My Head Hurts – Trying to track down a large family

Families these days tend to consist of two or three children. I know there are exceptions but I had two children and I have just one sibling. My parents were from slightly larger families. My mother had three brothers and my father, three brothers and two sisters. Go back through the generations and families were much larger. Without the luxury of birth control our female forebears seemed to be constantly pregnant.

Having retired from work a year ago I have started looking in more depth at the siblings of my ancestors. I had been concentrating on the direct line when I had the chance but with more free time I am finding my family tree rapidly expanding. I have just finished looking at the children of my 2nd great grandfather Henry Davis and my goodness what a task it has been. It appears he fathered 19 children and I’m not a 100% certain that I may not have missed the odd one or two.

Henry was born in 1808 and baptized at St.Michael’s Church in Coventry on the 16 November. Henry was married twice. His first marriage took place at St.Michael’s on 18 May 1833 to Ann Aden. Ann died in 1844 and on the 14 October 1861, again at St.Michael’s, Henry married my 2x Great grandmother Sarah Radford. Ann was to give Henry 5 children although 2 didn’t survive infancy. Sarah and Henry had 14 children again some of these did not live to adulthood. It appears that both of Henry’s wives gave birth every two years and in some cases even less. Henry was 26 years old when his first child was born and 63 when the last came into the world.

Henry Davis & Sarah Radford marriage
Henry’s marriage certificate to Sarah Radford

Tracking down all these births proved a bit of a headache. Firstly I had to deal with the fact that Henry and his wives were illiterate. On signing the copy of entry of their marriages Henry, Ann and Sarah made the mark “x”, not being able to sign their names. This made hard work of the census returns. Census forms would be delivered to each household and the enumerator would go round the day after the census to collect the completed forms. Unfortunately, what happened in a lot of cases, the enumerator would end up having to fill in the form for our illiterate ancestors. This would have happened in the case of Henry and his wives. Of course the enumerator could mishear or not understand someone’s accent which would lead to spelling mistakes or even the completely wrong name being recorded. Some of these mistakes are only minor, Harriot on the 1841 census becomes Harriet on the 1851. In this case the ages of  4 and then 13 ten years later, I am confident that this is the same person. Sarah Ann my great grandmother did not appear to be on the 1871 census. All the other siblings that would have been present in the household at that time I could account for. However there was a Susannah that did not fit. No birth or baptism record for this alleged girl. No marriage or death. No appearance on future censuses, so could this be Sarah Ann? The age certainly fit. Edward aged 6 on the 1861 census seems to have become Endin aged 15 in 1871. I also have a big query that he might also have been known as Edwin.

Problem two with tracking Henry and Sarah’s children was that 8 of them were born to the couple before their marriage took place. These births were registered in their mother’s maiden name of Radford. However their baptisms revealed a whole host of variations. Parents names ranged from Henry and Sarah Davis to Henry Davis and Sarah Radford to illegitimate daughter of Sarah Radford. I only know in the last case that Henry was the father as the child name is recorded as Sarah with the surname Davis.

One thing that did actually help in my search is that Henry never strayed from Much Park Street in Coventry. During both his marriage to Ann and Sarah the family is found on censuses, in parish registers and on Birth, Marriage and Death certificates in Much Park Street and with Henry’s occupation of Weaver confirmed by these pieces of paper, I started making some headway with tracing the family.

So here is the results of my labour. All Baptisms I found took place at St. Michael, Coventry and in each case the father’s occupation is given as Weaver of Much Park Street.

Henry’s children by his first marriage to Ann Aden.

Henry  1834-1834    Baptised 10 Feb 1834. Burial (St. Michael’s) 24 Feb 1834, aged 2 weeks

Thomas  1835-?       Baptised 30 Mar 1835.  Have not found marriage, death or burial record

Harriet  1837-1870  Baptised 25 Jan 1837. Marriage to Henry Rollings 1861. Death registered 1870 in Coventry aged 33

Hannah  1839-1841  Baptised 15 Jul 1839. Burial (St.Michael,s) 16 May 1841, aged 2 years

Emma  1843-?           Baptised 22 May 1843. Have not found marriage, death or burial record  

