A newly-discovered uncle reveals a sad premature infant death, and a quest to locate his unmarked burial plot.
Six months ago, as I walked with my mother from the freshly dug grave of my paternal uncle, and the funeral party began to disperse, my mother told me that this was not the first uncle buried in that particular cemetery.
I was confused.
She went on to tell me that my aunt (her sister-in-law) had been on the phone from the US, and had talked about how there was another sibling, a little boy called Malcolm, who died when he was young, and she was just a teenager.
This was the first time I’d ever heard of such a person, and I’d researched for years to find generations of relatives, and didn’t really know how to feel about having one so close, yet so ‘lost’.
The following day I checked for baby Malcolm in the GRO indexes, which handily now include the mother’s maiden name. Sure enough, there he was – Malcolm Paul Martin, born 5th April 1958. I realised that without this maiden name, I’d never have spotted him.
Unlike the rest of the siblings, I’d never have independently spotted him without that maiden name, which in turn led me to see that Malcolm was born in a different district – rather than in Ely, he was born in Newmarket. An odd choice for a family living within 5 miles of Ely.
Whilst there’s little else of interest on the birth certificate, the death certificate reveals much more.
Again, I would never have spotted him, as this time he’s registered as having died in Cambridge… and not just that.. Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge.
The death certificate goes on to say that he died aged 2 weeks, and gives the cause of death as “1(a) Pneumonia, 11. Prematurity congenital abnormalities Hair Lip.”
This was my grandparents’ final child. They were now in her early 40s, and their oldest child had been born almost 21 years previously. With his prematurity, his cleft lip (as it’s now called), and the striking blow of pneumonia, it meant that poor little Malcolm stood no chance. Being born prematurely in 1950s would have been hard enough, but not being able to take in those vital early nutrients due to problems with his cleft lip would have made him weaker, and he’d be weakened enough to stand no chance against pneumonia.
Premature baby care has advanced dramatically since, as has cleft lip surgery, and I know that the NHS deal with cases like Malcolm’s over and over again, and I’m sure that the outcome is more favourable these days. Malcolm never came home, and so my father’s memory of him is missing. I find that very saddening.
My aunt’s phone call, which is ahead of her visit in June, prompted me to try to locate his burial. She thought she remembered that he was buried in Little Downham cemetery, and so I decided to find out.
I made contact with the team at St. Leonard’s Church (the cemetery is attached to the church), and they were able to put me in contact with the Clerk of the cemetery records. I’ve been in this cemetery a lot. There’s loads of my relatives there, many with headstones, and many without. I knew I’d not seen a headstone for a Malcolm Martin, as I’d have noted it down – and at that time, the attitude to infant deaths was different even then, and the cost to erect a headstone would have been a chunk of the family’s much-needed income.
On Saturday I met with the Clerk and he, with the burial book in hand, led me to where he thought the grave site was. Whilst the cemetery had originally started recording burials in the 1870s with a nice plot map and clear notes (like Ely cemetery a few miles away), apparently they soon gave up, and reverted to a list. This means some detective work was needed in order to work out the most likely location.
After looking at the burials listed before and after Malcolm’s, we felt that we’d found the plot, particularly as the burial immediately before his had a headstone still standing.
So, as today would have been the 59th birthday of my Uncle Malcolm (still feels weird saying that), I feel that I can put him in my thoughts and welcome him into my family where he belongs, and kind of wish him a Happy Birthday too.
A story of 2 Bishops, 7 weddings, and 9 funerals – the struggle of life and love in the 19th century.
If you’re not a fan of Hugh Grant films, then don’t worry – today’s blog post is actually a story of a struggle for life and love in the 19th century.
As the title suggests, this probably isn’t going to be the most cheerful thing you’ve read today.
Only just a few weeks ago, some incomplete ‘parked’ research into two ancestors of mine (a father and a son), had suddenly moved from two male ‘Ag Labs’ in Cambridgeshire whose wives predeceased them, leaving them with several children, to two men who between them, married a further 5 times, and traveled across three counties.
I’d previously parked these two: John Bishop and his son Simpson, as the names connecting to ‘John Bishop’ in the small group of villages that he lived in, were all very similar and seemingly overlaping.
Similarly, Simpson Bishop occasionally appears as ‘James’ or ‘James S Bishop’ or variations on ‘Simpson’ (eg. Simson, Samson etc).
