Corroborating some old stories from Posen

I’ve been lucky enough to have had access to some amazing artefacts from my family history, including old photos from around the world, and carefully preserved documents revealing ancestor names. Probably my favourite of these is a memoir written by my grandfather’s brother Wolfgang for their sister.

Written in German, it runs to about 35 pages and provides an engaging history of all the relatives that Wolfgang knew and/or had heard about.  It’s deliberately anecdotal and no sources are given.  Needless to say, I’ve taken it upon myself to try back up and flesh out the stories he tells.

Wolfgang’s mother, my great grandmother, was Rosa Benjamin (1880-1927).  Wolfgang tells a vivid story about Rosa’s great grandfather, Benjamin Dolziger, who was apparently murdered in a forest in 1820. Thereafter, we’re told, his son took his first name as his last name, and became Israel Benjamin.


This is all very atmospheric, but in terms of bare facts all we have is that a man called Benjamin Dolziger died somewhere in the province of Posen in 1820.  Unsurprisingly, there are few death records from Posen dating back this far. I had also drawn a blank with the name Dolziger – nothing seemed to come up.

As happens so often, corroboration came via researching cousins and siblings.  Wolfgang explains that his maternal grandfather Isaac Benjamin had cousins who were called Jakubowski, so Isaac’s father Israel must have had at least one sister.  He provides enough information about the Jakubowski siblings to give me a shot at finding them, noting there were two boys, Gustav and Ewald, and two sisters: Flora, who married “one of the rich Schottländers”, and another who married a Phillip Königsberger who lived in the Höfchenstrasse. This address is confirmed in a Breslau directory from 1915:


At this point I had the notion of Posen as a place of origin (albeit vast area), and some biographical details.  I had some early luck. It turns out that a kind of census was taken in Posen from 1870-1931. This seems to have been more akin to the British 1939 register in that names and dates of birth, but no occupations were taken, and the entries seem to have been kept updated as people married/died/moved etc.

Anyway, some persistent searching led me to a series of census records for this family. These are very hard to decipher but I did get used to the handwriting,  Key bits of info, such as the Königsberger and Schottländer marriages, plus the fact that they had all moved to Breslau, helped me to pin things down. Without these distinctive first names this would have been very difficult, particularly since ‘Jakubowski’ seems to have been used interchangeably with ‘Jakubowska’.


The quickest way I found to search the Posen census was to do a site search with a phrase: site:// “lastname firstname”.  Some kind people have done a simple index of all the digital records, which is an enormous help as the names can be very difficult to decipher and you could easily miss what you’re looking for if you just browsed through them.


It was good that they included dates of birth, as the above mentioned Flora also went by the names of Pauline and Vogel!  All the records showed a home town of Kurnik (aka Kórnik, Poland). This gave me something to work with, including some additional sister names.  As well as Flora, there was Bertha and Marie.  But since the parents weren’t living with any of the children, and I didn’t know their names, I had no way of finding them.

Searching for Flora and her husband Schottländer, I found another amazing online resource, the Familiendatenbank Juden im Deutschen Reich, which had a transcription from Flora’s marriage:

I now had the parents’ names and the tantalising suggestion that my legendary ancestor who was murdered in the forest was called Goeczlig, not Dolziger!  I contacted the owner of the site, who very kindly sent me the original marriage record (which in fact was on the same site as the census, the incredible but somewhat hard to navigate


The name as written was definitely Goeczlig, which was great for clarity, but didn’t fix the fact that searching for this name produces zero records!

At this point I stepped back from the search. After all, I had no firm proof these people were related to me at all, and I couldn’t see how I was going to get any further for now. This was perhaps a eighteen months ago.

But yesterday while researching some of my partner’s family nearby, I came across the Poznan Project again. This is an online project to index marriages from the 19th century in the Posen area.  I’d been able to find the marriage of her Polish great great great grandparents, who had emigrated to the USA, and this revealed the names of four new ancestors.

Then it occurred to me to search for Jakubowski weddings, and the following came up:


Bingo! This was my first evidence linking Amalie and the Jakubowski family to the name Benjamin.  Strangely, this was 1880, five years before Flora’s wedding, so it’s curious that the maiden name is given here as Benjamin, yet five years later Flora used the original, Goeszlig.  The original record was available via so I was able to double check.


And then today I found Ewald’s death record which similarly names Amalie Benjamin.


I can now say with reasonable certainty that my GGG grandfather Israel Benjamin was originally called Goezlig/Goeczlig/Goezlik and that he had a sister called Amalie.