Ann Davis nee Aden died in 1844 and was buried at St.Michael’s on 11 Aug

Henry’s children by his second marriage to Sarah Radford

Matilda  Abt.1848-1903  Have not found birth or baptism but on 1851 census aged 3 listed as Henry’s daughter. Marriage as Matilda Radford to Henry Onions 1868. Death registered 1903 in Birmingham aged 56

Elizabeth  1851-1906  Birth registered as Radford 1851. Baptised 21 Oct 1861 aged 11. Parents Henry Davis and Sarah Radford. Marriage to Thomas Kelley Lack 1883. Death registered 1906 in Coventry aged 54

Elizabeth Radford-Davis baptism
Elizabeth Radford/Davis baptism record. Bottom right hand page. Showing parents as Henry Davis and Sarah Radford

Henry  1852-1922  Birth registered as Radford 1852. Baptised 25 Dec 1852. Parents Henry and Sarah Davis. Marriage to Mary Ann Hewitt 1872 at St.Michael’s. Exact date                     unknown as register damaged. 2nd marriage to Emma Maria Yardley 1890. Death registered 1922 in Leicester aged 68

Henry Radford-Davis baptism
Henry Radford/Davis baptism record. One up from bottom left hand page. Showing parents as Henry and Sarah Davis although they were not married at this time.

Sarah  1853-1858  Baptised 30 Oct 1853 as Sarah Davis but no fathers name given and described as the illegitimate daughter of Sarah Radford. Death registered 1858 in Coventry

Sarah Radford-Davis baptism
Baptism record showing Sarah as the illegitimate daughter of Sarah Radford. One up from bottom left hand page. Note child’s name is given as Sarah Davis possibly to acknowledge who the father was.

James  1854-?         Birth registered as Radford 1854. Have not found baptism, marriage or death

Edward  Abt. 1855-?  On the 1861 census and possibly as Endin on the 1871 (age fits) but cannot find any records of birth or baptism

Mary Ann  1857-1928  Birth registered as Radford 1857. Baptised 18 Feb 1858. Marriage to Frederick Workman Smith 1877. Death registered 1928 in Coventry

Sarah Ann  1860-1902  Great Grandmother read her story here.

Ann Selina  1862-1933  Birth registered 1862. Baptised 01 Jun 1862. Marriage to John Woodhall 1884. Death registered 1933 in Coventry aged 70

John William  1864-1873  Birth registered 1864. Baptised 23 May 1864. Date of birth given as 13 Apr 1864. Death registered 1873 in Coventry aged 9.

Laura Phoebe  1866-?  Birth registered 1866. Baptised 04 Feb 1866. Date of birth given as 09 Jan 1866. Married at Holy Trinity, Coventry on 01 Feb 1886 to Alfred Fell. Have not found death or burial record

Charlotte Ellen (twin)  1869-?  Birth registered 1869. Baptised 02 May 1869. Date of birth given as 19 Feb 1869. Have not found marriage, death or burial record

Peter Oliver (twin)  1869-1888  Birth registered 1869. Baptised 02 May 1869. Date of birth given as 19 Feb 1869. Death registered 1888 in Coventry aged 20

Arthur George  1871-?  Birth registered 1871. Baptised 06 Aug 1871. Date of birth given as 06 July 1871. Have not found marriage, death or burial record

Still lots of work to do on this family which should keep me busy. It’s the largest I have found so far in my family tree but with loads more sibling research to undertake I may just top it one day. Better stock up on the headache pills.

Henry’s youngest child Arthur was just 10 years old when his father died on 14 December 1881. His cause of death was disease of the kidney and bladder. His death certificate also reveals he had been suffering with this for 3 years. As he died at home in Much Park Street I like to think that he was surrounded by several of his numerous children. I know at least his son Henry was present as this is stated on the death certificate.

Henry Davis death
Henry Davis death certificate



William and Jane Barnacle – Married or Living Over The Brush

“Living over the brush” most people, these days, recognise as a saying relating to a couple living together as man and wife who have not gone through a legal marriage ceremony. There are several suggestions as to where this saying originated. Does it have British Romani origins where a couple would literally jump over a broom, allegedly? Or has it come down from African American culture during the slave trade? However the saying started it is one I have thought of many times in relation to one of my maternal 2xgreat grandparents, William Barnacle and Jane Harrison. Numerous attempts to find a record of their marriage have drawn a total blank.

