Saturday 7 December 2013

Who’s Your Father?

We all have cases where we have had difficulty identifying the father of a child. Usually, it was because no father was listed on the birth or baptism record. This small bit of research deals with a slightly different case where the father’s details were deliberately obfuscated.

One of my direct ancestors, Samuel Rowland, was born 1857 in Belper. Belper is a town towards the centre of the Derbyshire, England, and about 7 miles north of Derby. Two of the most predominant industries in Belper were nail-making and cotton mills[1], and both of them show up in this research.

Samuel, and his wife Mary, supposedly had a child called Eliza, but tracking her down was not easy. In the 1891 census[2], Samuel was a widower, working as a ‘Coal miner’, and living with the family of his brother, Joseph Rowland. Samuel had three children of his own with him:

Eliza Rowland, b. c1882 in Heage, Derbyshire
Anthony Rowland, b. c1885 in Belper, Derbyshire
Albert Rowland, b. c1886 in Belper, Derbyshire

In the subsequent 1901 census[3], Samuel and his three children were still living with Joseph. His occupation was recorded as ‘Coal hewer, underground’. However, his daughter was then recorded with a middle initial (Eliza G. Rowland), and the children’s birthdates were calculated as 1883, 1884, and 1886 respectively.

At this stage, I had a problem because I could find no Eliza G. Rowland born 1882–1883 anywhere in Derbyshire. There was one Eliza Rowland, b. 1881 in Chesterfield, but she could be eliminated on other grounds. Luckily there was only one candidate marriage for Samuel Rowland, and that was to a Mary Bradley on 3 Mar 1883 at the Parish Church of Duffield, Derbyshire[4]. Their marriage certificate provided the following details:

o   Samuel (bachelor, aged 25) was a ‘Collier’ living in Belper.
o   Samuel’s father, Anthony, was a ‘Labourer’.
o   Mary (spinster, aged 26) lived in Belper.
o   Mary’s father, John, was a ‘Nailer’[5].
o   Witnesses were Joseph and Lucy Rowland (i.e. Samuel’s brother and sister-in-law).

These details collectively pointed to Mary having died in Ilkeston[6] in 1889 aged just 31[7]. I could equally have obtained Mary’s maiden name from the birth certificates of her two sons, although the older daughter, Eliza, was still a mystery. There was no Eliza G. Bradley registered either so it wasn’t a simple case of the child being registered under the mother’s surname.

I then did something unusual that’s certainly recommended when all else fails. I looked for the surname, Rowland in this instance, as a middle name. This turned up the baptism of an Eliza Rowland Gregory[8]. A little light went on in my head because in the 1881 census[9] Samuel Rowland was single but he had a live-in ‘house keeper’ called Mary Gregory of about the same age as Mary Bradley. So, could Mary Gregory and Mary Bradley be the same person? Things were getting complicated very quickly.

The birth certificate for this Eliza [Rowland] Gregory[10] (middle name was present on the baptism but not on her civil birth registration) said she was born on 3 May 1881 at the Green Man, Heage, Derbyshire, which matched the place-of-birth listed above even though the date was a couple of years out. The informant was Mary Gregory, formerly Bradley (mother), but no father was recorded. In other words, Mary Gregory was heavily pregnant at the time of that 1881 census (3 Apr 1881). The aforementioned baptism record showed that Eliza was baptised on 8 Jan 1882 at the Heage Free Methodist Chapel, Derbyshire, and the father’s name was recorded as “Saml Gregory”. So, we now have two Marys (Mary Gregory/Bradley and Mary Rowland/Bradley), two Samuels (Samuel Gregory and Samuel Rowland), a possible name switch for the child, and a dubious date-of-birth for the child (Eliza Rowland Gregory was b.1881 but later census returns for Eliza G. Rowland said 1882–1883).

Now that same 1881 census also said Mary Gregory was a widow so it would be a fair guess that she was previously married to a Samuel Gregory. Well, she was married, but to a Walter Gregory[11]. The parish record showed that this occurred on 10 Jun 1877 in Duffield, Derbyshire. Walter’s father was recorded as Alfred Gregory, and Mary’s mother as Eliza Bradley. It’s interesting that this Mary didn’t give her father’s name on her marriage, but even more interesting is that I could find no viable death record for a Walter Gregory between the date of their marriage and the census date. Was the father’s name listed on Eliza’s baptism (i.e. “Saml. Gregory”) simply a composite of Samuel Rowland’s and Mary Gregory’s?

