The following stories started with a single question.
Who was Catherine Housley’s mother?
But one question leads to another, and another, and so this book will never be finished. This is the first in a collection of stories of a family history research project, not a complete family history. There will always be more questions and more searches, and each new find presents more questions.
A list of names and dates is only moderately interesting, and doesn’t mean much unless you get to know the characters along the way. For example, a cousin on my fathers side has already done a great deal of thorough and accurate family research. I copied one branch of the family onto my tree, going back to the 1500’s, but lost interest in it after about an hour or so, because I didn’t feel I knew any of the individuals.
Parish registers, the census every ten years, birth, death and marriage certificates can tell you so much, but they can’t tell you why. They don’t tell you why parents chose the names they did for their children, or why they moved, or why they married in another town. They don’t tell you why a person lived in another household, or for how long. The census every ten years doesn’t tell you what people were doing in the intervening years, and in the case of the UK and the hundred year privacy rule, we can’t even use those for the past century. The first census was in 1831 in England, prior to that all we have are parish registers. An astonishing amount of them have survived and have been transcribed and are one way or another available to see, both transcriptions and microfiche images. Not all of them survived, however. Sometimes the writing has faded to white, sometimes pages are missing, and in some case the entire register is lost or damaged.
Sometimes if you are lucky, you may find mention of an ancestor in an obscure little local history book or a journal or diary. Wills, court cases, and newspaper archives often provide interesting information. Town memories and history groups on social media are another excellent source of information, from old photographs of the area, old maps, local history, and of course, distantly related relatives still living in the area. Local history societies can be useful, and some if not all are very helpful.
If you’re very lucky indeed, you might find a distant relative in another country whose grandparents saved and transcribed bundles of old letters found in the attic, from the family in England to the brother who emigrated, written in the 1800s. More on this later, as it merits its own chapter as the most exciting find so far.
The social history of the time and place is important and provides many clues as to why people moved and why the family professions and occupations changed over generations. The Enclosures Act and the Industrial Revolution in England created difficulties for rural farmers, factories replaced cottage industries, and the sons of land owning farmers became shop keepers and miners in the local towns. For the most part (at least in my own research) people didn’t move around much unless there was a reason. There are no reasons mentioned in the various registers, records and documents, but with a little reading of social history you can sometimes make a good guess. Samuel Housley, for example, a plumber, probably moved from rural Derbyshire to urban Wolverhampton, when there was a big project to install indoor plumbing to areas of the city in the early 1800s. Derbyshire nailmakers were offered a job and a house if they moved to Wolverhampton a generation earlier.
Occasionally a couple would marry in another parish, although usually they married in their own. Again, there was often a reason. William Housley and Ellen Carrington married in Ashbourne, not in Smalley. In this case, William’s first wife was Mary Carrington, Ellen’s sister. It was not uncommon for a man to marry a deceased wife’s sister, but it wasn’t strictly speaking legal. This caused some problems later when William died, as the children of the first wife contested the will, on the grounds of the second marriage being illegal.
Needless to say, there are always questions remaining, and often a fresh pair of eyes can help find a vital piece of information that has escaped you. In one case, I’d been looking for the death of a widow, Mary Anne Gilman, and had failed to notice that she remarried at a late age. Her death was easy to find, once I searched for it with her second husbands name.
This brings me to the topic of maternal family lines. One tends to think of their lineage with the focus on paternal surnames, but very quickly the number of surnames increases, and all of the maternal lines are directly related as much as the paternal name. This is of course obvious, if you start from the beginning with yourself and work back. In other words, there is not much point in simply looking for your fathers name hundreds of years ago because there are hundreds of other names that are equally your own family ancestors. And in my case, although not intentionally, I’ve investigated far more maternal lines than paternal.
This book, which I hope will be the first of several, will concentrate on my mothers family: The story so far that started with the portrait of Catherine Housley’s mother.
