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Family history brickwalls...

Discussion in 'Personal' started by peapicker, Oct 16, 2018.

  1. peapicker

    peapicker Star commenter

    I know quite a few of you research your family history, as I do. We all come across impenetrable brick walls from time to time. Hoping you might have some suggestions for research strategies for this one!

    I've been on the trail of my great-grandfather for ten years. My great-grandmother was already married to a mariner with 9 children, living in the very poorest part of Greenwich, on the wharves. She then separated from him and moved to Camberwell, where she had two babies (one of whom was my grandmother) with a new man. (Other men and babies followed this relationship - but let's not go there!)
    I have found the family of this man living across the road from her in Greenwich. The father of the family and two of his brothers were watermen, members of the Guild of Watermen and Lightermen. Presumptive great-grandfather's occupation is given as 'seaman on board a steam tug' and 'waterman' on the birth certificates, though there is no record of him having don an apprenticeship as a waterman like his father and brothers.

    He is on the Census until 1871 and then disappears completely into the ether. Nothing on any later Census; no death or burial recorded; no prison / workhouse entries; nothing obvious on any ships' manifests for either passenger or crew; nothing in the newspapers.

    The two babies' birth certificates contain falsified information - great-grandmother uses the father's surname as her own, lies about her maiden name and states she is married (true - but not to him!) so he need not have been present at the birth registrations.

    Any bright ideas about where to look for this man next?
    sparklepig2002 likes this.
  2. Dunteachin

    Dunteachin Star commenter

    I suppose you've tried altering the spelling.
    I couldn't track down my great-great grandmother for ages until I changed a vowel eg Grey to Gray, for example. A transcript error. Bingo!
  3. peapicker

    peapicker Star commenter

    I've tried every permutation I can think of and searched with wildcards.
    sparklepig2002 likes this.
  4. Dunteachin

    Dunteachin Star commenter

  5. magic surf bus

    magic surf bus Star commenter

    How old was he in 1871?

    Are you certain that the 1871 Census person was him and not someone of a similar name in a similar occupation? For example I was doing some research into a transported criminal called Thomas Hughes (no relation) and there were hundreds of the sods. Not just Thomas Hughes but criminals of that name.

    Being someone with water-based connections did his job eventually take him overseas?

    @Dunteachin makes a good point - spelling errors were far more common on official documents back then.

    As a general rule the Census isn't considered good for much before 1841.

    Parish registers? Is he likely to have left a Will?
    sparklepig2002 likes this.
  6. sbkrobson

    sbkrobson Star commenter

  7. NellyFUF

    NellyFUF Lead commenter

    That is good you found that generation back anyway.
    Of course you will have tracked down the two brothers etc. to see where they ended up. And then look up and down the street. Just in case. Also look for the parish where they lived and see if there are BDM. Try UKBDM free search - it's useful when you get stuck. Try local archives ie London Archives. (They have them round the country with this and that in) and try National Archives website search too. For mariners certainly.
    There are always mistakes both on the documents and in transcription too.
    My GGG was down in transcription as a completely different name so that held up the doings.
    peapicker likes this.
  8. peapicker

    peapicker Star commenter

    Born 1866, so with family in 1871. Would have been 15 in 1881, so likely to have been boarding elsewhere and working. Would have been 21 when my grandmother was born and g-gran was 35.

    By 1891 Census, g-gran is living away from Greenwich in Camberwell, 'Living on her own means', wih the two youngest surviving children of her marriage, as well as the two 'affair' children, all assuming the surname of my gran's father. I don't know how szhe would have 'means', unless someone was supporfting her, as she was dirt poor. In 1886, her husband published a Public Notice in the local paper, renouncing liability for any debts contracted by his wife (my g-gran) from that date. It seems to indicate a big falling-out from that point, though she was 4 months pregnant with the last child of her marriage by then, who then died aged 4 months. I wonder if this last child and the previous two were also products of the affair and the husband found out. There was a big attempt to cover the births of my gran and her sister, witrh false information on the BCs. If the affair was responsible for the other late chlldren of the marriage, g-gran would have been having an affair with a teenager in her 30s!

    Another possibility is that one or other of the brothers is the father, given that most of the rest of the information on the birth certs are lies. Both of them were married to other people at the time! They were both a lot closer to g-gran's age than the father she named!

    I wondered if he might be away at sea, but there's nothing on any manifests that I can see. 'Waterman' is distinctly a river occupation and not sea-going, though the opportunity would have been readily available, living in Greenwich.

    He was dead by 1913, as he is recorded as 'deceased' on my grandmother's marriage certificate.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2018
  9. peapicker

    peapicker Star commenter

    Thank you for all the thoughts. This is really helpful - hive mind and all that! :)

    No, Will is very unlikely (and I haven't found one). These were very very poor people. For the same reason, no entries on Electoral Rolls.
  10. peapicker

    peapicker Star commenter

    I've looked up and down the street and at all nearby addresses. I could do with a CCTV camera on the street to confirm which of the brothers she was having the affair with!

