Born in the USA

There were two things that sparked my interest in family history from an early age. One was that we were a sociable family and often had visitors. On the whole I called older friends and relations Auntie or Uncle and eventually asked how they were related to me. Some of them were quite distantly related though close in other ways, this led to me eventually drawing up a formal family tree.

“Three cheers for the red, white and blue“

The second thing was that my Great Grandmother Nellie Willis was born in the USA, to recap earlier blog posts, her English father brought her and her sister back to County Durham after their mother died. But she left behind Aunts and a runaway Uncle from her mother’s side of the family. I hoped to eventually find family in the USA and to maybe go out there and visit them, a childish fantasy, but it got me interested in my American cousins.

I have blogged about her Aunt Eliza in Which Elizabeth Halden? and promised more to follow.

What happened to Eliza, sister Mary and elusive brother Edward? Did they fare well in the states? Was there a large family waiting to hear from me their cousin in England (only child of an only child of an only child)?

My blog about Elizabeth shows that she remained in England when her siblings and parents left for the States. She married a miner called Thomas Hiden, I find this slightly odd as her occupation is given as governess and I do wonder how their paths crossed.

Elizabeth is living with Thomas and daughters Rachel Ann and Eliza in the 1851 census, records show the couple also had a daughter Jemima who was born and died between the 1841 and 1851 censuses. I can find no other record for Eliza, certainly not in the Walsall registration district, but it seems she must have died fairly young.

Elizabeth Halden/Hiden/Twigger

After this census the entire family disappears from England, there are no likely deaths for Thomas and he is not the Thomas deported to Australia nor the Thomas married to Rebecca who emigrates to the states.

Elizabeth is not to be found again until 1870 living in Topeka with husband George Twigger and a Josiah Twigger, you will have to take my word for it that this is her, explanations to follow. However, Topeka is the final place where my Great Grandmother lived in the USA and is the place where her mother Rachel Halden (Elizabeth’s sister) is buried. Elizabeth’s age is given as 40 (she is closer to 50) and George aged 36 is described as a farmer. I’m not sure of Josiah’s connection to George but his occupation is labourer, he is too old at 25 to be George’s son.

In the March 1875 census for Topeka, George Twigger is described as a farmer aged, 40 Elizabeth has apparently aged just two years and is now only 42 (although the age is hard to read).

On 18 December 1881 Elizabeth was mentioned in the Topeka Daily Capital because she had some post that needed collecting, I hope it was a Christmas letter and not a bill.

Ten years later on 1 March 1885, the couple can be found in Topeka, George is now a gardener aged 49 and Elizabeth has the more realistic age of 62.

An exciting event in 1891 for Elizabeth was the receipt of her war pension which received two notices in the paper. I suspect at least one of the items is paid advertising for the services of PH Coney war claim attorney. The second article, paid for or not, gives a flavour of Elizabeth’s personality, she also seems happy with her move to the USA, I wonder if she would have felt the same pride under Donald Trump.

Elizabeth ages at a faster rate again according to the 1895 census and on 1 March 1895 Topeka, she can be found, now widowed, living with daughter Rachel Joyce, her age is given as 74.

We can be thankful for a slow news day in October 1897 when the paper reported that Elizabeth was visited by her niece Minnie from another location in Topeka. More of Minnie to follow.

In 1900 Elizabeth is in Pine Street Topeka, living with Rachel Joice and Great Granddaughter Annetta L Joice, her age is now a reasonable 79 and a birth date of December 1820 is given which fits with her UK census record for 1851.

Elizabeth died on 18th April 1901, she is buried with husband George in Topeka cemetery.

Elizabeth’s story poses almost as many questions as it answers.

What happened to Thomas Hiden her first husband?

When and in what country did she marry George Twigger, if at all?

What happened to Elizabeth between 1851 in the UK and the next record in 1870 in Topeka?

And you are probably wondering how I know that Elizabeth Twigger is Elizabeth Halden.

Let’s go back to her children.

The UK census and the birth marriage and death records show that Elizabeth had three daughters, Rachel, Eliza and Jemima, I am not sure about the death of Eliza but it seems that she died young, I can find no trace of her in the USA. Jemima died in the UK aged two.

Which leaves Rachel

Rachel Hiden

A marriage for a Rachael Hilen can be found in the Daily Inter Ocean newspaper on 5 May 1869, she marries a Henry E. Joyce also from Chicago. It is Hilen not Hiden but it was worth checking out Rachel Joyces (or similar spellings) in the USA.

Rachel Joyce appears next in the 1880 census in Bridgport, Fairfield, Connecticut she is widowed, living with an Ephraim Doolittle and his wife Emily, she is working in a tannery. So Rachel’s marriage was relatively short, in fact her husband died on 19th January 1875 in Cook County Illinois and he is buried at Oak Woods cemetery in Chicago. It is odd that Rachel is living in Connecticut but that her husband died in Chicago, however the Joyce family were from Bridgport originally. Further investigation proves that Emily Doolittle nee Joyce was Rachel’s sister-in-law so clearly there was no animosity between Rachel and her husband’s family, this is odd as I will reveal later.

Rachel is next found living with Elizabeth Twigger in the 1895 census in Topeka and this is how I tracked down Elizabeth, although the census doesn’t give their relationship. Both are born in England and Rachel has moved to Topeka from Connecticut so that looks likely that it isn’t another Rachel, also distinctively she is Rachel Ann.

