Sunday, 25 November 2012

Old mysteries solved

Looking back at my last post where every avenue proved fruitless, it is lovely to find myself finally re-starting my blog with the story of a successful genealogical few days.

Back in the mists of time I started looking at my 3 x great grandparents, Alfred Beckett and his wife, Susannah Vitty.  I knew quite a bit about the Beckett side of the family, but Susannah was a mystery to me other than her name.  I had a link to her as a person as my grandmother had given me a tiny spectacles case which belonged to Susannah, and had been given to her by "the Upper Chapel Sewing Society as a token of our appreciation of long & valuable Services" on January 3rd 1867.

The other mystery I had with regard to this couple was why their two eldest sons were named Joseph Shaw Beckett and James Smith Beckett when there were no Shaws or Smiths that I could find, maybe these were names of friends, but it is generally more usual to have a family link.

So in an attempt to discover more, back in January 1984 I ordered the marriage certificate of Alfred and Susannah.

All the details with regard to Alfred were as expected, I already knew his occupation, and that of his father, Joseph, but it was Susannah where I hoped to learn more. Her father was given as Bryan Vitty, which at the time seemed a promising name, and his occupation was given as woolcomber.  The only other thing of note was that one of my mysterious men, Joseph Shaw, was a witness, but obviously that still left me with no idea as to the relationship between him and the happy couple.

At that time, I searched in vain for references to a Bryan Vitty but couldn't find anything and for the past 26 years I've checked around every so often to see if there were any new clues.  I work full-time and have a family so chasing around record offices wasn't really an option and I was reliant upon online sites.

A couple of weeks ago I thought I'd give the search for Bryan another go, and this time when I used Ancestry a couple of possiblities were appearing.  There seemed to be a Bryan Vitty being buried in Leeds in 1815 aged 28, which tied in age-wise with Susannah being born in 1811, and a Bryan Vitty living in Manchester in 1825, and later dying in 1830, which again was possible.  The problem was that according to all the censues Susannah was born in Sheffield, which didn't tie in with either of the possible fathers.

The Manchester Bryan was aged 68 when he died which made him less likely, but the Leeds Bryan was aged 28 which made him born around 1787.  I could see on Family Search that there was a Bryan Vitty baptised in December 1786 in Bedale in Yorkshire, the son of John Vitty and his wife Dorothy, but no proof that this was definitely the Bryan dying in Leeds.

I had come across the Yorkshire Indexers site and found a thread on their forums about the church in Leeds where one of the Bryan's was buried, so I put a message on the site asking if there was any monumental inscription - in the hope that he might be "the loving son/husband/father" of someone! 

In the meantime, I tried a search on Ancestry to see if I could find anyone with a father, John Vitty, and a mother, Dorothy, and came back with three answers.  Brothers, George Ascough and Thomas were the sons of a John Vitty and Dorothy Longstaff, and baptised in Addingham, Yorkshire in the parish of St Peter.  Ancestry had copies of the registers for this parish and they were a wonderful source of information giving the ancestry of both parents back a further generation or two, and also showing that John Vitty, the father, was a woolcomber.  This suddenly rang bells as my Susannah's marriage certificate had her father's occupation as woolcomer as well.  Not exactly proof that this John was the father of my Bryan, but certainly a promising co-incidence, but when I looked closely at the additional ancestral infomation given on the Addingham registers I realised that Dorothy Longstaff came originally from Bedale, which made baptising their first child in her home village seem a very logical occurance.

The following day I received a reply from the Yorkshire Indexers site to say that they had checked their records, and not only was there a Bryan Vitty buried there, but there was also a John Vitty buried in 1818, with the same address of Top Close as his address.  This John Vitty was aged 66, which made him a good candidate for father of the Bryan who had lived at the same address.

Things then got more confusing as George Ascough Vitty appears to have moved to Manchester, so perhaps the older Bryan was related after all.

My next reply on the forum said that they had looked through some Sheffield newspaper articles and found three which mentioned Susannah, two about her being the victim of a robbery and one about her marriage, which said she was the neice of the late Mr James Smith of Bridge Street. Suddenly one of those mystery names was popping up - was James Smith married to a sister of Bryan Vitty, or was his sister Susannah's mother?

The articles about the robbery in 1834 seemed to imply that Susannah was living or staying at the Punch Bowl Public House in Sheffield when five broches and a silver watch were stolen from her.  As the pub was in Bridge Street, which is where Susannah gave as her address on her marriage, it seemed more likely that this was her home and that possibly she lived with her uncle, James Smith.  This time I simply tried a google search on "Punch Bowl James Smith" which came up with a link to the Sheffield History website forum which told me that James Smith was the keeper of the pub in 1834, and an Ann Smith in 1837.  I then looked at the 1841 census for Bridge Street and found that Nancy Smith, was the publican and she was living there with her three daughters and one servant.  I know that Ann/Nancy are often interchangeable names, so was Ann/Nancy the widow of James Smith? 

On the basis that she might be the sister of Bryan Vitty I did a search to find a marriage between a Smith and a Vitty and came up with one in Yorkshire between James Smith and an Ann Vitty in 1823.  This seemed to point to her being the sister, but when I went back to the censuses to discover what happened to Nancy Smith and her daughters in the hope that they might give a clue. Nancy was born in Pontefract and I couldn't find a birth for her as Nancy or Ann.

One final possibility had occured to me, that it was odd that Susannah was living with her uncle and aunt and not with her mother, so I wondered if perhaps Nancy might in fact be her mother and not her aunt.  This would mean that after Bryan's death in Leeds she married James Smith and moved back to Sheffield.  Having had no luck with finding the birth of Nancy Vitty in Pontefract, I thought I would give it one last try and just try looking on FamilySearch for the birth of Nancy in Pontefract in 1789 and I was astounded that the first entry which appeared was that of Nancy Shaw, daughter of Joseph and Susannah Shaw!  A swift search for a marriage of Nancy Shaw around 1811 came up with her marrying Bryan Vithy in Sheffield Cathedral in 1810.  Just one letter entered incorrectly and therefore missed from my searches.

So after almost 30 years everything had fallen neatly into place.  Nancy Shaw, daughter of Joseph and Susannah Shaw, although born in Pontefract, moved to Sheffield where she met and married Bryan Vitty.  Soon after they had a daughter Susannah, named for her maternal grandmother.  The family then moved to Leeds, probably to join Bryan's father, John, who was living in Top Close.  Sadly Bryan died within a few short years and at some point after, Nancy and Susannah moved back to Sheffield, possibly living with or near her parents.  Eventually, when Susannah was about twelve, Nancy re-married and the two of them moved into The Punch Bowl with Nancy's new husband, James Smith.  Susannah later married, and clearly had so much affection for both her grandfather and step-father that her two oldest sons were named for them.