alford or a Halford (the local accent is pretty strong, and locals tends to drop and bring back the “h” whenever they feel like it). I even tried searching across the border (Colwall is after all between Herefordshire and Worcestershire), to no avail. I then decided to try a different tack, and dropped Mary Ann’s maiden name in case she had a different surname when she married Richard Alford/Halford.

Aha! Here we go! FamilySearch held the key: Mary Ann Hyde, daughter of Thomas Allen, married Richard Halford (sic), son of John Halford, in the parish of Little Cowarne, Herefordshire, on 12 October 1840. It is fairly obvious to me by this stage that Mary Ann had been married once before she became Mrs Halford (or was it Alford? Whatever…). Finding Mary Ann’s marriage to a Mr Hyde should not prove too difficult considering Mary Ann was about 31 when she married her second husband – and thus had little chance to have been married more than once before, right?

Indeed, Mary Ann Allen married William Hyde on 21 January 1827 in the city of Worcester (so a different county from where she got married the second time), according to FamilySearch. And as it took place ten full years before 1837, it is little wonder that I wasn’t able to find her marriage on the FreeBMD index.

Having uncovered only a few documents and references, I was soon able to draw a picture of Mary Ann in my mind – married at just 19, widowed by her late-twenties, remarried at 31… But how much longer did she live, and perhaps more poignantly, did she have any children of her own?

I already knew Mary Ann was alive when her father wrote his last will and testament in December 1842 – chances were therefore that I would be able to pin her down on the 1841 census – and indeed, there she was, Mary Halford (sic), living with Richard Halford, an agricultural labourer, with a twelve year-old boy called Charles Hyde. Well, no sign of any children born from her second marriage, but it certainly looks like Mary Ann’s first marriage bore at least one fruit!

The 1851 census, which unlike the 1841 census does mention a person’s place of birth, confirms Mary Ann’s place of birth as Colwall; I therefore have no doubt I have the right person. Moreover, I’m also able to learn that Mary Ann’s son Charles had been born in 1830 in the city of Hereford, and like his step-father, he became a labourer. But that’s not all, for it seems the new Mr and Mrs Alford/Halford had a child together, a daughter whom they called Sarah! Do I take it little Sarah was named after her mother’s mother? Seems more than likely. So Mary Ann had not one, but two children. Gosh, this family tree is growing by the minute!

The 1861 census again features Charles and Sarah living with their mother, but there is no sign of Mary Ann’s husband anywhere. A quick look at the FreeBMD records throws up a likely candidate: the death for Richard Alford (sic), died in 1855 in the Ledbury registration district. A quick check on the GRO index shows he was 45 years old when he died. I guess that’s almost definitely our man, as I later prove correct when I find his burial in the online Colwall parish transcripts. How sad for Mary Ann to have been left a widow again at such a relatively young age…

Worse was to come: I can easily locate her son Charles and his growing family (wife Martha, son William) living in Colwall on the 1871 census, but no trace of Mary Ann. A possible candidate is a Mary Ann Alford, right age, listed living in Colwall but unmarried and born, supposedly, in Welland, in neighbouring Worcestershire. Seems this is Mary Ann in disguise, if you ask me! But where is her daughter Sarah? My search for her on the census and on the marriage index draws a blank, so I turn to the likeliest alternative: a death.

And indeed, I find that poor Sarah died in 1862 aged only 21 years. I send off for her death certificate, not knowing what I might expect, only to find out she died of “softening of the brain” and had been ill for four years. Now, I am no expert, but I do know that “softening of the brain” is an antiquated term which usually refers to senile dementia; it seems unlikely Sarah would have suffered from senility at the age of just 21, but it may be that she was afflicted by some kind of bacteriological ailment, or perhaps developed a wasting mental disease which afflicted her for the last four years of her life. Whatever the case, the pain of seeing her daughter in poor health for four years must have been devastating for Mary Ann.

Detail from Sarah Alford’s death certificate, stating she died aged 21 after suffering some “softening of the brain” for four years.

The 1881 census brings Mary Ann Alford back to the surface – there she is, a simple washerwoman, living in Colwall in a cottage by herself – albeit next to Knell Farm, which I already know was run, if not owned, by her nephew Herbert Allen. But the fact that she is not living with, or next to, her only surviving son Charles Hyde fills me with a slight feeling of dismay. Did they fall out with each other? Was she perhaps bitter in her later years due to her personal losses? Were she and Charles even on speaking terms?

Charles was in the meantime heading a family of his own – he and Martha welcomed William in 1869, twin girls called Rosanna and Marianne, and two more sons in 1876 and 1878 – in addition to two other babies who died young. What is striking from the 1881 census, however, is not Charles’s growing family, but his profession, or should I say, the lack of it: the space where his occupation should normally be listed says “Unable to work”. Fortunately for me, the column which lists people’s infirmities has also been filled in: “Blind”. Well I never! Charles Hyde, the head of a large household, was making his way in life being blind! It makes sense then that his wife does have an occupation (as a charwoman), but the children are all scholars – how on earth did they make ends meet? And without any live-in servants, I wonder how Martha coped with a disabled husband and so many children to feed? I’m liking Martha a lot at this stage.

But before I move on to the 1891 census for more information, I take a deep breath and check again the 1871 census for Charles, to see if his blindness had already set in by the early stages of his marriage (certainly the earlier censuses do not mention his condition). Aha, here we go, Charles Hide (sic), a stone mason, living with his wife Martha, no profession, and their one-year-old son William. Clearly Charles was in good health at the time, and professionally active. My suspicion is that something must have happened between 1871 and 1881 to account for his eventual blindness. Maybe an accident at work? I don’t think we’ll ever know…

On to the 1891 census, and I look for Mary Ann, who at this stage would already have been in her mid-eighties. Nothing. Not even a likely candidate. Did she move away? In view of her advanced age, I think we can all guess what the likeliest scenario is. On to FreeBMD to see if I can locate a death – and so there is, Mary Ann Alford, aged 76, June quarter 1884, Ledbury registration district. This is spot on. I send off for Mary Ann’s death certificate to learn more about the circumstances of her demise, and within days I have the answer at my doorstep: it seems she died of a “diffused phlegmon and erysipelas, 11 days” – clearly she suffered from some kind of suppurating skin disease. Poor Mary Ann!!! But hang on, who is the informant who registered her death? Well, none other than Charles Hyde himself! OK, so he wasn’t able to sign the register, leaving only his “mark” as proof, but I am so glad to see at least he did the right thing by being there when his mother was about to face her maker!

Additional research into Mary Ann’s line will be needed to understand if her descendants made it into the 20th century. I know that her daughter-in-law Martha passed away in 1902, four years before Charles. I hope one of his children was still around to look after him when he needed it the most…! But that’s another story, so we’ll have to leave it there, until another time.

The churchyard in Colwall, where Mary Ann Alford, formerly Hyde, née Allen, was laid to rest in 1884.

