Tuesday, 6 December 2016

What can you find out from a will? – Part 2

In my last post I summarized some information I found about my Pearson ancestors after analyzing the original will of my Great-Grandaunt Emma Jane (Pearson) Wray (1861-1951). In this post I will set out some interesting discoveries I made about others named as beneficiaries.

Emma Jane kept in contact with her siblings and many nieces and nephews. I have copies of a few letters and cards from which I have been able to extract information about several family members. The will added to this library of data.
 
Photos taken at 23 Priory Terrace: left -1909; right - present day, from Google street view
Note on the back of the snapshot, later sent to my grandfather, James Pearson Shepheard, says - "My house where I lived when you came to visit me before you went to Canada"; Emma is standing in front of the residence; photo was taken by James Henry (Jim) Pearson, one of Emma's nephews, who was killed in action in WWI
I stated before that several family members were remembered with cash bequests. There was another group named who were to receive the residue of Emma’s estate:
  • ·         niece Annie Overton
  • ·         Winifred, the widow of her late nephew Thomas
  • ·         two daughters of her late nephew Thomas – Pamela and Joyce

For the second group, named in the original will:

Annie Overton was Annie Louise (Slinn) Overton, a daughter of Sarah Ann Pearson and George Albert Slinn. She married Walter John Overton in 1910. They had three children between 1911 and 1915. In the first codicil to Emma’s will, signed in 1947, she left a house in Leamington Spa to Annie and her husband. One might conclude that Annie and her family had been very supportive of Emma in order to receive that kind of bequest. The will showed Annie’s address at the time – Bishops Itchington in Warwickshire – which allowed me to easily find her and Walter on the 1939 Register living in the same place.

Results from 1837 onward come up with the mother’s maiden name. Thus I thought I might be able to match the wives of Emma’s married brothers. The birth dates of the nieces and nephews I knew about began in the 1880s and extended into the early 1900s, so that gave me a range of years for the searches.

The will gave me a lot of information about Thomas Pearson’s family from which I could track them down. He was born in 1892 and had obviously died before 1946 and his daughter would have been born before that year. I figured he would not have married before 1910, at the age of 18. So I did a search of FreeBMD for the births of Joyce and Pamela Pearson between 1910 and 1946, looking for people with mothers with the same maiden name. You can do that for births from 1911 onward on FreeBMD. You can also now search the entire GRO index from 1837 using a maiden name of a mother which really helps in deciding which person might be the best fit for your family.

Anyway, between 1910 and 1946 I found 285 girls named Joyce Pearson and 83 named Pamela Pearson. A computer search narrowed down several on both lists with the same maiden names for the mother. But only one resulted in girls born within a few years and a few miles of each other. Their mother’s name was Jenkinson: Joyce in 1920 and Pamela in 1924 and both in London. A FreeBMD search of marriages for Thomas Pearson and a lady named Winifred resulted in only one with a surname of Jenkinson and it was also close in time and proximity to the birth places of the children – in London, in 1918. I was now very sure I was on the right track. A search of the death index resulted in deaths for both in the same locality, Thomas in 1942 and Winifred in 1955, both in Wallington, London. That was also where I found the couple on the 1939 Register. Starting with names listed on a will, facts about a whole family emerged.

In 1949, Emma’s codicil to her will took away the bequest to Annie Walton and divided it among my grandfather, my grandmother and their three children, all living in Canada.

Emma Jane’s will was only 2 ½ pages long and each of the codicils were less than a page each. But they were crammed with information about many individuals and allowed me to add significant details about my Pearson family ancestors. The information also left me with several unanswered questions and some new trails to follow.

Family historians would be well-advised to obtain copies of wills of any and all ancestors. Some may come up short but others will be rich with information about people you may not have even thought about.


Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. He has also served as an editor of two such publications. Wayne provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

What can you find out from a will? – Part 1

My Great-Aunt Emma Jane Wray (nee Pearson) left a will when she died in 1951. Actually her original will was signed in 1946. She added two codicils, one in 1947 and another in 1949. She left property and sums of money to several nieces and nephews as well as to some of their children.

I think Emma had favourites among her siblings, nephews and nieces. She singled out only a few of them for bequests, generally the younger ones and many of them unmarried.

For this time period, mid-20th century, it is often difficult to specifically identify people. There is no census data. The 1939 Register has names redacted if they are still possibly alive. BMD records can be confusing especially when names are common. The will was very helpful in confirming some people and even in adding some names to the family tree. I will describe how I was able to sort out some of the people and their relationships in successive posts rather than try to tell the whole story at once.

Emma Jane was an older sister to my great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Pearson who married James Shepheard in Devon, in 1890. Emma did not marry until 1916, at the age of 55. She did not have any children so much of her family life appears to have centred on her siblings and their children. I have a copy of a wonderful coloured photograph taken of Emma and her new husband, Stephen Wray that was given to my grandfather. He kept in touch with her for many years after he immigrated to Canada in 1907. She also sent him letters and photos which I have as well.
 
1916 Wedding photo of Stephen Wray and Emma Jane Pearson
Emma was very community-minded. She turned to two friends, one a solicitor, to manage the affairs of her estate. She was generous and supportive of institutions important to her during her life. In her original will, Emma provided funds for: the Vicar and Churchwardens to assist them in the maintenance of the graves of her grandparents, parents and a brother buried in the Leamington Spa Cemetery and of a chapel in the cemetery (£300); the churchwardens of two churches for general expenses (£25 each); a convalescent Home for Consumptives (£25; her sister, my great-grandmother had died of the same disease); the local British Legion for the benefit of ex-servicemen (£25); a Home for Incurables (£25); her doctor (£25) and a local minister (£25).