Postscript: One Goezlik Benjamin, appears in the following publication listing naturalised Jews.

HIRSCHBERG, Isidor: Verzeichniß sämmtlicher naturalisirten Israeliten im Großherzogthum Posen, Bromberg 1836.

He’s a butcher (as was Israel Benjamin), and was registered in Kurnik in 1836. If this is our man, his death might have been later than 1820 as estimated by Wolfgang. If a civil record of Israel’s death somehow materialises (he might have died a week or so too early depending on when exactly civil registration began in Breslau!), I might be able to corroborate this.

Next steps:

  • I need to try and figure out when Amalie died. Alas I fear it was early and pre-civil registration (1874 for Posen).
  • I also don’t know the name of Israel’s wife, which is a major gap in my tree. Wolfgang names her as Rebekka but I know from experience this could also mean Frederike or another variation. EDIT 2019: her son Isaac’s death record turned up; she was Rebecca Kempinski from Kepno/Kempen
  • However, I do know that Israel died on September 21st 1874, so if I can find the civic record of his death, and it’s complete, it should confirm the names of his parents plus the name of his wife.
  • I’ve written to the German embassy here in London asking the best way to get the death record without making a trip to Berlin.

Riveting stuff (well, it might be of some interest if you’re related to me!)

The elusive William Blackburn

I realise I hadn’t got round to writing up my recent research into my GGGG grandfather, William Blackburn and his wife Elizabeth (née Burbidge). Before I forget where I was, here goes:

Here are the only cold facts I have on William:
– William Blackburn married Elizabeth Burbidge, who was 17 or 18, in 1807 at St Mary Newington, London and they had four children from 1808 to 1815.
– William was a clerk (1809), then a beer and porter dealer (1811) based on baptism records for daughters Elizabeth and Julia at St Olaves, Southwark.
– He was then briefly in the King’s Bench prison in 1812 due to a debt to Thomas Riddell, a brewer. His residences were Weston and Dean streets (both very near where the Shard skyscraper is now)
– By the time of his third child Mary’s birth in 1813 (baptised at St George the Martyr, Southwark), his profession has changed to Fishmonger. It’s the same in 1815 when his son John Richards Blackburn is born. [note the middle name is the child’s grandmother’s maiden name!]. Their address is London Road (in Southwark near Elephant and Castle)
– His wife dies aged 30 in 1821, address London road
– By 1839 when daughter Mary marries, he’s listed as ‘Gentleman, deceased’. All I know for sure is that he died some time between about March 1815 and March 1839.

1812 William Blackburn Gazette

Prisoners in Kings bench prison in the county of Surrey.
William-Blackburn, formerly of Weston-strcet, and late of 
Dean-street, St. Olaves, Southwark, spirit and porter-merchant. Third notice

A William Blackburn is back in debtor’s prison (the Marshalsea, also in Southwark) again for brief periods in n 1816 and 1821 but I haven’t yet proved it was him.

I want to know when he was born and when he died, but have struggled to prove either of these. As noted before, there’s a baptism at st Olaves in 1780 that *could* be him but there’s no proof (when I was less experienced at this type of research, I decided to assume it was him. I’ve since realised how ridiculous that was!). He could obviously have been much older, and he might also not have come from Southwark originally at all. There’s a death (aged 58) in 1832 in Nelson Square, Southwark that could also be him (But there are others as well – this is just the most likely one)

To add to my confusion: there was a famous William Blackburn from Southwark who designed prisons. He died in 1790 but left a son also called William (too young to be mine and who apparently didn’t marry!) who went on to be a barrister at Lincolns Inn (he died in 1846). What baffles me is that in a poll book for 1837 there’s a William Blackburn, fishmonger, resident at Lincoln’s Inn! I haven’t yet separated these two (could the barrister have moonlighted as a fishmonger? Seems unlikely!) but am uncomfortable with the notion that the name and profession can have been a pure coincidence.

A wider question is “what did ‘gentleman’ really mean? That you didn’t have to work? If so, it doesn’t really match with the picture I had built up of William. I did go through post office directories but couldn’t find him at all so I’m guessing he was employed as a fishmonger by someone else…

Here are my slightly pathetic attempts to answer my key research questions from May:

Mary [Burbidge nee Richards] is in London with Elizabeth by 1807. Were John and William jr with her?
I didn’t get too far with this. Post office directories didn’t reveal anything.

When and where did William Burbidge the grocer die?
Blank again! I couldn’t find a death. I now suspect that his daughter Elizabeth was born in Gillingham rather than Market Harborough. Perhaps he died in Market Harborough and his widow moved to Kent to be near family? (This is pure speculation). There is a reported bankruptcy of a Mary Burbidge of Sheerness, grocer.  I wonder if the national archives might have documents that could shed light.