Posted in 1841 Census, 1851 Census, 1861 Census, 1871 Census, 1881 Census, 1891 Census, Colwall, England, Family Search, Genealogy, Herefordshire, Illness, Marriage, Property, Women, Worcestershire | 1 Comment

Judith Allen (née Cooke, formerly Bond)

One of the most fascinating members of my extended family is, in my opinion, my “aunt” Judith – the second wife of my great-great-great-grandfather’s youngest brother. Although there are very few sources which shed light on her life, what we do know about her existence tells us a story of perseverance, resourcefulness and kindness. This is her life.

Judith Cooke was born in Longdon, Worcestershire in 1795, although it would be two years before she was christened in Upton-upon-Severn. She would spend the rest of her life living within a ten-mile radius. She was named Judith after her mother, Judith Cooke (née Clarke), who came from the village of Pendock. Baby Judith’s father was Thomas Cooke, a native of Upton-upon-Severn. The Cookes had at least four other children, in addition to Judith.

The location of Longdon, where Judith was born in 1795. Upton-upon-Severn, where she was baptised, is nearby, as is Colwall, where she died.

Shortly after she turned eighteen, Judith married a local pub landlord called William Bond – who happens to be my third cousin five times removed through his maternal grandfather, George Allen. The couple first lived in Mathon before settling in nearby Colwall, a village on the slopes on the Malvern hills closely associated with several branches of my own family. It was there that their two sons, John and William (born in 1816 and 1817, respectively) were raised.

The family’s existence seems to have been relatively uneventful over the next two decades (at least, as far as we can interpret from the records). The Bonds appear living together, as one close-knit family unit, on the 1841 census. They lived in Colwall Stone (a part of Colwall) surrounded by other families, most of them earning a living as agricultural labourers and blacksmiths. The only exception was the next-door family, the Voyces, who also ran a public house. In fact, not long after the census was taken, Judith’s youngest son, William, married Jane Voyce. Their joy must have been significantly increased by the arrival of a baby son less than two years later.

Sadly, William Jr. was not destined to enjoy fatherhood for long, because in January 1844 he died aged only 26. His widow was left to care for their infant son (named William Edward according to the baptism register, and William Henry according to the GRO index), but only weeks later the boy also died without having reached his first birthday.

Judith, her husband William and her eldest son John must have been devastated by the loss of a son and grandson in such quick succession, but they were happy to keep Jane under their roof until she was able to land on her feet again. One can only imagine that, with her experience as the daughter of a local publican, she may have been willing to give a helping hand to William in his own running of his own pub.

In 1847, Judith became a widow herself, when her 52-year-old husband William died, leaving her to run the family business. She may have come rely heavily on her widowed daughter-in-law Jane, as well as her unmarried eldest son John, who was by then in mid-thirties.

Things may have worked out very differently for the three of them had John lived longer, but sadly he too passed away in early 1851 aged only 35. The census for that year, which was taken only days after his funeral was held at Saint James’s Church, Colwall, reveals Judith (a “beer shop keeper”) living with Jane (now listed as a dressmaker) and a visitor named Caroline Hartland. The latter was in fact a distant niece of Judith’s; her full name was Caroline Hartland Gladwin, and she was in fact the unmarried mother of a ten-year-old boy at the time. It is tempting to fantasise as to the boy’s paternity – could the father have been a close relation of Judith’s?- but whatever the case may be, the fact that she was staying with her recently-bereaved aunt at the time also show’s Judith’s kindheartedness towards a relative who would otherwise could well have faced social ostracism for bringing an illegitimate child into the world.

By the mid-1850’s, and within the space of a few years, Judith had not only lost her husband, but also her two sons and her only grandson. Before long she was also to lose her daughter-in-law Jane, albeit under very different circumstances. After the loss of her child and husband, Jane Bond decided to move to London, where she was employed as the housekeeper of a Mr R. Martin, of 21 Eaton Square. In 1858 the Hereford Chronicle reported how she was soon to become the wife of a Thomas Brotheridge, a farmer from Bredon’s Norton, Worcestershire; the marriage took place on 10 November 1858 at St Peter’s Church, Pimlico.

Wedding announcement of Jane Bond (née Voyce), Judith’s bereaved daughter-in-law.

With Jane married off and with few relations close at hand, Judith may have begun to wonder what the future had in store for her, and so, ever practical, ever resourceful, she did something which I believe to be as unusual then as it is now: she married a man about half her age! The groom was none other than my great-grandfather’s great-uncle Robert Allen, himself a widower and a distant kinsman of her ate husband’s – and to all intents and purposes as lonely as Judith was. Given the age difference (he was 37, she was 63), and the fact that Robert was even younger than Judith’s own sons would have been at the time had they been alive, it is questionable whether their marriage was in fact a love match. To my mind, it was very much a practical arrangement from where both parties would ultimately benefit: both had been married before, and both had lost spouses; neither had any dependent children or anyone else to take care of them in their old age – they may well have decided to become husband and wife on paper so as to give each other some sort of security in the years to come. I doubt there was any financial motive behind the marriage on either side – Judith would not have amassed a great fortune through her public house business, and Robert worked as a humble coal haulier.

The pair married in May 1858; the fact that one of Robert’s sisters, Anne Spilsbury, was a witness at the wedding shows there was certainly a degree of approval and support from his family’s side. The marriage evidently remained childless, and there is little evidence to suggest that they lived in any other way other than as adoptive mother and son. If Robert entertained any notions about becoming a widower any time soon, his dreams would have been dashed, for Judith appears in the census again in 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891, when she is listed as being 95! Robert worked intermittently as an agricultural labourer but also as a publican – he obviously had Judith to tell him what to do!

Judith not only had very good innings, but she seems to have been a very capable, strong-willed woman. Her arrangement to spend the rest of her life with my “uncle” Robert paid off, as she died in his care in 1893, at the whopping age of 97. Robert’s own demise followed not long after – he must have been of a feebler constitution than his second wife, for he passed away at the relatively advanced age of 78. With him died not only the last surviving member of his generation, but also the last member of Judith’s immediate and astonishing family.

The grounds of Saint James’s Church, Colwall, where Judith and Robert Allen were laid to rest for eternity.



Posted in 1841 Census, 1851 Census, 1861 Census, 1871 Census, 1881 Census, 1891 Census, Colwall, Genealogy, Herefordshire, Illegitimacy, Marriage, Women, Worcestershire | 1 Comment

Quest to solve two Spanish mysteries with DNA continues…

NOTE: The genealogical chart at the end of this article may help to understand the relationships and hypothetical family links mentioned in the text.

AncestryDNA, the company I tested with for this particular study.

When I first took a DNA test (with AncestryDNA) in 2016 I half suspected most of my findings would be connected with my dad’s maternal (i.e. English) forebears. For various reasons, genealogical research and DNA testing for genealogy purposes are not all that popular in Spain and Italy, where my mother’s and paternal grandfather’s ancestors came from. So it was logical to expect there to be a substantial amount of genetic cousins among my DNA matches with a connection to the UK.

