Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Family Dynamics Revealed From Parish Registers and Other Records

Often what is on baptism records tells you a lot about family dynamics. Take the family Hannah Edwards (nee Dodd) in Shropshire. She was the 2nd great-grandmother of a friend of mine who I was helping with family history research.

The 1851 England census, for Wenlock parish, Shropshire, showed that Hannah Edwards, age 40, was a widow with three young children still living at home: Mary, age 8; Richard, age 6; and John, age 1. A brother, Richard Dodd, also was in the same house. All of the individuals had been born in Wenlock parish. From this record we had indications of Hannah’s year and place of birth, her maiden name and the possible time of her marriage (before 1843) if they had not had any children prior to Mary. We could also assume that her husband had died within a year or so, given the age of the youngest child. I did, in fact, find death and burial records for the husband and father, Richard Edwards. He died at the age of 41, on March 21, 1851, just a week before the census was taken, and was buried in Wenlock on March 25th.
Portion of 1851 England census for Wenlock parish showing family of Hannah Edwards, widow 
(image accessed from Ancestry October 19, 2013, copyright The National Archives)
But what other information could we find about Hannah, her parents and siblings, her marriage and her children.

Ancestry had other census records. FamilySearch and FreeBMD were helpful in identifying possible birth, marriage and death records. From that information pertinent BMD certificates for post 1837 events could be ordered from the General Record Office. Fortunately many of the Shropshire parish records are now available on FindMyPast courtesy of the Shropshire Council. I was able to find the images for the baptisms of most of Hannah’s children.

Hannah’s first child, Elizabeth, was baptized on December 4, 1841. The baptism entry showed the surnames of both Richard and Hannah; so there was a question about whether they were, in fact, married at the time. Elizabeth does not appear to be listed on the 1851 census and may have died prior to when the census was taken.
The baptism record for daughter Mary has not yet been found. Son Richard was baptized on December 30, 1844 although the entry shows his mother’s name as Susannah, not Hannah. The date does fit with the 1851 census information, however, so this entry may be the right one and the name recorded for the mother may have been an error. Another son, Nicholas, was baptized on January 24, 1847 but apparently died in 1849. John, the youngest child, was baptized on November 11, 1849 which information fits with the 1851 census of him being only one year old on his last birthday prior to when the census was taken on March 30th. His father was shown on the baptism entry indicating he was probably alive at the time of the baptism.

I did end up finding their marriage information – December 23, 1844, just a week before Richard Junior’s baptism. It appeared they had two children together prior to their marriage – almost three!
Marriage certificate for Richard Edwards and Hannah Dodd, December 23, 1844 at Linley parish, Shropshire (certificate acquired from General Record Office)
Hannah Edwards appeared on the 1851, 1861 and 1871 England censuses, living in Much Wenlock parish, Shropshire although on the last one she is shown aged 50, rather than 60. I am quite sure this is the same person, though. She died in 1879 and was buried in Much Wenlock.

Finding other personal information for Hannah also posed some problems. The marriage record did not show her father’s name so it was not known whether he was alive, dead or estranged at the time of the marriage. Other information would be needed. The censuses all indicated she was born in Wenlock. A search was made for a Hannah Dodd, born about 1811. The only data that fit was an 1812 baptism in the Much Wenlock Parish register for a base child born to Sarah Dodd, a widow. This precise wording on the baptism entry establishes important facts about the family. The status of Hannah’s birth is entirely missing from indexes of the event.

Later searches revealed that Richard Dodd had married Sarah Browne in 1796 and that they had at least five children: Joseph, born in 1796; William, born in 1799; Anne, born in 1798; John, born in 1803; and Richard, born in 1804. The eight-year gap between Hannah and the last child is interesting. With Sarah indicated as being widowed, along with the illegitimate designation for Hannah, the possibility is raised that her mother was perhaps involved with someone other than Richard Dodd at the time of Hannah’s conception and may explain why Hannah chose to not show a father's name on her marriage record. There is a burial record for a Richard Dodd in Much Wenlock parish dated October 14, 1803, which is five months before the birth of Richard Dodd Junior. The baptism record for Richard Junior does not indicate the father was deceased but this is the only record of death in the parish for someone of that name and that fits the time frame.

Lots of questions still surround the life of Hannah (Dodd) Edwards but I believe I have found much of the pertinent information. The question that may never be answered is who her father actually was.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.