Were both William Blackburn and Elizabeth dead by the time of the 1841 census? I certainly can’t find them.
Finally I have an answer. Yes,  they were both dead as noted above.

How can I prove or disprove the assumed baptism for William in  1780 (parents Edward Blackburne and Mary Rowley)
Well to be honest, I think the question is wrong. As noted above, I don’t know enough about William’s age for it to even be a fair assumption that this is the right person.

The mystery continues.  It’s sad that Elizabeth Blackburn (nee Burbidge) died so young.  Two of her brothers, John and William, lived to old age.  I’ve never traced elder brother Thomas, who may perhaps have died in infancy.

Recap on who these people are:

My grandmother’s father was John Victor Charles Jones (b. 1874)
John’s mother was Mary Jane Moore (b. 1849)
Mary’s mother was Julia Blackburn (b. 1811)
Julia was the daughter of William Blackburn and Elizabeth Burbidge (b. abt 1789)


May 4th 1871: a family wedding

May 4th 1871 was a big day in my family history. James Jones married Julia Anne Moore at St. Faith’s Church in Havant, Hampshire.

Notice in the London and China Telegraph

Neither bride nor groom were my direct ancestors, but later that same year, James’s brother Charles would marry Julia’s sister Mary Jane. These were my great great grandparents, so many of the wedding guests would have been my blood relatives.

More to the point, back in 1971 (celebrating the centenary?!), my great aunt Olga had some prints made up from a glass slide she had found, meaning I have this rather amazing photograph:


Olga’s notes say this was taken on the croquet lawn of Jessamine House, North Street, Havant (the Moore house, which Olga would have known well, and which was sadly demolished some time in the 1950s and was on the site of what is now the Meridian Shopping complex).

Of course, I’m now on a mission to identify all the people! There are four people I’m 100% certain of, and another two who I’m pretty sure of.  As for the remaining 13 figures, I have no proof but lots of credible candidates. By looking at which close relatives were alive at the time, it’s possible to come up with a group of 15-20 or so people from whom these 13 are probably taken.

Sadly, quite a few close relatives had died in the 10 years before this was taken. The groom’s mother, Ann Maria Jones (nee Heighington) died in Ludlow in 1862, and that same year, the bride’s half-brother Albert had died in Havant aged just 25. The bride’s father, James Moore, had died in 1865, followed just two months later by her half-sister Elizabeth.

Let’s have a look at that photo again:


The four definite identifications I can make are the bride and groom and their brother and sister (who will be bride and groom 6 months later):

11. James Jones, aged 38 or 39
12. Julia Anne Jones (nee Moore), aged 22
5. Charles Richard Jones, aged 42 or 43
8. Mary Jane Moore, aged 20

The next two are highly probable:
6. This is almost certainly the groom’s father, Richard Jones, a publisher and bookseller from Ludlow. He would have been 74, having been born in 1797
10. This is almost certainly Julia Moore (nee Blackburn), aged 60

From here on out, things get highly speculative! Obviously some of these people might not have been family at all. However, some of the following guesses are likely to be right, and many may eventually be verifiable if other photographs of these people emerge.  OK, it’s not that likely, but it’s possible!

Some rationalising:


  • As of 1871, the groom had four surviving siblings, all brothers.  I think these four brothers are the younger men on the left of the picture (the elder man being their father).
  • Of these brothers, Charles Richard Jones, has been identified beyond doubt as 5.
  • Younger brother Henry Jones (33) was not married, and is most likely number 9.
  • Other brothers Thomas Richard Jones and Whitmore Jones were both married, and with their wives probably make up the two couples who are 1, 2, 3 and 4.
  • Assuming I’ve identified him correctly, widowed father Richard Jones has an older woman next to him. Interestingly, the mother of son Thomas R. Jones’s wife is resident in Richard Jones’s house in Ludlow in the 1871 census (one month earlier). This leads me to speculate that 7. is this person, Mary Ann Knight (nee Binsted). Adding to the connection, Mary Ann Knight is the sister-in-law of the bride’s father’s first wife (she was married to George, the brother of James Moore’s first wife, Ann Knight)