Among the sea of English cousins – some of whom proved to be very useful in my own family research and highly experienced genealogists in their own right- I was pleased to find I had a match with a lady in America called Marilyn, whose story I narrated some time ago. To recap, Marilyn seemed to share genes with me, my Mum and my Mum’s only surviving paternal aunt, with Ancestry estimating that she is somewhere in the range of our 4th-6th cousin. This implied that Marilyn and I were related via my grandfather’s family, who came from the Spanish coastal city of Ferrol, a major port with long-standing connections to the Spanish navy. Without the aid of a chromosome browser, there was little I was able to do other than try my luck at finding my and Marilyn’s common ancestor. Sadly, none of the surnames among our recent ancestry matched, so there was little hope of a “eureka” moment without digging deeper.

One ray of hope came when we researched the family of Marilyn’s grandfather, who came from Ferrol. Coincidence? The man had been born illegitimate in 1904, but his father’s name was relatively easy to find out thanks to an old family legend that the father’s family owned a coach company. Ultimately, Marilyn’s grandfather’s baptism certificate, which I was able to locate, contained a side note correcting the omission of the father’s name, and confirming our suspicions that the boy had indeed been fathered by whom we’d suspected all along. As the man’s family came from another part of Spain with zero connections to my own family, I safely accepted that Marilyn and I must thus be related via her great-grandmother, Josefa.

Marilyn’s great-grandmother’s name was traceable thanks to her son’s baptism certificate, but frustratingly she too proved to be illegitimate. Sadly, neither Josefa’s birth nor her baptism certificate have been found, so there is little chance of finding anything via traditional records. Census returns showed that she had been born around the year 1882 in Ferrol. The street where she lived, the Calle de las Ánimas was literally two minutes away from the house where my great-grandfather’s uncle lived in 1887. Coincidence?

Let’s not jump to conclusions. All I knew at the time was that Josefa had been born illegitimately in 1882, so there was a serious possibility that a man in my family was her biological father. But who? Judging from my family tree, there was a (relatively) limited number of males who could have “done the job”. Here is a bit of information about each “candidate”:

  1. My own great-great-grandfather Nicolás, born in 1834, had been married to his wife, my great-great-grandmother Baltasara, for over twenty years. Their union had been blessed by the birth of ten children, but by 1879 they had welcomed their final child (my great-grandfather Guillermo), Baltasara having turned 40 by then. Perhaps Nicolás has got the wandering eye, met Josefa’s mother and got her pregnant…? Well, it’s a possibility.
  2. My great-grandfather’s eldest brother Ramón, who was Nicolás and Baltasara’s eldest son. Although he was single and a young man of 20 at the time of Josefa’s birth, I find it unlikely that he was the girl’s father, since Josefa’s mother was nearly 40 at the time. Of course, an difference in age proves or disproves nothing, but rather more damaging to Ramón’s candidacy to Josefa’s real paternity is that he was very probably in Cuba by 1882 (the same place where my own great-grandfather would temporarily emigrate to a few years later), so I find Ramón the least probable of all candidates. His younger brothers are equally excluded for being too young to sire children within the correct time frame.
  3. Baltasara’s only brother (and therefore Nicolás’s brother-in-law), Juan Antonio, who in 1882 was a wealthy bachelor of 36, very much available and (as seen above) living a stone’s throw away from where Josefa’s mother lived. His eventual marriage (to his niece, no less!) and the arrival of two daughters would have covered up any trace of debauchery in his previous existence.

I soon became convinced within myself that candidate number 3 was the man who had sired Josefa out of wedlock, but without documentary or genetic proof there was little I could do. I then decided to recruit a few additional relatives and see if with their DNA I could get any closer to the truth.

My first candidate was obviously a descendant of Juan Antonio’s. I have been in touch with this cousin of mine for many years, and share a common interest in history and genealogy – which is why I was surprised to see she was actually not interested in taking a DNA test, because of (allegedly) privacy reasons. Disappointed but far from outdone, I looked for another relative (in this case a descendant of the aforementioned Ramón). The results duly came in, which showed that both Ramón’s descendant (who belongs to the same generation as me) shares the same amount of DNA with Marilyn as I do. This to me, although not fully conclusive given the random way in which DNA is inherited from our parents’ forefathers, seemed to indicate that Ramón was not Marilyn’s biological great-great-grandfather – or else she and Ramón’s descendant would share a slightly higher proportion of DNA than Marilyn and I do.

Without other relatives eager to test, I felt like I had hit a dead-end. That was until I recently got a new DNA match with yet another lady in America called Yvonne. Again, I was confronted with not knowing how Yvonne and I were related, but we seemed to share a common link to the city of Ferrol. Coincidence?

Fortunately, and unlike in Marilyn’s case, Yvonne knew full well the name of all of her great-grandparents, and was even able to provide the full name of her great-great-grandmother, Carmen López Pereira, born (according to the census) in around 1846 in Ferrol. This small detail rang bells with me instantly, for I knew that my own ancestor, Andrea Pereira (the mother of my great-great-grandfather Nicolás, mentioned above) had been married twice, her second husband (m. 1843) being a man called Mateo López. If they had any children (which I do not know), they would have had the combined surnames of López and Pereira, and so could easily have been the parents of Yvonne’s great-great-grandmother Carmen. Coincidence?

My theory about how I was related to these two ladies, albeit via the same line in my family, focused on two separate branches: on the one hand Marilyn was allegedly descended from Juan Antonio; on the other, Yvonne was allegedly descended from Nicolás’s mother. Juan Antonio and Nicolás did not share any DNA with each other (something which obviously cannot be said about Nicolás’s descendants, all of whom were related to Juan Antonio, him being their mother’s brother), so the next step was obvious: I had to check if Yvonne and Marilyn had any DNA in common with each other. If they hadn’t it would reassert my theory that, although both related to me, they were not related to each other, and they descended from different lines of my family tree. The result was very encouraging, since Marilyn and Yvonne share zero DNA between them (and this from people who could only have been, at most, 4th cousins).

To summarise matters, although I have not yet solved the mystery of how I am linked to Marilyn and Yvonne, I am pretty confident that by process of elimination and the evidence shown by our DNA matches will soon prove that the above is correct. Time will tell!

Simplified tree depicting the relationships mentioned in this article. Note that doted lines represent descendancy over several generations. Question marks next to descendancy lines depict hypothetical relationships (as yet unproven).


Posted in, Archives, Birth, DNA, Galicia, Genealogy, Genetic Genealogy, Illegitimacy, Women | Leave a comment

Announcing the launch of The Genealogy Show 2019!

The cat’s out of the bag! Time to mark your calendars! Today, after much suspense on social media, the organisers of The Genealogy Show have finally announced the launch of this exciting new event’s first edition! Read the Press Release here.

The Genealogy Show will take place on Friday 7th and Saturday 8th June 2019 at the NEC in Birmingham, England. The next thirteen months will undoubtedly see a rise in content on the event’s website, Twitter feed and Facebook page, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for news as the date approaches. Speakers and Exhibitors are already able to contact the organisers via the bespoke addresses available on the event’s website.