This painting, now in my mothers house, used to hang over the piano in the home of her grandparents. It says on the back “Catherine Housley’s mother, Smalley”.
The portrait of Catherine Housley’s mother can be seen above the piano. Back row Ronald Marshall, my grandfathers brother, William Marshall, my great grandfather, Mary Ann Gilman Purdy Marshall in the middle, my great grandmother, with her daughters Dorothy on the left and Phyllis on the right, at the Marshall’s house on Love Lane in Stourbridge.
The Search for Samuel Housley
As soon as the search for Catherine Housley’s mother was resolved, achieved by ordering a paper copy of her birth certificate, the search for Catherine Housley’s father commenced. We know he was born in Smalley in 1816, son of William Housley and Ellen Carrington, and that he married Elizabeth Brookes in Wolverhampton in 1844. He was a plumber and glazier. His three daughters born between 1845 and 1849 were born in Smalley. Elizabeth died in 1849 of consumption, but Samuel didn’t register her death. A 20 year old neighbour called Aaron Wadkinson did.
Where was Samuel?
On the 1851 census, two of Samuel’s daughters were listed as inmates in the Belper Workhouse, and the third, 2 year old Catherine, was listed as living with John Benniston and his family in nearby Heanor. Benniston was a framework knitter.
Where was Samuel?
A long search through the microfiche workhouse registers provided an answer. The reason for Elizabeth and Mary Anne’s admission in June 1850 was given as “father in prison”. In May 1850, Samuel Housley was sentenced to one month hard labour at Derby Gaol for failing to maintain his three children. What happened to those little girls in the year after their mothers death, before their father was sentenced, and they entered the workhouse? Where did Catherine go, a six week old baby? We have yet to find out.
And where was Samuel Housley in 1851? He hasn’t appeared on any census.
According to the Belper workhouse registers, Mary Anne was discharged on trial as a servant February 1860. She was readmitted a month later in March 1860, the reason given: unwell.
Eventually, Mary Anne and Elizabeth were discharged, in April 1860, with an aunt and uncle. The workhouse register doesn’t name the aunt and uncle. One can only wonder why it took them so long.
On the 1861 census, Elizabeth, 16 years old, is a servant in St Peters, Derby, and Mary Anne, 15 years old, is a servant in St Werburghs, Derby.
But where was Samuel?
After some considerable searching, we found him, despite a mistranscription of his name, on the 1861 census, living as a lodger and plumber in Darlaston, Walsall.
Eventually we found him on a 1871 census living as a lodger at the George and Dragon in Henley in Arden. The age is not exactly right, but close enough, he is listed as an unmarried painter, also close enough, and his birth is listed as Kidsley, Derbyshire. He was born at Kidsley Grange Farm. We can assume that he was probably alive in 1872, the year his mother died, and the following year, 1873, during the Kerry vs Housley court case.
I found some living Housley descendants in USA. Samuel Housley’s brother George emigrated there in 1851. The Housley’s in USA found letters in the attic, from the family in Smalley ~ written between 1851 and 1870s. They sent me a “Narrative on the Letters” with many letter excerpts.
The Housley family were embroiled in a complicated will and court case in the early 1870s. In December 15, 1872, Joseph (Samuel’s brother) wrote to George:
“I think we have now found all out now that is concerned in the matter for there was only Sam that we did not know his whereabouts but I was informed a week ago that he is dead–died about three years ago in Birmingham Union. Poor Sam. He ought to have come to a better end than that….His daughter and her husband went to Birmingham and also to Sutton Coldfield that is where he married his wife from and found out his wife’s brother. It appears he has been there and at Birmingham ever since he went away but ever fond of drink.”
No record of Samuel Housley’s death can be found for the Birmingham Union in 1869 or thereabouts.
But if he was alive in 1871 in Henley In Arden…..
Did Samuel tell his wife’s brother to tell them he was dead? Or did the brothers say he was dead so they could have his share?
We still haven’t found a death for Samuel Housley.
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