On the birth certificate of my great grandfather Frank Barnacle in 1865, his parents are clearly stated as William Barnacle and Jane Barnacle formerly Harrison. This certainly infers that they were married. William’s occupation is noted as ‘Watch Finisher’. Going forward to Frank’s marriage certificate in 1889 his father’s name again is confirmed as William Barnacle ‘Watch Motioner’.

Frank Barnacle Birth Certificate clearly stating his parent’s names

Looking at the census returns of 1871 and 1881 Frank appears as a 6 and 15 year old respectively, living with his parents in Coventry. Both of these censuses have Jane listed as William’s wife and William employed in the Watchmaking trade. Watchmaking in Coventry enjoyed a peak period between about 1850 and 1890. In fact Coventry was the third watchmaking centre in England behind London and Liverpool. Quite a few of my Coventry forebears were employed in the industry.

Interior of a watchmaking workshop about 1891

Looking at the census returns before Frank’s birth I was able to find William and Jane on the 1861 census. They are at the same address as 10 years later, Spon Street, Coventry. William is a Watchmaker and Jane a Silk Winder. Again these occupations tie in with the 1871 census. So I’m sure a have the right couple and yes, Jane is listed as William’s wife.

If a marriage did take place, it would have been sometime before 1855, assuming they married before having any children but I have found in the past not to assume this. In 1861 they already had two children, Emily aged 6 and Thomas aged 8 months.

Going back in time to the 1851 census William and Jane are both still single living with their parents and siblings. William’s occupation is given as ‘Watch Motioner Apprentice’ and his age of 17 years fits in with his age on subsequent censuses. So do I now have the name of his parents, Thomas and Sarah Barnacle. Of course this is why a marriage certificate would be most helpful as it would confirm his father’s name. Likewise for Jane’s father, who I believe to be Joseph Harrison who in 1851 was living with his wife Amelia and their four children including Jane aged 17 and a ‘Silk Winder’.

Using the census information I have found William’s baptism at St.John’s, Coventry on 10 March 1834. His parents Thomas and Sarah Barnacle are living in Spon Street and his father’s occupation is a ‘Watch Maker’. Jane’s baptism I found in the England and Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970. I have a little more information for her than William as the register is more detailed. Jane was born on 28 August 1833 in the parish of St.Martin in Birmingham.and she was baptised on 02 January 1834 at Vicar Lane Independent in Coventry. Her parents were Joseph Harrison and his wife Amelia Jane.

Baptism record of William Barnacle – Left hand page one up from the bottom.

The first census both William and Jane appear on is for 1841. William just 5 years old is with his parents and 5 brothers and 1 sister in Spon Street. His father is a Watch Maker so it appears William followed his father into that trade. Jane aged 8 is living with her parents in Spon End and her father is a Wood Turner. There are three more censuses that the couple appear on after their son Frank has left home to marry and start his own family. The 1891 census is strange in that they do not appear to be living together. Jane is found at 8 Chauntry Place which is where they appear to be living at the time of Frank’s marriage but she is alone, still stated as being married and working as a Charwoman. William I found in a lodging house in Spon Street.By 1901 the couple are reunited living in Birmingham with their daughter Rose, her husband John Clarke and two daughters Beatrice and Rose. William’s occupation has changed to Cycle Machinist. The watch trade in Coventry started to slump with the arrival of cheaper watches from America and Switzerland. However by the 1911 census William is back as a Watch Motioner and also back in Coventry with Jane.

Armed with all this information about this couple their marriage still alludes me, if indeed one actually took place. The search continues. Just to end their story Jane died on 26 August 1916. Her age according to her death certificate was 79 and the cause of death was Senile Dementia and Heart Failure. She died in the Workhouse Infirmary. William died just 17 months later on 11 January 1918 at the home of his daughter Alice. Cause of death was Senile Decay and Heart Failure. He was 80 years old.

William Barnacle Death Certificate
Jane Barnacle Death Certificate


On Jane’s death certificate it gives her occupation as Wife of William Barnacle. One day I may just track down that marriage until then I will keep asking that question “Are you living over the brush.”