Killing Off Elizabeth

Since collating a set of contradictory evidence, I finally believe I’ve killed off my 5x Great Grandmother, Elizabeth Wright.

Elizabeth Yerroll death certificate.

Since at least 2011, I’ve been trying on and off to confirm the death of my 5x Great Grandmother Elizabeth Yarrow (née Wright).

Elizabeth Wright was born in about 1779, and was baptised at Mepal, a riverside fenland village in Cambridgeshire.

She went on to marry farmer William Yarrow in 1800 at his native hamlet Little Thetford – just a few miles south of Ely, again in Cambridgeshire. The couple became parents at least 11 times, with 2 children dying in infancy, and their final child, Susan, in 1821 being noted throughout her life as ‘handicapped’ and ‘suffering from fits’ (which I assume may have been epilepsy, or maybe even asthma).

The Yarrow family life would have been hard on the flat bleak unforgiving fenland, but their family grew as their children married, brought grandchildren into the family, and some moved away.

My puzzle began with William and Elizabeth’s headstone, which still stands in Stretham churchyard today.

The headstone of William and Elizabeth Yarrow at Stretham.
The headstone of William and Elizabeth Yarrow at Stretham. Photo: Andrew Martin, 2010.

The headstone information for Elizabeth reads:

“Also Eliz his wife who died Nov 25th 1839, aged 58 years” 

Close-up of Elizabeth Yarrow's headstone inscription.
Close-up of Elizabeth Yarrow’s headstone inscription – that ‘1839’ looks a bit like ‘1859’ but on close inspection, it is definitely a 3.

I checked the burial register for around that date. Nothing. No Yarrow burials at Stretham in 1839.

The family lived in the nearby hamlet Little Thetford, classed as a ‘parish of’ Stretham, so I checked there too, despite the headstone being in Stretham.

Again, no Yarrow burials listed in their home parish register. However, head backwards in time through the burials transcript and you find that on 23rd November 1837, there is this entry:

“Nov 23 1837 – Yarrow Elizabeth otp 50 wife of William farmer died in London was carried home and buried at Stretham”

So, this solves the lack of note in Stretham’s own register – it was recorded at Little Thetford instead.

But….

How can someone be buried 2 days and 2 years before they died?

And how did she decrease in age by 8 years?

Okay, I can understand that an age might be wrong in a parish register – I’ve seen it so many times in marriage registers, but 2 years out on burial? As a family historian, I can’t resist a puzzle, and so I soon decided to make killing Elizabeth off as one of my New Year Genealogy Resolutions. Little did I realise that she’d take me several years before solving it.

Looking at the facts, I was left with this:

  1. Married to William Yarrow at time of death.
  2. Buried with him at Stretham, Cambridgeshire.
  3. Died some time between late-1837 and late-1839.
  4. Aged in her 50s.

Spotting the late-1837, I took to FreeBMD, and at this time in 2011, this was THE index I could consult easily. The final quarter of 1837 is the first period in which certification was compulsory, but there was nothing.

Maybe it just hadn’t been so widely adopted, or faced opposition?

I searched wider, just in case it had been slow to register. There was a result. It was in London too.

Elizabeth Yarrow, died in St. Pancras, registered in June Quarter of 1838.
Elizabeth Yarrow, died in St. Pancras, registered in June Quarter of 1838.

I paid my £9.25 and waited a few days, and opened the envelope. It wasn’t her.

This Elizabeth Yarrow was just 11 months old, and was the daughter of Charles and Charlotte Elizabeth Yarrow of Tottenham.

I then turned to the archive of newspapers that are included in on my FindMyPast membership, but sadly there was nothing there – not for London, nor for Cambridgeshire. It was a long-shot, but I reasoned that maybe her body being brought home by carriage might have got some column inches – a few words to mark her passing – but no. Nothing.

I put her to the back of my mind for a while, casually searching the growing newspaper archives now and then, but still seeing nothing of interest.

Then…

The General Register Office put their birth and death indexes online, and made them wonderfully searchable. Again, I saw the little 11mth old Elizabeth, and that was about it.

Earlier this week I decided to do a broader search. I picked 1838, put in her first name, the letter ‘y’ for her surname, chose ‘female’ and allowed a 2 year search range, covering that headstone date. Clicked search and saw a ton of surnames.

There were plenty of Yeo deaths and other surnames, and so I began a quick scan down the list.

Then I saw an unusual name.

Elizabeth Yerroll's death listed in the GRO index.
‘Elizabeth Yerroll’ died in London in the right year, at the right age.
  • Elizabeth (tick!)
  • 58yrs (tick – matching the headstone),
  • December Qtr (tick – matching the Stretham headstone, and the Little Thetford burial entry!)
  • London (tick! – matching the note in Little Thetford register)

But ‘Yerroll’? I’d never heard of that surname before. But then i figured, that if Elizabeth was away from home, then was she alone? Obviously, if my Elizabeth had died, then she could hardly correct someone’s spelling, so anyone who acted as the informant might have been a stranger… or might have reported the death to someone who wasn’t familiar with the Yarrow surname, or wouldn’t have understood the surname being spoken with a potentially fenland accent from her travelling companion.

I decided that Yarrow could be Yerroll if you squinted and had waxy ears! Either way, £9.25 made its way to the GRO again, along with an order for another gamble certificate (a blog post for another time), and I waited.

4 days later – today – I received the certificate.

I am 99% sure it’s her.

23 Nov, Allhallows Barking, Elizabeth Yerroll, female, 58yrs
23 Nov, Allhallows Barking, Elizabeth Yerroll, female, 58yrs

Married Woman, Diseased kidneys and bladder, Ann [illegible] 23 Beer Lane, Nurse, Present at death, 28th Nov.
Married Woman, Diseased kidneys and bladder, Ann [illegible] 23 Beer Lane, Nurse, Present at death, 28th Nov.
I stared at the certificate. Was Elizabeth all alone? Why would she do that? What was she doing in London? It took me a while to see that it read ‘Nurse’ in the informant’s details column, but I don’t recognise the name. It seems that she was taken ill away from home.

I wondered where Allhallows Barking was in London, so I looked it up on the map.

She died somewhere within earshot of the Tower Of London, right near the River Thames.

The Thames.

And there I hit upon the answer after just two or three clicks into my research database.

William and Elizabeth Yarrow’s second oldest child was Mary Yarrow. In 1841, Mary was married to an Owen Owen, and they were running an ‘Eating House’. The family held it for many years and it was on Lower Thames Street.

The same Lower Thames Street that was now staring back at me while I became misty-eyed about the Tower of London next to it.

Elizabeth must have been visiting her daughter at Lower Thames Street, become ill (even though she clearly was quite unwell, perhaps obliviously), and died in the company of a nurse – who didn’t know how to spell her name.

Her body would have then been returned home to her family, and buried in Stretham, but recorded in her home hamlet of Little Thetford.

This collection of coincidences had grown, and must surely suggest that I’m correct in my assumption.

I’m satisfied that I’ve finally killed off my 5x Great Grandmother, and that it’s a Genealogy Resolution that’s now kept, albeit 6 years late.

Have you unravelled any puzzles like this? Let me know how you tackled them in the comments below.

As ever, thanks for reading, I’m off for a celebratory cuppa.

Andrew

Author: Andrew Martin

+Andrew Martin is owner and lead writer for History Repeating and Family Tree UK. Genealogist, historian, writer, photographer and would-be archaeologist. He'd love a time machine, but worries that it might take all the fun out of it.

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