The event’s conception seems to come at a very opportune moment in time, particularly given the sudden cancellation of Who Do You Think You Are? Live following its 2017 edition – a fact which left British genealogists somewhat orphaned of “their” own genealogy trade-show.

While The Genealogy Show will be taking place in the same venue as the last editions of WDYTYALive (Birmigham’s the NEC), the new event promises to have a more European scope regarding its contents – and as a researcher with experience in Spain and Italy as well as the UK, you can imagine how exciting this news is!

So, wherever you are, whatever your geographical research area, and whether you’re a novice or an experienced researcher, don’t miss out on this opportunity to join me and many other genealogists and family history buffs at the Birmingham NEC on 7-8 June 2019. Hope to see you there!

For further information please visit:

Posted in Birmingham, England, Genealogy, THEGenShow2019 | Leave a comment

The saga of the Vickresses of Marden

The following is an account of a branch of my own family whose fascinating story has captivated me since I began researching my family tree many years ago. It is, you might say, a family saga, as it covers several generations who lived over a period of almost two hundred years.

The story begins in the early days of the 19th century, with a young man called Joel Orchard. Joel lived in Tenbury, Worcestershire, and worked as a tallow chandler (that’s someone who makes candles out of tallow, which is a type of animal fat) – he is referred to as such in various documents, such as Pigot’s Directory of 1835 and the 1841 English census. In 1832 Joel married Hannah Rogers and a few years later the couple welcomed their daughter, who was also named Hannah. Sadly, Joel’s wife died a very short time after giving birth to their baby, and so Joel was left a widower at the young age of 34. Just a year later he married for a second time, to Mary Bean, but the marriage remained childless – the 1841 census states that Mary was 55 at the time, while Joel was twenty years younger – the difference in age would certainly account for the lack of further children!

Pigot’s Directory of 1835 mentions Joel Orchard, of Butter Cross, Tenbury, as a Tallow Chandler.

In 1846 Joel died leaving his daughter in uncertain circumstances (his second wife Mary disappeared from the picture entirely). Eight-year-old Hannah was sent to live with her paternal aunt, Mary Orchard, who is recorded in the next census as “a landed proprietress”. Although Aunt Mary would have reared Hannah, and in spite of having enough resources to keep a dairy maid, Hannah is shown on the 1851 census as a house maid – perhaps Aunty Mary wanted to make sure Hannah would be able to survive in the world by herself.

Only a year later, Hannah’s life changed considerably when Aunt Mary married William Vickress (my great-great-great-grandfather’s eldest brother), and settled in the small village of Marden, Herefordshire; although the marriage did not produce any issue, it did prove key to Hannah’s existence, as we will see shortly. Hannah was kept on as a sort of adoptive-daughter and companion to her aunt and new uncle, and at first seems to have stopped working altogether – perhaps as it was no longer economically necessary. However, as she got older, and following the untimely death in 1870 of her uncle, due to asthma, Hannah appears to have gone into service once again, and by 1871, she was working in Bodenham, in the household of a Mrs Honest. For a time, life must have seemed to repeat itself for Hannah and her lonely aunt.

Hannah might well have ended up a spinster until the end of her days, were it not for the fact that in the late 1870’s she accepted the advances of Alfred Vickress. Alfred was probably an old acquaintance of hers, as he was the youngest brother of her late uncle-by-marriage, William Vickress. Despite the generational gap, the pair were relatively close in age (only eight years apart), and it is quite possible that her Aunt Mary helped to arrange what would become the second union between a Vickress and an Orchard. The pair were married in 1877, and from then on Hannah would be not only her Aunt Mary’s niece, but also her sister-in-law. The couple would remain in Marden for the duration of their lives, in the company of their widowed aunt/sister-in-law Mary, who died thirteen years later.

While her husband earned a living as a master carpenter, Hannah ceased to work in order to bring up her two children: William Alfred Orchard Vickress and Sarah Mary Jane Vickress. The years went by peacefully and largely uneventfully. Aunt Mary died in her mid-70s in 1883. A few years later, in 1900 Hannah’s husband Alfred passed away suddenly due to syncope, leaving her in charge of their house, Litmarsh Farm, and their two children. Her last years were brightened by her son’s marriage and the arrival of two granddaughters, who perpetuated the Vickress-Orchard line into the 20th century. In 1915, Hannah died peacefully aged 77.

Litmarsh Farm, formerly owned by the Vickresses.

Hannah’s only son, William Alfred Orchard Vickress, was a farmer by profession, and inherited Litmarsh from his mother. His marriage to Alice Maria Taylor, daughter of a local inn-keeper, seems to have been harmonious, and was soon blessed by the arrival of two daughters: Violet and Rose Jane. Then, quite suddenly, matters changed dramatically in the late 1920’s. On 30th April 1927 William Alfred went to the cider mill next to his house in Marden, where he was joined shortly after breakfast by Thomas Bown, a one-armed seventy-five-year-old man who had been lodging in Litmarsh for the last six months. The reasons for what happened next are left unexplained, but further circumstantial evidence could suggest Bown and William Alfred’s youngest daughter Rose Jane may have become intimate. According to press clippings from the period, money was suggested to be at the root of the problem, and the relationship between Vickress and Bown had consequently been strained for some time. Whatever the case, Bown’s subsequent actions were deemed by the coroner’s inquest to be the result of insanity.

Thomas Bown confronted William Alfred with a gun, and shot him in the face. Upon hearing the noise, William Alfred’s wife and daughter Rose Jane (twenty-one years of age, unmarried and heavily pregnant) rushed to the barn, where Bown attempted to shoot the latter. The young woman was able to escape unharmed and seek help from a Mr Taylor (likely a relation of her mother’s) next door, but by the time the neighbour arrived all he saw was Bown pointing the gun under his chin and pulling the trigger, killing himself instantly. William Alfred was badly wounded but miraculously still alive, and was rushed to hospital in Hereford, where he died on the following day, 1st May. Only a fortnight later, his daughter Rose Jane, who had narrowly escaped death, gave birth to her son Reginald. The identity of the boy’s father remains unknown – I suspect Bown may have been having an affair with young Rose Jane, and an argument between him and her father could have been the cause for the Marden double tragedy, but this is nothing more than speculation, and we may never know the truth.

Despite the tragedy, Rose Jane remained in Marden, where she brought up her son with the help of her mother Alice. In 1931 her sister Violet, who had been living in Hereford for a number of years, also gave birth to an illegitimate child, Iris Mary Vickress, but before the year was out Violet had died due to a “tuberculous ulceration of the colon”. It appears that there was some pressure to give both children (Reginald, 4, and his baby cousin Iris Mary) up for adoption. It seems Rose Jane refused to be parted from her son, but Iris Mary, on the other hand, was taken away and put into one of Dr Barnardo’s homes for children.

