Being Led a Merry Chase

I’ve been researching the family of my gg-grandmother Rose Anne Maria Buxton (Mrs James Ebenezer Nicholls, not Mrs Alfred Nicholls).  Her family originally came from Norfolk which is a really easy area to research for free.  Scans of most of the parish registers are available on Family Search and they’re indexed pretty comprehensively on FreeReg.

Rose’s parents were Robert Buxton (1822-1884) and Frances Maw (1823-1905) who lived in Middleton, Norfolk until they moved to the big smoke of Greenwich around 1857.  Robert’s parents were Samuel Buxton (1793-1842) and Phillis Kemp.

And this is where the merry chase begins.  I should point out that this has gone on for a year or two or three!

Samuel and Phillis married in 1821 at St Margaret’s, Kings Lynn which is just up the road from Middleton.  They proceeded to have 4 sons in Middleton:

  1. Robert (1822-1884)
  2. Edward (1825-1830)
  3. George Kemp (1828-1828)
  4. Edward George (1831-1831)

Then in 1833, Samuel has a daughter Elizabeth Kemp Marianne Buxton (1833-1836).  Her mother was called Anne.

Okay.  Perhaps Phillis had died and Samuel had remarried?  The vicar hadn’t changed between 1831 and 1833 and you’d expect him to know who Samuel’s wife was.  There wasn’t another Samuel in Middleton to confuse children and wives with.

The 1851 Census further muddied the waters.  Ann Buxton was the Head of the household which contained her “son” my Robert, his wife and children and a niece Hannah Cozens.  Ann was a grocer and was born around 1799 being 52 years old.  She had been 40 years old in 1841 which was consistent with 1799 being her birth year.  This didn’t debunk the stepmother theory because census information isn’t always correct.

In 1870 there is a death entry for Ann Buxton on FreeBMD for the Middleton area.  Her age is given as 78.

So at this point all the documents before 1833 have Phillis and all the ones after have Ann.  So I’m thinking that Phillis died and Samuel had remarried, possibly to her sister.  I found a Kemp family in nearby Great Massingham.  George Kemp (1746-1828) and his wife Elizabeth Church (1752-1798) had a number of children including a Phillis Kemp born in 1792 and a Hannah born in 1795.  Could Hannah be Ann?

But I wasn’t finding a death for Phillis or a marriage for Samuel and Ann.  I trawled through the actual parish registers for Middleton and the neighbouring parishes.  Nothing.

Reaching out for help on the Trade Me Genealogy board it was suggested that I look into Hannah Cozens and see where that got me.  It got me Hannah Kemp marrying William Cozens in 1824 and having a daughter Hannah in 1837.  So it was quite obvious from the dates that Hannah Kemp was NOT Ann.

One theory down, but still didn’t answer the questions of what happened to Phillis and who is Ann?

I revisited Ann Buxton’s death entry on FreeBMD.  Her age is given as 78 which would make her born around 1792 which is when Phillis was born.  Maybe they were the same person?

I couldn’t find her 1861 Census entry to see how old she was that year (I did later and her age was 66 – born around 1795).  I was pretty sure she was still in Middleton as that’s where she died, but perhaps she was taking a trip somewhere in 1861 and not on the census?  It was time to think outside the box.  What other records could there be for the 1860s?

The answer is directories.  The University of Leicester has a great website called Historical Directories which has digitised and indexed many trade and post office directories .  I’d previously found shopkeeper Ann in the 1854 White’s History, Gazetteer & Directory of Norfolk.  Now I looked for ones in the 1860s.

Up popped the Post Office Directory of Cambs, Norfolk & Suffolk,1869. [Part 2: Norfolk] so I looked for Middleton.  On page 353 there is Middleton and listed under ‘Commercial’ is:

Buxton, Phillis (Mrs.) shopkeeper

Lots of swear words promptly followed!  They WERE the same person!  Chase over.  Yay!

So the lessons to be learnt:

  • Never assume a change in name means a change in person unless you have documentation to conclusively prove it.  People weren’t always called by the name that came first or, as this case proves, by any name that’s been previously recorded!
  • People have been lying about their age for a very long time!

Maw/Man/Shaw – Old Illegible Handwriting

Old handwriting has been the bane of my life for quite a while.  My Mum used to be summoned to read letters from my Great-Aunt – and she was quite legible!  If you ever look at old parish registers, sometimes you get lovely neat copperplate writing.  But often it’s a style all it’s own.  This is only an issue when you don’t know what you’re looking at.

Take for example the surname of my gg-grandmother Rose Anne Maria Buxton’s mother Frances.  On Rose’s birth certificate it looks like Shaw.  On Frances’ marriage certificate, it still looks like Shaw and is indexed so.  But is it?

On the original parish record (which I found on the IGI, see below for more), her surname clearly begins with an ‘M’.  There are lots to compare it to!  But what are the other letters???  Here it is (click on it to see full version):

Other family records suggest it’s Maw.  Which is a name.

So what does this mean for further research?  It means I need to search all three possibilities and I should check original documents.  The indexes on all computerised sources are only as good as the transcriber’s ability to make out the words!

Update 2 Jan 2012 – found another variation – Moy!!!

Norfolk records on the IGI

The IGI was recently revamped and now has the option of looking through their collections (somewhat like Ancestry).  Hidden in there are the unindexed images of various Norfolk (and some other county’s) records.  The ‘Browse Images’ against the number of records is the give away.

FreeReg have indexed many of the parishes (see here for where they’re currently at), but if they haven’t got to it you will need to know where and around when you’re looking for.  And they can be a bit slow to download.  But, you can save the images you find and it’s good to be able to browse the records of a particular town if you’re looking to see what’s there.  You never know what you might find!  Especially when the spelling changes with every generation!