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The importance of Marriage witnesses -and family visitors shown in Censuses

Discussion in 'Search tips - discussion' started by Bob Spiers, Oct 3, 2016.

  1. Bob Spiers

    Bob Spiers LostCousins Star

    Although well acquainted with the ‘added value’ that can be obtained by taking note of Marriage witnesses and ‘other name’ family visitors in Censuses this was certainly brought home to me on my last research project undertaken for a friend. I had the daunting task of trying to establish his Grandmother’s parents (about whom he knew nothing) with the Welsh name Richards living probably in Swansea circa 1800’s. (I think the only family names worse would have been perhaps Jones or Evans).

    His Grandmother had been born Margaret Jane (I was amazed how many Margaret Jane's I found) and vague birth years of between 1887 – 1890. I found it a near impossible task to isolate assorted ‘Richards’ fathers all with Margaret Jane daughters. I knew I could only isolate a father by sending for a Marriage Certificate as Margaret married a John B in 1915.

    The Certificate duly arrived but did not resolve the matter. Yes, I learned her father had been Thomas with an occupation of General labourer but there were still countless Thomas Richards and a fair few with Margaret Jane daughters born within the time frame. The Certificate declared Margaret to be 27 in 1915 thus supporting a birth year of 1887/8.

    I found only one Thomas shown as a General Labourer (all others being Colliers of one sort or another) but his daughter Margaret Jane was shown aged 9 in 1901 so a birth year of 1891/2. This did not tally with the Marriage Certificate and what is more the 1911 Census completed by her father declared her to be 20; again supporting 1891/2. So I ended up with a doubting Thomas! (sorry). At this point I turned to the Marriage Witnesses which was to be a turning point in resolving the matter.

    One of the two witnesses one was a Rose Richards. I knew the Margaret Jane shown in the Census did not have a sister Rose, so perhaps a sister-in-law, or of course a Cousin. Thus I began a new search tack and after countless false leads uncovered a Rose Pritchard marrying a William John Richards in Swansea. Then the surname Pritchard suddenly rang bells because I recalled a young girl visitor back in the Welsh 1901 Census shown to be a niece by the name of Pritchard. Then to put the icing on the cake I found a marriage for a Thomas Richards and a Mary Pritchard back in 1886. Bingo.

    Now some family information which is important to explaining the age variations and I should warn a little poignant in the telling. Margaret Jane had a dalliance with a John B who was married to an Anne and had 4 children. Margaret bore him a child which died in 1909 the same year his first wife committed suicide (no doubt on hearing of her husband’s infidelity).

    After becoming pregnant again she and John moved to Hampshire in England and set up home with the 4 children of his first marriage. John’s job took him away from home and he was away on the night of the 1911 Census. So Margaret completed a 1911 (English) Census (even though she was recorded in the 1911 Welsh Census by her parents and shown to be 20!). Margaret adopted John’s surname, declared her ‘husband’ away from home and named the 4 children adding (“children by marriage”). Most importantly she showed her age to be 24 which was an untruth although no doubt she had her reasons.

    Margaret gave birth to a second daughter in late 1911 and the following year -having moved to Coventry with John -she bore him a son. In 1914 they moved to Birmingham where a further daughter was born. In May 1915 John and Margaret married where she carried on the age deception by declaring herself to be 27, instead of the 23 or 24 she really was.

    After marrying Margaret went on to have 5 more children so John fathered 9 with her in all. During much of the following years Margaret also served as step-mother to John’s 4 children from his first marriage.

    6 of Margaret’s 9 children with John survived to marry and have families of their own, as did the 4 from his first marriage. Some emigrated but all married and prospered and raised countless children of their own. One of course Margaret’s son became the father of my friend.

    I think the moral of the story is don’t underestimate Marriage witnesses nor disregard visitors or lodgers given family connections. Most of all don’t believe everything you uncover in researching Family History as Peter so often reminds.
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  2. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    Bob's experience echoes my own - several of my brick walls have been knocked down with the help of marriage witnesses, and although the surname of one of them was indecipherable he later popped up as a lodger, which solved the problem.

    So I was rather disappointed to discover yesterday that only one witness signed the register when my 4G grandparents married in 1791 (and he could only make his mark).
    • Agree Agree x 1
  3. Britjan

    Britjan LostCousins Star

    I had a somewhat similar experience when I was trying to untangle my Warwick family who migrated to Canada c 1820. I very carefully studied the Drouin records for all the marriages in every denomination of church in Montreal and quickly realised that my original supposition that they were part of the military presence was incorrect. Witnesses to various hatches and matches were invaluable even when I had to struggle with Latin.
  4. emjay

    emjay LostCousins Member

    Good work Bob.
    • Thanks! Thanks! x 1

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