Letters written two decades later testify that Iris Mary and her aunt Rose Jane did not see each other often, but enjoyed a warm relationship. Iris Mary seems to have done rather well in the home she was put in, located in Woodford, just north of London. Her letters to her aunt relate how she was put through college and then began working for the civil service in 1949. Her last letter, dated 1951, was written in Cardiff on board the ship Campania, where Iris Mary was working. The vessel had been decommissioned following the end of the war and refitted to host the Sea Travelling Exhibition travelling from Southampton, Dundee, Newcastle, Hull, Plymouth, Bristol, Cardiff, Belfast, Birkenhead and Glasgow. In this letter, Iris Mary asks her aunt whether the latter would be able to travel down to visit the ship while it was docked in Cardiff. Whether Iris Mary ever got to see her aunt in Cardiff or Marden is a mystery.

The Campania in 1951, from where Iris Mary Vickress wrote her last letter to her aunt.

Rose Jane Vickress died in the early 1960’s, leaving her property to her only son Reg. Her niece Iris Mary, on the other hand, seems to have settled down far from her birthplace, and in 1953 married Donald Toon; their twins Donna and Paul were born three years later. Communications between the Toons and the Vickresses seem to have ceased several decades ago. Today, Reg’s only son continues to live in Marden, close to the farm where his great-grandfather was fatally shot in 1927. Litmarsh Farm still exists, and is now a bed & breakfast.


I would like to thank Les Vickress and his family for graciously providing me with valuable information about this branch of the family, which has enabled me to write this article. I would also like to take this opportunity to reach out to Iris Mary Toon (née Vickress) or any of her relatives, if they are interested in reconnecting with her family.

Posted in 1841 Census, 1851 Census, 1861 Census, 1871 Census, 1881 Census, 1891 Census, 1901 Census, 1911 Census, Adoption, Birth, Death, England, Genealogy, Herefordshire, Hope-under-Dinmore, Marden, Marriage, Murder | Leave a comment

The Peripatetic Caldwells

A few weeks ago I told you about my Morris/Hodges relatives and how their constant moves across Herefordshire led me to uncover a seemingly unorthodox family tree. Now I am turning my attention to the relatives of my grandmother’s maternal grandmother, the Vickresses (if you have never heard of the surname, don’t worry, it’s extremely unusual!). One of my great-great-grandmother’s many aunts, called Mary Ann Vickress, married into the Caldwell family, and it is they who have lately captured my interest.

The church of Hope-under-Dinmore, Herefordshire, where Mary Ann Vickres was christened. Source: Wikipedia.

Mary Ann Vickress was the second child (and first daughter) born to William and Elizabeth Vickress. She was born in the village of Hope-under-Dinmore, in Herefordshire, in early 1813, and was baptised shortly afterwards, on Tuesday, 2 February. John Taylor, Perpetual Curate of Hope-under-Dinmore, performed the ceremony.

Mary Ann’s family was large and I imagine fairly respectable, but economically very modest. Her parents would go on to have a total of twelve children, who were fed thanks to her father’s wages as a humble carpenter/joiner. The family were in all likelihood religious, given that both Mary Ann’s maternal grandfather and her great-grandfather had been parish clerks of Hope-under-Dinmore for many years. One can surmise that the strict moral code typical of 19th-century England would have applied to Mary Ann as much as to any of her younger sisters.

In 1834, when Mary Ann was just a twenty-one-year-old servant girl, that strict moral code was shattered when it was revealed that she was pregnant. Being unmarried, one can imagine that her parents – if they were indeed as strict and moralistic as later Victorians would turn out to be – would have been displeased, or at least surprised, by such a revelation, but far from shunning Mary Ann or her baby, they must have accepted and acknowledged the fact that she was about to give birth to their first grandchild. And so, in early 1835, Mary Ann gave birth to a boy, whom she named Edward. The child was baptised in the church of Hope-under-Dinmore on 3 March, without the father’s name being recorded.

The 1835 baptism entry for Edward Vickress, later Edward Caldwell.

The identity of little Edward’s father may never be known for certain, but it seems likely that the culprit may have been a twenty-one-year-old cooper named Joseph Caldwell, who was the same age as Mary Ann and came from the village of Yazor. The two had probably begun an affair which, for whatever reason, they had been unable to materialise into marriage, but things seemed to have changed by 1837, when Mary Ann found herself unmarried and pregnant for the second time in her life!

On this occasion her family may have added the necessary pressure to make her marry the child’s father – or perhaps it was Joseph, by now a bit older and wiser, who decided to do “the right thing” and duly married Mary Ann. The wedding took place on 17 April 1837, and was witnessed by one James Brewer and Mary Ann’s mother, Elizabeth Vickress,  whose shaky hand signed the marriage register. The groom was illiterate and thus signed with a cross – but I was pleasantly surprised to discover Mary Ann was able to write her name, implying she had at least received a minimum of education!

A mere five months later Mary Ann gave birth to her second son, whom she and Joseph named William (likely in honour of Mary Ann’s father). Edward, her eldest, would from then on use the surname Caldwell – suggesting he may have been informally adopted, or otherwise legitimised by his mother’s subsequent marriage to his unacknowledged father. Whatever the case, the Caldwells remained in Hope-under-Dinmore, within close distance of Mary Ann’s family, for a number of years. In 1839 Mary Ann gave birth to a daughter, whom she called Elizabeth, after which the family of five moved to the village of Saint Margaret’s, in the old hundred of Ewyas Lacy (which was abolished in 1888).

Through subsequent censuses, we learn that Mary Ann and her husband welcomed more children into the family. A son, James, was born in 1841 – although, like in Elizabeth’s case, no apparent birth record exists – followed by Thomas, who sadly died less than a year later. His birth was followed by that of a girl, Ann. She has proven rather difficult to investigate, as no girl under that name appears to be living with her parents in 1851. There is, however, a girl called Drusilla whose age fits perfectly with Ann’s – and given that Drusilla was an old family name among the Vickresses, I think Ann and Drusilla were one and the same person – strangely, no birth or death record appears for a Drusilla Caldwell, but we’ll come back to Ann/Drusilla shortly.

By the late 1840’s, the Caldwells had moved from Herefordshire to Sedgley, a part of Lower Gornall sandwiched between Wolverhampton and Dudley. The move was probably prompted by Joseph’s need of employment, and expanding industrial centres meant that the possibility of finding work as a master cooper and pike-helve maker was higher there than in the countryside. The family settled in an area called Springs Mere, which was pock-marked with coal, tin and ironstone mines. It was in Sedgley, in the historically eventful year of 1848, that the couple’s seventh child, a daughter named Selina, was born.

The 1850’s would prove to be a decade of huge personal losses for Mary Ann. In mid-1851, not long after the census was taken, Mary Ann gave birth to another son, whom she named Thomas in memory of the son she had previously lost. Sadly, the boy only lived a few short months. The following year news reached her that her father had passed away.  1853 was a bittersweet year for Joseph and Mary Ann, as in the first quarter they welcomed a new daughter, Jane (so named very probably in honour of one of Mary Ann’s unmarried sisters). Later that same year, however, their elder daughter, seven-year-old Ann (aka Drusilla) died in tragic circumstances when her clothes accidentally caught fire, and she died due to her injuries. An inquest was duly held.