Rachel next appears in the newspaper when she holds a badly attended birthday part for her daughter Jenny, this is the first I have heard of Rachel having a child or children. I do feel sympathy that the bad weather put people off going to the party, I hope Rachel and Jenny weren’t too disappointed, perhaps the newspaper article is a quiet dig to those who didn’t make the effort to attend. More of Jenny to follow.

26 March 1891 Topeka Daily Capital

In 1901 Rachel is living with her mother Elizabeth Twigger and her grandchild four year old Annetta, the census records that she has had two children but only one is living, so another mystery child to be found and who is the parent of little Annetta? (It seems most likely that the child was actually called Anita)

A newspaper article in 1902 reveals that Rachel is selling some household items from her home in Pine Street, Rachel is going through a sad time as Annetta died that year and Rachel’s mother Elizabeth had died in 1901. It seems likely that Rachel was preparing for a move.

And indeed by 1910 Rachel has moved. She is back in Connecticut living in the same house as a German mother and son, although both Rachel (spelt Rachelle) and the mother are described as heads of the household, so maybe the house was split into apartments. This record says that she had three children and that one is living.

In 1920 we find Rachel living in Bridgeport Connecticut with her one surviving child Thomas W Joyce, his wife Ida (nee Buckingham) and their two adult children Louis and Helen. Rachel has reached the age of 73.

The final census for Rachel is 1930 still in Bridgeport with Thomas, Ida and Helen, according to this record she is 84 years old.

Rachel died in Bridgeport on 15 May 1931, she outlived her husband, one child (possibly two) and a grandchild, born in Staffordshire, England she lived in Illinois, Connecticut and Kansas in various stages of her life. She had to put her children in an orphanage while she worked in a tannery to make ends meet but she lived with both her daughter and son in her later years and through the stories of Clara Jenni Joyce and Thomas Willis Joyce which follow we can learn a little more about Rachel.

Thomas W Joyce

Thomas W Joyce is the son of Rachel Hiden and Henry E Joyce, he was born, according to census records around 1871 in Connecticut. The first record I can find of his existence is the 1880 census for Bridgeport Connecticut where he and his younger sister Clara Jenni are in the Bridgeport Protestant Orphan Asylum. I find this most odd as at the same time their mother is living with their paternal Aunt and her husband in the same city. You would have thought that between them they could have cared for two school age children, Rachel was working in a tannery but the children’s Aunt was “keeping house”.

This is even more surprising as a newspaper report from 1892 just short of Thomas’s 21st birthday shows that he and Clara Jenni received a very reasonable legacy of $5000 from their aunt, widow of New York millionaire Daniel B Fayerweather. Another beneficiary is Mrs Ephraim Doolittle, the Aunt their mother was living with while Thomas and Clara were in the orphanage. Mrs Ephraim Doolittle was born Emily Louise Joyce, younger sister of Henry Joyce; Lucy Joyce was the eldest sibling in the family and she became Mrs Fayerweather the benefactor. To put things in perspective $5000 dollars would equate to about $151,971.98 today (2021) around £38,000, not a bad start for a 21 year old.

Newspaper records show that on 24th October 1895 Thomas married Ida E Buckingham and by 1900 he is living with Ida and their two children Louis B Joyce and Helen L Joyce, the family are living at 27 Tom Thumb Street, Bridgeport. (PT Barnum was from Connecticut and first met Tom Thumb in Bridgeport).

PT Barnum was actually Mayor of Bridgeport as was Edward T Buckingham Thomas Joyce’s brother in law. His wife Ida was present at her brother’s inauguration.

Thomas clearly recovered from the above bout of pneumonia as he is recorded in two further censuses. In 1920 he is living with both children, his wife and mother, by 1930 son Louis has left home so Thomas is living with three generations of women, he runs a printing company.

This article records very well the life of Thomas Joyce, unfortunately I am unable to find the source. I’m not sure what to make of the masonry connections but my Grandmother had a book about the masons as I understand her grandfather Thomas Willis had been a mason, maybe it was something he took up while in the states.

Thomas Joyce died on 24th April 1937, from an inauspicious beginning he seemed to live a successful and comfortable life and took care of his mother in her older years, whatever her reason for putting him in the orphanage in his early years, he had clearly forgiven her, but perhaps there was nothing to forgive.

Thomas had two children, a son and a daughter Louis Buckingham and Helen L (I don’t know what the L stands for).

Louis served in the Marine Corps during WW1, from the various documents we learn that he was 6ft tall, slim with brown eyes and light brown hair (maybe a bright brunette like his aunt, see article to follow?). He married twice, first to a Madeleine Craddock who died just four years later, then to Catherine Logan, neither marriage appears to have produced children. Louis was a salesman by profession.

Sister Helen had a brief marriage to an Oliver Martin which ended in divorce and Helen reverted to her maiden name. Helen was a primary school teacher like her mother, she died in 1976.

A rather unfortunate event involving Helen must have been upsetting for the family. An extract from the local paper The Bridgeport Times shows that servant Carrie O. Duffy was arrested for stealing from Helen Joyce. It is a little odd that it is specifically Helen’s money and property as she was living with her mother at the time. Perhaps it was Helen who took the case to court.

Clara Jenny Joyce

Clara Jenny Joyce was born on 25 March 1874 in Chicago, her parents were Henry Joyce and Rachel Hiden. Clara or Jenny as she seems to have been called had a short life and I feel a slightly sad one. Like her brother Thomas she was in an orphanage shortly after her father’s death, but later newspaper reports find her living with her mother Rachel. As previously mentioned Jenny had a poorly attended birthday party which was reported in the local paper.

