Monday, 2 September 2013

Looking for Ada Nellie: An example of lateral thinking

One recent query I received as an OPC was to find the baptism of Ada Nellie Smith, born around 1896. Ada’s granddaughter, in making the query, had information from census documents that the family had lived in the Plympton St. Mary area in 1901. She had not been able to find a birth record for Ada Nellie Smith anywhere, though, which was strange since, by this time, civil records were fairly complete and should have been relatively easy to source. (How many times have we thought that!)

I did not immediately find the individual or the family in my parish information; so I asked a few more questions about the data sources and any other family names that might have been recorded.

According to the 1901 census sheet, which I sourced on Ancestry: the parents were John and Ellen Smith; the family lived at 22, Whitleigh Terrace, St. Budeaux, Plympton St Mary; and Ada had a brother, Harry, aged 3. (Readers may choose to use either or for searches.)

Now the actual census document shows that Plympton St. Mary was recorded as the Rural District and the Civil and Ecclesiastical Parish was St. Budeaux. This parish is not one of mine; so I was not able to look up any baptism, marriage or burial information in my records. The granddaughter had misinterpreted the entry, thinking the enumeration was for Plympton St. Mary parish and had come to me as the area OPC for answers. This is not unusual since Plympton St. Mary is the name of both the Registration District (RD) and one of the parishes in the district. This RD is made up of nineteen separate parishes and there are many occasions when I have had to direct someone to a parish different than the four I administer.

Anyway, I did a little further digging and found the family on the 1911 census as well.

Both censuses showed that Ada had been born in Plymouth, not Plympton St. Mary. Since little Ada Smith did not appear on any index I thought that perhaps her birth might have been recorded with a different surname. Maybe she had been born before her mother’s marriage. Hey, it happens! Ada was shown as four years old in 1901 and 14 in 1911; so I searched FreeBMD for an Ada Nellie, born between 1896 and 1897. I found an Ada Nellie Puddicombe, whose birth was registered in the Exeter RD (Devon), in the October-November-December quarter of 1896. That was the only instance of a birth record for an Ada Nellie of any surname. I thought it worth following up because Ada’s mother was shown on the 1901 and 1911 censuses as being born in Newton Abbott which is not far from Exeter.

The granddaughter confirmed that the marriage certificate for John and Ellen, which she had previously obtained, did show Ellen’s last name as Puddicombe and that she was a spinster at the time of the marriage on September 1, 1896. It appeared we were on the right track!

Was it possible that the parents recorded her birthplace on the census as Plymouth to avoid any questions as to her origin, especially if she was illegitimate? Could Ellen, in fact, have been a widow, rather than single and the information on her marriage record was in error? Was John Ada’s natural father? Was it also possible that Ellen Puddicombe was not entirely truthful about her age on various census and other records? We knew that the age recorded for her on her marriage certificate was not quite in line with that shown on the 1901 and 1911 censuses. These were all questions that begged for answers. I suggested that a copy of the 1896 birth certificate for Ada Nellie Puddicombe be ordered from the General Record Office to see what parentage was shown.

The granddaughter duly purchased the birth record only to find out that the parents’ names were shown as Emma and Fred Puddicombe! So back we went to the drawing board. Hmmm – we should have asked that the information be checked to see that the mother’s name was Ellen. The answer – no – would then have come back and the cost of this certificate could have been avoided.

I next tried searching records for just a female with the surname, Puddicombe, born in 1896, in the Plymouth area. Again, perhaps I should have done that earlier, as well, in order to get a broader sampling of possibilities. On FindMyPast I came across a baptism entry for Adra Nellie Puddicombe, parents John and Ellen Puddicombe, born June 13, 1896 and baptized November 4, 1896, in Charles, Plymouth. Given the parents’ forenames, that looked promising. (Readers may choose to use either or for searches.)
Their residence was Mount Pleasant, Egg Buckland parish, Devon. There was also a baptism recorded for a boy, John Henry Smith, in 1898, parents John and Ellen Smith, also living in Egg Buckland. Egg Buckland parish is right next door to St. Budeaux parish and both are part of greater Plymouth.
We concluded that this John Henry was probably the Harry shown on the censuses. The 1901 census had shown him as being born in Egg Buckland. Now the family members started to fit together even better. FreeBMD had a birth entry in the July-August-September quarter of 1896, for an Adary Nellie S. Puddicombe. Now I was even more confident we were close. The use in searches of the forename, Ada, and the surname, Smith, had distracted us and the concentration on only the surname, Puddicombe, was providing more useful data.

The granddaughter now agreed to purchase this second birth certificate to see if it would finally answer the question as to Ada’s origin. And it did!

The name on the part of the record for forenames was Adary Nellie Smith. Her surname was shown as Puddicombe. Her birth date was June 13, 1896, the same as that shown on the later baptism entry, and the birth was registered on July 24, 1896. The father’s name was not shown but the mother was indicated as Ellen Puddicombe. Ellen’s residence, 27 Harwell Street, Plymouth. That was the same address as was shown for Ellen on the marriage certificate.

All the pieces now appeared to have fallen into place. The use of the surname Smith on the birth record strongly indicated that John was Ada’s father. The residences shown for Adra Nellie and John Henry, along with their parents’ forenames of John and Ellen, in the baptism register, suggested the same family. The addresses on Ada’s birth certificate and Ellen’s marriage certificate confirmed Ellen, the mother of Ada, was also Ellen, the bride of John. The birth dates on both Ada’s birth certificate and the baptism entry strongly indicated they were the same individual.

One conflicting piece of information was that the baptism entry showed Ada’s surname as Puddicombe but her birth certificate had Smith. The Vicar in the parish of Charles, Plymouth, probably possibly did not approve of using the child’s father’s surname, Smith, since the parents were not married at the time of her birth, but would likely have consented to show there was a father present by the name of John. It is interesting to speculate why the couple waited until September to marry and until November to have her baptized.

In this case, the fact that we could not find a birth record for Ada Smith, at a time – late 19th century – when such information should certainly have been recorded, suggested that the name under which she was born and registered was not the name she went by in later years. Ada had been recorded on various documents as Adra and Adary although, to her granddaughter’s knowledge, had never gone by either of those names. That certainly threw our searches off.

Through a lateral thought-process, using the maiden name of her mother and a birth from the censuses, success in discovering Ada’s origin was finally realized.

Baptism images reproduced here are used with the kind permission of the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office, Census records are the property of The National Archives and published under their Open Government License. Birth and marriage certificates were obtained from the GeneralRegister Office of England and Wales. Images were downloaded from Ancestry or FindMyPast , or copied from my own microfiche.

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