  • If the left hand is the Jones side (excepting Mary Jane, who is seated next to her betrothed), it follows that the right hand side might be the Moore side.
  • There are two younger couples (?), an older couple and the seated man, who looks like a clergyman.
  • Julia Ann had only two surviving siblings: the aforementioned Mary Jane, and Laura Smithers (nee Moore, 32), who was married to William Henry Smithers (aged about 31). Laura and William could be 16 and 17
  • OK – I’m now out of parents, siblings and their spouses. Next up, I thought perhaps other close relatives who either live near Hampshire or have associations with the area. If 14. is the clergyman, that leaves two couples to find.
  • The older couple could be Mary Luning nee Blackburn (57) and her husband Charles (65). Mary had previously lived with her uncle just up the road in Emsworth.
  • Or perhaps more likely candidates are Edward Moore and his wife Sarah (nee Knight). Both were born around Havant, and Sarah is the sister of James Moore’s first wife Ann. The couple lived in Islington, London in 1871.
  • This leaves the younger couple.  They could be the bride’s first cousin Julia Ellen Taylor née Luning b. 1844 (26) and husband John Jasper Taylor b.1837 (34)
  • Or other first cousins Elizabeth Hulbert b. 1838 (31) and husband John Burnett Hulbert b. 1835 (36).

There are some sad times ahead for these people.  After returning to China with James, Julia had two children, but sadly died not long after her second daughter was born.  James then married Jane Cable, and bizarrely, his brother-in-law William Smithers later married Jane’s sister Georgina, having been widowed in 1884.

So here’s my speculative key to this photo as it stands.  If anyone reading this has any photographic evidence to confirm or contradict this, or any other opinions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Number Definitely this person Could be this person Age of the person I think/know it is
1 Maria Anna Jones (whitmore’s wife) 24
2 Richard Thomas Jones 35
3 Whitmore Jones 37
4 Mary Frances Jones (Richard Thomas’s wife) 37
5 Charles Richard Jones 43
6 Richard Jones 74
7 Mary Ann Knight 68
8 Mary Ann Moore 60
9 Henry Jones 33
10 Julia Moore 20
11 James Jones 39
12 Julia Anne Moore 22
13 John jasper taylor 33
14 The vicar [or uncle George Moore was a Wesleyan minister]
15 Ellen Taylor née Luning 27
16 Henry William Smithers 31
17 Laura Moore 32
18 Sarah Moore nee Knight 51
19 Edward Moore 53

An illuminating Will: John Richards Burbidge

As a follow up to my previous post on how I got through a brick wall, here’s an account of a will from which it was possible to squeeze some valuable information. Warning: this post is about research techniques and is probably not interesting to anyone except me!

I was able to order a copy of the will of John Richards Burbidge (d. 1873, brother of my GGGG Grandmother Elizabeth Burbidge) directly from the government’s probate service at Less than a week after I ordered it, a scanned copy was available for me to download.

While I’m still struggling with many of the open questions from the end of my last post, this will answered many other questions I didn’t know I had yet!

John opens with a bequest to “Louisa Cole daughter of my cousin Ann Cole, ” which intrigued me. Soon after he mentions bequests to his nieces Elizabeth Chapman, Julia Moore and Mary Luning. He also mentions his niece Esther Monger alongside his grandchildren.

This gave me absolute confirmation that all my previous research was correct – among other things, John had to be Elizabeth’s brother if Julia Moore nee Blackburn was his niece.

But I was more excited about “Louisa Cole daughter of my cousin Ann Cole”, since the identity of any cousin of John (b. 1785) would surely provide clues about the family of his mother or father. Would it be possible to figure this out? If Ann Cole was John’s cousin, she would have to have been born one of the following:

  • Ann Burbidge (dau of a male sibling of William Burbidge)
  • Ann ??? (dau of a female sibling of William Burbidge)
  • Ann Richards (dau of a male sibling of Mary Richards)
  • or Ann ??? (dau of a female sibling of Mary Richards)

I searched birth records for each of these possibilities but turned up nothing conclusive. It occurred to me that the best way to find them conclusively would be to search for Ann and Louisa Cole in the same house. has a good search interface customised when you’re in a particular record set. So I searched the 1851 census for Louisa Cole, with Ann (include variant spellings) in the same household.  This brought up 2 or 3 possibilities. I then did the same for 1861. One result stood out:

  • An Ann Cole has daughter Louisa Cole living with her, who was born around 1827 in Hampshire.
  • Ann was born in Brompton, Kent around 1795
  • She has an unmarried sister called Pugh living with her, also born in Brompton, Kent.
  • The three are in Ewell near Kingston in 1851 (not far from Surbiton where John was), and then in Brighton in 1861 (this is where John was in 1873 when he died)

At this stage I was still not certain. Both Louisa and Ann were still in Brighton in 1871, and I had inferred from will that perhaps Ann was dead by then (if not, I wondered why John specifically left money to Louisa and not to Ann).