Aged just 19 Clara Jenny married a James Magill of Hennessy Oklahoma, the wedding is described in lavish terms and was attended by “three to four hundred people” am impressive although vague number. This is clearly the number of people at the church as the reception was at the bride’s home. The bride is described as a ”bright brunette”.

The next news of the couple is the birth of their daughter, Anita. The announcement is made on the 14th January just three days after the birth of Anita’s second cousin once removed my Grandma Winifred Willis Airey. I can’t help but wonder if they would have got on had they ever met!

Jenny and Anita are next mentioned in a Topeka paper in the summer after Anita’s birth when they go to Connecticut for a holiday with relatives and friends.

The next we hear of Jenny is her death which is recorded in December 1896 in the Topeka State Journal. Jenny died in Christ Hospital in Topeka and her address is a Topeka address. I wonder if she had separated from her husband.

Jenny’s rather sad story doesn’t end with her early death, she left behind a daughter less than a year old, so what became of her?

You may remember that Jennie’s mother Rachel was living with her granddaughter Annetta (Anita) in the 1900 census, but apparently she had to fight to keep her. Yet another newspaper account shows that James Magill took Rachel to court to gain custody of Anita. I don’t like the way the journalist refers to Anita as ”it”.

As for Anita’s father James E Magill, he remarried a Gertrude Hull in December 1897 and the couple soon had a son Hull Magill, but a year later Gertrude was requesting a divorce from Magill and asking for him not to interfere with her or her son. It seems that Rachel’s concerns were not unfounded.

Sadly, despite the care of her Grandmother little Anita died when she was just six years old, I imagine Rachel would have been distraught to lose both her daughter and granddaughter at such early ages.

Frances Hiden

The 1900 census records that Elizabeth had five children and that two are still living, so who is the other child besides Rachel still alive in 1900?

Given that the surname Hiden seems to fall foul of transcription errors, a marriage of a Frances Elizabeth Haten to a Robert J Smith in Cook County, Illinois seemed a possibility. This possibility turned to probability when a scan of the census showed Frances (Fanny) and Robert living next door to Rachel and Elizabeth in Pine Street, Topeka in 1900. Interestingly Frances was born in the USA in 1855 according to this census and as her maiden name was Hiden not Twigger, does this mean her father Thomas travelled to the USA as well?

Frances and Robert had no family but lived to a good age. This is Frances’s rather sad little obituary.

Topeka State Journal, Thursday Evening, February 28, 1935, page 7:
Mrs. Robert Smith Dead

Came to Topeka From Chicago Sixty Years Ago
Blind, penniless, widowed and without known relatives, Mrs. Robert Smith, 80, died this morning at the Methodist Home for the Aged.

She was born in Chicago September 14, 1854, and came to Topeka in 1875, following her marriage to Robert Smith. Mrs. Smith entered the Methodist Home in January 1932, following the death of her husband. She had been befriended by several welfare organizations thru the efforts of Tom Fullerton, for whom Mr. Smith had worked for many years.  

Funeral services will be at the Sanders-McMichael funeral home Friday afternoon at 2:30 o’clock. Burial will be in Mount Auburn cemetery.

Mary Halden

Mary Ann Halden is the second daughter of Edward Halden and Jemima Eaton, this is unclear from the rounding to the nearest five years of the 1841 census which puts her and sister Eliza as both aged 20. I had wondered if they may have been twins but subsequent censuses in the USA show Mary Ann to be the younger sibling.

Mary seems to have travelled to the USA with her parents as she is present on the 1851 census with her mother Jemima, brother Edward (occupation butcher) and sister Rachel.

To find out what happened to Mary, I had to backtrack. Remember the earlier newspaper cutting about Minnie West visiting her Aunt, Mrs Twigger? Further investigation showed that Minnie was the daughter of Mary West and that she went on to marry a Luther Lee Allen. Mary West was of English birth and the right age to be Mary Halden.

A marriage of a Mary Holden to John M West in Chicago 6th September 1853 is that of Mary. The only census where I have found Mary, John and daughter Minnie together is Topeka 1875. John was twenty years older than Mary, also born in England and a cattle merchant. In 1879 he met a horrible death, gored to death by a bull.

In 1880 we next find Mary aged 50, described as a wife rather than a widow and living with 18 year old Minnie who is “at school”.

The 1888 Topeka City Directory lists Mary as a widow, Minnie is also listed, living at the same address.

The most significant address for Mary is in the 1900 census where she is living with Minnie and Minnie’s husband Luther Lee Allen (who is much closer to Mary in age), they are living on Pine Street, Topeka, on the same census page and presumably only several doors down from the houses of sister Elizabeth and her daughter Frances. Sadly this record shows that Mary had four children but that only one survived, it also says she came to the USA in 1855 which doesn’t fit with her record in the 1850 census. Mary seemed to lose five years from her age as time progressed whether this was deliberate or accidental, I have no idea. Minnie aged 28, has been married for five years but has had no children.

Mary died aged 85 in 1911 (although her baptism implies she was 91), there was clearly some strength in those Halden genes.

Mary A. West, aged 85, died yesterday at her home at 1512 [North] Quincy street of old age. The funeral will be held Friday morning from Conwell’s undertaking rooms at 10 o’clock. Burial in Topeka cemetery.
Topeka State Journal (Topeka, KS), April 13, 1911, 7:3.

