Sunday, 13 June 2010

A necklace and three Marys

I've always loved the detective side of family history, looking at the documents and trying to piece together the story and links behind it all, it all seems like one glorious jigsaw puzzle.

We were visiting my husband's aunt Jay a few years ago, at a time where I had done little work on his side of the family when she mentioned that her mother had told her about a necklace with a jewelled pendant with either the letter M, or the name "Mary" on it which had been given by a husband to his wife.  This necklace had then been handed down from mother to daughter for several generations, but for some reason by the time her mother gave birth the necklace was gone and she was named Ellen rather than Mary.

This naturally caught my attention as a nice genealogical clue, and I started my detective work when we got home.  I knew that Ellen's mother was Mary Harris before she married her husband, Thomas Smirthwaite, but I hadn't followed the line any further back.  The marriage certificate from 1906 gave me only the information that Mary was 21 years old and that her father was William Harris, a deceased Coal Miner.  Luckily I also had Mary's date of death and the indexes then informed me that her birth date was 24 August 1885.  I was then able to search through the indexes and order up a certifcate with checks against the date of birth with a father named William.  I struck lucky and the certifcate came back giving William a middle name of James, and giving Mary's mother's name as Mary Jackson. 

I then searched for the marriage of William and Mary and found this in 1878.  Mary was the daughter of a Henry Jackson which suddenly rang a bell.  I had searched for the family on the 1891 and 1901 census records but not been able to find a definite match, but amongst all the census possibilities I had looked at was a Mary Harris who was the granddaughter of a Henry Jackson and his wife, Mary.  The necklace clue was there again with a third Mary, maybe she was the orginal owner.

The next step was to track Henry and Mary's family back through the census records to see what I could find.  1881 seemed to give me little new information, except that Mary senior was away from home, but in 1871 Mary junior was still at home and there was a visitor in the house, a Lilly Milner.  One of Henry and Mary's daughters was also called Lilly so I hoped that this mysterious visitor might prove to be related.  

I decided to try to see where Mary senior was in 1881 and found a Mary Jackson with the right date and place of birth as a visitor in the home of a Hugh McCarton and his wife Lily.  It would appear that Lily had given birth to a son, James, the day before and along with Mary Jackson there was another visitor in the house, one Lilly Milner, only she wasn't just a visitor she was given as the mother-in-law of Hugh.  I could see that Lily McCarton and Mary Jackson had both been born in Gateshead and were of the right date to be sisters, which would probably make them both Milner's by birth.  It would also be strange to have someone in the house the day after giving birth who wasn't family, but I neeeded to be sure.

There was no trace of Lily Milner in 1861, but in 1851 she was at home in Gateshead with daughter, Lily three sons, James, Joseph and William, and her husband, William Tell Milner.  The youngest two children were under ten, but finally in 1841 I found William Milner with his wife Lilly, sons James and Joseph, and eldest daughter Mary. 

Finally, to confirm it all, I did a search for a marriage for Henry Jackson and Mary Milner, and sure enough the certificate came back with their marriage in 1856, and Mary's father was William Tell Milner. 

It looks as if Henry Jackson must have purchased the necklace for his wife, maybe on his promotion to coal mine inspector in the late 1870s.  When the necklace left the family, and where it is now, is a mystery, but the story had enabled me to move back through 3 generations of Marys.

The obvious follow-up is with the delightfully named William Tell Milner.  A quick search through the IGI found his christening in the parish of St Martin Pomeroy in London in 1809 as the child of Joseph Milner and his wife Jane.  The naming policy of this couple seems a bit haphazard.  Other children of the same couple who were christened at the same place were Jane (1803), Emmerson (1806), Joseph Holroyd (1806), Caroline (1809) and George Washington (1816).  As yet I've not discovered where the Holroyd, Tell and Washington bit came from, but Emmerson Milner was named for his mother, as I found the marriage of Joseph Milner and Jane Emmerson in 1802.

Moving William forward his marriage to Lilly Blakey took place in 1830 in Ormside in Westmoreland, which is now Cumbria.   It would appear that the Milner family moved there a few years before, as this is where Jospeh Milner died in around 1826, and he was buried in the same grave as his son, Joseph Holroyd and later his wife Jane in 1856.  Why the family moved there from London is currently a mystery, and what Lilley Blakey, Gateshead born, was doing in Westmoreland is also another puzzle to be solved in the future.

My next task is to trace William's career with the Post Office.  This is something that I had put on my long mental "to-do" list thinking that it would be complicated to trace, only to discover when I was thinking about this article that the Post Office Archives instead of being in some out the way place, is actually 2 minutes walk from my work!  So my challenge for this week is to make that walk and find out more about his career.  At the moment I am imagining that is he is someone like the character Thomas Brown from Larkrise to Candleford, altough that is set a little later than William's time. 

I'll report back next week on what I find, I'm hoping that they photographed their staff, but I think that is a bit unlikely.

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