Killing Off Elizabeth

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

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

My Top 5 Genealogy ‘to-dos’ for 2013

My top 5 genealogy things I hope to achieve in 2013 – a mixture of visits, writing and demolishing those research brick walls.

I don’t really go for New Year’s Resolutions, as I like to challenge myself on a daily basis, but I thought that I would put down 5 areas of my family tree research where I hope to make progress in 2013.

1. The Missing Bowers

If you use RootsChat.com, you may have spotted me trying to unravel the Bowers family of Burwell, Cambridgeshire. There’s quite a lot of them there during the 19th century, and amongst them i am sure, *should be* my Great Great Great Great Grandfather, Henry Bowers – yet there’s no sign of him in an appropriate part of the baptism registers, and unhelpfully he was born in about 1812 (so, well before that helpful 1st July 1837 date) and there’s no parents noted on his 1832 marriage entry in nearby Wicken. Henry’s children’s Burwell connections are frequent, yet he himself has yet to appear.

I feel that I’m beginning to make progress though, by researching all the Bowers in Burwell by cross-referencing the registers to census returns. Annoyingly, my favourite census – the 1851 for Burwell – is missing, and so this leaves a hole in the data.

I am determined to crack this one. Somehow.

2. My Time-traveling Great Great Great Great Great Grandmother

Elizabeth Yarrow‘s birth, death and burial dates and place of death is open to discussion as none of the key sources corroborate. A death in London, a burial in Stretham, a date of burial in Stretham differing from the date of burial (randomly) noted in the register for neighbouring hamlet Little Thetford, date of death and age different between burial registers and gravestone.

It’s all a mess… and with her 1837 death year, there’s also no suitable certificate to help iron it all out (the one i did excitedly find was for a small child). My 5x Great Grandmother’s life and death might be impossible to unravel unless I get my hands on some newspapers and some railway records.

3. Writing that book

So, for quite a while now I’ve been toying with writing up research into a book, but then the genealogist’s work is never ever finished – so at what point do I start and end the book? What do i include and omit? Having several friends who are published authors themselves helps, but I hope to be able to work out how, and start, to turn my years of research into something that can be shared in print and in eBook.

If you’re a published genealogy author – drop me a message – i’d love to hear about your experiences.

4. Visiting places familiar to my ancestors

I’m quite good at this, mainly because few strayed from Cambridgeshire. Top of my list is to find the building (or site) of my Great Grandmother’s birthplace – The Stables, Abercorn Place, Kilburn. I’ve meandered the streets via Google Streetview, and I’ve been in the neighbouring streets (including the famous Abbey Road) where the family lived and worked… but this place remains unvisited.

5. Killing off my wicked Great x4 Grandmother

My Great x4 Grandmother, Mary Clarke ended up in court and eventually prison for neglecting, abusing and playing the role of wicked step-mother to her husband’s children during the mid-1800s. She’d already bore my Great x3 Grandmother and a brother outside of marriage and before becoming the wife of William Bailey of Botesdale, Suffolk. This was to be to their advantage, as they went on to escape the miserable family life that followed. No wonder my Great x3 Grandmother Caroline Clarke changed her name and hid her parentage. Meanwhile, after a couple of stints in the workhouse, and one in prison, Mary vanishes after 1881… but I’ve yet to kill her off.

Mary, i’m coming to get you!

What genealogy brick walls are you hoping to demolish in 2013? Is there something special you hope to achieve in the coming year?  Let me know in the comments below.

Alternatively, join in the conversation over on LinkedIn.

The Mystery of Elizabeth Yarrow’s Gravestone

Elizabeth Yarrow’s death spans two years. Her age at death spans 8 years. Two churches registers, and a gravestone all give conflicting and some corresponding information. What’s the real answer?

I have a mystery to solve and hopefully the death certificate of an Elizabeth Yarrow, whose death is recorded in the June quarter of 1838 in St Pancras, will unravel it.

This gravestone stands in Stretham churchyard, Cambridgeshire, amongst many other Yarrow gravestones. There is something engraved near the foot of the stone but I can’t make it out now, and perhaps didn’t spot it at the time.

However, this stone appears to have some errors.

The Stretham burials transcript gives William Yarrow as being 71, and Elizabeth Yarrow (née Wright) as having been buried in 1837.

The Little Thetford burials transcript (Little Thetford being a hamlet of Stretham and it’s common for inhabitants to be buried at Stretham), gives a different story: “YARROW Elizabeth otp 50 wife of William farmer, died in London was carried home and buried at Stretham” (Nov 23 1837).

This gives two positive mentions of 1837, rather than the stone’s 1839. The Stretham transcript gives the right age for her, but not for him.

There’s no mention of William in the Little Thetford transcript.

Looking at FreeBMD, there’s only an Elizabeth Yarrow death (so far) available, and that’s the one registered in the June Quarter of 1838 at St. Pancras!

The GRO certificate is ordered… so lets see what it uncovers.

What do you think happened? Here’s a couple of my ideas…

  1. Maybe the stone was erected many years after William and Elizabeth deaths, and so family couldn’t quite remember?
  2. Elizabeth’s death was registered in the June 1838, because certification was new in late 1837 – perhaps they were resisting it (like some), or simply didn’t know that certificates had to be issued or how to go about it?

UPDATE June 2011:

The 1838 death turned out to be the death of an 11 month old child. No further along with solving this one.

UPDATE UPDATE: September 2017

I’ve got the appetite to revisit this case now, and now that the General Register Office offers a searchable index, I’ve spotted an ‘Elizabeth Yerroll’ who dies in The City of London Union, in the December quarter of 1837, aged 58.

Elizabeth Yerroll's death listed in the GRO index.
‘Elizabeth Yerroll’ died in London in the right year, at the right age. The dead can’t speak – so was she really ‘Elizabeth Yarrow’? Maybe I’ll find out…

That’s a tick for age, quarter, year, and location. If she was visiting London at the time and died, or was taken ill, would those with her have been able to convey a correct spelling of her surname in 1837, and would those writing it down have known any different or understood a fenland accent of the informant enough to realise it wasn’t ‘Yerroll’ but ‘Yarrow’?

It’s another £9.25, but I’m going to gamble and order this certificate. Fingers crossed!

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