So what became of Mary’s daughter Minnie? The answer is that I don’t know, her husband Luther Lee Allen died in 1911 although there is some controversy over where he is buried, Minnie may have married again but I can find no record of it and she would be unlikely to have children by this age, so it seems the line dies out, unless runaway brother Edward Halden wasn’t eaten by wolves and had some descendants.

Edward Halden junior – the runaway

The tale of Edward Halden I have been aware of for as long as I can remember. The story is that he ran away in annoyance when his sister Rachel got married and that he was never seen again.

Researching the family I could find no evidence of the family having a son as he doesn’t appear at home in the 1841 census and due to a mistranscription I couldn’t find the family in the USA.

Research and help from other family historians led me to Edward’s grandmother Elizabeth Halden as described on my post about Anthony Eaton. Elizabeth married her cousin Richard, a butcher, after the death of Anthony Eaton and the couple can be found living with an Edward Halden aged 15 in the 1841 census.

After some searching I found Edward in the 1850 census in Chicago USA, he is living with mother Jemima and sisters Mary and Rachel, but the name Halden was mistranscribed as Holder. Edward’s occupation is butcher which would fit with him living with his grandmother and her butcher husband, maybe Edward had been serving an apprenticeship.

That is the last record of Edward that I am at all sure about, this would tie in with his disappearance after Rachel’s marriage in 1852.

What are the possibilities?

There is an Edward Holden, a gamester living in Lyons, Cook, Illinois in 1870, born in England, again he disappears from view.

Another Edward Halden/Holden is in and out of the workhouse in Stepney during the late 1870s/early 1880s, date of birth is about right and he varies between being single and a widower. I can find no record of this Edward on the censuses, could it be because he was in the USA? Maybe time will tell.

With enormous thanks to Nina Reauveau who helped me so much with the research in the USA.


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Maps – uprooting the branches

When tracing your ancestors it can be hard to believe that an ancestor who married in one village was actually born in another county or maybe the other side of the country, but when it can be proved it is amazing how far our ancestors actually travelled, some seeking adventures in other countries, others merely moving elsewhere in the same county and others going from one end of the country to the other.

My Great Grandmother Nellie Eaton Willis was born in 1870 in Chicago, Illinois, moved to Topeka, Kansas and then moved back with sister and English father to County Durham via London, all by the time she was five!

Old Chicago

My Scottish ancestors did not leave Scotland themselves but many of their offspring did. My 4 x Great Grandmother Mary Beck’s brother Ebenezer Paterson Beck made a new life in Sheldon, Wyoming although he ended his days in Nebraska. His son James Burnie Beck became a US Senator and married a descendant of George Washington. Mary’s son James Swan also went to the USA, settled in Connecticut and started a tool manufacturing company there.

Urr, Kirkcudbrightshire, home of the Hyslops

My Great Great Grandfather’s cousin Robert Hall McNaught took his family out to Montreal and then moved on to Ontario, Canada.

Other emigrants to Canada were the two sisters of my Great Great Grandmother Mary Hyslop, Henrietta Jane and Jessie both ended their days in Manitoba with their families.

Shorter but still significant journeys were made by my ancestors in the British Isles.

Ancestor Anthony Eaton was born in Derbyshire but became a Yeoman of the Guard and lived in London during his first marriage, before marrying his second wife in Brent Pelham, Hertfordshire and then heading back to Derbyshire for the births of his second family.

George James Archer Walker my Great Great Grandfather was born in Welney Cambridgeshire, but moved to Doncaster, probably to work on the railway.

A more mysterious move was that of another Great Great Grandfather John Jackson, painter and glazier who moved with his young family from Dudley in the West Midlands to Darlington in the North East, his sister also moved to the North East and his wife’s brother also moved to Darlington so maybe work prospects were better there than in the Black Country.

My Great Grandmother Elizabeth Davies was born to Welsh parents in Lancashire before the family moved again to a mining community in Featherstone, Yorkshire. Many Welsh miners moved to both Yorkshire and Derbyshire to find work in the mines there.

In more recent generations we’ve moved a lot across the pennines from north to south and sometimes back again, it would be very confusing for future generations without the benefit of census returns.

I like to think my ancestors weren’t afraid to try something new, make the most of opportunities and do the best they could for their families and to make their mark on the map.

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Posted by on February 26, 2022 in Uncategorized


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As part of the 52 Ancestors project I have been tasked with writing about the courting of my ancestors.

My parents Norman Jackson and Mollie Calow (couple on right) in their theatrical days.

The truth is that I don’t know enough to write a full blog about one couple so I will just include a few anecdotes and thoughts about their love lives.

My parents had an interesting courtship they never officially “went out” together before they got engaged. I heard somewhere that the majority of couples meet through work and this was the case with them.

They met in theatrical rep. My father had been with the company for a couple of years as actor/stage manager when my mother was recruited. He wasn’t that impressed with her at first as she struggled to learn her lines in a week (not surprising really and she was terrified). The company performed one play in the evening and rehearsed another in the day time, they had Sunday off and I don’t think performed on a Monday evening.

After the Saturday show they would go to the local dance and to her surprise Dad kept asking Mum to dance with him. His long term girlfriend finished with him for some reason and his attentions to Mum grew, luring her away from her line learning for tea and cake.

Eventually the company disbanded and Mum spent some time with her mother who was working in Blackpool at the time. Dad arranged to meet her there and said they would “paint the town the colour of your hair” (she was a red head). Quite out of the blue he proposed, she said yes and the rest is family history!

I asked my paternal grandmother about first seeing her husband to be. From memory it was some sort of meeting and she said he gave her a “smile, a nice smile, not a cheeky one!”