Whilst trawling through the Soham registers, I decided that I needed to map this puzzle out, so took each event with similar names and close dates and used a kind of card-sorting technique with post-it notes, each carrying a name, date, and event.
Having written all the names and event dates onto the post-its, I used each piece of evidence in turn to get them into order. The baptism, marriage, and burial registers were useful, as well as census returns.
Also invaluable here, was to keep an eye on the witnesses at marriages – as these also helped sort the events into an order.
With this done, and post-its on my wall, i realised that I’d just grown some new branches where I thought there were none.
Like his father, John worked in agriculture – a manual labour in the dark, flat, rich and fertile fenland that surrounded where he lived. In 1818, when he was about 22 years old, he married 24 year old Elizabeth Simpson (also of Soham) and the couple settled down to life together.
It’s pretty clear that at the time of marriage, Elizabeth was already pregnant with their first child, my 4x Gt Grandfather, Simpson Bishop.
With Simpson being born in the latter part of 1818, the couple remained in Soham, where they went on to have a second son, John, in 1823.
Elizabeth fell pregnant again in 1825, this time with the couple’s first daughter, but by the time that she (Elizabeth) was born in 1826, her parents’ lives were about to change for the worse. Seemingly, either during or shortly after baby Elizabeth’s birth, Elizabeth, the mother, died. She was just 34.
She was buried at Soham on 11th June 1826, on the same day as her daughter’s baptism. This left 31 year old John Bishop as a widowed labourer with three young children in need of his care.
The grief must have consumed him, but it didn’t stop there – by the August, baby Elizabeth followed her mother to the grave.
Five months later, in January 1827, John walks down the aisle of Soham church with his second wife, Elizabeth Saunders. She fell pregnant shortly after their marriage, but again, bad luck was set to strike. Elizabeth gave birth to baby Elizabeth Saunders Bishop in 1827, but again, it appears that Elizabeth died during or shortly after childbirth. She was buried on 23rd October 1827 at Soham, once again – the same day that her baby Elizabeth was baptised.
Sadly, within a year, this baby also followed her mother to the grave. John, at the age of 33 had married twice, been widowed twice, fathered four children, and buried two of them.
Four months after his second wife died, John returned to church, this time to marry Sarah Leonard, who was fifteen years his junior on 8th February 1828. Their first child, Henry Bishop, was baptised at Soham in April 1829.
Thankfully both he and Sarah survived, with Henry going on to move from the fens of Cambridgeshire, getting married, and moving to Great College Street in Islington, London by the 1880s. John and Sarah continued to have three more children; Mary (who died as an infant), William (who survived and lived next-door to Henry in later life), and Sophy (who died as an infant).
After 8 years of marriage to Sarah Leonard, John (now 41) was widowed again in 1836 – when Sarah was just 26 years old. She was buried in Soham on 17th October 1836.
Less than a year later, John appears to embark on his fourth and final marriage – this time to Martha Earith, 17 years his junior – on 7th August 1837.
However, 8 months later, Martha died, aged 26 years. There is no indication of whether the couple had a child, or whether Martha was pregnant, but it appears that after 42 years of life in the fens, John never remarried. He died in May 1868, aged 73 years.
Bishop #2 : Simpson Bishop (1818-?)
Sadly for Simpson, that oldest child of John Bishop and Elizabeth Clements above, he didn’t escape his own share of bad luck.
By the time that his father had remarried 3 times, and he’d witnessed the deaths and burials of 3 step-mothers, and three half-sisters, Simpson was 20 years old. A few years later, in December 1840, he married Elizabeth Taylor, also of Soham, and by 1842, they became parents to my 3x Great Grandfather, James Simpson Bishop (a nod to the baby’s grandmother). Six further children were born to the couple, during which Simpson worked as a labourer, and a malster.
During 1851, Simpson takes his family to Little Wapses farm in Twineham, Sussex (presumably as tenant farmers), but they return to Cambridgeshire by 1861, by which time Simpson has become a shepherd.
However, Elizabeth dies at some point between 1858 and census night in 1861, in her early forties. There’s a few certificate options here, so i’m busy looking for more clues (newspaper reports, marriage witnesses etc) before ordering a certificate. On 19th June 1861, at Newmarket Register Office, Simpson marries his second wife, Elizabeth Ellinor, a 36 year old daughter of a labourer from nearby Burwell.
