Years ago, when I first started investigating the origins of my Allen ancestors, I inevitably turned to the Internet for help. The 1841, 1851 and 1861 census records I had access to at the time revealed that my most remote ancestor, Edward Allen, lived in Colwall (Herefordshire) with his wife and their four children: Ann (who only made it as far as the 1841 census, since she died two years later), John (born in 1842), William Henry (b.1845) and Clara (b.1849). They, like their parents, were listed as having been born in Colwall. With that much information I thought it would be fairly easy to trace a marriage for Edward and Ann, and in the face of it, it seemed fairly likely that they would have married locally.
My hopes were dashed when marriage transcripts, which are available in a number of sources including this fabulous page with information provided by Sheila Marsh, revealed that there was no marriage between Edward Allen and Ann X around the correct time-frame.
My original sin
I therefore ventured forth and shared my frustration with fellow researchers online, hoping someone might have access to different sources which might help. Looking for a marriage can be tricky, especially as the information on marriage certificates dating back to the 19th century are notoriously opaque when it comes to information about the bride and groom’s originas (i.e. only the respective fathers’ names are mentioned, there is no detail given about the mothers or even the couple’s place of birth, with just their current abode mentioned). As a consequence, you may find yourself ordering the wrong marriage certificate just because the names and place seem to match, and unknowingly be ingoring the correct document.
An anonymous online user at the time kindly did a search for me and found a transcript that confirmed that an Edward Allen married Ann Lewis in 26 March 1838 in the parish of Withington, Herefordshire. It was, in fact, the only marriage that fitted the bill around the period I was focusing on, and the only marriage which took place between an Edward Allen and a woman called Ann in all of Herefordshire. Interestingly, the bride’s father was a Thomas Williams, which seemed to suggest that Ann had been married to a man called Lewis before she married my ancestor. I blindly added the information to my tree without thinking twice. That was to be my original sin.
The mystery begins
Having a maiden name for Ann meant I could at least now look for her baptism back in Colwall, where, according to the (not one but three) census records, she had been born. Frustratingly, I drew a blank. No Ann Williams was baptised in Colwall around the right time (1808-1810, if we trust the ages given for Ann in each census entry), and moreover, no couple with the surname Williams was having children in Colwall at the time. The only possibility, which I have long discarded for lack of supporting evidence, was a couple called Thomas Williams and his wife Mary (née Thomas), who married in 1816 and had three sons. I did consider the possibility that Ann was born to Mary as an illegitimate child, and was then either adopted or recognised as Thomas Williams’ daughter once her parents married. As logical as this possibility would seem, no baptism for an Ann Thomas or any other illegitimate Ann, daughter of Mary, was recorded in Colwall at the time.
For years I concluded that Ann must have therefore been baptised elsewhere, but she gave Colwall as her birthplace in the censuses either because a) she was actually born there, or b) she had lived there for practically all her life. This, of course, made looking for her baptism doubly difficult.
The search drags on
Inspired by other tales of victory over genealogical brick-walls, I often went back to Ann in the hope that I would find something about her or her immediate family which could give me a clue: her father’s will, a possible relative staying with her on census night, alternative spellings of her name… Frustratingly, nothing ever turned up. It’s as if before she married Edward Allen, Ann had had no life at all. I got so frustrated I even dedicated a blog article to her.
There was, of course, the first marriage to contemplate. Remember that Ann’s name at the time of her marriage to Edward Allen in Withington was not Williams, but Lewis, so there must have been a marriage sometime before 1838. The fact that I was delving into the pre-civil registration era made me realise the search would be far from easy, but still I hoped to find either a marriage between an Ann Williams and a Mr Lewis (likely to have taken place either in Colwall or Withington) or a death for a Mr Lewis in the Withington area (why else would Ann have married there if not because she had set home in that parish after her first marriage took place?). Annoyingly, nothing came up which fitted the details: all possible marriages or deaths were recorded either in the wrong parish or at the wrong time, plus Lewis and Williams are such common names that it was very difficult to actually know if I was on the right track without having access to the original records. Once again, I left Ann there to wait for a miracle.
As the years went by, I started learning about archiving family records, and so began to organise all the information that I have since collected about my family history. It was then that I realised that I did not have a copy of Edward and Ann’s marriage certificate, but the details I had (exact date of marriage, her father’s maiden name) made me feel sure I had actually seen the original document. Frustrated, I recently admitted defeat and decided to fork out the money to order the dreaded marriage certificate. Surely one day I would come across the first copy I had and pull my hair out for not having been more organised.
At length, the certificate arrived last week and I was pleased (and surprised) with the information it contained: firstly, it gave both the bride and the groom’s place of residence as Withington. I had expected to see that in Ann’s case, but for Edward too? This seemed very fishy. The second clue which made my mouth drop was the fact that not only is Ann Lewis mentioned as a widow, but Edward too is mentioned as a widower! And that, I know, is news to me! So, turns out I had never purchased the marriage certificate, or else I would have also looked for Edward’s first wife, and furthermore, it confirms their place of residence as Withington, and not Colwall. Again, something I would have taken into account had I ever had the original certificate.
Although the certificate holds information which fits nicely with the rest of the story (Edward’s father’s name, for instance, is absolutely correct), I started wondering whether I may have been following the wrong track all these years: firstly, the connection with Withington (some 30 miles from Colwall) bore absolutely no apparent connection with the family; second, the fact that the couple’s first child Ann was baptised in Colwall in April 1838, less than a month after her parents’ purported marriage in far away Withington, made me feel distrust the certificate I had before me; thirdly, the lack of matching baptism records for Ann in Colwall in the right time-frame suggested I could well be looking at the wrong couple.
It then dawned upon me: what if Edward Allen and his wife Ann were not married in Herefordshire, but in neighbouring Worcestershire? Colwall is, after all, on the edge of the Malvern Hills, and in many ways people from the area would have felt a stronger connection with Malvern and other towns in Worcestershire than with more distant locations in Herefordshire.
I then searched for a marriage of an Edward Allen and Ann around 1835 (5 years up/5 years down) and came across a rather promising piece of information. A marriage between a Edward Allen and an Ann Roadway took place in the church of St. John the Baptist, Claines, Worcestershire on 21 November 1835. The surname did ring a bell with me, as I know there are Rodways in the Allen family tree (in fact Edward and Ann’s grandson married a Rodway in 1889), so I turned once again to the baptisms in Colwall. And would you believe it, there is an Ann Rodway, daughter of James and Elizabeth, baptised in Colwall on 18 April 1810! This fits perfectly with the census records I have had all these years.
But now is the time to be cautious. Without hard proof, I have decided not to include my most recent find to the family tree until I have confirmation of Ann’s maiden name. After all, Claines is located north of the city of Worcester and is therefore even further from Colwall than Withington! Again, Ann may well have worked there and married her fellow Colwallian suitor in Claines out of convenience. Whatever the case, in a last moment of desperation I turned to fellow genealogist and e-friend Steve Atcherley for help, and he kindly sent me a copy of the transcript he found on FreeReg. Annoyingly, the transcript does not give Colwall as the bride or the groom’s parish – it just says Claines- but that may well have meant that they both lived there at the time (which is entirely possible) and could well have been born in Colwall.
Time to unravel the mystery?
My insatiable appetite for family mysteries has somewhat exceeded my expectations. I need to know whether Ann’s maiden name was indeed Rodway/Roadway, and the only way I can see of actually solving this mystery is by ordering her son’s birth certificate (let us remember that her purported marriage to Edward Allen predates the introduction of civil registration).
The search goes on, and as I place an order for their son’s birth certificate, my heart races at the thought that I may once again have started barking up the wrong tree, or else that I have finally solved a mystery which has lasted many, many years.
Rest assured, I will keep you posted as soon as I know more about my elusive ancestress.
And so, the birth certificate for John Allen (Edward and Ann’s eldest son) arrived on my doorstep. You can imagine the trepidation I felt when I glanced at the scribbled names on the document, only to (happily) verify that Ann’s maiden name had been Rodway! Mystery solved! Time to remove Ann Williams and her father from my family tree, and insert a whole new branch of Rodways which I need to start digging up.