My maternal great grandparents James Walker and Jane Townend courted at the fair. Coming from a strict Methodist family the fair was forbidden territory for but undeterred my great grandfather helped her out of her bedroom window via a ladder and presumably returned her the same way. I can’t believe that she never got caught out.

Jane and James (Jim) some year after the ladder climbing.

A strange courting story took place in Chicago. My great great grandparents Thomas Willis and Rachel Halden went to visit the preacher to discuss their wedding arrangements. Apparently he offered to marry them there and then, they agreed and went home husband and wife. Rachel’s brother was so horrified he ran away and was never seen again.

I am absolutely sure that there is more to this story than meets the eye. Was the tale about the preacher made up to cover a pregnancy? Sadly I can’t tell if Rachel was pregnant when she married as I know she gave birth to eight children and only two survived, so she may have been pregnant and the baby didn’t live.

And why was the brother so horrified? Maybe because of his sister’s pregnancy or perhaps there was some sort of double standard, perhaps he’d been forced to abandon a girlfriend and child, or maybe he actually ran off with a woman himself.

The other courtships are just questions.

Why did my great great grandmother Hannah Shaw not marry Samuel Townend until just two months before the birth of her/their first child? Was Samuel the child’s father or did he “make a decent woman” of Hannah?

How did 4 x Great Grandfather Anthony Eaton meet Elizabeth Halden thirty years his junior, what brought him from London or Derbyshire to Brent Pelham? Why did Elizabeth after Anthony’s death go on to marry her double cousin Richard Halden? Also, why did Anthony and Elizabeth’s daughter marry her mother’s double cousin Edward Halden?

As so often happens family history presents as many questions as it answers. I’m unlikely to acquire any further details of the courtships of my ancestors.

One thing is certain though, it is because of these liaisons that I exist and without them, you wouldn’t be able to read this post.

Which may or may not, be a good thing.

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Posted by on February 23, 2022 in family history


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Jemima Eaton – branching out

I knew nothing of Jemima Eaton’s existence prior to doing my own research. I knew of her husband Edward Halden and that the family had branched out to the USA when my Great Great Grandmother was still a child. We had wondered why my Great Grandmother’s middle name was Eaton so it was exciting not only to find Jemima on the 1841 census but to work out that her maiden name was Eaton.

Jemima was born to Anthony Eaton and his second wife Elizabeth Halden, she had four half sisters and one full sister, the sisters (apart from the unmarried half sister) all seemed to marry rather well and were probably “upwardly mobile”. Jemima was left the princely sum of £10 by her half sister Ann’s will written in 1848, I wonder if she ever received it. Jemima seems to be an exception in the marrying stakes as she married her mother’s double cousin, the aforementioned Edward who was a mere schoolmaster/dissenting minister. It was certainly not an advisable marriage on genetic grounds and the rather sparse branches and twigs that were the result of the marriage have resulted in few leaves, but leaves that often last for more than eighty years or in my Grandma Winifred Willis Airey‘s case 99.

Milwich church

Jemima left for the USA with her husband, two daughters and son some time between 1841 and 1850, I wonder what their motivation was for the move and did Jemima play any part in the decision? It must have been an enormous step into the unknown, leaving her mother and sisters behind, travelling for days on a ship and then over land to a large city (Chicago) in America, a far cry from Milwich a very small town in Staffordshire. I wonder if Jemima had any idea that she would outlive her husband by over ten years and would end her days in the USA living with her daughter and son-in-law a carpenter from County Durham, England?

I can only imagine Jemima, I hope she was able to read and write and that she was able to keep in contact with her family in England and scattered across the USA. I wonder if it was her ”gentility” that was passed down to her granddaughter my Great Grandmother Nellie Willis, was it from her that Nellie got her hazel eyes? Time will probably never tell.

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Posted by on February 8, 2022 in Milwich, Uncategorized


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WXY – an ancestor I am curious about

My Great Great Grandmother Hannah Elizabeth Jackson was illegitimate but I have arrived at a theory as to who her father may be. This post doesn’t give away his identity (in case I am wrong) but hopefully explains how I have used my DNA results to form this theory – it is by no means a conclusion.

I had my DNA tested with Ancestry several years ago and am able to connect most of my closer matches to sets of mutual ancestors. One particular match eluded me however, and this was despite the match having a public tree for me to consider and trace back further. I’ll call him Sam (not his name).

Over time a few more distant matches appeared who Sam and I shared and I created a Group. I’ll call it Group W. By making contact with some of the group and by looking at their trees I could see that they all descended from one couple, largely via different children.

This couple were not among my ancestors, I’ll call them WXY and wife, they lived in a Herefordshire town, a county that didn’t feature in any of my ancestral branches.

This family is an interesting one and has been well researched, the line goes back to a town in Devon where a W(unusual surname) married a B(extremely unusual surname). Looking at my DNA matches I found a couple of matches with ancestors that connect me back to B(extremely unusual surname) in said Devon town and to this actual family. It may be co-incidental but given the rarity of the B surname if it is, then it is a big co-incidence.

Because of these matches potentially going a long way back, it seems unlikely that one of my male ancestors went to Herefordshire or Devon and fathered a child.

So would any man from the W(unusual surname) family be the right age and have the opportunity to be Hannah Elizabeth’s father?

Looking at the W tree there are very few likely contenders but one in particular does stand out. It is WXY the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of the W Group. He was born in 1825 so would be seven years older than Hannah’s mother, Ann.

