As Genealogists or family historians will know we spend an awful lot of time chasing paper clues albeit a lot of those are now available online, so we spend a lot of time in front of our computers. However for those of you who have never done this type of research and wonder how on earth we can find out so much about a person who died a hundred or more years ago I am going to tell you how I found out about my Great Grandmother, Sarah Ann Davis. She has really given me the runaround. Although her name has been on my family tree from very early on in my research ( I started back in 2000) it has only been earlier this year, 2016, that I finally found her Birth Registration.
Now I don’t want you to think I have spent 16 years trying to piece together Sarah’s life. As I am researching both the paternal and maternal sides of my family, I have quite a task on my hands. I tend to jump backwards and forwards. If I hit a brick wall I tend to leave things alone for a bit and go research a different ancestor. When I started my research there was no where near the amount of information you can get online today. So instead of popping on the computer at home when I have time to spare, it would be a trip to the library or local records office. Not living in the area where my ancestors came from meant I often had to wait until I could spare a couple of days away. Things have changed so much with new records appearing online all the time.
Two vital lines of enquiry are birth, marriage and death registrations and the census. Civil registration of BMD’s started in England and Wales on 1 July 1837. Before that date we have to look at Parish Registers which recorded baptism dates, rather than births, marriages and burial rather than death dates. Here we are at the mercy of them having survived and how good the local vicar or minister was at keeping these records. Regular censuses have been taken in the United Kingdom every 10 years since 1801. The first four however contained no helpful personal information, really being no more than head counts. The censuses are not released for public scrutiny for 100 years, so censuses available at the moment are from 1841 to 1911.
So onto Sarah Ann Davis one of my maternal Great Grandmothers. I knew her name from my Grandfather’s birth certificate. Here it is listed that his mother was one Sarah Ann Jones formerly Davis. My Grandfather’s baptism record also names her but does not give her maiden name. So the search begins to put together a picture of her life. My Grandad’s birth certificate gives me another clue to start tracking the family down, that of his father’s name, William Jones. Now I can start looking at the censuses and find the family quite easily on the 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses. Sarah Ann appears on all of these as the wife of William. The 1881 census has her down as a Silk Winder but no occupation is given on the subsequent censuses.
Providing the information they have given is correct, and believe me over the years I have found out that what we read on one record may not be the whole truth, I should be able to start looking for a marriage for William and Sarah Ann prior to 1881. Sure enough they married on 04 November 1878 at the Register Office in Coventry. The certificate tells me that Sarah is a Spinster aged 21, very strange that the 1881 census 3 years later has her as 21, but this would make her of full age and not needing parental permission to marry. The bit of information I really need to try to find Sarah’s birth is her father’s name. This is on the certificate as Henry Davis, a Gardener.
The information I have from the marriage certificate and the census returns I can estimate her year of birth being about 1857 to 1860. I start looking for the Davis family on the censuses and this gets my head in a spin. Looking back, this family took me ages to sort out but more of that in another blog. Back to Sarah Ann and what the information on the censuses told me is her mother was a lady called Sarah. They also threw up another anomaly in that her father was a Silk Weaver, so why it said Gardener on her marriage certificate is a bit of a puzzle.
Armed with all this information I start trawling the birth indexes looking for a Sarah Ann Davis born around late 1850’s to early 1860’s. I find what I think could be her and send for the certificate. No, this Sarah Ann’s father is a David Davis, a Shoemaker. Back to the indexes again. I can find no match at all. I then strike lucky and find a baptism record in the parish registers of St.Michael’s, Coventry on 10 December 1860, parents listed as Henry and Sarah Davis, father’s occupation Weaver. This has to do for now.
I have better luck finding her death. Obviously now Sarah Ann Jones she dies at the young age of 41 years on 05 June 1902. The cause of death is a bit of a shocker though. She died of Alcoholic Cirrhosis of the Liver, Bronchitis and Exhaustion. My Grandfather was just 9 years of age and I can’t image what his early life must have been like.
Sarah’s birth still eluded me. Many times I went back over birth records but nothing ever matched. Doing more research into her parents I discovered her mother’s maiden name was Radford and although appearing as husband and wife on both the 1851 and 1861 censuses Henry Davis and Sarah Radford did not in fact marry until October 1861. Sarah Ann’s baptism had been December 1860 and although the parish records clearly stated her parents were Henry and Sarah Davis, their marriage proved that at that time her mother was in fact Sarah Radford. Looking through the birth’s again searching for a Sarah Ann Radford I was finally able to order her correct birth certificate. Sarah Ann Davis was in fact born Sarah Ann Radford on 08 September 1860. No father is named on the certificate just her mother Sarah Radford. The final jigsaw piece. A Great Grandmother who had an illegitimate birth and died an alcoholic. So sad. I truly hope she had some happiness in her life.