The tragedy was somewhat compounded by the arrival of a new daughter, Emma Matilda, in 1855, but the unfortunate girl fatally fell ill with smallpox when she was just over a year old – her death certificate states she had not been inoculated. Only a year later, her elder sister Jane also died of convulsions without there being a medical attendant at hand.

The church of St Chad’s, in Sedgley, near which the Caldwells lived during the 1850’s.

Following this string of personal losses, it is little wonder that the family decided to move back to Herefordshire – perhaps the experience of living near a great city, surrounded by pollution and insalubrious working conditions, which posed a threat to their children’s health, had been too much to bear. Possibly the loss of five children – four of whom had died during their stay in Lower Gornall – made Joseph and Mary Ann yearn for their native Herefordshire.

As the Caldwells made their way back home, their elder children began to lead adult lives of their own. Edward, the child whose birth had preceded his parents’ marriage, seems to have gone off into the army – he turns up in the 1871 census listed as an invalid soldier. Tracing him on the 1861 census has so far proved impossible, suggesting he may not even have been on British soil at the time. Military records available online do not appear to be connected with him, so there is no way to know how or where he got his injuries. He returned to live under his parents’ roof and became an agricultural labourer, but he seems to have led a lonely existence after their deaths. Unmarried, and possibly suffering from his old war wounds, he ended up in the Hereford workhouse, where he spent the remainder of his life. He died there in 1916, at the age of 81.

Joseph and Mary Ann’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth, seems to have mirrored her mother’s life in more than one way. She likely went into service by the time she was in her late teens and, like Mary Ann, became pregnant while still unmarried. The father, whoever he was, probably did not take any responsibility for Elizabeth or their son, who was given the name Thomas Edward Caldwell. In time, however, Elizabeth married a man called Robert Laidler, and settled in Sunderland, County Durham (it is unclear if they met up north after Elizabeth had given birth to her baby). The marriage remained childless but Mr Laidler raised Thomas Edward as his own – in time, Thomas Edward Caldwell would name his eldest son George Robert in honour of his stepfather. Elizabeth eventually died in Sunderland in 1917, followed by her husband a year later. Her son Thomas Edward passed away in Sunderland in 1938, leaving a wife and three children (an additional pair of twins had died young). Their descendants, who still live in the north-east of England, perpetuated Elizabeth’s line down into the 20th century.

Joseph and Mary Ann’s son James, who like his father became a helve maker, also married and left descendants. In time he settled in Wales, where he passed away at the relatively young age of 55. By the 1910s several of his many grandchildren had already been born, and I’ve been able to trace some of them on the 1939 Register.

Extract of the death certificate for Mary Ann Caldwell, née Vickress.

As for Selina, James’s only surviving younger sister, she married a man with a fabulously unusual name called Walwyn Brian Thomas Trumper Wade, by whom she had three sons (one died young) and two daughters. It was Selina who took care of her parents Joseph and Mary Ann until their deaths (Joseph passed away in 1879, and Mary Ann in 1880 due to dropsy and problems related to the liver and the heart). Once her parents were no longer around, the Wades had no apparent reason to stay in Herefordshire, and moved to Newport, in Wales, where Selina lived until her death in 1921 – the last surviving of her parents’ children.

In little over two generations, Mary Ann Caldwell’s children and grandchildren had moved to very different areas of the country. Today, their descendants can be found in Monmouthshire and County Durham, although I am doubtful that they even know of each other’s existence. Who knows, perhaps this article will help them to reconnect one day!

Posted in 1841 Census, 1851 Census, 1861 Census, 1871 Census, 1939 UK Register, Death, Genealogy, Herefordshire, Hope-under-Dinmore, Staffordshire, Wales, Women | Leave a comment

The confusing story of Henry Hodges and Catherine Morris

I remember years ago when I first researched my great-great-grandfather’s eldest sister, Catherine Morris, that I didn’t find her story particularly interesting. She married, had children, and then died. At first it was all rather dull and straightforward – or so it seemed! It wasn’t util very recently that her story seemed to have been slightly more complicated, revealing what appeared to have been a very unusual and unconventional existence with a few unexpected twists along the away.

Catherine was born in Kinnersley, in rural Herefordshire, in 1849; she was baptised on 4 May that same year. She was the first child born to her parents, Samuel and Ellen (Mound) Morris, who soon thereafter moved to the nearby parish of Norton Cannon, where their next son, Samuel (my great-great-grandfather) would be born just days after the 1851 census was taken. According to the very same census, little Catherine was left behind to live with her paternal grandparents and her as-yet unmarried aunt Mary, a 31 year-old dressmaker.

The 1861 census shows ten year-old Catherine living with her parents, who had once again relocated back to Kinnersley. The family had grown considerably by this time, as two more children had joined the Morrises’ nursery, while a third brother had died in infancy.

Catherine’s whereabouts in 1871 remain something of a mystery. She may well be the Catherine Morris listed as a 26 year-old milliner lodging in the house of a Mr and Mrs Llewelyn in Ross-on-Wye, on the south-east of the county – but her age is slightly off, and perhaps more importantly, her place of birth is given as Fownhope, not Kinnersley (admittedly Fownhope and Kinnersley are next to each other). However, the theory that this is our Catherine might be supported by evidence found in the next census return.

For the first time, the 1881 census shows Catherine (by now Catherine Hodges) as a married woman. Her age and place of birth are consistent with the information previously mentioned. Delving into the copy of the Herefordshire marriages index I have on file, I discovered that on 17 June 1872 she had married a man called Henry Hodges. The wedding took place in the village of Linton, not far from Ross-on-Wye, and it was there that the couple began what later became a rather extensive family: George was born in 1873, but sadly died shortly afterwards; Ernest Henry was born in 1874, followed by Beatrice in 1877, Edith Mary in 1880 and Hetty (also known as Ethel Minnie), who was born in late 1889. An additional child must have been born to the couple at some point, given that in the 1911 census Henry and Catherine declared to have had six children in the course of their marriage, two of whom were no longer alive at the time.

Catherine Morris, by now Catherine Hodges, living in Linton in 1881 with her husband and children.

Henry and Catherine Hodges lived in Linton for an unknown number of years. It appears that Henry’s work as an innkeeper of the Alma Inn in Linton did not go as well as expected, and an unexplained change in their circumstances seems to have precipitated their move to Henry’s native Woolhope, a village further north, about half way between Ledbury and Hereford. It is there that the family can be found on the 1891 census, with Henry’s profession given as a humble agricultural labourer.

The situation seems to have changed very little by the time the 1901 census was taken ten years later, and as their children gradually left home and founded families of their own, Henry and Catherine were left behind to enjoy their last years together. The 1911 census shows them living at Park View, in Woolhope, with their youngest surviving child, Ethel Minnie, who was about to marry a smallholder named John G. Ryland.