At the time of Hannah’s birth WXY was married to his first wife, they can be found in Herefordshire on the 1851 census. However, this wife died in 1856 not in Herefordshire but in Dudley, just a few miles away from where Hannah’s mother was living (in the 1851 and 1861 censuses), so he could have been in the area at the time of Hannah’s conception. By 1861 WXY has returned to Herefordshire with his second wife.

So what are the possibilities?

  • Hannah’s mother met WXY somewhere, maybe a public house
  • Hannah’s mother was a servant for the W couple
  • It was a brief, one time liaison
  • It was an affair of a few years, WXY may have turned to Ann when his wife was sick
  • WXY was father to Hannah’s younger siblings also, but instead of marrying Ann he returned to Herefordshire and married another woman and Ann had some form of breakdown leading to her abandoning her children (which did actually happen).

The DNA experts among you will be wondering how this all pans out in terms of relationship probabilities.

These are the matches I have, the relationship given below is the relationship I have to the match if the WXY theory is correct, if anything the shared cM amounts imply a closer relationship than the one I am suggesting:

Match A – 36 cM – half 4th cousin

Match B – 35 cM – half 3rd cousin 1r

Match C – 26 cM – half 3rd cousin 1r

Match D – 25 cM – half 4th cousin

Match E – 24 cM – half 3rd cousin 1r

Match F – 12cM – half 4th cousin

Interestingly only Match D matches with my two daughters.

Will I ever be able to prove this?

I would need one or more of the following:

  • Proof that Ann Griffiths and WXY actually met, a newspaper account as yet unearthed, a bastardy claim from Ann Griffiths or something similar.
  • If Hannah’s brother was also a son of WXY and one of his descendants subsequently tested and shared matches with this group.
  • If I found matches linking me to WXY’s mother’s side of the family.

And could I disprove it?

I could only do this if a closer cousin from another branch matched with this group. I have proved that the connection is definitely on my father’s side of the family (the group doesn’t match my mother who has tested), so I would have to find a shared match to a cousin on my father’s mother’s side of the family or his father’s mother side to disprove my theory.

Until then, there are other branches to pursue.

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Posted by on February 6, 2022 in family history, Uncategorized


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Elizabeth Gillott – a favourite picture

I am blessed to have quite a large selection of sepia photographs of family members. My mother was an avid album keeper and thanks to her I know who most of the people are on the photographs, but this picture is an exception. It is one of my favourite old family pictures because it is so clear (I have an original postcard) and I love the detail that can be seen on the women’s clothing and the expressions on their faces.

I do know that the woman front right is my Great Great Grandmother Elizabeth Gillott. She lived to the age of 85 and my mother could just remember her, but not enough to tell me any anecdotes. I also know that the other three ladies are her sisters.

The only time I remember her mentioned other than that, was when her granddaughter, my grandmother told me that she was named Hannah Elizabeth, Hannah after her maternal grandmother Hannah Shaw and Elizabeth after her paternal grandmother Elizabeth Gillott.

Elizabeth was born in 1851 and makes it into the census for that year by just two months. She is the youngest child and is living with her parents agricultural labourer William and Mary (nee Kelk), Elizabeth’s siblings were Charles, Harriet, Eliza, Emily and Sarah Ann and the whole family is living in Butterbusk, Conisborough, near Doncaster. By 1861 only Elizabeth and Charles are still living in the family home, the sisters having all gone into service.

Elizabeth married a man from Huntingdonshire George James Archer Walker and the couple had eight children, a large family but not remarkable for those days. All but one of the offspring survived childhood but one died as a teenager and two in early adulthood.

There is little else I know of Elizabeth apart from the photograph, she and her sisters look well dressed, it is probably a special occasion, maybe a funeral. It could be the funeral of Sarah Ann in 1908 the first sister to die, but why would you have a photograph taken at a funeral? I understand the older sisters probably Harriet and Eliza at the back, are wearing funeral capes. I think they look quite flamboyantly dressed for a funeral, may they actually be attending a wedding?

The sisters look rather formidable at first glance but on closer inspection it is probably just that they had to sit very still for a long time and perhaps I am imagining quiet amusement in their faces. As for family resemblance, they have the same nose as each other and strong chins.

The sisters all married and had families and apart from Sarah Ann who lived for some time in Darlington, they remained in Yorkshire. I am adding some brief details in case this should ever reach their descendants.

Harriet Gillott married Uriah Hinchliffe, a gardener, stone mason and general labourer

Eliza Gillott married George Blakeley, a coachman

Emily Gillott married Joseph Dale, a hairdresser

Sarah Ann Gillott married William Greaves, a mineral water manufacturer

As for brother Charles he too was a mineral water manufacturer, (the industry boomed because of the rise in the temperance movement), he married twice, firstly Esther Ardron and secondly Hannah Dearnley.

I am using this spelling of Gillott as it is how it appears on Elizabeth’s marriage certificate, it seems to be very inconsistently spelt with earlier generations using Jillott.

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Posted by on January 23, 2022 in Doncaster history, Uncategorized


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John Jackson – painter and letter copier ”totally deaf since a child”

John Jackson was baptised on 11th June 1837 in Kingswinford, Staffordshire, his parents were John Jackson and Olive Pearson, his father was a painter and glazier and John junior also followed the painting trade.

John’s parents Olive and John had three children, Mary who died aged five and Jane Selina, Olive died aged 31 in 1844 when John the eldest child was just seven years old. John senior remarried Matilda Cox at the end of 1845 and produced six more children.

