Stumbling upon a brick-wall when you’re researching your family tree is very common. It can prove a difficult mystery to solve, but these situations are after all what make genealogy fascinating – how boring it would be if it was all plain sailing, tracing endless and meaningless names of ancestors which in themselves tell us nothing of who they really were or what they achieved in their own lifetime.
I am happy to say that I have a few brick-walls in my family tree, none of which are presumably impossible to prove. It will probably just take a lot of patience and time to get through them. At the moment, my great-great-great-grandmother is my major cul-de-sac.
Ann Allen (born Ann Williams) was my great-grandfather’s paternal grandmother. As far as I know, no surviving photographs of her exist, but as she died in 1867 this can hardly be surprising, especially since I have found no indication that her family was particularly wealthy, and thus may not have been able to afford to go to a photographer’s studio at a time when photography was still in its early stages.
Ann’s marriage to my ancestor Edward Allen took place in the village of Withington (Herefordshire), only a year after civil registration became compulsory in England. The wedding certificate sheds a bit of light on Ann’s early life, but otherwise her origins are a complete mystery. The same document states that Ann was a widow by the time she married Edward in 1838, and that her previous married name was Lewis. The certificate also reveals her father was a certain Thomas Williams, which is a very common name, a genealogist’s nightmare.
Since Ann died in 1867, she only had time to be registered in the 1841, 1851 and 1861 censuses. In 1841 she was recorded living in her husband’s hometown of Colwall (on the border between Herefordshire and Worcestershire) with husband Edward and their infant daughter, also called Ann, plus a foster daughter aged only six months who was still living under the Allens’ roof ten years later. As the 1841 census does not record the specific place of birth of every individual, but does state if a person was born in the county where the census was taken, it is impossible to know if Ann was actually born in Colwall or elsewhere; she was, however, born in the county of Hereford.
The subsequent censuses for 1851 and 1861 both state she was born in Colwall, but so far I have found no traces of the birth either on Ancestry, FreeREG, FamilySearch or even the parish records for Colwall, which are available online. The absence of a Williams family living in the village at the correct time makes me suspect that Ann was not actually born there. I suspected as much when I saw that she actually married in Withington, a place which as far as I know bears no other connections to the family. Was Ann from Withington then, or did she perhaps move there following her first marriage to the elusive Mr. Lewis? If so, there ought to be a death or a funeral record for this Mr. Lewis before 1838, but as we are talking about pre-civil registration times, the whole thing just gets worse and worse.
Ann’s birth must have taken circa 1809, according to the census entries of 1851 and 1861, which tallies with her death record in 1867. As there are no children from her first marriage mentioned living with her second husband’s family I presume that her first marriage was either childless or else the children born during Ann’s marriage to Mr. Lewis died in infancy. Her second marriage produced four children, three of whom lived to adulthood.
So, as you can see, Ann’s origins and earlier years are almost totally shrouded with mystery. On the one hand, there is no positive indication about her parentage (other than what her marriage certificate says about her father’s name), nor of where and when she was actually born or who her mother was, let alone what her first marriage was like (apart from short-lived) and what happened to her first husband. Yes, I’m afraid Ann is going to linger on my tree for quite some time surrounded by a lot of question marks. Ann is definitely my favourite brick-wall on my tree at the moment.
Do you have any suggestions as to how to find more about her?