On the face of it, the end of Henry and Catherine’s story appears to be much like any other, in that it seems pretty uneventful: Henry passed away in 1916, at the advanced age of 76, having suffered from heart problems for some time, while his widow, my great-great-great-aunt Catherine, survived him by another twelve years, dying in 1928 in her mid-70s. As I have a penchant for causes of death, I sent for Catherine’s death certificate, which revealed a very sad outcome to what I had foolishly assumed had been a perfectly ordinary existence: Catherine died at the age of 76 due to “senile decay” in Burghill Mental Hospital, also known as St Mary’s Psychiatric Hospital, which was demolished in the 1990’s. She had been interned there for a very short period (I recently ordered a copy of her medical record from Herefordshire Records Office), and her last address is given as St Owen’s Cross, Hentland, Ross-on-Wye, which is a mere ten miles from Woolhope. Her end was certainly a far cry from that of her sister-in-law, my great-great-grandmother Elizabeth Morris, who was cared for by her children until she passed away.

Catherine Hodges’s death certificate confirms where and when she died, her cause of death, and her status as the widow of Henry Hodges.

My interest in the Hodges family seemed to be growing, and so I turned my attention to Catherine’s husband Henry and his pre-marital life – which, as we shall see, does not appear to have been as straightforward as it seemed.

On the face of it, Henry Hodges consistently states in every census following his marriage (1881-1911) to have been born in Woolhope. As noted previously, his profession changed from innkeeper in 1881 to agricultural labourer in subsequent entries, but is otherwise unremarkable. His age, however, is harder to make out. In 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 he stated to have been 46, 53, 57 and 74 respectively, signifying a variation of no less than nine years on which he may have been born (1835, 1838, 1844 and 1837)!

Fortunately, there is a very limited number of men called Henry Hodges born in Woolhope during the right time period who could have been the man married to Catherine Morris in 1872. As the baptism records are not available online, I was left to do some very accurate guesswork in order to find out more about his family origins.

If we believe the information on most of the census returns, Henry would have been born in the mid-1830’s – in which case the only possible candidate who fits the bill is a Henry Hodges who makes his first appearance on the 1841 census: an eight-year-old boy living in Woolhope with his parents, farmers Michael and Rebecca Hodges. Ten years on, the same individual, now a young man in his late teens, can be traced on the census living in Dymock, Gloucestershire, an apprentice butcher living in the house of William Cummins. By 1861, 26-year-old Henry seems to have succeeded in becoming a butcher in his own right, and is listed as a slaughterman living in the house of a Mr Joseph Jarrett.

However, if we follow his tracks to the next (1871) census, we instantly stumble across a new clue. Henry – now claiming to be 40 and born in Woolhope, is listed as a beer retailer and living in a pub called (coincidentally?) The Butcher’s Arms (which still exists today). Even more surprisingly, Henry appears listed with his wife Louisa and their infant daughter Ellen.

Henry Hodges listed on the 1871 census, living at The Butcher’s Arms, Woolhope, with his wife Louisa and their eldest daughter.

Louisa’s existence was certainly news to me. I had not thought of the possibility of Henry having been married before he wedded Catherine Morris in 1872, but it’s not such an unusual occurrence to find our relatives having more than one spouse during their lifetime, is it? What’s strange about this is that in the next (1881) census Louisa Hodges is still very much alive – and not only that, but she appears to be living in Woolhope with Henry and their increasing brood of children! Hang on. This does not tally in with my previous findings, where I had located Henry Hodges on the 1881 census living in the village of Linton with his wife Catherine Morris and their children. So, could I have mixed up my Henrys and have mistakenly researched the wrong man?

The source of my confusion: Henry Hodges’s “second” entry in the 1881 census, living in Woolhope with his wife Louisa and their children.

It was time to revisit the pre-1881 census and try to find two Henrys born in Woolhope roughly at the same time, but it was to no avail, as every time I ended up locating the same Henry who appeared to have married a woman called Louisa sometime before 1871.

I then decided to get to the bottom of the mystery by looking up this “second” Henry Hodges and his wife Louisa in the 1891 census – and found nothing. It was only when searching for Louisa individually that I found what I can only describe as an uncanny coincidence – and I’m not even sure if it is a coincidence at all! Louisa Hodges, by then a widow, is listed living in Woolhope – literally next door to “my” Henry Hodges and his wife Catherine! What on earth is going on? Did the two Henry Hodges’ families end up living next to each other…? Or are we talking about one and the same man, maintaining two families who, amazingly, live cheek by jowl next to each other? Surely a death for a Henry Hodges registered between 1881 and 1891 would dispel my doubts, but alas, I can find no obvious reference to a death during that time frame which could confirm the death of the “second” Henry.

The 1891 census shows Henry Hodges and his wife Catherine living at Court Farm, in Woolhope, while Louisa Hodges lives “next door” at The Butcher’s Arms.

The fact that Henry’s profession fluctuates from butcher to innkeeper and then agricultural labourer (if we take him to be one and the same man), and the fact that as a publican he lived in an inn called The Butcher’s Arms, plus the fact there seems to have been only one Henry Hodges born during the 1830’s in Woolhope, seems to indicate we are indeed dealing with one individual who, somehow, managed to maintain appearances and paid for the upkeep of two large families at the same time!

I then tried to look at the situation from another angle, in a final attempt to clarify matters for good. Perhaps the marriage certificate for both unions (Henry Hodges and Louisa X, and Henry Hodges and Catherine Morris) would confirm not only the groom’s father’s name, but also the groom’s marital status at the time. I sent for a copy of Henry’s 1872 marriage entry to my relative Catherine Morris, and while I waited for the document, I was lucky enough to track down the marriage for Henry Hodges to Louisa Mailes on someone’s family tree on Although their union took place in April 1865 in Newington, in distant Surrey, I know this is our couple not only because of the groom’s father’s name, Michael Hodges, a gentleman (no longer a farmer, as per the 1841 census) but also because the GRO Index confirms Louisa’s maiden name at every entry for their children’s births.

Henry Hodge’s 1865 marriage to Louisa Mailes, which confirms his profession as well as his father’s name.

Before receiving the marriage certificate for Henry Hodges and Catherine Morris, I considered the possibility that Henry may have divorced Louisa Mailes. Divorce was not only rare in those days, but also looked upon as an attack on social norms, so it would not be unusual, in that day and age, if Louisa had wishes to pass off as a widow instead of a divorcee. And even if they had divorced, the relationship between Henry and his first wife may have been cordial, for the sake of their children, which might explain why they ended up living next door to each other as per the 1891 census.

The theory of the divorce, however, does not seem to hold if one looks at the children that Henry fathered over the years. Following his marriage to Louisa Mailes, Henry fathered no no less than seven children: Ellen Elizabeth (1866), Michael Henry (1868), Ada (1871), Annie (1873), William Richard (1876), Garrett (1879) and Tracey Allan Hodges (1881). All I can say is that, if the marriage did break down, then they seem to have had a very productive union beforehand.

