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Branches, Twigs, & Roots, Issue #014 -- Always Check the Original of your Documents
October 01, 2012

Hello, and welcome to the latest edition of Branches, Twigs, and Roots!

Genealogy Tip of the Month

Always check the original document,
rather than relying on the transcript.

Your Brick Walls

This month’s brick wall deals with finding the maiden name of a female ancestor. Part I was in last month's newsletter; Part II follows today.

Did anyone manage to solve the problem before I did?

Let's go back to Northumberland, England, where a fellow family tree climber - who happens to share a small segment of DNA with me - indicated that he was looking for the maiden name of one of his female ancestors.

Here's what our contributor wrote:

"As for ... [my uncle], we have half of his ancestry coming from the North East of England and the very nearest part of Scotland. Northumberland, Durham and Roxburghshire, to be precise. ... , Wilson from Lesborough, Esther ??? from Alnwick (I would LOVE to find her maiden name - it's killing me!), ... ."

To recap from last month:

We are looking at Walter Lamb (1849 - 1932), who married Mary Wilson (1849 - 1906). Mary's parents were Ralph Wilson (born in 1831 in Lesbury, Northumberland, England) and Esther, whose surname was unknown.

In the absence of a marriage record for this couple, Ralph and Esther Wilson - with the wife 14 years older than the husband - we have to resort to other methods of finding her maiden name.

I went looking for clues that might be in other documents commonly searched for family history data.

The census documents revealed Ralph and Esther Wilson had two children, Mary and Ralph. Esther, born about 1817, is listed as born in Alnwick, Northumberland. The other clue we have is the name of a nephew, Joseph Wallace, living with them at the time of the 1871 census.

Joseph's mother Jane Wallace was born in Alnwick in about 1810.

We looked for Jane's husband, and found a marriage between Henry Wallace and Jane Spotswood in 1841. However, the original of the 1841 census shows that son John was living with them. (The transcript shows only Henry and Jane together).

Continuing on from last month, then, John's christening record shows that he was christened on February 23, 1834, and that his parents were Henry and Jane Wallace. This is not so helpful regarding the mother's surname, but it does tell us the father's first name. It also establishes that Jane is not the second wife (as surmised last month), and that Henry and Jane were married prior to this date. So we are looking for a marriage around 1833.

It looks like the Spotswood surname is 'out', then, as Henry Wallace and Jane Spotswood were married in 1841.

So, back to first principles ...

I went to, which allows searching by first name only. I entered Esther; Alnwick; and a date range for her birth / christening between 1816 and 1820. Four possibilities resulted from this search:

  1. Esther Cleugh, christened 17 Apr 1816 in a Scottish Presbyterian Church in Alnwick;
  2. Esther Henderson, christened 1 September 1816 in the Alnwick Anglican church;
  3. Esther Wilkinson, christened 16 November 1820 in the Alnwick Wesleyan Methodist church; and
  4. Esther Reaveley, christened 3 October 1819 in the Alnwick Anglican church.

Thereafter, it was simply a matter of looking at each of the four, and eliminating them, one by one.

I think the biggest clue, in this regard, was found in the 1841 census record, of which I have already spoken.

The transcript of the record shows only Henry and Jane Wallace as a family unit.

However, the actual census document lists the following people as resident in that household at the time of the 1841 census:

  • Henry Wallace, age 30, born Northumberland;
  • Jane Wallace, age 30, born Northumberland;
  • John Wallace, age 7, born Northumberland;
  • Mary Davison, age 25, born Northumberland;
  • William Davison, age 1, born Northumberland; and
  • Esther Henderson, age 20, born Northumberland.

Henry, Jane, and Mary all are listed as 'Married', while Esther is single. So, it looks as though Henderson may be the surname we're searching for! Are there Henderson daughters Jane, Mary, and Esther, all born to the same parents, in approximately the right years?

Alnwick Street Scene. Owner Ron Goodhew. Used under Creative Commons Licence, Wikimedia

Martin Henderson and Mary Dunn are shown as the parents of the Esther Henderson christened in Alnwick on 1 September 1816. A quick search reveals that they had 12 children in total, the first four of whom were:

  • Jane, born 1810;
  • Mary, born 1811;
  • Ann, born 1814; and
  • Esther, born 1816.

It seems that the ages shown in the 1841 census for Mary and Esther are a little off when compared to those in the birth / christening files. That is, Mary would have been 30, rather than 25, and Esther would have been 25, rather than 20. However, it must be remembered that enumerators routinely rounded ages down to the nearest 5-year interval on the 1841 census.

It is also true than women tended to overstate or understate their age on the census!

A bit more digging revealed that Jane and Henry Wallace had a child, who apparently died before the 1841 census, named Martin. As noted above, this is the name of Esther's father. They subsequently named their third child (the second one listed on the 1851 census) ... Martin Henderson Wallace.

In my view, this evidence as a whole, although circumstantial, is sufficient to build a strong case that the maiden name of Esther, wife of Ralph Wilson, was Henderson.

News, Stories, Contests, etc.

I'm sure we all have seen our fair share of obituaries. Some are very curt, and provide no details of interest to the family historian at all, such as: "John Smith died Saturday. Private burial Tuesday. No visitation."

The one in the link below, however, leaves little to the imagination, at least for some parts of the deceased's life! I wonder if she wrote it herself, prior to her demise, or whether someone else wrote it as if it were coming from her!

Interesting Obituary

For Murphy's Law as it applies to genealogy, Click here

For those interested in scrapbooking as it pertains to family history, here is a lovely page set up which was posted on Pinterest. A great idea for a template!

Here's a website which I recently came across, which provides customized products (mugs, keychains, t-shirts, etc.), for all sorts of professions, hobbies, and interests - including things related to genealogy.

There are plenty of designs to choose from, but if you don't see what you want, you can always upload your own design, and either have it printed, or get a royalty whenever others buy it, on the site!

Click on the CafePress logo; take a look around! You're sure to find something that would be the perfect gift for a friend or family member. They have frequent discounts and 'Flash Sales', so if the price looks too high at the moment, keep checking back!

To access this month's webinars, click here

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