    Both brothers died around 1910 and both in the Thames: one in an accident in Tilbury docks and the other committed suicide.

    It has to be the right family. Where else does a very poor woman with nine children meet another man, unless he's already in the vicinity? The surname is not that common and the occupation is right.

    Here's the location, from the Charles Booth London map. They were living in the dark blue housing!

    Booth_Thames Street.png
  11. Aquamarina1234

    Aquamarina1234 Star commenter

    I had a similar problem and it was sheer luck that solved it. My great-great grandmother lied that she was a widow and used the name of the father of her children (whom she never married and who died in the meantime; the children previously held her maiden surname) when she married my GGgrandfather. I could find no record of her previous marriage and these kids with a random name kept turning up on the census.
    I put it on Ancestry and one of the replies came from the offspring of the natural father.
  12. FrankWolley

    FrankWolley Star commenter

    Though it's a longshot, have you though of military records (could he have joined up to escape?) Or - even more unlikely - passenger lists in case he went abroad.
  13. NellyFUF

    NellyFUF Lead commenter

    Hm interesting. Both brothers were dead prior to 1913 and so was your Granny's father.
    Perhaps that is a clue. One of the brothers maybe?
    Have you looked at Uk Free BDM. It seems to be unconnected to other transcription sites so sometimes you find the dates of death etc.
    I like the sound of these people.
    peapicker likes this.
  14. peapicker

    peapicker Star commenter

    I have been through everything! There are entries with his name on passenger manifests to the States, but there is no way to tell whether or not it's him. It's not a very common name, but common enough for there to be a fair number of them!

    It's hard to know whether anything my great-grandmother has put on Birth certs or told her children, is correct. My grandmother gives one name on her marriage cert, which matches the name on her birth cert. Her half-sister, product of the marriage between my great-grandmother and her husband, names the second man, but with a different first name, on her marriage cert.

    I know where my great-gran is buried. Next time I'm in London I shall trot along to her grave and wag my finger at her! :) She's led us all a merry dance!
  15. peapicker

    peapicker Star commenter

    I have been up and down Free BMD and GRO for deaths, searching every year between 1890 and 1913 to try to find him. I have umpteen death certificates, in an attempt to track him down. All the wrong ones. :(
  16. peapicker

    peapicker Star commenter

    I had forgotten that Free BMD is not connected to other sites and haven't looked at it again for a long time. I'll have another trawl through that...
  17. peapicker

    peapicker Star commenter

    Fascinating website! Thanks for that link. I could spent hours scouring through it. No, he's not on there. :( I know his grandmother served 3 months for theft from her employer, though! :)

    I think the lack of credentials is significant too, in that it gives some insight - perhaps - into his character. Being a Waterman was a long apprenticeship. I have the associated papers for the father and brothers. Not only his father and brothers, but generations of the family before them were watermen. It seems perhaps that this man wanted to do things differently. Perhaps wanted something better. Perhaps wouldn't be bothered, or wasn't accepted. Who knows. By 1890 he was apparently doing the job unqualified, so he had no other skills.

    Being a waterman was a tough job - dangerous and poorly paid. Dickens describes it in 'Our Mutual Friend'. There was cholera in 19th C and the Thames was so polluted with sewage and rubbish that you didn't stand much chance if you fell in. The 'Big Stink' was I think 1856 or thereabouts which finally prompted Parliament to take steps to clean up the river. It wouldn't have happened overnight though.
    burajda and sbkrobson like this.
  18. oldsomeman

    oldsomeman Star commenter

    I assume you have been to the watermen Lodge
    to see if they can help you.If he was water man he would be registered and might even have a high membership.
    Secondly you need to use 'ancestory.co' your not already.... they will have parish records on there for a fee and also some have paper comments.
    You can find if others have been searching.
    Most folk are searching backwards not forwards.however use a free account on 'family search.org'.they are the mormons but they deal towards modern day and particually if you think he went to America. I use them a lot for ancient relatives.
    On my family tree I have traced sub members of both my family and the wifes back to French knights and lords and to the kings of Scotland.Unfortunalty, I am not a direct decendent lol
  19. sbkrobson

    sbkrobson Star commenter

    Hmm. Really interesting.
    This was my take whilst wearing my deerstalker a little earlier-
    Knowing the credentials of a genuine Waterman, it would have been offensive to his family to see him use that term to describe himself. It would have undermined the long and arduous road they had to travel themselves to bear the name "Waterman".
    Therefore it was not his idea, it was their's. A front. It was not the fact that he wanted to do things differently, rather, the fact that they wanted a plausible description of his activity when actually he was doing something entirely different.
    Hence my not entirely ridiculous suggestion he was moidered.
  20. oldsomeman

    oldsomeman Star commenter

    Anoter consideration is to remember that often folks told lies to cencus'. My granny seemed to get younger on some census' and lied abaout he bitrth place.as did my mother! she was a Yorkshire lass,not the Deven woman she claimed to be lol

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