The mother’s maiden name wasn’t added to the GRO Index of birth registrations until after September 1911, and so it would be hard to identify any civil registrations as belonging to Walter and Mary without buying lots of expensive certificate copies. However, given the absence of any visible parish baptisms on, I would suggest that there were no such children.

Looking further afield, it appeared that Walter was actually lodging in Durham in 1881 (i.e. not dead at all), and that he claimed to be single[12]. This together with the evidence that there were no children for four years of marriage between Mary and Walter, that Mary’s daughter, Eliza, was initially baptised as Eliza Rowland Gregory, and that the baptism recorded a father of “Saml Gregory” (i.e. Samuel Rowland’s forename and Mary’s surname), suggest Eliza was Samuel’s child – not Walter’s. It is therefore likely that Walter and Mary split soon after their marriage and that Mary was “house keeper” for Samuel well before the 1881 census.

Following Walter in Durham, he met an Alice Whitfield (b. c1856 in Liverpool) in about 1878 and had 3 children with her (Eliza Jane, James, and Mary Ellen), all registered in Alice’s maiden name. He finally married Alice in Gateshead in 1885 before having another child, Abigail. Note that 1885 is 7 years after 1878 and so they could have legally married by claiming no knowledge of his previous spouse (aka “poor man’s divorce”[13]). So, in conclusion, Walter remarried in a legally-acceptable way in 1885, but Mary had to lie in 1881 because she was pregnant by Samuel. Eliza’s age in subsequent census returns had been adjusted to fit in with the marriage of her parents in 1883 and so to cover the tracks a little.

After solving this little puzzle, I decided to look for Mary Bradley’s parents. From the details mentioned above, we know that Mary’s mother (Eliza Bradley) was mentioned in her first marriage (but not her father), and that her father (John Bradley, a ‘Nailer’) was mentioned in her second marriage. Mary’s second marriage implied she was born Mar 1856 to Mar 1857 (i.e. Mar 1883 – 26) and her death implied she was born in c1858 (1889 – 31). However, I could find no marriage of a John Bradley to an Eliza in that county in the right timeframe.

What I did at this point was to go to the 1861 census, when Mary would have been a child, and look for Eliza in the same household as a John Bradley with an occupation involving the partial word “nail”. This found absolutely no matches so I substituted the child’s name (Mary) for Eliza’s. This turned up just one instance in the whole of Derbyshire[14]… which was nice! However, the details weren’t quite what I was expecting. This Mary was living with her grandparents, John (a ‘Nail maker’[5], b. c1796) and Rebecca Bradley. No sign of Mary’s parents anywhere. I therefore looked for John and Eliza in the 1851 census, even though that might have preceded any marriage, and specified the same partial occupation. This found just one instance in the whole of England, and it was for the same John (a ‘Nailer’)  and Rebecca, with Eliza Bradley being their daughter[15]. If I had the right Eliza and Mary then there were some important repercussions: Eliza was born a Bradley, and she was probably single when she had Mary.

John and Rebecca can be found in the same local area of Cow Hill, Belper since the first census in 1841. This is interesting since it had the greatest number of nailers (John’s occupation) in the Belper region in the mid-19th Century[16]. Hence, the name of the occupation would be well-known and unlikely to have been substituted with something less specific.

The 1861 census showed Mary was born c1857 and that she had a younger sister, Ann M., who was born c1858; both in Belper. I could find no online baptism records for these children in the Belper region, maybe because they were illegitimate, but I easily found civil birth registrations in the Belper District that fitted the census dates closely: 1856 Q4 for a Mary and 1858 Q1 for an Ann Maria[17]. I purchased copies of both certificates and they confirmed that Eliza Bradley was the mother in both cases; neither listed any father.