But the divorce theory seems even less likely if one considers the fact that Henry Hodges and Catherine Morris were married in 1872 (at a time when he was supposed to father his fourth child by his first wife). Even more damming to my divorce theory is that, while Louisa Hodges was having children, Catherine had started having hers: George (1873), Ernest Henry (1874), Beatrice (1877), Edith Mary (1880) and Hetty/Ethel Minnie (1889).

Finally, the flap on my letterbox announced the arrival of Catherine’s marriage to the mysterious Henry Hodges. In the space of a few seconds I would discover whether Louisa Mailes and Catherine Morris had married the same man or two different men with the same name, whether he was a bachelor, and what his father’s name was.

Alas, circumstantial evidence and my own imagination had led me to bark up the wrong tree. What could have been the main plot to a very good detective story was nothing more than a seemingly remarkable coincidence. Catherine’s 1872 marriage certificate to Henry Hodges states that the groom was 30 (so, born circa 1842), a bachelor and (damaging my theory almost to the point of no return) the son of Thomas – not Michael – Hodges.

Extract of Henry Hodges’s 1872 marriage to my relative, Catherine Morris. His father’s name is given as Thomas Hodges.

I had to hide my disappointment by trying to look at the evidence as coolly as I could. Let’s imagine for a second that Henry Hodges was indeed bigamous. Surely he would have wanted to cover his tracks, and deliberately gave false information about his marital status and his father’s name – but surely, would he not have tried to assume a new identity altogether, bigamy being a punishable offence? It is possible that he was indeed the son of Michael Hodges, and that he’d invented the identity of a false father so no one comparing the two marriage certificates could have thought it was the same individual. And if this is indeed what he did, then he must have been a very clever cookie. Whilst on the Newington marriage certificate in 1865 (for his marriage to Louisa Mailes) we see Henry’s rather elegant hand signing his name; on the Linton marriage certificate of 1872 he adds a simple cross instead of his name. Again, was he covering his tracks, avoiding to put pen to paper and leave a trace which might incriminate him as a bigamist? Or was the man marrying Catherine Morris in 1872 illiterate and unable to sign his own name?

Alas, much as I want to believe that Henry was married bigamously to Catherine Morris, I don’t actually think he did, considering children were being born to each marriage more or less simultaneously. It seems possible that my Henry Hodges was the son of a Thomas Hodges – I have found a Thomas Hodges living in Woolhope around the same time that Henry would have been born – admittedly he would have been a young father, but that is not necessarily a stumbling block to this new theory. This Thomas was in fact an older brother of the Henry Hodges who married Louisa Mailes in 1865, and would therefore have been an uncle to his namesake nephew who married Catherine Morris seven years later. An uncle and a nephew marrying within the same decade? Improbable, but by no means impossible! And a family connection could well explain why the uncle’s widow ended up living next door to the nephew’s family at the same time!

One final stab at trying to locate Henry Hodges in earlier censuses (pre-1881) may well have given me the answer to the mystery. A possible candidate, hereto unknown to me, seems to have been hiding in the census, and that is a Henery (sic) Hodges, an agricultural labourer who appears in the 1871 census with his widowed mother Mary, a farmer. Although Henry does not seem to be living with his mother ten years earlier, as per the 1861 census, she does appear to be living in the household of a Mr Thomas Hill, a 70 year-old widowed farmer. Ten years before (1851), Mary is again listed as Thomas Hill’s housekeeper and, perhaps tellingly, there are children living with them: Sarah Hodges (15), who I take to be Mary’s daughter, and two sons, Richard (14) and Henry Hill (11). This young Henry may well be the same Henry Hodges who has led me on this wild goose chase all along. His mother Mary was already living with Thomas Hill by 1841, but there is no sign of a Mrs Hill. Thomas Hill’s four children, the youngest being only 4) are listed in the census that year, as is Mary’s infant son (Thomas, aged 1).

Henry Hodges on the 1871 census, with his “widowed” mother Mary.

It does not take a huge leap of the imagination to make an educated guess at what happened. In about 1840, Mary Hodges, whether a genuine widow or simply posing as one for decorum’s sake, went to live at the house of recently-widowed Thomas Hill, probably to look after his children. Whether she had children of her own by then or not is difficult to say without access to baptism records, but subsequent censuses seem to suggest that Mary Hodges and Thomas Hill may have had children together. Among them would have been “my” Henry Hodges, who thirty years later claimed that “Thomas Hodges” was his father. It seems likely that by mentioning a “legitimate” father on his marriage certificate, Henry was giving us a clue as to the true identity of his biological father, the man with whom after all his mother had lived for over forty years but who, for reasons unknown to us, never became her husband.

What remains now, to prove my theory, is to find a birth or a baptism record for the two Henry Hodges mentioned in this story, and see if their ages and parentage in any way match up the remaining evidence. Alas, Woolhope’s parish records are not available online, and as I am not biologically related to either of them, I think I will put off ordering the certificates until another time. Nevertheless, I am satisfied that my findings have led me to conclude that we are indeed dealing with two different men, and that one of them was very probably illegitimate (the fact that a Henry Michael Hodges was registered in 1843, with no maiden name given under the corresponding section for the mother, further supports my theory of the illegitimate father later covered up on the son’s marriage certificate).

After this roller coaster of a genealogical journey, I can’t feel but longing to meet a descendant of Catherine Morris and Henry Hodges. While there seem to be plenty of family trees online displaying the descendants of Henry Hodges and Louisa Mailes, I can find nothing on Catherine’s direct family. He eldest surviving son, Ernest Henry Hodges, became a domestic gardener, and died aged 68 in 1943, having had two sons: Ernest Andrew Hodges (1900-1900) and Richard Henry Hodges (1903-?). On the other hand, Catherine’s eldest daughter, Beatrice, married Harry Samuel Jones, of Leominster, by whom she too had two sons: Henry Morris Jones (1904-1979) and Eric Ernest Jones (1905-1983), but I haven’t found conclusive evidence yet to suggest either of them fathered any children. Unlike Beatrice, her sister Edith Mary had no children from her marriage to Harry Graham, whom she married in 1917. Her sister Hetty, on the other hand, did have a large family: in 1911 she married her first husband, John Gwilliam Ryland, by whom she had six children: three of them, Roland Graham Ryland, Trevor Garnet Ryland and Wallace J. Ryland, survived into adulthood and went on to marry, while three others (Douglas V. Ryland and twin girls Catherine and Ruby Ryland) died very shortly after birth. After becoming a widow, Hetty married her second husband, Rollings Creed, but the marriage remained childless. If there is anyone out there remotely related to any of these distant cousins of mine, I would love to hear from them.

St George’s church, Woolhope, where the Hodges were very probably christened two centuries ago.

Posted in 1841 Census, 1851 Census, 1861 Census, 1871 Census, 1881 Census, 1891 Census, 1901 Census, 1911 Census, Archives, Bigamy, Birth, Death, Dymock, England, Genealogy, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Marriage | 5 Comments