She left personal cash bequests to only a few family members including:
  • ·         niece Elsie Pearson, in the form of an annuity (£26/an)
  • ·         nephew Alfred Pearson (£100)
  • ·         nephew James Pearson Shepheard (£100)
  • ·         nephew Charles Pearson (£25)
  • ·         niece Evelyn Pearson (£100)
  • ·         niece Annie Walton (£100)

The residue of Emma’s estate was then to be divided among:
  • ·         niece Annie Overton
  • ·         Winifred, the widow of her late nephew Thomas
  • ·         two daughters of her late nephew Thomas – Pamela and Joyce

Details about the first group, shown in the original will are as follows:

Elsie Pearson was Elsie Norris Pearson, a daughter of Emma’s brother, Henry Thomas Pearson (or Thomas Henry as many documents have his forenames in a different order). The address given for Elsie in the will, #16 Adelaide Square, Windsor, was his family’s residence in 1911 and which also helped me find them on the 1939 Register on FindMyPast. I had to just the address as the FMP database had the surname spelled as Perrson. You cannot read Elsie’s name on the register, though, because of an inkblot over most of it. The fact that funds were set up as an annuity suggested she may have been institutionalized at some point or incapacitated in some manner. That led me back to the 1911 census where I found her living at the Royal Deaf & Dumb Asylum, Victoria Road, in Margate, Kent, with 349 other students. The story of this school is very interesting and I will write about it in a later post.

Alfred Pearson was undoubtedly Alfred Christopher Pearson, the son of Emma’s brother, James and his wife, Isabella (Atkinson) Pearson. Isabella and her children had moved to Rhyl, Wales, shortly after the death of her husband in 1897. James is the sibling buried in Leamington Spa Cemetery whose monument Emma provided funds for maintenance. Alfred was living at home in Rhyl, Wales, on both the 1901 and 1911 censuses. I also found him on the 1939 Register, still living in Rhyl, then with a wife, Mary J. They were married in 1923.

James Pearson Shepheard was my grandfather. He had always been a favourite of his aunt Emma after his mother died when he was only an infant. He came to live with his grandparents in Leamington Spa for a time where Emma likely saw him often. They stayed in touch until her death, well after he had immigrated to Canada.

I have not found nephew Charles Pearson. In an attempt to locate him on various records I did several searches of the GRO Online Index. There are 518 names on the birth list between 1880 and 1904, the date range for the births of most of Emma’s nieces and nephews. One of them could/should be him. I am looking first to see if any of the mothers’ maiden names match up with those who married any of Emma’s brothers. There a few possibilities but I have not confirmed which one is the right Charles. What the will did tell me is that one of her brothers did have a son of that name, so that is a start.

Evelyn was probably another daughter of Henry Thomas. We can infer from her name in the will that she was still unmarried in 1946. There are several women on the 1939 Register that could be her. Perhaps when I obtain a birth certificate and learn her actual birth date, I may be able to narrow down which one is the most likely to be my ancestor.

Annie Walton would have been Annie Isabella (Pearson) Walton, a daughter of James and Isabella (Atkinson) Pearson. She married Jack Walton in 1944. In a codicil signed in 1949, Emma revoked the bequest to Annie. I wonder what the story was for that change. The will did at least tell me that Annie had married and that her husband’s name was Walton, so that helped to find the marriage date and place. I have not yet confirmed her or Jack’s residence on the 1939 Register.

The contents of the will led me to important documents and information about many Pearson family members. As a result of additional searches I even found some others who were not named as beneficiaries.

In my next post I will describe some of the other information I discovered from an analysis of Emma Jane’s will and codicils.


Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. He has also served as an editor of two such publications. Wayne provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

A Ghoulish Surprise in a Parish Register

I was searching for burial information for members of one branch of my family recently and came across a disturbing note in the burial register for St Paul, Shadwell parish, tower Hamlets borough, in Middlesex.

The entry read: 1781 Septr 18 – Mary Parker a Child twelve days old kept by her Parents in a Closet 2 years unburied and would not then have buried her, but as they were moving from ye House in King David Lane.


I have looked at thousands of pages of entries in parish registers, and found some sad cases, particularly dealing with children, but I had never seen such a record as this one.

It is difficult to imagine why the body of an infant would be kept at all, let alone for such a time period.

We do know that there had been a law that required that the dead be wrapped in wool shrouds from 1666 onward. That had to more to do with supporting the national wool industry than any religious reason. These are evidenced by the word “affidavit” in the burial registers indicating such a wrap had been used. By the late 18th century many parishes were not enforcing the act although for paupers it had generally been ignored anyway. This burial register did note that the burials were all with Affidavits.

Many parishes charged fees for burials that, while not necessarily excessive might have been more than poor families could afford. Could this family not been able to afford a burial? Could they have forgotten about it after several months? That’s hard to imagine.

Could the child have been conceived and born out of wedlock? And then its death hidden?

It is interesting that the child had a name but not a coffin.

I have not tracked down the family after this burial date. The parents’ names were not recorded so we don’t know whether they had other children or even whether this child had been baptized. And since they moved away, we don’t know where their new residence was. There was a 17 January 1781 baptism for a five-month old Samuel Parker whose parents were Samuel and Mary Parker, and who lived on King David Lane. They seem to be the most likely family of little Mary. Since they are also not part of my family, I won’t likely pursue a search for them.

Some interesting and surprising things turn up in parish registers. This is among the strangest I have seen, though. And just a bit ghoulish, too!


Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. He has also served as an editor of two such publications. Wayne provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.