Overcoming a Family History Roadblock: A Case Study
I’d been working on my family tree for several months, trying to piece everything together and see just how far back I could go. It had all started when I was talking to my dad, who had a couple of stories about his grandfather and brothers, but he didn’t know whether they were true. I was curious and decided that going into my family’s history was the only way to find out the truth.
It started out quite easily, since I was able to find quite a lot of information online, and very cheaply. Hey, I thought, this is pretty easy, much easier than everyone said. But little did I know what was coming…
The Problem I FoundI found out quite a bit about my great-grandfather and his brothers, although the answer to my father’s questions took some digging and made me realise there was actually more to family history than sitting at a computer; I had to go out and discover things for myself.
But my real problem occurred a generation before that. I knew that my great-great grandfather, Matthew Simmons, had married, and his wife, Martha, had given birth to seven children (they certainly believed in a lot of kids back then!).
However, I couldn’t find a marriage certificate. All the other information I needed was quite readily available. The census of 1841 showed Matthew an unmarried man, a factory worker in Manchester. 10 years later he was married with three children. So, somewhere in that decade a marriage had happened, but I simply couldn’t find a marriage certificate.
I tried several possibilities, since I was intrigued now, and determined to find the solution if at all possible. Since Matthew and Martha were living in the same area Matthew had inhabited, it seemed likely that they’d married in the area, so I looked at records for the three parish churches around, but couldn’t find anything for Simmons, which seemed odd. But it was possible that they’d enjoyed a common law marriage, which wouldn’t have been recorded.
Given the fact that they were working class, any marriage announcement of the marriage in a newspaper seemed unlikely, but I went through anyway, in the hope of finding something; of course, I didn’t.
I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to my researches – between work and my own family it was a case of grabbing a few hours here and there – but I did what I could. By now I was feeling frustrated, and wondering if it was worth going on.
The SolutionMy detective work hadn’t been too successful. But really, that was my own fault. The solution was right in front of me and I’d been too stupid to see it. I’d focused on finding a marriage around Manchester – I’d assumed it had to be there.
The start to my answer was in the birth certificates of the couple’s children. It listed Martha’s maiden name, Hooper. For some reason – my own stupidity! – I’d never gone back and investigated where she was from. With a little digging I was able to find out she’d been born in a village in Cheshire, and the 1841 census showed her still living there, age 14 and working in a mill.
From there it all fell into place with ease. A check of the parish register showed a marriage in 1844 in the village church. How they’d met I didn’t know, since they lived nowhere near each other. But met they had, and obviously fallen in love – and they stayed married for almost 60 years.
So why hadn’t I managed to find a marriage certificate? When I saw the entry in the parish register, it became obvious. Simmons, which seems an obvious name, had been misspelt as Symonds. Close enough, but also so different. Maybe Matthew had never noticed it, caught up in his big day, or perhaps he hadn’t been able to read.
After that I went back and searched for a marriage certificate for Matthew Symonds, and, sure enough, there it was. So, between me not quickly following an obvious trail and a clerical error, I’d been foxed for a long time. But, I’ll tell you, it was a huge relief to finally jump that hurdle!