However, a number of factors started to point in the right direction:

  • Louisa was born in Emsworth/Warblington – so another connection with John, who lived there in 1841.
  • Also Ann’s place of birth was Brompton, Kent, which is right by Chatham, where John’s brother William settled.

I was of course very lucky – since Ann had an unmarried sister living with her, I had her maiden name.  The name was also a familiar one – Ann Pugh had been a witness in Elizabeth Burbidge and William Blackburn’s marriage. I now know this was Elizabeth’s aunt (or her aunt’s daughter).  Armed with the census information, I now had the following baptisms to search for:

  • Ann Pugh, daughter of XY Richards or daughter of XY Burbidge, born about 1795 in Brompton, Kent
  • Louisa Cole, daughter of Ann Pugh and XX Cole, born about 1830 in Hampshire/Emsworth

Searching on Louisa first, one candidate jumped out.  It’s slightly hard to be definite because the years of birth given in each census varied wildly (although in once case the enumerator has clearly swapped out the ages of the sister and daughter). It appears that both Ann and Louisa are about 5-10 years older than they’ve said they were:

1820 Louisa Cole Baptism

For Ann, there was only one real candidate in the baptism records:
1791 Ann Pugh Baptism

While still speculative, this seemed promising. I then found this marriage:

1816 ann pugh thomas cole marriage

Ann Pugh married Thomas Cole on 30th Jul 1816 in Alverstoke. It’s not far from Emsworth. It’s probably them, but I’m not too worried about it. What I’m really interested in is Ann’s parentage, so I can confirm how she is the cousin of John Richards Burbidge.  If her father was William James Pugh, that’s quite a distinctive name, which is encouraging.

This left me with the following hypothesis to research:
–  William James Pugh married Ann ??? (Richards or Burbidge I hoped!) some time before Ann Pugh’s birth in 1791.

I was flabbergasted to find the following almost immediately:

1788 Ann Richards William James Pugh marriage

Bingo! Thanks to John’s bequest to the daughter of his cousin, I now knew that my 5G grandmother Mary Richards (later Burbidge and Gravatt) had a sister called Ann.  Coupled with a kind message by the writer of the parish record (‘mother from Thorpe, Leic.’), I now had far more to go on when seeking Mary’s baptism.

Sure enough, I was able to find five children, baptised 1757 to 1763, of John Richards and wife Mary in Thorpe Acre, Leicestershire.  The five children were John, Dorothy, Mary, Ann and Elizabeth.

While more proof would be welcome, I’m now satisified I have the correct baptisms. As well as Mary and Ann, I note that the witnesses at Ann’s wedding were Dorothy and Samuel Cole.  1788 Ann Richards W J Pugh marriage record

A quick search of the records (here I’m lucky the marriages were happening in London parishes where the records have been preserved) revealed that Samuel Cole married Dorothy Richards in 1782 (with sister Elizabeth as a witness!). While I don’t have absolute proof of this, it appears that Ann Pugh and her husband Thomas Cole were first cousins.

1782 Dorothy Richards marriage record

I can now welcome John Richards (senior) and his wife Mary into my direct line of ancestors.  And a quick google of “John Richards” “Thorpe Acre” even brings up what’s almost certainly Mary’s grave at Dishley Churchyard:

2.     Mary wife of John Richards of Thorpe Acre d. 1776 aged 39.  Stone 2 x 4 ft., curved top with border decoration.  Engraver – N. Webster.  Verse: Within this grave a social friend is laid / Who hath the common debt of Nature paid / When living, honest, generous and kind / Now dead, a loss to all friends left behind / But she’s to happy regions wing’d away / Where souls enjoy soft rest and endless day.

While I had to work for it, this was a very pleasing haul from my £10 investment in John Richards Burbidge’s will, and 145 years on, I’m very grateful to him for his generosity to his cousin!

One point for further research: the names ‘King’ and ‘Cave’ come up as middle names.  At a guess, Cave might be William Burbidge’s mother’s maiden name, while ‘King’ might be John Richards’s wife Mary’s maiden name.  I haven’t been able to corroborate either.

Next up – a summary of my (so far forlorn) attempts to track down William Blackburn!

How I got through a brick wall: the parentage of Elizabeth Burbidge

There’s no magic formula for getting through “brick walls” – aka stubborn ancestors about whom we can discover so little that we can’t trace their line back any further. For me it has always come down to a mixture of persistence and luck.

