For a long time I wondered what the maiden name of my 3rd great-grandmother, Mary PEARSON was.
Census records showed that she was born in Ashow, Warwickshire. The 1851 and 1861 censuses indicated her birth year was 1800; the 1841 and 1871 censuses said 1801. The 1881 census, however, said her birthday was in 1796. At least I had a place of birth, if not an exact date.
I had a document that came from my grandfather, showing accounting records for property she had owned in Leamington Priors. It was a summary of the income and expenses of her estate, dated March 1896. So I knew she had died before then. I did not find her on the 1891 census which seemed to narrow down her death as happening before that year.
A search of the death index from FreeBMD resulted in a couple of possibilities for her death, one in 1882 and one in 1884. Wouldn’t you know it – I ordered the wrong certificate from the General Record Office to start with. When the probate records finally came online on Ancestry, I was able to confirm that Mary had died in 1884 and ordered the real death certificate. That document showed she was aged 81 at the time of her death, putting her birth year as 1803.
1885 probate calendar entry for Mary PEARSON (downloaded from Ancestry; source Principal Probate Registry, Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration made in the Probate Registries of the High Court of Justice in England)
1884 death certificate for Mary PEARSON of Leamington, Warwickshire (acquired form the General Record Office of England and Wales)
But I was not satisfied that I still had the right information about Mary. The death record, official as it was, still did not fit the census data. The informant for the death was Mary’s granddaughter and I wondered if she really knew how old her grandmother was. None of this was helping me determine what Mary’s maiden name was.
Working from the 1851 Census I found that Thomas (age 51) and Mary (age 51) PEARSON were living in Leamington with their son, Charles (age 22), and an aunt, Mary JONES (age 78), a widow. Although the aunt was indicated as being an aunt of the head of the household (Thomas), she was actually born in Ashow, as was Mary PEARSON, suggesting that it was the two women who were related directly. That being the case I might have assumed that Mary PEARSON's mother's name would be something other than Mary if this older Mary was a sister of her mother. Of course, she could equally be the sister of Mary’s father so I tread carefully in trying to track down the both of them.
1851 census record for Thomas and Mary PEARSON (downloaded from Ancestry July 2nd, 2007; source Census Returns of England and Wales, 1851, Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK)
A search of marriages for Thomas PEARSON and a Mary between 1820 and 1830, in Warwick, turned up only three, two of which were most likely: Mary SMITH on October 23rd, 1823, in Solihull and Mary CARE on April 16th, 1828, in Saint Phillips, Birmingham. Solihull is very near Sheldon where Thomas was born and the surname of SMITH seemed right as well as you will see below.
1823 marriage entry in Solihull, Warwickshire parish marriage register for Thomas PEARSON and Mary SMITH (downloaded from Ancesty on April 21st, 2015; source Warwickshire Anglican Registers, Warwick, England: Warwickshire County Record Office) Witnesses may have been Thomas’ brother and sister-in-law.
I contacted Susan Tall, the Online Parish Clerk for Ashow, to see if see could find more information about baptisms for a girl named Mary, baptized in Ashow around 1800. She mentioned that, according to her records, a daughter of Joseph and Mary SMITH was baptized August 6th, 1797.
1797 entries for burial of Joseph SMITH and baptism of ? SMITH, in Ashow, Warwickshire parish register (downloaded from Ancestry on October 22nd, 2011; source Warwickshire Anglican Registers. Warwick, England: Warwickshire County Record Office)
I looked up on IGI all of the girls named Mary baptized between 1798 and 1802 and found Mary SMITH's parents to be Joseph and Ann, not Mary. So my first question was: Did the microfiche records of the church registers show Mary or Ann SMITH as the mother? In a later message from Susan Tall, she told me, "Well today I was allowed to look at the originals – and what a mess they are – all loose pages as the register had completely disintegrated. And each page is very fragile (can understand now why they won't let the general public use them). But when I turned to 1797 someone had straightened the edge of the page out (it was just folded over) and there as clear as clear was Mary daughter of Joseph and Ann Smith baptised August 6th, 1797. Just one note – I see there is a Joseph Smith baptised March 13th, 1747 at Ashow on the IGI – could well be the father of Mary Smith (1797). However I also noticed on the microfilm the burial of a Joseph Smith on April 27th, 1797. If this is him he died before Mary was baptised."
1797 baptism entry for Mary Smith (shown after edge of page folded down from photo of page sent to me by Susan Tall)
Then I looked for a marriage for Joseph SMITH in the area around Ashow. I found an Ann SPRASON married a Joseph SMITH on October 11th, 1796 in Offchurch. The marriage was also recorded in Milverton on the same day. Both locations are very close to Ashow.
I looked up all of the girls named Mary – the possible sister of Ann shown on the 1851 census – baptized in Ashow between 1771 and 1775 and found only four: Mary TURNER, Mary HODGINS, Mary SPRAWSON and Mary BILLINGTON. I then looked to see if any of them had married a JONES. None had directly but Mary SPRAWSON married John SALMON in Claverdon on January 2nd, 1806 and then Mary SALMON, a widow, married William JONES, also in Claverdon on September 9th, 1810.
The surname SPRAWSON is very like the surname of Ann SPRASON and it would not surprise me to see that one or both of them were mis-transcribed on IGI or are variants of the same surname. The IGI shows four children with parents of John and Mary SPRAWSON including an Ann baptized in 1769 and a Mary baptized in 1772. So those fit. Others were John, 1775 and Thomas, 1778. All of this data was confirmed later when I was able to see the actual register entries on Ancestry.
After all of the round-about searches I could confidently say that this 3rd great-grandmother’s maiden name was SMITH.
Ann SMITH did end up remarrying, to a John SHARP, in Ashow, on October 14th, 1799. The record shows she was a widow then, seeming to confirm that the Joseph SMITH buried in 1797 was my 4th great-grandfather.
The story and conclusions all hinge, of course, on the relationship of Mary PEARSON and Mary JONES on the 1851 census, and on the entry for the unknown female SMITH child in 1797. I like the answers I came up with. Thank goodness for relatives living with other relatives and Online Parish Clerks like me.
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 and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated