Happy New Year to all my readers! We took the opportunity to enjoy a nice break over Christmas to visit children and grandchildren in China and Vancouver. Now it’s back home and back to reading, research and writing.
In my last few posts before the holiday I commented on the use of searches of indexes of the General Record Office (GRO) for England and Wales, especially to find the maiden names of the mothers of individuals born since 1837. I have continued to find the resource of great value in establishing the identity of many family members.
As the Online Parish Clerk for the parish of Plympton St. Mary, Devon, I had a recent request from a family researcher to see if I could find information about a family who had lived in the area in the mid-1800s.
What he thought was that: William Collings may or may not have been born in Plympton St. Mary about 1815; his wife, Mary Ann, was born there about 1829; and all their children were born in the parish. He provided a list of seven children born between 1852 and 1871. Mary Ann’s maiden name was not known, which he was also interested in learning.
Very quickly I found the family on the 1861 England census, living in Plympton St. Mary with their first four children. William had been born in Sowton, Devon. I also found them all on the baptism register for the parish. Many of the entries also had their birth dates. I was able to show there were actually eight children born to the couple. A daughter born in 1868 died in 1869, though. The eighth child was named for the deceased sibling.
None of the children had second names that might give a clue as to their mother's maiden name. I tried a search of the GRO index for all of the children and found most of the births were registered in Plympton RD with a mother's name of KENT. That led me back to the parish baptism record where I found Mary Ann Kent, daughter of John and Betsey Kent, baptized 19 April 1829. I was able to give the researcher most of the GRO registration data from which, if he wished, he could order the birth certificates.
The researcher also was looking for information on one of the sons of William and Mary Ann, Frederick, born in 1857. Because of what was shown on the census, he believed Frederick had a son named Harry F., but he could not find any information as to a wife/mother. The problem with his logic was that the census showed Frederick as being single. Sometimes information can be entered in error. To check his status I looked for him on the 1901 census and found him living with his mother and still single.
The census did show Harry was born in Plympton, Devon. A search of the GRO birth index found an entry for Harry Ford Collings with a mother's name of Ford.
A search of FreeBMD for a Collings/Ford marriage found that a Charles Collings had married Mary Jane Ford in 1885. Charles was Frederick’s brother, so it seemed then that Harry Ford was their son, not Frederick's.
I have not yet found a marriage for William Collings and Mary Ann Kent. I am wondering whether she was briefly married before and then whether she might then have been registered with a different surname. Another possibility is that William’s name was not indexed correctly or at all. On the FreeBMD marriage index for the March 1848 quarter, there are three females listed – one named Mary Kent, but only two males. The date is about right and Sowton, where William Collings grew up, is part of the St. Thomas Registration District. One way to find out is to order the marriage certificate for Mary Kent and see who the husband was. It’s a bit of a longshot that I will leave to those actually researching the family.
The point here is that, with the new GRO search resource, two problems were quickly solved: we learned the maiden name of William Collings wife and the names of the parents of Harry F. Collings. With that information it was easier to find much more about the various families.
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