Any genealogist, amateur or pro, will always come across a stumbling block during their research, which will somehow prevent them from taking their investigation further. This is what genealogists often refer to as “a family brick wall”.
Often, genealogical brick walls tend to be resolved, although sometimes not as speedily as one would like. This sections is designed to share with you the individual stories which have constituted a long-lasting brick wall in my own research. Can you solve any of these family mysteries?
Samuel Morris – when and where was he baptised and who were his parents?
My four-times great-grandfather Samuel Morris’s origins are something of a mystery. His parentage is as much a mystery as his year of birth, and without a name or a date, I’m stuck for good! Samuel Morris married Ann Cartwright on 7 August 1814 in Kington, Herefordshire (Ann’s hometown) and had three children: Mary (1820), Samuel Cartwright (1823) and Charlotte (1826), all born in Kington. While Ann’s year of birth is consistently given as 1788 in both the 1841 and 1851 census (she died in 1858 aged 69 so, again, a birth year of about 1789), Samuel’s is a bit trickier: in 1841 he is mentioned as being 49 (so born in 1792), in 1851 he is 61 (so born in 1790), in 1861 he is 72 (so born in 1789) and in 1867 he passes away at the age of 79 (so born in 1788). In all Samuel’s year of birth varies from 1788 to 1792. What is more, his place of birth is equally puzzling. In 1841, living in Kington, he is mentioned as being born in the county of Herefordshire; in 1851 he is listed as being from Hereford All Saints, but in 1861 the place of birth changes to Hereford St. Peter! My efforts to find a baptism for Samuel in either parish have drawn a blank every single time, and without a baptism I’m unable to go back on my family tree!
Ann Williams – the mystery of her origins and first marriage
My English ancestor Edward Allen (born in Colwall, Herefordshire in the early 1800s) married a woman called Ann sometime in the 1830’s. I know this because their first child, also called Ann, was born legitimately in Colwall in 1838. Edward’s wife was also born in Colwall around 1809, as consistently indicated on the 1851 and 1861 census. A contact shared information on a likely entry of marriage which took place in Withington, Herefordshire, so I ordered the marriage certificate. It confirmed Ann’s maiden name was Williams (father’s name Thomas Williams), and that she was a widow (married name Lewis). Edward was also listed as a widower on the certificate, but strangely it did not mention either one of them as residing in Colwall at the time. Unfortunately, all attempts to find a marriage certificate or an entry for a marriage among church records for Ann Williams to a Mr Lewis proved fruitless. Even more worryingly, I couldn’t find a baptism for a Ann Williams in Colwall in 1809/1810, nor for an Ann Lewis for that matter. Read here how this mystery was solved.
Mary Elizabeth Vickress – where did she disappear to?
My great-great-grandmother’s first cousin was called Mary Elizabeth Vickress. According to her birth certificate, she was was born on 16 March 1860 in Pensnett (a part of Kingswinford, Staffordshire – now a part of Dudley). Her birth was registered in the Stourbridge registration district, with her surname misspelt as Vickeriss. A year later she was listed on the 1861 census, living on Fox Street, Kingswinford with her father Henry Vickers (sic), her mother Sarah and her elder half-sister Caroline. Although Henry’s surname is also misspelt, his age and place of birth prove he was my great-great-great-grandfather’s younger brother. In 1861 Henry and Sarah had another daughter, Sarah Jane, who sadly died aged three weeks. Ten years later, according to the 1871 census Mary Elizabeth (this time recorded simply as Mary) was recorded as living at 91 Pearson street, Wolverhampton with her parents Henry and Sarah Vickers (sic), and her full siblings Mercy (aged 8), Jane (3) and William H. (2). Sarah would have been pregnant at the time, for that same year she gave birth to another daughter, Susannah, who died aged 4 months. Ten years later, following the deaths not only of her father and her siblings Jane, William H. and Drusilla (born and died in 1873), Mary Elizabeth’s mother and sister Mercy were recorded in the census living together in Wolverhampton; strangely, I haven’t been able to trace Mary Elizabeth herself on the 1881 census. That same year, her mother Sarah died, leaving only Mary Elizabeth and her sister Mercy as the surviving members of their immediate family. In 1885 Mercy, an unemployed domestic servant, gave birth to an illegitimate son who died after living only for two days. Months later, in 1886, Mercy died in the Erdington Workhouse in Birmingham; her will was probated on 11 November 1886: Mary Elizabeth is mentioned as being “of 263 Great Lister street Spinster the sister and one of the next of kin”. Sadly, no further reference to her can be found, including a marriage, death or record of emigration.
Elizabeth Symonds – parentage and origins?
Born presumably in 1719, Elizabeth Symonds married William Allen on 9 October 1751 in Colwall. Transcripts by Herefordshire Family History Society indicate no information on the bride’s place of origin; therefore, she may have been from Colwall, or elsewhere. The couple had the following children: Richard (1752), Elizabeth (1753), William (1755), John (1757), Joseph (1759), Thomas (1760) and Peggy (1762). It is possible that the name of any of their children reflected Elizabeth’s parents’ names, given that her husband’s parents were called Richard and Margaret. In any case, Elizabeth died on 15 November 1795 and was buried in Colwall, being survived by her husband. Her headstone says she was 76 years old, and confirms she was the wife of William Allen (cordwainer), of Evendine, Colwall.
Robert Allen – first marriage?
Born in Colwall in 1821, the youngest son of Thomas and Sarah Allen, Robert married Judith Bond in Colwall in 1858; he was 36, while Judith was 60! They were apparently both widowed at the time, as per a transcription which someone sent me years ago, and while her first marriage has been proved, his remains a mystery. Although Robert’s location on the 1841 census has not been established, he may have been living in Hanley Castle (near Colwall), where he worked as a blacksmith. There is likewise no trace of him in the 1851 census. After his second marriage, he lived in Colwall with his second wife Judith until their deaths. Given Judith’s advanced age at the time of his death, there were no children from his first marriage, but there are no indications that he had children with his first wife either.