John remained a bachelor until his thirties and the 1871 census shows that he was still living in the family aged 33, so it seems he probably got on well with his stepmother. He married Hannah Elizabeth Griffiths in July of the same year and son James was born on 28th March 1872.

John’s new little family moved to Darlington, County Durham before the birth of their second child, another Jane Selina, born in 1874, the couple went on to have a large family. I’m unsure as to why the family moved to Darlington, but it was probably work related, interestingly John’s sister Jane Selina and her husband James Smith and family also left the Midlands for the North East, they moved to Fighting Cocks, Middleton St George, County Durham where James initially was an iron worker, but later became a grocer. Hannah’s brother George Henry also ended up in Darlington, so it seems work in the North East was more promising than it was in the Midlands.

The lack of work in the Black Country is touched on in a series of letters painstakingly copied by John into a small exercise book which has been kept in the family and that I have photocopied (far easier these days). The letters are all concerned with the inheritance of properties out of which this branch of the Jackson family was apparently swindled. John copied all (I presume all, he numbers the letters) the letters that he or his sister Jane Selina received. The letters are from his second cousin William Jackson, cousin Philip Hyde, Aunt Susannah Guest and stepmother Matilda.

Unfortunately John did not record any of his or his sister’s replies to the letters, so I can only guess what happened.

William Jackson wanted to take the case to court and needed money to help him do this, I suspect John had little money to spare and wasn’t sure whether to trust William. Philip Hyde didn’t trust William and was trying to persuade John to pursue the case through him. There also seemed to be a consensus of thought that John knew more information about the inheritance and the details of it and that he was unprepared to share this information. I am sure we will never know the truth but they are a fascinating read.

The letters mention John’s Great Grandfather’s will but I wonder if that is a mistake, certainly the only will I have come across as a result of these letters is the will of John’s Great Great Grandfather, another William, which is very interesting in terms of family history.

Well it seems the case never got to court or at least nothing came of it, no inheritance has passed my way, but the letters have in their turn left the Jackson descendants corresponding like their ancestors did, hopefully we will at least find out a little more about the family in the process.

Some highlights from the letters.

If John was ”a thorough bred Jackson” does that make me one too? (Whatever it means)
John Witton seems to be the ”villain of the piece” but if I have found the correct John Witton on the censuses he doesn’t seem to have amassed a fortune.
John obviously started to take matters into his own hands. Bourne is probably John’s Great Aunt Elizabeth’s husband, but maybe a firm of solicitors who operated in Dudley at the time.
John’s stepmother Matilda gets involved

An interesting but rather sad fact about John was that he was deaf, this is mentioned on several censuses. It is a little odd that it isn’t mentioned on every census in his lifetime as from 1851 on there is a specific column for that purpose.

In the 1851 census for John the enumerator uses some sort of tick and crossed through tick system which makes no sense to me, John’s entry is merely ticked as are his parents and siblings, but many of the neighbours have ticks crossed through.

Ten years later the box was completed with the words “Almost deaf from birth”. No mention of John’s deafness is mentioned in any further censuses, until 30 years later in 1891, where he is simply described as deaf, his deafness is recorded the same way in 1901.

The 1911 census would have been completed by the householder and in this case, clearly by John as the handwriting matches that in the letters, he explains that he has been “totally deaf since a child”.

How John managed his deafness remains a mystery, he seems to have coped alright, marrying and bringing up a family, setting up home with them in a new geographical area, and following a trade (with some ups and downs) and he was clearly educated enough to be able to read and write. He died in Darlington in April 1915 at the good age of 78. His wife and six of his eleven children outlived him.

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Posted by on January 17, 2022 in Uncategorized


Joseph Sellers

Joseph Sellers was born in Wentworth South Yorkshire in 1793, his parents were John Sellers and Dorothy Whitfield. John is described as a collier on the baptismal records, although his father (John’s) is a miner, I wonder what the distinction was between miner and collier

For some reason Joseph moved to North Yorkshire, possibly following his brother Thomas who was a farmer in Stonebeck Up, Kirby Malzeard. The brothers voted Tory in the 1835 election.

By the 1851 census Thomas has moved to Skipton and is described as a coal and lead mine owner, had he fallen on his feet? The Sellers brothers came from a mining area in Derbyshire so maybe Thomas saw an opportunity to transfer his skills, but his descendants seem to be mainly miners, no further mention of ownership. All a bit of a mystery.

Joseph was a schoolmaster so it is clear that he had an education which must have been fairly unusual at that time. He married a widow Sarah Pickard (nee Cleasby) in 1827 in Lofthouse, Joseph would be 34 by this time so maybe a widower himself, the only marriage record I have found only gives the witnesses names, no details as to marital status.

Two years later a daughter, Sarah was born to the couple but sadly Sarah senior died in childbirth. Joseph lived just another ten years dying of dropsy at 46 years old. Brother Thomas is the informant on Joseph’s death certificate.

I’d love to know more about Joseph, where did he teach, how did he qualify, where and how did he meet Sarah, who looked after little Sarah while he, presumably worked? I expect that I will have to rely on guesswork.

Death details Joseph Sellers


Posted by on January 3, 2022 in Uncategorized


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Charles Oldroyd Cleasby and his “unhappy Batley family”

Charles Oldroyd Cleasby was born in Kirkburton, West Yorkshire in 1857, he was the son of Robert Cleasby a weaver born in Westmorland, and Bathsheba/Bathia Oldroyd.