All I knew about Elizabeth Burbidge was that she had married William Blackburn in London in 1807.  Even this knowledge was slightly sketchy – I knew that William had married someone called Burbidge and that his daughter Julia (my GGG Grandmother) had been born in Southwark, London. This led me to his marriage to Elizabeth Burbidge.

Coming at the right time and in the right approximate place, I had to assume this was the correct marriage. But I had no concrete proof of this – that is, nothing to prove that this was my William Blackburn.

When I examined the original marriage record, there was a paucity of information. This is typical of parish records of the time. While baptisms can sometimes reveal the father’s occupation, the main points of interest in marriage records is often the witnesses or signature.  In retrospect I realised I was lucky. The marriage record indicated that the bride’s mother was Mary Gravatt, widow, and that at the time of the marriage, the bride was above the age of 18 but younger than 21.

1807 burbidge and blackburn scan

This gave me a birth date for Elizabeth of between 20/6/1786 and 18/6/1789.  Surely this would be enough!  Alas, no.  A different Elizabeth Burbidge was baptised in Southwark at about the right time, but I could find no other likely candidates in England whose birth was recorded around these dates.

I could find just one marriage that fits – between a Mary Burbidge and a William Gravatt, at Shoreditch in 1804. I believe this was indeed the marriage, but it describes Mary as a spinster, whereas I believe it’s likely she was a widow. I may never know for sure.  Since the record itself gives no additional information, this left me no closer to revealing Elizabeth’s parents or place of birth.

Next I turned to newspapers. All that came up for Gravatt and Burbidge together was a dissolution of a partnership between Mary Gravatt and John Burbidge, linen drapers. This sounded very promising (Julia Blackburn, Elizabeth’s daughter, had been a linen draper), but the date seemed all wrong – the dissolution was in 1830. Plus if Mary Gravatt had been a widow, surely the Burbidge character was long gone!

Like many other brick walls, I returned again months later. This time, when I searched with just Gravatt and Burbidge (that is, no Mary), a story came up that opened up a door into the life of the Burbidges.1843 Mary Gravatt Death

It took a moment to sink in, but in this short paragraph there was an enormous amount of information:

  • Although the connection is not proved here, the presence of a male called Burbidge whose mother was called Gravatt seemed to strongly indicate that John Burbidge was the sister of the Elizabeth Burbidge in the marriage licence.
  • Her age as given indicates a likely birth year of 1759, which would have made her in her late 20s at Elizabeth’s birth
  • There’s a clear unambiguous place of death
  • Most valuably, there are two addresses given for John Burbidge, and the addition of ‘Esq’ after his name implies he had been a successful man.

I was able to establish quite quickly that John Burbidge had been set up in business with a man called Thomas Puzey as ‘Manchester Warehousemen’, which I understand to mean linen dealers, at 58 Bread Street, city of London. The two of them. Here’s a mention of them in the 1843 voting log:

1843 burbidge bread street (puzey name)

The name ‘Puzey’ sounded familiar.  The next development was that John Burbidge’s full name was John Richards Burbidge.  I was at first sceptical that these were the same person, but another newspaper report confirmed that they were:


An Old Bailey court transcript from 1829 offered further corroboration.

This put me in a great position to find out more about the family, but realistically, I had my hopes pinned on there being information in John’s will (he died in 1873):

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 10.09.22

But of course, John’s longevity meant I still had the census as a source of information. However, he proved tricky to find.  One confirmed entry in 1861 has him living as a widow at the house of his daughter’s family (she married Henry Doughton Pulford). This gives his age as 75 (approx birth 1786) and his birth place as Welford, Northampton. It turns out that the Burbidge last name is popular in this area, and no obvious baptism emerged.

I was stuck, but then with some determination I was able to find him in the final census of his life, in 1871, at the same address reported in the will calendar, 27 Clifton Hill.  His name, written illegibly, had been transcribed as John R Bunbridge.  Here, his place of birth was written as Leicestershire, Harboro [?]. If I hadn’t absolutely known this was the right person, I might have doubted it, but looking at the map shows that Welford is right on the border of Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.

At this point I hit the jackpot with a search on Freereg. Using their ‘nearby places’ feature, I searched for John Burbidge near Welford, Northamptonshire, and got the following results:


So ‘Harboro’ was Market Harborough. A quick search for other Burbidges revealed 3 baptisms – Thomas (Nov 1782), John Richards (Dec 1785) and William Cave (April 1789).  Parents William Burbidge and Mary Richards were married on 7th Feb 1782, and William’s profession is grocer.

