The Penultimate Dead End

Updated: 23 August 2013

My aunt never let the truth or mathematics get in the way of a good story.  She had this theory that her grandfather was the illegitimate offspring of one of his older sisters by a gypsy.  This was because he was considerably shorter than his descendents and “swarthy” in colouring.  His birth certificate doesn’t support this theory.  And his oldest sister was only 10 years older than him.

However, it turned out that she was only a generation out, although, as far as I’m aware, still wrong about the gypsy.  When I received my gg-grandfather James Hartley’s birth certificate I was very surprised to see he had no father.

Birth Cert - J Hartley

Which leads me to this post.

Every genealogist eventually finds a dead end in their tree.  By this I don’t mean a roadblock.  A roadblock is where further research, thinking outside the box or a new source of research might find you something that will help.  A dead end is where further information just doesn’t exist and there is nothing further you can do.

I was going to call this the ultimate dead end.  But then I remembered the foundling children I’d seen on parish registers who had no parental information at all.  This to me is the ultimate dead end.

So the penultimate dead end is – an illegitimate child.

My gg-grandfather James Hartley was born in 1840 to Elizabeth Hartley, aged 25 (so not a teenage pregnancy!).  In the 1841 census he’s living with his mother, his aunts Jane, Ellen and Mary, his uncles Henry, John and Joseph and Jane’s illegitimate son Richard Hartley aged 6.  All the grownups worked including 15 year old Joseph.  This was clearly a family where the parents were deceased and the children had stayed together into adulthood.  Jane, the eldest, was around 35 years old at the census (remembering that ages in the 1841 census are rounded).

So what does having an illegitimate child mean for the genealogist.  Generally speaking it means that you lose the paternal line.  But not always…

Some genealogists are lucky because the parish register records the father of the illegitimate child.  Like this from Middleton in Norfolk:

Example of an illegitimate child's baptism from Middleton, Norfolk

[In one Norfolk register I was perusing, the vicar was keeping count and through the baptismal register voicing his disapproval as the couple got up to 9 children without the mother’s husband being anywhere in sight!]

I can’t find a baptism for James in his local parish (which makes me wonder all sorts of things!).  But on James’ marriage certificate from 1862 he suddenly has a father – one John Widdup,  coal dealer.  This leads to a series of ‘what ifs’.

Marriage Cert - J Hartley A Titherington

I have a suspect and I’m reasonably sure it’s him.  Having perused the censuses for 1841, 1851 and 1861, there is only one John Widdup in Yorkshire/Lancashire who was a coal dealer.  And he lived in Salterforth where James lives.  However, this is not confirmation.

There are two last places to look.

The first is in the minute books of local parish.  There I may find John Widdup being “encouraged” to pay maintenance for his son.  This assumes that Elizabeth and her wider family could not support James and asked for poor relief.  Familysearch has a great article on this and similar sources depending on when the child was born.

The other, if you’re lucky enough to find one, is in the will of the putative father.  My possible John Widdup died in 1877 and did leave a will.  However, he left everything to his wife Margaret and their adopted daughter Annie Elizabeth (Possibly the daughter of one of his brothers as she’s listed as a niece in the 1871 census aged 5.  She married Dewhurst Broughton Slater in 1887 and had at least 8 children.).

So I’m now down to the poor records.  If there is nothing there, I will have reached a dead end.  The end of the line, literally!

I’m going to note here that DNA could prove that James was a Widdup.  There are male descendants around for both lines.  However, it won’t prove that this John Widdup was his father.

Being illegitimate

There is a common belief that being illegitimate carried a huge stigma which has only changed in recent times.  It did and it didn’t.

I’ve come across relatives on the England census where the first three children have their mother’s surname and the last 5+ have their father’s.  It wasn’t uncommon for couples to try each other on for size before committing to marriage – if they were poor.  These children were not considered illegitimate by the church although their legal position on inheritance was a bit dubious (see article by Alan Macfarlane on the subject).

If you were rich, then it was a completely different thing.  Money means inheritance and men preferred their money to go to their own offspring.  Woe betide the woman who strayed, although for men it was okay.

Of course, some men acknowledged children that weren’t really their own.  A classic example is Henry Carey the son of Mary Boleyn (sister to Anne).  He was rumoured to be the son of Henry VIII, not his mother’s husband William Carey.  But as William gave Henry his surname we can never be sure if the rumours were true.

So did having one child out of wedlock mean that Elizabeth Hartley never married?  No, she did in 1847 to John Inman.  They had 3 daughters together (haven’t found any baptisms for them either…).

For her sister Jane, it was a different story.  Ten years later in 1851, Jane and Ellen are still unmarried, living with their brother John and young Richard. As far as I’m aware, Jane never married.  There may be a tragic tale associated with her son’s father.  Or not.


Family of Richard Hartley and Sarah Hall

Richard and Sarah married on 24 Mar 1806 in Barnoldswick, Yorkshire but lived down the road in Salterforth. Both died before 1841.

They shouldn’t be confused with Richard Hartley and his wife Sarah Smith who married in Barnoldswick in 1797 and lived in Barnoldswick where their children were born.

1.  Jenny (baptism)/Jane (census) Hartley was born in 1806 in Salterforth, Yorkshire

1.  Richard Hartley born around 1835 (not be confused with the other Richard Hartley born in 1835 in Barnoldswick, up the road from Salterforth)

2.  Richard Hartley was born in 1807 and died in 1808.
3.  Ellen Hartley was born on 14 Oct 1808 in Salterforth, Yorkshire.
4.  Henry Hartley was born on 19 Nov 1811 in Salterforth, Yorkshire. He married Elizabeth Wilkinson on 27 Jun 1841 in Colne, Lancashire.
5.  ELIZABETH HARTLEY was born before 14 May 1815 in Salterforth, Yorkshire, and died between Jan-Mar 1880 in Burnley area, Lancashire. With JOHN WIDDUP:

1.  JAMES HARTLEY was born on 21 Feb 1840 in Salterforth, Yorkshire and died after 1891. He married ANN TITHERINGTON (1843-aft 1891) on 15 Nov 1862 in St Bartholomew, Colne, Lancashire.

Elizabeth married John Inman (c1813-c1887) on 22 Feb 1847 in Colne, Lancashire.
2.  Sarah Inman was born around 1849 – never married
3.  Elizabeth Inman was born around 1854 – married Hartley Laycock in 1877
4.  Jane Inman was born around 1857 – never married

6.  John Hartley was born before 18 Oct 1818 in Salterforth, Yorkshire.
7.  Mary Hartley was born about 1821 and died before 1871.  She married William Banks on 3 Jan 1847 in Barnoldswick, Yorkshire.

1. James Banks was born around 1847 in Salterforth, Yorkshire.
2. Robert Banks was born around 1851 in Salterforth, Yorkshire.
3. Craven Banks was born around 1861 in Salterforth, Yorkshire.

8.  Joseph Hartley was born about 1826. He married Elizabeth Lee on 30 Dec 1849 in Barnoldswick, Yorkshire.

1.  Ellen Hartley was born around 1850 in Foulridge, Lancashire.

Please note that the marriages and grandchildren are the ones I’ve found.  There may be more.


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