Old Research, New Resources, Fresh Eyes

September 18th, 2011

I started researching my family history in August 1977, just over 34 years ago and I am amazed at the changes over that time. Anyone starting out now can’t appreciate just how hard it was back then, especially trying to do it from Australia. Yesterday I proved (I think) that I made a fundamental error back then but without access to today’s resources, the decisions I made then were all reasonable and based on available evidence. I welcome feedback on the saga that unfolds below.

In 1977 I started buying all my Australian certificates not just key ones but all the children’s certificates too. I wanted all the details so that I could trace my families over time.

Thomas and Elizabeth Price arrived in Sydney in 1878 a few months after their marriage in Staffordshire. They had ten children across New South Wales and Queensland. From each of the children’s birth certificates I gathered information on Thomas and Elizabeth.

Elizabeth’s maiden name was Judge and she was born ca 1857 in Croughton, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and even Staffordshire – all places she gave on the birth certificates. Her death certificate gave her parents as George Judge and Elizabeth Ann Silk (I was sceptical of the Silk name as that was connected to the Price family).

From the family bible she had brought out with her I knew the date that she and Thomas had married so I applied for the marriage certificate. This also gave her father’s name as George Judge. So armed with all this information in 1979 I applied for her birth certificate. These were the days before indexes were widely available or online so I had the Registrar do a search. There was only one Elizabeth Judge born in 1857 in Brackley, Northamptonshire – quite close to Croughton. The certificate showed that Elizabeth was the illegitimate daughter of Harriet Judge. No other Elizabeth matched the details that I had and I assumed (that magic word) that she had not wanted Thomas to know that she was illegitimate and had said George was her father to cover up.

I then engaged a profession researcher in Northamptonshire to find Harriet Judge’s family and she was the daughter of Thomas and Hannah Judge and had various siblings. The researcher also found the family in the various census returns – all before indexes and digitised images. The only thing he didn’t find was Elizabeth Judge, Harriet’s child – where was she?

The years went past, and every so often I would revisit my Judge family. I even hired the microfilm at the local Family History Centre and checked the census returns myself but that was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Then the English BDMs became available on microfiche and I decided to trace Harriet – she must have married and perhaps Elizabeth was with her in that new family.

I found Harriet who had married a George Gardiner in 1860. I searched the 1861 census (and subsequent censuses) for them but still no Elizabeth. What had Harriet done with her illegitimate child Elizabeth?

Again the years past and then we had access to digitised images of the census and online indexes. Surely I would find Elizabeth now. But no, I still couldn’t locate any reference to her other than that birth certificate and her marriage certificate. Where was she for 21 years?

Elizabeth had spent her last years living with her daughter in law, Alice Price and my mother. Mum used to tell me how Elizabeth would always have lollies waiting for her when she got home from school. My mother wanted to know what Elizabeth’s  life was like in England and how had she met Thomas Price. That was an interesting question – if she was in Northamptonshire, how had she met Thomas Price in West Bromwich, Staffordshire?

A few months ago I made a determined search to find Elizabeth in the 1861 census – she was about four years old but I couldn’t find any Elizabeth Judge that might be her. After another recent visit to Mum I again came home determined to find her in the 1871 census. If she married Thomas Price in 1878 she had to be somewhere in 1871.

Again I looked at every possible Elizabeth Judge, only this time I did turn up a family in the 1871 census – father George (as on her marriage certificate), mother Ann (not that far from Elizabeth Ann on her death certificate) and an Elizabeth, 13 years old, born in Northamptonshire. They were also living in West Bromwich where Thomas Price was. What made it even more exciting was that George was born in Croughton, the place Elizabeth said she was born and there was a sister Eliza. Surely a family wouldn’t have both an Eliza and an Elizabeth?

My first thoughts were that George was some relative of Harriet’s or her parents John and Hannah Judge and that George and his wife had looked after the illegitimate Elizabeth. But looking at my Judge family I couldn’t see how George could fit in. Then it occurred to me why hadn’t I found this George Judge, Ann, Elizabeth and other siblings in the 1861 census?

So back to the 1861 census and no they were not there. I hadn’t missed them and I was checking both Ancestry and FindMyPast sites so I just couldn’t understand any of it. Another daughter was called Eunice and that had to be more uncommon than George, Elizabeth or Ann. I then searched the 1861 census for all females named Eunice born ca 1853 and it was a nice short list.

There was Eunice born in Croughton, Northamptonshire with her sister Elizabeth also born in Croughton together with mother Ann and other siblings. The only difference was that the surname was Pollard not Judge. Ann was a 35 year old widow with five children. Between the 1861 and 1871 census she had married George Judge and taken his surname as did all of her children. They had also moved from Croughton to West Bromwich.

By the 1881 census George and Ann Judge and family were living in Potters Lane, West Bromwich – the same street as Thomas Price and his family. This must have been how and where Elizabeth and Thomas met.

Had I at long last found my Elizabeth Judge who was really Elizabeth Pollard? The reason I could never find another possible birth certificate for my Elizabeth Judge was that she was born with the surname Pollard but took her stepfather George Judge’s name when her mother remarried.

What happened to Harriet Judge’s illegitimate child Elizabeth? I have not checked for deaths and perhaps she was adopted or fostered out and ended up with another surname too.

I have other step marriages in my family history but this is the only time when the children have taken the surname of the stepfather. I can see that this could result in many brickwalls and if there hadn’t been an Elizabeth born about the right time and place I might have hit a brickwall, instead I hit a red herring.

The digitisation and indexing of census records (and everything else) allows us now to find family complexities like this easier and quicker. In hindsight with new resources it all looks so easy, and it is. If there is any aspect in your own research that niggles, perhaps its time to take a fresh look!


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