This is quite possibly his advert in the local paper: 1779 Williams Burbidge Grocer Market harborough

The biggest success in all this is actually in the name Puzey.  The name was familiar to me because Julia Blackburn (William and Elizabeth’s daughter) was in the drapery business with a Jane Puzey. Jane is a witness at Julia’s marriage, and they are both resident in a house on the High Street in Dorking in the 1841 census.  When I researched this rather unusual name I found that John Burbidge’s partner Thomas Puzey was Jane Puzey’s brother – so my GGG Grandmother Julia was in business with the sister of her uncle’s business partner. This cemented everything I’d discovered and reassured me that I’m not off track.

While I’m delighted to have confirmed William and Mary as my direct ancestors, some big questions remain. I now know much more about Mary (1759-1843) and John (1785-1873) than I do about Elizabeth (born c. 1787) and her husband William Blackburn. Key questions:

  • Mary is in London with Elizabeth by 1807. Were John and William jr with her
  • When and where did William Burbidge the grocer die?
  • Were both William Blackburn and Elizabeth dead by the time of the 1841 census? I certainly can’t find them.
  • How can I prove or disprove the assumed baptism for William in 1780 (parents Edward Blackburne and Mary Rowley)

All I know about William was that he was a merchant and clerk in 1808 and a Porter dealer in 1811.  There was a more famous William Blackburn from Southwark who was a barrister, the son of the famous William Blackburn the architect/gaol designer. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t him!

To recap on my relation to these people:

  • My grandmother’s father was John Victor Charles Jones (b. 1874)
  • John’s mother was Mary Jane Moore (b. 1849)
  • Mary’s mother was Julia Blackburn (b. 1811)
  • Julia was the daughter of William Blackburn (b. ?) and Elizabeth Burbidge (b. abt 1789)
  • Elizabeth was the daughter of William Burbidge and Mary Richards, making them my 5G Grandparents.


An improbable juxtaposition

The newspaper clipping from 1848 shown below has two adjacent announcements.
The first commemorates the marriage of Frances Jane McCarogher, my 2nd cousin 4x removed on my mother’s maternal side (the descendent of Margaret, a sister of Sir Isaac Wilson) and Harry Wheildon.
The one below marks the marriage of Edward Moore, my GGGG uncle on my father’s maternal side, to Sarah Knight.


It’s hard to know how probable or improbable this is. Obviously, the number of cousins at this level that I have is rather high. That said, finding print evidence of the two completely separate branches of my family on top of each other seems bizarre.

When is a mistake a mistake

Genealogical research for me has been a journey in which I’ve developed different skills.

I went through what I expect is a typical process. At first, I’d leap to conclusions about ancestors without having proper proof.  Then as I gained more insight, I’d often return to retrace my steps and remove people and assumptions from my tree if I had no real proof.

At this point, I have a healthy scepticism when it comes to any historical source, whether it’s a parish record, wedding notice, newspaper article or letter (and particularly if it’s in someone else’s tree on!).

I’ve come across several cast-iron mistakes recently in newspaper articles. Below, the marriage of Richard Jones is mistakenly recorded as being to ‘Anna Maria, daughter of Mr. John Highington of London.  Multiple sources prove that her name was Ann Maria Heighington and her father was not John, but Charles Francis Heighington (who did actually have a brother called John).


And here’s the record of the death of John Cooper’s wife at Alverstone farm:


There’s a problem here though – John’s wife (who did indeed die the Wednesday before) was called Ann, not Jane!

Since mistakes happen, when you find something that looks like a mistake, it’s tempting to write it off as one immediately. But sometimes it’s not a mistake at all, just slightly counter-intuitive. This one puzzled me for some time:1849 'mrs j mcwilliams' death

Here, I was using a famous relative (Sir Isaac Wilson) to try and track other relatives, since newspaper references would often boast of the connection. The confusion here is that Sir Isaac’s sister Mary (born c. 1765) married John McWilliams.  Here we had a newspaper report of the death of a Mrs John McWilliams who was born around 1814. To add to the confusion, this seemed to tie my family to the Carnteel McWilliams family, while the known connection was to the Glencull McWilliams family just down the road.

Eventually I was able to see beyond this apparent contradiction and realise that there could have been an additional intermarriage between someone of the next generation. But thanks to the hilariously patriarchal culture of the time, she was listed as Mrs J. McWilliams, so I had few clues as to her identity.