Charles caught my eye because I could see that he had had several brushes with the law. I was intrigued to find out more about him, were they youthful indiscretions? Was he dishonest? Did he mend his ways? How were his family affected? Was he perhaps deported?

In 1861 three year old Charles H Cleasby (two middle names maybe?) is living with his parents and brother and sister, father Robert is described as a stay weaver.

By 1871 Charles O (middle initial has changed) is in employment as a weaver, aged just 13, the family has expanded and he is the second eldest of seven siblings.

Six years later on June 23rd 1877 Charles aged 21 married Harriet Newsome aged 20 at the Parish Church in Dewsbury where both bride and groom reside. Charles is now employed as an Engine Firer, an upward move surely? Both Charles and Harriet sign with a cross.

This report shows the young Charles as something of a hero.

Within a year of marriage Charles Cleasby makes this statement in the local paper, you wonder what sort of debt young Harriet could have incurred or be about to incur.

Charles’ new family are living in Lawson Street, Dewsbury in 1881, Charles is now described as a mining engineer while Harriet is working as a woollen mill – feeder, quite how she did this is not apparent, as by now the couple have two year old James Henry and Richard who is under a year old.

“Charley” Cleasby and family are living in Ambler Street, Batley in 1891, he is now described simply a coal miner and Harriet does not have an occupation listed, however she does have six children to keep her busy; as Edgar, Beatrice, Robert and Charles have been added to the household. The children, apart from baby Charles are described as scholars, although how much schooling they received is open to question.

Life was not too good for the Cleasby children. Charles was in prison at least five times, mainly for cruelty to or neglect of children, or for drunkenness, which may have been the root of the problem.

On 22 September 1893 Charles was imprisoned for cruelty to five children and sentenced to three months hard labour, this is listed as his first offence.

The story made the local newspapers, Charles’ wife Harriet was also sentenced, it isn’t a pretty tale.

“The children were covered with filth and vermin and had for a long time been in a destitute and neglected state.

The children involved would be Richard, Edgar, Beatrice, Robert and Charles, presumably James Henry had left home by this stage. My sympathy is with Harriet, a large family and a drunken husband, she probably just couldn’t cope. Also maybe she was ill.

In 26 Nov 1897 Charles was imprisoned at Wakefield, he was sentenced to four months hard labour for cruelty to two children. This record keeper was particularly informative about prisoner’s appearances, we learn that Charles was 5 foot 8 and a half and COC (probably a tattoo of his initials) on his left forearm. Occupation is a pit sinker – a skilled occupation.

Harriet died in 1896 having given birth to three more children, Ethel Louisa who died around her first birthday, Bathsheba who was born and died in 1895 and Laura who died at just a few months old a month before her mother’s demise. Both Harriet’s and Bathsheba’s deaths were reported in the paper.

Charles wasted no time in remarrying, in January 1897 he tied the knot with a widow and mother of several children, she was named Sarah Conway (née Canon).

By 1900 Charles was in court again, this time for civil debt and being drunk.

In 1902 Charles was given seven days in prison for an offence against the Education Act, ie not sending his children to school; this was followed that same summer by a sentence of one month for neglect of family. I think the offence must have taken place in 1901 resulting in the children being rehomed/taken into care.*

Neglect was better than cruelty it would seem, as this is reflected in the shorter sentence, maybe he simply abandoned Sarah and the family. Charles occupation is now given as simply labourer, it looks like he lost his job in the mine.

Sarah does not seem to have been the ideal woman to set Charles on a straight and narrow course as she also had convictions for being drunk and contravening the Education Act. Her adult children were also before the courts for drunkenness and using obscene language.

I can’t find a census entry for Charles in 1901 but Sarah can be found living with two of her children from her first marriage.

*Charles surviving children are scattered by 1901. The older ones have left home and are looking after themselves, daughter Beatrice has been adopted by a John Levi and his wife and sons Robert and Charles Henry are at the Boys Industrial School in Bootham, presumably sent there by the court. The industrial school underwent some reforms at the end of the 19th century so hopefully Robert and Charles benefited from them after their unfortunate start in life. Robert died in WW1 but Charles Henry lived until 1973 and appears to have kept on the right side of the law.

In 1911 Sarah is still living with her son and daughter but Charles is a “patient” in Dewsbury Union Workhouse.

It is not my place to judge Charles and there is obviously so much more to his life than can be found through these documents. He seems to have some ambition in his early years as well as skill as he gained good work in the mines, but something went sadly wrong while he was still a relatively young man and he was unable to turn his life round.

I have found no further record of Charles apart from his death in 1919.

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Posted by on August 7, 2021 in Uncategorized


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It started with a mystery – Cleasby one name study

For many years of researching my family history and finding out who my ancestors were I was unaware of the name Cleasby featuring among my ancestors at all.

I had so many clues as to the identity of my Great Great Great Grandmother Sarah but I thought she was a Sarah Pickard which sent me on a wild goose chase, ordering Pickard wills and creating mini trees of Pickards in the right geographical area. I blog about this discovery and how I found my Cleasby connection in this post about Sarah Sellars, my Great Great Grandmother.

I felt that I wanted to study an aspect of family history in depth and a one name study appealed, I wanted a name that was manageable but not too obscure, Jackson, Green and Walker did not fit this bill. I also wanted a name I had a DNA connection to, so although I had never met anyone called Cleasby (yes I know it isn’t that unusual) that was the name I chose.

I haven’t found any particularly mysterious characters and the one black sheep Henry Cleasby turned white (good for him) but who knows what discoveries are round the corner?


Posted by on July 23, 2021 in Uncategorized


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