Whilst researching, I jumped ahead to 1871 to see where Simpson and Elizabeth were, but couldn’t spot them. I eventually found widower Simpson and his four youngest children living in Reedsholme near Crawshawbooth, Higher Booths, Lancashire – and all employed by the local cotton industry at Reedsholme Works.
Life would undoubtedly been hard for the Bishops at the mill, and maybe it wasn’t the new life that they might have originally bought into. By the time of this 1871 census, two of Simpson’s children that had joined him in Lancashire had married:
William to Sarah Swann, who went on to have at least 5 children, and at the time of the 1871 census are living in Little Marsden, Lancashire.
Ann Elizabeth to George Eve.
It even seems that in 1875, whilst the family were up in Reedsholme, daughter Keziah died aged 22. I’ll order her death certificate out of curiosity to see whether it was due to work – as on the 1871 census, she is noted as a ‘Cotton Weaver’.
I found that Simpson, returned to church when on 25th January 1868, he married his third wife Sarah Washington. However, she’s missing from the 1871 family group (presumably dead too), and it’s not clear whether Simpson is married actually on the folio.
Simpson joins Sarah in my research as ‘currently missing’ after the 1871 census, but I hope to find the final steps of his journey.
Did Sarah survive or did Simpson marry again?
A journey that I thought I’d finished with him and his father a long time ago, back somewhere in Cambridgeshire… but which then proved to take me through unexpected twists and turns.
Thanks for reading… I’ll post an update once i’ve got further with Simpson and Sarah, but in the meantime; have you ever used card-sorting to solve a family tree puzzle?
Do you have ancestors who worked at Reedsholme Works, or in the cotton weaving industry?
Leave me a comment below – as i’d love to hear from you.
The DUNHAM family of Witchford, Cambridgeshire is the subject of today’s Geneabloggers SURNAME SATURDAY meme.
This week’s Surname Saturday post focuses on research I’ve been doing today. This morning I found my link to two new maternal family names, one of which is Dunham (the other is Foreman), so I’ve been typing this entry all day, covering the amount of information that I’ve uncovered in just a few hours.
My connection to the Dunham tree happens in Witcham, Cambridgeshire in 1815 when John Hawkins marriedJane Dunham. These two people were to become my Gt x 5 Grandparents, with my ancestry following down through their daughter Sarah Hawkins.
John Hawkins, who was illiterate at the time of their 1815 marriage, worked as a labourer. He was born about 1796 in Witcham.
Jane Dunham, who could at least sign her name in 1815, was born in about 1793. At the time of the marriage, the Banns and Marriage entries state that they were ‘otp’ (of this parish), however no trace of Jane could be found in the church records until the Banns.
Having found the 1841 census entry for John and Jane, along with their growing brood of children (they had eight in all), the shortcomings of the 1841 census was unable to tell me which village Jane was actually from.
The 1851 census revealed the clue – it was Witchford – a village I have personally had connections to all my life, and in fact I was named after it (it’s St Andrew, although I wasn’t fortunate to be named the ‘Saint’ bit… yet). It’s one where several other of my ancestral families have lived and still do, and many of my ancestors and relatives have been buried.
With this piece of information I was able to rummage through the Witchford Parish Register and found Jane’s baptism in January 1794. Her parents were given as William and Alice Dunham.
The family grows
I then looked to see if this Jane had any siblings – with a rummage either side of her own baptism. I found four other siblings – 3 sisters and 1 brother. Having gauged the range of the births, I then crossed my fingers and looked for a William and Alice marriage.
There it was! William Dunham married Alice Foreman in Witchford in June 1789.
Next up was the burials. Another rummage revealed what seemed like an unfortunate picture:
William Dunham – he appears to have died in 1844, outliving all but his daughter Jane.
Alice Dunham (née Foreman) – died age 52 in 1821.
Elizabeth Dunham – the oldest, born in 1790. She died weeks later.
Alice Dunham – Born abt 1791, died in 1800.
Jane Dunham – my descendant, born 1793 – married John Hawkins.
William Dunham – Born abt 1797, appears to have died in 1799.
Rebecca Dunham – Born 1799, died 1800.
From this, it appears that after marrying Alice, they both have undergone insurmountable pain and heartache by outliving all of their children apart from my ancestor, Jane Dunham.
There’s no indication as to why the children died – disease? prematurity? harsh conditions? malnutrition? The possibilities could be anything at this period in history where life expectancy for adults wasn’t as it is today, and infant mortality rates were still high.