Mary was born 13 Oct 1856 and Ann Maria on 7 Feb 1858, both at Cow Hill, Belper, which matched the household location in both the 1851 and 1861 census. Although neither specified a father’s name, Mary’s birth certificate listed the father’s occupation as a ‘Cotton rover’. This all made nonsense of Eliza being married to a ‘Nailer’ called John Bradley. Although Mary had an Uncle who was also called John, he was a ‘Slater’ (see note 5) who moved to Cheshire in the period 1851–1855 and died there in 1866 aged just 31. We can conclude, therefore, that Mary listed her grandfather’s name and occupation in the details of her second marriage.

I don’t like loose ends so I continued and found Eliza Bradley later married a Joseph Austin (b. c1836 at Belper) on 4 Jul 1858 at Duffield, Derbyshire, and that they had a child of their own, Sarah Elizabeth Austin, in 1859. Unfortunately, Eliza’s death was recorded in the very next quarter, possibly as a result of complications from the childbirth. Joseph’s occupation in the 1861 census was a ‘Carder, cotton factory’[18], and was very likely to have worked with the father who was hinted at on Mary’s birth certificate since the Strutt family had a complex of cotton mills on the nearby River Derwent[19]. Although the jobs are related, Joseph is unlikely to have been the real father of Mary and Ann Maria since their surnames were never changed after Eliza’s marriage to Joseph, and Joseph was not acknowledged in Mary’s later marriages. Mary’s occupation in 1851 was ‘Silk embroiderer’ which doesn’t immediately suggest she worked in a cotton factory. Although silk embroidery was performed on many cotton products, such as stockings, this is more likely to have been part of the local hosiery business of Ward and Brettle[20]. Joseph latter remarried to Grace Taylor on 31 Jan 1865 at Duffield, Derbyshire, and died in 1884, in Belper, aged 48.

I haven’t provided an exhaustive list of all the avenues I explored during this research. What I’ve done is to present the crucial bits of information that allowed me to break down a number of brick walls, and get closer to the truth. This was despite a concerted effort on the part of these family members to obscure that truth. Let’s just recap on the lies and smoke-screens:

  • Eliza Rowland Gregory switched her name to Eliza Gregory Rowland in later life. Maybe not a deliberate attempt to hide anything but it certainly added to the confusion.
  • Eliza’s age was bumped up by a couple of years in the census to make it appear she was born after her parent’s marriage.
  • Eliza’s father was recorded as “Saml. Gregory” which was a composite of the forename of her biological father (Samuel Rowland) and the married name of her mother (Mary Gregory).
  • Mary declared herself to be a spinster in her second marriage, thus ignoring her first marriage.
  • Mary used her maiden name (Bradley) in her second marriage.
  • Also in her second marriage, Mary said her father was John Bradley, a nailer, whereas this was most likely her grandfather’s name.
  • Mary Gregory declared herself to be a widow in the 1881 census, whereas she had simply separated from her first husband.

A corollary to this is that there’s no such thing as a “fact” on an historical record. As someone with a background in mathematical physics, I admit that I initially struggled with the concept of a ‘proof’ in genealogy because the term implied some sort of absolute proof to me, although I more easily accepted the concept of a proof argument. However, a fact is “a thing that is known or proved to be true”[21] and so the concept of some item of evidence being declared a fact is anathema to me.

[1] Gill Stroud, “Derbyshire Extensive Urban Survey: Archaeological Assessment Report: Belper”, report dated 2004, Archaeology Data Service ( : accessed 9 Feb 2021), p.7; funded by English Heritage.
[2] "1891 England, Wales & Scotland Census", database, FindMyPast ( : accessed 5 Dec 2013), household of Joseph Rowland (age 36); citing RG 12/2665, folio 77, page 48; The National Archives of the UK (TNA).
[3] "1901 England, Wales & Scotland Census", database, FindMyPast ( : accessed 5 Dec 2013), household of Joseph Rowland (age 46); citing RG 13/3150, folio125, page 8; TNA.
[4] England, marriage certificate for Samuel Rowland and Mary Bradley, married 3 Mar 1883; citing 7b/820/351, registered Belper 1883/Mar [Q1]; General Register Office (GRO), Southport.
[5] A number of counties in the heart of England were involved in the production of slate, and especially for roof tiles which are still a characteristic feature of some villages. A Nailer was basically someone who made nails, especially for these roof tiles, and a slater was someone who attached the roof tiles.