Working back, I looked to known relatives. Sir Isaac’s will lists his 7 siblings with the married names of his sisters.  At this point I got lucky – a search for marriages brought up a familiar name – Clarke.  Just sneaking into civil registration, I was able to establish that a John McWilliams had married a Margaret Clarke in 1845, and that Margaret Clarke was the daughter of Sir Isaac’s sister Elizabeth.  The presence of Adam McCarogher as a witness was additional evidence to tie the wedding to the Wilson family (Adam being a descendent of another of Isaac’s siblings).

In conclusion, you can’t assume things written down are wrong, but you also can’t be sure they’re right.

Other Irish gaps at the GGG/32 level

There are two more gaps at the ’32’ level on my Irish side – that is, two further missing great great great grandparents.

  • I know that Joseph Hill married Jane McBride in 1853 in Frankford Second Presbyterian Church near Castleblayney in Muckno Parish, Co. Monaghan, but all I know about her father was that he was called James McBride and the family residence was at the townland of Tullycollive, Monaghan (Joseph Hill was from the townland of Tullycaghny). I haven’t found a baptism for Jane, so all I know about her is that she was born around 1829 in Monaghan. She has a brother called Samuel who married Margaret Sinclair on 7th Dec 1852
  • I know that John Dawson Dunlop, my GG Grandfather, was the son of Robert Dunlop, but I know nothing of his mother or of Robert’s family. Confusingly, he married Margaret Elizabeth Dawson, and it would appear there was a bit of cousin inter-marriage going on.  You’d think this would help pin down the precise relationships, but in the absence of census records, it’s tough! Robert’s profession is given as Labourer and residence as Belfast on the marriage certificate in 1866.  This makes him harder to track than my farming ancestors who could at least be tracked to specific townlands

Agnes Broadfoot, of Scotland, b. abt 1840, d. Belfast 1904

I’d love to crack this one as it’s my only known Scottish connection.

2021 update: I cracked it! But the photos below are not Agnes and James, but rather Agnes’s elder sister Elizabeth and her husband James Burns. Full blog post to come!


Agnes Broadfoot married James Mathews in Hollymount, County Mayo, on 31st May 1866. James was a Colporteur (travelling bible salesman) and Agnes was a servant at nearby Turin Castle (it looks amazing, although their website says it was abandoned for 250 years up to 1997. Apparently not!)

In spite of the detailed information on the wedding certificate, I haven’t had much luck working backwards. What follows is what I know:

  • James’s father was Hugh Mathews, a farmer. The witnesses at the wedding were John Ward and Maggie C. McCorkey.
  • James was born in county Down; there’s no evidence of any deep Mayo roots
  • The family settled in county Antrim, first Cushendall, and then Ballymena
  • James and Agnes had 5 children, 4 of whom died between the ages of 14 and 21 of TB.
  • There are two middle name clues: my GG Grandfather was James BROWN Mathews, while his sister was Martha WILSON Mathews. Shame these aren’t more unusual names!
  • Agnes and James travelled to upstate New York some time around the mid 1890s, and they were photographed in a studio in Canandaigua, New York (that’s where the photos on this page are from). I wonder if they might have been visiting some relatives (I have no proper information about either James or Agnes’s siblings, for example) (see note at top)
  • Agnes appears in the 1901 census with a place of birth of ‘Scotland’
  • Agnes’s father was John Broadfoot, a farmer.

Amazingly, that’s all I’ve been able to pin down.  Her death certificate says she was 64 in 1904.  But she is listed as 65 in the 1901 census.  I know she died at the Belfast Asylum and the 64 might have been made up. I did find an Agnes Mathews born in 1936 (based on her census age) in Whithorn, Wigtownshire. I tried pretty hard to prove some connection but found nothing. There are a few other possible candidates in Scotland’s 1841 census, but with nothing to go on, I’m stuck there really!  (Sadly I couldn’t find a family with any names she used for her children (Amelia, Eva, Martha, William and James).



Joseph Marshall of Mullaghmore East, Dyan nr Caledon, Tyrone, d. 1850

It was only through some extreme determination that I managed to discover any more about Joseph Marshall than that he was a farmer, and the father of my GG Grandfather Matthew Marshall.

Scouring newspapers, I finally found a report of his death in the Armagh Guardian of June 24, 1850:

Joseph Marshall 1850 Death

There seem to have been generations of Tyrone Marshalls, all giving their sons the same names, so with neither censuses or parish records, I’m waiting for an old family history to surface somehow! Joseph’s birth circa 1774 makes him the oldest known ancestor I have at that GGG level. He would have been 46 or so when his son Matthew was born, and Matthew in turn was 46 when his daughter Rebecca Rea Marshall, my GG grandmother, was born.