Interestingly, some of the slang words generated by this profession crept into US usage, albeit slightly corrupted. The term 'collywest' (or colleywest, or collywesson) came from Collyweston (, a village in Northamptonshire that was well-known for such slate (although theirs was not true slate), but the full etymology is uncertain. Descriptions fall into two groups: (1) anything a bit crooked, awry, wobbly, or generally disordered, and (2) opposite, wrong way, or contrary. The story I heard (Diarmaid Ó Muirithe, Words We Don't use (Much Anymore) (Gill & Macmillan, 2011)) was that from the slate they quarried, they sold the nice even pieces but used the crooked poorer-quality pieces for their own homes. Hence, the village rooftops were especially disordered. I cannot cite a reference but I believe the term 'collywobbles', which relates to any disordered feeling in the stomach, is a derivative of this. In the northern US, the term 'galley-west' is widely held by their dictionaries to be a derivative of colly-west.
[6] Ilkeston is a town in Derbyshire, although it is actually closer to Nottingham than it is to Derby. It appears in the Basford Registration District of the Nottinghamshire Registration County.
[7] Transcribed GRO Index for England and Wales (1837–1983), database, FreeBMD ( : accessed 5 Dec 2013), death entry for Mary Rowland; citing Basford, 1889, June [Q2], vol. 7b:76.  "England Deaths and Burials, 1538-1991", index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 5 Dec 2013), Mary Rowland, 6 May 1889.
[8] "England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975", index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 3 Dec 2013), Eliza Rowland Gregory, 8 Jan 1882.
[9] "1881 England, Wales & Scotland Census", database, FindMyPast ( : accessed 5 Dec 2013), household of Samuel Rowland (age 24); citing RG 11/3415, folio 76, page 33; TNA.
[10] England, birth certificate for Eliza Gregory, born 3 May 1881; citing 7b/614/233, registered Belper 1881/Jun [Q2]; General Register Office (GRO), Southport.
[11] "England Marriages, 1538–1973", index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 5 Dec 2013), Walter Gregory and Mary Bradley, 10 Jun 1877.
[12] "1881 England, Wales & Scotland Census", database, FindMyPast ( : accessed 5 Dec 2013), household of William Kerry (age 36); citing RG 11/4904, folio 4, page 1; TNA.
[13] In England and Wales, an act of Parliament, Offences Against the Person Act 1861, contained a clause in section.57, Bigamy, which allowed for a presumption of death if separated for seven years or more.

"Provided that nothing in this section contained shall extend ... to any person marrying a second time, whose husband or wife shall have been continually absent from such person for the space of seven years then last past, and shall not have been known by such person to be living within that time".

Lack of knowledge was all that was required here, and there was no obligation to go and find them. This became informally known as “the seven year rule” or “a poor man’s divorce”.
[14] "1861 England, Wales & Scotland Census", database, FindMyPast ( : accessed 6 Dec 2013), household of John Bradley (age 65); citing RG 09/2510, folio 94, page 13; TNA.
[15] "1851 England, Wales & Scotland Census", database, FindMyPast ( : accessed 6 Dec 2013), household of John Bradley (age 52); citing HO 107/2144, folio 617, page 10; TNA.
[16] Stroud, “Derbyshire Extensive Urban Survey”, p.20, sect. “Component 22: Development at Cow Hill”.
[17] England, birth certificate for Mary Bradley, born 13 Oct 1856; citing 7b/400/230, registered Belper 1856/Dec [Q4]; General Register Office (GRO), Southport. Birth certificate for Ann Maria Bradley, born 7 Feb 1858; citing 7b/414/177, registered Belper 1858/Mar [Q1]; GRO, Southport.
[18] A carding, or combing, was a process where the cotton fibres were aligned to make them stronger and prevent snagging. This stage preceded roving (considered a more skilful job) where the fibres were twisted to make the cotton thread and wound onto bobbins.
[19] Stroud, “Derbyshire Extensive Urban Survey”, p.20, sect. “Component 23: Belper Mills”.
[20] Stroud, “Derbyshire Extensive Urban Survey”, p.12, sect. “Textiles - hosiery”.
[21] Oxford Dictionaries Online ( : accessed 7 Dec 2013), s.v. “fact”.

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